The Spirit of Worship in Islam

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The Spirit of Worship in Islam (part 1 of 3): Worship and Prayer
Description: The meaning of worship, and spirit and purpose of prayer in Islam.
By Abul A`la Mawdudi
Ibadah (worship) is an Arabic word derived from abd (a slave) and it means submission. It portrays that God is your Master and you are His slave, and whatever a slave does in obedience to and for the pleasure of his Master is Ibadah.
The Islamic concept of Ibadah is very wide. If you free your speech from filth, falsehood, malice, and abuse and speak the truth and talk goodly things and do all these only because God has so ordained to do, they constitute Ibadah, however secular they may look in semblance.
If you obey the law of God in letter and spirit in your commercial and economic affairs and abide by it in your dealings with your parents, relatives, friends, and all those who come in contact with you, verily all these activities of yours are Ibadah.
If you help the poor and the destitute, give food to the hungry, and serve the ailing and the afflicted persons, and do all this not for any personal gain of yours but only to seek the pleasure of God, they are nothing short of Ibadah.
Even your economic activities, the activities you undertake to earn your living and to feed your dependents, are Ibadah if you remain honest and truthful in them and observe the law of God.
In short, all your activities and your entire life are Ibadah if they are in accordance with the law of God, and your heart is filled with His awe, and your ultimate objective in undertaking all theses activities is to seek the pleasure of God.
Thus, whenever you do good or avoid evil for fear of God, in whatever sphere of life and field of activity, you are discharging your Islamic obligations. This is the true significance of Ibadah, namely total submission to the pleasure of Allah; the molding into the patterns of Islam your entire life, leaving out not even the most insignificant part thereof.
To help achieve this aim, a set of formal `ibadat (acts of worship) has been constituted, which serves as a course of training. These `ibadat are thus the pillars on which the edifice of Islam rests.
Salah (Prayer) is the most primary and the most important of these obligations. And what is salah? It is the prescribed daily Prayers which consist in repeating and refreshing, five times a day, the belief in which you repose your faith. You get up early in the morning, cleanse yourself and present yourself before your Lord for Prayer. The various poses that you assume during your Prayers are the very embodiment of the spirit of submission; the various recitals remind you of your commitments to your God.
You seek His guidance and ask Him, again and again, to enable you to avoid His wrath and follow His chosen path. You read out from the Book of the Lord and express witness to the truth of the Prophet, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, and also refresh your belief in the Day of Judgment and enliven in your memory the fact that you have to appear before your Lord and give an account of your entire life. This is how your day starts.
Then, after a few hours, the muezzin (caller to prayer) calls you to Prayer, and you again submit to your God and renew your covenant with Him. You dissociate yourself from your worldly engagements for a few moments and seek an audience with God. This once again brings to the fore of your mind your real role in life. After this rededication, you revert to your occupations and again present yourself to the Lord after a few hours.
This again acts as a reminder to you, and you once more refocus your attention on the stipulations of your faith. When the sun sets and the darkness of the night begins to shroud you, you again submit yourself to God in Prayer so that you may not forget your duties and obligations in the midst of the approaching shadows of the night. And then after a few hours you again appear before your Lord, and this is your last Prayer of the day.
Thus before going to bed you once again renew your faith and prostrate before your God. And this is how you complete your day. The frequency and timings of the Prayers never let the object and mission of life be lost sight of in the maze of worldly activities.
It is but easy to understand how the daily Prayers strengthen the foundations of your faith, prepare you for the observance of a life of virtue and obedience to God, and refresh that belief from which spring courage, sincerity, purposefulness, purity of heart, advancement of the soul, and enrichment of morals.
Now see how this is achieved: One performs ablution in the way prescribed by the Prophet. One also says their Prayers according to the instructions of the Prophet.
Why do they do so? Simply because they believe in the prophethood of Muhammad and deem it their bounden duty to follow him ungrudgingly. Why do they not intentionally misrecite the Quran? Isn’t it so because they regard the Book as the Word of God and deem it a sin to deviate from its letter?
In the Prayers, they recite many things quietly, and if they do not recite them or make any deviation from them, there is no one to check them. But they never do so intentionally. Why? Because they believe that God is Ever Watchful and that He listens to all that you recite and is aware of things open and hidden.
The Spirit of Worship in Islam (part 2 of 3): The Prayer and Fasting
Description: More on the spirit and purpose of prayer in Islam, as well as the spirit of fasting.
By Abul A`la Mawdudi
 What makes a Muslim say their Prayers at places where there is no one to ask them to offer them or even to see them offering them? Isn’t it so because of their belief that God is ever looking at you? What makes them leave their important business and other occupations and rush towards the mosque for Prayers?
What makes them terminate your sweet sleep in the early hours of the morning, to go to the mosque in the heat of the noon, and to leave their evening entertainments for the sake of Prayers? Is it anything other than sense of duty—their realization that they must fulfill your responsibility to the Lord, come what may? And why are they afraid of any mistake in Prayer?
Because their heart is filled with the fear of God and they know that they have to appear before Him on the Day of Judgment and give an account of their entire life.
Now, look! Can there be a better course of moral and spiritual training than Prayer? It is this training which makes a man a perfect Muslim. It reminds him of his covenant with God, refreshes his faith in Him, and keeps the belief in the Day of Judgment alive and ever present before his mind’s eye. It makes him follow the Prophet, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, and trains him in the observance of his duties.
This is indeed a strict training for conforming one’s practice to one’s ideals. Obviously, if a man’s consciousness of his duties towards his Creator is so acute that he prizes it above all worldly gains and keeps refreshing it through Prayers, he would certainly not be inviting the displeasure of God that he all along has striven to avoid. He will abide by the law of God in the entire gamut of life in the same way as he follows it in the five Prayers every day.
This man can be relied upon in other fields of activity as well, for if the shadows of sin or deceit approach him, he will try to avoid them for fear of the Lord that would be ever present in his heart. And if even after such a vital training a man misbehaves himself in other fields of life and disobeys the law of God, it can only be because of some intrinsic depravity of his self.
Then again, a Muslim should say their Prayers in the congregation and especially so the Friday Prayer. This creates among the Muslims a bond of love and mutual understanding. This arouses in them the sense of their collective unity and fosters among them national fraternity. All of them say their Prayers in one congregation and this inculcates in them a deep feeling of brotherhood.
Prayers are also a symbol of equality, for the poor and the rich, the low and the high, the rulers and the ruled, the educated and the unlettered, the black and the white all stand in one row and prostrate before their Lord. Prayers also inculcate in Muslims a strong sense of discipline and obedience to the elected leader. In short, Prayers train them in all those virtues that make possible the development of a rich individual and collective life.
These are a few of the myriad of benefits Muslims derive from the daily Prayers. If we refuse to avail ourselves of them we, and only we, are the losers. If you see that some Muslims shirk the prayers, this can only mean one of two things: Either they do not recognize Prayers as our duty or they recognize them. In the first case, their claim to faith shall be a shameless lie, for if they refuse to take orders from Allah they no longer acknowledge His authority.
In the second case, if they recognize Allah’s authority and still flout His commands, then they are the most unreliable of creatures that ever trod the earth. For if they can do this to the highest authority in the universe, what guarantee is there that they shall not do the same in their dealings with other human beings? And if duplicity overwhelms a society, what a hell of discord it is bound to become!
What the prayers seek to serve five times a day, fasting in the month of Ramadan ( the ninth month of the lunar year) does once a year. During this period from dawn to dusk, Muslims eat not a grain of food nor drink a drop of water, no matter how delicious the dish or how hungry or thirsty they feel. What is it that makes them voluntarily undergo such rigors? It is nothing but faith in God and the fear of Him and of the Day of Judgment.
Each and every moment during the fast, Muslims suppress their passions and desires and proclaim by their doing so the supremacy of the Law of God. This consciousness of duty and the spirit of patience that incessant fasting for full one month inculcates in Muslims help them to strengthen their faith. Rigor and discipline during this month bring us face to face with the realities of life and help them make their life during the rest of the year a life of true subservience to His will.
From yet another point of view, fasting has an immense impact on society, for all Muslims, irrespective of their status must observe fasting during the same month. This brings to prominence the essential equality of men, and thus goes a long way towards creating in them sentiments of love and brotherhood. During Ramadan evil conceals itself while good comes to the fore, and the whole atmosphere is filled with piety and purity.
This discipline has been imposed on Muslims to their own advantage. Those who do not fulfill this cannot be relied upon in the discharge of their duties. But the worst are those who, during this holy month, do not hesitate to eat or drink in public. They are the people who by their conduct show that they care not a trifle for the commands of Allah, in Whom they profess their belief as their Creator and Sustainer.
Not only this, they also show that they are not loyal members of the Muslim community; rather, they have nothing to do with it. It is evident that in so far as obedience to law and regard for a trust reposed in them goes, only the worst could be expected of such hypocrites.
The Spirit of Worship in Islam (part 3 of 3): Zakah and Hajj
Description: The spirit of the Zakah (obligatory charity), and a glimpse of the Hajj.
By Abul A`la Mawdudi
The third obligation is zakah. Every Muslim whose financial condition is above a certain specified minimum must pay annually 2.5 percent of his or her cash balance to a deserving fellow being. This is the minimum. The more you pay, the greater the reward that God shall bestow on you.
The money that we pay as zakah is not something God needs or receives. He is above any want and need. He, in His benign mercy, promises us rewards manifold if we help our brethren. But there is one basic condition for being thus rewarded. And it is this: that when we pay in the name of God, we shall not expect nor demand any worldly gains from the beneficiaries nor aim at making our names as philanthropists.
Zakah is as basic to Islam as other forms of worship: salah (prayers) andsaum (fasting). The fundamental importance of zakah lies in the fact that it fosters in us the qualities of sacrifice and rids us of selfishness and plutolatry. Islam accepts within its fold only those who are ready to give away in God’s way from their hard earned wealth willingly and without any temporal or personal gain.
It has nothing to do with misers. A true Muslim will, when the call comes, sacrifice all his belongings in the way of God, for zakah has already trained him for such sacrifice.
There are immense gains to the society in the institution of zakah. It is the bounden duty of every well-to-do Muslim to help his lowly placed poor brethren. His wealth is not to be spent solely for his own comfort and luxury, as there are rightful claimants on his wealth, and they are the nation’s widows and orphans; the poor and the invalid; and those who have ability but lack the means by which they could seek useful employment; those who have the faculties and brilliance but not the money with which they could acquire knowledge and become useful members of the community.
He who does not recognize the right on his wealth of such members of his own community is indeed cruel. For there could be no greater cruelty than to fill one’s own coffers while thousands die of hunger or suffer the agonies of unemployment. Islam is a sworn enemy of such selfishness, greed, and acquisitiveness.
People not ingrained with these morals, devoid of sentiments of universal love, know only to preserve wealth and to add to it by lending it out on interest. Islam’s teachings are the very antithesis of this attitude. Here one shares one’s wealth with others and helps them stand on their own legs and become productive members of the society.
Hajj, or the pilgrimage to Mecca, is the fourth basic act of worship. It is obligatory once in a lifetime only for those who can afford it. When Muslims undertake the pilgrimage, they are required to suppress our passions, refrain from bloodshed, and be pure in word and deed. God promises rewards for our sincerity and submissiveness.
The Hajj is, in a way, the biggest of all acts of worship. This is so because unless people really loved God, then they would never undertake such a long journey, leaving all their near and dear ones behind them. It may seem easy now with the appearance of airplanes and vehicles, but imagine in the past when Muslims had to take a long arduous journey, facing fatigue, hunger, and death, often taking more than a year!
This pilgrimage is unlike any other journey. Here, pilgrims’ thoughts are concentrated on God, their very beings vibrate with the spirit of intense devotion. When they reach the holy places, they find the atmosphere laden with piety and godliness; they visit places which bear witness to the glory of Islam, and all this leaves an indelible impression on their minds, which they carry to their last breath.
In addition, there are in Hajj, as in any other act of worship, many benefits that Muslims can gain. Mecca is the center towards which the Muslims must converge once a year and discuss topics of common interest. Hajj refreshes in them the faith that all Muslims are equal and deserve the love and sympathy irrespective of their geographical or cultural origin. Thus, Hajj unites Muslims from around the world into one international brotherhood.
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The Spiritual Path of Islam by Abul Ala Maududi

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What is the spiritual path in Islam and what is its place in the 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 the 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 it’s integrated and unified concept of life.

Without a clear understanding of this difference it often happens that, when talking about the 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 it’s integrated and unified concept of life.

This is a new and revised translation of a talk given by the author on Radio Pakistan, Lahore on 16th March, 1948.


Body-Soul Conflict

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 which 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.

This conflict of body and soul resulted in the evolution of two different ideals for the perfection of man. One was that man should be surrounded by all possible material comforts and regard himself as nothing but an animal. 

Men learnt to fly like birds, swim like fish, run like horses and even terrorize and destroy like wolves ¾ but they did not learn how to live like noble human beings. The other was that the senses should be not only subdued and conquered but extra-sensory powers awakened and the limitations of the sensory world done away with.

With these new conquests, men would be able to hear distant voices like powerful wireless sets, see remote objects as one does with a telescope, and develop powers through which the mere touch of their hand or a passing glance would heal the unhealable.

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.

So spiritual development should not take the form of a man turning away from this workshop and retreating into a corner.

Rather, a man should live and work in it, and give the best account of himself that he can. It is in the nature of an examination for him; every aspect and sphere of life is, as it was, a question paper: the home, the family, the neighborhood, the society, the marketplace, the office, the factory, the school, the law courts, the police station, the parliament, the peace conference and the battlefield, all represent question papers which man has been called upon to answer.

If he leaves most of the answer-book blank, he is bound to fail the examination. Success and development are only possible if a man devotes his whole life to this examination and attempts to answer all the question papers he can.

Islam rejects and condemns the ascetic view of life, and proposes a set of methods and processes for the spiritual development of man, not outside this world but inside it. the real place for the growth of the spirit is in the midst of life and not in solitary places of spiritual hibernation.


Criterion of Spiritual Development

We shall now discuss how Islam judges the development or decay of the soul. In his capacity as the vicegerent (Khalifah) of God, man is answerable to Him for all his activities. It is his duty to use all the powers which he has been given in accordance with the Divine will. He should utilize to the fullest extent all the faculties and potentialities bestowed upon him for seeking Allah’s approval. In his dealings with other people he should behave in such a way as to try to please Allah.

In brief, all his energies should be directed towards regulating the affairs of this world in the way in which Allah wants them to be regulated. The better a man does this, with a sense of responsibility, obedience and humility, and with the object of seeking the pleasure of the Lord, the nearer will he be to Allah. In Islam, spiritual development is synonymous with nearness to Allah. Similarly, he will not be able to get near to Allah if he is lazy and disobedient. And distance from Allah signifies, in Islam, the spiritual fall and decay of man.

From the Islamic point of view, therefore, the sphere of activity of the religious man and the secular man is the same. Not only will both work in the same spheres; the religious man will work with greater enthusiasm than the secular man. The man of religion will be as active as the man of the world ¾ indeed, more active ¾ in his domestic and social life, which extends from the confines of the household to the market square, and even to international conferences.

What will distinguish their actions will be the nature of their relationship with Allah and the aims behind their actions. Whatever a religious man does, will be done with the feeling that he is answerable to Allah, that he must try to secure Divine pleasure, that his actions must be in accordance with Allah’s laws. A secular person will be indifferent towards Allah and will be guided in his actions only by his personal motives. This difference makes the whole of the material life of a man of religion a totally spiritual venture, and the whole of the life of a secular person an existence devoid of the spark of spirituality.

This difference makes the whole of the material life of a man of religion a totally spiritual venture, and the whole of the life of a secular person an existence devoid of the spark of spirituality.


The Road to Spirituality

The first necessity for progression along the path of spiritual development is MAN (faith). The mind and heart of a man should always be aware: Allah alone is His Master, Sovereign, and Deity; seeking His pleasure is the aim of all his endeavors; and His commands alone are the commands that are to be obeyed. This should be a firm conviction, based not merely on the intellect, but also on acceptance by the will. The stronger and deeper this conviction, the more profound a man’s faith will be.

The second stage is that of obedience (it~ ’at), meaning that man gives up his independence and accepts subservience to Allah. This subservience is called § slam (submission) in the language of the Qur’~ n. Thus, man should not only acknowledge Allah as his Lord and Sovereign but should actually submit before Him and fashion his entire life in obedience to Him.

The third stage is that of taqw~ (Allah-consciousness). It consists in a practical manifestation of one’s faith in Allah in one’s daily life. Taqw~ also means desisting from everything which Allah has forbidden or has disapproved of; man must be in a state of readiness to undertake all that Allah has commanded and to observe the distinctions between lawful and unlawful, right and wrong, and good and bad in life.

The last and the highest stage is that of ihs~ n (godliness) It signifies that man has attained highest excellence in words, deeds and thoughts, identifying his will with the will of Allah and harmonizing it, to the best of his knowledge and ability, with the Divine will. He thus begins to like what is liked by the Lord and to dislike what He dislikes.

Man should then not only avoid evil, for it displeases his Lord, but should use all his powers to eradicate it from the face of the earth; he should not be content with adorning himself with the good which Allah wants to flourish but should also strive to attain and propagate it in the world, even at the cost of his life. A man who reaches this stage attains the highest pinnacle of spirituality and is nearest to Allah.

This path of spiritual development is not meant for individuals only but for communities and nations as well. Like individuals, a community, after passing through the various stages of spiritual elevation may reach the ultimate stage of ihs~ n a state also, through all its administrative machinery, may become mu’min (faithful), muslim (obedient), muttaq§ (God-conscious) and muhsin (godly).

In fact, the ideals aimed at by Islam are fully achieved only when the whole community accepts them and a muttaq§ and muhsin state comes into existence. The highest form of civilization, based on goodness, is then reached.

Let us now look at the mechanism of spiritual training which Islam has laid down to prepare individuals and society for this process.

The methods that Islam lays down for spiritual development rest, in addition, obviously, to faith (Im~ n), on five pillars.

The first is the Prayer (Salat), which brings man into communion with Allah five times a day, reviving his remembrance, reiterating his fear, developing his love, reminding him of this Divine commands again, and thus preparing him for obedience to Allah.

It is obligatory to offer some of these Prayers in Congregation as well so that the whole community and society may be prepared to journey on the path of spiritual development.

The second is the Fast (Sawm), which for a full month every year trains each man individually, and the Muslim community as a whole, in righteousness and self-restraint,; it enables society, the rich and the poor alike, to experience hunger, and prepares people to undergo any hardships in their search to please Allah.

The third is the Almsgiving (Zakat), which develops the sense of monetary sacrifice, sympathy and co-operation among Muslims. There are people who wrongly interpret Zakat as a tax; in fact, the spirit underlying Zakat is entirely different from that of a tax.

The real meaning of Zakat is sublimity and purification. By using this word, Islam seeks to impress on man the fact that, inspired by a true love of Allah, the monetary help which he renders to his brethren will uplift and purify his soul.

The fourth is the Pilgrimage (Hajj), which aims at fostering that universal brotherhood of the faithful which is based on the worship of Allah, and which results in a worldwide movement that has been responding to the call of Truth throughout the centuries and will, Allahwilling, go on answering this call till eternity.

The last is Jihad, that is, exerting oneself to the utmost to disseminate the word of Allah and to make it supreme, and to remove all the impediments to Islam ¾ through tongue or pen or sword. the aim is to live a life of dedication to the cause of Allah and, if necessary, to sacrifice one’s life in the discharge of this mission.

This is the highest spirituality, rooted in the real world, which Islam wants to cultivate. Life-affirmation based on goodness and piety, and not life-denial, is what Islam stands for. And this lends a unique character to Islam.

Credit: islam101



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Islam doesn’t view ‘spirituality’ separately from everyday activities. In Islam everything is ‘spiritual’ because all actions must be in accordance with God’s pleasure. This view comes from the Islamic creed and the Muslim’s understanding of tawhid (the oneness of God).

‘There is no deity worthy of worship except God’ this conviction creates a world view, a perspective and a unique behaviour. It essentially means that all actions – from having a shower to picking up litter from the floor – should be referred to the Creator. This establishes a constant awareness, mindfulness, and consciousness of God in everything that the Muslim says or does.

The understanding of spirituality in Islam is unlike the secular understanding. It is the constant reference to God and ensuring that everything he or she does is in accordance with God’s pleasure.

This consciousness is not static, it is dynamic. The level of God consciousness is dependent upon how close the Muslim is with His Lord. This personal relationship is established and strengthened by following a unique programme of activities that have been prescribed by God Himself. This ‘spiritual’

This ‘spiritual’ programme is also an effective means to change the negative traits and habits of the Muslim. Some of these activities include a remembrance of God, prayer, giving charity, fasting, reflecting on creation, meditation, reading and reflecting upon the Qur’an, memorizing the Qur’an and daily supplications.

The Prophet Muhammad emphasized on developing a good character by engaging a constant practice of prayer, meditation, remembrance of God and other activities, as these actions change the heart and thereby bring one closer to God.

“Verily in the body, there is a piece of flesh. If it is sound, the body is all sound. If it is corrupt, the body is all corrupt. Verily, it is the heart.”

God consciousness is an essential element in Islamic spiritual practice, without it, the Muslim’s behaviour and attitude are corrupted. The benefits of God consciousness as derived from the Qur’an are:

  • Guidance: because of His words “guidance for the muttaqeen (the people of God consciousness)”
  • Help: because of His words “Truly, Allah is with the people who have taqwa (God consciousness)”
  • Closeness with God: because of His words, “Allah is the close friend of the muttaqeen”
  • Love: because of His words, “Truly Allah loves the muttaqeen”
  • A way out from unhappiness, and provision from where one does not expect because of His words, “Whoever has taqwa of Allah He will make a way out for him and provide him from where he does not expect”
  • Facilitation of affairs because of His words, “Whoever has taqwa of Allah He will make ease for him in his affair”
  • Full covering over of wrong actions and magnification of rewards because of His words, “Whoever has taqwa of God He will cover over his wrong actions and magnify a reward for him”

Islam has a unique view on spirituality as it encompasses all aspects of the Muslim’s life. All actions that are referred to God are spiritual, and these actions include the supplications we utter before we go to bed to the type of bank account we hold.

God has prescribed certain actions that develop positive characters as well as bringing the Muslim closer to God thereby attain God consciousness. This state achieves many things including God’s love, closeness, and divine assistance.

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