Understanding Zuhd (Islamic Self-Discipline)

Understanding Zuhd (Islamic Self-Discipline)

To attain inner peace, we need to replace our materialistic paradigm with Zuhd. Zuhd is an often misunderstood Arabic term which in some circles is linked to poverty and self-torture. This is far from the Islamic understanding of this topic. The Arabic word Zuhd is often translated into English as Abstinence. While this translation is plausible, it is rather vague and easily misinterpreted.

The actual definition of Zuhd is to detach one’s heart from this world. Hence, self-discipline may be the closest English concept to Zuhd, but that too does not do the term justice. How we define Zuhd is very important. The definition shapes our understanding of the topic. When Zuhd is linked to poverty, it takes people in the wrong direction. When it is focused on the state of our hearts, it becomes a productive powerful tool for growth. Zuhd is not so much about wealth, status, or lifestyle as it is about purifying the heart of greed and materialism.

In this sense, Zuhd is the opposite of materialism. This is when we take materialism to mean the obsession with the things of this world causing one to forget the Afterlife. Zuhd means to focus on the next life, but without neglecting one’s portion of this world. This distinction is key as it separates the correct understanding of Zuhd from any misinterpretation. Islam is a religion of balance and does not ask us to abandon this world, rather it teaches us to prioritize the Afterlife.

Zuhd is necessary for attaining contentment and inner peace. A heart that is attached to this world is restless and always wanting more. A heart that prioritizes the Afterlife is content and at peace with the will of God. This is why Zuhd is a crucial topic to discuss when talking about inner peace.

There are many levels of Zuhd in Islam, the most basic level being to abstain from the prohibited things in this world like alcohol, gambling, fornication, and adultery. Abstaining from the Haram is obligatory upon every believer which makes this level of Zuhd obligatory on every believer. Striving for Zuhd is not just a higher ideal, it is necessary for purifying our souls.

The next level is to abstain from the disliked things of this world (Makruh) which includes wasting time, overeating, oversleeping, and bad manners. After prioritizing abstinence from the haram, we must abstain from the Makruh as well. Avoiding the disliked acts creates a barrier between us and Haraam because someone who stays away from the disliked acts is less likely to fall into the major sins.

Along with avoiding the Makruh, we also need to avoid doubtful matters to attain this level. These refer to things which the scholars have differed over. i.e. any issues in which one scholar may say something is permissible but another may say that it is prohibited. This includes things like listening to musical instruments, shaving the beard, and frequenting doubtful places. These things may be differed over on websites, forums, and books of Fiqh, and one is free to follow whichever opinion one believes is strongest. However, the safer route is to avoid anything that is doubtful, because avoiding the doubtful protects one from falling into the Haram.

There exists an even higher level of Zuhd than all of this. This is the level of piety, the level of the friends of Allah; abstaining from permissible things that waste time. For someone who already strives to avoid the prohibited, disliked, and doubtful matters and wants to take his abstinence to a higher level, the next level is to avoid the permissible things that distract you from Allah.

This concept may sound strange to some, and it is not necessary to attain salvation, but it is the path to higher levels of spirituality. This level of Zuhd means abandoning permissible things that you find distracting so that you can focus on what is important. This level of Zuhd is actualized when someone chooses to study Islam or read a book over watching a series or playing a videogame. While the latter may be Halal, the former is more virtuous and beneficial. Prioritizing that which is virtuous and beneficial over that which is permissible is the essence of focusing on the Afterlife.

There are many benefits that one can gain from living a life of Zuhd. Not only does it lead to contentment and inner peace, but it frees up time and resources that can then be put to better use. The same time and money that was previously spent in extravagant gatherings and unnecessary branded items can now be used for charity, humanitarian efforts, and personal development. The result is a better usage of one’s time and a happier soul.

Dangers of Materialism

Materialism is the opposite of Zuhd and it is the dominant mindset in the modern consumer culture. We are bombarded through the media, education system, and marketing industry with messages of greed and extravagance. We are taught that to be happy we need a certain type of car, home, and a degree from a specific university.

Yet all of these things are superfluous and have no real impact on a person’s happiness. Happiness is not related to what you own, rather it is related to what you do with your life.

Materialism is a major problem today which is taking people away from Allah, consuming lives, causing mental health problems, and breaking families. (NOTE: Materialism in this article is referring to the spiritual disease of obsessing over wealth and worldly possessions.)

Allah warns us against materialism in Surah At-Takaathur:

“The competition to pile up the good things of this world (At-Takaathur) distracts you until you visit the graves (i.e. until you die), No! Then you will come to know! Again, No! Then you will definitely come to know! No! If only you had true knowledge! (of the end of a person who chases this world) You will definitely see Hell-fire! You shall see it with your own eyes! Then, on that day you will be asked about how you spent the bounty (that Allah blessed you with).”

Surah At-Takaathur 102:1-8

As mentioned in this Surah, the worst result of materialism is that it causes a person to forget the purpose of life. We become so obsessed with gaining more and more of this world that we forget about what is most important, pleasing our Creator and building our homes in the Afterlife. This is what we are supposed to strive for.

Materialism is the opposite of Zuhd. It is an obsession with collecting worldly things. Materialism is all around us in the modern world. Schools, universities, family, culture, television, and advertisements all seem to be pushing a materialistic agenda. Materialism is not a happy road to go down, it is a deceptive path that leads to many psychological and behavioral problems. From among the dangers of materialism are the following:

  1. Corruption of intentions – Materialism leads to a person being obsessed with this world. This obsession clouds one’s judgment and messes up one’s intentions. A person who is obsessed with his world will not think about the Afterlife, make decisions based on the pleasure of Allah or develop noble goals. Greed clutters his mind and he becomes obsessed with selfish pursuits that take him away from the pleasure of Allah. This in turn leads to many other problems.
  2. Lack of contentment – When one’s heart is detached from Allah and obsessed with the world, the result is restlessness and a lack of contentment. Such an individual is never satisfied, always looking at things that he doesn’t have, desiring them, and never grateful for what he has.
  3. Fear of poverty – No matter how wealthy he becomes, a materialistic person is so obsessed with his wealth that he is constantly afraid of losing it all. He fears poverty more than anything else. As a result, he can’t sleep well at night and is obsessed with hoarding his wealth. This in turn makes him stingy.
  4. Debt – If a materialistic person doesn’t have the wealth to purchase whatever he desires, he decides to purchase it on loan. How many people today drive cars they can’t afford and live in homes that they can’t pay off? These things are purchased on loan in order to have the worldly possession here and now. The result is a lifetime of debts that fills the heart with a guilty feeling and removes any sense of inner peace
  5. Jealousy – A materialistic person eyes the possessions of others and if he can’t afford them himself, he becomes jealous of others. This jealousy builds up and causes him to do evil things in order to undermine the good in others or take away what is rightfully theirs. It also ruins his relationship with Allah as he becomes ungrateful and begins to question Allah’s decision to give that other person what He did not give him.
  6. Hatred – A materialistic person’s jealousy of someone eventually boils over into pure hatred. He begins to hate those who have that which he can’t have. Along with this, he begins to hate the righteous and the religious people. People who have hearts full of hatred cannot experience inner peace
  7. Anxiety – A materialistic person is always worried about the future and whether he will be financially secure in the future. His obsession with having everything he desires in this world drives him crazy with anxiety. This feeling keeps him up at night and stops him from enjoying what he currently has.
  8. Depression – Depression is very common among the wealthy today. This is because of materialism. A Wealthy person whose heart is attached to Allah can fight off depression but a materialistic person does not have that connection with Allah and so he experiences an emptiness inside.
  9. Enslavement to society – Finally, obsession with this world drives people to become enslaved to the fashions, expectations, and norms of society. Such a person is not free to be himself or chase his own goals. He is too caught up in keeping up appearances and looking good. This consumes his life and destroys his sense of purpose and identity.

From these points, it becomes very clear that materialism is a dangerous mindset that every Muslim must avoid. In order to attain inner peace, Zuhd is crucial.

Misconceptions about Zuhd

Before we discuss how to nurture our Zuhd, we first need to clear up all misconceptions on this topic. As with most Islamic concepts, 1400 years of history has led to many things being misunderstood and misinterpreted over time. Zuhd is one such concept.

In some circles, the word Zuhd or Zaahid (person who has Zuhd) conjures up an image of a poor person who doesn’t work and dedicates all his time and effort to worship Allah. However, this idea contradicts the practice and attitude of the Prophets, Companions, and early Muslims.

Zuhd does not necessitate poverty. Islam does not glamorize poverty or regard it as an ideal in life. Rather, one of the fundamental goals of Islam is the preservation and development of wealth. Wealth is important for Muslims as it is a resource that can be used to worship Allah, uplift society, and make this world a better place.

This can clearly be seen in the practice of the Sahaba. The leading Sahaba were not all poor people, some were wealthy traders and it was through their wealth that the community was uplifted and the ummah empowered.

The first believer was Khadija (RA) and she was a wealthy businesswoman. In the early years, it was her wealth that supported and funded the Dawah of her husband Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Likewise, the first man to embrace Islam was Abu Bakr (RA) and he was also a wealthy and influential businessman. He used that wealth to purchase slaves who had converted to Islam and set them free. Abu Bakr (RA) was among the greatest examples of Zuhd, yet he worked, earned well, and used that money to uplift society.

Uthman Ibn Affan (RA) was also one of the early converts and one of the greatest companions, yet he was a well-known millionaire. During the Madinan era of the Prophet’s life, it was the wealth of Uthman (RA) that funded many of the expeditions and purchased many necessities for the community, including their primary source of water. Abdur Rahman Ibn Awf (RA) was also one of the ten greatest companions. He too was a wealthy businessman who used that wealth to uplift the ummah and fund the expeditions of the Prophet (peace be upon him).

All of these examples make it quite clear that many of the greatest Muslims did not abandon earning a living or gaining wealth. They were wealthy, worked hard, and utilized that wealth to benefit the ummah. That is the essence of Zuhd: To keep wealth in one’s hands, and not let it enter one’s heart.

This makes it quite clear that Zuhd does not mean poverty, abandoning work, or abandoning the good things of this world. Zuhd is a condition of the heart and it reflects in how we deal with this world and with wealth itself. A person can earn well, work hard, be wealthy, and still have Zuhd. Alternatively, a man can be poor, lazy, and still be attached to this world. It is essentially the condition of the heart that reflects one’s level of Zuhd.

Zuhd does not mean abandoning the basics of life and enforcing upon oneself hardship. Allah sent Islam as a gift to humanity to remove hardship and help us attain that which is beneficial for us. Allah wants us to enjoy the Halal and benefit from what He has created.

To enforce difficulty upon oneself is not acceptable and against the fundamental goals of Islam. Ayesha (RA) narrated about the Prophet (peace be upon him) that whenever he was given a choice between two things, he would choose the easier of the two as long as it was halal. In this way, he set the example for us that Islam teaches us to choose the easier path to Paradise as long as it is Halal.

Zuhd is not about dressing shabby, because the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his companions would dress well. He taught them that dressing well is part of the beauty that Allah loves from us. Zuhd is not about being strict and unfriendly because you are focused on the Afterlife. There was nobody more focused on the Afterlife than the Prophet (peace be upon him) but he laughed, joked, smiled, and was one of the friendliest people you would ever meet.

Many of the misconceptions about Zuhd reflect a strict difficult understanding of Islam. This is in of itself a problem as Islam is meant to be the religion that brings ease to mankind. Obeying the laws of Allah should make life easier for us. Therefore, any understandings of Islam that encourage unnecessary hardship and abandoning the beneficial things of this world are incorrect understandings.

Tips for maintaining Zuhd

Now that we have defined Zuhd, cleared up misconceptions about it, and explained the dangers of materialism, we can now focus on how to grow and nurture our Zuhd. The following tips will assist you in keeping the world out of your heart and staying focused on the obedience of Allah.

Look at those who have less than you, not those who have more than you

This is taken verbatim from a Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). It has also been proven true by modern psychological studies. The way it works is that whenever you feel the pull of this world, look at people who have less than you and are still content and happy.

You will find in the world many people who don’t earn much but are content and focused on the obedience of Allah. Looking at such people makes you appreciate your own situation, and lowers your desire to pile up the things of this world. The next time you feel the pull of this world, try this. It works wonders for one’s faith and contentment.

Avoid sources of materialism

In order to avoid materialism, we must abandon its sources. In the modern world, this includes the advertisement industry. The advertisement industry revolves around getting people to desire and want things that they don’t need. These adverts are often designed by people who have studied NLP and they utilize this knowledge to make the adverts appeal to one’s mind. The result is that when one looks at such an advertisement (whether it is on television, radio, a billboard, or a poster) one feels the desire to purchase the item, even though you don’t need it and didn’t desire it before.

The way to avoid this is to stay in control of your own mind and not allow the advertisements to affect you. Look at them objectively and decide rationally whether it is really something you need or just something someone else is trying to convince you that you need.

Likewise, we should be careful of the salespeople’s tactics. Salespeople are in the business of selling stuff, and they wouldn’t be good at their job if they were unable to convince you that you need what they have to sell. Too many people fall for marketing tactics too easily. When dealing with salesmen, be realistic. Objectively look at whether you really need the item or not, and do not be afraid to say no if you do not want it. Sometimes it can be difficult to say no to a pushy salesperson but it is a skill that is needed in order to avoid clutter and piling up the things of this world.

Keep the right company

Avoiding the sources of materialism includes being careful about who we hang out with. We often take on the qualities of our closest friends and so if you are constantly hanging around snobbish materialistic people, this company will have an effect on you. They may prod you into purchasing the latest expensive items, take a loan to keep up appearances or feel bad and ungrateful for what you have because they have more than you. Staying in the company of such people is very dangerous for one’s Zuhd.

On the other hand, good company will keep you focused on the pleasure of Allah. If your friends are righteous people who are focused on the obedience of Allah, they will remind you accordingly. Their contentment and gratitude will rub off onto you, and their noble goals will inspire you to take up likewise noble goals.

Keep the Afterlife as your priority

While there is nothing wrong with earning well and enjoying the Halal things of this world, the key to maintaining Zuhd is to remain focused on the Afterlife and the pleasure of Allah. This keeps us in check and stops us from falling too deep into this world.

In every business deal, every purchase decision, every life decision, focus on the pleasure of Allah. This should be the overriding factor governing every aspect of our lives. If we make Allah’s pleasure our priority, every worldly decision of ours will be rightly guided and bring us closer to Him, even when we are making money and growing wealthy. Staying focused on the Afterlife includes remembering that on the Last Day, we will be responsible for every dollar we earned or spent. Allah will ask us how we earned it and how we spent it. This thought should keep us in check and keep our purchasing and business decisions guided in the right direction.

Live within your means

The modern lifestyle entices people to live off credit. Instant gratification demands that we get what we want as soon as we want it, even if we can’t afford it. The result is a lifetime of debts to pay off and never experiencing inner peace. Living a debt-free life is crucial for attaining inner peace and it directly related to Zuhd. The key is to live within your means. If you mean $1000 a month, then live off $900 and save $100 a month (or save $50 and give $50 in charity). Likewise, if you earn $2000 a month, live off $1800 and save the rest or donate to charity. If you can’t afford something, save up for it. Only if it is a necessity should you borrow money. Then too it must be a Halal loan i.e. interest-free loan.

When you choose to live within your means, you are taming your Nafs (desires) and training yourself to be patient. In doing so, you reject the pull of this world and focus on the pleasure of Allah. This also helps you sleep better at night and attain inner peace as you do not carry around the psychological burden of owing people money.

Purchase only that which you are going to use

How many of us have entire storage units full of junk that we bought but don’t use? Many people can’t resist the urge to buy things and as a result, we pile up the things of the world. Because we spent so much money on these things, we feel bad to give them away. As a result, we pile them up and never use them.

These items remain in our lives as a sign of our lack of will power, and our inability to let go of the world. If you want to experience Zuhd and inner peace, start by decluttering and simplifying your life. Let go of all the things that are piling up in your life but benefitting nobody. Don’t purchase such things in the future and put your wealth to better use instead. This takes us to the final point.

Spend time and wealth in the path of Allah

The concept of charity in Islam exists to purify our hearts from materialism and keep us grounded in the obedience of Allah, no matter how wealthy we become. This is why it is so important to have a habit of being generous.  

Every time you spend time and resources in the path of Allah, you free your heart a bit more from this world and grow closer to your Creator. This is clearly seen in the example of the companions. Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Abdur Rahman Ibn Auf (RA) were all wealthy individuals but they were extremely generous and would always be willing to give large sums of wealth in charity. They were never afraid to part with their wealth. They would spend on others and so Allah assisted them in both worlds and helped them attain success in this world and the Afterlife. Charity with a pure intention is one of the greatest ways to maintain Zuhd, no matter how wealthy or poor we are.

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Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Islam, 3 comments
How to analyze self-help advice the Islamic way

How to analyze self-help advice the Islamic way

The Self-Help industry has grown into a multi-billion dollar global phenomenon. Every day new books, articles, and videos flood the market offering a variety of tips, hacks, and advice on how to meet your goals and excel in life. But not all of it is Islamic or even halal. Often, Muslim readers are left confused regarding which advice to follow and which to cast aside as unislamic.

At Islamic Self Help, we strive to offer Islamized self-help resources that weed out the bad and keep only that which does not contradict our tradition. Utilizing a variety of techniques, we are able to separate good advice from bad advice utilizing sound Islamic principles. In this article, I will share some of these principles so that you too can read more critically, and can identify what is acceptable and what is not.

The Theological Lense

The first thing you need to do is analyze the advice for any problematic beliefs. Islam is founded upon theology (Aqidah). Our beliefs are the core of our faith, and we cannot accept any teachings that contradict our core theology. In the self-help industry, there are a lot of ideas floating around that contradict Islamic theology. Most of it is very subtle and may fly over the heads of the average reader. The only way to avoid this is to critically read such advice in light of Islamic theology.

Some of these ideas that contradict Islam are the following. The idea that you control your own destiny is false in Islam. Qadar (destiny) is one of the six pillars of faith, and Muslims firmly believe that Qadar is in the hands of Allah. The idea that you can attract money into your life by thinking positive thoughts contradicts Islamic theology. In Islam, we believe that our sustenance is already predetermined by Allah, we only decide how we earn it. Thoughts are not magical things that can override Qadar. Most importantly, the idea that you decide your own purpose in life contradicts the very fundamentals of Islam. The Quran clearly states that our purpose in life is to worship/serve Allah, we cannot accept any ideology that contradicts this.

The Legal Aspect

After theology, the next important aspect of our faith is the legal side i.e. Fiqh. When analyzing self-help advice, we must weed out any advice that is Haram (prohibited) in our religion. This requires at least a basic understanding of Islamic Law, and if one is in doubt, ask a scholar for clarification. Regarding legal issues, sometimes it is obvious when a self-help tip is haram, and sometimes it requires some deep thinking.

An obvious example is the idea promoted by some circles that one-night-stands boost self-confidence. In Islam, fornication and adultery are prohibited major sins, so a believer can never even consider following such an idea. Likewise, if a self-help author recommends any drugs to boost creativity. As recreational drugs are prohibited in Islam, a Muslim cannot even consider following such a tip. There may be other tips in these books that contradict the laws of Islam like accumulating interest in one’s bank account, upsetting one’s parents, and breaking family ties in pursuit of personal goals. As Muslims, we must be vigilant and analyze every piece of advice in light of Islamic law.

The Spiritual Impact

The third angle from which any advice needs to be analyzed is its spiritual impact. Islam is a deeply spiritual religion and our spirituality cannot be compromised for worldly goals or desires. One of the fundamental teachings of Islam is that we sometimes need to sacrifice our worldly desires for the sake of Allah. The modern self-help industry sometimes teaches the opposite. Rooted in individualism, many of these books and videos preach the pursuit of one’s own desires, even at the expense of one’s relationship with God.

Before we embrace any self-help idea or follow any self-help tip, we must do an analysis of whether it will cost us some of our spirituality or not. Any self-help tips that fuel greed, lust, selfishness, or arrogance needs to be shunned as these are viewed as spiritual diseases in Islam. A self-help guru may advice you to live life to the fullest and accomplish everything your heart desires before you die. As a Muslim, you cannot accept this advice because you know that obedience to Allah and preparation for the Afterlife takes precedence over fulfilling one’s desires. It may be difficult to analyze the impact a tip will have on one’s spirituality without a strong foundation. As with legal and theological issues, the rule remains the same; when in doubt, consult an Islamic scholar.

A Matter of Character

The fourth and final criterion to utilize when analyzing self-help tips is character. Akhlaq (good character) is a core component of Islam. We cannot compromise our integrity for anything. When a self-help tip comes from a purely materialistic and capitalistic perspective, it may encourage dishonesty and treachery in pursuit of one’s worldly goals. The believer can never embrace such ideas, as a believer’s character is his honor.

There are many great self-help books out there that focus on good character and that are rooted in good character. The authors may have extracted their principles from Christianity, Buddhism, or other sources. As long as these principles do not contradict Islamic character, it is acceptable to follow their advice. But not all self-help authors have such principles and backgrounds. Some are purely materialistic, some may be greedy capitalists, many are con-artists trying to earn a quick buck, and some are narcissistic self-promoters. It is the works of these kinds of self-help gurus that may encourage bad character. In any case, all self-help advice must be analyzed according to the principles of Akhlaq.

Conclusion

Over the years, I have compiled many Islamic self-help resources on topics ranging from time management to self-confidence. For each of these topics, I utilized these four core methods to separate the permissible from the impermissible. By analyzing any self-help tip or principle in light of Islamic beliefs, laws, spirituality, and character, we are able to extract what is good and Islamize is, while rejecting that which contradicts the fundamentals of our religion. Armed with these four principles, you should be able to read or study any self-help resource critically and separate the good from the bad yourself with the help of Allah.

Looking to start your Islamic self-help journey? Grab our bundle of 10 ebooks for only $22 here. This bundle includes everything you need to get started on the road to Islamic Self Help.

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Leadership, 2 comments
Islam Intensive 2021 – History of Islam

Islam Intensive 2021 – History of Islam

Alhamdulillah, 2020 has been a very productive year at Islamic Self Help, during which we launched the Islam Intensive ongoing program that is going very well. Besides this, we published two courses, three ebooks, and over a dozen articles this year, Alhamdulillah.

In 2021, we are taking Islam Intensive to the next level with a huge in-depth dive into Muslim History. The first three-six months of 2021 will focus on an intensive exploration of Muslim History from the time of the Prophet (pbuh) until today. The course will focus on lessons that we can learn from the various events in our history, as well as discussion on various negative and tragic events in our history. 

My hope is to produce one of the most detailed and beneficial history courses available online in shaa Allah.

We currently have over a year’s worth of content available in Islam Intensive and will begin the History program during the second week of January in shaa Allah. 

May Allah grant us success and barakah.

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Islam, 1 comment
Surah al-Nisaa: A Thematic Tafsir

Surah al-Nisaa: A Thematic Tafsir

This article is an extract from the book Themes of the Quran, purchase the full ebook to learn more.

Many people assume from the name of this Surah that the theme is issues related to women. Because of this, they are confused to find many verses in it addressing topics like inheritance, dealing with the hypocrites and the people of the book as well as the dangers of Shirk.

Reality is that the theme of a Surah is not usually related to its name. The names were mostly given over time by scholars based on words unique or often repeated in that Surah, and so just like the theme of Surah Al-Baqarah is not cows, the theme of Surah An-Nisaa is not restricted to women. 

Themes of Surah al-Nisaa

This Surah is a Madinan Surah and again focuses on the themes of relevance to Madinan society, in this case the theme is society itself. The Surah addresses every aspect of the Muslim society including the following:

  1. Orphans (4:2-3, 6, 128)
  2. Marriage (4:3-4, 19-25, 32-35, 127-130)
  3. Inheritance (4:11-14, 176)
  4. Polygyny (4:3, 129)
  5. People of the Book (4:46-56, 153-174)
  6. Hypocrites (4:88-90, 142-146)
  7. Military operations (4:71-78)
  8. Peace and Justice (4:92-94, 135)
  9. Immigration from a bad society to a good one (4:97-100)

The Inheritance Question

Looking at the issue of inheritance, most of the laws of Islam are detailed in the Hadiths. Yet in this Surah, Allah details the laws of inheritance clearly and warns those who reject His Laws of the Hellfire. This is because many societal and family problems are caused due to fighting over inheritance. If Muslims submit to Allah’s judgment and accept the divisions He made, all these societal problems can be avoided.

These days, it is common to find many Muslims questioning the division of the inheritance in the Qur’an. This is a very arrogant attitude as it indicates that we think we know better than Allah. Allah has divided the inheritance based on the obligations he gave his servants. As the males of this ummah have more financial responsibility than the females, their portion of the inheritance is likewise proportionately more. This is in no way meant to indicate superiority, rather it is meant to indicate responsibility.

Family Law

This Surah lays heavy emphasis on family dynamics. It also lays a heavy emphasis on the importance of the man being the leader of the household and upholding that position responsibly. In modern times, this concept has been disputed and the results are failed marriages, high divorce rates,[1] the spread of Zina and general chaos in society.

For a society to function properly, families need to be stable and in line with the commands of Allah. The results of rejecting the family structure laid down by Allah can be seen in the abundant marital problems that surround us on a daily basis.

Related to this is the issue of polygyny. This Surah clearly allows a man to have a maximum of four wives on the condition that he is responsible and deals with them fairly. Modernists have tried to undermine and misinterpret this verse to bring Islam more in line with the norms of modern society. These modernists fail to realize that the culture they are trying to imitate is a culture revolving around unrestricted polygamy without responsibilities i.e. adultery and extra-marital affairs. 

History is proof that any society which practiced polygyny the way the Qur’an allows it has far less social problems. This practice simultaneously solves the social dilemma of the widows, divorcees and single righteous women who can’t find righteous husbands, as well as the issue of men being polygamous by nature. Society is better off when polygyny is practiced responsibly.

The Rights of Orphans

We also see in this Surah a special emphasis on caring for orphans. Orphans make up a large segment of any society and when societies neglect them, they end up turning to crime to support themselves and survive. Caring for orphans is a great deed and raising orphans as one’s own children gives them a second chance at succeeding in life and benefits the entire community.

Cultural Controversies

The verses in this Surah tend to be controversial due to the changing social norms in the West, and the pressure put upon Muslims to adopt these changes. While there exist many cultural practices in Muslim communities that need to change, it is important to distinguish between those and fixed rules clearly established in the Qur’an.

Cultural issues like prohibiting women from praying in Masjids, banning women from driving, education and work, and the acceptance of spousal abuse need to change. These practices are not Islamic, and removing them is beneficial for the entire ummah.

On the other hand, the concepts of Hijab and polygyny, the role of the husband and wife in the family structure, and the division of the inheritance are clear commandments which form part of the foundation of our religion, and cannot be changed to suit people’s desires.

If one analyses these laws with an open mind, looking at the benefits of implementing them, instead of just looking at things from an ego-driven perspective, it is quite clear that the laws revealed by Allah are what is best for society.

I believe that any society that bases its principles on those covered in Surah An-Nisaa will become one of the best, most just and most stable communities on earth.        


[1] A common cause of divorce these days is the reversal of roles in the family structure. This reversal of roles causes a lot of animosity and over time it erodes the marriage and eats away at its foundations.

This article is an extract from the book Themes of the Quran, purchase the full ebook to learn more.

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Islam, 0 comments
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, 3 comments