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"O, the one in complete rest and satisfaction, come back to your Lord, well-pleased and well-pleasing to Him. Enter you, then, among my honoured servants and enter you in My Paradise." (Qur'an, 90:27-30) Islam has a rich spiritual tradition and a deep spiritual emphasis. In Islam, spiritual development is achieved through believing in and worshipping God, "And serve your Lord until there comes to you that which is certain." (Qur'an 15:99). In return, we experience a profound spiritual state and contentment and develop as a human getting spiritually closer to God. 

Worshipping for the sake of God is a three-dimensional exercise according to the Prophet Muhammad, "Stay away from sins, because the most acceptable migration (hijrah ) is staying away from sins. Continue the commandments, because the most superior endeavour (jihad) is to perform the commandments. Remember and glorify God often for there is no other form of worship more lovable at the court of God than His remembrance." 



  • The first dimension is the quantity and variability of practising active worship. Fasting, alms giving (zakat) and prescribed prayers (salat) are different types of worship that require some form of action by the practitioners, "who believe in the Unseen, and perform As-salat (prayers) and spend out of what We have provided for them." (Qur'an, 2:3).

  • The second dimension is passive worship, which involves abstaining from acts that are damaging to one's mind, spirituality, assets, family or life, such as gambling, consuming intoxicants, sexual promiscuity or slandering people.

  • The third dimension is the development of a direct personal relationship between God and a Muslim. This is measured by the degree of closeness to God and how much a person remembers and communicates with God at a personal level. This dimension is important as it provides depth and quality to the other two dimensions, "…Verily, in the remembrance of God do hearts find rest" (Qur'an, 13:28).

  • In addition to these three dimensions of worship, I could also talk about three different forms of worship and prayer:

  • Daily prayers (Salat). In Islam, the meaning of worship is this: the human being, as a servant of God, being aware of his defects, weakness and poverty in the Divine presence, prostrates himself in love and wonder before the perfection of God's Lordship, Might and Compassion. Daily prayers are an expression of our surrender to God (See Question 36 for more on salat)

  • Supplication (Du'a). In addition to the daily prayers, a Muslim is encouraged to communicate with God in spoken language and ask for God's support in personal and spiritual life. The Qur'an says "And when My servants ask you (O Muhammad) concerning Me, then (answer them), I am indeed near. I respond to the invocations of the supplicant when he calls on Me. So let them obey Me and believe in Me, so that they may be led aright" (Qur'an, 2:186). Although God responds to all prayers, out of His wisdom He does not always grant our requests, as they may be harmful to us. This is similar to the situation when a person goes to the doctor and asks for a prescription and the doctor prescribes some other medicine, as the doctor best knows the disease and the condition of the person suffering from it.

  • Remembrance (Dhikr): This is the silent or voiced chanting of God's names and attributes or glorifying, praising and exalting God. "Say: Call upon God, or call upon Rahman: by whatever name you call upon Him, to Him belongs the Most Beautiful Names. Neither speak thy Prayer aloud, nor speak it in a low tone, but seek a middle course in between" declares the Qur'an (17:110). Muslims who follow a spiritual path to God (Sufism) focus more on this form of worship.

  • All three forms of worship are important in Islam. There is a rich tradition of supplications reported from the Prophet of Islam. His wife Aisha reported that anyone who saw him would think that he was in a constant state of supplication. He implored God when mounting a horse, after a meal, when entering the house and so on. Consider this example, "O God, I ask You for steadfastness in my affairs. I ask You for resolution in guidance. I ask You for gratitude for Your bounties and acceptable service to You. I ask You for a truthful tongue and a sound heart; and I seek refuge in You from the evil of what You know, and I ask You for the good of what You know and I ask for Your forgiveness for what You already know. Surely You are Knower of the Unseen." (Tirmidhi) A Muslim's worship spans his or her whole life. While certain acts of worship are made on a daily basis, others may be done only once in a lifetime. Performing pilgrimage to holy lands is required to be done once in a lifetime for those rich and healthy enough to make the journey. Zakat (Alms) is the payment of 2.5% of a person's excess wealth to certain categories of people such as the poor and needy. It is paid once a year. Fasting is done for one month every year while prescribed prayers are done five times a day. These are what we call the "pillars of Islam". Collectively, they are divinely prescribed practices to ensure physical, mental, spiritual and social development and the wellbeing of a Muslim. In addition to these three dimensions, patience in respect of hardships and thanksgiving for endowments and blessings are the right responses for a Muslim to give for life's experiences. In this way, she stays on the straight path (siratal mustakim) of reaching higher levels of being and hence getting closer to God. Through spiritual struggle and development, a person goes through three levels of being. 

  • The Commanding Self - This is the animal in all of us that needs to be tamed. The human animal self is quite different to those of real animals. While a cow would be content after a good round meal in the meadows and a lion satisfied with the killing of a single zebra, the human animal self knows no limit in desires and destruction. This inherent nature of the 'self' might seem to be against us but in fact it has positive consequences. While the Creator has created the human self so that we can survive in this world, He did not set any boundaries to its emotions so that the door to human progress and development is never closed. Otherwise, there would be no difference between humans and animals, which have a fixed level of being. The goal is not to totally blunt our desires, which is impossible, but to balance and channel them according to their original purpose. A person who is in this level of being is a slave of his or her insatiable desires guided by the immediate drawing pleasures and avoiding pain and burden. He thinks he has ultimate freedom, but he is a slave to many masters (desires, fear, fame, wealth, people in higher power etc). His attitude is "life is too short to waste, I must enjoy it while I can." According to Islam, a person in this state will never find contentment just like a person will never quench his thirst by drinking salty seawater.

  • The Accusing Self - The Qur'an describes people who are at the level of commanding-self as oblivious to God, and provides a number of reminders to nudge him or her out of their oblivion through emphasising normal events that we all encounter in life. A car accident, a dying relative or a word said by a friend can trigger certain questions in his mind. "I am made up of flesh and atoms, yet, I can feel and learn. Who am I then? Why am I here? Where do I come from and where am I going?" are some of the questions that come to mind. After an awareness of God and seeing the need to enter into a path of spirituality, a person commits to a way of life (or religion) and tries to control his or her actions for the better. Since he has not mastered his own realm as yet, he stumbles along the way. Blaming himself for not being true to his commitment, he learns from the experience and resolves to a renewed commitment. The struggle (jihad) towards the ultimate goal continues this way until the person finds rest.

  • The Restful Self - Through resilience and persistence, there comes a time when he succeeds in finding peace and tranquillity in the heart. He now knows for certain that God exists and understands who God is. The truths of belief become startlingly apparent in his consciousness and heart. He also understands that one day unavoidably he will return to God at the time of death. He realises that by being a servant of God, he gains real freedom from the multiplicity of masters fighting to control him. His attitude becomes "life is too short to waste, I must collect as much yield from the fertile soil of life (in good deeds) and leave a lasting legacy." This enlightenment leads to a willing and complete surrender to God , while looking forward to meeting God. In this state of being, Rumi described his own death as the 'wedding night', which is traditionally the time to meet with the beloved God. At this point in time, the restful soul gets a divine invitation, "O, the one in complete rest and satisfaction, come back to your Lord, well-pleased and well-pleasing to Him. Enter you, then, among my honoured servants and enter you in My Paradise." (Qur'an, 90:27-30). The statement "(one is) well-pleased (with God) and well-pleasing to God" describes an intimate relationship between God and the person at this restful self.


Spirituality in Islam

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