Promoting Virtues the Islamic Way
What is Self Control?
Commentary by Adil Salahi
Reported by Qabeessah, “I was present with the Prophet (Pbuh) when I heard him saying: “The people of goodness in this life are the people of goodness in the hereafter, and the people of evil in this life are the people of evil in the hereafter.” (Related by Al bukhari in Al Mufrad).
With regard to their effect on the quality of human life, all Islamic teachings meet at one point, namely, the promotion of goodness. Everything that people appreciate by their sound nature as good and right, is encouraged by Islam. This statement is not as general as it sounds. There are basic values which all people, regardless of their creed, social environment or stage of civilization accept. Sincerity, telling the truth, faithfulness, helping the poor and the weak are only a few examples of these values. Islam emphasizes the need for every Muslim to observe all these values everyday of his life.
It may be suggested that this is not unique to Islam. All religious creeds and all societies subscribe to these values. Hence, some people may suggest, they should not be shown as the monopoly of Islam. The answer to this arguments is based on two points. First, Islam recognises that non-Muslim individuals may have many virtues and moral values. They may have many virtues and many may be of the highest calibre among human beings. When the Prophet (Pbuh) was asked once about the best type of people, he answered: “The best among them in pre-Islamic days are the best when they become Muslims, provided they acquire good knowledge of Islam.” I will say briefly here that it is a recognition of the qualities of good people among non-Muslims. Secondly, it is true that all creeds and philosophies applaud these values, but the best faith is the one which taps these qualities most fully so that they become essential characteristics of its society. In this respect, Islam is without peers.
The basic element in the Islamic method of tapping these qualities and resources is the belief in the day of judgement and the second life which is characterised by either absolute happiness or total misery. This belief is central to Islamic faith. No one is a believer in Islam unless he declares his total acceptance of six major beliefs: The Oneness of Allah as the only God in the universe, His angels, His books or messages, His messengers, the day of judgement and predestination. Since every Muslim believes that he or she will be resurrected on the day of judgement when his deeds in this life will be reckoned and his fate is decided, then every Muslim must be prepared for that reckoning. Every single deed, no matter how small, and every word, however trifling, are taken into account. One’s good deeds are weighed against his bad ones, the result determines his destiny. The seriousness of the whole affair cannot be overemphasized. It is only natural that our recognition of that seriousness is commensurate with our strength of faith. A good Muslim visualizes the day of judgement and the reckoning that takes place in it as a complete reality. It is there, it is near, it could come in a second. Once death comes, it is all over, because nothing more can be done to influence the result of the reckoning. Hence, preparation for that eventuality must start now and must continue in every moment of one’s life. That preparation takes a simple form: To do everything good that one can do and to avoid all evil.
It is the combination of his need to prepare for the hereafter, to make sure that one’s good deeds are weighty, and the natural human tendency to do what is good and to excel that Islam strengthens within every Muslim. Islam thus imparts its own colour to its followers, making of them men and women who are always prepared to do what is good and to sacrifice for it their time, wealth and comfort. Islam achieves all that very easily through a method which makes Muslims aware that when they do good they get the benefit of their deeds in their lives and they are rewarded for them in the hereafter. Thus they combine immediate worldly benefits with future divine reward.
Every human being has a natural tendency to be good. Every one loves honesty, loyalty, truthfulness and all related virtues. When you add to this love the sense that by telling the truth you are not only doing your duty and observing moral values, but you are also earning reward in the hereafter, then the motivation to always tell the truth and to always refrain from telling lies is far stronger.
The Prophet has emphasised this combination on every occasion. He has always tried to instil in his followers this double motivation to observe Islamic values which are indeed the highest of moral values. Take for example this Hadith which is reported by Qabeessah, a companion of the Prophet, who tells us: “I was present with the Prophet (Pbuh) when I heard him saying: “The people of goodness in this life are the people of goodness in the hereafter, and the people of evil in this life are the people of evil in the hereafter.” (Related by Al bukhari in Al Mufrad). This statement by the Prophet has more or less become a proverb in the Arabic language. Its message is very clear. The person who is accustomed to do good turns to other people in this life will be given a much better reward by Allah in the hereafter. This is a simple fact which is taken for granted by all believers. The Prophet’s statement, however, is explained by his cousin, Ibn Abbas, in the following terms. “When those who have always done good in this life are resurrected on the day of judgement, they are forgiven their sins by virtue of what they had done in this life. Their own good deeds which they have done for themselves remain intact. They are allowed to pass them on to others whose bad deeds are found to be in excess of their good ones. Thus they help them avoid hell. They are thus made charitable in this life and in the hereafter.”
It is needless to say that the people of evil are those who do all things that Allah has forbidden. These will find their bad deeds too much of a burden in the hereafter. Their destiny is the torment of hell.
Consider also the following Hadith reported by Harmaiah Ibn Abdullah, a companion of the Prophet, who says: “I stayed with the Prophet one day until he recognised me. When he decided to go, I thought I had better go to him to learn more about Islam. I caught up with him and was close to him. I asked, “What do you advise me to do?” He said: “Harmalah, do what is good and avoid evil. Consider what you would like people to say about you when you leave them and do it. Identify what you dislike people to say about you when you leave them and avoid it. “When I went back home, I thought about his words and found that they have included every good thing.” (Related by Al Bukhari in Al-Adab Al Mufrad.) The Prophet’s statements in these two Hadiths do not require any explanation or comment. Suffice it today that they are examples of how the Prophet always tries to cultivate the sense of doing good in his followers so that they prepare themselves for the reckoning on the day of Judgement.
His method of cultivation is definitely strengthened by this combination of immediate benefit in this world, with reward in the hereafter. This is a consistent Islamic method which tries to relate this life to the future one so that it all becomes a continuous process. Therefore, everything we do counts on the day of judgement.
He is the most powerful man who has power over himself.’ Great laws of the universe have to be understood and mastered before the spacecraft can be built, launched and ejected into the depths of outer space on its speedy and silent journey to the moon bearing with it its load of scientific instruments and crew of astronauts for bringing that orb within the dominion of man.
Allah is not prepared to fulfil the desires and dreams of man by miraculously transporting him in the twinkling of an eye from the fertile landscape of the earth to the barren surface of the moon. He has, however, gifted man with intelligence and enabled him through diligent study, observation and experiment to discover and comprehend certain scientific laws enabling him, thereby, to achieve his goal - the conquest of the moon.
There are also spiritual laws which if recognised and observed can transport man from this mundane world to the blissful realm of heaven; but man must take the initiative if he wishes to succeed bearing in mind that Allah helps those who help themselves. Just as the successful flight of the spacecraft is dependent upon the control centre which directs its multifarious operations so does the spiritual flight of a man depend upon that inner quality — self-control.
Self-control is the underlying factor which, marks the character of man’s conduct. It is the directing influence in character building and should therefore receive intent cultivation and maintenance. The power lies within man to elevate his character to almost limitless heights. He possesses the master key but his progress or retrogression depend largely upon himself. True, all power rests with Allah but He helps those who help themselves: Self-control governed every act, word and movement of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (may peace be on him). He never swerved from his path of duty and exercised the utmost patience under the severest hardships and provocations. He was the embodiment of charm, patience, forbearance, truthfulness, honesty, courage, justice and all the other noble virtues of Islam. He was indeed - as Hadhrat Ayesha declared, an embodiment of the Holy Qur’an. Self-control moulds the character of a happy life: ‘He alone is happy who is free from hatred and malice and has his passions under control. ’Self control increases self-respect: ‘Respect yourself or no one will respect you.’ (Proverb). Self-control also attracts respect: ‘He who maintains self-respect is never degraded in the sight of others.' (Hadhrat Ali (ra) ). Self-control develops the virtue of all virtues - patience: “O you who believe be patient and enjoin patience and be firm and fear Allah that you may prosper “ (Surah, 3 : Verse.199)
Self-control fosters obedience without which no belief can make progress on the right path: “O you who believe, obey Allah and obey the apostle and those in authority among you (Surah, 4 : Verse, 59) Developing the art of self-control ranks among the higher and most rewarding of education; but it should be remembered that the best instruction can only be of help to the extent to which it is put into practice.
Self-control is not a gift but an accomplishment; and the secret of accomplishment is concentration which transmutes strong desires and mental visions into physical realities. We are the architects of our own souls and Allah is our Guide and Helper.