In this article, I reflect on what spiritual lessons and gems we can pick up during this difficult time. As we are stretched to the limits of patience and resilience, we must dig deeper inside, into the soul, here lies the spiritual energy that will keep us going. When the lockdown was announced on 21st of March by the Prime Minister, like most of you I came home bewildered and confused. Shrouded by fear and anxiety, and a subdued mood overcame, there was a sense of isolation. I lived with my family in a silo for a few days. On deeper spiritual reflection, I was motivated, as I began to see this as an opportunity to look at my role as an Imam afresh.
I felt I could use my skills in different ways. I realised what a blessing this whole experience of self-isolation could be. Yes, it could be a spiritual retreat and for me, it was like a fairy tale! I felt I was growing and becoming more thankful and appreciative of our new situation. By week three I was running meetings via Zoom over the Internet, delivering my study circle over YouTube (every Wednesday at 7.30 pm) and my sermon (every Friday at 1:00 pm) and a Quran course on Zoom (every Monday 3:00 pm).
The four dimensions of inner-life
Let me share with you how I achieved a greater sense of fulfilment. I often refer to my model of ‘four dimensions of inner-life’ that had proved successful in developing the growth of human character. These dimensions are:
In this article, I will focus on just one of these, Spiritual intelligence, in subsequent articles I will explain the others insha-allah.
Spiritual intelligence: An overview
The English word ‘spiritual’ comes from the Latin spiritus, meaning breath. Spiritual is the concern with the spirit as opposed to matter, concern with sacred or religious things, the holy and the Divine, concern for a relationship with the soul, and not with external realities. For the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, ‘Man is dependent on God’ and ‘needs to believe in a creator in order to function properly’.
In his book, ‘The Power of Spiritual Intelligence’, Tony Buzan explains the purpose of this spiritual intelligence: ‘When you are spiritually intelligent you become more aware of the big picture, for yourself and the universe, and your place and purpose in it. Spiritual intelligence is considered by many to be the most important of all our intelligences and has the power to transform your life, civilisation, the planet and the course of history.’
Ihsan and Tazkiyah are two terms used in Islamic Sufi literature for the subject of relationship with Allah, this is the inner-dimensions of Islamic teachings. I call it spiritual intelligence. One of the first book written on this subject was the letter of Imam Abul Qasim al-Qushayri (d. 1072). He defined Sufism “maintaining a vigil and awareness over one’s states and holding to correct behaviour… ‘you are solely with God and you have no other attachments.’ The Qur’an mentions the Divine breath as giving life to the body of Adam:
“I have shaped and blown My spirit into him” (al-Hijr: 29).
In other words, the Divine breath is what gave Adam life and connects the human being to his Creator’s breath lives in the heart of man.
Defining the scope and nature of spiritual intelligence
Spiritual intelligence is the knowledge and understanding of the meaning and purpose of life and undertaking practices that enhance your connection with God and help to acquire the status of God’s representative on earth (khalifah). Spiritual intelligence is the knowledge and the understanding of reality and it provides insights into the ultimate reality and helps to distinguish it from illusions of the material world. Rumi provides us with a poetic definition:
O God, show us everything in this house of illusion as it really is,
No one who has died is sad as a result,
His grief is that he has not sent enough for the Hereafter,
He has left the prison behind and finds himself in open fields filled with delight,
From this place of mourning, the dungeon of pain he has moved to Paradise,
A seat of truth not a palace of falsehood, a precious wine not whey.
He effectively paraphrased the blessed Messenger’s (peace be upon him) prayer, “O Lord, show me the truth as it really is, and give me the power to follow it, and show the world to me as it really is, and give me the capacity to avoid it” (Tirmidhi).
Spiritual intelligence is concerned with the connection that we have with our Lord, and it is the powerhouse that helps us to develop our morals (Akhlaq), manners (Adab), practice of Islamic ethical-legal rulings (Fiqh) and fulfil social obligations (Huquq al-‘ibad).
COVID-19: The value of spiritual intelligence
As you can now see, spiritual intelligence helps us to develop certain practices of silence, patience, gratitude and creativity. It provides opportunities to understand:
Developing our spiritual intelligence can build our ‘immunity’ to fear and anxiety as well as protect us from mental stresses. We should think of this as an opportunity to reflect on how we can grow. The blessed month of Ramadan is fast approaching; use this time wisely for preparation. When we come out of the pandemic we’ll be richer, Insha Allah. For more read my book ‘Seven steps to spiritual intelligence’.