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Spirituality and Sincerity: The Topmost Prerequisites for Authentic Islamic Renaissance

By Prof. Henry Francis B. Espiritu, New Age Islam

02 June, 2015

 1. The Spirituality (Ruhaniyyah) and Sincerity (Ikhlas) of our Righteous Ancestors Resulted in the Golden Age of Islam

The golden era of Islam was the time when Muslims were the leaders of the world civilizations; unfortunately, this age has already sadly passed away from us. These past moments of victory for Islam have escaped from us because of our carelessness (Ghaflat), love of self (Hubb-e-Nafs), love for fame (Hubb-e-Jah), and love for the world (Hubb-e-Dunya). The early Muslims were the acknowledged leaders of the world because of their spirituality and because of their sincere love for Allahu Taala and their obedience to the commands of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.). During these times of intense spirituality and sincere commitment to Islam, the Kalima, “la Ilaha Illa Llah” was proclaimed from the lands of Arabia, to Africa, to Andalusia (Spain), to the land of the Balkans, Central Asia, Turkey, the Indian Subcontinent, as far as China, until the Philippine islands. During these times of Islamic glory, the Muslim civilization existed as a beautiful combination of Arab, Turkish, Indian, Mughal, Byzantine, and Persian cultures showing that Islam is indeed a very cosmopolitan, tolerant, and universal faith. Our ancestors’ brave proclamation of God’s greatness (Allahu Akbar) and their sincere intention to propagate the message of Islam to the whole world, made Islam march from victory to victory winning the hearts of peoples by their message of oneness of God and unity of humankind. The spirituality (Ruhaniyyah) and sincerity (Ikhlas) of our righteous ancestors were the reasons why they were able to establish the “golden age” of Islam during their time. We owe our beautiful Islamic heritage to the Companions of the Prophet whose sincerity and spirituality made Islam victorious throughout the whole world during their time. 

2. The Pitiful Situation of the Muslim Ummah Today as a Sign of our Spiritual Weakness

Islam came and spread to the world to bring dignity to humanity and to preach the liberating message of Tawhid (monotheism) to all peoples. However, today, enemies from all corners attack Islam; and Muslims are becoming defensive day by day. We, Muslims, are given the command by Allahu Taala to be the model community in showing the path of unity, harmony, and solidarity; but today we are becoming divided and we have lost the ideals of Akhuwwat (fraternity) that characterized the conduct of the Sahabah and the Tabi’en. The Islamic Ummah that was once the brave protector of the oppressed and the poor is now becoming helpless due to its internal divisions and external enemies. The Ummah which had once placed its trust and hope in Almighty Allah, is now becoming more and more dependent on the protection of this world’s mighty nations. Islam eliminated slavery from the world, but alas, we are now becoming slaves of the unbelieving economic and political superpowers! What is the cause of our degradation; and what is its cure? It is indeed high time now to diagnose our spiritual illness and together we will search for its cure; Inshallah, the Ummah will recover from this disease and begin once again to take the position of global leadership to bring the world towards peace, understanding, and unity. 

3. Diagnosing our Situation with the Purpose of Curing our Spiritual Sickness

To diagnose the spiritual sickness of the Ummah, we will begin by consulting our beloved Prophet, Hazrat Muhammad Mustafa (s.a.w.) so that through his deep prophetic wisdom, we will receive helpful advice (Naseehat) to cure our serious spiritual illness. Let me narrate this particular Hadith Sharif coming from the blessed tongue of our Holy Prophet, since it contains very helpful and beneficial insights in understanding the spiritual problem of present-day Muslims:

Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) was asked by his Sahabah regarding the situation of Muslims in the future, specifically at the time when the Day of Judgment is near. Our Holy Prophet said: “A day will surely come when all unbelievers will unite against Muslims and will launch joint attacks against them.” The Sahabah asked the Holy Prophet, “Will the Muslims be less in number compared to the enemies?” Rasullulah replied; “Muslims will be spread throughout the world and will be numerous but their strength will be like a tiny ball of cotton, they will be powerless and helpless unless they repent and turn to Allah for help. Another Sahabah asked, “Oh Prophet of Allah: What would be the cause of the weakness of Muslims?” He replied: “Your weakness comes from your love of this world (Hubb-e-Dunya), love of self (Hubb-e-Nafs), and love of fame (Hubb-e-Jah)” [Quoted from the Urdu book, Ikhlas aur Tasawwuf (Sincerity and Sufism), by Shaykh Muhammad Maseehullah Khan Chishti. Ludhiana, Punjab: Majlisul Ulama-i-Punjab, 1936; p.59].

From this Hadith Sharif of the Prophet, we can infer many important lessons for our own spiritual benefit. Firstly, the Prophet knew the spiritual weakness of the Muslims as the Day of Judgment approaches. This shows that our Prophet was truly given—by Allahu Taala’s permission—the capacity of knowing some aspects of Ilm ul-Ghaib (unseen events); specifically those events dealing with the future situations of the Islamic Ummah. Likewise, this prophecy of the Prophet should make us aware that indeed, our time today is already near the Day of Judgment—this is because the Muslim Ummah has already become victim of the oppression of the powerful unbelieving superpowers. However, this Hadith brings great hope for us Muslims because it contains the diagnosis of our sickness and the promise for the cure. The Holy Prophet said that the cause of our weakness is threefold, namely, love for this world (Hubb-e-Dunya), love of self (Hubb-e-Nafs), and love of fame (Hubb-e-Jah). These three wrong types of love have removed the love for Allah and for His Prophet in the heart of careless believers. According to the Prophet, these loves of self, the world, and fame have made our faith (Iman) and resolution (Niyyat) as powerless as a tiny ball of cotton; this is the reason why today, the unbelievers are oftentimes successful in defeating us. Happily, our situation is not hopeless. The Prophet likewise announced the powerful cure for our spiritual cancer. He said that if we will repent and turn back to Allahu Taala, then He will aid and support the Muslim Ummah once again. “Repenting” means, to ask forgiveness to Almighty Allah for our carelessness (Ghaflat) and to reject our exaggerated love for self, for fame, and for the world. “Returning back to Allah” means, instead of loving our self, our fame, and worldly things, we will endeavour to sincerely love Almighty Allah with all our heart, with all our spirit, and with our whole being. “Turning to Allah for help” means, trusting and putting our confidence only in Allah as the Source and the Architect of all victories and successes that come to our lives. Thus, it is indeed very clear from this Hadith Sharif that the real source of the Ummah’s victory is in the genuine spirituality (Ruhaniyyah) of individual Muslims in their exercise of worship and pious activities. True spirituality begins with Islah-un-Nafs (reformation of our wicked self) and the practise of sincerity (Ikhlas) in all our actions.  

4. According to the Quran-an, Allah’s Help (Nasrullah) Will Depend on the Ummah’s Sincerity and Spirituality

            Allah Almighty says in Quran-an il Karim:

“When Allah’s help (Nasrullah) and victory (Fat’h) comes to you. And you will see men entering the religion of Allah in companies. Celebrate the praises of thy Lord and ask His protection. Surely, He is Ever Returning in mercy (At-Tawwaba) [Surah Nasr].

Surah Nasr is very helpful in understanding how the help (Nusrat) of Allah comes to the believers, and what the believers can do to win Allah’s grace and favour. This particular Surah contains the key that unlocks our understanding regarding the relationship between the sincere spiritual conduct of Muslims (Ruhaniyyah and Ikhlas) and Allah’s promise of Nusrat (help/aid/support) and Fat’h (victory) to the Ummah.

           Historically speaking, the content of Surah Nasr describes Allah’s help and victory that He gave to the early Muslims when they triumphantly conquered Makkah without a fight or bloodshed. The victory (fat’h) being referred to in this Surah was the conversion of the whole Arabian Peninsula to Islam. After the conquest of Makkah, various deputations of Arab tribes came to the Prophet to swear their allegiance (bay-ah). The Prophet saw with his own eyes how the promise of Allah became true in his lifetime. Despite his overwhelming victory, the Prophet was reminded by Almighty Allah in this Surah that true victory comes only because of Allah’s help (Nasrullah). Following this great victory, Almighty Allah told the Holy Prophet to praise and worship Him (Fa Salli Li Rabbika Wan-N’har) for all the wondrous things that the Almighty did to Islam and the Muslims. On the other hand, the Prophet was also required to ask Allah’s protection (wa-astaghfir). What is this seeking of protection for? Why ask for protection after this great and overwhelming victory? This Surah teaches us to take shelter in Allah always, even if we think that we are achieving great things. This is because it is our human nature to easily forget Allahu Taala (the Real Giver of victories) when great achievements come. Oftentimes, great achievements lead us to desire for more victories so that we can use these victories for our Nafsaani (selfish) aims (See, Maulana Muhammad Ali Lahori, Bayan-ul-Quran-an (Speeches from the Quran-an). Lahore: Anjuman Isha’at Islam, Lahore, 1951; p. 1215). Whenever achievements and victories come to our lives, Shaytan, the Evil One also wants to gain advantage from our victory; this is the reason why we need to ask for protection against pride (Takabbur) of our power and self-vanity (Ujub). We therefore need to acknowledge with gratitude that every worthy achievement comes from Almighty Allah, the True Provider of victory.

There are three beautiful advices (Naseehat) we can find by reflecting on the meaning of Surah Nasr in our lives as Muslims. Firstly, this Surah shows to us that Muslims can be victorious only if they truly and sincerely depend on Almighty Allah’s help. Without Allah’s help, despite all our efforts we will never achieve anything. Secondly, we invite Allah’s mercy and aid by living a genuine Islamic life—a life of loving submission (Ubudiyyat) to Allah by following (Itteba’at) the Sunnah of the Prophet. We earn the pleasure of Almighty Allah by being truly spiritual Muslims in thought, in word, and in deed. Thirdly, we can be assured of continued victory in our lives if we remain humble despite the achievements that come our way. Almighty Allah’s help is guaranteed if we live a life of simplicity (zuhd)—this is the life modelled after the Sahabah, and characterized by self-denial, humility, and meekness even in the midst of tremendous victory.

5. Important Advice for the Muslim Ummah: Strive to Practice True Spirituality and Sincerity while Hoping in Allah’s Help

The Quran-an Sharif, the Sunnah of Rasullulah (s.a.w.), and the spiritual examples found in the lives of the Sahabah-e Kiram and our early Muslim ancestors (Tabi’en) testify that the true power of Muslims were not dependent on military superiority nor of greater armed capabilities. The evil plans of the unbelievers were not able to overwhelm the Sahabah because of the Sahabah’s pure intentions and sincerity—that is the reason why they were able to spread the liberating message of Islam to the ends of the earth. Victory is promised to those who “believe, do good, exhort one another to truth, and exhort one another to be patient (See, Surah Asr).”

The Ummah can qualify for Allah’s help (Nusrat) only after the attainment of a high state of spiritual cultivation (Ruhaniyyah) which can only be achieved by undertaking the first step, which is self-reformation (Islah-e-Nafs). The promise of the Holy Quran-an that believers will receive the help and support of Almighty Allah is based on three conditions that Muslims should be able to fulfil, namely; moral purification (Islah-e-Nafs), sincerity of intention (Ikhlas-e-Niyyat), and cultivation of spirituality (Ruhaniyyat). Righteous deeds (A’amal-e-Saleha) acceptable by Allah are those actions that passed through the doors of moral purification (Islah-e-Nafs) and sincerity (Ikhlas). So-called “good deeds” that lack Islah-e-Nafs and Ikhlas can never merit Almighty Allah’s favour. A good deed devoid of sincerity and moral purification will never produce reformation in the Islamic Ummah. In the words of the Chishti saint (Wali), Hazrat Muhammad Maseehullah Khan Sahib:

Iman (faith) can never be perfected without Ikhlas (sincerity). True spirituality (Ruhaniyyat) means that one’s’ Batini (inner) intentions and Zahiri (outward) actions are similar. Whatever deeds one shows externally should be similar to the Niyyat that is internal in his Qalb (heart) and hal (inner condition). Our external actions should not contradict our internal aims. Our aim should only be for Allah’s pleasure; and therefore all our Amal-e-Saleha (good deeds) should only be for the sake of Allah and not for showing-off (riya) to others. Only when our Zahiri Amal (external actions) and Batini Niyyat (inner intentions) are in perfect harmony, can we be called true Sufi.” (Shariat aur Tasawwuf [Shariat and Sufism], Volume 1; translated by Allama A. S. Desai Sahib Johannesburg, South Africa: Khankhah Ashrafiyyah Press, n.d.; pp. 34-37.)

Therefore, good deeds if separated from sincerity will never have any spiritual value in the sight of Allah Almighty. The Sahabah were able to achieve great work for Islam since their outward conduct is perfectly harmonious with their inner intention. Allahu Taala gave His blessings and help in all the affairs of the Sahabah because they lived the life of pure sincerity. We, too, can qualify for Almighty Allah’s assistance if we can model our life with the sincerity of the Sahabah-e-Kiram.

The present situation of the Islamic Ummah shows that the unbelievers are constantly bombarding our way of life, our family, our belief system, and even our Muslim territories for total destruction. The enemies of Islam are targeting the whole Ummah with the view of annihilating it. We are left with two powerful remedies to cure this situation and these are: repenting (Tawbah) of our carelessness and living the spiritual life (Ruhaniyyah) with the Prophet and the Sahabah as our spiritual models. Ruhaniyyah and Ikhlas are the two keys that will change the pitiful conditions that characterize present-day Islam. Living a truly sincere spiritual life is our real defence from our worldly enemies. No other kind of defence is more powerful than living a sincere and spiritual life in direct obedience to the will of Allahu Taala and His Holy Prophet. May Allah have mercy on us so that we will be able to live a life of genuine spirituality and sincerity. Insha Allah, Allah will be compassionate to our miserable condition, and He will grant us his help and give us victory (Fat’h) in this world and in the Hereafter. Ameen, thumma Ameen.

 Prof. Henry Francis B. Espiritu is Associate Professor-VI of Philosophy and Asian Studies at the University of the Philippines (UP), Cebu City. He was former Academic Coordinator of the Political Science Program at UP Cebu from 2011-2014. His research interests include Islamic Studies particularly Sunni (Hanafi) jurisprudence, Islamic feminist discourses, Islam in interfaith dialogue initiatives, Islamic environmentalism, the writings of Imam Al-Ghazali on pluralism and tolerance, Turkish Sufism, Muslim-Christian dialogue, Middle Eastern affairs, Peace Studies and Public Theology.