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7 Steps to Spiritual Intelligence

Dr Musharraf’s ‘7 Steps to Spiritual Intelligence’ will be serialised over the coming weeks in the form of weekly snippets.

Chapter One
The Meaning and Scope of Spiritual Intelligence:
In affluent societies, both East and West, surveys repeatedly show that people are surprisingly unhappy. The apparent joys of consumerism, consumption and material wealth in the affluent society mask the shallowness of worldly life. A young man told me, ‘I’ve got emptiness deep inside,’ as he described his feelings; others often tell me that they have ‘a deep void’ or that ‘a chunk is missing from my soul’. Linked with today’s materialism is celebrity culture, which replaces true role models with movie stars, singers and footballers. One of the more honest celebrities, the British comedian Russell Brand, remarked that ‘Celebrity in itself is utterly, utterly vacuous: after becoming famous you realize you need nutrition from a higher source.’ Here he is acknowledging and recognizing that there is something far greater and more satisfying than fame and wealth. However, in our stubbornness, we do not easily admit that there is more to life than wealth and fame. Instead, our egos can seek out immediate and instant pleasures in the forms of alcohol, drugs, sex, popular music and film, and even gluttony to satisfy our physical desires to fill the void within us, but only temporarily. And so we are beguiled. To avoid the void, we need to ask ourselves what is missing from our lives.
We all live such busy and frantic lives that we tend to become unconscious of the background noise around us and go on ‘autopilot’. In our spiritual lives too, there is a low level of awareness of our reality; this is akin to the blindness often used in the glorious Qur’an to describe disbelievers, or those who reject the reality of God and the Hereafter. This state of blindness also hinders us believers from performing our duties attentively. So what can open our eyes to our reality?
At the very crux of a fulfilling life is the central human need for positive relationships with oneself, one’s family and one’s Creator. This human need for positive relationships is dramatized in Pinocchio, the well-known children’s story. Gepetto is an Italian woodcarver who creates Pinocchio the puppet who comes to life. Pinocchio is a jovial character getting up to all sorts of boyish mischief, and the story grips our attention as he has one adventure after another. We identify with the parental care and concern of the ‘father’ Gepetto, as well as with the waywardness and the unclear direction of the boy. At one point in the story, lost in himself, Pinocchio turns to his ‘maker’ Gepetto saying, ‘Papa I’m not sure who I am. But if I’m alright with you then I guess I’m alright with me.’ This innocent remark embodies a profound truth about relationships: with oneself, with one’s Maker and with others. Human beings are social animals depending upon each other for psychological and physical support as well as the spiritual link with their Creator.
Only spiritual intelligence can fill the ‘void’. The scenarios posed above rouse the following questions: what is missing from our lives? What can open our eyes to reality? Who is our Creator? The answer lies in spiritual intelligence, the journey to deeper layers of meaning and purpose in life. This is a peculiar capability bestowed upon the human being by God that makes him more than just a biological creature dependent on material things. Waldo Emerson, the great American philosopher of the nineteenth century, was a Unitarian: a believer in the oneness of God. He cogently summarised spirituality as ‘the relationship with God, nature and humanity’.
The most comprehensive term used in Islamic literature for the subject of spiritual intelligence is found in Sufism, the science of spiritual excellence and purification (ihsan and tazkiyah, Sufism explains inner dimensions of Islamic teachings. One of the first book written on this subject was the letter (risalah) of Imam Abul Qasim al-Qushayri (d. 1072). In it, he quotes extensively from various Sufis to explain the subject. For instance, he quotes Muhammad al-Jurayri’s definition of Sufism: ‘it means taking every sublime moral characteristic and leaving behind every lowly one.’ He also said Sufism means maintaining a vigil and awareness over one’s states and holding to correct behaviour. For Samnun, it means that ‘you possess nothing and nothing possesses you.’ For al-Junayd, it means that ‘you are solely with God and you have no other attachments.’
Sufism is the knowledge and understanding of self-purification and personal and moral development that leads to outward and inward happiness Sufism is about living devotionally. Ahmad ibn Ajibah said ‘it is the knowledge through which one attains Divine nearness, purification of the self and ridding oneself of moral vices and developing moral virtues, it starts with knowledge, continues through constant action and results in obtaining Divine proximity.’
The dictionary definition of spirituality:
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. The Qur’an mentions the Divine breath as giving life to the body of Adam, and I blew my breath into it (al-Hijr 15: 29). In other words, the Divine breath is what gave Adam life and links and connects the human being to his Creator’s breath, which lives in the heart of man.
Spiritual intelligence is the most important:
In The Power of Spiritual Intelligence, Tony Buzan elegantly 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.’ This inner aspect of human life is not easy to explain in words, and sometimes poetry can be a useful way into understanding and expressing spiritual intelligence. 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
Here Rumi has effectively paraphrased the blessed Messenger’s famous 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)
In another place Rumi explains the illusory nature of the material realm: ‘If anyone were to tell a baby in the womb: outside is an ordered world, a pleasant earth, wide and open, brimming with thousands of delights and delicious foods – mountains, gardens and fertile fields its wonders beyond description, why do you stay here drinking blood, in this cramped cell of filth and pain? Unaware of the realty, the baby being would turn away in utter disbelief the blind have no imagination. It has never experienced anything beyond the womb, and cannot visualize such a place.’ The reason why the world is called illusory is that it gives the impression of permanence, being everlasting destination and that is false, only the Hereafter (al-akhirah) is permanent and the everlasting.
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 connection with God and help to acquire the status of God’s representative on earth(khalifah). For the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, ‘Man is dependent on God’ and ‘needs to believe in a creator in order to function properly’. 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. The Ultimate Reality is God, the Creator and Lord of the universe. The glorious Qur’an intimates that the present life is merely an amusement and a diversion, the true life is in the hereafter, if only they knew. ‘They only know the outer surface of the present life and are heedless of the life to come.’ (al-Rum 30: 7–8) Therefore, spiritual intelligence is essentially reflective and active expression of Islamic beliefs of oneness of God, guidance through the prophets and scripture, and in the life hereafter. That is why spiritual intelligence cannot be regarded as separate from Islam; rather, it is the essence, core and crux of Islamic way of life.
Spiritual intelligence is about the big questions of life:
Spiritual intelligence helps us to understand the human being’s relationship with God, the motivation to love and obey Him that one lives in conformity to the Divine will, a sense of God-consciousness where one lives in the Divine presence. The Messenger ﷺ alluded to this particular meaning of spiritual intelligence in a famous tradition known as the Hadith of Gabriel, in which he called spiritual intelligence ‘ihsan’, and defined it as ‘worship God as though you see Him; if you cannot see Him, then remember He sees you’ (Bukhari). Islamic teachings provide a clear methodology for developing spiritual intelligence, ways of drawing closer to God, with the purpose of achieving the Lord’s pleasure (ridwan Allah), Paradise and, eventually, the Beatific Vision in the Hereafter. Spiritual intelligence is not about manners or even moral values of compassion, generosity, love or patience. It is about the right kind of consciousness and awareness of the reality around us. It provides answers to the big questions of life, birth, death, suffering, and good and evil. In short, it is concerned with the meaning and the purpose of life.
Spiritual intelligence puts humanity in touch with reality:
Spiritual intelligence shows how to express the relationship with God; the different modes of prayer, singing and reciting litanies, night vigils, fasting and giving charity are ways of growing spiritually. The Prophet of Islam ﷺ often sought the Lord’s help by means of these words: ‘O Lord! Help us to remember you, thank you and serve you.’ No wonder Telhard de Chardin- the famous Western writer on spiritual intelligence- concludes that ‘we are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.’ You must be spiritual if you are a human being as spiritual intelligence provides the inner strength to cope with life’s problems and adversities just as it reveals that the inner is intimately related to the outer, the inner is reflected in the outer, the spiritual world is attached to the physical world. This explains Islam’s loathing of monasticism, of detaching oneself from worldly relations. The spiritual cannot be detached from the worldly. Spiritual intelligence is therefore a vital channel allowing Divine grace to act on us and through us to transform the society around us.
Spiritual intelligence develops our resilience to life’s problems:
The need of humans to be related to God so they can cope with the vagaries of life is described in a Qur’anic passage: Man is created anxious; he is impatient when misfortune befalls him but miserly in good times, except those who pray regularly and give their wealth to the poor and needy, who believe in the Day of Judgement, who fear the punishment of their Lord … who guard their chastity … that keep their promises; they will be honoured in gardens of bliss. (al-Ma‘arij 70: 19–35). The Qur’an teaches us that when you develop spiritual intelligence it allows you to overcome anxiety, fretting about the worries of life, and instead instills energy, vitality and enthusiasm for living. The three signs of misery are: anxiety, impatience and miserliness. However, those exempt from these psychological disorders are spiritually-intelligent people who have the habit of prayer. They have inner peace and are better able to control the stresses of life. The Qur’an clearly acknowledges the impact of prayer on behaviour, giving it authority to transform human character.
How does spiritual intelligence differ from morals and manners and legal and social rights?
What is the relationship between spiritual intelligence and morals and manners and legal and social rights? It is not a digression to understand the differences between these various subjects, and spiritual intelligence as it helps us to focus clearly on our central theme. Spiritual intelligence is concerned with the connection we have with our Lord, and is the powerhouse that help us to develop our morals (akhlaq), manners (adab), practice of Islamic ethical-legal rulings (fiqh) and fulfilling social obligations (huquq al-‘ibad).
Morality is a code of conduct revealed by God and lived by all the Prophets; the final Prophet Muhammad ﷺ explained his purpose as having ‘been sent to perfect moral character’. Muslims regard prophetic morality as the overriding guide to individual behaviour which they must adopt in their daily lives. Indeed, is a universal guide that all rational people can aspire to. A closer look at Islamic morality shows it is a universal code that other religions promote as well. I have explained morality in greater detail in ‘7 Steps to Moral Intelligence’.
Adab in Arabic means manners, or the conventional rules of good behaviour to do with everyday acts such as eating and drinking, dress, meeting and greeting, walking and talking, or speaking and listening. It includes social behaviour, guidance on how to be courteous and polite, and how to be pleasant to others so that strong friendly relations can be built among people. One of the most important functions of the Prophet ﷺ was to reform uncivilised and uncouth nomads into a caring and compassionate society.
Spiritual intelligence also differs from Islamic ethical-legal rulings (fiqh), which specifically deals with the do’s (the obligatory, recommended and permitted) and the don’ts (offensive and forbidden). These conventions cover all aspect of a Muslim’s life including worship, marriage and divorce, and business. A breach of the law carries penalties either in the worldly life or the Hereafter – but that is not the case with morality. Although a breach of the moral code does not incur any penalty, it carries the significance of troubling the conscience and incurring Divine wrath.
Likewise, spiritual intelligence should not be confused with fulfilling social obligations (huquq al-‘ibad), such as the rights of parents, relatives, children, neighbours, teachers, friends and animals. They constitute desire to meet the needs of others by supporting them, respecting them and fulfilling their rights that based on the deeply-held belief that all human beings have common parentage in Adam and Eve. This belief leads to the feelings of brotherhood and sisterhood, the idea that all humans are one family – ‘the family of God’. All are equal and should have their human rights protected. Islam expects us to make serving others an important part of our lives. The Prophet ﷺ said, ‘The best amongst you is the one who benefits others most.’ (Tirmidhi)
To sum up, spiritual intelligence is the awareness of the Lord of the universe. It is having faith in His benevolence, trust in His infinite power and accepting the role of being His representative on earth, and being His trusted servant. It is the energy that motivates us to develop a strong character and manners, and to obey legal and social rules.
The Elements of Spiritual Intelligence:
The Qur’an and Sunnah repeatedly describe the disciplines of spiritual intelligence: taqwa, meaning God-consciousness, piety, fear of God, awareness and attentiveness; ikhlas, meaning sincerity and genuineness in one’s intention and actions, and hubb Allah, or the love of God. We will explore these later on, but suffice it to say here that the various Islamic forms of worship the five daily prayers (salawat), remembrance of God (dhikr), the Divine glorification (tasbih), singing spiritual poems (qasa’id or anashid), invoking His beautiful names (al-asma’ al-husna), and fasting (sawm) are effective spiritual disciplines. The individual is transformed inwardly and draws closer and closer to God, feels happy, recognizes the Lord and lives in His presence. The end game or goal of spiritual intelligence is no less than becoming one of God’s friends, who enjoy a state of happiness, bliss and contentment. Spiritual intelligence is the bedrock of a devout, serene and successful life lived for God’s sake.
To develop spiritual intelligence you have to be passionate about it. To be successful at something, the fact is that you have to enjoy doing it, believe and engage with it and be passionate about the benefits you will reap at the end. It will be a shame if you simply struggle and strive without being happy, so push yourself forward with joy to take the prize of spiritual intelligence.
Key Points:
Happiness does not come from fame or material wealth, but from a positive relationship with oneself, one’s family and one’s Creator.
Spiritual intelligence is the most important form of intelligence because it is applied to the spiritual life and gives us knowledge of life’s purpose and enhances our connection with our Creator.
Spiritual intelligence is the foundation upon which we develop our morals, manners, practice of Islamic ethical-legal rulings and fulfilling social obligations.
Spiritual intelligence is built on God-consciousness, sincere motivation and the love of God.
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