The custom of most of us is to lavish attention on our bodies and neglect our spirits. The love of life drives us to ensure that we remain healthy so that we can live longer. We train and exercise to look good and to prolong life. Healthy eating, exercise, and diet are ultimately about prolonging life via good health i.e. preserving the physical body.
We often hear the phrase ’your body is your temple’. We may not explicitly say it but this is what we live by. Many people train hard in gyms not just for health reasons but to look good i.e. for cosmetic reasons. Gyms are full of mirrors so that people can admire themselves. This is vanity in the extreme. In contrast to this, in many parts of the world, Christian monks and nuns were forbidden to look into mirrors because it was considered an act of vanity, self-conceit, and an invitation to pride and self-worship.
It is important that we look after our bodies as the Prophet ﷺ has taught us that our bodies have a right over us. However, the attention that we lavish on our bodies is misplaced if we neglect our ruh. Our ruh has a greater right over us. We are allowing it to become malnourished because we are too focused with the body.
As Muslims, we must maintain the health of the mind, body and the spirit. We fear diseases of the body because we are frightened of death, that these illnesses may lead to. Diseases of the heart prevent the flourishing and growth of our soul and our good deeds. The heart has many diseases. These include hypocrisy, pride, envy, malice, haughtiness, and hatred. These are corrosive. For example, in a ḥadīth, envy is described as consuming our good deeds just as fire consumes dry wood. We may perform good deeds externally but due to these diseases within we are sick and rotten.
Many verses of the Qur’an speak about health of the spirit and diseases of the heart. For example, in Surah Baqarah, Allah سبحانه و تعالى says:
فِي قُلُوبِهِم مَّرَضٌ فَزَادَهُمُ اللّهُ مَرَضاً وَلَهُم عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ بِمَا كَانُوا يَكْذِبُونَ
In their hearts is a disease, so Allah hath increased unto them that disease; and unto them shall be a torment afflictive, for they have been lying. [al Baqarah 2/10]
Diseases of the heart are very destructive. These are what will make us or break us.
[This excerpt is based on a spiritual gathering held by Shaykh Riyadh ul Haq on 17th April 2016].