Islam, one of the world’s major religions, encompasses a comprehensive way of life. It guides its followers in matters of faith, worship, ethics, and conduct. A fundamental aspect of being a good Muslim is the cultivation of self-control, which is a constant in a Muslim’s life. In this article, we delve into the connection between self-control and the practice of Islam. We will explore why self-control holds such a central place in Islam, drawing upon the Sunnah (the practices and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him) and the Quran, and examining how acts of worship such as prayer and fasting contribute to self-control. We will also discover how good deeds are intrinsically linked to self-control and the ultimate quest to be a better Muslim.
Connecting with Allah and Self-Control
In Islam, self-control begins with the most important connection of all – the relationship between a believer and Allah, the One God. We will explore how connecting with Allah, through worship, prayer, and mindfulness, is the cornerstone of self-control in Islam.
Islam shows us many ways self-control can be maintained and how it forms the basis for moral character. Self-control is a defining trait of a good Muslim, and it is intricately connected to the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). His character and actions serve as a model for Muslims seeking to attain higher levels of self-control in their lives.
Examples from the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)
- Control Over Anger – The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) emphasized the significance of controlling one’s anger. He said, “The strong is not the one who overcomes the people by his strength, but the strong is the one who controls himself while in anger” (Sahih al-Bukhari). This hadith underscores the value of self-control, especially in moments of anger or frustration. One of the most well-known examples of the Prophet’s self-control is his ability to remain patient and composed in the face of adversity. Even when faced with hostility and persecution in Mecca, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) displayed remarkable self-control, choosing a path of non-violence and patience.
- Moderation in Food and Drink – The Prophet encouraged moderation in eating and drinking. He advised against overindulgence and said, “No human ever filled a vessel worse than the stomach. Sufficient for any son of Adam are some morsels to keep his back straight. But if it must be, then one third for his food, one third for his drink, and one third for his breath” (Sunan Ibn Majah). This helps us to refrain from being greedy, overeating and not appreciating the food that is put in front of us.
- Truthfulness – The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was known as “Al-Amin” or “The Trustworthy” even before receiving his prophethood. His honesty and truthfulness set a high standard for self-control in speech. Muslims are encouraged to speak truthfully and avoid lying or deceit.
- Forgiveness and Mercy – The Prophet’s forgiveness and mercy towards those who wronged him exemplify self-control in the face of adversity. He forgave people who had harmed him, demonstrating the capacity to overcome personal grievances with self-restraint and compassion.
- Patience – (Sabr) is a virtue closely associated with self-control. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) demonstrated immense patience throughout his life, especially during times of hardship and persecution. His steadfastness in the face of adversity serves as a model for Muslims to exercise self-control in challenging situations.
- Control Over Desires – The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) encouraged control over one’s desires and appetites. He said, “O young people! Whoever among you is able to marry, should marry, and whoever is not able to marry, is recommended to fast, as fasting diminishes his sexual power” (Sahih al-Bukhari). This teaching promotes self-control in the context of physical desires.
- Charity and Generosity – The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) encouraged acts of charity and generosity. Giving to those in need requires self-control over one’s wealth and material possessions. The Prophet’s own generosity and willingness to share what he had with others set a powerful example.
Ways to self-control
- Praying – this is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, is not just a ritual but also an exercise in self-control. This section will explore how the daily prayers, known as Salah, instil discipline, patience, and mindfulness, contributing to the development of self-control among Muslims. Prayer serves as a daily reminder of the need for self-control and mindfulness in all aspects of life. It requires Muslims to set aside specific times each day to connect with Allah, reflecting on their actions and seeking guidance. By doing so, Muslims learn to exercise restraint and discipline in their daily routines.
- Fasting – During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, abstaining from food, drink, and other physical needs. This profound act of worship serves as an intense training ground for self-control. Individuals are required to abstain from not only physical needs but also negative behaviours such as gossip, anger, and impatience. By doing so, fasting becomes a transformative experience that strengthens one’s self-control and spiritual connection.
- Good Deeds -Performing good deeds is an integral part of Islamic practice. Acts of charity, kindness, and community service not only benefit society but also strengthen an individual’s self-control. Good deeds are a manifestation of self-control as they often require individuals to put aside their immediate desires for the greater good. Whether it’s helping those in need, supporting charitable causes, or volunteering in the community, these actions reflect a deep sense of self-discipline and the desire to make a positive impact.
- Zakat serves as both a religious duty and a method of self-control for Muslims. It is a form of almsgiving or charity, requiring Muslims to give a portion of their wealth to those in need. By giving a portion of their wealth to those less fortunate, Muslims exercise self-control over their attachment to material possessions. This practice reminds them that their wealth is a trust from Allah and that they should use it for the betterment of society. Zakat fosters empathy and compassion towards those facing economic hardships. When Muslims give to the less fortunate, they exercise self-control over selfishness and greed, choosing to prioritize the well-being of others over their personal desires. Calculating and paying Zakat also requires self-reflection on one’s financial situation and blessings from Allah. Muslims must assess their wealth, debts, and assets, which encourages self-control over extravagance and financial irresponsibility.
Reflecting on the interplay between self-control and Islam, self-control is not just a virtue but a way of life for Muslims. The path to being a good Muslim involves a deep connection with Allah, following the Sunnah, practicing self-control in daily life, and engaging in good deeds. Self-control is not merely a set of rules to be followed; it is a spiritual journey that shapes character, fosters discipline, and ultimately leads to a fulfilling and righteous life as a good Muslim.