What is the spiritual path in Islam and what is its place in life as a whole? To answer this it is necessary to study carefully the difference between the Islamic concept of spirituality and that of other religions and ideologies. Without a clear understanding of this difference, it often happens that, when talking about spirituality in Islam, many of the vague notions associated with the word ‘spiritual ‘ unconsciously come to mind; it then becomes difficult for one to comprehend that this spirituality of Islam not only transcends the dualism of spirit and matter but is the nucleus of its integrated and unified concept of life. The idea which has influenced most the climate of philosophical and religious thought is that body and soul are mutually antagonistic and can develop only at each other ‘s expense. For the soul, the body is a prison and the activities of daily life are the shackles that keep it in bondage and arrest its growth. This has inevitably led to the universe being divided into the spiritual and the secular.
Those who chose the secular path were convinced that they could not meet the demands of spirituality, and thus they led highly material and hedonistic lives. All spheres of worldly activity, whether social, political, economic, or cultural, were deprived of the light of spirituality; injustice and tyranny were the results.
Conversely, those who wanted to tread the path of spiritual excellence came to see themselves as ‘noble outcasts’ from the world. They believed that it was impossible for spiritual growth to be compatible with a ‘normal ‘ life. In their view, physical self-denial and mortification of the flesh were necessary for the development and perfection of the spirit. They invented spiritual exercises and ascetic practices which killed physical desires and dulled the body’s senses. They regarded forests, mountains, and other solitary places as ideal for spiritual development because the hustle and bustle of life would not interfere with their meditations. They could not conceive of spiritual development except through withdrawal from the world.
The Islamic viewpoint differs radically from these approaches. According to Islam, Allah has appointed the human soul as His Khalifah (vicegerent) in this world. He has invested it with a certain authority and given it certain responsibilities and obligations for the fulfillment of which He has endowed it with the best and most suitable physical frame.
The body has been created with the sole object of allowing the soul to use it in the exercise of its authority and the fulfillment of its duties and responsibilities. The body is not a prison for the soul, but its workshop or factory; and if the soul is to grow and develop, it is only through this workshop.
Consequently, this world is not a place of punishment in which the human soul, unfortunately, finds itself, but a field in which Allah has sent it to work and do its duty towards Him.