Human tendency is to get attached. As humans, we have the potential to very easily invest ourselves, physically and emotionally, and create a sense of attachment to what is around us. It can be attachment to material items, to people in our lives, to our jobs, or to almost anything else. These attachments aren’t necessarily evil nor are they inherently bad – after all, they are part of the human experience. As with almost anything else, too much of something can be detrimental. This is why we can find individuals whose lives revolve around their job or around someone or something they love, getting the latest phone or the latest clothes to only be happy for a short time – which is the time right after they’ve acquired whatever it is they are pursuing – to lose interest and value as soon as the next version is released or even simply announced.
So how can we protect ourselves from being caught in such a spiritually destructive cycle? We find that in Islam, Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) has – after making the vast majority of the world permissible for us to enjoy as a blessing – placed certain inherent checks in our lives by way of our `ibadah (worship) to properly mediate us. These acts of worship, if observed correctly, prevent us from becoming enslaved to anything other than Him and therein lies true spiritual freedom.
Our 5 daily prayers are a way to curb over-attachment to anything material. The five prayers regulate our lives with their specific timings to teach us that indeed God is greater than anything else that we might be occupied in at that moment. The dawn prayer teaches us that the most beloved thing to us, comfort and sleep, should not control us – so we rise up in the cold morning, wash ourselves and pray in an acknowledgement that God is greater than our love of comfort and sleep. The midday and afternoon prayer teaches us that no matter how engrossed we are with work or the short lunch hour that we so highly value, it’s not the purpose of our existence. So we leave it for a few minutes and stand and pray testifying that God is indeed greater. On Friday, we dedicate most, if not all of our lunch hour to attend the Friday sermon and prayer. The dusk prayer, that time when we’re finally home and about to spend time with our family, eat dinner or simply relax – we get up and pray together to confirm that God is Greater than any of that. Finally the night prayer, Isha’ – when we’re tired after a long day of work and responsibilities ready to fall into bed and sleep, we pray again proving that submitting to God is greater than falling into the warm bed. All these serve as constant reminders to us that as much as we love life, we live for a higher purpose. Conversely, if we’re having a terrible day, these spiritual checkpoints save us from a fatalistic outlook and serve to remind us that there’s always something more and our problems are not the permanent.
In the prayer, we also recite the Qur’an, which if we truly understand what we are reciting, will only serve to increase our spiritual well-being. Imam Shatibi, in his poem on the recitations of the Qur’an, ‘Hirz al-Aamani’ writes about the spiritual state of the person who recites the Qur’an. He explains that such an individual, one who is connected to the Qur’an and is sincere in it, is truly spiritually free. The occupation with the Qur’an, in its recitation, in learning its meanings, in contemplation upon its glad tidings and warnings, all coupled with sincerity to please Allah (swt), keeps him free from becoming overly attached to worldly things until such an individual meets his Lord.
Likewise, the other three pillars teach us a similar lesson. When we fast from dawn to dusk in the month of Ramadan, without a drop of food and water, especially in the long, hot summer days, this is teaching us to remove our attachment for food and water. By making what is normally permissible, impermissible for a limited time, God teaches us to subjugate our lower desires and focus instead on our spiritual wellbeing. There is a profound sense of freedom and inner strength that is felt when one is fasting – it is a freedom from being a slave, not just of food or water or conjugal relations, but from the inner desire that is present within all of us to satisfy ourselves. It raises us close to the status of angels who are free of these desires.
Zakat (charity) teaches us freedom from attachment to our monetary wealth. By giving away a small percentage of our wealth, we are being reminded that the wealth we own is not really owned by us at all. It’s a change of perspective – and this is why whenever God asks us to spend in the Qur’an, He always says, ‘Spend from that which We have given you’ – reminding us that we are no more than managers of wealth that was given to us, the true owner of which is God Almighty. Wealth also gives us a false sense of security; by tapping into that human aspect, God teaches us that true security is with Him, not in our monetary value or assets. This is also highlighted in the Prophetic saying, “Charity does not decrease wealth” – though in terms of the immediate, money once given away is no longer with us, but what we have gained spiritually is far greater, in addition to the rewards promised by God for giving charity. Hajj, the fifth pillar is in reality a combination of all the above since it’s requires physical, spiritual and monetary fortitude to perform.
Sometimes, in the ritualistic nature of performing these acts of worship, we make them habitual which leads to a decreased spiritual impact. We tend to forget the deeper implications, and this is why we don’t notice much spiritual progress. By taking a step back and reflecting on the meaning of the acts of worship we perform, we realize clearly that these are not just something we do arbitrarily. There is immediate and long-term spiritual benefit there for us. It therefore becomes important that we stop and take some time to reflect on our acts of `ibaadah to revitalize their meaning and significance within our lives. They will then truly become cornerstones of our spirituality and become something we look forward to consistently.