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Spiritual Life in a Materialistic World

Living a life in a spiritual level is extremely difficult in an era where minds and hearts are polluted with worldly affairs.

People are excessively busy with Smartphones, Tablets, Social Media, TV and Internet, thus they do not have time to focus on their inner worlds, connect with their hearts and feed their souls spiritually.

They do not feel they are wasting their life with technological tools rather than spending time with God, families, friends, relatives and beloved ones.

By reflecting on God and His creation they could increase their faith and actualize their human potential to the highest degree. However, they spend hours on the internet and social media and living a virtual life instead of having real interactions with people.

Modern people are missing spirituality in their life but they are not aware of it. Some may feel it but they do not know how to bring spirituality to their life in a materialistic world because, money, capital and material are very dominant in the modern era. Even Muslims in mosques are full with worldly thoughts while worshipping God.

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Believers are supposed to be well connected with God at least in their prayers while bowing and prostrating before God, but their hearts are too distracted to feel it. Pilgrims visit the House of God to clean themselves from sins and purify their hearts from worldly diseases, but most of them are far from the real spirit of hajj. They are addicted to comfort, ease and luxury. Since their religious sensitivity has been paralyzed they don’t feel the sign of death in their hearts.

Spiritual decay is usually slow and silent in human nature. Therefore, many think themselves on the straight path while constantly falling into the bottom of a deep pit. Moreover, immoral society and friends who have bad characteristics affect them negatively.

The world is the place of trial and the prosperous ones are the ones who are determined, resolute and strong-willed. They renew their faith every morning and evening and utilize their time with acts which please God and His Noble Messenger. With purity of intention they always seek God’s pleasure and approval in their thoughts, acts and interactions.

Although many desire to get high status and fame in society they only follow the content of God. Because, they know certainly that those who do not increase in dedication to worship of God as they grow older are really unfortunate for it is a real loss at a time when making a tremendous profit.

Unfortunately, the present world is dominated with a materialistic worldview so it is very difficult to have a spiritual life in a time when minds are polluted, hearts are sinned and reasoning and judgment are affected with worldly diseases. Nevertheless, when a person gives the willpower its due and tries to get rid of such influences as much as possible he/she can reach a life in the dimensions of heart and spirit.

Negative elements in the world are a test for human beings and only real believers who have strong willpower can pass it. Everyday, people witness many negative scenes which trigger wrongdoing and sinning in their nature. If such feelings are not controlled by willpower a person may end up in obscene thoughts, ugly memories, and slippery grounds. God warns Believers against satanic feelings:

{…those who keep from disobedience to God in reverence for Him and piety: when a suggestion from Satan touches them – they are alert and remember God, and then they have clear discernment. Whereas their brothers (the brothers of the satans in the form of human beings) – satans draw them deeper into error and do not give over relax in their efforts.} (Quran 7:200–201)

When improper thoughts and feelings come to the mind, a believer must rid oneself from that situation immediately, otherwise, such negative feelings may drift the person toward committing a sin.

The feeling to commit a sin develops in human nature when it is spiritually weak just like viruses that prevail over the body during a physical weakness. In order to protect the heart and spirit against the attack of negative feelings one should live in a way that will not allow the committing of anything evil. In this regard, a person can take precautions from the beginning and block the means that will lead to evil.

For this reason, some Sufi masters chose to live as hermits in order to keep away from sins. However, this is not a practical method for all Muslims, because people need to be with others for they are social beings.

Moreover, in order to practice Islam in life and teach its beauty to others, Muslims are required to and should be in society. They can contribute to the spiritual life of others by representing Islamic teachings in their lives within the society and build a secure atmosphere where they can live in accordance with the Qur’an and Sunnah.

A change of state and attitude is a pattern of action against a negative feeling. For example, rage is a corruptive feeling and it can lead one to perdition, thus, the Prophet (peace be upon him) stated:

“Rage is from Satan; Satan was created from fire, and fire is extinguished with water. Then when one of you is enraged, let him make ablution.” (Sunan Abu Dawud, Adab, 4)

Psychologically, making ablution is an effective course of action for controlling rage and it is a change of state and environment for the sake of ridding oneself from the atmosphere of sinning.

Whenever negative feelings encompass the mind, believers should seek refuge in a spiritual atmosphere such as ablution, prayer, reading Quran or having religious discussions with friends to protect themselves against sins.

Having pious friends would help the person to defend himself against sins. Opposed to this, wicked friends are like snakes for they lead the person to Hell by their evil suggestions. Thus, it is very important to have righteous friends to live a spiritual life and protect oneself against the temptations of the carnal self. A person who is alone cannot keep standing against Satan and carnal self all the time. There might be a fragile time or a weak point in which the person cannot protect himself by his willpower. Therefore, the Prophet stated:

“One traveler is a devil. Two travelers are two devils (who run the risk of agreeing on something evil). But three travelers are a group.” (Sunan Abu Dawud, Jihad, 86)

Believers must always keep company with righteous and true friends so they do not fall into errors.

Feeding one’s heart and spirit by reading essential Islamic sources and contemplating on religious matters is a vital necessity for all Muslims. When reading Qur’an, studying Sunnah of the Prophet and listening to the stories of righteous Muslims a person’s heart is filled with sublime feelings and thoughts.

Just as people need to feed their stomach so they must feed their heart and spirit. Moreover, they must implore God, pray for His protection, help, and guardianship against Satan and the carnal self. The Prophet is the best example for us. He supplicated to God saying:

“O the All-Living and Self-Subsistent One! I seek assistance through the means of Your Mercy, correct for me all my affairs and do not entrust me to my soul for the moment of a blink of an eye.” (Nasai, Sunan, 6/147)

Those whose hearts are alive can live the true life which is the one lived at the spiritual level. When the heart has a strong connection with God the person conquers the time and becomes free from the sorrows of the past or anxieties of the future.

However, a person who lives a shallow life is often sad and stressed due to the emptiness in his heart. Because, he considers death as torment, the past as a horrifying grave, and the future as an endless well.

obey AllahContrary to this, Believers who have spirituality and well connection with God in their lives see the past as their ancestors’ great thrones and the future as roads leading toward the gardens of Paradise.

Actions indicate one’s inner life. The one who has strong determination, perseverance, and resolve also has a bright inner conscience and lively heart. The beauty of one’s inner conscience strengthens his willpower and stimulates him to reach higher levels in spirituality.

The virtues of righteous people reflect the obedience of their spirits. They always seek to please God as well as His servants. The beauty in their hearts will motivate them to continue to acquire praiseworthy virtues. Although they may make some mistakes every once in a while, they sincerely repent and clean their hearts from the dirt of sins. They are dedicated to fulfill their duties and establish harmony in their environments. They constantly increase the pure light of their inner worlds with faith, worship and good deeds. The meticulous practice of religion comes from their love of God and yearning for eternity.

Spiritual progress has different ways and lines and it has different stations and levels to pass. By following a certain method a person may reach a certain point in his spiritual journey. However, if he does not keep up a sound relationship with God he may end up in selfishness, egoism and haughtiness.

Even if a person reaches spiritual peaks he cannot say that “I do not need to worry anymore.” A real believer always fears God and is worried about his future, because he who feels secure in terms of faith in this world, is likely to face a fearful end.

It is essential in one’s spiritual life that he sees himself as an ordinary person among others and never disdains anyone. He constantly faces himself and practices severe self-criticism to confront his shortcomings and weaknesses.

Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (1877-1960) invites people to the life in the dimension of heart and spirit stating “be freed from animality, restrict your carnal appetites, and enter the level of the life of the heart and spirit! You will find a broader sphere of life than your imagined world and a realm of light.” (Said Nursi, The Gleams, p. 229)

Because life in a spiritual level is superior, especially in a materialistic world. In order to maintain a strong connection with God, a person must observe the essentials of faith and Islam, along with a constant consciousness of God’s omnipresence.

There are different methods to make spiritual journey and reach the rank of perfection. Some may actualize it by refining the inner faculties in the heart while others purify the carnal self with various methods.

In the materialistic world, the safer and easier way to reach spiritual perfection is the way of the Prophet’s Companions. Feeling helplessness and poverty before God, embracing everybody and everything with affection because of God and reflecting on the outer and inner world are the basic elements of this method.

Once a believer is aware of his weakness and poverty he understands that God is the real Master of everything. Since God created him and everything else he embraces them with affection.

In order to feed his heart and mind he continuously thinks analytically and systematically about the outer and inner world. With great zeal and strong desire he yearns to reach God and to serve in His way. Because, he is aware of God’s bounties and favors upon him. He is very thankful to God in full consciousness of all His blessings during his life.

The essence of this way can be explained with a statement: “I am helpless, You are the All-Powerful; I am poor, You are the All-Wealthy; I am needy and in straitened circumstances, You are the All-Compassionate; I am bewildered and seeking a way out, You are the only goal which is sought and to be reached.”

In conclusion, the disciplines which can help Muslims to achieve spiritual perfection in modern era can be summed up in four points:

Carnal self always tends to see itself as pure and sinless, thus, a believer must avoid such feeling and be aware that it is the evil commanding self in its nature.

A believer with an unpurified self may forget the most vital matters such as worshipping God and serving in His way, his responsibilities to the people around them, and of death and what lies beyond it. Similarly, his heart may be occupied with negative feelings such as hatred, jealousy, greed, and carnal desires. A believer in the way of spiritual perfection must remember positive things while forgetting the negative feelings.

God is the only source of all good, therefore, he should attribute all sins to himself while attributing all good to God and thanking Him.

The carnal self sees itself independent even though it totally depends on God, because none other than He has an independent existence of itself. Everything in the universe functions as a mirror to the names, attributes and essential qualities of God. Human carnal self is nothing when comparing to God, it is like a shadow in the face of the Truly Existent One.

I like to finish the article with a statement of Rumi:

“So long as a servant is annihilated with respect to his ego and conceit,

It is impossible for him to attain true belief in God and His Unity.”

About Dr. Recep Dogan
Dr. Recep Dogan is a prominent Muslim scholar, prolific author and a respected community activist in Australia. Dr. Recep completed his PhD in the Islamic Studies Department, Philosophy of Religion at University of Ankara. He undertook private study of Islamic Sciences with the world renowned Muslim Scholar, M. Fethullah Gulen, who is the founder of 'Hizmet', a global peace and education movement. Dr. Recep was the Imam of the Tolerance Foundation in California USA from 2004 to 2011. He is also the Muslim Chaplain for Charles Sturt University; he gives lectures on the following topics Islamic Studies; Sīrah (the life of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh); Core Islamic Sciences; Usūl Tafsir (The Methodology of Qur'anic Exegeses); Usūl Hadith (The Methodology of Prophetic Traditions); Islamic Jurisprudence (from Hanafi Perspective); Usūl al-Fiqh (The Methodology of Islamic Law); Kalām (Islamic Theology).