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1. Islam: A Brief Introduction  

2. Performing Islamic Prayers

3. Three Levels of Faith: Islam, Iman, and Ihsan 

4. The Scientific Evidence That God Exists and the Holy Qur'an Is His Message to Humanity 

5. Creation and Evolution in the Holy Qur'an

6. Humans, As God's Caliphs on Earth

7. Adam's Contest With the Angels, and Getting Out of Paradise

8. The Relationship Between the Spiritual and the Physical in Islamic Teachings  

9. Mind, Self, Soul, Spirit, and Happiness from an Islamic Perspective 

10. Heart-Mind Relationship in the Holy Qur'an

11. Worshippers By Choice Or Forced Slaves?

12. Allah, As He Described Himself in the Holy Quran

Articles with Islamic Perspective:

Health Care Crisis in the US: An Islamic Perspective

"Terrorism" & "Islamo-Fascism" Propaganda Campaigns: An Interactive Lecture

Six Questions About Islam, Muslims and Jews

Five Islamic Issues: Predestination and choice, position toward other religions, angels, and the End of Days

Food Islamic Rules and Teachings  

Are Muslim women second-class citizens  

The French Ban on Islamic Headscarf, an Interview with

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Islam:

God's Message of Guidance to Humanity

8

The Relationship Between the Spiritual and Physical Aspects of Islamic Teachings 

By Hassan Ali El-Najjar *

Al-Jazeerah, November 2, 2007

 

Introduction

All living creatures are composed of a body and self, which is also referred to as soul and spirit. Non-living objects, like rocks, are composed of body only. Then, the self (soul) is the source and the essence of life in living creatures.

The body organs function only by commands from the soul. The moment the soul stops functioning, the body becomes lifeless. It dies.

All body organs work in service of the brain, the core of the living organism. But the brain itself works in service of the mind, which is incubated in the brain cells.

The mind is the entire body of knowledge an organism receives in its entire life through its senses and through synthetic analysis.

The self (soul) is the entity created through successive decision making on basis of the knowledge acquired. Two major ideal types of self have been identified for thousands of years: The good and evil. But logically speaking, a spectrum of possibilities lies between the two types.

In sum, the physical aspect of an organism is subordinate to its spiritual aspect, not the other way around. However, the physical aspect is necessary for the mind and consequently for the self because only through it the mind can see, hear, feel, smell, and taste. Without these physical senses, the mind will not be able to interact with the world around it.

The Five Pillars 1

Islamic teachings also have their own spiritual and physical aspects. Both are necessary for understanding Islam, God's guidance to humanity. If Muslims focus on one aspect only, there would be impairment. However, as argued above, the physical aspects are subordinate to the spiritual aspects of religion.

Whether in acts of worshipping God (like proclamation of faith, prayers, giving zakat, fasting, and hajj), or in daily life interactions with people and the environment, these two aspects can be found inseparable. 

Each pillar of Islam, or the above five acts of worshipping God, has its physical and spiritual aspects. These cannot be separated if a true understanding of Islam is the objective.

For example, Muslims cannot keep their faith secretly, unless there is an immediate danger threatening their life. Proclaiming openly and publicly that they are Muslims has many benefits to them, other Muslims, and the community they are living in. It is an announcement that the speaker is going to abide by a set of rules, which guide his/her behavior to the betterment of humanity.

1. When they proclaim publicly that there is no other God but Allah and Muhammed is His messenger, then they are also saying that we are not here by accident. There is a Creator who supervises this universe. They also say that they believe in what the messenger of God brought to humanity, particularly the Qur'an and the Sunna. Thus, the proclamation of faith is not just uttering spoken words, it is an association of these words with deeper meanings which influence our life. 2

When Muslims make wudou' (washing) before performing prayers, it is both a physical act and a spiritual act. Five times a day, washing your hands, mouth, nose, face arms, ears, hair, and feet means cleanliness. This is the essence of the wudou' requirement. God has required this physical act, not as a goal in itself, but to lead to deeper meaning, cleanliness. He wants humans to be clean and healthy. 3

2. The five Islamic prayers (at dawn, noon, mid-after-noon, sunset, and dusk), are all physical acts of standing, bowing down, kneeling, prostrating, and sitting on the ground. These movements are structured in a certain way taught to Muslims by the Prophet Muhammed (Peace and blessings of God be upon him). 4

These movements done five times a day constitute a physical daily exercise activity, contributing to the welfare and well-being of the human body. However, they also constitute acts of contemplation and thinking about the meaning of the read verses of the Holy Qur'an. Thus, prayers are not just physical movements. There are spiritual benefits from them leading not only the betterment of the body but also the betterment of the self (soul).

3. A Muslim has to give Zakat. This is an assistance to the poor in society. It is, at least, 2.5 percent of a personís annual savings. This is an Islamic act of worshipping God through giving away a small part of what God has given to a person. If we separate the physical from the spiritual from this act, it may not be understood. But when we think about the meanings (spiritual aspect)  associated with it, it can be perfectly understood. 5

Giving zakat spreads love, compassion, and mercy in society. It is a form of social solidarity. Without it, the poor will be left alone to fend for themselves, which creates feelings of injustice and leads to instability in society.

Zakat also means that the wealth a person may have may not be the result of his/her work alone. A lot of wealth is inherited directly from parents or relatives. It may be also inherited indirectly because of one's gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, or citizenship status. All this means that the wealth people may have is not the result of their work. Consequently, they should think of it as a gift from God, the Ultimate Giver, who expects them to spend on His other subjects, the less fortunate in this case.

4. A Muslim has to fast during the month of Ramadhan. This means that Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, and having pleasures of life during the day time. This extends from about one hour before the Sun rises until it sets. 6

Without proper understanding of Islam, fasting will be an act of starving people. In fact it has so many benefits both to the body and the self (soul).

Physically, it strengthens the body through getting rid of unnecessarily gained fats throughout the year. If people fast properly, meaning doing the same daily activities and eating normal food at the end of fasting, they will lose weight. It is a very well known fact that losing weight is prescribed by medical doctors as a solution and prevention of many diseases. It keeps you healthy and looking good.

Fasting is also beneficial for some organs of the body, like the stomach and the intestines, which are bombarded for many hours every day with a lot of food to process and digest. Fasting the month of Ramadan gives them a break, which rejuvenates them and makes them more healthy.

Spiritually, fasting leads to contemplation about hunger and hungry people in a person's community or around the world. That's why Muslims are most generous in Ramadan. It leads to giving charity and other acts of support for and social solidarity with the poor.

Fasting also is training of the self that it can resist body desires. It puts the self in control of the body again. It follows that the strength gained by the self enables it to resist other desires like controlling or taking advantage of other, which are prevalent in our planet at this time.

5. A Muslim has to go to Makkah (Mecca) in pilgrimage, Haj, at least once in oneís lifetime. This is a visit to the first House of God on Earth. It is now in Saudi Arabia. There, about three million Muslims gather to confirm their faith, remember, and act out the story of the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) when he left his son, Ismail, and his wife Hajar (Hagger), there (Peace of God be upon all of them). Then, when Ismail grew older, his father Ibrahim came to slaughter him in obedience to God. They passed the test, and Ibrahim was given a sheep to slaughter instead of his son. Then, the two of them built Al-Ka'abah, the House of the Lord, the most sacred place of worship for Muslims. 7

The Haj act of worshipping God involves physical as well as spiritual aspects. It requires a lot of walking between the House of the Lord and other holy Makkah areas, like Arafat, Mena, and Muzdalifah, as well as making Tawaf around Al-Ka'abah.

Because it requires physical and financial capabilities (travel expenses), it has been prescribed only on those who are capable physically and financially, once in a person's life time.

Haj also includes slaughtering an animal and feeding it to the poor. Millions of animals are killed in Makkah then shipped to the poor everywhere in the world. It is a direct benefit to the poor but also gives happiness to the pilgrims as givers.

Spiritually, pilgrims returning from Makkah describe a great feeling of happiness as a result of their pilgrimage. The Haj has been the climax of their spiritual journey in this life. They feel completed and accomplished, which gives them a feeling of content about their existence on this planet. Then, the pilgrimage to Makkah contributes to spreading happiness and peace around the world.

Daily Life Interactions

The Holy Qur'an and the Sunna guide Muslims in their daily life interactions with people and the environment. In every teaching of Islam, the physical aspect cannot be separated from the spiritual aspect of the act.

Without proper understanding for this inseparability between the physical and the spiritual aspects of the teachings, people may get lost and may start exaggerating the physical act, which takes them away from the essence of the teaching.

Here are some examples:

1. On Friday, 8 Muslims are instructed to take a shower, particularly after sexual intercourse, put on the best clothes they have, and not to eat onions or garlic before coming to the mosque for the weekly collective prayers. 

Once in the mosque, Muslims are also instructed to complete the first lines. when they stand for prayers they need to be connected to each other, leaving no spaces between them.

Muslims are also instructed not to be arrogant or bragging in their attitudes or even in their clothing.

Whenever women go out of their homes, they are instructed to cover their body and not to show their beauty except for their husbands or members of their immediate families (father, mother, brother, sister, as well as uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews).

All of the above Islamic teachings involve both a physical act and spiritual objective or aspect. When people do not think of the spiritual objectives, they may exaggerate the physical one way or another. They may neglect completely or exaggerate it to the extent that it becomes like a goal in itself.

***

An analysis of the above-mentioned teachings may clarify this point.

Why are Muslims instructed to take a shower, put on the best clothes they have, and not to eat onions or garlic before coming to the mosque for the weekly collective prayers?

All these teachings lead to benefits for them as individuals and as groups but also there are deeper meanings beyond any physical act, which may lead to benefits to the individual, other people involved in the interaction, and to society at large. 

Taking a shower is cleanliness. It benefits the body by removing the sweat and dust. However, it benefits other people in the Mosque, who are sitting close to each other. A shower removes the smelling of human odors that may not be pleasant to others. Most importantly is that you're going to speak to  your creator, you need to be clean. 9

Putting on clean and good clothes also benefits the person by feeling good and benefits other people who like to interact with clean people in pleasant contexts. The Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) put on different colors of clothes, like white, red, yellow, and green. He also put on green and black head dresses. 10

Eating onions and garlic before going to the mosque may stick to the mouth of the person who eats them, thus the smelling may harm other people in the mosque. Then, the teaching here for Muslims to be careful not to do anything that may cause harm or discomfort to others. This can be generalized to other foods or odors. 11

Why are Muslims instructed to complete the first lines? If not, then you may find them scattered irregularly in the Mosque, which is inefficient use of the space, to say the least. Also, being in lines, they become closer to the imam, hearing him clearly. 12

When Muslims stand for prayers, they are instructed to be connected to each other, leaving no spaces between them. It is efficient to do so but they don't need to be crowded and too close to the extent of harming each other. 13

Muslims are also instructed not to be arrogant or bragging in their attitudes or even in their clothing. At the time of the Prophet (Peace of God be upon him), people who had long gowns reaching the ground were described as arrogant or bragging, as poor people had less expensive, short gowns14

If you take it literally, all Muslims should have shorter pants (or shorter Thoub), but this is not what the Prophet (Peace of God be upon him) wanted us to do. Today, pants or gowns come in various lengths but sold for the same price. So, the length of your pants does not correlate with wealth or poverty and consequently with humility or arrogance.

By the same token, whether your shirt have short sleeves or long sleeves have nothing to do with humility or arrogance. However, the Prophet (Peace and blessings of God be upon him) used to put on a shirt with a long sleeve reaching his wrests.15  But he never said that Muslim men should follow. 

We need to think of the essence of the Islamic teachings. Otherwise, we may go astray away from what Allah (Praise to Him) and his Messenger (Peace and blessings be upon him) want us to understand and do.

This way, we can understand why the Prophet (Peace and blessings of God be upon him) instructed Muslim men not to wear gold or silk clothes. The goal is that these are used by women for beauty purposes, something men should not try to do. 16

Finally, whenever women go out of their homes, they are instructed to cover their body and not to show their beauty except for their husbands or members of their immediate families (father, mother, brother, sister, as well as uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews). 17

There is a deep meaning here. It's not an attempt to control women. It's a true understanding of human nature. If followed properly, society will avoid a lot of the problem it faces unnecessarily.

It is natural for men to be looking at women, if they see them covered decently, they usually deal with them with respect. 

***

In conclusion, Islamic teachings guide our daily interactions. Following them properly requires us always to think about the deeper meanings and goals which are connected to the physical acts we are instructed to do. This is Islam, God's guidance to humanity towards happiness in this life and in the hereafter.

* Dr. Hassan Ali El-Najjar has a Ph.D. in Sociology and a Masterís degree in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Georgia, USA.

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Notes:

1. Pillars of Islam: On the authority of Abu Abdul Rahman Abdullah, the son of Umar Bin Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with both of them), who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (may the blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) say:

"Islam has been built on five (pillars): testifying that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammed is the Messenger of Allah, performing the prayers, paying the zakat, making the pilgrimage to the House, and fasting in Ramadhan."

2. The Holy Qur'an: Chapter 2, Verse 255. Chapter 3, Verse 2 & Verse 144. Chapter 48, Verse 29.

3. The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 5, Verse 6.

4. The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 2, Verse 43, Verse 110.

5. The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 2, Verse 43, Verse 110.

6. The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 2, Verse 183.

7. The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 3, Verse 97.

8. The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 62, Verse 9.

9. Riyadh Al-Saliheen, Hadiths 1148-1152.*

10. Riyadh Al-Saliheen, Hadiths 777-785, 800.

11. Riyadh Al-Saliheen, Hadiths 1698-1701.

12. Riyadh Al-Saliheen, Hadiths 1079-1093.

13. Riyadh Al-Saliheen, Hadiths 1079-1093.

14. Riyadh Al-Saliheen, Hadiths 787.

15. Riyadh Al-Saliheen, Hadiths 788-792.

16. Riyadh Al-Saliheen, Hadiths 801-806.

17. The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 24, Verse 31.

* Riyadh Al-Saliheen is the title of a book that contains strongly documented  1903 Hadiths (sayings) of the Prophet (Peace and blessings of God be upon him. It was written by Imam Abu Zakariya Yahya Bin Sharaf Al-Nawawi, who died in 671 Hijriyah, about 757 lunar years ago. May Allah be pleased with him.

 

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