The first step in self development is to concentrate single-mindedly on Paradise. Indeed, the one who is unsure of his destiny in life, torn between this world and the Next, like one standing with his feet in two separate boats, will be thrown off balance.
Many of the difficulties that we face are due to this lack of commitment and inability to focus on the real and ultimate goal. If you can keep your focus on Jannah, then everything else will be possible.
Journey to the True Goal
The selection of the ultimate goal of Paradise must be made consciously and may involve an absolute break with the past. To choose this new goal as the ultimate goal in one’s life is in fact to choose a new life, to begin a new journey.
Embark on this new journey by refreshing your wudu’ (ablution) and offering two rak`ahs (units) of salah or prayer reminding yourself of all the punishment of Hellfire you have just resolved to avoid at all costs and all the rewards of Paradise that you will strive to achieve.
Remind yourself also of the important stations and landmarks on the journey; imagine death as near; imagine the moment when the Angel of Death will declare, ’your time is over, now you must follow me’; imagine that moment when you will be made to stand in the presence of Allah, Most High, so that the final judgment of life may be passed on you and imagine the consequences of that judgment.
When you have completed the two rak`ahs then resolve once more that all efforts will be directed towards achieving Paradise, beseech Allah and pray with humility:
‘O Allah, I ask for Your mercy and whatever brings me closer to it, in word and deed.’
‘O Allah, I ask for a faith that will never vanish, a blessing that will never diminish, a pleasure that will never abate, and the most elevated position in Paradise distinguished by the Companionship of Your Messenger, Muhammad.’
While improvement in your habits and actions is a life-long process, the desire to achieve it can thus be sparked in a moment. This desire will provide the momentum for attaining your goal – the good pleasure of Allah and Paradise.
Having taken the fast step and resolved to attain Paradise, you may ask yourself, ‘what does Allah require from me in order for me to succeed?’
What Allah requires of you, in Qur’anic vocabulary, is for you to be a mu’min (believer) and mujahid (striver). A mu’min is one who is true and firm in his faith in God. A mujahid is one who strives his utmost, with all the means at his disposal, to gain God’s pleasure.
If you are a mu’min and a mujahid, Allah (the Most Exalted in Power and yet the Most Compassionate) will assist you to rise to higher stations both in this world and in the Hereafter. Allah has promised this to those who possess the qualities of iman (faith) and the active resolve for jihad or struggle. The Qur’an states:
The believers are only those who believe in Allah and His Apostle then they doubt not and struggle hard with their wealth and their lives in the way of Allah; they are the truthful ones.(Al-Hujurat 49:15)
You now have a mission: to become a mu’min and mujahid. As you embark upon this mission you may come to feel that your knowledge of Islam is somewhat limited or perhaps that you are unable to attain those heights of submission and purification that you desire or others expect of you. This is only natural.
You must not, however, allow these feelings of personal shortcomings to undermine your efforts to practice Islam. Remember that Islam is a state of becoming not a state of being. Each day you must strive to improve and better yourself – and you will improve.
Tazkiyah (purification) or this new program for self-improvement that you now find yourself in, is a process that unfolds itself step by step. You cannot expect to change all at once. This is against the laws of nature.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) was always aware of this when he was dealing with his Companions. Whenever someone embraced Islam, the Prophet would not ask that person to do everything immediately. Instead, he would teach and expect that person to start fulfilling his obligations only as much as he could bear at a time. This gradual process of change is also clearly reflected in the manner in which the Qur’an was revealed over a period of 23 years.
In all your efforts towards becoming a better Believer, you must bear in mind this principle of gradualism, otherwise you may try to attain the impossible, and when you do not achieve it, you may become frustrated.
At this stage, what matters most is that your bargain with Allah, iman, remains sound and firm. This definition of iman is perhaps a little different from the definition you usually hear. It is, however, a definition that we find in the Qur’an definitely in Surat At-Tawbah 9. Furthermore, attainment of such iman, allows you to be counted among the true and sincere servants in the eyes of your Lord:
Behold, God has bought of the believers their lives and their possessions, promising them Paradise in return, they fight in God’s cause, and slay, and are slain: a promise which in truth He has willed upon Himself in the Tawra, and the Injil, and the Quran. And who could be more faithful to his covenant than God? (At-Tawbah 9:111)
Once you have committed yourself to Allah, all that you have must be spent in His way. This is the ideal. Ideals, however, are always difficult to achieve – and this you must understand and accept.
Ideals are always to be pursued; if they are easily and always achievable, they can hardly remain as ideals. Keeping to your side of the bargain then, is an ideal that you must always seek to maintain.
It is this seeking and this striving to spend all that we have in the way of Allah that is known as jihad and alternatively, in this instance, as tazkiyah.
The article is excerpted from the author’s In the Early Hours: Reflections on Spiritual and Self-Development.