Each philosophy or religion that I’ve explored has placed a great emphasis on detachment from worldly pursuits.
Stoicism, Catholicism, and Judaism all say that the pursuit of wealth and prestige is an unworthy (or at least lesser) endeavor for human beings. While it’s not bad to have those things, one should not pursue them for their own sake.
Islam is no exception; all five pillars of Islam, Shahadah, Salat, Zakat, Ramadan, and Hajj are designed to remind each Muslim what their priority should be: submission to God.
Zakat is a mandatory, annual tithe that should amount to 2.5% of your savings. There are some conditions that need to be me before you are obligated to give (not be in debt, for example), but if you have $10000 in savings, you are required to donate $250 to a mosque or charitable cause.
This practice will teach you to value helping others and put in context what wealth should be used for. It’s a concrete and very real way of countering that greed instinct we all have. At the moment of giving, it will reveal any corrupted attachment you have to your wealth. When you’re writing a check for $250, you might hesitate and realize you have a “disordered love” of money. The acknowledgement, and subsequent donation, is an important process for fostering detachment.
This is a month of fasting that Muslims are required to perform every year. They are required to abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, and having sex [eating and drinking is banned from sunrise to sunset, not the whole 30 days].
It is designed to bring awareness of our baser human needs to the surface and help foster discipline over them. We can become so attached to seeking pleasure that we forget what our real purpose is not simply to eat and have sex, but to re-unite with the divine.
Modern culture makes it extremely difficult to regulate our impulses, our base desires. I’ve noted this many times on this blog before, but all you have to do is watch TV for an hour and note how many commercials are designed to stoke your desire for food, sex, prestige, etc. to understand how vigilant we must be to ensure we don’t have fall into the trap of acting simply as pleasure seeking machines.
“Islam’s cure starts with defining the problem as a spiritual identity crisis. When we forget that God exists and is watching us, when we ignore our Fitrah, or inner nature to seek God, when we fail to live according to God’s good laws and forget the advice of the prophets, then we can fall pretty to any self-destructive impulse. The solution, then, must begin with strengthening the soul and then bringing the body along in step.”
Fasting is a way to ritually counteract those destructive forces that can lead to a separation between you and God.
The Hajj is a mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims should perform at least once in their lifetime. This is a fascinating topic that I may explore in-depth at later time. Mecca was the birthplace of Muhammad and the location of a shrine that goes back to the days of Abraham (called the Ka’bah).
I won’t go into all the rituals, as they’re quite extensive, but the pilgrimage itself is supposed to be very difficult. While it’s not so difficult to travel there today, it’s still a desert city with a harsh, hot, climate and the required rituals are physically arduous.
During the Hajj, Muslims are expected to reflect and contemplate on the meaning of their lives and what they have done in the world so far.
I was particularly struck by this observation in the Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Islam:
“The harsh landscape of brown dirt, stunted trees, and black rocks helps to clear a person’s thoughts with its absence of flashiness and comfort.”
It’s the combination of a desolate environment and the mandatory reflection and rituals hat will help foster detachment from the unimportant worldly distractions that consume our thoughts most of the time.
I’m not sure the modern secular world offers such a prescriptive methodology to fostering detachment and closeness with the divine (or secular equivalent of the divine).
Meditation is catching on, which is commendable. There are “cleanse” based diets and even fasting is catching on, but the goal is merely to look good, not to learn to control your baser desires. We take vacations to exotic locations, but only for pleasure seeking reasons, not to spend time contemplating your life in relation to God.
Perhaps it’s the combination of ritual and theology that is powerful, not just the behavior.