By Aymun Sajid
You’d think that global pop musicians, athletes, Instagram influencers, and YouTubers would all be talking about different concepts. That they’d be promoting different ideas, different topics – right? But there’s one conversation that you’ll now find in every corner of social media, that even some of our YC speakers have addressed – that is the intriguing, appealing concept of self-love.
Self-care. Loving myself. Be kind to yourself. These phrases all capture the concept of ‘regarding one’s own happiness or advantage’. Some habits associated with this concept are things like: eating what you want, not overworking yourself, learning to say ‘no’ to others for your own wellbeing, and not being too harsh on your own mistakes.
Youth like me are especially attracted towards this concept. After battling so many peer pressures, trying to please so many people – considering the notion that perhaps ‘the only person I should please is myself’ is pretty relieving and refreshing. But as Muslims, we always put the examples of Rasulullah PBUH and the Sahabah first. So what did they do in this regard?
Rasulullah PBUH, as we know, would stand up long hours of the night until his feet became swollen, although he had been forgiven of all his sins. When asked about this, his answer was, “Shall I not be a thankful slave (of Allah)?” (Sahih Bukhari 6471)
We know Umar RA would roam around the streets at night, looking for citizens to help. That he would say he is afraid to be held accountable even if an animal dies on the banks of the Tigris river. And there are many famous Sahabah, like Abu Dharr and Sa’eed bin Amir, who were known to be very ‘zahid’, i.e detached from the world. So much so that even when they were extremely needy themselves, they would regard receiving money as a calamity not a blessing, and would rush to spend it all for the sake of Allah.
And many famous Sahabah, whether they were tender-hearted like Abu Bakr RA or strict and bold like Khalid RA, were known to cry long and hard over their sins and out of fear of Allah. Even if we go ahead and look at the later generations, the Tabi’un and caliphs, heroes like Salahuddin and Mohammed Fateh – they all had this trait of fearing Allah, and berating themselves for their sins.
If you look at these attitudes with the ‘modern’ point of view regarding self-love, it doesn’t sound like being too kind to one’s self, does it? It doesn’t seem like they were ‘taking care’ of themselves. Or being very ‘forgiving’ to themselves.
And what about us? You might say, ‘Of course, the sahabah were the sahabah. We can’t ever reach their level.’ And that’s true to an extent – but what have we been specifically ordered to do?
Rasulullah PBUH said: “None of you believes till I am dearer to him than his father, his child, and all mankind.” (Bukhari and Muslim) So we have actually been commanded to not ‘put ourselves first’!
Even more specifically there is a hadith that states: `Umar said to Rasulullah SAW, “O Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)! You are dearer to me than everything except my own self.” The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “No, by Him in Whose Hand my soul is, (you will not have complete faith) till I am dearer to you than your own self.” Then `Umar said to him, “However, now, by Allah, you are dearer to me than my own self.” The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Now, O `Umar, (now you are a believer).” (Sahih Al-Bukhari 6632).
So the question is: does Islam support the concept of self-love at all?
This was something I pondered over for a long time myself. And in my limited understanding as a student of knowledge, this is the conclusion I arrived at:
As Muslims, we know that we are made of two parts: our material body, the nafs, and our spiritual soul: the ruh. The nafs is our natural, ‘animal instinct’ which can attract us towards morally wrong actions – the ruh is what has been gifted by Allah, that is hooked up to the heavens.
The mainstream, ‘westernized’ concept of self-love focuses on loving the material self, the nafs. It also promotes meditation and mental health awareness. We also get concepts like music being ‘food for the soul’, etc. But which soul? The nafs. The one that can lead us astray.
Why were the Prophets, peace be upon them all, and the Sahabah so ‘hard’ on themselves? Because they loved, foremost, Allah – and they loved their spiritual selves. They loved not their nafs, but their ruh which would have to live on forever. So they sure did starve their nafs – but they were feeding their ruh, strengthening it, being kind to it. They were attached to the Quran, which is the real food for the actual soul – the ruh.
That is the message we need to remember. Go ahead and love yourself: just not the wrong self. Make sure not to entertain your nafs more than necessary, rather love your ruh. Because what a huge loss it is to love the self that after a short worldly life, will turn into dirt – and to not love and nurture the self that will live on forever. If we prioritize love for the right self, our immortal self could be saved from the most terrifying eternal resting place – may Allah protect us all.