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

Ismail Kamdar is the Founder of Islamic Self Help, author of over a dozen books, research manager at Yaqeen Institute, and a freelance writer.

2 comments

Ahmed Ibrahim

Jazaakallah khair

Saleha Khanom

I’ve just completed the ‘Personal Development Tips’ course. It was really enjoyable and taught me some valuable things. For example the importance of reading and gaining new skills throughout one’s life.

I would be interested in purchasing some of your books and will Insha Allah be looking into this very soon.

Thank you so very much for such an inspiring course and not to mention that it was free as well 😉 Masha Allah.

May Allah reward you much in this world and the next. Ameen. Salams.

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