By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan for New Age Islam
13 May, 2015
Introspection (or what is called Muhasaba in Arabic and Ehtisab in Urdu) plays a very important role in Islam. Without introspection, you cannot stand on true faith. Without engaging in self-analysis, you cannot purify yourself in order to be selected for Paradise. Without self-observation and finding out and correcting your mistakes on a regular basis, you cannot save yourself from egoism, from arrogance and from bad intentions.
Human beings harbour many desires. Besides this, living with others one is constantly faced with provocative situations and negative experiences, which, if not handled properly, can lead one to develop negative emotions. Hence, it is very important to engage in regular self-analysis or introspection. It was asunnat or practice of the Prophet of Islam to engage in reflection and introspection every day. Every day, you must reflect on your actions, your speech, and your intentions. Engage in this self-purification, this self-correcting process, every day and night. Without this, you cannot follow the principles of Islam in the right manner.
According to my analysis, there are two fields for introspection. On the one hand are some evils that most people know to be bad. On the other hand are hidden or secret evils. All evils or unwanted actions belong to either one of these categories. One should engage in regular introspection to check if one is engaging in either category of evil.
In Islam, consuming wine, dealing in usury, committing murder, engaging in adultery and eating pork, for instance, are clearly forbidden. All Muslims know, or should know, these to be wrong. That is why people generally refrain from these actions. These evils can be called ‘unjustified evils’, because, being clearly forbidden by Islam, believers cannot justify them in any way.
But there are other evils, evils that can be called ‘justified evils’. People who engage in these evils offer what they regard as justifications for them. Most people are engaged in some ‘justified evil’ or the other. Consciously or otherwise, they do not believe these actions to be wrong. They engage in these evils without even knowing them to be sinful. Most people know about the ‘unjustified evils’, which are very well known. Their being wrong is clear and widely recognised. But ‘justified evils’ are hidden evils. Many people do not know that they are evil, because they are wrongly sought to be justified as ‘good’.
This point is referred to in a Hadith report. According to this report, the Prophet of Islam said that in the future, a group among his Ummah would consume wine. When some of his companions asked him why they would do so when God had clearly declared it to be unlawful, the Prophet said that these people would give a new name to wine and in this way declare it to be lawful. (Al-Darimi) That is to say, people will invent some supposed justification for drinking wine.
Drinking wine is not the only evil that people will seek to legitimise in this way. ‘Wine’ here is a symbol of a larger phenomenon. What it means is that, as in the case of wine, people will seek to justify other evils by giving them names that will not make the evil appear bad.
As this Hadith indicates, in addition to ‘unjustified evils’ are what can be called ‘justified evils’. These evils are very deceptive and dangerous. Those who indulge in these sins do not even know that they are sinful, in contrast to ‘unjustified evils’. This makes these evils additionally dangerous. It is like drinking poison while believing it to be water or a soft drink. If you drink a bottle of poison while thinking it to be water or a soft drink, you cannot save yourself from its bad effects. The poison will kill you, notwithstanding the fact that you do not think it is harmful. Nothing you may call it, no seemingly innocuous or sweet-sounding name you may give it, can save you.
This is the case with every ‘justified evil’. If you indulge in a ‘justified evil’, you cannot save yourself from its bad effects. That is why it is very important that you engage in introspection every day. In this way, you may realise the ‘justified evils’ (in addition to ‘unjustified’ ones) that you may, consciously or unconsciously, be indulging in, and then you can cease to do so. Only through regular introspection can you come to know your weaknesses, your evil habits, your mistakes, and your sins, including the ones that you do not think are bad. Without this introspection, this is not possible.
Introspection thus works like a mirror for you. It shows you to yourself as you really are. When you know yourself and learn about the wrongs you are engaged in, you can try to correct yourself.
Introspection, or self-observation, is thus an integral and necessary aspect of self-correction. Self-analysis is a daily requirement of a Muslim’s life. Without it, one flounders about like a blind man. Umar ibn Khattab once said: “Reckon with yourselves before you are reckoned with; weigh up your own actions before they are weighed up; and prepare for the Great Summons.”
This is a very instructive saying with regard to introspection. It contains the whole philosophy of introspection.
The following verse from the Quran also underlines the importance of introspection: “When any evil suggestion from Satan touches those who fear God, they are instantly alerted and become watchful.” (7:201)
Introspection, therefore, is related to the fear of God. When you discover God, you discover the greatest being in the world. You discover God as Almighty, as Creator, as Lord of the Day of Judgment. This discovery makes you very cautious of yourself, based on the realisation that one day you will be brought before God.
God has created this world as a testing-ground. Every human being in this world is put on test. When you read the Quran, the Book of God, you learn that with every person are two angels as Divine watchers, who, at every moment, are busy maintaining a record of your actions and intentions. This record will be presented to God, and you will be rewarded or punished according to it.
The whole philosophy of Divine reward and punishment is based on this angelic recording. When you learn about this, you become deeply concerned about your every intention and action. This acts as a major inspiration for you to engage in constant introspection. It becomes an incentive to do good and to prevent yourself from deviating from the Divine path. It serves as an incentive to make you stay away from evil, from both ‘justified’ and ‘unjustified’ evil.
This understanding of life in this world being a test and the realisation that our eternal life after death depends on how we conduct ourselves in this world are an incentive to make us engage in constant introspection. Our faith gives us this realisation, and this realisation makes us alert and leads us to engage in regular introspection so that we may save ourselves from God’s punishment. Without this firm conviction, one will not be able to sustain one’s commitment to introspection.
As the well-known saying goes, ‘To err is human’. According to a Hadith report, the Prophet said, “All of the children of Adam make mistakes, and the best of those who make mistakes are the ones who repent.” (Tirmidhi)
It is in human nature to commit mistakes. But if you have the spirit of introspection, you will readily admit your mistakes. You will not hesitate to say that you were wrong. You will not try to cover up your mistakes, as many people do. Those who have inculcated the spirit of introspection simply cannot afford to engage in this ‘Operation Cover-Up’. Everyone, from ‘ordinary’ individuals to senior government officials, is engaged in some sort of cover-up or the other, but one who has the spirit of introspection cannot afford this kind of policy. He will readily admit that he was wrong. And when he does this, his correction process begins.
If you commit a mistake and try to cover it up, you cannot correct yourself. The process of self-correction begins from admitting your mistake. Without such confession, there is no self-correction. This is what introspection is about.
According to my understanding, it is not bad to commit a mistake, because to err is human. The real evil is to not admit your mistake. This is the real crime. A true believer is one who is ready to say, ‘I was wrong.’ The definition of a true believer is not that he is a person who makes no mistakes in his life. No, that is not the definition of a true believer. Rather, the true believer is one who, when he commits a mistake, immediately says, ‘I was wrong.’ When he confesses his mistake, it is like taking a spiritual bath. Saying ‘I was wrong’ purifies you. It purifies your heart, your mind. This can only come about through constant and sincere introspection.
Given the fact that, in contrast to ‘unjustified evils’, it is often very difficult to recognise ‘justified evils’, you need to be particularly careful. You need to de-condition yourself to recognise them as evils that need to be avoided. When people indulge in an evil for a long time, seeking to justify it as ‘good’, it becomes part of their conditioning. To come out of this evil, one needs appropriate de-conditioning. And this de-conditioning requires deep introspection. Without this, you cannot be a true believer. Without this, you cannot purify your self. The Quran says, “That is the recompense for those who purify themselves.” (20:76) It means that only purified souls will go to Paradise. So, it is very necessary that you engage in introspection with regard to all evils, both ‘unjustified’ as well as ‘justified’ evils.
Today, Muslims are engaged in a number of ‘justified evils’—from hating people of other faiths to engaging in suicide bombings and terrorism. They brand others as ‘enemies’, although the fact is that there is no enemy. They accuse others of being involved in atrocities and conspiracies against them. But this is wrong. There are a number of verses in the Quran that tell us that one is responsible for one’s own condition, and not some enemy. If you are suffering, if you are deprived of something, it is the price you have to pay for your own backwardness. To realise this and to extricate yourself from the predicament in which you find yourself, you need to introspect. You need to discover the ‘justified evils’ you are indulging in, de-condition your mind and reform yourself. Without this effort, you cannot save yourself. You cannot purify yourself without this sort of deconditioning based on introspection.
According to a Hadith report, the Prophet said: “A man’s feet will not move from near his Lord on the Day of Judgment until he is asked concerning four matters: his life – how he spent it; his youth – how he utilized it; his wealth – how he earned it and where he spent it; and how much he acted upon from the knowledge that he acquired.” (Tirmidhi)
You will have to answer all these questions. It is a very serious matter.
According to a hadith report, the Prophet said: “Anybody whose account (record) is questioned on the Day of Judgment will surely be punished.” (Bukhari) Given this, we need to prepare ourselves so that on the Day of Judgment we can escape being punished. And for that, we need to constantly engage in introspection and self-correction.
Introspection in the present can save you from punishment in the future. Introspection in the pre-death phase of your life can save you from punishment in your post-death phase.
Introspection is thus an integral part of faith, of Islam, of being God-conscious, of piety. Without introspection there is no Islam. Without introspection, there is no Muslim character.