Sainthood is the apogee of the human condition and the peak to which human nature can reach. Love and selflessness are the two basic characteristics of Saints, and are simultaneously the cornerstones of self-transcendence. As William James wrote:
“There is veritably a single fundamental and identical spirit of piety and charity, common to those who have received grace; an inner state which before all things is one of love and humility, of infinite confidence in God, and of severity for one’s self, accompanied with tenderness for others.”
Sainthood is embedded as the potential for human development as well as human nature, which is to be brought out of the depths of the human mind through education and experience. If there were not the potential for Sainthood, the world would have already fallen apart.
One can argue that love and selflessness are the result of the control and denial of three basic impulses that stem from what is known as the “reptilian mind,” namely, anger, appetite, and lust. As suggested by the mystic traditions of the East, anxiety and guilt diminish as these three impulses are controlled and as a result the human mind goes into a transformative state that is now corroborated by science through the concept known as “neuroplasticity.” The behavioral outcome of the transformative mind is the abandonment of self-seeking and sensual desire.
Because the human being is born in a state of freedom, the rights which God has over the human being are minimal, according to the Islamic tradition. For one, God expects the human being to fulfill basic religious obligations such as prayer and charity. Also, it is expected out of the human being to abstain from sin. But the Saint goes even further through the extraordinary love and selflessness he or she demonstrates towards humanity. Asceticism is a major component of Sainthood in the sense that the Saint has a love for physical and spiritual purity and an inclination towards hardship and self-mortification rather than luxury and comfort. Moreover, the Saint reaches the highest psychological state which a human being can reach, which is contentment and peace of mind through their attainment of gnosis. The ordinary person, as a result of greed and anxiety, seeks everything, whereas the Saint seeks nothing except closeness to God.
The goals of the Saint are out of this world, and are farfetched to the “rational” mind. For one, the Saint denies the world in order to “see” God. As Rumi said: “I did what Muhammad did; I denied both the world and the hereafter and sought the face of God.” According to Imam Al-Ghazali, Jesus received the following revelation from God: “When I look into the heart of a servant and see neither the world nor the hereafter, I place my love there and I am the superintendent of his preservation.” For the Saint, “seeing” God, which is a paradox given that God is part of the unseen realm, is the only goal worth achieving in life and it stands as the pinnacle of both worldly and outer-worldly achievement. In sainthood, the purpose of education and knowledge is gnosis (known in Arabic as “Ma’rifa”) and in turn knowing that “seeing” God is the meaning and purpose of life. All other achievements and joys in life are merely reflections of the achievement and joy of knowing that the meaning and purpose of life is to “see” God. After the point of gnosis, or “Ma’rifa,” all that is left is love and longing for the moment that this goal is actualized.
For a Saint, the path to gnosis includes self-mortification and the denial of carnal impulses in order to develop the reflective mind. In the secular world, power and wealth are the hallmarks of “success,” whereas in Sainthood humility and modesty is the most noble condition. “Downsizing” material possessions is a habit of the Saint, as in the case of the Prophet Muhammad who slept on a straw mat that often irritated his skin in addition to having only a handful of material possessions. The evolution of the mental and physical constitution of the Saint begins with repentance, which is complete only when reason and the reflective mind conquer the impulses of the reptilian mind. Then, the Saint goes through a series of mental states, such as patience, asceticism, fear, and hope before finally attaining the state of contentment and inner peace. Once the state of contentment and inner peace is achieved, the Saint finally enters into the divine milieu that is defined by divine friendship and love, which is known as “wilaya” in the Arabic language. Plato also equated love with divine friendship.
However, there is a question that emerges. How does God choose his Saints? There are two theories. For one, there is the theory of “unconditional election,” where the election of the Saint is predestined. On the other hand, there is the theory of “conditional election” where Sainthood is attained through the exercise of one’s free will. According to the Abrahamic traditions, salvation and sainthood are attainable for all, considering that Jesus made sacrifices for the salvation of his followers in the Christian tradition, while the Islamic tradition states that repentance and reform put an individual on the path to salvation and ultimately sainthood. Ultimately, the question pertains to the issue of free will versus predestination. One can argue that both progress and salvation is the predestined outcome for humanity. Where it pertains to free will is simply in choosing to believe in the predestined outcome. The simple act of belief and faith is what actualizes an outcome.
Another characteristic of the Saint aside from their purity and selflessness is their communication with prophets and other saints and thus their telepathic powers. Saints are able to peer into the lives of people and are highly intuitive. Their insights into the world are exceptional as a result of their extra-sensory perception. Through their cognitive capabilities, actions, and words, Saints seek to heal people and bring them out of mental and spiritual illness. The only major difference between Prophets and Saints is that the former receives divine revelations and truths directly from God, whereas the latter receives divine revelations and truths by other means such as education, experience, and telepathy that results from extraordinary brain activity.
Saints have a world of their own, with a set social hierarchy. There is a specific science dedicated to the study of Saints and their social system called “hagiography.” Saints mingle exclusively with Saints, gnostics, and mystics to the exclusion of others. What ultimately sets the Saint apart from the masses is that the Saint strives for the supernatural and unnatural, and their aesthetic cognitive behavior resulting from their inner and outer purity stems from a seemingly illogical and irrational disposition by way of their denial of the world and the pursuit of something that is totally hidden from the human eye. The Saint opposes the meta-narrative set by a global materialistic civilization and culture. While the majority of people invest in worldly gain, the Saint invests everything into the chance to “see” God. Saints are in this world, but they are not of this world. To the Saint, everything reeks of God. And if the Saint becomes entangled with worldly affairs, he or she is immediately bewildered and does everything in their power to disentangle themselves.
Even the personal intellect and will are relinquished by the Saint. No longer is the Saint concerned with the selfish and wanton accumulation of books, knowledge, and material possessions to one-up other people. Rather, the Saint is concerned with actions, thoughts, and words that would improve the lives of others. Knowledge is sought up to the point of gnosis, which is the inner meaning and purpose of life. Once gnosis is attained, knowledge is then abandoned for the personal experience of love and longing for the end goal of “seeing” God. The ultimate act of relinquishing one’s personal intellect and will to that of a supernatural power is based solely on belief and faith acquired through knowledge. This act results in the abandonment of a “me-first” mindset which is replaced by a telepathic mind aimed at fostering economic and social progress for the entire world.
As suggested by Imam As-Shadhili, the Saint shuns the world and refuses to mingle with people in order to make room for receiving secrets of the universe from God, which in turn would broaden the worldview of others. Thus, with no material and worldly attachments, the Saint is free to self-transcend and affirm not only his personal belief in God, but also to affirm the predestined outcome for humanity, namely, economic and social progress. In Arabic, this predestined outcome for humanity is known as “Qadr.” Due to their peculiar behavior, pensive moods, telepathic powers, and uniqueness of style, the majority of people will often seek to discredit the Saint. After all, “to be a genius is to be misunderstood.” Moreover, to affirm the predestined outcome for humanity is not just the concern of the Saint. As Abraham Maslow has written in regards to his “Theory of Human Motivation,” human beings seek gratification of base desires such as food and sex in order to open the mind towards higher social goals. Maslow states that “gratification becomes as important a concept as deprivation in motivation theory, for it releases the organism from the domination of a relatively more physiological need, permitting thereby the emergence of other more social goals.”
Whereas knowledge is supposed to be aimed towards the fulfillment of a predestined outcome for humanity, a materialistic civilization and culture uses knowledge as a means of preserving power and obstructing the realization of such an outcome. Moreover, the foreign policy of Western powers towards the developing world as a whole is aimed towards the derailing of the climb out of basic physiological needs through the employment of theories such as Malthusian economics and “Social Darwinism.” In a nutshell, the basic foreign policy of Western powers since the rise of European colonialism has been a very simple one, namely, “democracy at home, tyranny abroad.” As a result, the purpose of the American presence in the Middle East and Asia is now different than what it was intended to be after World War II. In a sense, we were all deceived in the last couple of decades. After a certain degree of reflection, government policies no longer make any sense. As Rashid Khalidi states:
“The illogic, indeed the absurdity, of destroying regimes and occupying countries in order to deal with amorphous transnational terrorist networks (which were created by the West in handling the Cold War), and of using a military machine that currently costs [billions] annually to chase after a few thousand clandestine terrorist operatives (which again were created by the West in handling the Cold War), has forcibly struck many sensible observers in the United States and around the world.”
These policies and actions stem from something deeper than just politics or a zero-sum mental paradigm. As Wael Hallaq states: “Trapped in the sensible world of the here and now, modern Western ‘man’ has become self-enclosed in a locked system beyond which no other form of reality can be comprehensible.” Whereas the East believes in something that transcends the five senses, the West denies that such a thing could exist. This is the source of our now global socioeconomic and sociopolitical dilemma.
Whereas the Saint, through his or her love for God and selflessness towards humanity, seeks to actualize the predestined outcome of global economic and social progress set by God, culture and the vast majority of people will do everything in their power to undermine the efforts of the Saint. This reality corroborates the stories of Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, but also more recently it corroborates the cases of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. Moreover, behavioral scientists have recently shown that the widespread assumption that people are rational truth-seekers is largely false. If someone or something is wrong, then why is there such a ferocious effort to discredit certain people along with their religious discourse? In a sense, the Saint is pitted against the world.
Eventually, individuals and groups will have to pay not only their own karmic debt by failing to actualize the predestined outcome for humanity, but also of their ancestors and previous generations along their family trees. If a Saint is found in a community, they must be cherished and valued, because the entire survival of a community and nation rests upon the will of the Saint, for the will of the Saint and the will of God are one and the same. Without any awareness on the part of the vast majority of people, governments are established, economies are formed, and societies maintain their cohesion solely for the preservation of Sainthood. In other words, the cosmos and the world exist solely for the Saint. Without the Saint, the entire world would collapse, and God would have no need to renew his sanction of the earth.