A Perspective on Spirituality
by Tahira Rifath
There is this trend to prompt girls in spiritually “loving thyself” to help uplift their confidence. There is another similar trend among Westerners in adapting Eastern spiritual theologies into their materialistic lifestyles. But, spirituality isn’t about becoming “one with oneself.” Spirituality is realizing that you have a spirit, a soul, which needs to be nourished. This soul does not belong to you. Inna lillah wa inna ilayhi raji’oon. To God we belong, and to Him we are returning. “Returning” is translated in present tense. As in we are constantly taking steps towards Him. We don’t belong to ourselves. We don’t belong to each other. We live together, but separately. The connections we make with others are almost irrelevant to the main connection we must reestablish with God. We exist within our bodies, creating a physical connection already between mind, body, and soul. As we were dismissed from heaven to this earth, we were released of that proximal connection to God. Our body becoming a physical barrier to reaching God. That is why scholars urge for self-discipline against our desires,tasawwuf, because when we overcome these temptations we have a clearer path towards God.
Why do we neglect Him? Why has society convinced us that loving ourselves will make us happy? Why has it created this belief that disbelieving in Him is something to be proud of? We claim we know ourselves better than anyone. But, God has gifted us with so many descriptive details about Him, about the way He created us, about the types of people He loves most, about how divine love comes from Him. We have the resources to know God better than we think we know ourselves. We doubt our thoughts, emotions, and intentions so often, simply because we are imperfect humans changing so often. But God stays. He is here. He is eternally perfect. Nothing about Him changes. His oaths are never broken. Everything we know about Him is directly from Him, His Book, His angel, and His prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). Not the sly whispers of strangers or the gossips of neighbors. He gave us direct paths in seeking Him. Why don’t we love Him? Why don’t we love those who love Him?
I’m not saying not to love ourselves, though I think making it an ultimate priority leads to some selfish tendencies and can become exhausting. I believe that in order to love ourselves, we must understand how to love God. Our bodies and minds and habits are constantly changing, so the person you love today, is not the person you will be tomorrow. Whereas, God is never fluctuating, and so loving Him will encompass stability and the ability to expand. Also, focusing on loving God teaches you things about yourself that you would have not known otherwise. Seeing the human attachment to God which you are capable of encompassing allows you to embrace yourself as you are striving to love Him. You see yourself as a strong being with emotional maturity. It is harder to love those around you than it is to love God, because of the natural human flaw of forgetfulness, nasiya, which is why humans are called insaan in the Quran. So falling in love with He Who is perfect will grant you peace within and hopefully bring ease in loving that which is imperfect, humans. And again, as you find yourself loving others, you will learn more about yourself that they will bring you to realize. I believe it is through the connections and interactions with God and humans does one love oneself. You see yourself becoming patient, wiser, self sufficient, and connected–all things to be proud of and love in you.
We don’t entirely comprehend divinity, so we are taught to understand it through analogies. It is known that the love of a mother is easily visible and greatly praised. ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab narrated:
Some war prisoners, children and a woman, were brought before the Prophet and behold, a woman amongst them was milking her breasts to feed and whenever she found a child amongst the captives, she took it over her chest and nursed it (she had lost her child but later she found him). The Prophet said to us, “Do you think that this lady can throw her son in the fire?” We replied, “No, if she has the power not to throw it (in the fire).” The Prophet then said, “Allah is more merciful to His slaves than this lady to her son.” [Sahih Bukhari]
The second comparison I would like to use is that of the Middle Eastern folklore detailing Qays’s love for Layla, driving him to insanity and leading to his nickname, Majnun Layla, Layla’s Madman. In this story, Majnun’s father has taken him on a holy pilgrimage to Mecca in hopes that God will guide him away from his love for Layla. Upon seeing the Sacred Ka’bah, Majnun says:
They say, “Crush the desire of Layla in your heart.” But I implore Thee, oh my God, let it grow even stronger. Take what is left of my life and add it to Layla’s. Let me never demand from her as much as a single hair, even if my pain reduces me to the width of one. Let her punish and torment me. Let her wine alone fill my cup, my name never to be spoken without her seal. My life shall be sacrificed for her beauty, my blood shall be spilled freely for her. Though I burn for her in agony, like a candle, none of my days shall be free from this pain. Let me love, oh my God, love for love’s own sake, and make my love a hundred times as great as it was and is.
Such was Majnun’s prayer to the All-Mighty as his father silently listened. What could he say? He knew now that he could not loosen the fetters binding his heart, could not find a cure for its ills. There was nothing to do but leave Mecca and start on the voyage home, where they waited impatiently in sorrow and fear. And when they arrived, his entire family surrounded the Sayyid. “How was it?” they cried. “Tell us, has Allāh helped? Is he saved?”
But the old mans eyes looked tired and sad, “I have tried, I have told him how to ask God for relief from this curse, this Layla. But he clung to his own ideas.”
“What did he do?” they asked.
“He cursed himself and blessed Layla.” (Rogers & Nizami, 2002)
It is curious that Majnun begged of God to preserve and nurture his love for Layla. Majnun loved God enough to confess his astounding love of another being, because he knows God is the source of all love and mercy. The love of God allows us to love others. When you learn to love God, you love with such an extremity of emotion and obsession with the One that you find such ease in loving those you love. Majnun’s love for Layla does not exist without his love for God. Majnun embraced the knowledge of God’s characteristics, of how God loves him, us, that he was able to understand how to love Layla.
Rogers, L. & Nizami, G. (2002) “The Fire of Love: The Love Story of Layla and Majnun” p. 31