Spirituality or rabbaniyat, to use the Qur’anic term, is the elevation of the human condition to a plane on which the mind is focused on the higher, non-material realities of a godly existence. The opposite of spirituality is materialism, a course followed all too often in this world. One who takes this course, giving all his attention to worldly things, or to put it another way, one who centres his attention on mere appearances, is regarded as being materialistic. Conversely, one who rises above material things or appearances, who finds his focus of interest in non-material things, is regarded as being spiritual or godly. The latter is one who obeys the injunctions of the Qur’an.
To understand what constitutes materialism, imagine that you come across a palatial house, or see an attractive car being driven along the street. If a strong desire is kindled within you to have such things in your possession that is a clear indication that materialism is a major motivating factor in your life. One who sees the same things, but remains unaffected by the notions of luxury that they convey, and therefore feels no desire to acquire them, lives in a more rarefied sphere in which materialism plays no part. He sees no attraction in the lesser world of material appearances, being engrossed in the higher realities of the supremely spiritual life. The truly non-material person is never influenced by superficialities – his soul exists at too profound a level of spirituality.
This is true, and without any exaggeration. Those who live for worldly pleasures believe that gratification cannot be had except from material things. But this thinking is due to sheer ignorance. Worldly pleasure being the only thing that they have experienced, they imagine that for enjoyment they must depend solely on material things. Had they experienced spiritual pleasure, they would certainly have forgotten material pleasure. The pleasure to be derived from material things is limited in nature and very short-lived, whereas spiritual pleasure may be eternally savoured.
Eating tasty food certainly gives us a sense of enjoyment. But it is only when the experience of eating such food results in an outpouring of thanksgiving to God that our pleasure knows no bounds. Traveling in a modern car is also enjoyable, but the pleasure which comes from a deep perception of reality, —i.e. the realization of the indescribably unique power of God as manifested in the world in the form of cars, aeroplanes and all the other modern amenities created for man’s comfort—is far superior to that which one experiences while traveling in a luxurious automobile.
The materialistic person can find pleasure only in something, which he or she actually experiences. But the spiritual person lives on a higher plane. For him, even seeing things in another’s possession occasions an outpouring from the innermost recesses of his heart of God’s gratefulness. Another’s material pleasure transforms itself into a spiritual pleasure for him as well. A materially minded person sees only the creature, while a spiritually inclined person sees the splendour of the Creator through the creature.
Furthermore, in the spiritual world there is no great difference between comfort and deprivation. What one gains from experiences of material pleasure is of far less value than what one gains from experiences of deprivation. The tears of pain flowing from an aching heart give far greater satisfaction than the laughter of happiness. The greatest source of pleasure is in the remembrance of God. It is this reality, which finds expression in the following verse of the Qur’an:
“It is only in the remembrance of God that hearts are comforted.” (13:28)
Here ‘comfort’ means not just the temporary solace to be found in everyday convenience, but the real comfort with its implications of peace of mind that can stem only from God Almighty. Man by nature is an idealistic creature. Anything short of ideal can attract only fitful attention from him, whereas true and lasting comfort can be achieved only through the Perfect Being.
Existing at the level of materialism is like descending into animality. Materialism is, in other words, a form of shallowness. The real man is one who discovers the secret of living on the elevated plane of spirituality. If in materialism there is the pleasure of laughter; in spirituality, there is the pleasure of pain. If materialism is to live a life of limitations, spirituality is to live in limitlessness.