Short Answer: Islam does not separate the spirit of the law and the letter of the law. Good deeds and the inner spiritual dimension of belief are dependent on each other. You cannot have one without the other. Hypocrisy results from saying and believing something but not acting upon it. According to Islamic teachings, all acts are judged by intention and part of a good intention is the requirement that you are seeking to follow God’s laws.
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No Dichotomy Between Spiritual and Material
It is often easy for people to slip into a view of the world as a duality split between spiritual and material.
The notion that spiritual is good and material is bad has become a common theme.
Islam however rejects such ideas.
While there is a value in seeing the difference between the spiritual and the material, all spiritual existence, just as material existence, is created by God.
It is created with a good purpose which we may, or may not, appreciate.
This is best illustrated in the relationship between good deeds and belief.
Good Deeds and Belief: Interdependent
Good deeds improve the material world around us.
However, they are only truly good deeds if we are seeking that improvement according to God’s guidance.
Good deeds and the inner spiritual dimension of belief are dependent on each other.
You cannot have one without the other. Hypocrisy results from saying and believing something but not acting upon it.
Actions done without belief in God are futile.
They are done for false gods; serving the purpose of whatever comes to mind.
For these reasons, you will not find many sites that focus on Islamic spiritualism as distinct from Islamic law.
Islamic spiritualism, if indeed we must use the term, is something that pervades Islamic law.
The Spirit of the Law and the Letter of the Law
It may be useful to illustrate the issue by reminding ourselves of the problems that Jesus (peace be upon him) dealt with.
In his time, he found that some powerful elements among the Jews were so focused on the law that they neglected the spirit of the law, or we might say, the intention behind the law and behind obeying it.
With Christianity, as it was formed by the followers of Paul, a large part of the law was itself neglected.
Christians were to be saved by faith alone – only having the right “spirit” was required.
This became dependent on esoteric knowledge and doctrines and divorced from the original simple teachings of Jesus.
Islam re-establishes the relation between the law governing the material world and the spirit of that law.
According to Islamic teachings, all acts are judged by intention and part of a good intention is the requirement that you are seeking to follow God’s laws.
Attempting to identify the underlying spirit and intention of God’s instructions is important and useful, but it is also an exercise which can lead people astray.
Trusting Allah’s Wisdom
By its very nature, it remains explained in analogies and abstract ideas and although we should reflect on these and discuss them, we must always resign ourselves to the understanding that we will never fully know God’s wisdom and mercy in making the law.
Instead, we trust that His laws are ultimately for our benefit.
The way people are lead astray is by insisting on the truth of their insights into hidden or underlying meanings of God’s law and seeking disputes with others that disagree with them.
He it is Who has sent down to thee the Book: In it are verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning); they are the foundation of the Book: others are allegorical. But those in whose hearts is perversity follow the part thereof that is allegorical, seeking discord, and searching for its (ultimate) hidden meanings, but no one knows its (ultimate) hidden meanings except God. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: “We believe in the Book; the whole of it is from our Lord:” and none will grasp the Message except men of understanding. (Quran 3:7)
A good intention, therefore, recognizes and follows the law.
It seeks to understand what the law is and what its spirit is.
But, it also recognizes that, ultimately, despite our best efforts, human knowledge is limited and that we must place our trust in Allah.
On the Internet you will find a lot of material which explores the inner meanings to the practices and laws of Islam.
As long as you treat them with appropriate caution and recognize the limited nature of these insights and hence the potential for errors in them, you should be able to derive a good degree of benefit from them.
I suggest that you do some searches here on AboutIslam.net, with words such as intention, deeds, Islam, spirituality, etc.
I hope this answers your question. Please keep in touch.
(From AboutIslam’s archives)