Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education

The Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education (NFIE) is a non-profit, tax exempt, religious and educational organization dedicated to serve Islam with a special focus on Tasawwuf(Sufism),

Monday, May 10, 2021

 Decolonizing the Heart from the Mind-Centered Egolatry of Colonial Modernity to Islam's Epistemic Decolonization through the Heart: Mustafa Dustin Craun - The Center for Global Muslim Life 

Excerpts: "To make this shift in the geo-politics of knowledge in the context of Islam, I argue that what is needed is a shift away from Descartes and Western moderniy’s centering of human consciousness in the mind, to a re-centering of consciousness in the spiritual heart (qalb).

This in turn requires a shift back to a Tassawuf (Islamic Sufism) and thus a heart (qalb) centered understanding of Islam in relation to modernity. Since the Islamic spiritual science of Tassawuf has been de-centered and scapegoated in relation to Islamic discourses such as “modern revivalist Islam” (Wahabism/Salafism) and secular modernists, in this paper I will show that as it relates to the Muslim world Islamic Sufism can make an important epistemological contribution to the perspective of decoloniality."

"Despite the modernist reformers’ arrogance, Sufism is a vital part of Islam, and if we are to make reforms to move away from the oppression of modernity/coloniality, then it must be through a deep engagement with the spiritual as it relates to the destruction brought about by these reformers in alliance with modernity. As Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad has written, what is necessary in this context is a revival of the spiritual life within Islam. If it is ever to prosper, the ‘Islamic revival’ must be made to see that it is in crisis, and that its mental resources are proving insufficient to meet contemporary needs. The response to this must be grounded in an act of collective muhasaba, of self-examination, in terms that transcend the ideologised neo-Islam of the revivalists, and return to a more classical and indigenously Muslim dialectic."

The heart therefore is the single most important spiritual aspect of one’s life that we can have a constant relationship with as it relates to God and this process of self-purification. It is also the bodily location of our ruh which is the “underlying essence of the human individual which survives death.” Therefore, if purification of the heart is such a central part of the life of a Muslim, then we must question what type of inclination our existence in the world will lead us towards as it relates to our nafs (self). The Quran mentions three levels of nafs, these being the nafs ammara bi’l-su’ (the soul constantly en- joining evil), Al-nafs al-lawwama (the ‘soul which blames’) and after a long inward struggle, the Nafs mutma’inna (the soul at peace).

This is the nafs that one strives for in the process of the purifying the heart. Therefore from an Islamic perspective Man as it is constructed in Modernity facilitates the nafs ammara bi’l-su’. This is why to make the decolonial shift to the inverted pyramid as constructing the Human, from an Islamic perspective the self should be at the bottom of existence while God is located as the center of all existence. In Islam this would mean a shift from the ego-cogito to Tawheed (God Consciousness) where you are conscious of God in every aspect of your life, while your spiritual existence is centered in your qalb. This is a shift to a God and therefore a qalb or heart centered existence. To facilitate this it is necessary to make central the spiritual sciences of Islam, which have been marginalized by the orientalist discourses surrounding decadence. Using the term “Islamic Psychology” for Sufism here, Sheykh Murad has written that,

Islamic psychology is characteristic of the new ulum which, although present in latent and implicit form in the Quran, were first systematized in Islamic culture during the early Abbasid period. Given the importance that the Quran attached to obtaining a ‘sound heart’, we are not surprised to find that the influence of Islamic psychology has been massive and all-pervasive. In the formative first four centuries of Islam, the time when the great works of tafsir, hadith, grammar, and so forth were laid down, the ulema also applied their minds to this problem of al-qalb al-salim (the heart at peace). This was first visible when, following the example of the Tab’in [the second generation of Muslims], many of the early ascetics, such as sufyan ibn Uyayna, Sufyan al-Thawri, and Abdallah ibn al-Mubarak, had focused their concerns explicitly on the art of purifying the heart. The methods they recommended were frequent fasting, night prayers, and periodic retreats.

Through re-centering Tasawwuf Muslims will be better equipped to respond and create alternatives to modernity, as this heart centered existence will facilitate the possibility of developing the Nafs mutma ‘inna or the soul at peace. From an epistemology centered in Islamic Sufism, then, what is necessary first is to properly understand our consciousness and that it is centered in our heart rather than in our mind. If our hearts are alive, it can be our ultimate center of perception and understanding. Similar to Gloria Anzaldua’s understanding of La Facultad, which she understands to be a form of “inner knowledge,” is the Islamic concept of Al Basira (the spiritual eye of the heart) where one can develop spiritually perception and understand reality much more deeply and thoroughly. As al-Ghazali put it in his masterwork of the inner sciences of Islam, Ihya’ ulum al-din,

“Creation’ refers to the external, and ‘character’ to the internal, form. Now, [the human] is composed of a body which perceives with ocular vision [basar] and a spirit [ruh] and a soul [nafs] which perceive with inner sight [basira]. Each of these things has an aspect and a form which is either ugly or beautiful. Furthermore, the soul which perceives with inner sight is of greater worth than the body which sees with ocular vision.”

In seeing with the eye of our heart we can begin to differentiate between form and meaning, as the outward form of things are not always their internal and spiritual reality. An example is a supermodel who on the outside may look beautiful based on the standards of Western society, but on the in- side she may be stricken with anxiety, eating disorders, drug addiction and any number of maladies from being forced to focus only on their external beauty while not considering the internal realities of the heart and soul. Perhaps building on Aime Cesaire’s understanding of the Western imperiality as a poison spreading throughout the world, the best example is the West’s view of itself, as its most central significations of itself are those of benevolence and innocence. But as the world has seen for far to long, the reality of endless warfare and global genocide is the meaning/ reality behind the form. Perhaps this is best explained by the early female sufi saint, Rabi’a al-Adawiyya, who stated in verse, “O children of Nothing! Truth can’t come in through your eyes/Nor can speech go out through your mouth to find [God]/Hearing leads the speaker down the road to anxiety/And if you follow your hands and feet you will arrive at confusion—/The real work is in the Heart: Wake up your Heart!/Because when the Heart is completely awake, Then it needs no Friend.”

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Mustafa Dustin Craun :


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