Hajj is once more upon us and the checklist is out, as you decide what needs to be taken with you on the holiest of pilgrimages. You have gone through the useful Productive Muslim Tips for a Productive Hajj and what every Productive Muslim Should Pack articles. Twice, maybe. Qur’an, check. Travel prayer mat, check. Miswak, check. Ego, check. Uh-oh, that wasn’t supposed to be there! So you unpack everything and re-do your luggage again. Sunglasses, check. Perfume-free soap, check. Ego, check! It is that one piece of baggage we could do without! But it is still there and far from helpful when it comes to avoiding misconduct and arguments as instructed by Allah in the Noble Quran, “And take provisions, but indeed, the best provision is [God-consciousness/righteousness]…” [Qur’an: Chapter 2, Verse 197]
So what is Ego?
What Western thinkers refer to as “ego” we -in Islamic terms- refer to as an-nafs-ul-‘ammarah, mixed with a reasonable dose of kibr (arrogance or superiority over others; pride). Now, I am not saying that we Muslims purposefully strut around with our ego on the high street or on the plane to Mecca, but if there is one thing that separates a Muslim or Muslimah from God it is their ego. So, in other words, it is better to acknowledge the existence of ego, especially if you are anything like me, fervently denying that you have a problem, especially when compared to a whole host of Muslims and non-Muslims you could name!
I mean who hasn’t ever got angry, felt a little jealous, annoyed even, when someone else got promoted, got that bigger house, better school or university grades, or seemingly nicer husband? It is perfectly human to complain about such things, right? Well, there are somethings that I shouldn’t have to do, right? This has nothing to do with ego, right? Wrong! And if that’s what you have been saying since your friend or spouse emailed you this article to read, wave to your ego for me because he or she is sitting on your lap, which means you came face to face and lost the battle… again!
No wonder the fight against ego is the greatest struggle (Jihad al-Akbar) that a Muslim can endure. It is also why Hajj is a pillar of our faith and a testament to Allah which demonstrates that we prefer Him over our egos.
Flattening an Inflated Ego with Every Hajj Step
In Hajj, we Muslims set out to enhance our Taqwa, to return to a purified state at one with our Creator, more aware of His Divine Nature and Presence. We are reminded on this pilgrimage of the trials of the great men and women of Islam who sacrificed their sense of self for a profound belief in God.
For evidence of this, take the re-enactment of Hajar’s exhausting and repeated run through the two hills, Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, in search for water for her baby Ismail, barefoot and alone in the desert. It is in performing the Sa’ee that we can come to appreciate how that it was only in the shedding of her ego that Hajar found her courage and faith, which led to the appearance of the Zamzam well. We are further reminded of ego’s power, human fragility and sinfulness when we shave or cut a lock of our hair on the final day of Hajj, following the completion of ramī al-jamarāt (the Stoning of the Devil).
Ego, like our hair, will grow back. To stop both from becoming unruly and tangled, they need a frequent trim and a daily brush or comb. Hajj is the ultimate conditioner. If applied right, it will make ego more manageable. It won’t, however, remove it completely. For that you need Tazkiah, specifically tazkiyatul -nafs or “purification of the self”.
Experience Tazkiah and Be Transformed
Tazkiah is the conscious act of remembering one’s position compared to the greatness of Allah . This is by definition the surrendering of the self and removal of one’s ego. It is achieved by regular training and acting as if God was right there in front of you, observing your every move, knowing your every thought. In His Divine Presence there is no room for ego, only authenticity and God-driven change. So besides Hajj, how can you experience the transformative effects of minimising your ego?
- Adherence to Salah – not when it is convenient to you but when Allah calls (yes, even when you are on holiday).
- Dhikr either with the Qur’an, in the form of Tasbih (short recitation) or meditation, as this helps you remember/reflect on His glory and reduces self-centered thought patterns.
- Fasting and zakat – by saying “no” to your body and its power over you, you are controlling your worldly desires and demonstrating to yourself that money and sex do not rule you. Investing money in other people, for their sake, and not yours, is also a good way of giving back to your community, which if done right will cut your ego down to size. Be careful however, not to do it for show!
- Frequent voluntary work – putting others before yourself and dedicating a regular slot to community work reminds us Muslims of our position and role in society. It can be a very humbling experience because it can teach us many things that we wouldn’t know or come into contact with otherwise. In giving up our time, or even in donating blood, we feel empathy, a strong sense of connection with other people and the world around us. Where there is empathy there can be no ego.
- Admit you are wrong and apologise – so many people will never admit to the people they love the most that they are/were wrong. Fewer still apologise. Not only is that utter nonsense, it is a case of putting your ego before your spouse’s or children’s feelings. Not good and definitely not Islamic.
- Investing in your health –this can be as simple as going to the gym instead of eating that second slice of cake. It could mean going to regular health check-ups with the dentist or doctor, who will often remind us of our physical weaknesses and why pride comes before a fall or a serious illness!
- Personal development reading – making time to read is a great investment and a sure fire way to win the ego war, precisely because it is in reading that we begin to realise just how little we actually know. Many people tell me they don’t like reading when actually don’t mind reading but don’t like what they read because it threatens their comfort zone! Here at Productive Muslim, we are all about helping you venture out of your comforts in the name of productivity gains! Hence…
…Our Book Club!
September 2016’s book is Ryan Holiday’s Ego is the Enemy and as you might have guessed, it will help you fight your ego, even if you are not going to Hajj this year. So if you are interested in answering the following questions and improving your connection with God, insha’Allah, then we invite you to join us in the Productive Muslim Academy Book Club in collaboration with QUAKE Books:
“What am I missing right now that a more humble person might see?”
“Why does perfecting your family life regularly lead to success in your professional career, but rarely the other way around?”
“Why do strong feelings of anger and hate fail to accomplish anything valuable?”