The role of Akhlāq in Personal Development

The role of Akhlāq in Personal Development

A Problem of the heart

Personal Development in the 21st Century tends to be a very selfish affair. The subtle and growing influence of individualism has caused many people to pursue their goals at all costs, with no regard for the impact it has on anyone else. We see this at every level of society. From people who break up families to pursue their personal goals, to companies that turn a blind eye to slavery to produce cheap products. The fulfillment of personal goals takes precedence over everything else in the new world.

In pursuit of their goals and dreams, people today are willing to put others down, turn a blind eye to injustice, pretend to be someone they are not, and break ties with anyone they view as an inconvenience in the path of their worldly goals. A selfish self-centered approach to goal-setting and personal development is slowly becoming the norm. When personal development is not grounded in Islamic foundations, its roots become shaky and its results potentially destructive.

The topic of individualism and its effects on the Muslim world is something I hope to explore in more detail in a later article. Here I want to focus on a potential Islamic solution to this problem. One potential solution is for Muslims to ground their personal development in the Islamic concept of Akhlāq. By laying a foundation of Akhlāq, the believer builds a wall of protection that allows him to pursuit his goals in a halal manner that does not compromise the dignity or rights of anyone else.

Akhlāq and Adāb

The study of personality traits in Islam is divided into two primary categories; Akhlāq and Adāb. Akhlāq refers to our inner characteristics like honesty, sincerity, and humility. These are the deeds of the heart and form the foundation of our personality. Akhlāq includes our attitude towards Allah, ourselves, and others. It is a reflection of who we really are deep down inside.

Adāb refers to our external manners and etiquette, our speech and actions. These are things like smiling, giving charity, speaking politely, and assisting people. These two subjects work together to make a Muslim beautiful, both inside and out. Reflecting on which of the two is more important, my conclusion is that it is Akhlāq that is more important. This is because it is possible to fake good manners, but nobody can fake good character. You can fake your words and deeds, but you cannot fake the actions of the heart. Humans have an intrinsic way of recognizing when someone is insincere towards them. We are able to read lies in people’s eyes, jealousy in people’s smiles, and arrogance in people’s tone of voice. The diseases of the heart manifest on the body in ways that betray the individual. This is often the case when a person only focuses on the external and forgets to work on the heart.

Keeping this definition in mind, the concept of Akhlāq becomes integral for curbing many of the wrong paths people choose when pursing their life goals. To put it simply; when a Muslim has great Akhlāq, he/she will ensure that in pursuing their worldly goals, they do not harm their own Afterlife, or the lives and feelings of anyone else. Therefore, working on our Akhlāq should take precedence over chasing worldly goals.

The Benefits of Akhlāq

When working on one’s character, the following characteristics are crucial for ensuring that our pursuit of worldly goals does not endanger our afterlife. These are the primary characteristics of the believer, and every Muslim should prioritize working on these, even if one does not have any interest in pursuing worldly goals.

  1. Sincerity – The character of the believer is grounded primarily in their intentions. This is crucial to every aspect of our lives. This religion is sincerity. Sincerity towards Allah, and His Creation. A sincere believer will not pursue fame or shady goals. A sincere believer will live an ethical life and pursue his goals only through ethical means. A sincere believer will not be two-faced, more will he deceive anyone purposely.
  2. Humility – Humility is the essence of good character. In my book Best of Creation, I showed how humility does not contradict self-confidence. A true believer is both confident in the abilities Allah has given him, while humble about it. This balance helps the believer achieve goals without developing a destructive ego. Developing a sense of humility is essential for curbing the ego and remaining grounded in one’s journey of life. Without humility, every successful goal has the potential to turn an individual into a nasty arrogant show-off.
  3. Empathy – Individualism has caused too many people to lose any sense of consideration for the feelings of others. All that matters is my desires, my goals, and my life. Consumed by this mindset, too often we hurt our parents, spouses, children, and the rest of society in chasing worldly goals. No goal is worth breaking ties and hurting people. The believer loves for his brother what he loves for himself. This empathy forms a core part of his personality, guiding his plans and goals so that he can pursue them without causing any harm in the process.
  4. Justice – A sense of justice is necessary for any believer. Universal Justice is a fundamental part of Islamic Law, and therefore should be an ingrained part of every believer’s character. Turning a blind eye to oppression in order to fulfill one’s personal goals is a compromise a believer should never willingly make. Every decision must be guided by justice, to ensure that in pursuing our goals, we do not contribute to the oppression of anyone else.
  5. Selflessness – Selflessness here refers to the opposite of selfishness. It means wanting for others what you want for ourself. The idea that selflessness means neglecting one’s own needs and harming oneself is a misconception and does not fit the Islamic definition of selflessness. Selflessness simply means not being selfish. The believer wants success in both worlds, for everybody. His actions are guided by this belief which fuels every goal he develops. As a result, he rarely sets goals that are selfish. His focus is on benefiting society and helping as many people as possible achieve their goals in both worlds. A selfless person will not harm others in his pursuit of success.

Conclusion

The believer is guided by Islam in everything he/she does. Worldly goals are secondary to one’s relationship with Allah, one’s family ties, and one’s spiritual development. In pursuing worldly goals, the believer grounds his goals in sincerity, humility, empathy, justice, and selflessness. These characteristics guide him to the best goals that benefit humanity in both worlds. In doing so, the believer escapes the traps of individualism and achieves higher deeper spiritual goals that have a lasting impact long after he has left the world.

To learn more about the Islamic approach to personal development, get hold of my latest book Productivity Principles of Umar II, now available in PDF, Paperback, and Kindle.

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Productivity, 0 comments
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Living Fiqh: Do No Harm

Living Fiqh: Do No Harm

Fiqh refers to the understood and applied laws of Islam, as understood by any of the recognized schools of thought. Although Islamic Law was initially designed to assist Muslims in living an Islamic lifestyle. In later times, it devolved into a strict list of dos and don’ts without any understanding of the rationale and wisdom of these laws. In this series, we aim to revive an understanding of the law that focuses on the wisdom behind the law, so that Muslims can live their lives in an Islamic manner, understanding why the laws are the way they are.

Fiqh Principle #1: Do No Harm

Among the fundamental principles of Fiqh is the removal of harm. This has been worded in a variety of ways across a variety of books and fields of study. Some scholars word it as ‘al-arar Yuzāl‘ (harm must be eliminated),(Shahrul Hussain, p. 48) others prefer the hadith wording ‘Lā Ḍarar wa lā Ḍirār‘ (there should be no harm or return of harm), and while other scholars word it as ‘Dar’ al-Mafsadah‘ (the rejection of harm). (Ibn Ashur, p. 91) All three wordings indicate the same core principle; Muslims must live their lives in a way that is beneficial for humanity, and avoiding harming any creation without a legitimate reason.

The removal of harm is central to Islamic law. It is so important that Ibn Ashur listed it among the two main goals of the Shariah, along with the attainment of benefit. He stated that the laws of Islam as a whole revolve around either assisting us in gaining that which is beneficial for us, or protecting us from that which is harmful to us. In this way, half of our religion revolves around the removal of harm.

The principle is derived from various verses of the Quran, hadiths, as well as a deep understanding of the purpose behind various laws of Islam. The primary hadith upon which this principle is based is mentioned by al-Nawawi (RA) in his Forty Hadith collection. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Lā Ḍarar wa lā Ḍirār (There should be no harm or return of harm.)” (Nawawi, no. 32)

The core message of this hadith that Muslims should neither initiate harm to others, nor respond to others in a harmful manner that goes beyond the limits of justice. Retaliation within the limits of justice is allowed but not encouraged. For example, if someone is attacked, it is permitted to fight back or seek justice in court, but to forgive and overlook is better. However, it would not be permissible to go beyond the scope of justice by attacking the attacker’s family, harming the individual in a way worse than how they harmed you, or harming them more times than they harmed you. The Shariah seeks to limit harms, but also to balance this with a strong emphasis on justice.

How this manifests itself in the law

The primary way in which the removal of harm manifests itself in the law is through the prohibitions. By default, anything that Allah has prohibited is harmful to society. In most cases, the harm is clear and evident like in the case of alcohol and gambling. Sometimes the harm may be unknown but we still trust Allah’s perfect wisdom and follow the law without question. Many times the harms are only revealed later when it is too late to undo the harm.

A sad example of this is the rise in fornication and adultery rates in our era. the sexual revolution brought in a huge change in the way people approached sexual relations. The prohibition of fornication was not only shunned but ridiculed. People saw it as irrational, restricting fun, and an obstacle in the way of personal freedom. Blinded by their passions, a large segment of humanity began engaging in these major sins without fear or guilt. Unaware of the harms caused by this sin, the sins eventually became norms, habits, and lifestyles, and opened the doors to worse forms of immorality.

The harms of this revolution are clearer today after entire generations have grown up in such a culture. The spiraling divorce rate, rising rates of depression, suicide, broken families, spread of STDs, and rise in new forms of immorality are all directly linked to this new immorality-based lifestyle. The harms of these major sins is more evident today then it was twenty years ago, but still the march towards destruction continues as people ignore all these warning signs and remain focused on their base desires. The prohibition of fornication in Islam is rooted firmly in the prevention of harm to oneself and others, as fornication harms all of society, especially the individual who makes it a lifestyle.

How to live by this principle

The removal of harm is not just a Fiqh principle that guides our understanding of the prohibitions. It is really a way of life. A Muslim should consciously live his/her life in a way that minimizes harm and maximizes benefit to others. We must remain extra conscious about the effects and impact of our actions on others. This consciousness must guide all of our decisions.

Whether it is in our business dealings, family relationships, friendships, or online interactions, the avoidance of harm should play a central role in shaping the way we deal with other people. Living by this principle means living a lifestyle that is free from slander, backbiting, abuse, mockery, violence, betrayal, and every type of injustice. Any action that causes unjust harm to another has no place in the lifestyle of the believer.

The principles of Fiqh are more than just a list of dos and don’ts. They are essential guidelines for how we live our lives. By choosing to live consciously and to be aware of the impact of our actions on others, we can minimize our harm, maximize our productivity, and build a better case for ourselves for the day of judgment.

Looking to learn more? Check out our bundle offer here.

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Productivity, 0 comments
Important changes at Islamic Self Help

Important changes at Islamic Self Help

Alhamdulillah, I recently started a new job. This will affect the amount of time that I will be able to dedicate to Islamic Self Help. Despite my busy new schedule, Islamic Self Help will remain an important resource through which I will share my personal opinions, articles, books, and courses. The website will continue to grow but I will spend less time per week on it than I previously used to.

Leaving IOU

Alhamdulillah, I began studying at IOU in 2007, started volunteer work at IOU in 2008, and became a full-time employee of IOU in 2010. I even completed my BAIS at IOU in 2014. Over the past 13 years, IOU has played a central role in shaping my young adult life. But all good things come to an end, and I have reached a point in my life in which I wish to move on and pursue a different career path.

Over the past five years, my goals have pushed me more towards writing and research on contemporary issues. Alhamdulillah, an opportunity has presented itself for me to do this full-time and I cannot let this opportunity go. For this reason, I decided to leave IOU so that I can focus on my career in research and writing. I wanted to make this public so that people know that the reason I am leaving IOU is nothing negative. So please do not read anything into my leaving the organization.

Alhamdulillah, I have been treated exceptionally well at IOU over the past decade and it was not easy to make the decision to leave. I will continue to support IOU’s great work, and represent them as a graduate of their BAIS program. I also still encourage people to sign up for their courses if you are looking for a good online campus for Islamic Studies. I really want to spend the next decade (and probably the rest of my life) writing, and that will be my primary focus moving forward.

Joining Yaqeen Institute

Alhamdulillah, in November 2020 I started my new job as a research manager at Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research. This new role will facilitate my goal of spending my life writing and researching contemporary Islamic topics. I am really excited to start this new job and to contribute to this amazing website. I ask Allah to put barakah in this new role and make it a means of benefit for the entire ummah, and a source of continuous reward for all those involved.

As I get accustomed to my new job, I will not blog as much as I used to for the first few weeks. Once I get accustomed to my new work schedule, I will continue to make time daily to contribute to Islamic Self Help via videos, articles, books and courses. In the meanwhile, the Aqeedah al-Tahawiyah course will continue as usual with four more videos releasing over the next four weeks.

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Business, 1 comment
Protection Duas #2: Reviving a Sunnah

Protection Duas #2: Reviving a Sunnah

This is the second article in the series on protection duas. You can read the first article here.

We are in need, every single second, of the assistance and protection of Allah. We sometimes forget this as we get caught up in this worldly life. As we go about our days enjoying the good things of this world, we take our safety and protection for granted. A simple habit that can assist us in preventing this neglect is to recite the recommended supplication duas every morning and evening.

As we grow in spirituality, it is important to increase our good deeds and add more beneficial habits to our daily routine. The daily protection duas are an excellent habit to build, and there are many benefits to reciting these duas every single day. By making dua daily, we remember Allah more, increase our Tawakul, and experience the inner peace of being under Divine Protection.

FAQ about protection duas

What are the daily protection duas?

The daily protection duas are a series of duas found in various authentic hadiths that we are encouraged to recite every morning and evening. The best collection of these duas is Hisn al-Muslim (Fortress of the believer) which is available on various websites and even as an app for the phone. I highly recommend downloading this book so that you have access to the full list of duas whenever you need to recite them.

What is the Fiqh ruling on these duas?

These duas are mustahab/sunnah (recommended). This means that there is a lot of reward, virtues, and benefits for reciting them daily, but there is no sin for not reciting them. If you live in a community in which people have forgotten about this practice, then by starting this habit and encouraging others to do so as well, you can also gain the reward of reviving a Sunnah practice.

When should I recite these duas?

The best time to recite morning duas is immediately after Salah al-Fajr. This can form part of one’s morning ritual to increase the amount of time spent in the remembrance of Allah at the start of the day. It also helps turn one’s day into a day filled with barakah (blessings). There is a difference of opinion on whether the evening duas should be recited after Asr or Maghrib. My opinion is that it should be recited after Maghrib as that is when the evening begins, and Allah knows best.

What are these duas for protection from?

These are comprehensive duas that serve for protection from every known evil. If you read through the translations of these duas, you will realize that there isn’t anything that has been left out. These include duas for protection from disbelief, misguidance, jealousy, magic, poverty, debt, helplessness, and evil eye. I highly recommend taking time to read through the translations of these duas and reflecting on their meanings.

What are the benefits of reciting these duas every day?

These duas provide several daily benefits. They form part of our daily good deeds, adding to our scale on the Last Day. May Allah accept our deeds. They increase our daily remembrance of Allah, which increases our Taqwa (God Consciousness). These duas provide a sense of inner peace as one feels safe in the protection of Allah. Through this, they form part of having Tawakul in Allah, as we ask Allah daily to protect us and that is an important aspect of Tawakul. Another benefit of these duas is that help us appreciate the good things in our lives, as they include words of praise for Allah and gratitude. Finally, the most obvious benefit is that they protect us from all forms of evil including crime, violence, poverty, and most importantly misguidance.

Some of the most important protection duas

Every dua in this list is important, but some have a greater significance than others. From among the most important protection duas is Ayat al-Kursi. Every believer should try to memorize this dua and recite it after Fajr and Maghrib. Even better than this, we should try to build the habit of reciting it after every Salah.

“Whoever recites Ayat al-Kursi after every Salah, the only barrier between him and paradise is death.”

Sunan Nasa’i, Hadith: 9848

Next in importance are the three Quls i.e. the last three Surahs of the Quran. These should be recited three times each, before blowing on oneself. Surah al-Ikhlas serves as protection from disbelief. Surah al-Falaq causes protection from worldly afflictions like jealousy and crime. And Surah al-Nas serves as protection from misguidance and the devil. We should memorize and recite these Surahs every morning and evening, as well as before going to sleep at night.

Another important dua is the following;

اللّهُـمَّ ما أَصْبَـَحَ بي مِـنْ نِعْـمَةٍ أَو بِأَحَـدٍ مِـنْ خَلْـقِك ، فَمِـنْكَ وَحْـدَكَ لا شريكَ لَـك ، فَلَـكَ الْحَمْـدُ وَلَـكَ الشُّكْـر

O Allah, what blessing I or any of Your creation have risen upon, is from You alone, without any partner, so for You is all praise and unto You all thanks.’

The above dua serves as an expression of gratitude to Allah for all of His favors upon us, those that we know and those that we do not realize. It is just as important to thank Allah for His blessings, as it is to seek His protection. We sometimes forget to show our gratitude, and this dua can serve as a daily reminder to do so.

These are just a few examples of some of the important duas that every believer should strive to make part of their daily routine. Our lives are for Allah, and so we should fill it with the remembrance of Allah. The Sunnah protection duas are one of many ways to make the daily remembrance of Allah a constant in our lives.

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Islam, 2 comments