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ing Account of The Self (Muhaasabah)

Taking Account Of The Self

Alif Laam Meem. Do the people think that they will be left to say, 'We believe' and they will not be tried? But We have certainly tested those before them, and indeed, Allah knows those who are truthful, and He knows those who lie. [Al-Qur'aan 29:17]

The duty of enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong is especially difficult when practiced on one's own self. Familiarity takes the edge off of criticism; and Shaytaan is ever prepared to defend the erring soul with countless excuses, for this is his last stronghold, and he will never abandon it willingly. When Shaytaan loses hope of affecting a believer's deed or speech, he seeks to invade the heart and strike at the root of righteousness - intention. B y corrupting the intention, he will win the soul; by injecting it with shirk, he will make it unacceptable Allah (suhaanahu wa ta'aalaa), because in His sight, "Deeds are only according to intentions." {Al-Bukhaari and Muslim] A sensitive believer who knows the weaknesses of the soul can be on guard against the whisperings of Shaytaan and not lose sight of "as-siraat al-mustaqeem."

'Umar Ibnul-Khattaab advised, "Call yourselves to account before you are called to account."; and undoubtedly, Allah (subhaanahu wa ta'aalaa) as given us the means by which to do this:

And We have shown him the two ways. [Al-Qur'aan 90:10]

In other words, mankind has been given the tools with which to distinguish good from evil, and right from wrong: observation, perception, conscience, judgment and emotion, all in a delicate balance. But even so, as we are reminded by Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim, such assessment is difficult unless one has the following:

1. The light of wisdom -the light by which Allah has enlightened the hearts of those who follow the teachings of the prophets.

2. The ability to discern between blessing and trials in what Allah as provided, i.e. one's wealth, time, skills, opportunities,influence, etc. - That which is used in ways pleasing to Allah contains blessing and benefit, but that which is used otherwise will be evidence against the soul on the Day of Judgment

3. Suspicion of the self, which leads to a more complete inspection - For indeed, none will harbor a negative thought about his own soul except one who knows it well, while one who thinks well of his soul is most ignorant of himself. [Ibn Al-Qayyim in Madaarij as-Saalikeen]

Except for the most private forms of worship, most of our deeds are observed by others and judged by them. However, Allah (subhaanahu wa ta'aalaa) is concerned with that is in the heart. "Allah does not look to your bodies or your faces, but he looks to your hearts an deeds." [Muslim] The quantity of deeds is therefore less important than the quality (how and why). No matter what the impression of our fellow men, the true intention behind every word and action is known only by Allah, and it is He Who judges from the position of absolute familiarity with every soul and every circumstance.

He knows that which deceives the eyes and what the breasts conceal. Al-Qur'aan 40:19

How easy it is to make excuses or justify oneself to others. However, one must constantly remember that Allah is aware of the entire truth; therefore, we ourselves must face the truth as well. Speaking directly to His servants in the Al-Qur'aan, Allah (subhaanahu wa ta'aalaa) says:

And know that Allah knows what is within yourselves so be aware of Him. Al-Qur'aan 2:235

And know that Allah comes between a man and his heart and that to Him you shall be gathered. Al-Qur'aan 8:24

Truly He knows the secret and what is even more hidden. Al-Qur'aan 20:7

So do not represent yourselves as righteous, for He knows best who fears Him. Al-Qur'aan. 53:32

Whether you show what is within yourselves or conceal it, Allah will hold you to account for it. Al-Qur'aan 2:284

These verses were terrifying to the Prophet's companions (radiallahu 'anhu). Because of their intense devotion and their consciousness of Allah, they often worried about certain thoughts and feelings that came to them, repeatedly asking the Prophet (sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam) about them until they were finally reassured, "Allah has overlooked for me in my community that which occurs in their minds as long as they neither speak of it nor act upon it." [Al-Bukhaari, Muslim, At-Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, An-Nasaai, Ibn Maajah] The pious companions and their followers were the most critical of their own souls, always seeking to correct themselves in anticipation of the Judgment; and indeed, they were the best of the community. After the Prophet (sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam) had confided to Hudhayfah the names of some of the hypocrites, 'Umar asked him fearfully, "Am I among them?" Thus, when Allah wishes good for His servant, he makes him aware of his own faults.

Keeping the soul in line involves a continuous struggle against Shaytaan:

Certainly, Shaytaan is an enemy to you. So take him as an enemy. [Al-Qur'aan 35:6]

Through knowledge, one can protect himself from Shaytaan, so every believer should be aware of the following facts:

1. Every soul has certain weaknesses, and Shaytaan is always looking for the opportunity to take advantage of them and exploit them to the utmost degree. Each individual soul is susceptible to certain temptation more than others; thus there is a need for one recognize his own particular weaknesses and guard against them. In several verses the Al-Qur'aan refers to disbelief (kufr) and hypocrisy (nifaq) as "disease in the heart." Lesser faults and weaknesses were also labeled by scholars as "diseases of the heart." These include tendencies toward anger, hate, envy , selfishness, conceit or injustice, as well as love of wealth, prestige, physical pleasures or excess - even in those things normally permissible. All of them are doors open to Shaytaan.

2. Two conditions are required for Allah's acceptance of any deed:

  • Sincerity of intention, i.e. it must be done for Him alone to seek is pleasure or to prevent is anger. Even ordinary daily tasks become forms of worship when performed with this in mind. Honesty, precision and conscientiousness in every deed is required by Allah and rewarded by Him.
  • Correctness - It must be done according to His ordained religion, i.e. lawful according to the Al-Qur'aan and the sunnah of the Prophet (sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam)

It must be remembered that nay action carried out according to erroneous traditions, unlawful innovations or personal preferences can be faulted in both categories. In reference to this, the Qur'aan states:

So whoever hopes to meet his Lord, let him do righteous work and not associate in the worship of his Lord anyone. [Al-Qur'aan 18:110]

3. Shirk destroys any good deeds a person may have done, no matter how great or numerous. And this also is affirmed clearly:

If you should associate others with Allah your work would perish [Al-Qur'aan 39:65]

A lesser form of shirk is showing one's deeds to others or speaking about them in order to gain respect or some other worldly benefit. This kind of "showing off" is called hidden shirk because it is not usually evident to others. In fact, the Prophet (sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam) described it as "more hidden than the creeping of ants." Only the sincere believer recognizes hidden shirk and feels pain and sadness if he should succumb to it from time to time: but others practice it continually, without even being aware of it. They are the ones who have forgotten Allah (subhaanahu wa ta'aalaa) to such an extent that the opinions of people become all-important.

Showing off, when done consciously and purposely, nullifies the deed and can lead to punishment. The Prophet (sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam) has stated that the first to be condemned on the Day of Judgment will be a martyr, a qari' (a reciter of the Al-Qur'aan) and a giver of charity. When each of them comes before his Lord declaring that his great work was done for Him, he will be told, "You have lied." Allah will say to the martyr, "You fought to be called brave, and it was said." And He will say to the reciter, "You learned and taught to be called a scholar, and you recited to be called a qari'; and it was said." And to the charitable one, "You spent to be called generous, and it was said." Then it will be commanded that each be dragged on his face and thrown into the Fire. [Abridged from a hadeeth narrated by Muslim, At-Tirmidhi and An-Nasaai]

Thus, when a person seeks a worldly result, preferring it to the reward of Allah (subhaanahu wa ta'aalaa), he can no longer expect that reward in the Hereafter. In another hadeeth it is related: "If someone makes himself heard, Allah will make heard [that which he concealed]; and if someone shows off, Allah will expose him." [Al-Bukhaari and Muslim] This indicates that those who make their deeds known with the intention of being recognized in this world will be exposed by Allah on the Day of Judgment when they are most in need of His acceptance.

The following are some example of deliberate hidden shirk:

  • Lengthening the prayer, or perhaps, only the period of prostration in the presence of others
  • Purposely displaying the effects of fasting, jihad or other deeds on the body
  • Wearing certain clothing known to be that of ascetics or scholars, or taking care to be seen with them
  • Speaking unnecessarily about good deeds done previously, seeking admiration
  • Lowering the voice to imply fear of Allah or other affected mannerisms
  • Showing off knowledge or skill in conversation or using the remembrance of Allah repeatedly to give an impression of piety, or giving advice and warnings in order to be considered a wise and caring benefactor - This is most prevalent among some scholars and religious leaders who feel compelled to live up to the expectations of their followers

Undoubtedly, there are those who reason that if a deed is done initially with the intention of reward in the Hereafter, then what harm is there in looking for a worldly benefit in it as well? But Allah (subhaanahu wa ta'aalaa) has disclosed in a hadeeth qudsi, "I am most self-sufficient of partners, needing no partnership; so if one does a deed for Me and for another [simultaneously], then I am disassociated from it, and it is only for the other partner." [Muslim and Ibn Maajah]

There are, as well, some non-deliberate mistakes which may lessen one's reward without canceling it completely. These include the following:

  • Mentioning one's good works after their completion
  • Taking pride inwardly in one's deeds or even in one's sincerity
  • Performing righteous works because of the pleasure found in them (other than the pleasure of serving Allah)
  • Showing that which reveals much worship on the body or in the voice (other than speech)
  • Being unhappy if one's charity or help is not appreciated by the recipient Appreciation and reward would be expected only from Allah
  • Finding acts of worship easier to perform if others are aware of them and experiencing pleasure in others observance of these acts.

Those most faithful to Allah are in constant fear of hidden shirk and they continually exert efforts to conceal their righteous deeds, unless, for some reason, there is more benefit in disclosing them.

At this point, some reassurance may be necessary; for there are things which one might imagine to be shirk but are not:

  • Accepting thanks for praise for some good which one has done - The Prophet (sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam) said, "That is an immediate sign of good tidings for the believer." [Muslim] It is merely a preview of what awaits him in the Hereafter, but on the condition that it subsequently does not go to his head. There is no harm in fame gained by a person who does not seek it, but he must take care that it does not corrupt his soul.
  • Accepting payment for a job done initially seeking reward from Allah - Such is the case of one who chooses a certain vocation for which there is a need in the community while he could just as well earn his living in some other way.
  • Wearing good clothes - This is not blameworthy unless it is done in conceit, for the purpose of showing off or involves extravagance and waste. As stated in a hadeeth; When Allah blesses His servant with a blessing, He likes to see it upon him." [At-Tabaraani]
  • Setting a good example for others (as a means of teaching)

One should remember the following two points as well:

  • Concealing one's sin is a duty. A Muslim should not speak of sins he has committed; rather, he should repent privately and correct his behavior. Then Allah will conceal that sin for him on the Day of Judgment and forgive him.
  • Increasing the amount of worship when one is among a group of worshippers is not considered to be showing off. Because the normal wish of a believer is to worship Allah, being the group helps him to overcome certain obstacles (such as his own forgetfulness or laziness) and to realize his original aim.

In an effort to reinstitute the true worship of Allah, scholars have recommended treatments for "diseases of the heart." The foremost of these is the remembrance of Allah (subhaanahu wa ta'aalaa).

  • Remember the greatness of Allah and then the insignificance of he world and its impermanent state. Remember that the ultimate source of all benefit and harm to yourself and all beings is Allah. If you fear blame, fear the blame of Allah; and if your seek praise, hope for the praise of Allah. Remember that Allah looks into your heart. Imagine your state if you should die while committing sin, either openly or secretly - just imagine the humiliation of exposure before all the creation on the Day of Judgment Remember the certainty of death and the shortness of life. Remember the punishment of the grave and that of the Hellfire. Hope for the blessings of Paradise and the pleasure of Allah.
  • Once you are aware of your mistake, turn to Allah in earnest repentance, asking forgiveness and correcting yourself thereafter. Always be on guard and ask Allah to help you to avoid falling into such errors in the future. The Prophet (sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam) taught his companions this supplication:

"O Allah, we seek refuge in You from associating with You anything we know of, and we ask Your forgiveness for that which we do not know." [Ahmed]

  • Make a conscious effort to do more righteaous deeds secretly without mentioning them unitl it becomes a habit.
  • Take as friends and companions those you consider to be sincere, righteous and God-fearing. Encourage them to point out your faults and help you ot overcome them. accept advice without anger and try to follow that whishc is conducive to improvement.
  • Finally, do not let Shaytaan prevent your good workds by suggesting that you are showing off. If you find something of that within yourself, continue your workd but correct your intention, seeking acceptance from Allah alone. For in Allah's acceptance is salvation and success...

Our Lord, do not let our hearts deviate after you have guided us, and give us from Yourself mercy. Indeed, it is You who is the Giver of all things. [Al-Qur'aan 3:8]

- Umm Muhammad

Excerpted from "Realities of Faith" Abul Qaasim Publishing House, Jeddah

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