“The true dialogue of civilizations will begin when Muslims with spiritual understanding address themselves to the hearts of all human beings. In some cases they will instruct; for example, to counter the hegemony of the financial markets, Islam has a rationale for how and why wealth must serve human needs and not merely the proliferation of capital.

“In other cases, Muslims may have to learn, especially from Westerners who have been deeply involved with the problems of ecology, nonviolence, and gender equality. Westerners have been living longer with some of the contemporary diseases of materialism, consumerism, and depersonalization, and they may be able to offer some remedies.

“Yet the great gift Islam can offer to the world today is its potential to transform human beings. The transformation we need is not of mere outer behavior, or even of the precarious environmental and economic conditions of our planet, but a deeper transformation of the will of the human being: dynamic taslim. We need to discover essence, the kernel (al-lubb), and become people who see to the essence of things, people of true understanding and insight (basirah). We need soul-education that will develop human beings who have a true capacity for intentionality (niyyah), mindfulness of God (taqwa), and remembrance of god (dhikr allah).

Envisioning Applied Spirituality

“Without a profound renewal, Islam will suffer the erosion of faith that other religions have suffered in much of the West, where only a small minority of people attend church and actively affiliate themselves with a religion. I am not suggesting that Islam needs a ‘reformation’ such as Christianity experienced. Rather, a renewal suggests reconnecting with the original moral energy and inspiration of the faith. If Islam is to survive in the West, in other words, if the next generations are not to be lost to the worldliness of global consumerism and pop culture, we will need active centers for the spiritual life, not mosques that are merely places of immigrant nostalgia.

“In other words, we are in need of an Institute of Applied Spirituality. We must apply the deepest wisdom of Islam to contemporary problems. We need to forge cooperation between spiritual practitioners, scholars, social activists, popular writers, filmmakers, and musicians. The foundation for it all must include the knowledge of heart-purification and self-transformation.

“We need a form of continuing education in our communities that can encourage and teach the inner reality of Islam through spiritual practice. One way this continuing education can be accomplished is through retreat programs that take people out of the manic stream of their lives, optimally including some contact with the beauty and peace of nature. Another essential part of spiritual education is dhikr — a spiritual rite — performed in gathering (majlis) or individually, following clearly articulated principles of practice and organization. Thirdly, retreat programs should include open forums where Muslims, especially young adults, can feel free to ask any questions that are in their hearts without recrimination or embarrassment. And fourthly, for the accomplishment of continuing education, we need to establish Muslim interfaith centers, where such activities can flourish, where teachers can develop, and where the community can have a respected environment and format for communication and a deepening of spiritual practice.

“In the contemporary world, so full of distractions and challenges to our humanness, our spiritual sanity requires a concerted effort to strip away the veils of social conditioning, which include the religion of consumerism, the idolatries of pop culture, and the heedlessness of social ambitions. It also requires an appreciation for the kind of spiritual practice known as meditative awareness (muraqaba) that reawakens our receptivity to God’s presence through an inner silence and stillness.”