I can easily imagine the criticism that will arise from the title Holistic Islam, the title of a book of ours that was just published in September, 2017. Some will accuse us of trying to adapt Islam to a fashionable trend of modern society. Some will say there is no need for any word in front of Islam because Islam is the true religion and there is nothing about Islam that needs to change.
Our response will be that the word holistic is needed at this time as a corrective to help us understand the potential and truth of the phenomenon that was birthed 14 centuries ago and is still in the process of being understood and applied in human life. If it were not for the extremely unholistic manifestations currently claiming to be Islam, the idea of holistic Islam would not be needed.
Islam has been etymologically analyzed to mean “peace” and “surrender.” For some reason, the primary meaning of this word has been either completely missed or left in the background. Salima, the active participle of the root, means whole, complete, healthy, safe. Another form of the word, salim, the adjectival form, means whole, pure, sound, unblemished, unimpaired, and secure. The phrase qalb selim describes a healthy, purified heart, which is fundamental to spiritual well-being. So holistic is implied by the very word Islam. Holistic Islam, then, might be translated al Islam al Salim.
Some people will be shocked to see these two words together for quite different reasons. The holistic movement is a global phenomenon, a corrective to a worldview that has focused on the parts rather than the whole in every sphere of life. This has led to countless negative consequences for the environment, the economy, as well as for human life, itself.
Holistic health focuses broadly on all the factors needed for health: hygiene, nutrition, exercise, attitude, relationships, and emotion. The unholistic approach focuses mostly on the alleviation of symptoms. The alleviation of symptoms, however, may often ignore the root cause of the symptoms and even apply a medicine that reduces symptoms while compromising overall health.
If we consider the health factors that constitute human well-being described above, and if we recall the example and the teaching of the Prophet Muhammad, we will, I think, conclude that Islam was originally holistic. Islam as a way of life incorporates cleanliness, wholesome diet, physical exercise in worship, positive relationships, patience in adversity, generosity, altruism, and much more.
However, if that original message is reduced to a mere set of rituals and rules enforced primarily through fear, with attention focused on how others are following the rules and prescriptions, the heart will be severely constricted.
Furthermore, if an interpretation of Islam becomes a rationale for isolating one portion of humanity, Muslims, so that they look upon the rest of humanity as “other,” that interpretation is betraying fundamental spiritual values. Finally, respect for humanity as a whole is enjoined upon Muslims: O you who keep the faith! When you go abroad in the way of God, be clear and circumspect and say not to anyone who offers you a greeting of peace: “You are not a believer!”