SELF-DEVELOPMENT SERIES

The Practical Guide to Self-development in Islam for Young Muslims

DISCLAIMER: There are certain concepts/ terminologies used in the Quran that are explained in a complex manner in Islamic literature. These terminologies are very briefly mentioned in this series as the complete explanation according to various sources of Tafasir is beyond the scope of this article series. Examples of such terminologies are; Ruh, Nafs, Qalb, Dhameer, Aql etc. In no way should the brief explanations be regarded as replacements/ substitutes for the deeper meanings of the above mentioned concepts in Islamic literature.

This is the central article of the entire Self-development in Islam series.

In this article you will learn:
  • What IS self-development in Islam
  • The 3 basic principles of self-development in Islam
  • Why do we need to work on ourselves continuously?
  • The 7 amazing benefits of self-improvement
  • Your BEST Investment
  • The 3 NECESSARY ingredients of any self-development project
  • The 10 Self-development tools you will NEED on your journey
  • A few Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is self-development in Islam?

Personal development is the conscious pursuit of self-growth by self-discovery, self-awareness, self-help and self-evaluation.

In simpler words.  It’s making yourself better.

Better in every possible way.

Then what is self development in islam?

It’s making yourself better as a Muslim.

It is the process of “Purification of your SELF”. That’s what it is.

In the Islamic terminology, it is Jihad-al-Nafs- The struggle against the soul. The greatest of all types of Jihad.

Making yourself better as a Muslim doesn’t only imply working on the spiritual aspect. It means becoming a better Muslim in every aspect of life following the principles of self development in islam. (mentioned below).

The process of self-development in Islam was easier for the Muslims before us (in previous centuries) because they:

  1. Didn’t have to struggle against the extreme fitnah of this century.
  2. The people present at the time of the Prophet Muhammad S.A.W had his Holy presence to take direct inspiration from. Whereas we have to struggle harder to connect with Islam through the signs in the Quran and sunnah.

So I get it folks- The struggle is real. Period.

But that’s even more reason to start struggling against your “self”.

More struggle, more reward in the Akhirah..

Allah says in the Quran: As for him who feared to stand before his Lord and he restrained himself from his desires, then Paradise will be his refuge.” [ Quran: Surah Naziat 79, Ayah 40]

Principles of self-development in Islam

You becoming better as a Muslim is NOT something that can be:
  1. Achieved overnight
  2. Forgotten about once you achieve it
  3. Your end goal

Allow me to explain…

  1. Self-development is NOT something that can be achieved overnight

There’s a motto we live by here at Muslim Youth Programme.. 

Prophet Muhammad S.A.W worked day and night to spread Islam and after a little more than 2 decades of perseverance, he (S.A.W) was successful in eastablishing the roots of Islam in the world at the time.

Even though our targets do not span over such a large scale or are as significant as the goals of our beloved Prophet (S.A.W),  but the same principles of true success apply to us.

There’s a lesson for us in everything that Prophet Muhammad S.A.W did or said.

When you hear these worldly-success stories, they tell you about how dynamic changes occurred in a day or overnight.

What they don’t tell you (because nobody wants to listen to that boring part) is how much hard work and persistent effort over a period of time went behind that “overnight” achievement.

A much more intense level of hard work, persistency and efforts are required to be successful as a Muslim. To let go of bad habits, to build better habits, to pray on time, to read Quran consistently, to get closer to Allah etc.. All of these are fruitful results of self-development in Islam that take time, energy and effort. And guess what only matters to Allah? Our efforts.

So that means, as long as we keep trying sincerely to become a better Muslim and put constant effort in purifying our soul, we are already successful in the light of Islam. 

[And it will be said], “Indeed, this is for you a reward, and your effort has been appreciated.”

[Quran: Surah 76, Ayah 22]

2. Self-development is NOT something you can achieve and then forget about…

Another important thing to understand is that if you are not working on yourself consciously and consistently then your self-growth graph will fall flat over time. Like the one below!

It’s a saying in the business world, that in order for a business to survive and remain, it needs to grow.

A plant needs water to grow or else it dies.

A relationship needs understanding and love in order to grow or else it dies slowly.

Muslims need to work on their faith in order to grow closer to Allah and strengthen their beliefs or else their faith will weaken till it dies.

Same as you need to work on your health, body and mind. If you don’t put effort in staying healthy and fit, you will start gaining weight and become unhealthy.

You may ask the following question:

Why do we need to work on ourselves   continuously?

Because if we don’t work on ourselves, Shaiytaan will.

Let me explain what I mean by that. There are 2 energies pulling away at your self.

One is the negative pull of Shaiytan, our desires and the other is the positive pull of your conscience/ Dhameer (that is programmed by Allah to function according to the teachings of Islam).

By ignoring or silencing your conscience, which ALWAYS guides you towards self-improvement, you are leaving room for Shaytan to work according to his master plan and sway your thoughts and actions in the wrong direction.

Allah says in the Quran: “O you who have attained to faith! If you remain conscious of God, He will endow you with a standard by which to discern the true from the false, and will clear evil from you, and will forgive you your mistakes: for God is limitless in the abundance of His blessing.”

[ Quran: Surah Anfaal 8, ayah 29] 

Now I know what you’re thinking… Can’t I be somewhere in the middle? Maybe neutral to both energies?

You can NOT be in a neutral zone.

Because these two energies will always be pulling at your soul in 2 different directions, no matter where you are, what you are doing or thinking.

Shaytan made a promise to Allah to sway people from Islam and lead them to Hell along with himself and Allah placed the inner conscience (dhameer) inside every human that is serves as a source of constant reminders.

Iblees (Satan) said: “O my Lord! Because you misled me, I shall indeed adorn the path of error for them (mankind) on the earth, and I shall mislead them all.  Except Your chosen, (guided) slaves among them” [Quran, Surah al-Hijr: 39 – 40]

The cumulative effect of repeatedly ignoring inner conscience is self-destruction; the opposite to self-improvement.

Another concept to understand is that we, as humans, will never be able to achieve the “completely” purified state. Why?

Because humans have the innate capacity to sin (a concept that can be understood by a deeper understanding of Nafs & its types).

Therefore, the need for continuous self-improvement will remain with every human till he/ she dies.

What matters to Allah is that we stay in the effort of purifying ourself. The first step of “putting in the effort”, and “trying” is what’s praiseworthy and rewarded by Allah in both worlds.

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah S.A.W said:
Verily, when the believer commits a sin, a black spot appears upon his heart. If he repents and abandons the sin and seeks forgiveness, his heart will be polished, but if he increases in sin, the blackness increases. That is the covering which Allah has mentioned in his Book: Nay, but on their hearts is a covering because of what they have earned [Quran Surah 83, Ayah 14]
[ Sunan ibn Majah 4244, Grade: Sahih]

3. Self-development is NOT your end-goal.

Let’s start with a little lang session…

The superlative term of “better” is “best” or in other words “perfect“.

It’s best to remove the word “perfect” from the human dictionary. It is a word only suited for Allah.

Hypothetically speaking, the journey of “making yourself better” can only end in “becoming the best”.

And we know for a fact that there’s no such thing as the “best Muslim” since the only human being Allah created that holds the honorable title of “being the best of creation” was Prophet Muhammad S.A.W.

“Indeed you stand on an exalted standard of character.”

[Quran: Surah Qalam 68, Ayah 4]

So the belief system of a Muslim nullifies the hypothesis of “becoming the best Muslim”.

Therefore we can only be “better”.

And being better is a comparative term not superlative. That means it’s a journey not an end-goal.

*tsk *tsk. I’m not impressed by the nerdiness of this paragraph. -_-

What exactly is so amazing about self-development in Islam?

First and foremost, the most important benefit of self-development in Islam is SUCCESS. The true success that goes beyond money, power, comfort, prestige etc. In fact, the ONLY success according to Allah.

“He has certainly succeeded who purifies himself.  And mentions the name of his Lord and prays.” (Quran 87:14-15)

A Muslim can start enjoying the results of the true Islamic success in this world. Some of the amazing results are: 

7 amazing benefits of Self-development in Islam

1. Self-awareness

As you find about your purpose in life, your personal strengths and weaknesses, your passions, you begin truly LIVING.

Without self-awareness there’s no purpose.

Without purpose there’s no direction to your journey of life and no passion.

And what’s a life without passion or direction? 

2. Purpose driven life

A life without purpose is an empty life driven by emotions only.

Purpose gives the right direction to a Muslim’s life and adds passion to the journey of life.

When I say purpose, I don’t just mean living with the basic purpose of life of a Muslim, which is to serve Allah and live according to Islam.

 Allah says, “I have not created men except that they should serve Me” [Quran, 51:56].

I mean going beyond that basic purpose and finding the way YOU, as a unique individual with unique capabilities will serve Allah and prove your efforts.

Every human being has been gifted by Allah with a unique combination of qualities.

The purpose of a Muslim should be in line with his/her better characteristics (things he/she is good at), passion and Islamic values and guidelines.

3. A constant source of self-motivation

Ah-the motivation that comes from within you.

One of the most difficult things to achieve in life. *heavy sigh*

The companions of the Prophet S.A.W and his household members could always keep themselves motivated.

What if it IS possible for the rest of us regular Muslims?

Once you start working on yourself with the right intention (to please Allah S.W.T), the Qalb (your heart-in the spiritual sense not the physical) becomes purer and the voice of your Dhameer (conscience) gets louder. And that is the greatest super power behind the driving force called self-motivation. (explained below)

4. Intense focus, higher efficacy and effectiveness

Once you are all ready and set with the above said weapons of self-construction, anything you decide to do, you will do it with complete focus.

On the condition that the tasks you decide to do align with your true purpose.

An amazing outcome of working on projects/ studying with complete focus is that it tends to bring the most fruitful results.

In a nutshell- Better focus brings greater productivity, efficacy and effectiveness.

5. Greater Emotional Resilience

This is probably the sweetest of all the results of self-development in Islam.

Higher emotional resilience means you become resistant to emotional drives.

You don’t let your emotions control you. 

Your emotions don’t own you anymore.

You understand your emotions, accept them as normal and take value-driven actions on the basis of your emotional drives.

Sounds like the best thing to me! 😀

6. Longer lasting state of Happiness

The self-development process will train you to understand the difference between the long-lasting happiness and the fleeting kind.

The fleeting kind is the pursuit of life of majority of humans. It is a shallow pursuit that can never be completely fulfilled. It is an emotion that varies with all the other natural, normal human emotions.

That’s why it’s not sustainable for longer periods in this life.

The other kind of happiness is associated with love, peace and tranquility. This is the longer-lasting kind of happiness that you can hold on to as long as you keep purifying yourself. (more on happiness in later articles of the series)

7. Deep fulfilling relationships

As a result of a deeper relation with your self, your relationship with Allah S.W.T will become stronger.

The greater your efforts of purifying your Nafs, the stronger your relationship will be with Allah.

Moreover, you will form deeper relationships with your family, relatives, friends and fellow Muslims. This is a great blessing that most people strive to attain. 

Your BEST Investment

Investment literally meansthe act of putting money, effort, time etc. into something to makea profit or get advantage or achieve a result“.

It is soo easy to overlook our poor ignored self when it comes to investing just about anything.

We become so absorbed in learning science , engineering, Medicine, business, architecture, fashion, arts, literature, etc…. b-l-a-h, that we forget to invest in our own little self.

We strive to earn a living by doing what we love (or choose to do for reasons other than passion/love). We invest in our career to become honorable, knowledgeable and powerful in our society (whatever your pursuit in life may be).

Caring for our body, our families, our career, our society are all noble goals and are a part of the teachings of Islam.

But there’s a catch-choosing to invest in other pursuits of life is great, but Allah made us the care-takers of our “SELF”.

That’s why we all have one body and one soul. That’s all we will be asked for in the Hereafter. How did we use the possessions of Allah that He placed in our care? That’s where self-development comes in.

Therefore, it’s not only important, it’s necessary to work on ourself if we want to be truly successful as Muslims.

Another point of clarification is that the ONLY way to excellence and success in all these different aspects of life is through SELF.

The better your beliefs, habits, attributes, personality traits, qualities etc are, the closer you get to fulfilling your dreams and achieving  your goals in life.

Your work on self will bring you happiness, money, beautiful relationships, inner peace, power and every other thing you pursue in life. Above all, it will bring you closer to Allah.

Allah says in the Quran:

He has succeeded who purifies the soul, and he has failed who corrupts the soul. 

[Quran: Surah Ash-Shams 91: Ayah 9-10]

The 3 necessary ingredients of any Self-development project

FIRST ingredient: THE TINDER

The tinder (logs of wood) needed to start the fire of personal growth is inside every human being with a beating heart and a thinking mind. 

It’s the conscience of a soul (Dhameer or Zameer) that Allah has placed within us that guides us towards taking the first ACTIVE step of personal improvement. And the best part is, it’s always there- as long as you look for it inside your heart (Qalb)!

Remember we said that the pure voice of Dhameer is the number ONE super power behind the driving force (self-motivation) necessary for self-improvement? Well, the next super-power is… 

SECOND ingredient: THE SPARK

Now that you have the necessary startup ingredient for lighting a fire of personal growth, how do you start the fire? In other words, how do you start your journey of self-improvement?

For that you need The Spark. This is the second superpower behind the driving force needed (self-motivation) along every step of your self-development journey.

It’s the purpose of your life.

If you have aligned your temporary life goals with the true purpose of life of every believing Muslim, that is to serve Allah and Islam, then you have the spark needed to light the fire!

The lesson behind everything in Islam is to improve ourselves as Muslims, to increase our Taqwah, Imaan (Faith) and to practice Islam everyday.

How can you drive yourself to being a better version of you everyday unless you make it the purpose of your life? In other words, the constant driving force can majorly be derived from the True Purpose and the voice of Dhameer.

Moving on to the third and the last ingredient…

THIRD ingredient: THE FIRE SUSTAINED

Now that you have taken a few steps towards improving yourself and lighted the fire, how do you keep the fire in a state of hot glowing flame?

Well, there are going to be hurdles in the way of keeping the fire lighted. The strong wind, rain-water or other forces of nature will try to put out the light and burn the logs to ashes.

How do we stay motivated on our journey of self-improvement?
How do we keep going forward despite the trials in our way?

The strongest sustainable driving force comes ONLY from within you.
It’s basically called “Self-motivation”.

Without THIS necessary ingredient, EVERY self-development project will FAIL sooner or later. You can’t depend on others to keep motivating you. Don’t get me wrong, it’s extremely helpful to get motivated by others, in fact, it’s necessary too.

However, getting help from others should bring you to a point where you can help yourself in case you don’t have the luxury of group help/ support. 

Self-motivation is a necessary ingredient that has both super-powers, the Dhameer & Purpose, fueling it to keep it in motion.

And this driving force is what takes you forward on your self-development journey. 

The 10 Self-development Tools you will NEED on your journey

  1. A deep-rooted Belief System + the right intention
  2.  The right Mindset (shift the direction of your thought process-using the Aql)
  3.  Self-Assessment Plan
  4.  Personal-development plan + Mission statement
  5.  Education/ knowledge (Training/ Coaching/ self-learning)
  6.  Daily, weekly, monthly planning & goal-setting system
  7.  A practical “Task execution system/s”
  8.  Analytics on progress/ progress trackers/ self-accountability system
  9.  Motivational tools for consistency
  10.  Support group

A few FAQs about self-development in Islam

1. If I need to work on myself, does that mean there's something wrong with me or I'm not good enough?
Actually quite the opposite of that is true. Only those Muslims that are dearest to Allah work on themselves.
If the companions of the Prophet Muhammad S.A.W and even the Prophets before him needed to work on themselves, then it is absurd to assume that working on yourself in any way implies you are an evil person or that there’s something wrong with you.
The message behind every principle of Islam directs Muslims to improve themselves in one way or the other.
And every self-development project can only end in one way- with you becoming better.
2. If I am too focused on working myself, does that mean I'm a selfish and self-absorbed person?
Again- On the contrary. Like I explained above (in the benefits of self.dev section) that the most important benefit of improving yourself is the impact of your self-work on the life of others around you.
Working on yourself opens beautiful doors to your relationships. It prevents the negative driving force of your emotions from saying or doing something to hurt others and destroy your important relationships.
A part of becoming a better Muslim is being helpful to others. That means you start spending more time, resources, money and energy to improving the lives of others for the sake of Allah.
In a nutshell, there’s nothing that will help bring you closer to Allah and His creation, than working on the “self” Allah has given you.
3. Where do I start?
I’m glad you finally asked! I believe the first step before beginning any self-development project is fixing your mindset.
Once you shift the direction of your thought process, your actions will follow suit.
Mind BTW loosely refers to “AQL” in Arabic. It’s translated as “use of intellect”. In Arabic it’s used as a verb not a noun. The wisdom behind its use as a verb in the Quran is because it holds dynamic application as a verb. As opposed to being labeled merely as “intellect” if used as a noun, the word “Aql” being used a verb, means “the use of intellect to restrain/ to control”. 
The first step you need to work on is to use that intellect (AQL) Allah has blessed you with and shift your thought process in the direction of Truth, growth and positivity.

Wrapping up… What can you expect from this series? 

In this particular series, I will cover topics under emotional, physical and mental aspects of self-improvement. I won’t name all the upcoming articles (what’s the fun in that?!), but I can give you some teasers hehe…

Some of the topics are; how to fix your mindset & thought process, how to be happy, how to raise your self-esteem and be confident… *Ssshhhhh*.

The article updates will be delivered IN your INbox via our MYP-Weekly Newsletter ; ).. Yes we are cool, we have a newsletter B )

FYI.. Most of the content I write is exclusive to my mailing list crew– I love them to bits! You may see an article here on the blog every other week or so—BUT— I send a value-packed email every week to my list. Join in so you don’t miss out on all of the good stuff! 

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And Allah knows best!

Name ONE concept from the whole guide that really resonated with you? Let’s chat in the comments below!

KEEP READING…

Founder & Author l Muslim Youth Programme
Aimen is a Medical Doctor who teaches self-development to young Muslims struggling with the fitnah of this century. Her aim is to educate and empower Muslims with practical advice on self-development, productivity, studies and health, with insights on Islamic psychology. Jumpstart your productivity and take action on your goals by signing up to her latest FREE productivity Bootcamp for Muslims.
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