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The Muslim Voice: The marriage of secularism and spirituality

By Sara Maqsood, February 9 2021—

The word ‘spirituality’ has the ability to draw polarizing opinions like few other things can. For some, it is a primordial reality, an opportunity to transcend human perception, a reverential experience. For others, it’s nonsensical, a crutch for the weak-minded and an anachronism to former times that the secularized world has no space for. Nonetheless, I want to give spirituality its due regard and unpack what it means to be spiritual in a secularized society that would otherwise consider my commitment to spirituality absurd.

Spirituality is a broad concept that holds room for many perspectives. Yet, if we want to generalize, we can claim that it is a methodology for discovering the universe and ourselves within it. This discovery happens on a much deeper and personal — even transcendental — level. For religious people like myself, this experience is achieved through worship or through adherence to a faith. For the atheists, it is perhaps an experience that is achieved through questioning the fundamentals of human experience, through introspection or through the belief that we have the power to reawaken and redirect our minds to a sense of discipline and meaning. In this respect, we can use spirituality to step away from the demands of everyday life and finally think about our own existence on a fundamental level. Otherwise, we might miss out on what is possibly the greatest joy of being human. 

In my experience, however, people who rigidly value rationality and reason have an intrinsic distrust of spirituality of any form. The argument is, if spirituality cannot be measured or quantified, then it cannot possibly be real. If it is not real, it cannot be valuable. For such people, metaphysics and epistemology are secondary to empiricism. Yet, as astronomer Carl Sagan would argue, once we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, and when we finally explore the beauty and subtlety of life, that “soaring feeling” and sense of “elation and humility combined” become spiritual moments for us. Similarly, when we are moved by a musical composition or literature that profoundly touches our soul, or when we immerse ourselves in philosophy and the complexity of our brains, we experience a spiritual moment that has the potential to be transcendental .

Arguably, there is even a consequence of denying the importance of spirituality. As an unhappy materialist who believes in both science and religion, I think the less spiritual the world gets, the more forceful its efforts toward modernity. We can certainly argue the upsides that came with the decline of religion and spiritualism in the past, but modernity too has its pitfalls. In past efforts to seek freedom from God or religion, we have entered a flux that is constantly seeking to keep us oriented toward conquering the world and our external selves.

The Modern Project — the political and philosophical movement that gave rise to modernity — and its imbalanced quest for renewal, incites a very specific lifestyle today, one of consumption, greed, mass media, advertisement and innovation. There is a constant call from the modern world to break away from tradition and to constantly reinvent ourselves. As we have become so fixated on modifying our external worlds and appearances, we have flatlined the entire depth of our spiritual potential. Suddenly, the ability to understand ourselves is undermined. That is the price we pay for focusing only on the world and our external selves. Contrary to this, the main essence of all spirituality is to be intensely present in our day-to-day lives’. The attempt is not to ‘chase’ the spiritual awakening but instead, to inherently come to terms with the simplicity of life. Life is the ‘now’ and it does not require any fixing or chasing. It simply relies on being. We only need to take a moment and finally pause.  

This column, The Muslim Voice, aims to give voice to Canadian Muslims in order to highlight their achievements, perspective, experiences and struggles as well as explore Islamic history related to contemporary events. This column is part of our Voices section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board. 

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