Living Simply: Evaluation of the Self

Part Five: An Internal Audit

By Shaykh Farid Dingle

In order to get through life with ease, the early Muslims (salaf) focused on certain key ways of living that would make it spiritually and practically easier and more fruitful. They coined a term for the variegated rules that they lived by, a term that summarized the system of living for the Hereafter. They called it zuhd: detachment from this world. For the purpose of this article series, we have found the best match in terms of meaning to be asceticism. Other terms to describe zuhd are indifference towards worldly matters or simple or minimal living. This is the fifth article from a series of articles and podcasts by SeekersGuidance scholar, Shaykh Farid Dingle.

Introduction to Asceticism (Part One)

Listening More, Talking Less (Part Two)

Entertaining Ourselves to Death (Part Three)

Being Extremely Moderate (Part Four)

In this episode, Imam Waki sheds light on the necessity of being very frank with oneself and measuring one’s life, inwardly and outwardly, against the clear standards of the Sacred Law. This requires introspection, determination, and honesty, which results in a tremendous increase in faith. The consequences of letting oneself live one’s life with no checks and balances are sins and regrets.


“A man is not considered to have fear of Allah until he audits his life as he would his partner’s accounts: he has to know exactly where his clothes, food, and drink come from” (Maymun ibn Mihran).

 

These opening words of this chapter summarize the whole topic of monitoring and evaluating oneself on a religious and spiritual level. Firstly, it introduces the concept of self-accountability and the need to critically review one’s life on a regular basis. Secondly, it tells us of the objective and non-partisan stance one must have in order to make any constructive criticism of oneself: one must step outside oneself and demand one’s rights from oneself with absolute transparency, just as if one were a partner in business. Thirdly, it defines the most important items to be assessed: one’s food and drink. They are crucial, as what one consumes has a direct effect on one’s actions. Allah Most High says, 

“O messengers, eat of the goodly and do righteous deeds” (Qur’an, 23:51).

 

Imam Waki then moves on to a hadith that explains the need for self-assessment. The hadith that he mentions breaks down everyone who has ever lived on earth into four categories: two are good, and two are bad. The hadith states: “In this life, there are just four people: a slave whom Allah gives both money and knowledge who then acts according to his knowledge and spends what is due in [his wealth]. The next is a slave whom Allah gave knowledge but did not give wealth. He says to himself, ‘If I only had money like this one, I would have done what [the first] did.’ The two will have the same reward. [The third] is a slave for whom Allah provided money but did not give knowledge, so he flounders around wasting his money in ignorance and does not spend what is due in [his wealth]. [The last] is a slave whom Allah neither gave wealth nor knowledge. He says to himself, ‘If I only had the money, I would do everything that [the third] does. So the two are alike in sin” (Ibn Majah). Now besides the obvious relationship between monitoring oneself and doing good or bad, this hadith highlights an important point, and that is how important and significant intentions are. By having the same intentions, two people had exactly the same reward. It is only prudent, therefore, that when we monitor our record of good and bad deeds, we are to be exceptionally careful about our intentions. Intentions are the source of all actions, and ultimately of our being saved or damned.

Being honest with oneself and taking a frank look at how one spends one’s days and nights is at the heart of faith. Waki cites Ammar ibn Yasir, “

Whoever has three things has true faith: being honest with oneself, spending when poor, and giving greetings of peace to scholars.”

 

In this context of being frank with oneself, the author mentions a hadith, “Whoever wants to be saved from Hellfire and be entered into Paradise, let him die believing in Allah and the Last Day, and let him do unto others what he would have done unto himself.” How often it is that we do things that are technically halal, but we would never wish that they be done to us? Such actions require a critical moral eye to be sifted out of our lives.

To complete this portrait of self-criticism that Waki has drawn for us from the early Muslims, it is worth adding some other complementary quotes:

Umar ibn al-Khattab said, “Take yourself to task while things are easy before things get tough. Whoever does so will be in keeping with Allah’s pleasure and his matter will be in an enviable position. Whoever just lets his life distract him and his whims busy him, his matter will be regret and loss.”

 

Hasan al-Basri said, “A slave will be well as long as there is a voice within him admonishing him to do good, and as long as his concern is keeping himself in check.”

Abu Yazid al-Bustami said, “For twelve years I was the blacksmith of my self, and five years the polisher of the mirror of my heart, and for one year I was looking in that mirror and I saw about my waist the girdle of unbelief. I tried hard to cut it and I spent twelve years in that effort. Then I looked in the mirror and I saw a girdle within me. I spent five years cutting it. Then I spent one year looking at what I had done. Then everything was shown to me and I saw all people as if they were dead. I prayed ‘Allahu Akbar’ over them four times.” That is to say that he no longer saw any point in fearing them or trying to earn their approval, and no longer saw them capable of harming or benefiting him. His long years of refining his soul paid off and his faith reached the highest level it could.

 


About the Author

Ustadh Farid Dingle has completed extensive years of study in the sciences of the Arabic language and the various Islamic Sciences. During his studies, he also earned a CIFE Certificate in Islamic Finance. Over the years he has developed a masterful ability to crafts lessons that help non-Arabic speakers gain a deep understanding of the language. He currently teaches courses in the Arabic Language which can be found here. 

The corresponding podcast is due for release soon.

 

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