Islamic Spirituality or Contemplative Spirituality

The true Islamic concept of spiritualism is based on the concept of dualism or the duality of reality — that the Creator and the creature are completely separate from one another. God, according to this concept, has a real and eternal existence based on tawheed or monotheism.

According to monotheism, God is One and has no partner. He created all things and has complete control over the universe. As the Creator of all things, He is distinct from all He has created. His creatures, in their seemingly independent existence, totally depend upon the will of God. The sole possessor of all power, God has created man to live for a specific period of time, during which he is sent into this world to be tested.

It is this concept of the Creator as totally distinct from the creature, which sets the Semitic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – apart from the Aryan religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism – in which God is a symbol, not a reality. God in Islam is a real and independent personality. Man should serve Him and submit to Him alone. Though He cannot be seen, He is so close to man that He hears and answers him when he calls upon Him. He is alive and self-sustaining, self-perpetuating. He has knowledge and takes decisions. He rewards and punishes.

According to the Islamic concept of spirituality or Rabbaniyat, the target of the spiritual quest of man is that the creature – man – has to discover and realize God – his Creator, to whom he is accountable, and make contact with Him through the process of contemplation or tafakkur or tadabbur or tawassum as mentioned in the Quran. That is to say that God is the treasure house of all virtues. And when man’s contact with God is established, through contemplation, in the world of his feelings, at the psychological level, an unseen, inner revolution is brought about which is called rabbaniyat or spirituality. In this matter the relationship between God and man can be likened to an electric wire and the powerhouse. When the wire is connected to the powerhouse, electricity is produced, and the place is lit up. In this way, light is the result of the wire’s connection to the powerhouse of God.

Human nature is like an inflammable element. When an inflammable element like petrol comes near fire, it is ignited. Similarly, human nature is awakened when it comes in contact with God. This finds expression in the Quran in these words:

God is the light of the heavens and the earth. The metaphor of His light is that of a niche in which there is a lamp, the lamp inside a glass, the glass like a brilliant star, lit by a blessed tree, an olive, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil would well-nigh glow forth even though fire did not touch it. Light upon light! God guides to His light whom He wills. And God sets forth parables to men, and God has knowledge of all things. (24:35)

This is a compound simile. ‘Light’ here means the guidance of Almighty, ‘niche’ means the human mind and ‘lamp’ denotes the capability to receive divine inspiration. Glass and oil elaborate upon this receptivity. ‘Glass’ shows that this receptivity has been lodged in the human mind; protected from outside influences, and clear oil indicates that this receptivity is very strong and is eagerly waiting to receive inspiration.

This verse makes it clear that, on the one hand, is God, the source of inspiration, and on the other, is the consciousness of spirituality (God-consciousness) with which man is born. In this way when these two things come together, Islamic spirituality or Rabbaniyat comes into existence. This is indeed another name for the awakening of God-consciousness. When it reaches its highest stage the believer’s realisation of God comes to that point where he begins to feel consciously in his worship that he is seeing God and that if he is not seeing God, God is seeing him. If the first type of experience is called direct spiritual experience, the second-type may be termed indirect spiritual experience.

As the Quran tells us, “Prostrate yourself and draw near.” (96:19) For God is always close to us—closer than the lifeblood in the jugular vein (50:16). By total surrender to God, the soul can realise nearness to God.

Similarly, according to this hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), ‘Worship God as if you are seeing him’ (Sahih Al-Bukhari). When man engages himself in true devotion, he is linked with God at a sensory or psychological level. He comes close to God. Through an invisible cord he comes in contact with God, God’s light passes through him. His entire existence comes to be pervaded by this indescribable feeling, which is called spiritual experience. This is called Rabbaniyat in the Quran – (Be people of the Lord). 3:79

Rabbani means one whose thinking, and whose actions are God-oriented, who has placed God at the centre of his attention. When an individual attains spirituality, his state becomes like a lamp lit all of a sudden. He undergoes spiritual experiences. His mind becomes an ocean of spiritual waves. He appears to live in this world, but he has found another far superior world for himself.

These spiritual experiences cannot be explained in words. Everything in the universe seems to convey to him a divine message. To receive this divine message, man must undertake what Quran refers to as ‘Tawassum’. Tawassum is the ability to observe and contemplate (tafakkur or tadabbur) on the phenomena of the universe. This is done with the objective of drawing lessons and thereby receiving spiritual nourishment from them. In this way, the leaves of the tree become a thrilling experience for him. A waft of air gives him the message of truth. He can hear divine music in the waves of the river and the chirping of the birds. Thus the entire universe becomes a storehouse of spirituality.

One, therefore, does not have to go away from the world to receive spirituality. Through the process of tawassum, man can live in the world and continuously receive spiritual inspiration from it.

Due to his high state of receptivity, he reaches the stage where the wavelength of God and man becomes one. And he is enabled, in the words of the Prophet:” to see with God’s eye, to speak with God’s tongue, to walk with God’s foot, to hear with the ear of God.”

Then all limitations vanish and his day and night are spent in God’s neighbourhood. All this can be felt, not described in words. This can be explained with the example of a child who has limitless love for his mother. He knows it himself in the full sense but he cannot fully describe it in words. The same is true of spirituality.

When a person is linked with the source of spirituality – the Creator of the universe, he undergoes such spiritual experiences as he himself fully understands, but has difficulty in conveying to others. He may describe some external signs but he cannot describe inner reality.

Therefore, the philosophy of spirituality according to Islam is explicitly that of the duality of reality or monotheism and in it man’s quest is to discover reality – God through the process of contemplation (tafakkur and tadabbur) and to make contact with Him to receive spirituality or rabbaniyat from Him so that he can live a God-oriented life.