Showing posts with label intention. Show all posts
Showing posts with label intention. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

God, Not Greed

"To God the dearest places are the mosques, and the most unpleasant places are markets." (Reporter: Hadthrat Abu Hurairah in Sahih Muslim, Riyadus lSaeheen, #1841)

There are plenty of references in the Qur’an and the Hadith which teach Muslims how to conduct business in an honest, respectable way. Even a cursory examination of Islam shows that it is not anti-business, and Muslims throughout history have been prosperous businessmen and women. But this hadith does make an important point about what our priorities should be. The markets aren’t just described in this hadith as unpleasant—they are actually contrasted with the ‘dearest places’ to God, our houses of worship. That’s because there is nothing that works against our spirituality like the pursuit of worldly wealth. For most of us, our work tends to take up more time than our worship, our family time, and our creative pursuits combined. This hadith is a call for us to re-examine that inequality of spirituality in our lives and to keep the pursuit of earthly success in perspective.

Keeping our focus on worship rather than on the pursuit of wealth is also a central tenet of Christianity. All four of the Gospels include the story of Jesus clearing the Temple of money changers, who were selling animals for sacrifice and exchanging foreign coins at exorbitant rates. In addition to taking advantage of poor pilgrims who had no choice but to accept their terms, the money changers turned the Temple into a marketplace rather than a place where people could meet and worship God. It is this perversion of sacred space – and subversion of sacred intent – that so incensed Jesus. This hadith and the Gospels seem to suggest that we cannot simultaneously be concerned with worldly commerce and religious reflection. As Amanda states, business isn’t bad. But our primary focus in a holy place must be the glory of God. How does our perspective change if we consider our lives a sacred space like the Temple, best suited for worshiping God instead of pursuing monetary gain?

Judaism is also rich in teachings and practices that guide us to conduct business in honest, respectable ways. Ideally, everything we do—including our monetary, worldly pursuits—is done with perfect kavanah (intention) and a spirit of holiness. But Judaism recognizes, too, that we humans are limited creatures, and it is all too easy for us to forget and go astray. Accordingly, many Jewish teachings and practices make a clear distinction between the holy and the ordinary—none more important, perhaps, than the practice of keeping Shabbat. On the ordinary days of the week—Sunday through Friday—we work and engage in worldly commerce; but on the Sabbath, we do not. On Shabbat, we are prohibited even from carrying money, in case having it handy would tempt us to spend it. The observance of Shabbat helps us more easily connect with God and the wonders of creation. This dedicated, holy time is designed to help us keep the pursuit of earthly success in perspective, even during the other, ordinary days of the week.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


On the authority of Abu Hurayra, who said that the Messenger of God, [Peace and Blessings be upon Him] said: God [Glorified and Exalted be He] said: “I am so self-sufficient that I am in no need of having an associate. Thus he who does an action for someone else’s sake as well as Mine, will have that action renounced by Me to him whom he associated with Me.”
(Muslim, from: Forty Hadith Qudsi)
This Hadith reminds me that the foundation for actions in Islam lies in pure and sincere intentions to please God. It applies to everything a Muslim says, does, hides or reveals.  When actions are performed for the sake of pleasing God they become acts of worship.  Daily chores such as cooking and cleaning, which are sometimes perceived as burdens, are now turned into honorable acts, because they are done with a higher goal in mind. Of course, performing an action without reaching the highest level of sincerity is still considered beneficial and good.  On the other hand, when Muslims give charity and volunteer their time for the sake of impressing others with their generosity and gaining higher status, these actions—which appear on the surface to be honorable—may not be accepted by God. This Hadith illustrates the praiseworthiness of renouncing worldly reward and gratification while maintaining pure intentions and acting with the utmost sincerity.

Yasmina, I know I will want to continue this conversation beyond the scope of our online post! I believe our faiths reach a similar conclusion through different ways of seeing. Christian faith teaches that Almighty God does not need an associate, but that through God’s great love for all humanity, God has chosen not to set himself apart but to come among us, to claim each of us as beloved children, and to show us The Way.  Thus, we are taught to glorify God by remaining in intimate association with God; we seek to recognize, affirm, and humbly serve “God incarnate” in all persons.  Like the Hadith you cite, Christian scriptures emphasize the need to do and give generously, not for the world’s approval, but with sincere intent to serve God, in humble gratitude to God for the gift of God’s very self to us.

I am intrigued by your choice of this Hadith, Yasmina, and struck by the way this teaching balances philosophy and practice.  Jews similarly believe that God is completely self-sufficient and needs no associate. Many regard this to be the founding principle of Judaism, and refer to the essence of the Jewish religion as “ethical monotheism.”  However, since the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., the rabbis emphasized action over faith and established the mitzvot (commandments) as the primary vehicle for religious observance.  Recognizing that only behavior or actions can be legislated, they refined the system of Halakhah (Jewish law) to make the practice of Judaism accessible, and seldom focused on belief as the reason underlying one’s actions. The rabbis went so far as to suggest that it was better to do a mitzvah for the “wrong” reason than to forgo its observance, because they believed that through the performance of the deed itself the proper intention or belief would eventually follow.