We often find people praise us for a quality or a good deed that we did, but then there are certain characters and certain habits that we do not want people to know about. And it is out of the mercy of Allah SWT that He hides these from the eyes of the public. Still, there is a discrepancy that exists within us and therefore there is a need for us to reflect on who we truly are. This is why Allah SWT says:
O you who believe!
Fear Allah and keep your duty to Him.
And let every person look to what he has sent forth for tomorrow,
and fear Allah.
Verily, Allah is All-Aware of what you do.
Self-Evaluation and Taqwa must come together.
This ayah is called Ayatul-Muhasabah by scholars of tafseer, because within it is a commandment for every one of us to evaluate ourselves. “…let every person look to what he has sent forth for tomorrow.” To what extent have we prepared for the meeting with our Creator?
And notice that the commandment is sandwiched between two commandments to have taqwa of Allah, indicating that THE BEST form of self-evaluation is by having taqwa – how much have we obeyed what He SWT has ordered, and how much have we stayed away from what He SWT forbid? So it’s important to remember that the measuring stick when we do self-critique is in accordance to the Akhirah, not the Dunya, not the amount of praises we receive from people around us, nor the amount of likes and followers we gain on the social media. It’s super easy to be deluded by praises and number of ‘likes’. It’s super easy to forget our flaws when people attest our good qualities.
Don’t be deluded by Fame and Praises.
When we look at the example of the companions of Rasulallah ﷺ, we see that they had this immense level of humility – that even though Rasulallah ﷺ PRAISED and ATTESTED their good character in front of everyone in the community, even though he ﷺ said that Allah SWT has guaranteed Jannah for some of them – they still remained self-critical. They never stopped engaging in self-reflection. They never felt that they were completely safe from falling into hypocrisy, or safe from falling into sins.
And one of those companions was none other than Umar Al-Khattab RA. Everything about the life of Umar RA speaks about his ability to take himself to account. He was a person who had that beautiful equilibrium, where he was critical towards the mistakes of others, but he was even more so critical on himself. Umar RA was the enforcer, the one who distinguished between truth and falsehood right smack in public, yet people accepted his critiques because they knew that it wasn’t mean-spirited, that it came from a place of humility and for the sake of Allah SWT. One of the beautiful things that was said about Umar RA was that people used to accept his critiques because they knew that he was harder on himself than he was on them. This was a man, who if you were to tell him ‘Fear Allah’ – doesn’t matter who you are, man or woman, child or adult, what race you belong to, your economic status, whether Muslim or non-Muslim – if he heard that from you, everything for him froze, and he would immediately go into self-reflection. It was he who said:
“Hold yourself accountable before you are held accountable,
weigh yourselves before you are weighed,
and be prepared for the biggest gathering
before He Whose Knowledge encompasses your deeds.”
Now when you think of Umar RA – this strong, bold, courageous enforcer – how do you think his supplications to Allah SWT sounded like? Shidad ibn Aws reported that Umar RA said:
للَّهُمَّ إنِّي ضَعِيفٌ فَقَوِّنِي وَإِنِّي شَدِيدٌ فَلَيِّنِي وَإِنِّي بَخِيلٌ فَسَخِّنِي
“O Allah, I am weak, so make me strong,
and I am harsh, so make me more lenient / gentle,
and I am stingy, so make me generous.”
Despite the strength and the sheer size of Umar RA, did we ever find Umar RA wronging people? Despite him being the tough enforcer in public, didn’t the people still want to be around him, asked his opinions, listened to his critiques, admired him? And have we ever associate stinginess with the character of Umar RA, a man who almost DIED when his people suffered in the year of the plague, because he refused to eat while his people were incapable of eating? A man that always lived in difficult circumstances, who feared that his children had more entitlement than other children of the ummah. A man who refused to be in a situation better off than the people. Yet he still said: O Allah, I am stingy…
Subhanallah, look at Umar’s RA level of self-critique!
The things that we don’t take ourselves to account are often the things that we are praised for. Umar’s RA strength, direct critiques, and generosity were all praiseworthy, he was praised by Rasulallah ﷺ himself, and by everyone else, yet he still called himself to account for those exact things that he was praised for. Subhanallah.
Allah sees your struggles.
That’s an example that we should follow, and one of things about the entire process of self-critique is that it has to start off with YOU YOURSELF – YOU want to purify yourself, YOU want to be pleasing in the sight of your Rabb, no matter what others say about you. What that means is that, if you know that what you’re doing is right in the sight of your Rabb, then it should not matter to you if other people think otherwise. And if you are developing good qualities that people might not recognize, it should not matter either. And Allah SWT emphasizes that by saying at the end of the ayah:
“…Verily, Allah is All-Aware of what you do.”
He SWT is All-Aware of every single thing that you do. Meaning for all the good deeds that you do privately, for all the inner struggles and personal endeavours you have exerted in becoming a better person – even if nobody in this entire world will ever see or understand it – then know that Allah does, and He will reward you for it, so keep on going.
If people praise us, telling us that we have certain good qualities that we know we have not yet acquired, we STILL should not be swayed or deluded from our actual pursuit to develop those qualities. And even if we do have those qualities, we should still keep on aspiring and asking Allah SWT for it, because the ceiling of having husnul khuluq (beautiful manners) is of Rasulallah ﷺ – and we’re not going to get there in our lifetime. The standard that we should set for ourselves is the one that was set for us by the Divine, not by people.
We are on a one-way journey to our Creator.
Remember that when we stand before our Rabb on the Day of Judgment, we are free from both praises and criticisms of people. We are free of our titles. We will stand before Allah SWT alone, and He knows who we truly are. When we stand in front of Him, it will all be laid bare.
“If I continue to remain as I am right now, and if I were to die today,
then would I be pleased with my condition when I meet my Creator?”
All of us must undergo an honest self-evaluation pertaining to our journey back to Allah. When we think about it, we’re really just made of number of days. And when an hour passes by, we lose our capital. We lose an hour from our asset. As the day passes, we’re one day closer to our destination – our death, and our standing before Allah.
May Allah allow us to engage in a self-criticism that would purify us, and not one that would cause us to despair of His mercy. May Allah forgive us and protect us from hypocrisy, from arrogance and self-righteousness, but instill in us husnul khuluq. May Allah SWT make our private lives better than our public lives. May He SWT help us to become more pleasing in His sight than we are in the sight of the people. Allahumma ameen.