People have an innate inclination towards self-appreciation and seeking recognition. What is the suitable attitude for a believer to have to counter such urges?
One can sometimes realize good things with the help and support of God Almighty. However, we cannot always be sure that we did everything in the best way possible. Perhaps it was possible to do something better with the means available. For this reason, even in the face of seemingly great accomplishments, believers must reflect on their actions by questioning themselves and their deeds thinking, “I wonder whether I was efficient in using the means granted to me. Have I given a satisfactory performance and did I really do my best?”
If this self-examination is done, I think even in the face of one’s greatest accomplishments, one will realize that they were not able to carry out their actions properly and failed to act in a way that complied with the intent of God Almighty; one will not be satisfied with her or his efforts. Thus, let alone taking pride in their actions, they will even begin to blame themselves and find avenues for improvement through this process of self-evaluation.
Carry out or Establish?
The Turkish people use the verb kilmak (to carry out) when referring to the observance of Prayers. However, the Qur’an and Sunnah refer to the same issue using the word iqama for establishing the Prayers. This means separating one’s self from anything other than God and perfectly fulfilling the Prayer’s inward and outward dimensions. In other words, one gives that Divine trust its due with perfect sensitivity and performs that pillar in a flawless fashion with its special hues, patterns, and lines. For this reason, if someone says, “I have established the Prayer” then others may ask that person “have you really fulfilled the Prayer thoroughly with all of its outward and inward requirements?”
As for the use of the term “kılmak” it rather gives a sense of finishing a task one has to complete. Therefore, I find it safer to refer to the Prayers with the phrase “kılmak”; it sounds humbler. It calls to mind a consideration that if the Prayer has not been perfectly fulfilled with its inward and outward dimensions, then one cannot say they have established it. Instead, I performed the Prayer to the best of my ability. However, I have hope in the infinite mercy of God that He will forgive a person like me who carries out the Prayers imperfectly. I truly love this way of thinking, because I believe it is a reflection of a humble and modest personality.
When this is not the case, then there is a danger inone’s becoming confident in their good acts. Instead, one must think, ‘I could not do it properly,’ and seek to do better and to hold the firm belief that God Almighty may forgive His servants even with deeds performed imperfectly and accept them. Hopefully, God Almighty will fill the gaps in the deeds of a person who possesses this type of attitude with regard to their intention and treats that person accordingly. It is wrong to think about the good things one accomplished, to seek recognition for them, and to wish for their good deeds to be talked about; similarly, it is wrong to claim the appreciation and compliments of others. Other people can say, ‘this person made such and such achievements’, but we are supposed to take it as an exaggeration that stems from their positive view and take such remarks as mistaken judgment.
In fact, mistaken judgments based upon thinking positively of others cannot be evaluated as a sin. In Islamic ethics, it is better to prove wrong a good opinion of a person than prove right a negative opinion. Muslims are supposed to hold a good opinion of one another with the condition of not losing the balance of making exaggerations in singing someone’s praises. Otherwise, this resembles dealing a fatal blow to them by evoking arrogance.
Do Not Reduce the Reward for Good Acts into the Expectation of Appreciation from People
It is very important for a believer to aspire to make others love God and His Messenger with an insatiable ambition. However, even if a man succeeds in becoming a means for making all hearts feel and appreciate the true spirit of the noble Prophet, he should see what he did as insufficient; he should not reduce the value of those good acts by seeking recognition in return for them. Even others’ appreciative remarks should not change his feelings and opinion with regards to this issue. Those who seek an opportunity to talk about their achievements and live with this feeling will not find the opportunity or time to detail what they really should. However, our care and concern should be only for God and His Messenger. We should see this as the greatest ideal and act upon it all the time. It is the right of God Almighty to be loved by people, whereas its realization is a duty and responsibility for the believers. One of the most dangerous factors for those who try to serve for this sake is trying to express and prove oneself by mentioning certain things one achieved. In fact, if others heedlessly praise a person’s ideas, suggestions, projects, and organizational or communicative skills, then the situation is more dangerous. When we cherish a worldly goal such as recognition by others, although it is possible to realize in this world, it reduces the reward and will bring a disappointment beyond description in the next one. For this reason, a true believer should see the issue from the perspective of the immensity of Divine Mercy, always seek God’s good pleasure, and never render their actions worthless by attaching them to simple expectations.
It is not a virtue for a person to memorize personal achievements and acts of goodness. There is a proverb that reflects this meaning: “Do a good deed and let it into sea; even if the fish do not appreciate it, the Creator will.”
When someone performs an act of goodness, it is possible to praise God and offer thanks to Him for making it possible for one to perform that good deed. That is a different issue. However, if someone mentions his or her achievements and good deeds in a boastful manner, it will cause them to lose the otherworldly rewards that would have accompanied their good deeds. Believers must act so sensitively with regards to this issue that when someone comes and mentions their good act, they should be able to say that they do not even remember that and not spare any place in their memory for it. If needed, they should make serious efforts to erase it from their memory.
The Greatest Shortcoming: Not Seeing One’s Own Shortcomings
Someone with sound belief should have a guilty conscience even about a single bad deed and feel remorse as if it was done yesterday, even if they committed it seventy years ago and asked forgiveness for it seventy thousand times. They must kneel in shame and keep asking for forgiveness from God. Perhaps the mistakes that existed in the mind and imagination will never be recorded in a person’s record of deeds; however, if a person commits a mistake even at such a level, he or she must feel ashamed, saying, “My God! How could I even think such unbecoming things before You… How could I allow such things to enter my imagination? What a disrespectful person I am!” In other words, a person should feel ashamed for the wrongs they commit. A person who acts in this manner will not lose anything. On the contrary, one who leads a life in this way will attain the reward of so much repentance by seeking forgiveness. The Messenger of God gave glad tidings to those whose record of deeds is rich in seeking forgiveness (istighfar). In one instance, he stated that he asked forgiveness from God at least seventy times a day, and another time, he said it was a hundred times a day. However, we already know that God Almighty did not let him commit the slightest wrong in his entire lifetime. The beloved Prophet, peace and blessing be upon him, was born innocent and always lived innocently. He led his life under the protective shade of Divine revelation. Despite this fact, he still asked for forgiveness seventy or a hundred times a day.
In conclusion, it is a great gain for a person to rise from bed at night with a guilty conscience about a single sin, shed tears about it, and say, “O God, I ask forgiveness a million times from You.” As for those who are dizzy from their achievements, which see themselves as free from guilt and live in the magical atmosphere of their own virtues, it is very difficult for them to turn toward God in humility and humbleness. It is only those who see themselves as criminals even for making the slightest wrong that turn toward God with complete sincerity, open up to Him and start imploring Him to forgive them. Therefore, a person that seeks appreciation from others is contemptible, whereas questioning oneself is a virtuous deed. May God include us among His fortunate servants who criticize themselves in the true sense!