Allah (subḥānahū wa taʿālā) says in the Noble Qur’ān,
.يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا الَّذِيْنَ اٰمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللّٰهَ وَلْتَنْظُرْ نَفْسٌ مَّا قَدَّمَتْ لِغَدٍ ، وَاتَّقُوا اللّٰهَ ، إِنَّ اللّٰهَ خَبِىْرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ
“Believers! Be mindful of Allah and let every soul carefully consider what it has sent forth for tomorrow. And fear Allah: certainly, Allah is All-Aware of what you do” (59:18).
This āyah teaches us that if we are to be worthy of ‘īmān’, we have to adorn ourselves with taqwā, in private and public. Similarly, we have to hold ourselves accountable of what we do in this world, and what consequences our actions will have in the hereafter. This āyah also teaches us that we should live our lives with a focus on the hereafter. This world is a bridge to the hereafter, our real home. Everything we do in this world should be so that tomorrow, when we stand in front of Allah, He is happy with us. We are happy to meet Him, and He is happy to receive us.
ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) said, “Hold yourselves to account (in the world) before you are held to account (in the hereafter). Evaluate your actions (today) before you are evaluated (tomorrow), for the Reckoning will be easier upon you tomorrow if you hold yourselves accountable today.”
Muḥasābah, an action of the heart, is to evaluate one’s actions and behaviour of the nafs (inner self); and then rectifying the mistakes, and continuing the good deeds.
When we evaluate our daily, weekly, and monthly actions, we should identify our sins and repent sincerely. We should ask Allah to forgive us, and make a firm resolve to stay away from that sin in the future. We should identify the root causes of the sin, and plan how we can stay away from what causes us to fall into that particular sin.
Similarly, we should identify where we are falling short in terms of fulfilling the rights of Allah. Doing this will mean we do not become deceived with our ʿibādah. Instead, we will put our hope and trust in Allah, and not our own paltry actions. This should be followed by asking Allah to help us worship Him with excellence.
Whilst we are reflecting on our shortcomings, we should contrast this with the immense blessings of Allah (subḥānahū wa taʿālā) upon us. This should fill our hearts with ḥayā (shyness). How much He blesses us, and how little we thank Him! How much He does for us, and yet we disobey Him. How often we disregard His commands, yet He does not deprive us!
If we fail to hold ourselves accountable and do not live a life of taqwā, we will become like the people who Allah describes as:
وَلَا تَكُوْنُوْا كَالَّذِيْنَ نَسُوا اللّٰهَ فَأَنْسىٰهُمْ أَنْفُسَهُمْ أُولٰٓئِكَ هُمُ الْفٰسِقُوْنَ
“And do not be like those who forgot Allah, so He made them forget themselves. It is they who are defiantly disobedient” (59:19).
If we are heedless of Allah, and we fail to remember Him and uphold His rights, Allah will cause us to forget that which is actually beneficial for our souls. In effect, it is we who lose out, when we move far away from our Creator, and surrender to the whims and desires of our souls.
The Prophet ﷺ would seek the protection of Allah from ‘the evils’ of the nafs. If our nafs is left to its own devices, and we allow it to lead us, instead of leading it, it will lead us to sin and evil.
How to Treat Your Nafs
It has been said that the nafs is like a treacherous business partner. If you do not hold him accountable, he will run away with your money. Similarly, if we do not hold our nafs accountable, it will run away with our success and land us in the pit of destruction.
“A man cannot be pious (a person of taqwā), until he is more stringent in taking his nafs to account, than a business partner is with his partner.” Maymūn b. Mahrān (raḥimahullāh)
We often go easy on our nafs, but this is exactly what it wants! Fasting trains us to gain mastery over it and teaches us not give in to its every whim. We should not let our nafs fool us by thinking, ‘This is only a minor sin’ or, ‘There is a difference of opinion anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.’
We should treat our nafs as though it is another person and remain very strict with it. When the nafs slips and errs, we should reprimand it; and when we find it leaning itself to the obedience of Allah, we should push it in that direction.
“A believer holds his nafs (inner self) to account, and he knows that tomorrow he will have to stand in front of Allah. The hypocrite, on the other hand, is ignorant of his nafs. May Allah have mercy upon a slave who tended to his nafs, before the angel of death swoops down to collect it.” – Fuḍāyl b. ʿIyāḍ (raḥimahullāh)
ʿĀmir b. ʿAbd Qays (raḥimahullāh) said, “I saw a number of the companions of the Prophet ﷺ and I accompanied them. They informed us that those who were the most stringent in taking their inner selves to account in the world, will be the ones with the purest īmān on the Day of Judgement.”
Muḥāsabah is not just for ordinary Muslims. It is actually more important for those involved in seeking and spreading knowledge, and calling others to Allah. Theoretical knowledge alone will not protect the heart and nafs. Actively working on one’s nafs is essential to avoid envy, pride, hatred, and backbiting.
We should allocate time every single day and evaluate our actions on a daily basis. At night before we go to sleep, we should ask Allah to forgive us for our day’s shortcomings and sins. We should free our hearts from hatred and malice, and forgive all those who may have wronged us. We should sincerely repent, as we do not know if we will wake up the next day.
- Did I do it sincerely for the sake of Allah alone?
- What were my deficiencies in the act of worship I did (e.g. Did I miss out on khushūʿ in ṣalāh? Did I ruin my fast by backbiting?)
- Did I perform a good deed which was of lesser importance, and justified it to myself by thinking that I was ‘still doing something good’?
- Did I use my intention to transform an ordinary deed into an act of worship?
- How much of my ‘screen time’ is spent on what spiritually and mentally nourishes me?
“If sins had a stench, nobody would be able to sit near me.” – Muḥammad b. Wāsiʿ(raḥimahullāh)
The Order of Accountability
Ibn al-Qayyim (raḥimahullāh) explains that we can evaluate ourselves in the following way:
1. Obligatory (farḍ) deeds. Firstly, we should reflect on whether we fulfilled those deeds which are obligatory upon us, and then expiate for them. E.g if ṣalāh was missed, then immediately perform qaḍā or if it was rushed and deficient then make amends by praying additional voluntary (nafl) prayers.
2. Forbidden acts. Then, we should reflect on our sins. We should sincerely repent by regretting what we did and resolve to not repeat such a sin. Where possible, we should also make amends e.g. if we insulted someone, then we should apologise to them and make duʿā’ for them.
3. Heedlessness/moments of distraction. The next step is to evaluate moments where we are not doing ḥarām, but are indulging in activities which are not conducive to our purpose in life (worshipping Allah). In an era of distraction, we are bombarded with various forms of entertainment and notifications leading us to wasting precious time. We should make amends for this by increasing our remembrance of Allah (dhikr, ṣalāh, Qur’ān etc.).
4. Intentions. This is vital, as we may perform an amazing deed, but ruin it due to riyā’ (showing off) and not do it for the sake of Allah. Or we may have done something ordinary in the day, but this could become a great act of worship if we intended to do it for the sake of Allah. For e.g. we may have a mind-numbing job, but we could intend every day before we leave the house that we are doing it to earn a ḥalāl living, provide for our families, give charity through it etc. Or we may feel like cooking for our families is a chore, but this could become an act of worship if we intend with it to feed nutritious ḥalāl food to our loved ones, so they can become strong believers and serve the dīn of Allah.
May Allah al-Bāṭin (The Intimate) make us mindful of our outer and inner deeds, and allow us to prepare for meeting Him.