Self-Deception, Optimism, Peace of Heart
Issue 884 » March 4, 2016 - Jumada al-Awwal 24, 1437
Al-Qiyamah (The Resurrection) - Chapter 75: Verses 14, 15
"Oh, but the human being is a telling witness against himself, though he puts forth his excuses."
It is generally understood that people are influenced by two sets of factors. The first are biological, hereditary factors. Genetics determines many traits, like height, the colour of the skin, eyes, and hair, and numerous other physical traits. It is estimated that between forty to fifty percent of human intelligence is genetically determined, and genetics certainly has some impact on personality and behaviour.
Children inherit various traits from their mothers and fathers, and therefore get a combination of traits from both their parents. In this way, children are unique individuals, but also derivative of their parents at the same time.
Some people look at the genetic information inherited from the parents to be an inevitable and unavoidable result, and they use it as an excuse for their faults and bad character traits. This is blind, ignorant fatalism. It is lazy and self-indulgent to blame your mistakes on your genes and hormones.
The environment and society contribute the second set of factors that influence human behaviour. Family, friends, schools, the media, and communication channels all have their effect. Psychologists, sociologists, and educators agree that these factors have a tremendous impact on people, whether through conformity to societal norms or rebellion against them.
They also agree that it is notoriously difficult to determine the relative contributions of genetic and social factors to a particular behavioural trait, since the two sets of factors are complexly intertwined and virtually impossible to untangle. It is unknown whether nature or nurture has the greatest influence. What can be said is that a successful crop yield requires both good seed and good soil.
The scientific community does not give sufficient attention to a third factor: the influence that an individual has on his or her self. A human being is a rational entity. From infancy, a person learns to say “I” and understands that they are distinct from their parents and siblings.
This self-awareness allows people to reflect upon themselves, examine their motives, and look critically at their shortcomings. We can rise beyond self-deception and look at ourselves candidly so we can better ourselves.
This awareness extends to knowing the genetic shortcomings inherited from one’s parents and those which are a composite of genetic and societal factors, or due to our upbringing and education.
We can distinguish ourselves by adopting the idea of self-reform, however we came upon it, and making it a personal habit that we practice all the time, not just to change our outward behaviours, but also to improve our emotional responses and way of thinking. We can take control of our hearts and minds to a degree, and indeed we have a responsibility to do so.
The environment and society are the cradle of our success, the source which first compelled us to go forward, either in a positive, nurturing way, or in a negative way by spurring us to use our ingenuity to prevail over the challenges that it presents to us.
"Nature Vs. Nurture & Personal Responsibility" - Salman al-Oadah
Those who don't know him and haven't studied his life, often think of Prophet Muhammad's teachings to be full of negative or harsh messages. Many seem to be fixated on his sayings about the Day of Judgement and Hellfire, while conveniently ignoring his vocal messages of glad tidings and productive work.
Prophet Muhammad was a beacon of hope for those around him. His ever-beaming smile would exude optimism. His words, whether of warning or of good news, inspired positive action.
Here is a selection of some powerful sayings of the Prophet to help us stay positive and productive in all circumstances.
1. Optimism is from Allah, Pessimism is from Satan
“O son of Adam! You are free to choose from what befalls you in your life, between despair and hope, pessimism and optimism. However, you shall find your hope and optimism with Allah, and your despair and pessimism with Satan, 'in order that he may cause grief to the believers. But he cannot harm them in the least, except as Allah permits' [Al-Mujdilah: 10].” (Bukhari and Muslim).
2. Strong Believer Doesn't Make Excuses
“The strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than the weak believer, although there is good in each. Desire that which will bring you benefit, and seek help from Allah and do not give way to incapacity. If something happens to you, do not say, ‘If only I had done such-and-such.’ Rather say, ‘The decree of Allah. He does what He will.’ Otherwise you will open yourself up to the action of Shaitan” (Muslim).
3. Hope Prevails Over Fear at the Time of Death
Once our Prophet, peace be upon him, went to a young man who was on his death bed and asked him 'How do you feel?' The young man said, 'I have much hope from Allah but I also fear for my sins'. The Prophet said, 'The believer who has these two ideas simultaneously at such time, Allah fulfils his hopes and grants him security from fear' (Tirmidhi).
4. Be Positive & Productive till Your Last Breath
“If the Day of Resurrection were established upon one of you, while he has in his hand a sapling (small plant), then let him plant it.” (Ahmad).
"12 Sayings of the Prophet to Inspire Optimism" - Taha Ghayyur
Peace of Heart
As far as Islam is concerned, Arab and Muslim majority societies are seriously lacking in spirituality. There is not a deficit of "religion" but of spiritual life. It can be encountered among Islamists, as well as among secularists and ordinary citizens. Religion refers to the framework, to the structure of ritual, to the rights and obligations of believers; as such, it lies at the heart of social and political debate. In the classical Islamic tradition, framework, reference, and practices can—like all religions and spiritual traditions—be best seen in the light of their relation to meaning (here, to the Divine), to a conception of life and death, to the life of the heart and mind. Contemporary Islamic discourse, however, has too often lost its substance—of meaning, of understanding ultimate goals and the state of the heart. Increasingly, it has been reduced to reactivity, preoccupied with the moral protection of the faithful, based on the reiteration of norms, rituals, and, above all, prohibitions. But spirituality is not faith without religion; it is the quest for meaning and peace of heart as the essence of religion. Viewed in this light, Muslim majority societies are profoundly bereft of serenity, coherence, and peace. The time has come for a spiritual and religious emancipation.
Between the overbearing ritualism of official religious institutions and the obsessive politicization of Islamist leaders, the thirst for meaning, which finds its expression in cultural and religious references, seeks for ways to express itself. Mysticism sometimes provides the solution. But careful thought should be given to the real-life impact of such phenomena as they relate to the crisis of spirituality and therefore of religion. In every case, the teachings propounded do not encourage the autonomy, well-being, and confidence of human beings in their everyday individual and social lives. In their formalism and concentration upon norms, the traditional institutions that represent or teach Islam reproduce a double culture of prohibition and guilt. The religious reference is transformed into a mirror in which the believers must see and judge their own deficiencies. Such rhetoric can generate nothing more than unease. The Islamist approach, which seeks to free society from foreign influence, has in the long run brought forth a culture of reaction, differentiation, and frequently of judgment: Who is a Muslim, what is Islamic legitimacy? It sometimes casts itself as victim, even in the way it asserts itself against opposition. Social and political activism prevails over spiritual considerations; the struggle for power has sometimes eclipsed the quest for meaning.
By way of response to this void, the majority of mystical movements and circles have called upon their initiates to direct their attention inward, toward themselves, their hearts, their worship, and their inner peace. Around them have arisen a culture of isolation, social and political passivity, and loss of responsibility, as though spirituality were somehow necessarily opposed to action. Still, a large number of Sufi circles do speak out on social and political issues, and actually encourage their followers to speak out and to become actively involved in society. Between the culture of prohibition and guilt and that of reaction and victimization, between abandonment of responsibility and isolationism, what options remain to the Muslim world to reconcile itself with its cultural, religious, and spiritual heritage? What must be done to propound a culture of well-being, autonomy, and responsibility?
This is what it means to rediscover and reclaim the spirituality that permeates Eastern cultures and that lies at the heart of the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions, a consideration that today's social and political uprisings can ill afford to neglect. There can be no viable democracy, no pluralism in any society without the well-being of the individuals, the citizens, and the religious communities that comprise it—with or without God.
"Islam and the Arab Awakening" -Tariq Ramadan, pp. 126-128