by Jamaal Diwan
It is well known and understood that Islam is a holistic system that impacts all areas of a person’s life. We hear this a lot but many times it is difficult to know exactly what it means and how it plays out in our lives. On this topic Imam Hasan al-Banna has a beautiful, terse, but dense statement. He mentions that the first thing that the Muslim should be concerned with is the reform of herself or himself. Then he says, “A Muslim should strive to attain a strong body, good character, cultured thought. He should be able to earn a living, have pure belief, and correct worship. He should be able to control his desires, be careful about his time, organized in his affairs, and beneficial to those around him. These comprise the duties of every Muslim as an individual.”1 These ten points provide a well-rounded approach to personal development according to the teachings of Islam.
Our health is a blessing and responsibility from Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) and the level at which we take care of it affects all areas of our lives. If we are healthy then we think more clearly, we have more energy, and we are even stronger psychologically. However, at the same time, when we neglect our health we fall victim to all kinds of things like fatigue, psychological and spiritual struggles, and even cloudy thought. For these reasons it is foundational in the development of the well-rounded Muslim personality.
Out of this comes the first outward manifestation of the real quality of a person’s relationship with their Creator, character. The word used in Arabic, matīn, does not just mean good but also firm. It’s as if it implies that if a person has a really strong character then it does not only show in good times but also when things are difficult. This is a great measuring stick for us in our daily lives. When things are easy it is not difficult to maintain good conduct and treat people in the best way possible, but in the face of hardship, fatigue, frustration, disappointment, anger, and an array of other emotions it becomes much more difficult. The person who really has firm character can withstand these tests, but the one who is only putting on a show will always be known eventually.
After these two comes the third quality in the set of types of strengths that build the strong Muslim personality. The first strength was physical strength. The second was spiritual discipline, which is the foundation of good conduct. The third strength is intellectual and educational rigor: to be cultured in thought. This particular point is actually of the utmost importance and many times neglected by people who are perceived to be “religious.” The fact of the matter is that Islam is a system of life, informed by the teachings of the Divine, and embodied in the example of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him). This example lived and existed in reality. The Muslim cannot cultivate a dynamic, powerful, meaningful, and impactful understanding of Islam without understanding reality. Islam is here to provide solutions to the problems that humans and mankind face. How can we understand that and actualize it without cultured thought? We cannot.
The fourth type of strength to be directed into the service of Islam is financial strength; hence, being able to earn a living. The reality of the matter is that it is very difficult to do anything when one is reliant upon others for their income or when their financial situation is so dire that they are occupied with essential issues like food, clothing, shelter, and health care. For these reasons it is important that the Muslim seeks to be able to take care of himself or herself so that they can be independent and capable in their service to Islam. Yes, some people will be poorer and others wealthier but all should seek some sort of financial stability.
After mentioning all of these points Imam al-Banna then moves on to say that the person should also have pure belief and correct worship. This is what directs all of those previously mentioned strengths. They are used in accordance with the guidelines and inspiration provided by pure belief and aided through constant and correct worship. From these sources the Muslim truly finds his or her direction and the kind of relationship with the Divine that is required in order to face the difficulties of service to the Truth. They are the well which quenches the spiritual thirst of the heart in its search for its natural inclination.
When all of these strengths are combined and held together with belief and worship the Muslim will find direction and mission in his or her life. This mission will require much from them and herein lies the secret of the last four characteristics. The first of these last four is that the Muslim is constant in fighting their base desires. In the struggle to worship Allah (swt) and live a righteous life there are endless difficulties and tests. Those tests are sometimes very clear and open but sometimes very subtle. They can be tests of sincerity, seeking praise, wanting appreciation from people, argumentation, and many others. These tests cannot be overcome except through a never-ending process of fighting one’s base desires.
The next of these characteristics are to be strict about one’s time and organized in one’s affairs. Time is life itself and the person that kills time only kills their self. This is why Hasan al-Baṣrī said, “O Son of Adam! You are nothing but a compilation of breaths and with each breath that passes, a piece of you is gone.” The well-rounded Muslim will also find that their responsibilities will always outweigh the amount of time that they have to fulfill them. For this reason the Muslim is always strict with their time and organized in their affairs so that they can reap the most benefit from this life before meeting their Lord in the next life.
The last characteristic is to be beneficial to others. This should be read twice. Everything that came before is lost if we are harmful to those around us. The scholars of Islam have said that the core objective of Islam is to acquire benefit. Everything that we do is in the service of Allah (swt) and all that He requires from us is only of pure benefit to us and all of mankind. Therefore, we should use this as a way to check ourselves and assess our impact on those around us, while seeking to understand not only through our own vision but through the teachings of the Divine.
May Allah (swt) help us to embody these characteristics and bless us with being able to manifest Islam in all of its wonderful beauty.