On The Issue of Soteriology in Islam

It has been said by a number of scholars and wise men that both intellectual and spiritual elevation as well as salvation and the peace and tranquility which come with salvation is like a faraway island, in the sense that in order to elevate oneself intellectually and spiritually and to reach salvation and thus the figurative island of peace and tranquility, one must cross over the rough and turbulent seas of appetites, desires, and passions. As the Prophet Muhammad said: “Indifference towards the world brings happiness to the heart and body.”

And while all human beings go through trials and tribulations in one way or another, it is necessary that the trials and tribulations of an ordinary man who succumbs to such appetites, desires, and passions versus the trials and tribulations of an extraordinary person who seeks to elevate themselves intellectually and spiritually and to attain salvation are quite different. It is inevitable that the trials and tribulations of an extraordinary person will be greater than the ones experienced by an ordinary person.

Short of salvation, however, are just two psychological states, according to what has been written by the Islamic mystic and scholar Abdul Qadir al-Jilani. On one hand, there is happiness, and on the other hand there is trouble. As Imam Ali wrote: “Destiny is two days. One for you and one against you, so when its for you don’t be proud or reckless, and when its against you be patient.” Thus, the human tendency is to be arrogant and proud in a state of happiness, and to bemoan and complain when in a state of trouble.

In turn, there are three types of trials and tribulations, according to Abdul Qadir al-Jilani. For one, there are trials and tribulations aimed at punishment, which leads to the complaining and bemoaning on the part of the individual going through the punishment. Second, there are trials and tribulations aimed at inward and outward purification, which in turn rectifies the character defects of the individual. During the course of the second type of trials and tribulations, the individual will feel a combination of both anxiety and hope. And third, there are trials and tribulations aimed at elevating the intellectual and spiritual rank of the individual. When cognizant of the nature of the third type of trials and tribulations, the individual will incline towards a state of ease and peace with themselves.

Also, there are four types of human beings. For one, there is an individual with “no heart and no tongue,” and this type of person is considered to be the worst type of person. Second, there is the individual “with no heart but with a tongue.” This person tends to be hypocritical and fails to practice what they preach. Third, there is a person “with a heart but no tongue,” and this type of person tends to be benign and noble. Finally, there is the wise person with both intellectual and spiritual quality, and this type of person is to be sought out for both friendship and guidance.

In sum, there are those who are close to God and are bound to achieve salvation, and there are those who are not close to God and thus are far off from the “island” of salvation. The ways through which one can achieve closeness to God and thus salvation are complex and varied. The aforementioned are some of the most important points drawn from the oeuvre of Abdul Qadir al-Jilani on the issue of soteriology. For the complete picture on the issue of soteriology in Islam, one should explore both the complete oeuvre of Abdul Qadir al-Jilani as well those of other mystics and scholars of the Islamic world.

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