In a four-part series, The Muslimah Network takes an in-depth look at the connection between taqwa and self-confidence.
Part 1: What do psychologists say about developing self-confidence and how does the endless wisdom of Islam inculcate those behaviour patterns in us? In the first of this four-part series, we look at what distinguishes people with high self-esteem from the crowd.
By Nida Haleem
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا ۚ إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ
“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you (Muttaqi). And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).”
Subhaan Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) what a beautiful verse. Allah has made each of us unique yet we’re all the same in His view. Our Fitrah is the same. But Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) deliberately made us different so that we may recognise one another. The differences are only superficial. Our worth is not dependent on them. Everybody, no matter their status, their race, their intellect or their abilities, is the same. In other words Allah removed these worldly criteria from the standards by which we compare ourselves. Instead He set a new standard – Taqwa.
But what is “Taqwa”? Is it “fear” as is usually translated or is it something more?
Taqwa is derived from the Arabic word “wa-qa-ya”, and in Al Mufradat fi Gharib al-Quran, Rāghib says that the meaning of the word wa-qa-ya is to protect something against everything which may damage it and taqwa means to put the soul under protection against whatever threatens it. If we look at the practical implications of this term, it boils down to two things, avoiding everything which is displeasing to Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) and doing things which are pleasing to Him so as to become close to Him. But there are other benefits which can be associated with taqwa, one of them being raising one’s self-confidence.
In case you are wondering how Taqwa can increase self-confidence, let’s do an exercise. Enumerate all the things we associate with high self-confidence and low self-confidence.
Psychologist agree that the following are some of the points regarding confidence levels in people.
Personal worth is defined by the values, beliefs and personal philosophy that one holds. Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl said in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, “everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”From the above discussion we note that self-confidence is directly related to self-esteem, which is the ability to like oneself and feel worthwhile, irrespective of what life throws at us. But how do people define their self-worth?
And what better philosophy can one choose other than Taqwa?
Taqwa is the path of righteousness and self-restraint. When we do what we know is the right thing to do then we increase and strengthen our self-esteem.
Align your actions with your values
Psychologist Dr. Nathaniel Branden, in his book The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, has mentioned six practices which should be inculcated in a person’s life to raise his self-esteem. One of them is “The practice of personal integrity”. He says “When our behaviour is congruent with our professed values, when our ideals and our actions match, we have integrity.” We Muslims profess our belief in Allah and His Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) and our ideal is to get closer to Allah but if we lack Taqwa we will fall short in our efforts to act according to the guidance of our Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) and this will lead us to think we’re not worthy of Allah’s love. On the other hand, Taqwa of Allah will make us do halaal actions and avoid haraam thereby matching our actions to our professed belief.
Ignorance isn’t bliss. Be aware.
And this also accords with another pillar of self-esteem according to Dr. Branden, The practice of living consciously. Dr. Branden says, “If we do not bring an appropriate level of consciousness to our activities, if we do not live mindfully, the inevitable penalty is a diminished sense of self-efficacy and self-respect. We cannot feel competent and worthy while conducting our lives in a mental fog”. A natural consequence of taqwa is being mindful of our actions. Umar (رضي الله عنه) once asked Kaab (رضي الله عنه) the meaning of ‘taqwa’. Kaab (رضي الله عنه) then inquired from Umar (رضي الله عنه), whether he had walked through a thorny bush path in his cloak. Umar (رضي الله عنه) replied that he had done so many times. Kaab (رضي الله عنه) asked Umar (رضي الله عنه) to describe his movements through this thorny path. Umar (رضي الله عنه) replied that he moved very cautiously, so as not to tear his clothes. Kaab (رضي الله عنه) said that was the description and the meaning of Taqwa. We know that the path of Taqwa is the one which is carefully and cautiously treaded. On this path one must be completely aware of oneself and one’s surroundings. One must discipline oneself to act correctly and behave in a manner pleasing to Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى), which is the entire purpose of our existence.
Achieve your purpose
Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى)says in the Qur’an, “And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.” (Qur’an 51:56).In this verse Allah describes the “purpose” of our lives. To worship Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) as He has ordained. The practice of living purposefully is also listed by Dr. Branden among his pillars. To quote: “To live purposefully is to be concerned with these questions: What am I trying to achieve? How am I trying to achieve it…Thus, to live purposefully means to live at a high level of consciousness. Living without consciousness is a betrayal of both your mind and your self-esteem. Living purposefully is a distinguishing characteristic of those who enjoy a high level of control over their life. Success in life requires that we live purposefully.”
Stop chasing ‘success’
This brings us to one of the factors which comes to our minds when we think about self-worth and self-confidence i.e. Success. However, healthy self-esteem neither depends upon successes, nor is it a result of comparing ourselves with others because there is always some failure and always someone better. Many studies in recent times tend to prove that even successful people may have low self-esteem. When we have self-esteem, we like ourselves because of who we are and not because of what we have or have not achieved. A person of taqwa knows that success and failures come from Allah. We have to strive to do our best and then leave it to Allah.
And as the Prophet (SAW) said, “How wonderful is the affair of the believer, for his affairs are all good, and this applies to no one but the believer. If something good happens to him, he is thankful for it and that is good for him. If something bad happens to him, he bears it with patience and that is good for him.” *
A person who knows that whatever Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) has written for him is good for him, will not feel depressed on his failure nor lose his self-esteem.
*Saheeh Muslim, 2999