The Spiritual Goal of Islam

What is the spiritual goal of Islam? That is, what is that spiritual target which Islam sets before man? The answer in the words of the Qur'an is: 'A soul at rest' (89:27). Thus the spiritual goal of Islam is to attain this state of peace in the soul.

According to the Qur'an this is the ultimate stage in a man's spiritual development. When he reaches this stage of progress, he qualifies himself to be ushered into Paradise, the perfect and eternal world of the Hereafter. The Qur'an addresses such souls in these words: ‘O serene soul! Return to your Lord joyful, and pleasing in His sight. Join My servants and enter My paradise' (89:27-30).

In this world man has to lead his life in circumstances in which he experiences various kinds of situations: there are times of gain, times of loss; times of happiness and times of grief. Sometimes he receives good treatment at the hands of others, at other times his fate is quite otherwise.

The ideal human being of the Qur'an is one who undergoes all these experiences without losing his integrity. Under no circumstances is his inner peace disturbed. However, untoward the occasion, he can maintain his natural balance. Success does not make him proud. Power does not make him haughty. No bad treatment by others drives him to seek vengeance in anger. At all events, he remains serene. It is such a man who is called 'a peaceful soul' in the Qur'an. And it is this man who, according to the Qur'an, has achieved the highest spiritual state.

The realization of God joins man to his Maker. Such communion with the divine brings about a state of spiritual elevation. Having been thus raised to a higher plane of existence, man becomes of a 'sublime character,' (68:4) as it is expressed in the Qur'an.

This can be illustrated by an example from the natural world: The process of conversion of a substance from the liquid to the gaseous state is called boiling. The boiling point of a liquid varies according to atmospheric pressure. At sea level, water boils at 100 degrees centigrade. At a higher altitude, as on a mountain, the atmospheric pressure is less, so the boiling point is lower. This shows that it is the altitude that makes the difference.

The law of nature governing this world accounts for the difference made by altitude. Islam's aim is to foster human beings whose altitude has changed. The superior qualities desired in him will come later, on their own.

Just as the Prophet of Islam was God's messenger, so also was he a perfect example of the peaceful soul. By studying his life, one can learn the nature of God's ideal man, that is, a peaceful soul. In the Qur'an the Prophet Muhammad is described as an example of "sublime character" (68:4).

To illustrate the point are certain examples from the life of the Prophet of Islam.

The Prophet's name was Muhammad, meaning the praised one or the praiseworthy. But when the Meccans became his most dire opponents, they themselves coined a name for the Prophet, 'Muzammam,' on the pattern of 'Muhammad,' Muzammam meaning condemned. They used to heap abuses on him calling him by this epithet of Muzammam. But the Prophet was never enraged at this distorted version of his name. All he said in return was: "Aren't you surprised that God has turned away the abuses of the Quraysh from me. They abuse a person by the name of Muzammam. Whereas I am Muhammad.” (Ibn Hisham, 1/379)

This meant that abuses were being heaped on a person whose name was Muzammam. Since the Prophet's name was Muhammad, not Muzammam, their abuses did not apply to him. Such a reaction can come only from a person whose intellectual level is very high; who can rise above praise and criticism.

One day the Prophet was sitting with his companions in Madinah when a funeral procession passed by. The Prophet stood up. His Companions pointed out that it was the funeral of a Jew, that is, a non-Muslim. The Prophet replied: 'Was he not a human being?' (Fathul Bari, 3/214).

This incident shows that the Prophet was looking at the matter by separating two different aspects of the Jew, that is, his being non-Muslim, and his being a human being. At that moment he overlooked his non-Muslim identity and saw him simply as a human being.

It is only a man who, in the words of the Qur'an has acquired a sublime character who can show such respect for every human being. It is only one whose spiritual progress has elevated his mental level who can do honour to one of another creed.

On another occasion the Prophet of Islam was in the Masjid al-Nabavi in Medina, the second most sacred mosque in Islam, when a Bedouin, that is, a desert Arab, entered the mosque and urinated inside it. It was obviously a very provocative matter. But the Prophet was not at all provoked. After the nomad had urinated, the Prophet simply asked his companions to bring a bucket of water and wash the place clean (Fathul Bari, 1/386).

This is a clear example of the kind of behaviour one may expect of a man with a peaceful soul. The Prophet's keeping cool at such obvious provocation was possible only because he had attained the highest state of spirituality. He had risen above all negative feelings.

These examples make it clear what a peaceful soul is. The peaceful soul is one which being on a higher spiritual plane, can live in tranquility, regardless of the circumstances. It subsists within its own self. No external event can disturb its inner peace.

Nowadays people often tend to look at the history of kings in order to understand Islam. But this is not the proper way to study it. One needs only to study the careers of today's political leaders to be able to understand the nature of the Muslim kings of bygone days. Today's political leaders are, in reality, exploiters. In a similar way most of the Muslim kings of the later phase of Islam were also exploiters. To achieve their political ends, they exploited the name of Islam. As such, these Muslim kings were in no way the true representatives of Islam.

To me, those known as Sufis or Muslim mystics were far better representatives of the spirit of Islam. The Muslim Sufis embraced such values of Islam as love, peace, and kindness, and made an effort to spread these virtues all over the world. And that is the true spirit of Islam.

At this point, I would like to relate certain incidents relating to Muslim Sufis, which illustrate their mission and which throw light on the real spirit of Islam.

Sheikh Nizamuddin Aulia was a great Muslim Sufi of the 13th century. The story goes that once a disciple of the Sheikh visited him. He offered him a gift of a pair of scissors, a product of his hometown. When the Sheikh saw this gift, he remarked politely:

'What am I to do with this gift? It would have been better had you brought me a needle and thread. Scissors cut things apart, while a needle and thread join things together. You know my job is to unite people, and not to separate them.'

Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawi, a famous Sufi of India, one day arose to perform his ablutions. Having been brought a jug of water by his disciple, he sat down at one place to begin his ablutions, but then he got up again and went to another place. From there too he got up. Only when he had gone to a third place did he finally perform his ablutions.

The disciple found this very strange. With proper reverence he observed, 'Sir, you have done something new. Twice you sat at different places and then got up and finally you performed your ablutions at a third place.' Maulana Thanawi answered that at the first two places he had found ants creeping about on the ground. He thought that if he dropped water on them, they would be in trouble. Finally he had gone to a third place where there were no ants, and only then did he perform his ablutions.

This shows that when we should not harm even tiny creatures such as ants and earthworms, the harming of human beings is out of question. We ought to live in this world doing no harm and giving no pain. That is in the true spirit of Islam.

These anecdotes very aptly illustrate the reality of a true mystic or spiritual person. One, who has reached an advanced stage of spiritual uplift, having found the true essence of religion, no longer has the will or the capacity to do harm. He gives others life, not death. He benefits others, doing injury to no one. In short, he lives among the people like the rose and not the thorn. He has nothing but love in his heart to bestow upon others.

In Conclusion

To sum it up, according to Islam, the highest spiritual goal for man is his spiritual uplift when he has attained the high state called 'peaceful soul' in the Qur'an. This may also be termed as complex-free soul which can withstand all kinds of negativity.

Thus a developed or complex-free soul is one which, having reached a high level of thinking, has risen from all kinds of negativity and has attained a positive identity in the full sense of the word.

The importance of the peaceful soul, according to Islam, is its being deserving of salvation and thus eligible to enter the purest and finest realm of paradise.

The way to reach the stage of the peaceful soul depends upon man's relation to God. The more man turns his attention to God, the more he will receive inspiration from Him. With the help of divine inspiration, he will be able to pass through the various stages of spiritual uplift until he ultimately reaches that pinnacle of sublimity so desired by the Almighty.

This paper was presented by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan at a conference held by the Institute of Gandhian Studies, Wardha, on September 22, 1995.

Prev/Next links