True Freedom (2) – Liberating the soul

Can Spiritual Freedom provide the answer? It may be clear at this point that a human being can easily lose their freedom as they become psychologically enslaved to the various idols of this worldly life. And evidently, this can lead to disastrous psychological, social, moral and spiritual consequences. But is there another perspective of freedom that allows for human beings to attain that elusive freedom of the soul? Interestingly, a close examination of the Islamic teachings presents a moral paradigm of freedom that is worthy of our consideration. From the Islamic perspective, our lives are not meaningless, nor devoid of any ultimate purpose. “Do you think that We created you aimlessly and that you would not ultimately return back to Us?” [Qur’an 23:115]. So what then is the purpose of our lives? Our lives are a spiritual journey towards God, to deepen our relationship with Him. “O Human, indeed you are laboring painfully towards your Lord, but you shall surely meet Him.” [Qur’an 84:6]. All the hard and painful experiences in life actually present opportunities for us to build ourselves as better human beings by building our relationship with God. If we transform these experiences into spiritual growth and development, we find true liberation and serenity. “The one who purifies his soul is successful” [Qur’an 87:14]. A human being is successful when he or she achieves the freedom of the soul, by strengthening its connection with the Divine and empowering it with moral virtue. When the soul becomes awakened to the reality of life, it is not distracted by obsession with materialistic pleasures, but instead it is galvanized to spread mercy and...

True Freedom (1) – Escaping Psychological Slavery

Freedom. It is argued to be one of the most cherished values for those who have it, and one of the most envied values for those who don’t. Nations rise and fall as people pursue freedom from oppression, and each individual strives to maintain freedom in their own lives. Many thinkers have gone so far as to suggest that freedom is the fundamental achievement that characterizes a modern society. But what is freedom, really? And have we actually achieved it? Freedom as a Value Freedom is often described as the source of our happiness, the most important of our values, the hallmark of our civilization, and a host of other superlative epithets. We pride ourselves on freedom and make it a rallying cry for our campaigns. We despise being subjugated and enslaved, and we commemorate the hardships endured by earlier generations to defend the freedoms we enjoy today. The quest for achieving full freedom continues onwards, removing any of the obstacles that prevent human beings from being truly liberated. If we are going to discuss the question of how to achieve freedom, we need to be clear on what we are discussing. In this article, we will not be entering the philosophical discussion of “free will” – the question of whether our decisions are truly voluntary and contracausal or whether they are determined by antecedent events. That is the topic of discussion in another article. In the present article however, we intend to discuss freedom as a value which human beings seek to actualize in their lives. Every individual is generally believed to be born free, and people that...

The Real Battle: Meaningful vs Meaningless

When I say a word that you understand, you say it has a meaning. It has the quality of intentionality or being ‘about’ something. If one’s larynx however ejects a random unintelligible noise, you would call it meaningless – it conveys nothings and represents nothing. Meaning has to be assigned by something external – a word cannot decide what it means by itself. But what about the universe and life itself – does it mean anything? Why is it there? Is it about something, or is it altogether pointless, incidental, random, and ultimately inconsequential? Ideas about life are an intellectual battle between the meaningful and the meaningless. On the one hand, there is the meaningful – the notion that life has a purpose, that we are meant to accomplish something in this short time we have on this world (as in Qur’an 57:20); and that our moral journey to help one another and our intellectual journey to discover reality are somehow intrinsically tied to our spiritual journey towards our Creator. These ideas reflect a natural disposition of the human mind (read about the fitrah). There are of course, various competing religious and non-religious philosophies that attempt to create such a meaningful story about life, and they may be evaluated based on how successfully and coherently they tie together the moral, intellectual and spiritual journeys of life and address the deepest realities of our existence (read for instance regarding the problem of suffering). The Muslim theologian Ibn al-Qayyim (d.751H) made precisely this point when he said, “All behaviours of a human being are either representative of a particular philosophy of life (deen), or unrelated to life goals....

Evil (2) – Opportunities for growth

By M. Nazir Khan and M. Faisal Abideen   Human suffering is a part of life, but why? What is its value? Is there any way in which it can be positive? How can suffering develop us morally and spiritually and bring us closer to God?   Human suffering and the attributes of God One of the unique aspects of Islamic theology is the very rich and colourful description it provides of the qualities of God. The Qur’anic verses are punctuated with diverse Names describing the nature of God, the different shades and hues of His love, mercy, compassion, justice, omnipotence, omniscience, generosity, forgiveness, power, sovereignty and so on. Indeed, the Prophet Muhammad said, “Verily, God has ninety-nine Names. Whoever encompasses them, will enter Heaven” [Related in Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim]. What exactly does it mean to encompass them? Each of the Divine Names not only tells us something about God but also informs us about the moral quality that human beings must strive to embody. As the eminent classical Islamic theologian, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah wrote, “God loves those who embody the effects of His Divine Attributes.” Thus, knowledge of God’s name ar-Rahman (the One whose Mercy encompasses everything in existence) entails that we as human beings become the vessels of Divine mercy, allowing it to reach the weak, destitute and suffering people around the world through our good deeds. It is only when we show such relentless mercy that we truly understand and appreciate the meaning of mercy, allowing us to gain a closer relationship with the One who is the source of all Mercy – God Almighty. And...

Evil (1) – Why must we suffer?

By M. Nazir Khan and M. Faisal Abideen Why does evil exist? This is a question that has haunted every human being. Torture, rape, murder, cruelty, disasters, poverty, disease – it all seems too much and too pointless. Personal tragedies are frequently met with the question, “Why me? What did I do to deserve this?” Could there really be a loving and all-powerful God who would allow such suffering?  The Age-Old Question Discussion about the problem of evil seems ubiquitous in human thought. One can find major thinkers in every field of knowledge and in every culture and epoch who have commented on it from the dawn of ancient civilizations to the modern scientific age. Moreover, it is an extremely powerful question, for it relates not to an obscure philosophical dilemma but to a living reality that confronts each and every human being. In the modern era, it has become increasingly more common for people of diverse intellectual backgrounds to cite the problem of evil as their primary reason for rejecting faith in God. Historian and New Testament scholar, Bart Ehrman, noted that it was not his views on the textual corruption of holy scripture which caused him to lose his faith, but rather it was his acceptance of the problem of evil. Sir David Attenborough, one of the leading figures in documentaries about nature and wildlife, dismissed the notion that beauty in nature points to God, instead citing the example of a disease-causing parasitic worm as evidence against a merciful deity. Even one of the great voices of modern Christianity, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, surmised that the 2004 Tsunami raised...