In the Name of Allah Most Merciful Most Gracious
Striving within oneself is the road for the pious to achieve happiness in this life and the Hereafter
By, Dr. Salah Soltan
All praise is to Allah, peace and blessings are upon the leader of the pious, the best of Allah’s creation and on his family, his companions and whomever followed him until the Day of Judgment.
There are two items with no substitution for a Muslim in order to improve and purify one’s soul and broaden his/her mind:
1) Education which uplifts doubts and emphasizes the truth. Education clarifies what is mandatory, what is allowed, what is disliked, and what is forbidden by Allah. It is a necessary step that every Muslim must start with because Allah’s first order was “Read! In the name of your lord Who has created all that exists” (96:1). Then Allah’s orders came emphasizing education in the Quran 865 times. Chapters in the books of hadith were dedicated to this topic. The martyred Imam Hassan Al-Bana emphasized the importance of correct understanding before sincerity, work, and sacrifice.
2) The struggle within one’s soul to control its desires, fulfill the obligations towards the creator, and to cleanse itself. Hence, this order from Allah to his messenger Mohammad (PBUH) for extra prayers during the night and to mention and remember Allah during the day. This needs spiritual practice, faithful motivation, and strong will. Allah (SWT) says “As for those who strive hard in Us, We will surely guide them to Our Path. And verily Allah is with the good doers” (29:69). The struggle and the effort without knowledge is like somebody driving a truck off a cliff into a deep ravine or somebody working hard to provide for his family, however his family is spending it unwisely without any appreciation to the parent’s effort. Allah says “So let not their wealth nor their children amaze you; in reality Allah’s plan is to punish them with these things in the life of this world, that their souls shall depart while they are disbelievers” (9:55).
We will concentrate on the following in the concept of this struggle and effort of the soul:
1) The Linguistic definition of this struggle
2) The importance of the Struggle
3) Examples of this struggle
4) How do we go through this struggle
5) The benefits of this struggle in this life and the hereafter
I. The Linguistic definition of this struggle
Ibn Manthour Al-Misry said that the Arabic source word of “Al-Mojahada” (struggle) is the word “Jahad” which is made up of the 3 Arabic letters closest to “J”, “H”, and “D”. To better define this you may use the example of a man lifting a boulder is a struggle, however carrying a pebble is not. Because carrying a boulder requires effort and is exhausting. This is why “Qiyam Al-Lail” (Voluntary Night Prayer) is called in Arabic “Tahajud” which comes from the same source word, you have to struggle and exert effort to leave your bed to stand between the hands of Allah.
Al-Jirjani in his book “Al-Taarifat” defines “Al-Mojahada” as fighting with ones soul to keep it away from evil and getting it to perform what is mandated by Allah. Al-Manawey defines it as getting oneself to carry heavy and difficult tasks and avoiding temptations. It was also defined doing ones best to obey Allah (SWT).
In my opinion “Al-Mojahada” (Struggle within ones own self) is defined as getting ones own self to perform the mandatory, the requirements, and what pleases Allah and leaving the forbidden and what displeases Allah.
II. The Importance of the Struggle
The importance of Struggle is as follows:
1) Ibn Al-Qayim states in Zad Al-Miaad (3/10), a servant of Allah will not be pious until he struggles to achieve the following four (4) items:
a. The struggle to learn guidance and the religion of the truth
b. The struggle to work with this guidance
c. The struggle to work on inviting to the truth
d. The struggle to be patient with people in the difficult task of inviting to the way of Allah
2) Al-Ragheb Al-Safahani says in “Al-Thariaa Ela Makareem Al-Sharia” page 38 that what purify the soul are two things. (a) Knowledge (b) Acts of worship. Knowledge could be achieved with correcting the understanding so one could distinguish between good and evil in thoughts and actions.
3) The reality is that some physicians may smoke or drink Alcohol and they are the most knowledgeable people about the harm of either habit. However their desire leads them to smoking or drinking. It is of no use explaining the harm of smoking or drinking because they know it more than others. However training themselves to give up this habit is the way to drop this habit.
4) For example, if one attends the best classes in the best institutes for the purpose of learning public speaking, or swimming, or driving. There is no use of this knowledge until he/she trains him/herself to face the audience in public speaking, or gets in the pool and starts swimming, or actual driving on the road to reach a destination. All this needs facing initial fear that hits when trying new practices.
5) Controlling our sexual desires either men toward women or women toward men by practicing lowing the gaze and abstaining from sex except with our spouces does not happen by just reading on the issue from the Quran or learning the punishment of the adulterer. Facing these incredible desires takes practicing counter measures such as fasting, night prayers to glorify Allah, and by struggling within one’s soul to control the steps leading on this road such as the internet, or the television through dirty movies or magazines. It takes keeping one busy with halal at all times. It is the empty lives and free times that lead to haram desires.
6) No matter how much a brother or a sister memorizes from the Quran or learns from the Sunnah about the benefits of night prayers or praying with the fear of Allah in their heart, or crying for the sake of forgiveness from the creator of the heavens and earth, he/she will not practice night prayer regularly or praying on time or concentrating while performing the prayers until one trains and struggles within him/herself and squeezes the heart. One must remember his wrong deeds and how he/she will stand in front of Allah (SWT). At this time he/she will taste the sweetness of struggling and training the soul to be pious. Therefore one of the righteous people once said: “I struggled within myself one year to practice night prayers, then I tasted the sweetness of it for twenty years”, it is the same meaning explained in the Quran “Their sides forsake their beds, to invoke their Lord in fear and hope, and they spend (in charity in Allah’s Cause) out of What We have bestowed on them” (32:16)
7) Soufian Al-Thawry who was a physician once said: “I have not treated anything that was more difficult but my soul, one time is it for me and the other is against me”. Hassan Al-Basry said: “The soul needs as much of a strong leash as a strong camel needs a strong leash”. Review “Ihiaa Al-Oulom” for Sheikh Ghazally (3/71).
8) Ibn Rajab mentions in his book “Jamee Al-Ulum Wa Al-Hekam” on page (172) that when Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq asked Omar Ibn Al-Khattab to lead the Muslims after him he wrote: “The first thing I want to warn about, is your soul that is within you”. If Abu Bakr (RAA) sees that the biggest danger on Omar, is Omar, Soufian Al-Thawry sees that treating the desires of the soul is one of the most difficult things, and Hassan Al-Basry sees that the soul needs a stronger leash than a strong camel needs this leash, then we must pay attention to this incredible number of desires and the circumstances leading to it. It takes a high degree of striving and struggling within oneself to control this soul. Therefore Allah (SWT) says: “Then for him who transgressed all bounds, and preferred the life of this world. Verily his abode will be Hell-fire; But as for him who feared standing before his Lord, and restrained himself from impure evil desires and lusts” (79:37-40). From these Ayat it is clear that to achieve success, tranquility and paradise, we must struggle and strive to control our souls. Failing this issue will result in human loss and Allah’s displeasure and the hellfire.
III. Examples from Striving within oneself:
1) In the story of Talut (Saul):
His people passed two tests and failed in the test of self control, even though this test was for an item that was halal. Tens of thousands of people claimed that they intend to fight in the cause of Allah. However when the order of Allah came to fight, they pulled back except a few. The few that went on with Talut had some
knowledge of the characteristics of the leaders and agreed to go with him, some did not. When the people who passed both tests went out with Talut, some of them could not control their desires as the Quran tells us their story: “Then when Talut set out with the army, he said: “Verily! Allah will try you by a river. So whoever drinks thereof, he is not of me, and whoever tastes it not, he is of me, except him who takes (thereof) in the hollow of his hand.” (2:249). Even the few who passed the third test, some of them failed in the test of being patient in facing the enemy in the battlefield. Allah the exalted said “So when he had crossed it (the river), he and those who believed with him, they said: “We have no power this day against Jalut (Goliath) and his hosts”. The only people left to fight are the ones who have strong deep faith, precise patience, those who strive within themselves to beat their desire.
2) Arabs before Islam:
It was not easy for the Arabs to change from their condition before Islam which included drinking through the night, and being abusive and transgressors during the day. They changed from this status to being worshipers during the night and pious fasting people during the day. It must have taken a serious effort to change their condition. Allah even revealed at the end of Surat Al-Muzzamel (73) verses for the Muslims who were all Arabs to ease up on themselves and reduce the night prayers.
3) Al-Bukhari & Muslim narrate that Anas Ibn Malik said that Anas Ibn Al-Nadr said after he missed the battle of Badr, if Allah gives me the opportunity to fight the unbelievers then I will show them what I can do. In the battle of Uhud when the Muslims’ backs were exposed and the unbelievers started winning the battle, he started battling the unbelievers with his sword, his body was seen with eighty some sword wounds, and several other arrow wounds. The unbelievers cut his body into pieces and no one could identify him except his sister. At that time, Allah (SWT) revealed the verse “Among the believers are men who have been true to their covenant with Allah, had showed not their backs to the disbelievers; of them some have fulfilled their obligations; and some of them are still waiting, but they have never changed in the least.” (33:23)
4) Several of the leaders of the Islamic movements in Egypt and in other places have been patient, tens of years in jail with inhumane torture, deep wounds, no contacts with wives and children, while others were supporting a corrupt abusive government. People like Sheikh Hassan Al-Houdiby who faced a corrupt justice system by saying “Great nations are not built cheaply”. Several people who carried the responsibility of Dawa on earth had to be patient. Sheikh Rushdy Afify mentioned in his book (The King of the Prison) that one of the leaders in the prison where he was during Jamal Abdel-Nasser time was Hamza Basyouney who collected all the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Al-Wahat prison and told them that torture is an art and he has used it on all of them, however he has seen them so patient compared to others. Mr. Mohammad Saleem told Hamza Basoyouney in all confidence “I have been wrongly jailed for twenty-five years, and I have been tortured so much, but I could honestly say that I could spend the entire period standing on one foot.” This is how strong these people were.
5) A lot of sincere people who care for their religion and nation immigrated to Europe, America, China, Australia, and Japan. The culture around them could have tempted them to numerous desires, however they were sincere to their religion and strived within them to honor their religion by performing night prayer during the night and continue their dawa responsibility by establishing Islamic Centers, schools, and institutes which have become the forefront for Dawa activities offering people light, and guidance. I hope the Hadith of the Prophet which is narrated by Muslim “Worship & steadfastness while surrounded by desires is like migrating to me”.
IV. How does one strive with oneself?
There are general rules and special ways that help a person struggle and strive to improve. Both general and special rules are of no substitute.
1. General ways to strive within oneself:
a. Bringing alive the love of Allah in our hearts. Loving Allah must be bigger than loving ourselves, our family, our kids, or our money. This is achievable by looking and contemplating the creation, the Holy Quran, and mentioning and remembering Allah. We have to also start enjoying the acts of worship such as night prayers and fasting.
b. Reviving the fear of Allah (SWT) by remembering the destination of the transgressors. The human needs to compare his/her condition with their condition. We have to compare all the blessings that Allah has given us with our actions. Do we do enough charity work? How many sins do we fall into daily? We have to remember death and its difficulties, we have to remember the grave that we will lie in, and we have to remember the hellfire and the heat of it. Ibn Abi Al-Donia narrates in his book “Mohasabat Al-Nafs” (Judging Oneself) that Ibrahim Al-Timi once said: “I imagined myself in paradise eating from its fruits, drinking from its rivers, hugging its women, then I imagined myself in the hellfire eating from its rotten food, drinking from its disgusting drinks. So I asked myself, which life do you want? I replied; I wish to go back to live again so I could do good. Then I said to myself, you are already alive, so you have your wish.
c. The strong will and desire to face ones desire with fearing Allah and hoping for the mercy of Allah. We must believe that no matter how weak one could be, if we ask for Allah’s help, he will help us. Prophet Yusuf (AS) when he was tempted by the wife of the Treasurer of Egypt he said: “O my Lord1 Prison is dearer to me than that to which they invite me. Unless You turn away their plot from me, I will feel inclined towards them and be one of the ignorant.” (14:33). Allah (SWT) helped Yusuf with a strong will to reject lustful desires and accept a prison sentence for a crime he did not commit. He kept himself busy in jail inviting others to the way of Allah. Until Allah (SWT) gave him freedom because of his patience. We have to ask Allah with complete belief that he will give us. As
narrated in the hadith listed in Bukhari: “If you ask Allah (SWT), ask him for the upper Ferdous of paradise”, meaning the highest most desirable place in paradise.
2. Special ways to strive within oneself:
The special ways for striving within oneself depends on how honest is the servant with Allah (SWT). He/she must know what are his/her weaknesses so they don’t put themselves in a situation where they are subjected to temptations they could not resist, therefore one of the righteous people once said: “I could be trusted with this earth’s gold and silver, however I can not trust myself being alone even with a slave woman even for one hour.”
Therefore, I would like to offer the following examples as special ways to strive within our own self:
1. If one is used to a habit such as drinking tea or coffee, therefore they should struggle and strive within themselves as mentioned by Imam Shahid Hassan Al-Banna to give it up so they are not dependent on it.
2. One should leave once in a while a type of food that is available on the dinner table, this way you are training yourself on self control.
3. If one brother or sister is used to spending unwisely even in charity, he/she should strive within themselves to control their spending little by little. On the other hand, if one is cheap, then they should strive to spend in the cause of Allah on his family, relatives and charitable organizations.
4. If one gets angry and easily loses control, then one should observe himself and his tempers. One must remember that it is the strong that can control himself when angry. Therefore if one gets angry on something that is not for the sake of Allah, then one must condition himself by fasting or praying through the night. We must remember that if two people fight with each other, it is the better one who forgives first and goes to makes peace.
5. If a husband is usually quiet when he get home from work and his wife can’t wait until she hears something nice about the food she prepared or how nice she looks, then the husband must strive within himself to speak kindly to his wife and to strike a conversation because a nice word is charity and making his wife happy is an Islamic duty. It is mentioned that whoever makes people in his home happy will be rewarded paradise. However one who speaks very frequently should strive to listen more. One should remember the Hadith by Al-Termethey narrated by Moaz Ibn Jabal: “The tongue is the main reason people get thrown in the hellfire”. This habit should be treated by spending time alone contemplating what one says. Spending time alone helps one thinks about his/her actions, it also help one remember Allah and think about his creations.
6. There are brothers and sisters who don’t like reading, they think it is boring. These people must strive within themselves to establish organized readings. They could start with small books then move on to bigger
books. They must remember the saying that mentions that the best companion is a book. Knowledgeable people are the associates with the angles in believing that Allah is one. Allah said: “Allah bears witness that none has the right to be worshipped but he, and the angels, and those having knowledge” (3:18). Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) said: “There are two kinds of people in this world, an educator and a person who seeks education, and there is no benefit in any other type”.
7. If one is used to driving fast, then one must strive to slow down by practicing driving within the speed limit. However if one drives fast again, they should punish themselves with a long walk, or giving up a favorite food or drink. Or by giving charity in the amount of half a speeding ticket he would have gotten. However one must not give up on pushing himself to slow down again and again.
8. If one is used to making Wudu only at the prayer times, then he/she should listen to what Allah says in the Quran: “Allah love those who turn unto Him in repentance and loves those who purify themselves by washing”. From this Aya we learn that Allah loves those who keep themselves pure, then one could strive to be on a state of Wudu at all times whether it is to get ready to pray, eat, read, or going out.
9. Keeping certain acts of voluntary worship that keeps us on the straight path. Such as Duha Prayer, fasting 3 days of every month, giving charity in secret, remembering and mentioning Allah at regular times.
10. If desiring women is always on ones mind, or looking at advertisement or TV shows that have almost naked women, then fasting is the cure, or keeping busy with his family or hurrying to get married if he was not married. He must keep busy at all times as to keep with pure thoughts and actions at all times.
V. The benefits of this struggle in this life and the hereafter:
- The ultimate goal of any servant of Allah is achieving paradise. As Allah mentioned in the Quran: “But as for him who feared standing before his lord, and restrained himself from impure evil desires and lusts. Verily, Paradise will be his abode.” (79:40-41).
2. Feeling comfortable and peace with oneself by moving the Muslim soul from a status of a soul which is lustful by striving and struggling to improve to a soul that is at peace with itself.
- Gathering ones soul to the order of Allah: “O you who believe! Answer Allah by obeying Him and His Messenger when he calls you to that which will give you life, and know that Allah comes in between a person and his heart. And verily to Him you shall all be gathered”.
4. Practicing patience and perseverance
5. Achieving the highest level of moral ethics which is the best way to be near our beloved Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). As the Prophet said: “The dearest of you to me and the closest of you to me on the Day of Judgment are the ones with
highest character and morals. People are different categories, those who love and those who are loved”.
6. A continuous guidance to what is good as Allah says: “As for those who strive hard in our cause, We will surely guide them to Our Paths. And verily is with the good doers.”
At last our supplication is “All Praise is to Allah”