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Self-control in the light of Islam

“Declare your jihad on thirteen enemies you cannot see- Egoism, Arrogance, Conceit, Selfishness, Greed, Lust, Intolerance, Anger, Lying, Cheating and Gossiping and Slandering. If you can master and destroy them, then you will be ready to fight the enemy you can see.”

Al Ghazali

Imagine… You are standing on a sidewalk alongside your group of friends. Across the street, you catch sight of an infuriated individual. Your eyes meet his and he walks up to you, daringly. Your group of friends instantly shift their attention on you and that very man. He opens his mouth and a bucket full of insults hit you. Anger, embarrassment, and confusion befall you. In the middle of a busy street, eyes of random passers-by, your friends, and that very person drown you in aggravation and vexation. What do you do? Affront him and give him a piece of your mind, so you can save your face from all the eager eyes? Or take his condition into consideration and patiently respond in an inviting manner?

Understanding Self-control

Self-control, the cogwheel of the conscience, is dependent on our large prefrontal cortex. This results in patience and the ability to fight-back any negative compulsion.

Allah ﷻ has given man free-will, with which he or she can respond or evaluate alternative actions to immediate impulses.

The potential to exert self-control is typically called willpower. Studies demonstrate that exercising willpower makes heavy demands on mental energy, notably on reserves of glucose, the brain’s preferred fuel, creating ego depletion. (Ehab Shawky “Self Control and Patience” from Islamic Methodologies Made Easy)

Ego depletion is the idea that the decision-making process in your brain, particularly when you are going against your preferences, has limited strength. Psychologists refer to your ‘ego’ as the cognitive (conscious) part of your brain. The idea that you only have so much conscious willpower and if it runs out, your ability to make good decisions is seriously impaired. Your mind acts like a muscle, eventually tiring and weakening if used for too long without rest.

Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said,

“If one of you gets angry and he is standing, then he should sit down until his anger subsides.  If it does not, then he should lie down.”[2]

When a person is overcome by anger, it is hard to keep a cool head in order to make a considered response.  However the act of sitting down delays the response and allows the person to cool down. Once you take hold of the driving seat of your willpower, you will know how to respond in the best way possible, whereas a clouded head will keep you from your conscience.

Anas bin Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated:

Once I was walking with Allah’s Apostle and he was wearing a cloak with a thick border. A Bedouin followed him and pulled his cloak so aggressively that I noticed the side of the shoulder of Allah’s Apostle bruised. It was affected by the border of the cloak because of that violent pull. The Bedouin said, “O Muhammad! Give me some of Allah’s wealth which is with you.” Allah’s Apostle turned and looked at him, and smiling, he ordered that he be given something.

Bukhari Volume 7, Book 72, (Number 700)

Self-control not only applies to anger, but to other desires as well- the desire to slander about someone you don’t like or the desire of possessing something more than its need.

On the authority of  Ibn ‘Abbâs (may Allah be pleased with him), narrated: I heard the Messenger of Allah ﷺ saying,

“If a son of Adam had a valley full of gold, he would desire to have two.”

Bukhari 6439, Book 81, (Hadith 78)

To love materialistic assets to an extent that our lives are controlled by it is also a product of a weak self-control. A weak self-control is a result of a weak faith, which makes us impotent in impulsive situations. We tend to give-in easily and let ourselves be controlled by short-term achievements. In the scenario stated above, if you choose to reply to the man with equal disdain, you would receive a short-term satisfaction by seemingly acting bold in-front of your friends.

Improving Self-control

Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was a man of strong faith and wisdom. If we follow his footsteps and adapt his way of living, we are likely to control our emotions and desires than have them control us.
Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said,

“The strong is not the one who overcomes the people by his strength, but the strong is the one who controls himself while in anger.”

Sahih Al Bukhari, 6114, Book 78, (Hadith 141)

  • Build Self Awareness by evaluating your actions at the end of each day and ponder upon the responses you made and how our Prophet (ﷺ) would respond to the same scenario.
  • Do not act impetuously, give your mind some time to assess the situation before making any decisions.
  • Procure Solace in Solitude by meditating. Discover yourself spiritually and acknowledge your emotions before setting them free (releasing without causing harm, e.g. Anger)
  • Establish Fajr in your daily prayers. Be consistent and let not the desire of your sleep prevent you.
  • Deprive Yourself from Materialistic Engrossing and organize your day. Perhaps, take note of the hours you spend on your device and do not exceed the time limit you have decided to spend on it.
  • Take on a Willpower Challenge with friends and family; strengthen yourself and those surrounding you. For example, encourage yourself and your family from limiting themselves from junk food or practicing the Sunnah of eating meat once or twice a week.

In sha Allah, by doing so, it would be less likely for us to be impulsive as your mind will adapt to restraint.

“Man will not get anything unless he works hard.”

 (Surah al-Najm, 53:39)

We cannot master self-control in one-go. This practice takes years of dedication of self-betterment and in itself requires patience. The trick is to psychologically train yourself not to succumb under the satisfactions that give you no long-term benefit. We must ensure that we deter from committing the seven deadly sins that root from desires. Keeping clean intentions and striving for self-betterment and improvement will undoubtedly make us gain power over ourselves. Using our conscience in different situation and thoroughly trying to give the right reaction will bring us the best outcome, In sha Allah‎.

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said,

“The strong believer is more beloved to Allah than the weak believer, but there is goodness in both of them. Be eager for what benefits you, seek help from Allah, and do not be frustrated. If something befalls you, then do not say: ‘If only I had done something else!’ Rather say: ‘Allah has decreed what He wills.’ Verily, the phrase ‘if only’ opens the way for the work of Satan.”

Sahih (Darussalam) Vol.1, book. 1, (Hadith 79)

References:
https://sunnah.com/
https://islamicmethodologiesmadeeasy.wordpress.com/blog/
https://www.islamreligion.com/articles/10690/psychology-of-self-control-in-islam-part-1/
https://www.soundvision.com/article/7-ways-to-build-willpower-in-muslim-youth 

Written by: Areeba Khan

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