Call yourself to account
May 30 2013 11:58 PM

Calling ourselves to account is what frees the soul from being captive to its desires and lusts; it frees it from the darkness of misguidance and maintains it upon the Straight Path. Allah encourages the Muslims to do this by saying (what means): “O you who have believed! Fear Allah. And let every soul look to what it has put forth for tomorrow…” [Qur’an 59: 18] ‘Umar, radiallaahu ‘anhu, said: “Call yourself to account when you are in bliss before the reckoning of that severe Day, for whoever calls himself to account when he is in bliss will win the pleasure of Allah and achieve happiness, and whoever allows his life and desires to occupy all his attention and cause him to be negligent will be a regretful loser.”

While he was the caliph, ‘Umar would call himself to account. Anas, radiallaahu ‘anhu,  narrated: “One day I was walking in the company of ‘Umar, then he entered a garden by himself; I overheard him from behind a fence of the garden saying to himself: ‘O son of Al-Khattaab! I swear by Allah that either you maintain yourself upon piety, or Allah will punish you.’”

Maalik bin Deenaar said: “Allah will be merciful with the slave who asks himself: ‘Didn’t you do such and such?’ and reproaches himself for doing so, then forces himself to adhere to the commandments of Allah and leads himself to righteousness.”

Maymoon bin Mahraan said: “A pious believer holds himself to account more severely than a stingy man does with his business partner.”

Our Salaf would admonish themselves and hold themselves to account, while we on the other hand, who are far worthier of such reproach, are utterly heedless of this, despite us committing actions that are destructive and despite our being afflicted with diseases of the heart and soul that require major reformation.

We must ask ourselves do we fear Allah as He should be feared? Do we cry out of fear of Him as our Salaf would do? Are we moved when we hear verses of the Qur’an being recited? Do our hearts shiver and tremble from fear when Allah is mentioned and therefore rush to obey and please Him? Allah Says (what means): “Allah has sent down the best statement: a consistent book wherein is reiteration. The skins shiver therefrom of those who fear their Lord; then their skins and their hearts relax at the remembrance [i.e., mention] of Allah…” [Qur’an 39: 23]

Once Imaam Al-Maroozi  said to Imaam Ahmad: “How is your morning?” He  replied: “My morning is that of one whose Lord is commanding him to fulfil his obligations, whose Messenger is demanding him to apply his Sunnah, who has two angels requesting him to reform his actions, whose lower self is leading him to give in to his desires, who has Satan beautifying sin and immorality for him, who has the angel of death awaiting the command to take his soul, and whose family is asking for provision.”

How many times do we hear the mention of the Hellfire without it moving us? Does it not contain all forms of punishments or terror, the mention of which would crack a mountain, if it were to hear it, out of fear of Allah?

A Muslim should rebuke himself for not being moved or affected when hearing verses that address the Hereafter, punishment in Hellfire, and the general mention of Allah and His might. Undoubtedly, we are busied by this worldly life and our sins are too many, and therefore we must exert far greater effort in holding ourselves to account. The following are some matters that one needs to pay closer attention to and hold himself to account regarding:

Sincerity: Our Salaf would prefer hiding their good deeds from others, as this helps a person maintain his sincerity of intention. Conversely, people nowadays like to show off and love others praising them for performing good deeds that they witness them doing; this is certainly something that requires self-rebuke in order to straighten our hearts and souls.

A person nowadays rejoices when praised, whereas he may be committing so many sins that had others known about it, they would have rebuked him rather than praise him. Our Salaf would hate being praised and would sometimes even be enraged by it. Once a man praised Imaam Ahmad saying: “May Allah reward you for what you have done in service of Islam.” He replied: “Me? Who am I? What am I?” He lowered and humbled himself before Allah. Compare this reaction to ours! They would reject any praise whereas we listen to it with joy and request more.

Wealth: If one of us receives any wealth, he rejoices and his heart becomes attached to it. Conversely, our Salaf would re-distribute any wealth they received in every good field in all directions.

People in our time are extremely busy in trade, business and commerce, endeavouring to collect ever more wealth. Their hearts have therefore hardened so much that the following saying of the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam,  applies to them; Abu Hurairah  reported that the Prophet said: “May he be miserable: the slave of the Deenaar and Dirham (gold and silver currency).” [Al-Bukhari] Many people have indeed become enslaved to their wealth.

The Companions would only work to get what sufficed them and their families for their daily requirements and shunned collecting and accumulating ever greater amounts of worldly wealth. As a matter of fact, ‘Umar had a friend from the Companions who would work his job one day while ‘Umar  would sit with the Prophet in order learn from him; then they would alternate so that ‘Umar  would work while the other companion  would learn. After each day, each would teach the other what he had learnt from the Prophet on that day.

Submitting to the truth: In general, we do not submit to the truth easily, and it may be that some of us refuse to submit at all. We may realise our faults yet refuse arrogantly to rectify ourselves; someone may advise us about a certain matter, but we would defend ourselves while knowing that the adviser is speaking the truth.

Some of the people of knowledge nowadays argue and refuse to adhere to a text presented by another person simply because they have not heard it from those under whom they studied. The Salaf on the other hand, would adhere and submit to the truth as soon as it was presented to them.

Along the same lines, many people nowadays are fearless enough to rush into passing judgment and giving rulings on certain issues when they neither possess the knowledge to do so nor have any evidence to substantiate their statements. This is a dispraised form of courage, because the same people would not dare address any other topic, such as a worldly topic like medicine which requires specialised and informed opinion; they would in this case readily admit that the topic is a specialised one that requires a specialist to address it, and yet they dare to talk about matters of the religion without the slightest problem, as if religion is of less importance than scientific knowledge.

Naafi’, radiallaahu ‘anhu, said: “Once a man came to Ibn ‘Umar, radiallaahu ‘anhu, and asked him a question. Ibn ‘Umar lowered his head and began thinking about it. He took so long that the man thought that he had not heard the question, so he said: ‘May Allah have mercy upon you! Did you not hear my question?’ Ibn ‘Umar  replied: ‘Indeed I did, but you people act as if Allah will not question us about what you ask and how we respond. Give me time to think about your question, and if I have an answer I will let you know. Otherwise, I will tell you that I do not have knowledge about the matter.’” Note the difference between this companion  who was one of the scholars of his generation, and some people nowadays.

Not glorifying the Words of Allah: Many people these days memorise the Qur’an, which is a praiseworthy matter that would delight the heart of any Muslim, but the problem is that the effect of this has not materialised in their behaviour. Ibn Mas’ood, radiallaahu ‘anhu, said describing those who memorise the Qur’an: “The one who memorises the Qur’an should be distinct in his qualities. He should be awake when people are asleep; he should be heedful when people are heedless; he should be fasting when people are eating; he should be crying when people are laughing, and he should be submissive when people are playful.” This is another issue regarding which we must hold ourselves to account.

Being hard-hearted: A widespread disease is that of being hard-hearted, lazy and lethargic towards performing acts of worship. Many people put off the idea of performing acts of worship and therefore delay them to a later time, and this is from the whispers of Satan, so that we would end up not performing them at all.

Contrary to this were the Salaf who would rush to perform acts of worship and utilise every opportunity they ever got in this regard. They would prolong their acts of worship and perform them with a humility and submissiveness that we cannot even begin to comprehend. Nowadays, if the person leading the congregational prayer dares to recite a long chapter from the Qur’an during it, the people would not be able to tolerate it and would protest. This is a reflection of how corroded our hearts have become as a result of excessive eating, laughing, drinking, indulging in this worldly life and its pleasures, and sinning.

Not calling ourselves to account: Due to the excessive amount of mixing and socialising amongst the people, we fail to find the time to sit in seclusion and hold ourselves to account for what we have said or done. This is a great loss indeed. Let us compare this to an example of our righteous Salaf: Ibraaheem At-Taymi  said: “I imagined myself in Paradise eating from its fruits, drinking from its rivers and enjoying its ladies. Then I imagined myself in the Hellfire eating from its bitter thorny fruits, drinking from its boiling pus and suffering at its chains. Then I asked myself: ‘What is your wish?’ The response was: ‘I wish to be returned to the worldly life so that I could perform more acts of virtue.’ Then I addressed myself saying: ‘You are where you wish to be, so rush in performing the acts you wished to perform.’”

Not forbidding evil: We may very often see evil being committed before our very eyes and yet remain silent and motionless, as if the boundaries and limits of Allah do not concern us in the least. We know for certain that what is being committed is forbidden, yet we do not even think about changing the evil, let alone preventing it from taking place. Abu ‘Abdur-Rahmaan Al-‘Amri  said: “A sign of your heedlessness is to pass by a prohibition being committed and not attempt to stop it.”

One aspect of this topic is neglecting forbidding evil and enjoining good amongst our wives and children, as well as not teaching them what they need to know about their religion and failing to properly cultivate them, while Allah Says (what means): “O you who believe! Protect yourselves and you families from a Fire whose fuel is people and stones, over which are [appointed] angels, harsh and severe…” [Qur’an 66: 6]

The Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, would walk to the house of Faatimah and ‘Ali, radiallaahu ‘anhum, and wake them up to pray the optional night prayer, not the obligatory one, as a way of teaching and training them. Note that this was after his daughter was married and living in her own house. Compare this to some modern-day fathers who neglect the children and wives who are living with them under the same roof. Do we ever stop to think how negligent we are in this regard? Do we ever blame and rebuke ourselves for not performing our duty in this matter the way it should be done?

Being indifferent: This is a lethal attitude that is killing the Muslim community. A Muslim is commanded to play a positive role in his community and assist in matters of virtue by as much as he is able, and prevent evil by as much as he can. Many people stray away from the right path because they do not find anyone to assist them and rescue them from straying, as those around them act indifferently. One should not undermine any input he can give in this regard; let us look at the story of when Imaam Ahmad was imprisoned to see how effective a person can be if he takes the initiative and does not act indifferently. When Imaam Ahmad was imprisoned, a thief was with him in the same cell. The thief said to him: “O Ahmad! I persevere and tolerate the punishment I receive while I am upon falsehood and being punished for a sin. Would someone like you, who is suffering as a result of being upon the truth, not persevere and endure?” This thief played an important role in comforting and consoling Imaam Ahmad  and did not take a negative stance towards the issue.

Undermining the grave effects of the temptation of women: Examples of this are undermining prohibited gazing, not adhering to the Hijaab (Islamic attire for women), women wearing perfume before leaving their homes, the spread of immoral films, intermixing between the two sexes, and other matters that have led to people committing sins and indulging in immorality. People nowadays mix with the opposite sex in universities, schools and workplaces, while Yoonus bin ‘Ubayd  said: “Never be in seclusion with a woman, even if you wish to teach her the Qur’an, and even if only you would be the one reciting.”

Being ill-mannered: Many people possess three very evil qualities, namely: lying, cowardice and miserliness, and these are the worst three qualities a person can possess. There are also many other evil qualities that we must be mindful of and hold ourselves to account regarding, such as backbiting, badmouthing others and tale-bearing, while replacing them with praiseworthy qualities and morals.

The Salaf would rebuke themselves for every word they uttered, words which would be considered very normal to people nowadays: Maalik bin Dhayghan  said: “Rabaah bin Qays once came asking for my father after the ‘Asr prayer, but he happened to be sleeping, so we informed him of this, to which he remarked: ‘Who would sleep at this time of the day?’ Then he left. We sent a man after him to see if he wanted us to wake my father up for him, but this man did not return until it was time to pray Maghrib. When we asked him why he returned so late, he said: ‘I followed him to ask him, but found that he was headed to the graveyard while rebuking himself, saying: ‘What business is it of yours to ask this kind of question? Why do you ask what does not concern you? What is it to you when people go to sleep? People are free to sleep any time they desire, why did you indulge in what does not concern you?...’ Note how lightly such a question would be taken in our time, and how strongly he rebuked himself for asking it.

Severing ties with kinfolk: The most important of kinfolk are one’s parents, and yet we find many people dealing with them in an inappropriate manner or even severing ties with them altogether. As for those who do try to fulfil the needs of their parents, many of them do it begrudgingly, while expressing discontent or complaining that it is a burden upon them, while Allah commands us to not say even the least expression of discontent in this regard, saying (what means): “…Say not to them [so much as] ‘Uff, and do not repel them but speak to them a noble word.” [Qur’an 17: 23]

The mother of Huthayl bin Hafsah  said: “He would collect wood during the summer and peel off the outer layer of bark himself. Then, when winter would come, he would come to me whilst I was praying, light a brazier (in my room) and place the peeled wood in it, as this does not give harmful smoke. He would do so just so that I would be warm during prayer. He would do so even though we had a servant who could do the job. Whenever I thought of stopping him and commanding him to return to his family, I would remember why he was doing it, and thus I would allow him to continue.” Why was he doing this himself despite him having a servant who could have done it for him? It was nothing but a reflection of his full dutifulness towards his mother.

This type of nobility is not limited to one’s parents; rather, one should be kind to all his relatives and even his fellow Muslims.

Wasting time: The issue of wasting time is a very important one indeed. We must be careful about it and hold ourselves to account regarding it because we spend much of our time uselessly instead of spending it in acts of obedience to Allah, as it should be utilised. Allah Says (what means): “And it is He who has made the night and the day in succession for whoever desires to remember or desires gratitude.” [Qur’an 25: 62]

Therefore, time was created so that we would fill it with acts of obedience to Allah, but many people do the exact opposite of this. The Salaf were very keen to make use of every second of their time. Al-Hasan said: “I have met some people who were stingier with their time than they were with their wealth.”

People nowadays waste their times in games, late nights, socialising, watching television and in vain talk. They may even go as far as doing so at the expense of their religious obligations, such as their daily prayers, and so on.

Wasting wealth: Many men cave in under pressure from their wives and children and therefore spend extravagantly, but when they are asked to spend in charity, one would find that they are so stingy that if they were to pull out two ten Riyal bills to give in charity, one would invariably return to his pocket. However, if this same person were to go to a restaurant, he would have no problem in spending multiples of this.

Allah will ask us about our wealth because we were informed as such by the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam. Abu Barzah  reported: The Messenger of Allah said: “Man’s feet will not move on the Day of Resurrection before he is asked about his life and how he consumed it, his knowledge and what did he do with it, his wealth and how he earned it and how he disposed of it, and about his body and how he wore it out.” [At-Tirmithi]

It is not to be understood here that there are no people who spend generously or that there are no people who do any of the abovementioned matters correctly. What was intended and meant is that we need to remember these matters and hold ourselves to account with respect to them, as there are many of us who are failing to do so.

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The importance of good moral character

Imam Ahmad has reported on the authority of Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam – Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “The most perfect of the believers in faith is the best of them in character.”

He also reported on the authority of Abu ad-Dardaa’ (may Allah be pleased with him) from the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam – Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) that he said:

“There isn’t anything weightier on the scales, on the Day of Judgment, than good moral character.”

These two hadiths point to a truth/reality of the utmost importance: that the criterion for judging someone’s Imaan (faith) is not the abundance of his acts of worship and wealth of information. In fact, the criterion is in his good moral character.

Likewise, the greatest thing a person will be rewarded for – after one’s faith in Allah – is good morals. For this reason, we see the great importance attached to good moral character in the Message of Islam, which is summarised in the statement of the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam):

“Verily, I have been missioned to establish/complete and perfect high moral standards and noble manners.”

Of those things which indicate that Islam is first and foremost an ethical and moral message, is Allah’s prompting His servants, the believers, in His Noble Book (Al-Qur’an) to purification of their souls and refinement of their morals.

For this reason Allah, the Most High, has mentioned after swearing with the longest oath in the Qur’an – which came in the beginning of the chapter entitled ash-Shams (the Sun) (No 91, verses 1-10):

“Indeed he succeeds who purifies his ownself (ie obeys and performs all that Allah ordered, by following the true faith of Islamic Monotheism and by doing righteous good deeds). (verse 9).

“And indeed he fails who corrupts his ownself (ie disobeys what Allah has ordered by rejecting the true faith of Islamic Monotheism or by following polytheism, etc or by doing every kind of evil and wicked deed).” (verse 10).

The meaning of these verses is that he has triumphed and gained success who purifies himself from the evil and low morals and cultivates in himself the praiseworthy characteristics. While he has lost and has reason for remorse who has neglected the purification of himself and left himself to be a prey/victim of evil and ruin and the destructive characteristics.

Tha amazing thing is that Islam, with all of its forms of worship and sciences, is orientated towards the refinement of good moral character. If you were to reflect upon the objective of the four forms of worship which constitute the Pillars of Islam after the testimony of faith (ash-Shahaadatain), you would find them (all) related to developing character and morals.

As for the prayer, our Lord, the One Perfectly Free of All Defects, has said concerning it: “...And perform the prayers. Verily, the prayers prevent one from (al-fahshaa) great sins of every kind and (al-munkar) every kind of evil wicked deed...” (29:45).

As for Az-Zakaah (charity/alms), He, the Most High, said: “Take alms from their wealth in order to purify them and sanctify them with it...” (9:103).

The objective of alms-giving is the development of ethics and good morals – if you would only reflect. And so it is with fasting, about which the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) said: “Whoever doesn’t leave off deceitful speech/falsehood and acting upon it – Allah has no need of him abstaining from his food and drink.”

The same can be said about pilgrimage (al-Hajj), concerning which Allah, the Most High, has said: “The pilgrimage is in the well-known (lunar year) months [ie the 10th month, the 11th month and the first 10 days of 12th month of the Islamic calendar]. So, whoever intends to perform the pilgrimage therein (by assuming Ihram), then he should not have sexual relations (with his wife), nor commit sin, nor dispute unjustly during the pilgrimage...” (2:197).

Therefore, the objective of worship is the development of good moral character.

So it is with the Islamic Sciences – its knowledge does not benefit the one who has learned it except if it causes him to achieve the characteristic of God-consciousness and fear of (the punishment of) Allah. For this reason Allah, the Most High, said:

“It is only those who have knowledge, among His slaves, that fear Allah...”  (35:28).

It is due to these irrefutable facts, that the bad moral character of a person is considered a clear proof of the weakness of his faith, no matter how much he displays the outward ‘appearance’ which is in accordance with the Islamic Laws [fasting, performing the prayers and pilgrimage, and wearing the ‘Islamic dress’].

For this reason, al-Bukhari narrated from Abdullah ibn Amr (may Allah be pleased with him), that the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) said:

“There are three characters which whoever is characterised by them would be considered a hypocrite, even if he fasted, prayed, performed pilgrimage and ‘Umrah (minor pilgrimage or visit to the Ka’aba) and said: I am a Muslim. [These characteristics are]: (1) ‘whenever he speaks, he lies, (2) Whenever he promises, he breaks his promise, (3) Whenever he is entrusted (with something), he violates (the trust).”

From the above we know that acts of worship are of little benefit to those who perform them if or as long as he has not benefited from it in terms of improvement/refinement which affects his character.

From this we can understand the importance of a Muslim making a critical examination of his character and trying to better it – to whatever extent that might be possible. And why not? Since our Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) whose moral character has been praised by Allah, when He, the Most High, said:

“And verily, you (O Muhammad) are on an exalted standard of character.” (68:4).

He (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) used to supplicate His Lord, the Mighty the Majestic, with these words:

“O Allah, Guide me to the most excellent manners and moral standards. None guides to it except You!

“And turn away from me the vile and evil manners. None can turn from me the vile and evil manners except You!”

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