Religion is a spiritual attitude and a way of life adorned by voluntary surrender, faith and piety. Social life also is part of human life and therefore religion endorses it as an important aspect of human nature. It would be incorrect to think that religion exclusively promotes unworldly issues and detachment from worldly affairs. This has been contrary to the view of all Abrahamic faiths while being much closer to the position of gnostic movements in the early Christian era or to some unorthodox Sufis.
However, in some cases the opposite extreme prevailed with little or no concern over spirituality, focusing on the corruption of wealthy religious or political establishments vis-à-vis a socially-committed class ready to fight for justice and its affirmation in society. If this is the case, it follows that prophets and saints would be no more than mere revolutionaries or social reformers. Such situations are at times particularly visible in certain modern religious gatherings and celebrations where the spiritual call can barely be felt, where a celestial profound experience has been reduced to a very subjective sentimentalism leaving no space for the human will to push the intellect, with the help of divine grace, towards objective and universal truths.
Sentimentalism often destroys reason and makes the person more similar to an animal rather than an intellectual or a moral being. Sentimentalism also easily ends in abstract ecumenism as the focus would be to subjectively ‘feel’ something having a spiritual flavour rather than realise an objective truth. The difference is when sentiments are driven by God’s love expressed along the path of faith. In such cases, we cannot talk of sentimentalism but of religious inclination or even divine zeal. The love for the Prophet and the Imams of Ahl al-Bayt falls also into this category.
Nowadays man is intrinsically changed not by a natural process of education and cultural advancement but due to mass-mediatic agendas, music and multifaceted fashions devoid of real significance. So the virtues established by faith and divine love have been replaced by ‘personal experiences’ whose minimum common denominator is often a desire for a system arranged from ‘below’ rather than from God the Most-High.
The primacy of action over faith, that does not emphasise other-worldly affairs but limits itself to introduce a fair praxis running the social aspects of life have been in many cases the cause for uprooting the spirit from those outward religious traditions that today put so much effort into fitting into a modern setting. By doing so, the religion switches its transcendent nature to become an anthropocentric and immanent ideology with no reality in higher abodes. It is here that man who makes himself the centre of attention and the pivot of any consideration; has no regard for the origin, the inner truths and the scope of his existence. He replaces the dominion of divine authority with personal opinions and arbitrary wishes so that nothing or very little would be left of his natural God-inclined state.
Therefore, social justice and reforms are not to be kept aloof from a pious religious life. History also teaches us that our prophets and imams addressed their people to change and mould positively the society they lived in. Their call, however, was not independent of the Divine Will, neither did they accept the illnesses of their societies with the hope of having a louder voice amongst the masses. A Quranic verse says that “God is light” (25:35). Is there anything better than light in order to be seen? In fact, God was enough for them: their speeches, actions, and even their looks and walks, and always brought the witness for the purity of their messages. Also, if something is pure and clean, usually it can be seen with great ease in a dirty and polluted environment; this confirms the fact that there is no need ‘to be like those unguided ones that you are trying to guide’ or to be subject to their whims.
Many people today are dissatisfied with the world and they are discouraged while seeing the current situation of crisis for which they are not responsible. Unfortunately, they do not seek in themselves the causes of such disorder, but they link them to other factors like God, the world or a failed system. As they don’t try to rectify themselves, they think it is their duty to change the world while forgetting themselves.
In Muslim theology, the role of khalifatullah (God’s Viceroy) is fundamental to link the people of the earth to what is above them. As a divine viceroy, he represents God’s will with his established appointed position while his human nature makes him fulfil the needs of humankind by God’s command. In this way, all the layers of the cosmos are in perfect order according to the Divine Will, from physics to metaphysics.
Social problems are not to be faced detached from divine participation and they should not be used for promoting empty religious affiliations. Indeed religion should pave the way to live a pure and spiritual life and that is why its role to lead the masses from this world to the next should not be underestimated.
In this light social welfare and political activism gain significance only in relation to a particular intention followed by the act of bringing people “from darkness to light” (2:257) towards the abode of eternal values. Making this world a better place would be certainly legitimate and praiseworthy but only as an accident, a temporal consequence, not an ultimate goal: “…and to God is the final destination” (3:28).