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Read this to develop self-control and discipline!


By Altaf Husain


Ever wonder what life would be like if every time we had an impulse to satisfy our desires, we did so? Eat what we want, when we want to, giving no thought to how much we eat. Drink what we want, when we want to, giving no thought to how much we drink. Listen to audio entertainment when we want to, giving no thought to the words or to how long we have been listening or to how loud it is. Watch video entertainment when we want to, giving no thought to the images we take in, to how long we watch, or to how loud it is. Surf the Internet (of course at the highest speeds) when we want to, giving no thought to the Web sites we visit, the sounds and images we take in, to how long we surf, or to how straining it is on our eyes. Pursue the fulfillment of our lower desires whenever we want, with whomever we want, wherever we want, for however long we want.

Welcome to the world of no self-control! In this world, there is utter, uncontrollable chaos. Nothing is controlled and no one exercises any control. Due to the unregulated fulfillment of lower desires, no one knows who their father is and no one knows who their mother is. Babies are just being born and no one is claiming them and no one is caring for them. There are no relationships of any kind. Diseases are rampant. People are dying and rotting away in full view of their neighbours and yet, no one lifts a finger to initiate burial rites. Who cares? No one needs anyone else because everyone is concerned only about themselves.

In this world, there are no airplanes because, let’s face it, no one after an uncontrolled lifetime could fit in the current design for coach seating on a plane. The weight of the meals alone that would be needed to satisfy passengers with no self-control would ground the plane. The solution has become to just shift from passenger aircraft to private cargo planes, without seats, and at best meant to accommodate one out-of-control individual at a time. In this world, everyone is on the brink of losing their hearing and their sight due to intense and continuous exposure to loud music, television, and computer monitor screens. The clothing industry is thriving because people have to buy new clothes every other day since they are accumulating pounds faster than frequent-flyer miles. And since no one can fly anymore, that’s not many miles at all. Medical and other human service professionals are working overtime to address the near exponential rise in the demand for emergency medical care, counselling, and endless therapy sessions for people with conditions ranging from “severe-couch-potato-itis” (inflammation of the entire body in response to uncontrolled consumption) to “IHLTCS” (I have lost total control syndrome).

As expected, the reader is by now grossed out, laughing hard, or crying uncontrollably. But why? Grossed out, perhaps, because taken to its extreme, focusing on satisfying our lower desires without any control does not seem all that appealing after all. Laughing hard, perhaps, because the images that some of the above descriptions conjure up is hilarious. Crying uncontrollably, perhaps, because so much of what is written above seems so close to either certain personal behaviours that need modification or certain socio-cultural patterns that need to be altered!

Craving, Compulsion, and Loss of Control

The reality about self-control is that it is at the heart of any discussion about addiction. While definitions of what an addiction is vary, “one simple model for understanding addiction is to apply the three Cs:

(1) Behaviour that is motivated by emotions ranging along the Craving to Compulsion spectrum (2) Continued use in spite of adverse consequences and (3) Loss of Control.” (Shaffer).

Essentially, according to this model, a person who is addicted does not simply obsess in the realm of thoughts but proceeds actually to act in order to satisfy a “craving” or a “compulsion.” In addition, the person continues to satisfy that craving or compulsion despite the fact that there are adverse consequences to that person’s physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and intellectual health. Finally, the model helps us to understand addiction in the context of a total loss of control. And it is this loss of control and the development of self-control that the remainder of this article will address.

Soul Stages: Fight Off the Soul Commanding to Evil!

Islam emphasizes a balanced outlook in all aspects of our lives. As human beings, we are created with higher level and lower level desires and we are given guidance as to how to go about satisfying those desires in a manner pleasing to Allah, the Most High. Those of us who are alert and in constant contact with our souls are able to come to terms with the fact that Allah (swt) might have tested us with one or the other of the following three temporal soul stages:

1)     an-nafs al-ammarah bis-su’ (soul commanding to evil or evil-inciting soul, see Soorah Yoosuf 12:53);

2)     an-nafs al-lawwamah (self-reproaching soul, see Soorah Al Qiyaamah 75:2); and

3)     an-nafs al-mutma’innah (tranquil, peaceful, reassured soul see Soorah Al Fajr 89:27-28).

These three soul stages are temporal; each Muslim’s goal is, at a very personal and intimate level, to be aware of the particular stage being experienced and to strive ceaselessly to reach the stage of maximum self-control, of tranquility, and of calm—an-nafs al-mutma’innah.

In the context of addiction, clearly the dominant soul stage is an-nafs al-ammarah bis-su’ because the addict is completely imprisoned by his or her lower desires.

The evil-inciting soul grips us unaware in the midst of a state of forgetfulness such that we leave the realm of taqwa (Allah-consciousness) and we remain in a state of ghafla or utter heedlessness, void of any awareness or connection with Allah (swt). There is, perhaps, no soul stage that is to be feared and resisted more passionately than the evil-inciting soul stage because it is often at this soul stage that we forget Allah, we are heedless, utterly unaware. We are commanded to resist acts of transgression committed often in a state of forgetfulness, because Allah (swt) tells us:

“And be ye not like those who forgot Allah, and He made them forget their own souls! Such are the rebellious transgressors!” (Al-Hashr 59:19)

Those who forget Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala are doomed because temporarily, they have fallen out of submission to Allah and have descended to the depths of disobedience, driven totally by their lower desires. Worse, the consequence of forgetting Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala is that He causes us to forget ourselves! This is, unfortunately, the lot of many addicts. The addiction itself becomes a part of their daily routine to the extent that sometimes it even defies logic.

Would young women enrolled in medical and nursing studies allow themselves to eat uncontrollably or to eat foods known to cause unhealthy weight gain? Rasheed (1999) studied over seventy young women to explore their beliefs related to body image and weight control. Rasheed reports that “females who reported indulging in an improper selection of dietary items described their diet as being rich in carbohydrates and calories (particularly mentioning sweets, chocolates, and regular cola drinks), but low in protein, minerals, and fiber content. They often indulged in fast food with cheese and chicken sandwiches being the most popular dietary items while fruits and vegetables were rarely consumed” (p. 366). Although not often thought about in common discourse, overeating could in itself, according to Shaffer’s model, become an addiction. Overeating of foods known to cause unhealthy weight gain is to do so in the face of adverse consequences. Overeating is by nature eating without a sense of control and the related disorders of anorexia and bulimia are two polar ends of this loss of control. Eating in Islam is treated as an act of worship!

Would a medical doctor actually smoke despite learning about, coming into contact with, and perhaps even signing the death certificate of patients who succumbed to lung cancer? Maziak (1999) studied smoking habits among physicians. They found that “male doctors who smoke daily go through, on average, a full pack of cigarettes per day, which means they are mostly heavy smokers, and, therefore, are likely to show more signs of nicotine dependence. One of the features of this dependence is the urgency to smoke first thing in the morning. This explains why two-thirds of the daily smokers in our study smoke their first cigarette within one hour of waking up” (p. 255). Applying Shaffer’s model of understanding an addiction, we note that what is termed as “dependence,” in the study on smoking, is essentially an addiction. There is a craving involved, there is continued smoking in the face of the possibility of lung cancer, and, given the “urgency” to smoke “within one hour of waking up,” there is also a loss of control. There are clear injunctions against indulging in any activity that is harmful to the body.

Overcoming Addiction

Overcoming addiction is, therefore, best seen as an attempt to shun the state of heedlessness and to feel intense remorse for having lingered for so long in the domain of the soul commanding to evil. No matter what the addiction, whether to alcohol or drugs, pornography or to any other condition driven by an uncontrollable appetite to satisfy the lower desires, the addict’s greatest challenge is to come to his or her senses just long enough to have a sense of awakening, a moment of recognition as to just how severe are the consequences of his or her continued loss of self-control!

No one becomes addicted intentionally; it is not a goal one sets out to accomplish. Addiction is ultimately the triumph of the soul commanding to evil over the self-reproaching soul. What begins as just one quick glance at a pornographic Web site, one sip of alcohol, one snort of cocaine, one injection of heroin, or even one session of aggressive overeating does not affect every individual the same way. For those who have a weak relationship with Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala, are on the margins of daily worship, are keeping company with similarly heedless individuals, the one glance, the one sip leads them, ultimately, down a slippery slope from which they will have, potentially, a lifelong struggle recovering.

For others who talk to themselves constantly, are alert and aware but succumb momentarily to the soul commanding to evil, all praise is due to Allah most High that their one act of transgression is all that is needed to return them from heedlessness to God-consciousness. Being in touch with themselves, they are able to feel remorseful, seek forgiveness from Allah, and return to a state of self-control. The height of self-control is manifested in those people who are in touch with themselves to the extent that even a fleeting thought of transgression is sufficient enough as a warning for them and they exercise patience and self-control from seeking to satisfy their lower desires in an impermissible manner. Allah Most High reminds us that they are

“Those who show patience, firmness and self-control; who are true (in word and deed); who worship devoutly; who spend (in the way of Allah) and who pray for forgiveness in the early hours of the morning.” (Aali-‘Imraan 3:17)

As a final note, focusing on a discussion at the individual level does not by any means negate the very real need for professionals trained in helping individuals overcome addiction. While developing self-control is ultimately an exercise and a goal that is intensely personal and intimate, an individual who has compltely succumbed to loss of control and is unable to regain control may need professional and medical help.

courtesy: Darul Muslimeen, Tanzania
The article is slightly edited for Al-huda website.






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