What is the meaning of the word 'spirituality'? What does it really mean? I understand that it could mean several things and is to be understood in specific context, but is there any general understanding of the term? Given a certain description of it, how can it be reconciled with the concept of a 'spiritual authority'? For example, in the context of political Islam and caliphate, there is difference of opinion related to whether the caliph is a temporal authority, spiritual authority or both.

Sometimes I feel as though 'spirituality' is used just for quasi-obscurantism, i.e. it purports to claim that there are some very real matters pertaining to a very real and accessible 'spiritual realm,' (perhaps to select few) but then hides every description of it. The purpose of it being - in addition to the superiority of the elite few - a lure of the occult that works to numb the inquisition of a critical mind.

3 Answers 3


Spirituality in Islam is to remember where we came from, why we are here, and where we will end up.

The whole point of spirituality is to know the purpose of our existence, by knowing where we came from, why we are here, and where we will end up.

Where we came from? From the creator, it was Allah (swt) who created Adam then Eve in heaven.

“And God said: ‘O Mankind! Be dutiful to your Lord, Who created you from a single person (Adam) and from Him (Adam) He created his wife (Eve), and from them both He created many men and women.’” (Quran 4:1)

O Adam dwell with your wife in the Garden and enjoy as you wish... (Quran 7:19)

Why are we here? In heaven, only one law was established on Adam and Even, and that was to not consume from one tree. They couldn't even follow that one law, so they were sent to earth, now we are here to prove ourselves, just like Adam and Even had to prove themselves.

Your Lord only forbade you this tree... (Quran 7:120)

Where are we going? Heaven or hell, depending on whether we at least intended to follow the creator's laws.

  • You mean the very 'act of contemplating' the meaning of existence is spirituality? I must say that's the strangest I've heard on the topic. How do you explain caliph/imam as a spiritual authority?
    – user549
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 15:31
  • What do you mean by spiritual authority? A Khalifa is simply a leader who is Muslim leading Muslim, although there are disagreements as to what conditions such leader should meet, none the less, this individual is nothing but a leader. Commented Jul 21, 2015 at 1:12

IMHO spirituality is a term that is closely related to the concept of purity of the self(Sfw:http://corpus.quran.com/qurandictionary.jsp?q=Sfw)

Sfw consists of:

The purity of the external/physical body (Thr:http://corpus.quran.com/qurandictionary.jsp?q=Thr)

The purity of the internal/psychological soul (Slw:http://corpus.quran.com/qurandictionary.jsp?q=Slw and through zkw:http://corpus.quran.com/qurandictionary.jsp?q=zkw)

The difference between Slw and zkw is the vertical (between man and Allah) and horizontal (between man and man) aspect of the relationship.

If we would to look at it from a holistic point of view where by we do not differentiate between the real-physics and the meta-physics (i.e. real and meta as being one that is general physics);

The self has :

A material dimension (the seen, shahaadah:http://corpus.quran.com/qurandictionary.jsp?q=%24hd) that is the external body


A non material dimension (the unseen, ghoib:http://corpus.quran.com/qurandictionary.jsp?q=gyb) that is the soul.

The act of purifying the external material body is through the practice of Thr (e.g. washing once body with water, etc.).

The act of purifying the internal non-material soul is through energising/cleansing the material body with the immaterial substance by means of energising/charging/connecting (the quranic term is Salah:Slw/صلاة) and cleansing (the quranic term is Zakah:zkw/زكاة). The former for a vertical relationship, while the latter is a horizontal relationship.

Through the process of purification the criterion of selection by Allah is made as pointed out by the term Sfw: http://corpus.quran.com/qurandictionary.jsp?q=Sfw

  • Are you saying that spirituality is nothing but the measure of purity of self? That is to say that the purer the self the more spiritual the individual? How is a spiritual authority defined then?
    – user549
    Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 15:28
  • Who has the right to give authority but Himself? Isn't that why a prophet is elected by Him, and from that prophet a king is appointed? as per 2:246 Commented Jul 11, 2015 at 13:05

As‘salaamu alaikum.

“Spirituality” is a broad word that covers a lot of ground. It typically begins with intellectual curiousities about the beginning of things, the purpose of existence, or other MYSTERIES OF LIFE. If it has a positive orientation, it will lead to the discovery of many wonders and the attainment of many virtues and abilities. It is a journey that has no end.

What any given individual gets out of spiritual seeking will depend totally on their orientation and focus. Because the field of spirituality is so vast it is easy for novices to quickly get lost in it, ignorantly dabbling in matters that should be left alone (like magic!).

What anyone gets out of their spiritual seeking will depend on what they desire, and what they desire will depend on their level of knowledge and maturity, and on the condition of their soul. An ignorant and immature seeker almost always gets drawn into practices that promise to give them special powers and abilities. People with some degree of knowledge (who are probably receiving direction from a shaykh/guru/shaman/etc.) will have higher aspirations for their seeking.

I have never heard of spirituality “numbing the inquisition of the critical mind.” Certain spiritual traditions advocate for and train their adherants in the TRANSCENDENCE of the critical mind, yes, because the critical mind analyzes (breaks things down) and certain Truths are so grand that they can only be grasped by an expanded consciousness.

In Islam, our orientation is positive and our focus is on Allah. What @Allahknowsbest and @johan.i.zahri said in their answers are true, but incomplete.

Knowing our purpose, where we came from, where we are going, and why we are here on Earth is entrance-level Islamic spirituality. It provides our orientation. At the deeper levels of our spiritual tradition the goal is “seek the near approach” to Allah (5:35), which means to fall deep in love with Allah and to remain in a state of constant, reverent mindfulness of Him. The result of this is a bliss, joy, and state of satisfaction that the sadnesses of mundane life cannot touch.

“And, without doubt, the remembrance of Allah is the greatest thing.” 29:45

“O you who believe! Celebrate the praises of Allah, AND DO THIS CONSTANTLY.” 33:41

“And bring your Lord to remembrance within your very soul, in humility and reverence, and without loudness in words. And do not be among those who are heedless.” 7:205

“Truly, Allah leaves to stray whom He will, but He guides to Himself those who turn to Him in penitence - those who believe, AND THOSE WHOSE HEARTS FIND REST AND SATISFACTION IN THE REMEMBRANCE OF ALLAH, for, without doubt, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest and satisfaction.” 13:27-28

“And celebrate the praises of your Lord before the rising of the sun, and before its setting. Yes, celebrate them for part hours of the night and at the sides of the day, THAT YOU MAY HAVE TARDAA (pleasure and joy).” 20:130

“Those who believe are overflowing in their love for Allah” 2:165

And, no, it is not just a “good feeling” that we are pursuing. We are after “the near approach” to Allah, and that is a profound experience that no human speech can describe. The good feelings are just the fragrances of the experince, revealed to you to make you want to pursue the experience itself.

@johan.i.zahri mentioned purification. That is a major part of the process of spiritual growth.

To approach Allah the mind and heart must be cleansed of false doctrines, warped ideas, all arrogance, and other forms of profane thinking and feeling. Why do you think Allah declares the kuffaar “najis” (filthy and unclean), (9:28)? It is what their hearts and minds are full of that contaminates them.

And, though you may not like the idea of this, many muslims suffer varying degrees of contamination too. That is why He is going to complete the purification for the vast majority of us on the Day of Judgment, (4:31).

There are very few people who achieve purification while still in the Dunya, which brings me to the statement you made about an elite few. You said it as if it is part of some kind of conspiracy and scam, like there is a small group of people PRETENDING to be privy to some privileged mystical knowledge that not many are granted access to. But it‘s not like that at all, brother.

The circle is small, and has always been small - and even Allah says that about the saabiqoon (56:10-14) - but that is because there simply are not many people with the drive and determination to do the work necessary to achieve purity while still in the Dunya.

The knowledge is not a secret. All of it is right there in the Qur‘an and the Ahadith of Rasulullah (a.s.). But just KNOWING how to build a house does not get the house built. The work has to be done.

“Man can have only that which he strives for.” 53:39

Unfortunately, there are not a lot of people doing the work to attain the level of purity necessary to achieve the near approach to Allah. So the circle remains small.

In closing, let me briefly address the matter of “temporal authority” and “spiritual authority.”

Those phrases are derived from Western (i.e., European) doctrine called “the seperation of Church and State.” Once upon a time the Catholic church was the top authority over European society. Under the Church‘s leadership, steeped in superstition and ignorance, Europe fell into the dark ages. They became scientifically and politically stagnated.

After they threw off the yoke of the Church‘s leadership, they came up with the idea that people‘s relationship with “God” is a personal matter that their religious authorities can help them with. But all other aspects of society (political, economic, military, etc.) would forevermore be dealt with using only reason and the scientific method.

Under the doctrine of the seperation of Church and State, “religious authority” and “spiritual authority” are synonymous. They are the religious experts who are authorized to teach people about their relationship with “God.”

Spiritual authority, then, has nothing at all to do with spirituality, as has been explained by @Allahknowsbest, @johan.i.zahri, and myself. It‘s just a phrase invented by the kuffaar describing something that is relevant only to their way of life, not ours.

This answer is long but I pray it helps your understanding.


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