DO YOU LIKE who you are when you are alone with yourself? Do you like the person that stares back at you when you look in the mirror? And when you come home from a hard day at work, can you spend quiet time with yourself without reaching for a book, a magazine, or the remote control? Does the idea of being alone with yourself make you feel uncomfortable?
How many of us stop to ask ourselves these simple but profound questions? I imagine that if many people asked themselves these questions, they might not like the answers they arrived at. Because so many of us rarely live up to the best in ourselves, it is no wonder that there is so much disenchantment in the world today. Liking who we are brings with it a certain amount of personal satisfaction. Lately, I find myself asking these questions of myself a lot. Sometimes I like the answers I arrive at, while at other times I do not. Usually, when I like my answers, it is because I feel a degree of satisfaction about some good deed that I tried to accomplish. However, it was never always this way.
There was a time when I believed that my happiness depended on the acquisition of material things. This perception was shaped during my formative years by growing up around adults who equated their happiness with material achievement.
As a result, I grew up believing that to have happiness I needed all the right “things.” Today, I no longer equate my happiness with worldly gains because the perceived happiness that one feels from the things of this life does not last. As Allah says:
Truly, the life of this world is nothing but a quick passing enjoyment. [Sûrat Ghâfir, 40:39]
What makes me happy with myself today are life’s “intangibles”– the things that money cannot buy. What makes me happy is that I am able to provide for my elderly mother when all the men in her life have abandoned her and all she has now are her children. What makes me happy is traveling half way across the world to sit at the bedside of a relative diagnosed with cancer, and share a few moments of her grief and distress. What makes me happy is that at the end of a hard day at work, I am able to look myself in the mirror and not flinch. Not because of my outward appearance, but because I hope I have done some good with my life that I hope will weigh heavily on The Scale of good and bad. As Allah says:
So as for those whose scale (of good deeds) will be heavy, they will be the successful. [Sûrat Al-Aʿrâf, 7:8]
But most of all, what really matters is being able to answer the question that I often ask myself, “How well did you live your life?” Reducing one’s life down to one basic question may seem like an overly simplified way of looking my worth, but for me it allows me to dig deep into the crevices of my soul, to painstakingly strip my soul bare and leave nothing but the naked essence of who I am.
This type of self-interrogation encourages deep reflection and forces the self to ask even more questions: Did you fulfill the purpose for which you were created? Did you worship well? Were you true to yourself? Did you stand up for what you believed in? Self-interrogation is a quality that is present in every true believer. It is the self that constantly interrogates. It rebukes. It questions. It is the self that Allah swears by when He says:
And I swear by the self-reproving self. [Sûrat Al-Qiyâmah, 75:2]
Admittedly, if the above questions were a test, I would say that I have failed my test miserably. But this doesn’t matter anymore because what matters is today. Today I want to be the best Muslim I can be.
In essence, what I want from my life, and what every Muslim should want from their lives, is for every moment in this life to matter, every encounter to be meaningful, and every salah to be as if it were the last. Is this too high a goal to aim for? I think not. In fact, I believe that it was in this way that the first generations of Muslims made their mark on the world. They made each moment in their lives count. And in so doing they took this world by storm and left an indelible mark on the face of history.