Every year, Ashura is commemorated by hundreds of millions of lovers of the Holy Progeny…
For many people in today’s fast-paced world, engaging with faith and spirituality is not a top priority, as our lives are tremendously busy and exhausting. The responsibilities of work, school, and family create a sense that we need to prioritize this world, often at the expense of the next, and we work toward the cultivation of our bodies, often to the detriment of our souls. Trends in religiosity and spirituality in America, for instance, have taken considerable turns, as people are more inclined to consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.”1 Adherence to a particular faith tradition is decreasing for most people,2 which gives rise to the question of how we can make sure we are striving to seek that which God has intended for us within Islamic tradition. Obedience and absolute submission to our Creator are the focal points of Islamic tradition, and it is important to remember to recognize that in obedience and submission we can attain a sense of tranquility. As God mentions in the Holy Quran, “Remembrance of God certainly brings comfort to all hearts.”3 But consistently remembering God and finding that state of tranquility certainly comes with its fair share of hurdles and obstacles.
Filling the Spiritual Void
Maintaining a sense of engagement with faith and religious practice is a task that is challenging and requires a great deal of focus and diligence. In the same way that the physical body needs the necessary nourishment to be productive, the spiritual heart of the human being also needs nourishment through engagement with God, prophetic teachings, and guidance from revelation. But naturally, preserving that relationship with spirituality despite all the obstacles and challenges that come up in our day-to-day lives is very difficult. In the same vein, Imam Ali (p) says, “Surely these hearts are [sometimes] receptive and [other times] turn away. So if they are receptive, then increase upon them the recommended deeds, and if they are turning away, then limit them to the obligations.”4 The Imam (p) is advising us not to burden our hearts during the days where we do not feel an extra sense of inspiration, but rather just to be careful to fulfill our obligations and keep ourselves away from that which is forbidden. During the days and nights of the month of Ramadan, for instance, or on other special times and dates throughout the year, our hearts are more inclined to seek God-consciousness. At the same time, on other days due to a host of circumstances, maintaining that sense of God-consciousness becomes increasingly difficult. Nonetheless, it is vital to make the necessary strides throughout our lives to unceasingly fight the urge to fall into sin and vice and, at the same time, continuously work toward cultivating a sense of spirituality. Seeking a semblance of God-consciousness is a process that takes a lifetime but nonetheless is the most important of our responsibilities, as the Holy Quran states, “Worship your Lord until ultimate certainty (death) approaches you.”5
The Sources of Spirituality
The gifts that we have received in the Holy Quran and traditions of the Prophet and the infallible Imams (pbut) are of immense value, and if we seek to engage with them often, we will find that they offer us a means of spiritual rejuvenation. The book of God is meant to be guidance for the one who reads and reflects upon it, and the words of the infallible Imams are the same. As a companion of Imam Ali al-Rida (p) narrated, “I heard [the Imam] say, ‘May God have mercy upon the one who enlivens our affairs.’ So, I asked him, ‘And how do we enliven your affairs?’ He said, ‘Learn our sciences and teach them to others. For surely if people knew the beauty of our words, they would follow us.’”6 And in another tradition, the Commander of the Faithful, Imam Ali (p) advised his close confidante Kumayl ibn Ziyad, “Oh Kumayl! Do not take from anyone other than us and you will become from us!”7 Again, the family of the Prophet stresses the importance of recognizing that the best source to take knowledge from is them, and them alone, for they offer a purified version of the truth and reality. And while there might be many other means by which we can potentially fill the spiritual void, especially during days where we may feel less engaged, the words, traditions, and supplications of the Ahl al-Bayt (p) are a resource that is so transformative for our souls.
In Ziyarat al-jamiah al-kabira, we address the Imams by stating “your words are a light.”8 The luminous nature of the words of the infallible Imams is symbolic of how those words illuminate our hearts and become a means of purification of our souls as we contemplate and reflect on them. Thus, to make the necessary strides in the cultivation of God-consciousness, we need to hold steadfastly to their teachings by using what they have offered us.
Spirituality without Religion?
One of the core principles of the religion of Islam is its emphasis on submission to God. In the words of Imam Ali (p), “Islam is submission and submission is certainty.”9 Furthermore, God states in the Holy Quran, “I swear by your Lord that they will not be considered believers until they let you judge their disputes and then they will find nothing in their souls to prevent them from accepting your judgment, thus, submitting themselves to the will of God.”10 Again, the idea of submitting to the will of God and absolutely obeying Him is the key to our success, as we recognize his ultimate Wisdom as a way to pull us from darkness into light. Many view Islam through a notion of feeling as opposed to being. In other words, we often prioritize the way we feel after performing rituals like prayers or fasting over submitting to our Creator because He has obliged us to perform those rituals. Being in that state of submission to God is among the objectives of creation. In Dua Kumayl of the Commander of the Faithful, we state, “Oh God! Make me amongst the best of servants in relation to You!”11 Once we have spent that time dedicating ourselves to God, we will find that experiences near Him, like hajj, ziyarat, or performing the night prayer become a source of joy and contentment. Imam Zayn al-Abidin (p) states in one of his supplications, “Oh God! Who has tasted the sweetness of Your Love and found something else!?”12
Finding a Balance
Islamic tradition emphasizes balance between cultivation of our spirituality and going about our day-to-day lives. The idea is that religion is not meant to be burdensome, but rather a way of life in which we engage with our Creator with a sense of God-consciousness even though we may be busy with work, school, or family life. In other words, staying engaged with our faith does not need to take away from other life responsibilities. In a very practical tradition, Imam Ali (p) states, “For the believer, the day should be split into three times: a time for the believer to call upon his Lord. [Secondly], a time to care for one’s day to day living. And [thirdly], a time to keep between one’s self to do what he pleases which is permissible and he enjoys.”13 As demonstrated in these words, the believer has to find a balance between ritual acts of worship and fulfilling life’s responsibilities.
When we recognize that our entire existence is in service to our Creator, as He has commanded us—“We have created jinn and human beings only that they might worship Me”14—then everything that we do in life can be a manifestation of obedience and submission. For instance, our jobs, our education, and even our spending time socializing can be a reflection of our utter submission to God. Thus, the Imam begins by stating that the first designated time during the day of a believer is calling upon our Lord, and building a relationship with God. Furthermore, Imam Ali (p) speaks about the second phase of our days, which regards taking care of our own affairs. Again, Islamic tradition and the advice of the Prophet (pbut) and his immaculate family are practical, and being engaged with spirituality does not translate solely into worshipping God in the night and fasting during the day; we also must fulfill such things as the rights of jobs, seeking an education, and raising a family. And thirdly, the Imam calls upon the believer to enjoy the fruits of our labor and to do what we wish if it is within the boundaries of that which is permissible. For instance, we may spend time with family and friends or travel. And if we carry out our lives with a sense of recognition that God has created us and to Him is our return, then our lives will bear the fruit which our Lord has intended, thus moving us closer towards the spirituality we are seeking.
1. Mark Oppenheimer, “Examining the Growth of the ‘Spiritual but Not Religious’,” The New York Times, July 18, 2014, www.nytimes.com/2014/07/19/us/examining-the-growth-of-the-spiritual-but-not-religious.html.
2. “Searching for Spirituality in the U.S.: A New Look at the Spiritual but Not Religious,” PRRI, www.prri.org/research/religiosity-and-spirituality-in-america/).
3.The Holy Quran 13:28. Quranic translations in this article are from the Muhammad Sarwar translation.
4.Nahj al-balagha, saying 304.
5. The Holy Quran 15:99.
6. Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, vol. 3, p. 30, hadith 13.
7. Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, vol. 74, p. 412.
8. Saduq, Uyun akhbar al-Rida, vol. 1, p. 305.
9. Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, vol. 65, p. 311, hadith 3.
10. The Holy Quran 4:65.
11. Dua Kumayl.
12. Munajat Muhibin.
13. Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 91, p. 94.
14. The Holy Quran 51:56.
3. الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَتَطْمَئِنُّ قُلُوبُهُم بِذِكْرِ اللَّـهِ أَلَا بِذِكْرِ اللَّـهِ تَطْمَئِنُّ الْقُلُوبُ﴾،[القرآن، الرعد ١٣، آية ٢٨]
5. وَاعْبُدْ رَبَّكَ حَتَّىٰ يَأْتِيَكَ الْيَقِينُ﴾، [القرآن، الحجر ١٥، آية ٩٩
6. “سمعت أبا الحسن علي بن موسى الرضا عليه السلام يقول: رحم الله عبد أحيا أمرنا فقلت له: وكيف يحيي أمركم؟ قال: يتعلم علومنا ويعلمها الناس، فإن الناس لو علموا محاسن كلامنا لاتبعونا” [الشيخ المجلسي، بحار الأنوار، ج ٢، ص ٣٠]
7. “يا كميل لا تأخذ إلا عَنَّا تكن مِنّا” [الشيخ المجلسي، بحار الأنوار، ج ٧٤، ص ٤١٢]
8. الإمام الهادي (ع)، الزيارة الجامعة الكبيرة: “…كَلامُكُمْ نُورٌ…”. [الشيخ الصدوق، عيون أخبار الرضا (ع)، ج ١، ص ٣٠٥]
9. الاسلام هو التسليم، والتسليم هو اليقين9[الشيخ المجلسي، بحار الأنوار، ج ٦٥، ص ٣١١]
10. فَلَا وَرَبِّكَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ حَتَّىٰ يُحَكِّمُوكَ فِيمَا شَجَرَ يْنَهُمْ ثُمَّ لَا يَجِدُوا فِي أَنفُسِهِمْ حَرَجًا مِّمَّا قَضَيْتَ وَيُسَلِّمُوا تَسْلِيمًا﴾، [القرآن، النساء ٤، آية ٦٥]
11الإمام علي بن أبي طالب (ع)، دعاء كميل، “… وَاجْعَلْنِي مِنْ أَحْسَنِ عَبِيدِكَ نَصِيباً عِنْدَكَ …”. [الشيخ الطوسي، مصباح المتهجد، ص ٨٥٠]
12. الإمام علي بن الحسين زين العابدين (ع)، مناجاة المحبين، “… إِلـهي مَنْ ذَا الَّذي ذاقَ حَلاوَةَ مَحَبَّتِكَ فَرامَ مِنْكَ بَدَلاً…”. [الشيخ المجلسي، بحار الأنوار، ج ٩١، ص ١٤٨]
13. روي عن أمير المؤمنين(ع): “للمؤمن ثلاث ساعات، فساعة يناجي فيها ربه، وساعة يرم معاشه، وساعة يخلي بين نفسه وبين لذتها فيما يحل ويجمل”. [نهج البلاغة، الشريف الرضي، باب الخطب، ج ٤، ص ٩٣]
14. وَما خَلَقتُ الجِنَّ وَالإِنسَ إِلّا لِيَعبُدونِ [القرآن، الذاريات ٥١، آية ٥٦]