What is the spiritual goal of Islam? That is, what is that spiritual target which Islam sets before man? The answer in the words of the Qur’an is: ‘A soul at rest’ (89:27). Thus the spiritual goal of Islam is to attain this state of peace in the soul.
According to the Qur’an this is the ultimate stage in a man’s spiritual development. When he reaches this stage of progress, he qualifies himself to be ushered into Paradise, the perfect and eternal world of the Hereafter. The Qur’an addresses such souls in these words: ‘O serene soul! Return to your Lord joyful, and pleasing in His sight. Join My servants and enter My paradise’ (89:27-30).
In this world man has to lead his life in circumstances in which he experiences various kinds of situations: there are times of gain, times of loss; times of happiness and times of grief. Sometimes he receives good treatment at the hands of others, at other times his fate is quite otherwise.
The ideal human being of the Qur’an is one who undergoes all these experiences without losing his integrity. Under no circumstances is his inner peace disturbed. However untoward the occasion, he can maintain his natural balance. Success does not make him proud. Power does not make him haughty. No bad treatment by others drives him to seek vengeance in anger. At all events, he remains serene. It is such a man who is called ‘a peaceful soul’ in the Qur’an. And it is this man who, according to the Qur’an, has achieved the highest spiritual state.
The realization of God joins man to his Maker. Such communion with the divine brings about a state of spiritual elevation. Having been thus raised to a higher plane of existence, man becomes a ‘sublime character,’ (68:4) as it is expressed in the Qur’an.
This can be illustrated by an example from the natural world: The process of conversion of a substance from the solid to the gaseous state, is called boiling. The boiling point of a liquid varies according to atmospheric pressure. At sea level, water boils at 100 degrees centigrade. At a higher altitude, as on a mountain, the atmospheric pressure is less, so the boiling point is lower. This shows that it is the altitude that makes the difference.
The law of nature governing this world accounts for the difference made by altitude. Islam’s aim is to foster human beings whose altitude has changed. The superior qualities desired in him will come later, on their own.
Just as the Prophet of Islam was God’s messenger, so also was he a perfect example of the peaceful soul. By studying his life, one can learn the nature of God’s ideal man, that is, a peaceful soul. In the Qur’an, Prophet Muhammad is described as an example of “sublime character” (68:4).
When is it that a man’s spiritual progress brings him to the state of peace? The best way to describe the soul being at complete rest is to give certain examples from the life of the Prophet of Islam.
The Prophet’s name was Muhammad, meaning the praised one or the praiseworthy. But when the Makkans became his most dire opponents, they themselves coined a name for the Prophet, ‘Muzammam,’ on the pattern of ‘Muhammad,’ Muzammam meaning condemned. They used to heap abuses on him calling him by this epithet of Muzammam.
But the Prophet was never enraged at this distorted version of his name. All he said in return was: “Aren’t you surprised that God has turned away the abuses of the Quraysh from me. They abuse a person by the name of Muzammam. Whereas I am Muhammad (Ibn Hisham, 1/379).
This meant that abuses were being heaped on a person whose name was Muzammam. Since the Prophet’s name was Muhammad, not Muzammam, their abuses did not apply to him. Such a reaction can come only from a person whose intellectual level is very high; who can rise above praise and criticism.
One day the Prophet was sitting with his companions in Madinah when a funeral procession passed by. The Prophet stood up. His Companions pointed out that it was the funeral of a Jew, that is, a non-Muslim. The Prophet replied: ‘Was he not a human being?’ (Fathul Bari, 3/214).
This incident shows that the Prophet was looking at the matter by separating two different aspects of the Jew, that is, his being non-Muslim, and his being a human being. At that moment he overlooked his non-Muslim identity and saw him simply as a human being.
It is only a man who, in the words of the Qur’an has acquired a sublime character who can show such respect for every human being. It is only one whose spiritual progress has elevated his mental level who can do honour to one of another creed.
On another occasion the Prophet of Islam was in the Masjid al-Nabi in Madinah, the second most sacred mosque in Islam, when a Bedouin, that is, a desert Arab, entered the mosque and urinated inside it. It was obviously a very provocative matter. But the Prophet was not at all provoked. After the nomad had urinated, the Prophet simply asked his companions to bring a bucket of water and wash the place clean (Fathul Bari, 1/386).
This is a clear example of the kind of behaviour one may expect of a man with a peaceful soul. The Prophet’s keeping cool at such obvious provocation was possible only because he had attained the highest state of spirituality. He had risen above all negative feelings.
These examples make it clear what a peaceful soul is. The peaceful soul is one which being on a higher spiritual plane, can live in tranquillity, regardless of the circumstances. It subsists within its own self. No external event can disturb its inner peace.
Nowadays people often tend to look at the history of kings in order to understand Islam. But this is not the proper way to study it. One needs only to study the careers of today’s political leaders to be able to understand the nature of the Muslim kings of bygone days. Today’s political leaders are, in reality, exploiters. In a similar way most of the Muslim kings of the later phase of Islam were also exploiters. To achieve their political ends, they exploited the name of Islam. As such, these Muslim kings were in no way the true representatives of Islam.