The Principles Of Self-Development
DEVELOPMENT carries the notion of enhancement of one’s capabilities and potentials. It implies a forward movement from a given position to a position of greater achievement, opportunity and benefit.
In order to develop, individually or collectively, it is necessary to define the goals one wishes to achieve, factors that influence development, and the process of achieving the desired goals for development. Each human being is born with some basic faculties. How these faculties are molded depends on inherent capacities, nurturing environment and other external influences.
Islam places a great deal of emphasis on ‘self-development’ where an individual takes the responsibility for understanding the purpose of human life, and for shaping that life in the best possible manner, for one’s own benefit and the benefit of the society at large; Islam also provides comprehensive guidance to achieve this goal.
Human development consists of processes of growth and change that takes place from birth to the end of life. The development process is externally influenced from sensory inputs through the organs, and it is internally self-propelled from things which happen within the human body and mind.
Our focus here is the development of the human mind, which takes place through sensory inputs and internal mental processes. This development includes learning through the senses and cognition that occurs when learning is abstracted into knowledge for subsequent use.
Islam identifies two sources which play the roles of nurturing or corrupting human development. Inspiration from divine guidance nurtures human development. Not paying attention to divine guidance and succumbing to conspiracies, arising from within or external environment, corrupts human development.
Human development may be looked at from different perspectives, both as a basic human interest and as formalized disciplines of studies such as psychology, science, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, and so on.
Purification from corruption
We regularly wash our hands before touching food because our hands come in contact with so many objects that may collect harmful germs from others touching the same objects. We wash our clothes when they collect sweat and dirt from our own body and our surroundings. We bathe and shower to keep our body clean. All these cleanliness chores are intended to keep us in good physical health. What about some chores to keep our minds clean and in good health? So many things that we come in contact with can corrupt our minds.
We may see a person drawing satisfaction from hitting and humiliating another. It leaves an impression on our mind and may later make us do the same impulsively.
We see people achieve success through lying and cheating, and our mind may perceive it as an acceptable behavior particularly if these cheaters and liars are being bandied around as role models.
A child may go through abuse from parents considered respectable in society and on growing up may engage in the same dysfunctional behavior.
Both eyesight and hearing are indispensable for human learning and development. They can propel us to unimagined heights of human excellence. However, we must learn to use them properly. Otherwise what we see and hear can also corrupt our mind and degenerate us into the lowest abyss of human existence.
How do we purify ourselves from the corrupting influences around us? We need to reflect on what we see and hear and to separate them into experiences that are desirable form of behavior and those that are undesirable in the light of some guiding principles. We may call it the exercise of the mind, and similar to other forms of exercise, the exercise of the mind requires regime and regularity.
The process of purification of the mind, variously called purification of the heart and soul, is known in Islam as tazkiyyah.
A prerequisite of engaging in tazkiyyah is to know that the human mind is prone to becoming corrupted. The corruption may be attributed to acquired elements within oneself, or to external influences, or both. However, the responsibility for any undesirable behavior rests with the person who commits it and not the person or the environment that caused it. We all bear direct responsibility for our actions.
Despite the best efforts that one may make at purification of the mind, aberrations are still possible. We may make mistakes or commit sins. What happens then? A properly trained human mind possesses what is called a self-reproaching soul (nafs-e-lawwama). It will react by an admission that something has gone wrong; it will accept the failing with humility, and it will engage the mind to reform itself accordingly.
On the other hand, someone who has a headstrong soul (nafs-e-ammara) such admissions may be seen as undignified, thus becoming prone to more and bigger aberrations in future. A wrongful act if recognized with a thoughtful commitment to avoid repetition is an act of self-purification and proper human development.
On the contrary, a reckless disregard of such actions leads to further corruption of the soul and self-degeneration.
Understanding the principles is generally within the reach of most people. Putting those principles into practice requires courage, rigor and regularity.
Consider the following excerpt from a Tradition (Hadith) of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) about one of the things that happened to him during his appearance before God. Prophet said : “… Allah enjoined fifty prayers on my followers. When I returned with this order of Allah, I passed by Moses who asked me, ‘What has Allah enjoined on your followers?’ I replied, ‘He has enjoined fifty prayers on them.’ Moses said, ‘Go back to your Lord (and appeal for reduction) for your followers will not be able to bear it.’ (So I went back to Allah and requested for reduction) and He reduced it to half. When I passed by Moses again and informed him about it, he said, ‘Go back to your Lord as your followers will not be able to bear it.’ So I returned to Allah and requested for further reduction and half of it was reduced. I again passed by Moses and he said to me: ‘Return to your Lord, for your followers will not be able to bear it. So I returned to Allah and He said, ‘These are five prayers and they are all (equal to) fifty (in reward) for My Word does not change’.”
The prayer we offer to God is an act of His remembrance and the guidance that he has revealed for shaping our lives. We engage in this formal exercise five times a day. What about the rest of the time? This requires us to reflect on the moral of the above saying of the Prophet (peace be upon him). Perhaps an ideal number to stand formally before God would have been seventy times a day as the Prophet (peace be upon him) was informed first.
One may ask as whether there are some special words that one can utter for engaging in remembrance of God and reflecting on our thoughts and actions. The Prophets asked the same question. While there are no bounds on what one can say and utter, what we are reminded to say by God is very simple, easy to remember and utter, and direct in meaning. Here are some examples: … There is no God but Allah.
This simple expression provides the pinnacle for human development. Reminding ourselves that there is no god but Allah provides the best possible framework for human development since what God (Allah) tells us to do is for our own good, and there is no need for us to succumb to any power contrary to what God tells us. Ultimately God has power over all things and God arranges our affairs rightly if we reach out to Him.
Examples of expanded expressions for remembrance of God for self-development are: ‘Glory to Allah, and praise to Allah, there is no god except Allah, and Allah is the Greatest’. Also there is ‘there is no god but Allah, He is One and has no partner. His is the dominion, and His is all praise, and he is Powerful over everything’.
There are infinite words and ways of expressing ourselves in remembering Allah, and seeking closeness to Him for personal development. However, simple words can reach boundless depths in meaning when expressed with devotion and sincerity. It is this power of amazing simplicity that is within easy reach for all of us.