What is the Purpose of Spiritual Tension?

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Spiritual tension (or metaphysical tension) is an inward posture, a sort of standing to moral and spiritual attention. In its positive aspect, it means that believers hold an exceptionally strong and determined disposition for all that is good and permitted. They are preoccupied with such matters, and always work to achieve them.

It has other meanings as well: a desire for religion and all things related thereto; the pursuit of religious thoughts and sentiments, ascetically and yet with love; the mind’s devotion to religion, as lovers in mystical poetry constantly think of each other; peoccupation with religion at all times and in all conditions; yearning for religion to become “the life of the life,” just as lovers long for union again after separation. It also means trying to awaken everybody to the thought and sense of religion, especially your own people, as the very purpose of life; being distressed and suffering for the sake of religion; establishing systems and institutions to serve people and God, and ensuring that they continue to function effectively; loving God and His Prophet more than anything else; and clasping tightly and sincerely to the way of life that the Prophet brought.

In its negative aspect, spiritual tension is being averse to unbelief, immorality, and corruption; expressing this aversion constructively; fleeing evil, vice, and destructive ways and things; and continually resisting sin and temptation.

This is how spiritual tension can preserve the vigor and vitality of believers’ faith and way of life. If the believers have any weakness or are lacking in zeal, they cannot be effective servants of God, for bringing what He wills to realization is possible only through ardent desire and strenuous effort to establish the harmony, order and system that God wills. If we lack determination and perseverance, or our ourselves influenced by unbelief and misguidance and unable to free ourselves, we have lost our spiritual tension. True believers cannot step into misguidance, and our tension must be full and exact, just like our love and desire for faith.

The attitudes to be adopted and rejected so as to retain spiritual tension are defined in the Hadith. Among many others are the following: “None of you can be a believer until you love me more than you love your parents and children” and “There are three things that enable you to taste the sweetness of real belief. These are: When God and His Prophet are dearer to you than anything else, when your love for anyone is solely for God’s pleasure, and turning to unbelief is as abhorrent to you as being flung into the fire.”

Those who find and sense these in their conscience are aware of their belief. However deeply innate and natural filial love and relationship are, one’s interest, love, relationship, and devotion to God and His Prophet ought to be stronger. We say this in the light of logic, reason, thought, and judgment. In fact, our interest in and attachment to God and His Prophet is an expression of meditation and perception, of searching and finding. Nothing else is preferable to this love, if we can reach it in our conscience by searching and meditating, and it is the first attribute of those who have tasted the sweetness of belief.

To prefer God and His Prophet to everything else means, in a broader sense, to prefer the basic elements of belief to everything else. If the love of God is in our hearts and the light of God is on our faces, everything exists and its being existent has meaning. Otherwise, there wouuld be no difference between existence and non-existence. Believers who integrate themselves with such an understanding love all believers, and to some extent all creation, without prejudice, partiality, or ulterior motives. This is because by immersing themselves in the love of God, believers can love other persons and things only for the sake of God. This is a very important part of establishing the congregation that God wills.

It is also important to hold the spiritual tension against unbelief. Believers, if they have experienced the sweetness of belief, should feel disgust and aversion—even hatred— toward unbelief, corruption, perversion, immorality. and ingratitude. One who loses this aversion cannot desire to see unbelief eradicated from the hearts of people and replaced by belief. To realize that aim, believers must have a profound enthusiasm and love for belief and a strong hatred for unbelief. For believers’ spritual tension, and even for that of a nation and humanity, it is necessary to oppose all sorts of unbelief: evil, vice, anarchy, unrest, and disorder.

The greatest harm or enemies have inflicted upon is is to destroy our spiritual tension. They have described jihad (struggle) against unbelief as oppression and cruelty, conquest and invasion. As the poet Iqbal said, they turned lions with a glorious history into sheep. Treated in this way, those Muslims who have lost their spiritual tension remain largely unaffected by invasion, exploitation, and humiliation. Nor do they resist if their personal pride, honor, honesty or good name are attacked and blemished. Believers who maintain their spiritual tension acquire what they long for and then avoid and seek to remove what God dislikes.

In short, spiritual tension means having an aversion to unbelief and error, as well as a passionate desire for belief. The crucial point here is that this tension does not mean fighting in the streets. Rather, it means living the excitement, enthusiasm, agitation, and emotions generated by the thousands of daily fights in your conscience; being in pain because of mental and spiritual suffering; being preoccupied and busy with people’s problems; being ready and willing to risk all for the sake of others; “dying” and being “revived” many times a day; feeling the people’s sufferings in yourself when you see them led astray, dragged toward Hell, and pulling each other down; feeling others’ pangs of conscience and the tortures of Hell in your own conscience, while living in such a suffocating and lethal atmosphere of unbelief, deviation, and unawareness.

Such believers can earn the reward of martyrdom through displaying such dedication and commitment. Nothing can depress or terrorize such people—not worsening conditions, difficult circumstances, or the darkness, fog, or smoke (of ignorance)—for they are immune to unbelief. This is what we understand by spiritual tension. A society that loses this tension has perished in its spirit already, even though its outer form continues to exist. God allows oppressors and tyrants to attack such societies, to send their corpses the way of their already departed souls.

Death begins in the soul and heart, and later takes the body away. Physical defeat always follows spiritual defeat. God never lets people who keep their souls alive to be downtrodden. Those who cannot sustain their spiritual tension are destined to die. It is mere caprice and fancy for such people to suppose that they have a religious life. If a revival does take place, it is because some people have retained their spiritual tension. The only reliable support and power in all affairs is from God only.

How can spiritual tension be restored?

Maintaining spiritual tension is harder than getting it. That is why determination and perseverance are needed to get it. Tension slackens due to familiarity and habit. Believers may become used to the terms and ways of their cause, and so gradually grow bored with it. Sometimes selfishness, passion, ambition, envy, covetousness, avarice, love for rank and position, comfort, and lethargy dampen their enthusiasm and love for acting upon and serving in the way of God. Such a development can result in the loss of already acquired spiritual qualities and a paralyzed willpower. If active believers start making excuses and not showing up where they are expected, their tension is slackening and they are in danger of losing it altogether. Without spiritual tension, believers cannot serve God, Islam, and people.

Fortunately, there are people around us who should be praised for their good examples in this regard. For instance, I will never forget the reply of one such person when I asked him for some reason whether or not he had stayed at home for a couple of days: “I never stay at home after I have undertaken a task.”

Doctors prescribe medications and inoculations for illnesses and advise us to follow their recommendations closely, whether we want to or not. We pay attention to and follow such medical advice for our physical disorders. Should we not be even more (or at least equally) attentive to what is prescribed for our spiritual disorders? How can we preserve our spiritual tension, and ultimately attain the companionship of the Prophet and his Companions, if we are not attentive to such matters?

I have several recommendations:

• Do not stay alone, for “the wolf will devor a lamb that has left the flock.” Those who are separate from their congregation and stay away from their friends will devoured by Satan. Their decline starts by lamenting that which they could not do. While it lasts, such an activity is good. However, soon they will begin to criticize and belittle their friends’ activities, an attitude that worsens little by little until they deny the purpose and ideals of the cause and starts to claim that what is being done is inappropriate or unnecessary. When this point is reached, such people are in serious danger of becoming lost. They can be rescued only if their absense from the congregation and isolation from their friends are put right. This is why all possible gateways leading to this outcome must be kept shut from the outset.

• Always look for fresh ways to extend and revive your learning and knowledge, spiritual knowledge (ma’rifa) in particular, and be persistent and consistent in seeking. God opened the universe like a book before our eyes, and sent Prophets and Divine Books to teach us about it. Countless pious saints and learned scholars have soared in knowledge and wisdom, seeking to understand and explain the book of the Laws (the Shari’a) and the book of creation. Like honeybees collecting from thousands of flowers, they contributed their part in producing wholesome honey in their hives of knowledge. Everything should be studied carefully and evaluated as happening in accordance with the requirements and purposiveness of Divine Wisdom. If we can do this, we can say that we are acting in harmony with Divine Wisdom. Those who cannot do so gradually lose their vitality in the basis of knowledge and quickly fall into decay and corruption. After a while, they become ineffectual.

• Contemplation of death is also an important factor here. Dying before one’s appointed time is another name for attaining real life. To cut away the interminable worldly ambitions that exhaust us is only possible by death, by understanding that all of our true friends are waiting for us, and that true happiness and bliss exist on the other side of the grave.

Is it not our highest ideal to reach the beloved friend (the Prophet), Paradise, and the Divine Beauty? We should try our best, and never avoid any hardships in the way that leads to that point. I like horses very much and use the simile of a horse to describe people who follow the cause of God. A horse never says it is tired or offers excuses while running, and runs until its heart breaks and it dies. Death becomes its excuse for not running. All of us who strive in His cause should be like horses—we should run in the way of God, without pause or excuse, until we die.

• Choose a friend who will rouse, caution, and warn you. Such friends will notice our slackness and put us back on track by warning and counselling. Though it might be a little awkward at first, following this suggestion will result only in good.

As soon as you feel a little slackness, a deflection in your heart, and a lack of enthusiasm, talk with your friend and let him know what is going on. Your friend will help you recover. Although the advice may strike you at first as a little harsh, even offending, only good will result, for it will save you from even more painful situations and replace your spiritual pain with spiritual pleasure. I have often turned to such a friend, someone who is younger than me and used to be my student, and his suggestions always have benefitted me. Everyone can form such a relationship, provided that it is done gratis and for the love of God.

• We have a proverb that says: “Working iron does not get rusty.” This applies to those who serve God. It is a psychological fact that we are more concerned with our own affairs than those with others, for even if they are important in principle, they affect us only secondarily and indirectly. This natural psychological disposition should be evaluated and used carefully. Each person should assume a responsibility and a task, whether small or large, and assume ownership or sponsorship of the services done or to be done.

As long as we sincerely follow these suggestions, in sha’ Allah we will preserve and strengthen our spiritual tension and reach the horizon of active women and men of service.