First Target-Reform of Self
Like other divine religions. Islam also keeps the reform of man’s self as the first item in its programme of reforms.
It makes the human self as the first target of its efforts and sows the seeds of the Islamic teachings in its depths, so that self and training become inseparable.
The teachings of the Prophets lasted till the Doomsday and around them gathered the group of faithful people. Its secret was this that the self of man was the objective of all its work and it was the axis of all its activities. Their teachings were not like something externally pasted that they could be separated from men in the movements of their daily life. These were not like the paint or varnish that could be worn out by the passage of time. They had imbibed their principles and teachings into the depths of man’s hearts, which had turned into a very strong power that could keep it safe from the wickedness of men’s nature and could rule over their decisions. Many times some divine religions raised objections against the society and its structure, and governments and its nature, and also presented remedies for the ills which had appeared in these quarters.
Inspite of this, the nature of all the divine religious has been this that they kept righteous self as the basis of an their programmes of reform, and considered firm and strong moral character as a permanent guarantee for the establishment and upkeep of every civilization.
But this does not mean that the importance of those who are striving for the construction of a better government and society is being reduced, or that their efforts are considered to be less important.. No. Not at all. Here an attempt is being made to make the people realize the value of the reform of man’s self for the safety of life and for the security of healthy and virtuous living.
The self that has become wicked can only spread disruption and disorder in the system of government, and can make use of the enforcement of the laws of that system for meeting its mean and wicked objectives. But a purified and noble self will perform the responsible task of stitching the tears in the garment of the environment and repairing it. It will try to enhance society’s greatness and decency. It will consider it its responsibility to bring in regularity in the use of power, and to remove all kinds of defects from the government.
It is like a judge. If he is well trained and decent, he can reform the defects of the law by his selfless decisions and just orders. But a cruel and unkind judge can show indifference to the correct commands and authorities. Same is the condition of the self, when it is confronted with the ideas and views of the world, and personal likes and interests.
That is why the reform of the self is the first foundation pillar of the supremacy of virtue in this life.
If no attention is paid to the reform of the individuals (selves), this world becomes the dominion of the dark forces, men’s present and future will be ruled by corruption. That is why Allah says:
“Verily, Allah will never change the condition of a people until they change it themselves. But when Allah wills a people’s punishment, there can be no turning it back, nor will they find, beside Him any to protect.” (Ra’ad.. 11)
Stating the cause of the corrupt communities, Allah says:
“Like (the deeds of) the people of Pharaoh and of those before them; they rejected the signs of Allah and Allah punished them for their crimes; for Allah is Strong and Strict in punishment “ because Allah will never change the Grace which He has bestowed on a people until they change what is in their (own) souls,” (Anfal ..52-53)
From the viewpoint of reform and training, Islam considers this matter in its two aspects:
The first aspect is this: Every self has a decent and pure nature in itself which rushes towards righteousness and good, and feels happy on getting it. It hates wickedness and evil. It becomes sad and sorry on committing it. It sees the extension and development of its existence and the health of its life in truth and justice.
With this there is its second aspect also. Every self has in it exciting emotions and Satanic inclinations, which turn it away from the right path. They present harmful acts in a glamorous way and throw it into the pit of meanness and lowliness. We are not interested in talking a survey of the principles and elementary of these harmful inclination from a historical point of view so that it may be ascertained whether these emotions or desires enter the human nature from outside or whether they are ingrained in the nature itself. We are concerned with the fact that both these conditions are found in men, which are locked in mutual struggle for attaining leadership for guiding man’s life. And whatever kind of leadership man accepts decides his final destination.
“By the soul, and the proportion and the order given to it; and its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right; truly he succeeds who purifies it, and he fails who corrupts it.” (Shams: 7-10)
The achievement of Islam is this that it helps man fully, so that he may be able to make his nature strong and firm, he may make its rays more bright and more illuminating, and in its guidance and leadership may successfully complete his long journey of life.
Similarly it also prepares man to be free from the ways of wickedness and the inciting of the devil, because these try to mislead him and turn him away from the right path, and finally cause him to fall from his high rank.
Islam is Religion of Nature
Islam has called itself a ‘Natural Religion’ which is free from all these impurities :
“So (O Prophet) set your face steadily and truly to the faith. (Establish) Allah’s nature on which He has framed mankind. There is no change in what Allah has created; that is the standard religion; but most among mankind do not understand.” (Rum: 30)
The function of the eye is to see until there is some disturbance in it. The ear hears the sound till it becomes deaf.
The function of the nature is to follow the right path, and to rush towards it with such alacrity as the water rushes down from a height, unless it is overcome by corruption and wickedness, which may take its reins in hands and turn it away from the path of righteousness and blessings.
The disturbing things, which corrupt nature are sometimes the result of the past centuries or sometimes they are the creation of the lowly environment and ha bits and customs, or both these things together are responsible for the disturbances. These things are a great danger for the nature of man. They cause a variety of diseases in it. The real jihad of a reformer is to fight these inhibitions and customs and to weaken their strength. He tries to relieve Nature of these dangers in order that its original purity may be regained and it may be able to fulfil its real responsibility.
Islam has given a full clarification of this method.
After explaining the natural religion in the above quoted verses, the holy Quran says immediately thereafter :
“Turn back in repentance to Him, and fear Him; Establish regular prayers, and be not you among those who join gods with Allah, those who split up and become sects, each party rejoicing in that which is with itself:” (Rum: 31-32)
To encourage faith in place of disbelief, righteousness in place of wickedness, to adopt the policy of fearing God, in place of disturbed thoughts in respect of Allah the righteous people’s unity of thought and action-these are the manifestations that show that man has remained on the righteous nature. This has been clarified in the following verse of the Quran :
“We indeed created man in the best of moulds, then we have abased him to be the lowest of the low, except such as believe and do righteous deeds.” (At-Teen: 4-6)
What is the best mould or form of man? The understanding of Truth and adopting it, fulfilment of its requirements and meeting of its demands. This is called the attachment to virtuousness and decency, and consideration of these two good qualities in man’s individual and collective life is the real achievement. And attempts to make them operative in all the departments of life is the real mould and form.
But there is a very large number of people who do not reach this high level. They remain attached to the earth only. They follow their own desires, and express disobedience of God’s commands. In this way they fall to the lowest level Quran has called this “ Asfala safileen” (lowest of the low), to which Allah has thrown such people.
To throw the men of such nature to the lowest level is according to the divine law regarding guidance and transgression. And these laws are true and based on justice. The holy Quran mentions them as under:
“And Allah will not mislead a people after He has guided them, in order that He may make clear to them what to fear (and avoid)-for Allah has knowledge of all things.” (Tauba: 115).
In Surah A’raf this law of guidance and transgression has been mentioned thus:
“Those who behave arrogantly on the earth in defiance of right-them I will turn away from My signs; even if they see all the signs, they will not believe in them; And if they see the way of right conduct, they will not adopt it as the way of error is the way they will adopt; for they rejected Our signs, and failed to take warning from them.” (A’raf: 146)
Who is it then that remains on the ‘best mould’ and keeps himself away from the indignities of the world? In the verses of the Surah At-Teen occurring immediately after those quoted above the answer is given:
“Except such as believe and do the righteous deeds.” (At-Teen: 6)
In the foregoing pages we have seen that the outcome of Faith and the Righteous Deeds is the excellence of moral character.
There is a Counter to the Wicked Nature
Islam’s stand ,vis-a-vis man’s pure nature and its strength and firmness has been discussed. As regards its dealings with the devil-like natures, that has also been made clear. Islam warns mischievous-natured people. It entrusts its reins in the hands of the healthy intellect; it encourages it to bow down to the pure nature and to surrender itself to Allah.
The prophet has hinted at some of these kinds of natures :
“The son of Adam reaches the old age and two of his habits do not leave him. One is greed and the second is the unending succession of hopes.” -(Muslim)
“The worst evil found in man is the frightening cowardice and the un-dignifying miserliness.” ( Abu Daud )
“If the son of Adam is given a valley of gold, he will desire to have another one. And if the other is also given, he will be greedy to have the third one. The hunger of Adam’s son will not be satisfied except when his remains are mixed with the dust. And the one who turns to Allah, Allah accepts his repentance.” ( Bukhari )
The holy Quran has mentioned some of the habits in the Surah Ale Imran :
“Fair in the eyes of men is the love of things they covet, women and sons; heaped up hoards of gold and silver; horses branded (for blood and excellence) ; and (wealth of) cattle and well-tilled land. Such are the possessions of this world’s life; but in the nearness to Allah is the best of the goals ( to return to ).” -(AIe-Imran: 14)
The first thing Islam wants man to pay attention to is this that to run after the carnal desires of the self and to follow its unending demands will never satisfy self and make it contented. Truth and right path will not be acceptable to it.
The condition of the self is that when its one desire is satisfied, it immediately demands to have some other desire satisfied. It is always busy in eating, drinking, and having a good time, and greedy with desire to have more and more of everything. It has no hesitation in committing sin and acts of aggression and cruelty. Therefore, Quran has forbidden men to follow the desires that have been considered haram :
“Nor follow you the lusts (of your heart), for they will mislead you from the path of Allah; for those who wander astray from the path of Allah, is a penalty grievous, for that they forget the Day of Account.” ( Saad: 26)
The policy of the infidels and the necessity of opposing it and its importance have been mentioned in these words:
“If the Truth had been in accord with their desires, truly the heavens and the earth and all beings therein would have been in confusion and corruption ! Nay, We have sent them their admonition, but they turn away from their admonition.” (Muminun.. 71)
It is necessary that a distinction be made between the forbidden desires of the self and the lawful desires, because some so-called religious people have mixed up these two very dangerously.
If man wants to enjoy the goods of the world, then there is nothing wrong in it, but it is a very serious error that this kind of lawful demands and desires has also been included in the list of forbidden, wicked acts.
Its consequence is this that man satisfies his lawful and respectable desires, but his conscience becomes like the conscience of those people who accept crimes as lawful and adopt them willingly. In this way their conscience becomes a victim of a great error.
When he realises that he has committed a mistake, and that sin is an inevitable part of his life, then he commits more serious sins and indulges in the strictly forbidden acts. In other words this time he becomes a criminal and a sinner in the real sense of the word.
The holy Quran has paid special attention to this aspect and has very clearly declared the pure desires of the self and the lawful wishes as proper and lawful, and provided it with a chance to use halal and clean things. It declared any interference of narrowness and inhibition in this respectable and lawful sphere by way of any checks on the self as bad and obscene, because it opens the gate for obscene acts and sinning.
“O you people I Eat on earth what is lawful (hala) and clean (tayyib) and do not follow the footsteps of Satan.Indeed, he is an open enemy for you. He will command you (to do) what is evil and indecent and induce you to say about Allah that which you do not know.” ( AI-Baqarh : 168-169)
It is a fact that to put restrictions on the consumptions of what is lawful (hala) and clean (tayyib) is nothing but levelling false charges against Allah, and this thing amounts to evil and indecency which Satan commands men to do.
Islam does not like to repress such natures and inclinations with force and punishment, nor does it want to placate or Batter them, but Islam follows a balanced method which is free of any kind of excess.
Morality holds the Reins
As the rules and regulations of the healthy nature are secure in faith and reform and they have no connection with heresy and agnosticism, similar is the case of the rebellious natures and habits.
In both the cases only a strong and firm moral character can control it. Where the holy Quran has mentioned man’s weakness, his anxiety, his richness and indifference, there it has also made it clear that the remedy of these indignities lies in following the path of religion.
“Truly man was created very impatient; fretful when evil touches him; and niggardly when good reaches him ; not so those devoted to prayer, those who remain steadfast to their prayer; and those in whose wealth is recognised right for ( the needy) who asks and him who is prevented ( for some reason from asking) ; and those who hold to the Truth of the Day of Judgment; and those who fear the displeasure of their Lord ,for the Lord’s displeasure is the opposite of peace and tranquillity; and those who guard their chastity.” ( .41-Ma’arij.. 19-29)
It is common knowledge that good moral character does not develop suddenly. Nor does it become strong and firm in the beginning. It requires consistency and gradualness. And in strengthening it there come many stages.
That is the reason why in its nourishment and growth it is required to perform such acts that have to be repeated. The quality that is developed should have consistency, e.g. prayer, fasting, Hajj, Zakat, and the performance of other forms of worship, confirmation of the Day of the Judgment, and to be fearful of its punishments, etc.
When the rebellious natures insist on their acts and are steadfast on their wrong stance, and continue to attempt to traverse the wrong path from time to time, then to check and prevent it no fixed and temporary remedy can be found.
Their transgression and intensity can be brought to the normal level only by such an activist who is more strong and powerful than them and who may be able to bring them to a balanced level.
The long and short of the discussion is that Islam respects the human nature and considers its teachings as the voice of that nature. It warns the rebellious natures and reforms their point of view. Those forms of worship which have been made compulsory in Islam are such as strengthen the human nature and turn the wind of desires to the right direction. And these forms of worship do not perform their duties satisfactorily and the desired objective cannot be obtained from them unless they generate the excellent moral character and the tendency to exemplary treatment of others.a
Source : Muhammad Al- Ghazali, Muslim Character, Chapter 4