Experience Isn’t Enough

If we do not have moral boundaries that transcend our egoic selves, and also do not put in consistent work methodologically, we cannot expect healing or growth from life experience alone.

It is often said, “experience is the best teacher.”

While it may be true that in many cases experience is the best teacher, it cannot be the only teacher. This is evidenced by the fact that many experienced individuals continue to make the same mistakes their whole lives. 

Hence why in addition to experience, we need transcendental moral boundaries, an accountability of self to these moral boundaries, as well as spiritual discipline and healing rituals to facilitate the growth many of us seek. Otherwise, experience simply teaches us that we are great at learning from life, not applying its lessons. 

The path of Islamic spiritual healing and growth revolves around three primary tools brought to us by Divine guidance through all Prophets who were sent by God — highlighting both the centrality and universality of these tools. [1] Their mission was simple: guiding us towards a life best-lived, meant to lead us to an after-life of eternal bliss. 

(1) Al-Kitāb: The Divine Book, which means revealed scripture. It represents transcendental moral boundaries and inspiration, creating a metaphysical accountability that is far more compelling than human constructs of morality riddled with subjectivity, flux, and in many cases pure hedonism. It protects us from the age-old fallacy that humans always know what is best for them and act in their self-interests (spoiler alert: we don’t). It is a hopeful delusion, at best, to operate in life with a “moral code” informed by our own egos — the very thing that actually causes us to violate morality and act against our own interests. As a result it is an ever changing “code,” usually serving the elite and their diseased hearts, forever left dissatisfied and wanting. 

(2) Ḥikmah [2]: Wisdom, which ultimately means applied scripture, and refers to proper discernment in living and decision-making to that end. This includes life experience, because Divine lessons are taught through the act of living itself, with God constantly instructing us to heed the signs present all around us and within ourselves. True wisdom is being aware of our flawed natures, the inevitable lessons which come as a result, and learning how Divine guidance is best applied — hence the need for Prophets. What is described as “bad religion” is when we apply scripture without wisdom.

(3) Tazkiyah: spiritual purification and growth, which refers to the process of consistently applying both scripture and wisdom towards growth. In other words, it is not merely abiding by the sacred law and taking wisdom seriously, but developing a concrete methodology through which both are embodied towards a path of constant purification, healing, and growth. In addition to the countless methods from our tradition under the science of tazkiyah, historically called tasawwuf, it demands the creation of “personal rules” and rituals that help facilitate the goals we seek to achieve. This includes the overcoming of bad habits, the acquisition of virtue, healing through pain, and ultimately living in all moments through God’s guidance. 

We cannot grow by “morally shooting in the dark,” hence the need for the Kitab. Nor can we heal without learning from our flawed attempts at applying the Kitab, hence the need for wisdom. Yet still, neither Kitab nor Hikmah can save us without spiritual discipline and ritual that allow us to keep striving on the path of applying these inevitable lessons on the journey of life. 

Simply put, divine boundaries (Kitab) are about how we prepare for life’s decisions, wisdom (ḥikmah) is how we revise our knowledge to make better decisions, and the path of spirituality or spiritual refinement (tazkiyah) is the process through which we consistently strive towards human excellence, hoping to reach the status of Ihsan – beauty and meaning in every instance brought about by this excellence in religious edification. 

Works Cited

[1] While it is an obvious fact that scripture and wisdom were tools every prophet needed and utilized, tazkiyah as a universal methodology employed by all prophets is a less known fact. Besides witnessing that practically every culture in human history contains some sort of spiritual process that guides one in attaining “the good life”–including non-theistic traditions–the evidence for this is explicit in the Qur’an, chapter 87:14-19.

[2] There are many different opinions as to what hikmah means when it appears alongside kitab and tazkiyah in the well-known Qur’anic verses, without a definitive opinion on the matter. The same can be said regarding the details of the concept of tazkiyah. These scholarly discussions can be found in the various classical exegetical commentaries on the Qur’an

Photo by Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash

About the Author: Ahmad Deeb is the Imam and Director of Religious Affairs at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo. In addition to formal seminary training, he holds an M.A. in Islamic Studies and Leadership, and his thesis topic was “Re-forming Islamic Reform: Ma’loom min al-Dīn bil Darūrah, the Theology of Law, and the Epistemological Limits of Ijtihād.” He is also the co-founder of ItqaanInstitute.com and provides consulting to communities across the country. You can follow him on Twitter here

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