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Reflections on 'The Book of Illumination'

Reflections on 'The Book of Illumination'

The main theme of the Book of Illumination is 'desisting from selfish calculation'. The rather awkward phrase, 'selfish calculation' is a translation of the concept of administrating/arranging for one's self.

Shaykh Ibn Ata Illah al-Iskandari talks about the ego's disposition for self-calculation, anxiety and worry. With intricate arguments, logic and rhetoric — all infused with Islamic principles from the Quran and Sunnah — he coaxes the reader to reflect upon the futility of self-calculation. Self-calculation is, at best, self-delusion as the Shaykh reminds us that God has been arranging our affairs from before we came to be. Self-calculation, or our belief that we can arrange our affairs in any meaning way, is actually detrimental to our physical and spiritual well-being.

It has to be said that this book is not about radical asceticism or about being fatalistic. It is about checking our persistent ego-centric tendencies, such as greed, hoarding, self-interest, vanity, etc. This 'checking' is an important area of study within traditional Islamic Spirituality.

It is especially relevant now when the 'un-checked' habit of acquisition, consumerism and egotism is couched in newspeak as 'market-forces', 'progress' and 'freedom'. In a sense, this book goes to first principles and that is, our Ego's desire to plan for itself, unchecked, without a second thought towards the Creator.

We also compartmentalise things around us. We view our work, religion, affiliations as separate compartments. In this way, we do not see the disharmony in being at once a pious muslim and an unethical executive. Perhaps it is this disharmony that has made us find little solace in worship and has led to a slew of problems that are outwardly manifested in depression, anxiety, insomnia and marital instability. If this is happening at the individual level, can you imagine the ramifications on the society as a whole?

The Book of Illumination makes the case, with evidence and argument, that desisting from selfish calculation is vital for our spiritual healing and growth. At the same time, it gives us advice on living and working in this world, without unduly attaching our hearts to it. Our hearts are to be content with God and His calculation, then perhaps, there may grow in our hearts — illumination.

The Book of Illumination
Shaykh Ibn Ata Illah Al-Iskandari
Fons Vitae

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