Obligations Towards Self

By Dr. Fazl-Ur-Rahman Ansari


Islam is the religion of self-affirmation in contrast to the teaching of self-negation and self annihilation propounded by certain philosophical systems and religions of the ancient world, and the entire moral outlook of Islam is based on this doctrine. Islam aims at the development of the self and its ideal is harmonious growth of human personality in all its aspects, namely physical, moral, intellectual, aesthetic and spiritual. None of these aspects of human personality is to be sacrificed and none is to be exaggerated beyond proper limits. The ideal has to be kept in view that the human self or personality is an organic whole and has the infallible right on us that we should continuously and persistently build it up and enrich it.


The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him!) has said:


“Thou hast the right of thine Self against thee,”


and the  Holy Qur-aan has expressed the value of the individual human personality by saying:


He who kills an individual except for murder or treason, it is as if he kills the entire human race; and he who preserves the life of the individual, it is as if he preserves the entire human race.”


The discussion as to whether the individual is supreme or the group is supreme has an importance all of its own in moral and social philosophy. It would be beyond our scope to enter into that discussion here. But it might be pointed out that every group of human beings, and even the entire human race, is a collection of individuals, primarily and basically. From this point of view the moral health of the society would always depend on the moral health of the individuals who constitute it.


The obligations towards Self may now be given according to the classification of the different aspects of human personality:-


1.     In the physical domain, the basic obligation is the preservation of one’s body in a healthy state. Islam has consequently forbidden the use of all goods and drinks which are unhealthy, e.g. pork, and wine, and it has condemned suicide in the strongest terms.


The obligations in this category are not only negative but also positive, by which

we mean that Islam has given a positive code of physical health which it is the obligation of every Muslim to follow.


2. In the intellectual domain, the obligations are:

    (a) Safe-guarding and preservation of the health of the mind.

    (b) Development of the mind.


The mind gets diseased through wrong thinking, through harbouring whims and false notions and through the cultivation of the habit of worrying uselessly about things. Islam gives us a code of action in which it guarantees that those who observe codes faithfully and cultivate the requisite outlook shall become immune to anxieties and worries. The Holy Qur’aan says:


“Remember! Fear and grief do not touch the friends of God.”


Moreover, Islam has made the cultivation of knowledge and the pursuit of education an obligation on every Muslim man and woman.


In short, it is an obligation to follow the laws of Islam concerning mental health and intellectual development.


3.     So far as the aesthetic aspect of human life is concerned, Islam is deeply alive to it. The Holy Prophet (peace be on him) has said; “God is Beautiful and loves beauty.” It is consequently the obligation of every Muslim to aspire for and cultivate beauty in every item of his life. In a word a Muslim should be beautiful in thought,word and deed and should express in his life refinement of taste and a mental approach towards all things conducive to the development of aesthetic consciousness.


An important point is to be noted here, however.  Genuine aesthetic approach does not mean sensuousness. It is, in fact a spiritual quality at once refined and sublime, and its function is to elevate man in the higher realisation of life and not to degrade him to the level of pure animality. Consequently Islam would not condone and uphold the aesthetic tone which finds its expression today in most cases in the non Muslim creations of art.


4.     The obligations in the moral sphere are many and varied, and they cover as a matter of fact, the entire sweep of human life. Fundamentally, we might say that the moral obligation towards self is the cultivation and maintenance of absolute purity of Conscience: This according to Islam, can be attained only through the regulation of our actions in the light of the objective which Islam has laid down, namely seeking the pleasure of God through Submission to His will and the Imitation of His Attributes.


5.     Spiritual obligation enjoys a fundamental importance in Islam, because Islam gives primacy and supremacy to spirit over matter.


This is in sharp contrast to the trend of modern Western secular thought which

denies the existence of the spirit (or, the soul) for all practical purposes. Even those modern thinkers who do not go so far as to say that the soul does not exist interpret it in such a fashion as to render it almost meaningless.


In Islam, the soul is something positive and real. It is the very foundation of human personality and the very basis of life. It is that factor in human personality which governs and controls every aspect of human life.


According to Islam, if the soul is healthy, the entire human personality will be healthy, and vice versa.


Most people experience difficulty in conceiving the soul and it is because of this that they either deny its existence outright or interpret it as an abstract principle having virtually no bearing on the day-to-day life. Consequently, they refuse to admit, at least practically, that the spiritual life, or the spiritualisation of life, has any meaning whatsoever.


Scientifically speaking the difficulty in the formation of the conception of the soul might be removed in the following manner.


According to modern physics all matter, whatever its form, is originally and basically “vibrations of light,” and it is the particular direction in terms of permutation and combination of the electric particles which go to constitute the original Light that gives us the various forms of matter, the various shapes of bodies and the various types of personally. The basic and the original light might be conceived as a vast primordial nebula. It is the activisation of a part of that original light which gives an independent form and shape to that part. The scientists are unable to tell us how a certain part of the light becomes activised. According to Islam, it is God’s Command (amr) which does it, and the point at which activisation takes place is the embodiment of the Soul. It forms a nucleus and a body evolves out of it on its own foundations.


We have seen that the soul has primacy over the body, i.e., it is more important and more fundamental than the body. We all realise that there ought to be certain obligations towards the body. Quite naturally, there must be some obligations towards the soul also, and those obligations should doubtless be considered as of more fundamental importance than any other obligations towards one’s personality.


The Major Obligations towards the body are:

(1) to safeguard it against injuries and aliments; and

(2) to ensure its growth and development through the cultivation of its physical powers. Similar obligations must be conceived towards the Soul also.


We safeguard the body – the physical health – with the help of hygienic principles and medicines and we ensure the growth of the body by means of healthy foods and physical exercises. Unless we do so, it will be impossible to keep the body alive, not to speak of its growth and development. The same should be the case with the soul. We should safeguard its health by means of spiritual food. And this is what Islam has provided in the fullest measure.


Islam has made it obligatory on every Muslim to pray five times a day. These five daily prayers are actually five daily spiritual feeds. The best-fed person takes physical diet at the most five times a day: bed-tea or coffee, breakfast in the morning, lunch at midday, tea or coffee or fruits in the afternoon and dinner at night. There is a parallel between this feeding of the body five times a day with the feeding of the soul five times a day in Islam.


The five day’s obligatory prayers form the fundamental means of spiritual nourishment. The goal to be achieved is the cultivation of the ideal of God’s constant presence, and the method of this cultivation is to remember God on every possible occasion, punctuated with the climax of remembrance in the five obligatory prayers in institutional form.


Thus, when any Muslim begins any work he should say “Bismillaah” (in the Name of Allaah), when he comes across anything good or beautiful, he should say “Subhanalah” (G lory be to God), when he finds anything happening, he should say “Masha Allaah” (as God willed it); when he has promises to do anything, he should say “Insha Allaah” (if God’s willed it); so on and so forth. As a matter of fact, Islam has taught us prayers for every conceivable occasion in life.


We have so far discussed the problem of the nourishment and feeding of the soul. The problem of spiritual hygiene and medicine now remains. In this connection it may be pointed out that Islam has given elaborate Spiritual Materia media but it is beyond the scope of our study to state it here. A reference to fasting, which is the fundamental spiritual medicine in Islam, would suffice.


Islam has made it obligatory on every adult and healthy Muslim to fast from dawn to sunset regularly and uninterrupted for one month – the month of Ramadan – every year. Islam has further taught that fasting does not imply merely starvation but it means primarily and basically a spiritual state of mind and body in which a Muslim should abstain from every type of immorality also in thought, word and deed.


It is, indeed, a spiritual training for gaining control over one’s thought, passions and appetites. In this manner, fasting not only cleanses the body of physical impurities and many physical aliments but also purifies the soul of spiritual dross, gives it better resistance against the attacks of spiritual diseases and re-invigorates it.








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