The foundation of civilizations or ethical societies depends on the individuals. “Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” (Surah ar-Ra’d: 11)
When we want to talk about change in the society or in the world, we have to look first and foremost within our own selves. We should not point fingers here and there telling people that they should do this and they should change that. Like the famous saying goes, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” If we think that the society needs to change something, then we must be that change first - lead by example.
Of course, I am not suggesting that we keep our mouths shut when we see corruption. Sometimes we do need to speak out what is right, with wisdom. The point here is that we need to be more self-reflecting. We need to train ourselves to be more self-reflecting so that when we see something, we immediately check within ourselves.
If we see something bad, then we ask ourselves, “Am I doing that too?” If we’re not doing it, say Alhamdulillah you are protected from it. If we’re doing it, say Alhamdulillah because we have been reminded to change. If we see something good, then we ask ourselves again, “Am I doing that too?” If we’re doing it, say Alhamdulillah because we have included ourselves among the people who are doing that good thing. If we’re not doing it, say Alhamdulillah because there is something good there that I haven’t yet done so I can do it and add it to my good deeds.
When we talk about looking within ourselves, what are we actually looking at? We are looking at the state of our hearts. The king of every individual is the heart, and our Iman sits at the very core of it.
Imam Hasan al-Basri said something very interesting about Iman and the heart. He said, “Iman is not wishful thinking, but it is a matter that is deeply rooted inside the heart and it is confirmed by actions.”
A tree that stands firm and strong is a tree deeply rooted inside the ground. To uproot a tree like that would be a mission; a mere gust of wind or a simple shove to its trunk will not nudge it from its place. But more than that, the tree bears lots of fruits and it offers them to anyone who is in need. It stands firm on its ground and it gives benefit to those around it. That is what our Iman should be; roots deeply in our hearts and manifest its fruits through our actions.
It’s not enough to say that you love someone and not having anything as proof for that love. Those are just empty words. Allah said in the Quran, “Say, [O Muhammad], ‘If you love Allah, then follow me, [so] Allah will love you and forgive your sins. And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.’" (Surah Ali Imran: 31)
What else is in the heart? The Prophet SAW said, as reported in Sahih Muslim, “Taqwa is here” and he pointed to his noble chest three times. Allah emphasizes the importance of Taqwa when He said “… Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is one who has the most Taqwa…” (Surah al-Hujurat: 13)
Everyone wants to be the best. We want the highest GPA, the gold medal in sports, the best job with the biggest pay check, the best spouse for our children, and so on. I am not implying that all these things are bad. We want to be the best in relation to the dunya and that can be a noble quest, but what is nobler than being the best in relation to Allah? Don’t we want to be the best in the sight of Allah?
It is indeed interesting that in the verse quoted above (Surah al-Hujurat: 13), Allah is addressing not just the Muslims, but all of mankind. He is singling out Taqwa as the sole criteria of nobility among all of mankind – not wealth, not physical beauty, not race, not status, or anything else we can think of. Taqwa and the highest form of Taqwa is up for grabs to anyone to is willing to fight for it.
Whoever works for it, gets it.
Taqwa means a shield to protect oneself. The one with the highest Taqwa, by this definition, is the one with the strongest shield and that person holds the title to be the best in the sight of Allah. Is there even an inkling of desire in our hearts to grab that title? Don’t we all want to be that person? “Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” So all in all, it goes back to the self – our selves.
Most of the time, our own selves is our enemy and it is a part of Taqwa that we shield ourselves from ourselves. What do I mean by that? How can I become my own enemy? Well, the self (in other words, the nafs) is divided.
Allah said in the Quran, “By the nafs and He who proportioned it. And inspired it [with discernment of] its wickedness and its righteousness. He has succeeded who purifies it, And he has failed who instills it [with corruption].” (Surah ash-Shams: 7-10)
There are two choices: doing the wrong thing or doing the right thing. Should I cheat on the exam or should I not? Should I date that girl or should I not? Should I drink that beer or should I not? Having these two choices implies that we are in a constant conflict with our self.
Which one do I choose?
Sometimes it’s easy to choose. For example, if I travel somewhere and there’s no halal restaurant around, I’ll go for vegetarian or seafood. I wouldn’t shut one eye and grab a whopper, even though I know that having a whopper would be amazing. But I know better; I know that’s not the right thing to do.
That’s an easy choice. However, I consider that to be an easy choice for me but I’m not saying that’ll be an easy choice for everyone because we each have our own battles right?
But most of the time, it’s not an easy choice to make. For example, should I cheat on the exam or should I not? It seems like an easy choice, of course you shouldn’t cheat. But what if you’re desperate, you really need that A and your parents are going to "kill you" if you fail this course.
At that moment, is it still an easy choice?