the previous paper we discussed about the significance of self-control and
self-purification. In this paper we will review and briefly discuss different
methodologies among Muslim scholars in studying spirituality in general and
morality akhlaq in particular. In general, we can classify the attitudes of
scholars into three main approaches:
or Text-Based Approach
Muslim scholars have found the outlook of some Greek philosophers, especially
Aristotle, to a large extent appealing as a way in which to speak about the
human soul. According to this view, the human soul has three different
faculties quwwah responsible for action; they are:
faculty al-quwwah al-‘aqliyyah is the faculty responsible for knowledge. It
helps us to understand matters and enables us to engage in discussion. If this
faculty functions properly, one can attain true wisdom hikmah . This does not
mean that one should strive for an excess of the rational faculty, as this is
one of the causes of scepticism; rather, it means that we must be concerned
with maintaining a balance. If a person is not rational enough, he can be too
accepting and believe whatever he hears. This type of person can be easily
deceived. Ibn Sinna, in a profound statement says “Whoever is used to accepting
an argument without any reason is no longer a human being.” This is because a
fundamental part of humanity is rationality and human being is often defined by
philosophers as “rational animal”. Therefore one needs to strike a balance, and
not to be too rational and critical or too receptive.
The faculty of
anger al-quwwah al-gha abiyyah is the faculty that controls our temper.
Without this faculty, we would not have the motivation to protect ourselves
from danger. However, if someone allows this faculty to be extreme, they would
be aggressive and always ready to attack. On the other hand, if a person lacks
the faculty of anger they would be a coward. The philosophers in this school of
thought encourage us to attain a balance between these two, so that we can
attain the virtue of bravery. A good person, therefore, is one who knows when
to become angry and to the right extent.
faculty al-quwwah al-shahwiyyah is the faculty which mostly consists of
sexual appetite, but also includes our appetite for food and other things. If
the force of sexual desire did not exist in man, the continued existence of the
human species would be endangered. This faculty must also be brought to a
balance where a person is chaste and modest.
Therefore, if one were to strike a
balance in all these faculties he would have wisdom, bravery and chastity; this
is all one needs to attain justice. This means that one who is just or ‘ādil is
one who has attained perfection in every aspect of his soul. Being ‘ādil is not
merely about abstinence from sins, but it is also about the perfection of every
This school of spirituality sets out a
very rational response to the question of self-building. Although it is
rational, some feel that it is too abstract and lacks the inspirational and
emotional qualities that can really engage people and leave them motivated to
change. We are taught to strike a balance with our faculties but it can be
difficult to know where that balance is in different circumstances. This
approach is useful, but not sufficient; we must add practical and inspirational
elements to our view of self-building.
The mystics consider the whole process
of self-building as a journey towards God or perfection and as a matter of
gradual growth. The difference between the previous approach and this approach
is as follows:
According to the first approach, the
relationship of the soul and self-building can be considered in the following
way. Imagine there is a house which you wish to beautify; there are a number of
things you could do. You could take out the rubbish, then start decorating the
house, and furnishing the house in a wise way. If one manages to remove the
rubbish and all the ugly items from the house, and furnishes it with beautiful
items, then the house becomes attractive. In the same way we can consider the
house which we wish to beautify as the soul we wish to cleanse and adorn with
good character. We must remove bad qualities from our hearts in order for Allah
SWT to let the light in and furnish our hearts with a good character. For
example, we read in a hadith, “angels do not enter a house in which dogs are
kept”.1 In a similar way we must consider the state of our hearts,
and if they are aggressive like a dog, ill tempered or diseased we cannot hope
for angels to enter. Therefore, this process involves three main stages:
starts shining starts to happen automatically after you do first two .
this approach is inspiring to an extent, and can provide us with a framework
through which to self-build, it is not a dynamic approach, as it does not fully
explain where one should precisely start and finish the spiritual journey. It
does not say what we should clean first or what to adorn ourselves with. Again,
this approach is useful, but not sufficient in itself as a complete plan of
to the second approach, the relationship of the soul and self-building can be
considered in the following way. A person is like a flower, and a flower can
grow but not without care. A flower can grow like any other that has grown in
the past; it is not a unique thing. A flower is gradually growing if everything
is carefully looked after. This is similar to how a child grows into an adult.
One cannot be a teenager before being a toddler. In the same way, one cannot
give the food of a toddler to a teenager or vice versa.
the second approach i.e. the mystical approach looks at spiritual growth in a
dynamic way as a carefully planned procedure. One needs the guidance of the people
who have been to this process, who can provide advice for what to do at each
stage. With this approach, every stage must be undertaken separately. This
means that the expectations in each stage should be different. What is good for
one person at one level may not be necessarily good for another person at a
higher level. For example, if a small child memorises Surah Al-Fatihah the
Opening and recites it people would commend the child and would be impressed,
but if the Imam of the prayer recited
the Surah in the same way, people would
criticise him and not pray behind him. Everything is therefore a matter of
comparison as to what we should expect from ourselves in different situations.
It is a constant journey from one level to the next.
Scripture/Text Based Approach
According to this view, the best
approach is to refer to the Qur’an and Sunnah of the Holy Prophet SAW and his
family AS . Those who advocate this approach therefore felt there was no need
for a philosophical framework, and instead they listed the desirable and
undesirable qualities of man based on the Qur’an. For example, for the vice of
greed they would extract verses from the Qur’an which reveal that greed is an
undesirable quality and provide evidence and some solutions from hadith.
should be our own attitude?
All these scholars have made great
contributions to Islamic moral thought. However, each of these approaches have
their strengths and weaknesses and if we wish to benefit the most we must
create a synthetic approach in which the advantages of each school of thought
can be incorporated.
for an Adequate Approach
outlook should be compatible with the Qur’an and Sunnah, as there is no one
better than Allah SWT and the Holy Prophet SAW to guide, as to what is good
or bad. All truth is answered that there are one million people in the next
room, knowing the size of the room, we could say that this answer is against
Allah SWT , no matter if it is relayed to us, by the mystics or the
system has to be comprehensive. No aspect of the human being can be ignored. We
do not want to have a person who is only developed in one aspect. A human being
must grow in all different aspects.
system must be rational and supported by rational arguments, but it also must
be practical and engaging.
must be consistent and no contradictions should occur.
system must tell us what to do in different positions and stations as
self-building is a dynamic process and is not static. In no field of study or
practice can a person say they do not need consultation or advice.
Islam is a
religion which considers reason to be very important. There is nothing
irrational in Islam. There are many things taught by revelation, but this is
not because they are against reason; it is because they are above reason. To
illustrate the difference between something being against reason and above
reason let us consider an example. If someone was asked how many people are in
the next room, using their reason alone, they could not tell you. This answer
does not come through reason.
We need a moral system based on the
Qur’an and Sunnah, while at the same time has rational and philosophical
grounds. The system must also have clear priorities, and if two things are in
conflict, the system must show which is more important. Lastly, we must be able
to find out what we can expect from each stage, usually by those who have
passed the stage we are now in, as their advice and help is extremely
important. Among our contemporary scholars, there have been brilliant teachers
of spirituality who have combined these schools of thought, and whom we can
learn from, such as: Imam Khomeini, Allamah Tabatabai, Ayatollah Mutahhari and
Ayatollah Javadi Amuli.
e.g. Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. , p. 56, p.