“The one who knows himself will know his Lord”: Escaping selfies

I explain how we can walk away from our wretched, selfish nature, become enlightened, self-critical and stay on the straight path till we become content, satisfied with our Lord’s Will and gracious to our neighbours.

When the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) began to teach the Quran, he encountered hostility and persecution. Yesterday, he was the darling of the Makkans, revered as ‘the truthful’ and ‘the trustworthy’. Why this sudden change? It went against their assumptions, their beliefs and their practices, it was counterculture.

He (peace be upon him) was challenging their way of life, culture and their idols. His followers were treated similarly, beaten, broken and even slain. So, what does this have to do with our age of selfies? Just be yourself, be authentic and many other similar slogans from famous brands reflect this self-centred way of life ‘just do it’.

This represents the essence of our society “individualism”, self-absorption, the obsession with one’s image and looks. Since our society no longer accepts the Divine cosmology, the idea of the Creator, the Almighty Lord to whom we are accountable. The sacred structure established by the Quran, it gave us our position on earth and a clear path to our destination in the hereafter. However, in its absence, West has spread individualism, which teaches we are the creators of our own destiny, the masters of our fate, we shape our inner selves and life as we choose.

The blessed Mustafa (peace be upon him) taught the opposite, he (peace be upon him) taught us that we’re Allah’s creation, our destiny is in His hands and we are utterly dependent on His kindness, care, and love, without it we would be nothing. He (peace be upon him) said, “die before your death”, meaning submit, surrender and commit yourself to Allah. Leave your bubble and come out of it, abandon self-absorption, escape the dungeon you are languishing in. Jesus (peace be upon him) also taught something similar, he said “if anyone wants to become my follower, let him deny himself…” (Mark 8:34). He isn’t saying destroy yourself and lose self-confidence but surrender your will, your passion to God. Jesus was leading his followers out of self-deception. That’s the only way you will see the bigger picture.

The Majestic Quran asks us “people, what deceived you from your generous Lord?” (Al-Infitar: 7). The beloved Messenger (peace be upon him) said, “none of you can be a believer until you love for your brother what you love for yourself” (Muslim). Here he (peace be upon him) is teaching how to go beyond the self, by empathising and feeling for others. This is looking outward rather than inward, how to escape self-absorption, selfishness and individualism so rampant in our selfie-obsessed society.

‘Melancholy’ by Albert Gyorgy is a sculpture on Lake Geneva in Switzerland, I think it graphically captures the mood of victims of a selfish society, they have a void, a vacuum, an emptiness in their hearts and minds.

Prophet Yusuf (Allah be pleased with him) knew the dangers of selfies, selfishness and hedonism when he said “I don’t claim to be blameless, since human ego continually incites one to do evil, except when my Lord is kind to me. My Lord is forgiving, kind” (Yusuf: 53). The Quran provides an amazing programme of self-development that brings us out of self-absorption. It guides us to be self-critical “I swear by the day of judgement, and I swear by the self-critical person” (Al-Qiyama: 1-2). This is the real person, able to see personal shortcomings, aware of the defects and faults and brave enough to challenge themselves.

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