INTROSPECTION IN ISLAM
I NTROSPECTION (or what is called muhasaba in Arabic and ehtisab in Urdu) has an important place 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. Selfobservation leading to identifying and correcting your mistakes on a regular basis, will protect you from egoism, arrogance and bad intentions.
People harbour numerous desires. Living in society, 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 selfanalysis or introspection. It was a Sunnah or practice of the Prophet of Islam to reflect and introspect daily. Regular reflection on your actions, speech, and intentions acts as selfpurification, helping you follow the principles of Islam in the right manner.
Without introspection, you cannot stand on true faith.
Without engaging in self analysis, you cannot order to be selected for Paradise.
There are two areas for introspection. Some are evils that we know to be bad and others are hidden or secret evils. All evils or unwanted actions fall into one of these categories. Regular introspection helps us to check if we are 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 and refrain from these actions. These can be called ‘unjustified evils’, since Islam clearly forbids them. Believers cannot justify them in any way.
But there are other evils that can be called ‘justified evils’. People who engage in these evils offer what they regard as justifications for them. Consciously or otherwise, they do not believe these actions to be sinful because they are wrongly sought to be justified as ‘good’.
This point is referred to in a Hadith report. The Prophet of Islam said that in the future, a group among his followers would consume wine. Asked why they would do so when God had clearly forbidden it, the Prophet said that these people would give a new name to wine and declare it to be lawful. (Al-Darimi) That is to say, people will invent some justification for drinking wine.
‘Wine’ here is a symbol of a larger phenomenon. As in the case of wine, people will seek to justify other evils by cleverly renaming them. ‘Justified evils’ are deceptive and dangerous. Those indulging in these are unaware that they are sinful. It is like drinking poison believing it to be water or a soft drink. The poison will kill you, notwithstanding the fact that you do not think it is harmful. No seemingly innocuous or sweet-sounding name you may give it, can save you.
Introspection functions as a mirror, reflecting your real self.
When you know yourself and recognize the wrongs
you are engaged in, you can correct yourself.
This is the case with every ‘justified evil’. If you indulge in a ‘justified evil’, you cannot save yourself from its bad effects and hence the need to introspect every day. This may help you 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. Regular introspection alone can help you identify your weaknesses, evil habits, mistakes, and sins including those that you do not think are bad.
Introspection thus functions as a mirror, reflecting your real self. When you know yourself and recognize the wrongs you are engaged in, you can try to correct yourself. Introspection or self-observation, is an integral and necessary aspect of self-correction, a daily requirement of a Muslim’s life. Without it, one flounders like a blind man. The second Muslim Caliph, Umar ibn Al-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 containing the whole philosophy of introspection.
The following verse from the Quran 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 God as the Almighty, as the Creator, as Lord of the Day of Judgment. This discovery makes you extremely cautious, realising that one day you will be brought before God. God created this world as a testing ground and every human being in this world has been put to the test. When you read the Quran, the Book of God, you learn that two angels as Divine watchers are busy maintaining a record of our actions and intentions. This record will be presented to God, and we will be rewarded or punished according to it.
The philosophy of Divine reward and punishment is based on this angelic recording. When you learn this, you become deeply concerned about your every intention and action. This acts as a major inspiration for you to engage in constant introspection, do good and not deviate from the Divine path. It serves as an incentive to make you stay away from evil, both ‘justified’ and ‘unjustified’.
The understanding of life being a test and the realisation that our eternal life after death depends on our conduct in this world are incentives for constant introspection. This helps 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)
The understanding of life being a test and the realisation that our eternal life after
death depends on our conduct in this world are incentives for constant introspection.
It is in human nature to commit mistakes. But with 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 do. Those who introspect need never engage in this ‘Operation Cover-Up’. Everyone, from ‘ordinary’ individuals to senior government officials, is engaged in some sort of cover-up, but one who introspects will not need this. He will readily admit that he was wrong and when he does this, his correction process begins. The process of self-correction begins from admitting your mistake. Without such confession, there is no self-correction. This is what introspection is about.
It is in human nature to commit mistakes, but the real evil is not to admit your mistake. A true believer is not one who makes no mistakes. Rather, when he realises committing a mistake, he immediately says, ‘I was wrong.’ Confessing one’s mistake is like taking a spiritual bath that purifies you. This can come about only through constant and sincere introspection.
In contrast to ‘unjustified evils’, it is difficult to recognise ‘justified evils’. Indulging regularly in evil over a long time and justifying them as ‘good’, conditions a person. To come out of this, one needs appropriate deconditioning. This requires deep introspection, only through which you can purify yourself. The Quran says, “…he will abide forever in the Gardens of eternity, through which rivers flow. That is the recompense for those who purify themselves” (20: 76). Only purified souls will go to Paradise.
Nowadays Muslims are engaged in a number of ‘justified evils’—hating people of other faiths, engaging in suicide-bombing and terrorism. They brand others as ‘enemies’, although 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. 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. From another Hadith report, the Prophet said: “Anybody whose record of deeds is questioned on the Day of Judgment will surely be in trouble.” (Bukhari) Given this, we need to prepare ourselves for the Day of Judgment and avoid punishment. 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. o