By Umarrah Javed Al Hadi
A believer lives a conscious life fueled by purpose and seeking betterment in all aspects of their reality, be it family matters, work, personal development, or community. We are guided by Divine Wisdom in The Qurān and the example of our Beloved Prophet ﷺ to live with discipline, thought, and structure. There is a sense of organization, planning, and refinement in a Muslim’s life whether that comes in the form of praying five times a day, fasting, our etiquette, charity, or mindfulness when engaging with others – these are all signs of us being believers that are constantly on a journey to better ourselves.
Through the adopting of good characteristics and removal of negative ones, we strive to beautify our internal selves while improving our external conduct in order to attain closeness to Allāh. The Qurān is a Guide that illuminates every aspect of us and our lives. Within The Book we are able to find ways to improve ourselves and in this piece we will discuss some of those:
Relationships with Others
Early in the Qurān, we learn about how we are not living as individuals but rather we are highly social creatures that exist as part of a larger fabric of society.
[They ask you, [O Muhammad], what they should spend. Say, “Whatever you spend of good is [to be] for parents and relatives and orphans and the needy and the traveler. And whatever you do of good – indeed, Allāh is Knowing of it”] [2:215]
We are informed that the best spending begins with relationships closest to us and is for our parents. Through this we learn the significance of our parents in our lives and it allows us to nurture strong, positive connections with them.
Next, we learn of positive conduct with relatives (kinship that we acquire through our parents), this is also very important for our own self-development as people close to us often influence our behavior and ways of thinking. Caring and being mindful of the people closest to us will allow us to ground our personalities on a daily basis.
However, in order for believers to have a well-rounded character that is considerate of even those that have no relation to us, we are also commanded to care for orphans, the needy and the traveler. We are given these categories of people as they can often be the ones that are neglected by society.
A believer is reminded to zoom out of their own home and as well as caring for their own families, start caring for the ones that may not have family caring for them. This mindset implemented by individuals and then later society allows for a higher level of empathy and togetherness.
Similarly to the above verse, we are told again in verse 36 of An-Nisa’:
[Worship Allah and associate nothing with Him, and to parents do good, and to relatives, orphans, the needy, the near neighbor, the neighbor farther away, the companion at your side, the traveler, and those whom your right hands possess. Indeed, Allah does not like those who are self-deluding and boastful] [4:36]
In addition to excellent behavior with our parents, relatives, orphans, the needy and the traveler, this verse tells us about caring for and being considerate of the neighbor, the farther neighbor, and the companion at our side. These additional members of society are noted as part of our realities that we should also be aware of. Putting energy into these relations is good for our emotional health and development. Good treatment with neighbors has been strongly highlighted by our Beloved Prophet ﷺ:
It was narrated from Abu Hurairah that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “Jibra’il kept enjoining good treatment of neighbors until I thought he would make neighbors heirs.”
Neighbors, people in our proximity and different people that we meet briefly as part of our day-to-day lives are, in different capacities, impacting our realities. In order to enhance these parts of our lives and bring positive energy into our character by giving out good energy, Allāh emphasizes the importance of being good to them.
Further to this, in order to share knowledge of Allāh, His Book, His Prophet ﷺ we need to have strong connections with people who will lend us their ear and join us on our journey – this can only be built with good relationships and developing strong interpersonal skills. (See: How to Spread the Message of Islam)
After good treatment with other human beings, we are reminded that improvement begins with self and Allāh does not like those that are self-deluding and boastful. From this we are able to learn that in order to keep developing and refining, we must be in a state of humility in front of Allāh and our efforts must be for His sake only.
Avoid Interest and Increase Charity
Debt can lead to a person feeling pressure, misery, stress and depression while research has shown that giving in charity can lead to an increase in happiness, a longer life, more gratitude and deeper, more meaningful connections with others. The Qurān commands us to avoid interest and give in charity in order to maintain a positive and stress-free frame of mind and a lifestyle liberated from being indebted.
[Allāh destroys interest and gives increase for charities. And Allah does not like every sinning disbeliever] [2:276]
Allāh shows us that we should dislike interest as it is something He dislikes. Charging someone interest can cause them mental stress, depression and increase them in financial hardship. On the other hand, engaging in interest oneself i.e. paying it creates its own negativity.
Allāh guides us to use our money in better ways by giving charity and He tells us that He will increase us if we give more – therefore also providing us with motivation and to follow the better path.
Allāh reminds us of the many ways He creates ease for us by mentioning in verse 278 of Al-Baqarah that if someone has already engaged in interest then “they should give up what remains [due to you] of interest, if you should be believers.”
Resilience and Focus
Allāh instructs us in The Qurān to stay strong and not grieve in the face of adversities. This is because weakening of the spirit can cause laziness, fatigue, an overall feeling of dismay and gloom which can lead to hopelessness or a lack of productivity and focus. This hinders self development and progress therefore we are instructed against it as a Muslim should know that their time in this life is limited and their potential is huge.
[So do not weaken and do not grieve, and you will be superior if you are [true] believers] [3:139]
Allāh instructs us here to be strong and not fixate on something that upsets us. Believers know submitting to the will of Allāh is the best way to move through life and that miserliness is a demonic trick set up to distract a Muslim from being productive and using his energy in the way of Allāh. We also learn from Bukhari that our Beloved Prophet ﷺ would make this du’ā:
اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنَ الْهَمِّ وَالْحَزَنِ
وَالْعَجْزِ وَالْكَسَلِ وَالْبُخْلِ وَالْجُبْنِ وَضَلَعِ الدَّيْنِ وَغَلَبَةِ الرِّجَالِ
“O Allāh I seek refuge in you from grief and sadness, from weakness and laziness, from miserliness and cowardice, from being overcome by debt and overpowered by others.”
(See: The Power of Dua)
Consistency and Emotional Intelligence
Managing our emotions is an essential part of self improvement. We have to maintain a sense of freedom within ourselves that only comes from being light. Allāh reminds us of this in Surah Ali-’Imran:
[Who spend [in the cause of Allāh] during ease and hardship and who restrain anger and who pardon the people – and Allāh loves the doers of good] [3:134]
The consistency in spending in the way of Allāh is mentioned here, this spending can be financial but also time, energy, provisions. Allāh reminds us that we must be consistent in our efforts and that hardship and ease both come and go in life – they should not hinder our output.
People can often regret things said or done in anger. Allāh tells us here that believers try to not be impacted by negative energy and they control anger they may feel. In addition to this, believers forgive.
Forgiveness is something that is good for the one being forgiven but even better for the one doing the forgiving. Someone that can control their anger and forgive others will grow in character and have a focused approach to life with lesser regrets. Towards the end of the verse we find our motivation to fight through negative emotions and to respond to bad with good — we strive to do this for the sake of Allāh and to attain His love.
Allāh reminds us that if we are grateful, He will increase us.
[And [remember] when your Lord proclaimed, ‘If you are grateful, I will surely increase you [in favor]; but if you deny, indeed, My punishment is severe.‘] [14:7]
Often, self improvement begins with recognizing what we have already been given by Allāh. Recalling His favors and focusing on the blessings we already have allows for a positive mindset to manifest. A grateful heart attracts more while an ungrateful heart cannot find peace even if it has acquired everything it desires. Gratitude is a principle that is widely-known to be beneficial for us but Allāh promises something which nobody else can: He will increase us in favor if we are able to simply be thankful for His countless blessings.
Follow the Beloved Prophet ﷺ
The heart of the Messenger of Allāh was chosen as the heart upon which The Qurān descended. Allāh gave us the best of examples in order for us to have guidance on how to live in a way that will attain the love and mercy of Allāh. We read in The Qurān that the Prophet ﷺ is told to say:
[Say, [O Muhammad], “If you should love Allāh, then follow me, [so] Allāh will love you and forgive you your sins. And Allāh is Forgiving and Merciful.”] [3:31]
When seeking ways of self-improvement, whether that is how to spend our time, how to elevate our thinking, how to manage our relationships or how to be ethical when working (among other things), we have been blessed with the example of the one that was utmost honest, truthful, hopeful, patient and dedicated. The life of our Beloved Prophet ﷺ is priceless knowledge for us to gather and implement in our own lives in order for us to improve ourselves and attain the love and mercy of Allāh.
Ponder the Creations of Allāh
We have been given signs to affirm the truth in The Book and many of those signs are found in the natural world. For example, Allāh tells us:
“And it is He who spread the earth and placed therein firmly set mountains and rivers; and from all of the fruits He made therein two mates; He causes the night to cover the day. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought.” [13:3]
We are given further examples of the magnitude of His creation in Surah Al-An’am when Allāh tells us:
[And it is He who sends down rain from the sky, and We produce thereby the growth of all things. We produce from it greenery from which We produce grains arranged in layers. And from the palm trees – of its emerging fruit are clusters hanging low. And [We produce] gardens of grapevines and olives and pomegranates, similar yet varied. Look at [each of] its fruit when it yields and [at] its ripening. Indeed in that are signs for a people who believe] [6:99]
Being familiar with nature, appreciating its beauty in provision and pondering the skies, mountains and galaxies are all good ways to ground ourselves in the reminder that we do not merely exist in the universe, we exist as part of it.
The more we can ponder His creation, learn about it and recognize His signs, the more we will feel motivated about our higher purpose, to build character, hold ourselves accountable and the more evolved we will become from a developmental perspective.
To conclude, much literature on self improvement will tell us that there are qualities within a person that predict their likeliness of success in this world. However, Divine Commands in the Qurān teach us qualities of the character that we should be nurturing for success in this world AND the next. These qualities include:
- Good relationships with others
- Practicing gratitude
- Restraining from anger and other negative emotion
- Making the best of examples ﷺ our role model
- Being consistent
- Being considerate
- Being generous
These ways of self-improvement, among many others that The Qurān guides us with, will help us to lead fulfilling lives while we are on earth and will aid us in acquiring the good deeds we need for the hereafter.
In all self-improvement work, intention is the first and foremost key element. Our goal should be pure – self development should be for the sake of Allāh and we should turn to Him, make sincere du’ā for Him to bestow us with success when we strive to refine, cleanse and improve all the different aspects of our lives and characters in order to be in line with what pleases Him.
Allāh is aware of our efforts and intentions, continuing to be hopeful and adopt means to better ourselves is a part of our way of our life. It was narrated by Abu Hurairah: Our beloved Prophet ﷺ said:
“If any one of you improves (follows strictly) his Islamic religion then his good deeds will be rewarded ten times to seven hundred times for each good deed and a bad deed will be recorded as it is.”
May Allāh ﷻ allow us all to improve ourselves in all the various aspects of our lives and to strive to attain goodness for ourselves and others in this life and the next.
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