- Islamic Spirituality: Theology and Practice for the Modern World by Zeki Saritoprak
In the age of technology, when our daily lives are occupied by the unwanted attacks of useless information, when we are helpless in achieving an authentic communication with our close environment, there appears a more pressing need for genuine spirituality as a means of communication. Zeki Sarıtoprak has explored the potentiality of Islamic spirituality in this book. In the first part, he attempts to discover the roots of Islamic spirituality in the Quran as well as in the life of the prophet and he successfully covers it. He names the first part as "theological foundation." In the second part, he exemplifies Islamic spirituality in the life of some great personalities, two of them contemporary, namely, Said Nursi and Fethullah Gülen, and one that is historical, Al-Ghazali. In the third part, he delves into some conceptual and contemporary issues such as ecology and spirituality and the concept of prayer and asceticism. It is unclear, though, why he insists on relating all this to theology, as they seem to have an obvious independence from theology.
The "Introduction" identifies the aim of the book as showing that "there is no intrinsic contradiction between spiritual life and modern life" (p. 2). This statement suffices to indicate not only the essence of the book but also its apologetic character. However, the psychology of winning the approval of the modern personalities is prevalent throughout the book and this appears to prevent the author from freely treat modernity. Having said this, however, one of the important characteristics of the book, I believe, is to provide a broad conceptual understanding to the notion of Islamic spirituality, which has been stranded within the confines of Sufism. It achieves this goal by relating Islamic spirituality to the spiritual life reflected in the Quran and the spiritual practice of the Prophet and his companions which have been the ground for the institutional Sufism. Islamic spirituality confined in Sufism is considered as an elitist practice in two ways. First, it is a private practice, taught within the tradition of a master-novice relationship. Secondly, Islamic spirituality in Sufi practice has been initiated by certain spiritual 'technics' that enable the person to enhance their spiritual development. Sarıtoprak wants to free Islamic spirituality from the exclusive hegemony of Sufism. He is after a practice of Islamic spirituality for [End Page 1] every Muslim. That is why he rightly considers prayers and especially five daily prayers as the unavoidable source for any kind of Islamic spirituality. In this context, the chapter on the ideas and concepts plays a significant role. According to Sarıtoprak, concepts and practices such as thankfulness (shukr), repentance (tawba), patience (sabr), and contemplation are part and parcel of the Quranic injunction and the religious life of the Prophet himself. In response to the Quranic teachings and the Prophetic life, a Muslim who takes spirituality seriously can practice such spirituality without engaging in the heavy ceremonial procedure of institutional Sufism. This is a serious positive move recommended by the book to a non-institutional religiosity which is appropriate with modern religiosity. However, although his suggestion of do-it-yourself spirituality seems quite attractive and promising as a concept, it does not work so much in real life. Although this recommendation of non-institutional Sufism has not been explicitly stated in the book, the way Islamic spirituality is examined in the book implies the task that I have indicated.
The scholarship in the book is sound; the author relies on the original sources and well-grounded academic studies. He effectively makes historical information and practices available to modern individuals' pressing need for spirituality. His attempt to relate or even synthesize the historical to the contemporary, which has been obviously seen in his treatment of al-Ghazali together with Said Nursi and Fethullah Gülen, is fruitful. However, one of the weakest characteristics is to bless modern technology with some prophetic miracles. His unwarranted claim of...