Monday, February 11, 2013

MINDFULNESS AND ISLAM

Now, lest there be any confusion about the matter, let me say this right at the outset: I am not a Muslim, and Islam is certainly not my favourite religion. No, not by a long shot---but that’s for another day. Actually, I have no favourite religion at all. Having said that, I can find some good---and, yes, plenty of bad---things to say about every religion. Today, I will say some positive things about Islam. It’s high time that somebody did.


I’m ‘into’ mindfulness---which is all about health and wellness---and the essence of mindfulness (which, by the way, is not a religion) is this---unconditional surrender to what is. Such surrender is the result of a choiceless awareness to life as it unfolds from one moment to the next. In essence, the word ‘Islam’ means voluntary and total submission---in peace---to the will of the Almighty (Allah) together with a striving after Truth so as to do the will of Allah. Submission and surrender are essentially the same thing, for both involve a letting-be and a calm acceptance of whatever is. The word ‘Islam’ refers to that total peace that comes from such submission or surrender.

In Islam this submission is anything but fatalism. It is often said in Islam that the Almighty does not change the fate of a person, or a people, unless that person or people changes what is in themselves. Also, the notion of insha’Allah (‘God willing’) embodies qualities such as patience, resoluteness, wisdom, compassion, equanimity and non-reactivity---all qualities that are otherwise embodied in mindfulness. The Arabic word sabr denotes a calm and unconditional acceptance of what is---that is, there here-and-now---manifesting itself in an imperturbability that refuses to succumb to worry and anxiety. Such equanimity can only arise when there is a calm acceptance of reality or life---on life’s own terms.

The monotheism in Islam may appear to some to be overly strict and remote but at least it avoids the anthropomorphism of traditional Christianity and embraces an ‘all-Encompassing’ Reality (Qur’an 2:115). Those words---‘all-Encompassing’---appear in many places throughout the Qur’an, which, it must be remembered, contains, among other things, the religious, civil, social, legal, and military codes of Islam. (You need to keep the latter especially in mind when reading portions that present as militant or aggressive in nature.) Now, Allah---‘the [sole] deity, God’---is ‘of all things, encompassing’ (Qur’an 4:126) and, as such, is not so much omnipresent but Omnipresence itself, for it is axiomatic in Islam that the Almighty Divine Life cannot be said to be ‘in’ any place nor be ‘everywhere.’ Nor can the Almighty Divine Life be said to be ‘nowhere.’ All such talk would limit the limitless.


In short, we are talking about an ‘all-Encompassing’ Reality---One Presence and One Power active in the universe. This is the true meaning of the statement, ‘There is no God but Allah’ (Qur’an 47:19). This uncreated and unmanifest Presence is not ‘transcendent’ in the Judeo-Christian sense---at least not in the sense of some supposed anthropomorphic deity in the ‘upper regions’ (whatever that means). No, we are talking about a Reality that is truly limitless, encompassing all things including all of space---and yet beyond all space as well. Nor is this Presence ‘immanent’ in the Christian sense, for the Presence cannot be said to be contained ‘in’ anything. Nor can this Presence be said to be in any way ‘separate’ from the universe (that is, the sum total of all that is) for the notion of separateness denotes divisibility whereas this Presence is indivisible. All in all, it is a mature concept of deity.

Now, you need not call this Omnipresence 'God' or ‘Allah’---I generally don’t---but you can if you wish. The really important thing, as I see it, is this---this boundless and limitless presence and power of life fills all, is all, and empowers all, for everything is truly an individualised expression of life.  This presence and power---this All-in-All---is most fully and personally experienced in the silence. It is experienced as peace, calmness, tranquility, equanimity, wisdom, love and compassion---indeed, as all those things ordinarily associates with the sacred or the divine. The regular practice of mindfulness affords a unique opportunity to cultivate these qualities---simply by a calm, choiceless awareness of whatever is.

This post would not be complete without at least some albeit brief mention of Sufism. Every religion has its ‘inner’ or esoteric side, and Islam is no exception. Like all mystics, the Sufis assert that it is possible to fully embrace the Divine Presence in this life. Almost every religion looks with suspicion upon the mystical tradition, the main reason being that if it be possible to embrace this Divine Life in some direct, immediate and unmediated fashion, then there is a loss of control, authority and dependency. How terrible! Bring it on.

Well, Divine Life or nothing, the ‘good news’ I have for each of you is this---Muslim or non-Muslim, believer or infidel, theist or non-theist, you can never be less than life, you can never be separate from life, and you are always---I repeat, always---in direct and immediate ‘contact’ (for want of a better word) with life in all its fullness. I don’t care if some call that heresy---and they will, because they want you to be in submission (that is, bondage) to them and their authority. Reject all such nonsense. Choose to be a heretic, for the word ‘heretic’ refers to one who chooses. As truth/reality/life is dynamic and never for one moment static, those who refuse to choose----and instead remain statically wedded and glued to some fixed, rigid and ‘authoritative’ view of reality---are simply not on the side of life. Simple as that.

So, why not choose to affirm your oneness with all that is---the ‘is’ being nothing less than the ever-dynamic, all-encompassing life as it unfolds incessantly from one moment to the next. Here’s some more good advice---‘Don't be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others,’ wrote the Sufi mystic and poet Rumi (pictured), ‘Unfold your own myth.’

 
 

4 comments:

  1. Dear Dr Ellis Jones

    I would like to both congratulate you on your article and acknowledge you for your in depth research and profound insight into what I believe is the essence of Islam.

    I am writing a short book on salat (the obligatory contact prayer in Islam) and would be delighted if you could find time to critically review it.

    In the book I assert the ultimate purpose of salat is as a means for one to attain khushu' (ie. tranquility of heart mind body and soul). This can only be achieved through correctly offering the salat at each of the prescribed five daily times. I assert that one must be mindful during salat not only of Allah but also of the meaning of the Arabic words that are recited and reflect on how they relate to oneself.

    I appreciate that you may not have time to review my book but it would be very nice to hear back from you in any case.

    Kind regards

    Arfan

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Arfan, for your kind words. In fact, you are far too kind to me as my knowledge of Islam is not all that great to say the least. Now, although I am not of the Islamic faith, I am not opposed to its true and faithful expression. Bearing all that in mind, I would be more than happy to review your book. When you have a fairly advanced manuscript please forward a copy of it by email to me c/o my email address as set out toward the end of the 'home page' of this blog (but not by way of the 'comments' facility of this blog). I will then offer you some comments and, if it be possible, a brief endorsement that you can use for promotional purposes.

      Now, here's my take on the matter, based largely on what I've read in my studies of Islam, bearing in mind I am inexpert on the matter. I think that the element of mindfulness is strongest as respects the need to inculcate Khushu` in the prayers. As you would know, Khushu` is a positive, single-minded, controlled, non-distracted, attentive, and highly focused (but otherwise gentle and not-forced or artificial in any way) state of mind in which one stands in front of, and in humble and 'soft' submission to, the One and fully direct one’s mind and heart towards Him, in other words, a truly mindful and attentive state of consciousness or awareness ‘when the heart feels aware and humble before the greatness and glory of Allah, and is filled with awe, fear and shyness’ (Ibn al-Qayyim, Al-Rooh, p 314). Regular practice of the prescribed prayers would, I imagine, help to keep distracting thoughts at bay so that over time one’s state of awareness and psychological focus becomes fully immersed with consciousness of, and love for, the Divine One. However, having said all that, I would not have though that the 'ultimate purpose' (your words) of all that was to 'attain ... tranquility of heart mind body and soul' (again, your words). Indeed, I would have thought that in Islam the latter ('tranquility of heart mind body and soul') was more of a means to an end (the 'end' being full, total and humble submission to Allah) as opposed to being an end, let alone the end or ultimate purpose, of Salat. Still, you may be able to make out a case for your proposition, so I keep an open mind on the matter. Such is my training and disposition.

      All the very best, Arfan, and thanks once again.

      Ian

      Delete
  2. Dear Dr. Ian,

    I am speechless after what i have read. I by no means am an expert in spirituality or even close to it for that matter. I am merely an Arab engineer who is lost and trying to make sense of it all. And your article made the most sense to me in a long time.

    I congratulate you on your amazing and profound insights. You have (in my opinion) explained the core of islam. I came to your article as i was searching for how to be mindful about god. I had the same ideas as you, that islam or religion in general, is not about laws, do's and do not's. Its about you, the human. For you to live peacefully and in harmony with other. And i think by achieving mindfulness this can be done. And islam (I am a little biased here) is to me came closest to achieving that!

    However, the society i live in is far away from this spirituality as possible, they have monopolized religion and turned from a spiritual thing into a set of laws or rules that keep changing depending on whom they serving.

    And reading this, i wish i could spread this idea. I apologize for my long post and bad english.

    Thank you,
    Bader

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Bader:

      Many thanks for your kind words. Few people write to me about my posts, so your lovely comment is greatly appreciated. I wish you happiness and peace of mind as you walk the path of life. Spiritual values are the only things that really matter. You know that, so you know so much more than most people here on earth.

      Blessings,

      Ian

      Delete