Mindfulness, of late, has become a buzzword and as Muslims, we might wonder what mindfulness has got to do with our faith?
In simple words, mindfulness is our ability to pay attention to the present moment without getting carried away by all the distractions, emotions, thoughts, and feelings we experience. From an emotional well-being perspective, this concept can be very useful for Muslims. However, to us Muslims, this mainstream definition of Mindfulness is incomplete without God.
In this article, we discuss how Islamic mindfulness is different from worldly/mainstream mindfulness captured in this infographic below:
Emotional vs. Spiritual Well-being
According to numerous neuroscience-based research, mindfulness is proven to have a strong correlation with emotional regulation and well-being . In contrast, mindfulness, through an Islamic lens, is not just about mental and emotional well-being, but more importantly about spiritual well-being – which we believe can nurture our emotional health and is deeply rooted in our awareness of and relationship with God .
Mind vs. Heart
The modern field of mindfulness is most fascinated with our brain, its roles in building and sustaining new habits, and its influence on our well-being. In Islam, the mindfulness of God is rooted in our heart – the Qalb. Prophet Muhammad pointed to his heart when he said: ]
“Taqwa ha-huna” “Mindfulness of God is here and he pointed to his chest three times” [Muslim]
Mindfulness in Islam, therefore, is a tool and practice to nurture the heart and soul, which are connected to the mind, which has been previously explained in the ProductiveMuslim’s article: What Islam Offers to Modern Self-Help: An Islamic Paradigm of Psychology.
Emotional vs. Spiritual Intelligence
According to Daniel Goleman, one of the leading figures behind the modern emotional intelligence movement, mindfulness is the foundation for emotional intelligence, a key ingredient for success in our relationships, career, and leadership . Islamic Mindfulness, on the other hand, deals with striving for excellence that goes beyond practicing emotional intelligence for career success to a deeper foundation of Spiritual Intelligence that influences our intention, drive, and behavior in pleasing Allah to achieve our eternal success through everything we do.
Mindfulness, Spiritual Intelligence, and Productivity
Now that we have explored a few aspects of the difference between secular and Islamic Mindfulness, let us explore the relationship between Islamic Mindfulness and Spiritual Intelligence.
Mindfulness is the very foundation of emotional intelligence because being mindful of our selves: the impact of our thoughts, emotions, and actions on our personal productivity, our teams, and our organizations is the essence of Emotional Intelligence. When we add the additional layer of Mindfulness of God to that, we get Spiritual Intelligence!
Emotional Intelligence is our ability to be self-aware, to self-regulate, be empathetic, motivated, and effective in social skills such as communication, negotiation, and conflict management. Spiritual Intelligence, we propose, is the God-centric and Prophetic self-awareness, emotional regulation, motivation, compassion, and social influence that not only makes us productive and effective in our career but also turns our work as a worship of God. It helps us uphold the excellence of character mandated by God and exemplified by the Prophet Muhammad . The deepest motivation of developing Spiritual Intelligence comes from our belief that it is tied to Divine closeness, protection, guidance, blessings, and acceptance.
Mainstream vs Islamic Mindfulness
We shed light here on how the God-centric Islamic Mindfulness and Spiritual Intelligence model can be a win-win for Muslims in both worlds. According to Dr. Jon Kabat Zinn, one of the pioneers of the modern neuroscience-based mindfulness movement in the US, “Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose…in the present moment, non-judgmentally” . Let’s examine each of the three elements of mindfulness mentioned by Dr. Kabat-Zinn through the Islamic lens:
- No Judgment
1. Purpose: The Spiritual Mindfulness of Intention:
Making an intention is an act of mindfulness as it requires focus and awareness. We are taught as Muslims that every action depends on intentions. Everything we do is for the pleasure of God , in the ways shown by our Prophet , and must be beneficial to us and/or other human beings. This spiritual process of making intention fuels our drive, motivation, and excellence in our work. As Ibn Ata’illah said, “actions are lifeless forms, but the presence of an inner sincerity is what endows us with life-giving spirit” . And it is the mindfulness of our ultimate abode and the Day of Judgment that drives us to set all affairs right and show up with our best selves to serve God and His creation – whether at work or at home.
Abdullah ibn Umair narrates that the Messenger of Allah said, “Whoever makes an intention for the sake of the world; Allah, the exalted, brings poverty before him and leaves it desiring it. Whoever makes the afterlife his intention; Allah, the exalted, makes his heart rich and gathers him with what he lost then he leaves with more abstinence from it.” [Ibn Majah]
We make intentions according to the image of our best self even though we are only striving towards it. That is why it is reported that: “The intention of a believer is better than his action. 
2. Presence: The Spiritual Mindfulness of Hudhur:
Our beloved Prophet taught us how to be present with the Creator and with the creation. The concept of Hudhur or being present with God was recommended as the #1 prerequisite of Khushu’ or a Mindful Salah by Imam Ghazzali in his Mysteries of Prayer, part 4 of his 40 volume magnum opus: Ihya Ulum Deen – Revival of Religious Sciences.
Allah says: “And know that Allah knows what is in your souls, so be mindful of Him.” [Quran 2:235]
Hudhur in this verse means being deeply conscious of God (and all what this consciousness entails from doing what He pleases and abandoning what He’s displeased with). Presence of Mind is not just a requirement for our service to our Creator, it is the very ingredient to find success and satisfaction at our work. Two Psychologists at Harvard, Daniel Gilbert, and Matthew Killingsworth did a study on over 2200 people that found that our minds are wandering about 47% of the time . We are spending half our waking life not present in the current moment and the study also found that the wandering mind was not a happy mind as there was a greater correlation of flow and satisfaction with a focused mind.
This concept of presence at work to give our best is also at the very core of the Islamic guidelines of Muamalat (interactions), which regards our work as worship given the right intention and due effort.
The concept of presence and focus is deeply rooted in the example of our beloved Prophet . When the Prophet interacted with people, he listened with his heart. He did not just turn his face but he turned his chest to the person he was listening to. Everyone felt heard by the Prophet and this is how we need to show up at work and at home to lead by example.
3. No Judgment: The Spiritual Mindfulness of Not Judging Any Situation as Negative
As Muslims, no judgment is something we practice when we are spiritually intelligent through the teaching of our beloved Prophet .
The Messenger of Allah said, “How wonderful is the case of a believer, there is good for him in everything and this applies only to a believer. If prosperity attends him, he expresses gratitude to Allah and that is good for him; and if adversity befalls him, he endures it patiently and that is better for him”. [Muslim]
Learning to have the best expectation of God in every situation, being optimistic, looking at the positive side of every experience is an important characteristic of those who are Spiritually Intelligent and this needs training.
Spiritual Intelligence is knowing that being grateful and patient in every situation brings God’s Pleasure and assistance and is rooted in mindfulness God, His attributes, and His promises. This is what can help a Muslim thrive at work or home even when facing challenges that will easily faze an average person.
|Mainstream Mindfulness VS.||Islamic Mindfulness & Spiritual Intelligence|
|Purpose: Find a purpose that motivates you||Purpose: the Islamic intention deeply rooted in being aware of God and seeking His Pleasure gives us drive, motivation and success at work and home|
|Presence: Focus on the moment to maximize your potential||Presence: Being present with people through our deep connection to the example of The Messenger of God . Prophetic Presence rooted in the Mindfulness of God helps us serve his creation to the best of our ability at work and home.|
|No Judgment: Do not get carried away by emotion and be rational to be effective||No Judgment: Having spiritual intelligence and being mindful that no situation is bad for the believer. Through faith, patience, and gratitude, we can attract God’s Divine pleasure and assistance, as well as be at an advantage to be more effective with the challenges at work and home.|
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- Kabat-Zinn J. Full Catastrophe Living. New York, N.Y, Dell Publishing, 1991
- Kitab Al Hikam by Ibn ‘Ata’illah Skandari