Crisis of Our Souls in the Materialistic Environment

Published April 1, 2009

By Abu Muhammad Asad

We live in a society where success in its broadest sense is measured exclusively in terms of material growth and achievements. Almost to the tune of the pervasive “go west” slogan of pioneers in the Gold Rush days, we are dancing day and night to the beats of the “growth” drum without even thinking the least about the type of growth we are so assiduously running after. We are harnessing and depleting the resources of all our inner and external faculties in order to remain competent in the marathon race for growth. Celebrations for various types and degrees of material achievement – purchase of yet another new house, admission into medical school, graduation cum laude, birthday, marriage day, you name it – keep our social schedules busy. Isn’t this trend of our life so vividly described by Allah SWT as “The mutual rivalry (for piling up wordly things) diverts you, until you visit the graves” (Qur’an 102: 1-2). And, “Draws near for mankind their reckoning, while they turn away in heedlessness.” (Qur’an 21:1)

Sky-scraping material achievements are of no value to the true Muslim if they hinder rather than help his spiritual growth.

While Islam unequivocally recognizes the importance of the material component of a man’s life, it necessarily prescribes a balanced and temperate attitude towards this component with a view to achieving a synergistic growth in cooperation with the extremely important spiritual component. Sky-scraping material achievements are of no value to the true Muslim if they hinder rather than help his spiritual growth. For, Allah clearly declares, “Indeed he succeeds who purifies his own self. And, indeed he fails who corrupts his own self.” (Qur’an 91:9-10) Not haphazardly, the Arabic word used for purification in the above verse also connotes growth. Growth in purity and purification of growth have to go hand in hand for a Muslim.

This much said about the importance of growth and purity, I would like to share my impression of a few traits of our attitude and behavior in the arena of material growth that smacks of a serious imbalance in our lifestyle. I am not talking about those who don’t even bother to observe the bare minimum of duties as Muslims. My observations rather relate to many of us who, by the Mercy of Allah try to behave as Muslims but are unconsciously stuck in the quagmire of the so-called “growth and achievement.” The harms of the big evils of this society, namely, drug, violence, out-of-wedlock child-births etc., are quite clear to most of the people. But some of the subtle and seemingly innocuous attitudes of life stemming from our interactions with the materialistic milieu quite often baffle observation. It requires a good deal of introspection for someone to detect within himself the treacherous diseases of selfish individualism, indifference towards fellow beings, and above all spiritual coma. Smugness with the façade of a few do’s and don’ts makes the job of detection even more difficult.

Perhaps a disclaimer would be pertinent here before I go into the details of some of the diseases. I am not advocating for a dissociation from the endeavors of excellence and healthy growth of our human faculties and potentials in different areas of life. Only a person devoid of the minimum understanding of Islam can plead for such a disassociation. Whatever I am going to deal with in the following paragraphs relates only to the state of disproportionate material growth that jeopardizes the whole structure of our life as Muslims. This article is not at all meant to uphold and praise a hermitic model of human life where involvement in the challenging arenas of human endeavors is totally absent. Such a model was never recommended by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Let us now come back to the discussion of our moral pathology. Do we keep track of the trials and tribulations of our souls while we engage in our material efforts – academic or non-academic, professional or non-professional? In a milieu charged with the urge of continual self-assertion and “I am smart” attitude, the soul inevitably becomes despotic day by day. The habit of overestimating one’s own achievements and underestimating those of others is then as an antonym for “smart” betrays the amount of self-assertive speeches and statements called into play in our everyday life. Lack of contentment is a logical aftermath in the race of self-assertion. In the long run, the ultimate casualty is the soul.

A rather ironic concomitant of this metamorphosis of the tadpole of self-assertion into the bullfrog of show-off and conceit is the bidding out of one’s own self. All too often we have to hear the advice “you have to know how to sell yourself.” Even though on may argue that “self” here may mean skills, the prevalent way of putting these skills on sale only substantiates the literal meaning. How unfortunate is the situation when one’s own self and soul become a commodity to be marketed. Wouldn’t it be much better if we could save our souls for selling them to Allah SWT? “Verily Allah has purchased of the believers their lives and their properties for (the price) that theirs shall be Paradise” (Qur’an 9: 111).

Indifference towards fellow Muslims is another disease of our environment. It arises from one’s constant pre-occupation with self-promotion. Let us remember the saying of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): “The believers in their mutual kindness, compassion and sympathy are just like one body. When one of the limbs is affected, the whole body responds to it with wakefulness and fever” (Bukhari and Muslim). Isn’t the current plight of our brotherhood a far cry from the above recommendation of our beloved Prophet?

A couple of other diseases are extravagance and indulgence in the culture of trivia etc. Allah SWT severely reprimands extravagance saying: “Verily the spendthrifts are the brothers of the Shaytans and the Shaytan is ever-ungrateful to his Lord” (Qur’an 17:27). As to the habitual interest in “trivia” culture, do we keep account of the valuable time and energy we spend in frivolously chatting about utterly unnecessary details of sports and culture, and all this, at the expense of our spiritual health?

In the above, I tried to remind myself and my dear brothers and sisters in Islam about some diseases of the soul that almost inevitably attack us while we are engaged in different efforts of practical life in this extremely materialistic environment. May Allah SWT enable us to keep our tongue soaked with His remembrance and hold the reins of our material possessions and mental an spiritual faculties with a God-conscious heart, and thus save us from the unfortunate situation where we become captives of our own materialistic endeavors.

“O Allah! I seek refuge in You from knowledge which does not benefit, from a heart which is not humble, from an inner self which is never satisfied, and from a prayer which is not answered.”

Abu Muhammad AsadAuthor Dr. Abu Muhammad Asad is a geoscientist based in Houston, TX.

Related Posts