By Ghulam Rasool, New Age Islam
To take an account of oneself, that is, to undergo honest self-criticism, is part of Muslim practice called al-muhasba or self-inventory. According to the Companion Umar ibn al-Khattab ( may Allah be pleased with him): to engage in al-muhasba is “to asses and adjudge yourselves before you are adjudged and assessed on the Day of Judgment, and weigh out your deeds before they are weighed out for you”. Umar, a man of his word, reportedly used to whip his right foot at night and say to it “What have you done today?
Another companion, Maymun ibn Mahran said: “A pious person cautiously examines and adjudges himself more than a tyrant or a tight-fisted partner”.
The noted first Islamic century sage, Al-Hasan AL-Basri gives a more detailed explanation of al-muhasba: “A believer polices himself. He assesses himself for the sake of Allah. The final judgment of Allah may end up mild for some, simply because they were quick to judge themselves in this life. Or the final judgment on the Day of Resurrection may end up a tough ordeal for some who were unconcerned about what they did in this life, thinking they would not be called to account”
These sterling statements of our predecessors assert that honest self-criticism plays a vital role to purify our souls and to light the path of blissful success. The Holy Quran says: “Truly he has succeeded who purifies it. And truly, he has failed who defiles it” (91:9-10).
In fact self-criticism seems like a fairly straightforward concept. It means acknowledging that we have committed a sin, whether against ourselves or others, be it our creator or anyone or anything in creation. For most of us, such a confession is an incredibly tough thing to do. Pride prevents us from owning our faults, especially before people when that is necessary. The souls of others go facile by justifying any indecent behaviour or false belief. Another problem, particularly for those of us still surging with youth, is the misconception that honest self-criticism prevents us from that ultimate youthful quest, “having fun”.
It behooves us to recall that being honest with ourselves is actually a way to enjoy life, rather than make it tougher. It is a fact (scary for many) that the very best way to prevent ourselves from committing Haram acts is to really investigate whether or not such activities are permissible in Islam. For one, many of the things people classify as socially forbidden are actually very much Halal, which we deny ourselves to escape the judgment of people, not Allah.
More deeply, Haram acts, knowingly committed or not, for a fact necessarily result in making life truly less pleasurable, if not immediately for us than for many others, for their nature is to damage the human spirit, the condition of individual and societies, and the balance of the world. The Qur’an states this beautifully about those who reject its revealed truth on pretext: “who is further astray than one who is in uttermost schism (with its truth)?” (41:52).
It is a superficial reading to look at this as merely rejecting Islam. Rather it is about denying within ourselves what we know to be truth like denying that we have done wrong even though we know we did. The Qur’an says such people live a life of misery, full of contradiction, which is a great source of mental pain.
So carefully questioning our actions (past and present) makes life easier because it makes the path to God, the path to peace, much smoother. It is pointless to say all human beings err, but not admitting our specific mistakes, now that is playing with fire. An honest approach to our behaviour is to willingly acknowledge the shortcomings in our actions and, at least to ourselves, the flaws in our character. This is the first step towards disburdening ourselves of guilt.
The Quran tells us clearly that our books of deeds are like meticulously preserved records, precise chronicles of all that we ever said or did, righteous or not. With the exception of a rare few, everyone will stand witness in the Devine judgment of their own earthly deeds. Hence, in this life, it makes profound sense to take note of our own deeds, with most of our focus on the actions we need to improve or eliminate, seeking forgiveness for all our substandard performance. Remembering what may be less than perfect about is a prime way to prepare for the Day of Judgment. Indeed, confessing our faults, to ourselves and God, and then doing our best to eliminate them from our behaviour is an act of high Imaan.