Am I loving myself right?
You’d see global pop musicians, athletes, Instagram influencers, and YouTubers all talking about it, highlighting different concepts and sharing different ideas. But there’s one conversation you’ll now find in every corner of social media that even some of our YC speakers have addressed – the intriguing, appealing concept of self-love.
Self-care, loving oneself, being kind to yourself – all these phrases capture the concept of ‘regarding one’s own happiness or advantage’. Some habits associated with this concept are things like: eating what you want, not overworking yourself, learning to say ‘no’ to others for your well-being, and not being too harsh on your own mistakes.
Youth like us are especially attracted to this concept. After battling so many peer pressures and trying to please so many people – considering the notion that perhaps ‘the only person I should please is myself’ is pretty relieving and refreshing. But as Muslims, we always put the examples of the Prophet (SAW) and his companions first. So what did they do in this regard?
As we know, the Prophet (SAW) would stand up for long hours of the night until his feet became swollen, although he had been forgiven of all his sins. When asked about this, his answer was, “Shall I not be a thankful slave (of Allah)?” [Sahih Bukhari – 6471]
We know Umar (RA) would roam around the streets at night, looking for citizens to help. He used to say he was afraid to be held accountable even if an animal died on the banks of the Tigris river. And there are many famous companions, like Abu Dharr (RA) and Sa’eed bin Amir (RA), who were known to be very ‘Zahid’, i.e. detached from the world. So much so that even when they were extremely needy themselves, they would regard receiving money as a calamity, not a blessing, and would rush to spend it all for the sake of Allah.
And many famous Sahabas, whether they were tender-hearted like Abu Bakr (RA) or strict and bold like Khalid (RA), were known to cry long and hard over their sins and out of fear of Allah. Even if we go ahead and look at the later generations, the successors (Tabi’un) and caliphs, heroes like Salahuddin and Mohammed Fateh – they all had this trait of fearing Allah (SWT) and rebuking themselves for their sins.
If you look at these attitudes from the ‘modern’ point of view regarding self-love, it doesn’t sound like being too kind to oneself, does it? It doesn’t seem like they were ‘taking care’ of themselves or being very ‘forgiving’ to themselves.
And what about us? You might say, ‘Of course, the sahabah were the sahabah. We can’t ever reach their level.’ And that’s true to an extent – but what have we been specifically ordered to do?
The Prophet (SAW) said: “None of you believes till I am dearer to him than his father, his child, and all mankind” [Sahih al-Bukhari – 15]. So we have actually been commanded not to put ourselves first!
Even more specifically, there is a hadith that states: `Umar (RA) said to the Prophet (SAW), “O Allah’s Messenger (SAW)! You are dearer to me than everything except my own self.” The Prophet (SAW) said, “No, by Him in Whose Hand my soul is (you will not have complete faith) till I am dearer to you than your own self.” Then `Umar said to him, “However, now, by Allah, you are dearer to me than my own self.” The Prophet (SAW) said, “Now, O `Umar, (now you are a believer).” [Sahih Al-Bukhari – 6632].
So the question is: does Islam support the concept of self-love at all?
When one lives life on the ‘westernised’ concept of self-love and does what their heart desires, their self is controlled by their desires. For example: if one desires to eat something unhealthy for their body, they’ll still eat it to satisfy themselves and receive instant gratification. While this may give them short-term happiness, in the long term, it harms their body and eventually leads to sickness. This type of person is considered weak because they have little to no control over themselves, which leaves them unhappy in the long term.
Real self-love is to stay strong and fight against evil and harmful desires so, in the long run, you have maintained a healthy self, causing no harm and resulting in happiness and contentment. This can only be done by disciplining one’s self, not obeying their desires and practising self-control.
..But if you do good and fear Allah – then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted. [Quran 4:128]
Why were the Prophets and the Sahabahs so ‘hard’ on themselves? Because they didn’t want to weaken themselves and be controlled by desires which would, in the end, cause them great loss: falling into sin and displeasing Allah (SWT). Even in the smallest of matters, such as eating and sleeping, they would not fulfil their desires. They did this to build strength and to be then able to fight against stronger desires of sin. This means that if you desire to do something that isn’t necessarily a sin, you should still try to practise self-control. Just like in the gym, we train our bodies over time slowly to increase our physical strength and eventually be able to do high-intensity exercises. The same format is to be followed with our spiritual self; once we fight the small and seemingly harmless desires, we should then be able to resist the big and harmful desires.
Takeaway? Go ahead and love yourself: just don’t give in to your desires; practise self-control and stay away from sin. The way to be truly happy and content is with Allah (SWT).