by Brooke Benoit (in collaboration with Team AYEINA)

Importance of Self-Knowledge in Islam

“…Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves…” [Quran – 13:11

Self awareness yields confidence and self-confidence means being aware of what Allah has given you of good characteristics and striving accordingly to attain that which will benefit you. If you misuse it, you will be filled with arrogance and self admiration upon denial of hose blessings that have been given to you by Allah. 

Emotional Intelligence

According to psychologists, emotional intelligence can be further divided into five domains 
1) Self Awareness 
2) Managing Emotions 
3) Motivating oneself 
4) Recognizing emotions in others 
5) Handling relationships

An important concept relating to the concept of human nature from an Islamic perspective is fitra. Fitra refers to the primordial state of man – his natural condition and disposition. Even before we were born, or were conceived, our souls met with Allah. According to an Islamic point of view –  this explains the instinct in all individuals for right and wrong.

Why do we experience a loss of identity, confidence and self-respect?

In order to develop self-confidence it is essential to look with gratitude at what Allah has given you of skills and characteristics, so that this will motivate you to strengthen your self-confidence. It is very important for the Muslim who is seeking ways of increasing his self-confidence not to repeat negative words, such as saying that he has no self-confidence or that he will never succeed at work. He should not be distracted by previous difficult experiences and past failures, because that will spoil his efforts and make him look down on what he has achieved of success. According to PsychCentral, following are some of the reasons:

1) We’re disconnected from our thoughts and feelings. We commonly keep ourselves so distracted and numb with alcohol, food, and electronics etc. that we miss important information about who we are. These things keep us from knowing ourselves because we don’t allow ourselves to be curious and ask ourselves how we’re really feeling.

2) We put everyone else’s needs before our own. When we focus on others and neglect ourselves, we fail to recognize and value ourselves and our needs. We minimize who we are and what we need. A balance is needed in this – you take care of yourself and others as well (the much you are able to do). No extreme is good of course.

3) We feel ashamed and unworthy, and consequently bury parts of ourselves. We are told that we’re bad, strange, ugly, stupid, or unworthy and we believe it. We’re told we have to fit a certain mold if we’re to fit in. So, we squish our square peg selves into round holes and try to be something we’re not. And sometimes the person that is telling us that is we ourselves! After years of doing this, we lose track of who we really are. 

Steps to Gain Better Self Awareness

Knowing ourselves is key to improving ourselves, thereby becoming better people and being able to get closer to Allah as a result.
“Indeed he succeeds who purifies it (his soul).” [Qur’an – 91: 9]

Each one of us is gifted our own unique personality, strengths and weaknesses, giving us our individual skill sets to use for ourselves, our families and the world. The process of knowing oneself is lifelong and in shaa Allah will be finessed the longer and more you do it consciously. I recognize that nearly any nature can be good when properly directed or it could be bad when the direction is wrong.

Consider well-known members of the sahaba, such as Umar and Abu Bakr (RA). Seemingly quite opposite of each other – Umar quite fierce and firm, while Abu Bakr was gentler and lenient – but both were rightly guided and effective leaders. So all in all, no single nature is bad as long as it’s rightly guided. So instead of trying to be someone else, it’s important to know who YOU are and how you can utilize your potential to the max.

Following are some ways you can try for better self awareness in shaa Allah:

1) Get to know your Creator better

You get to know about the creation best through his/her Creator! Allah knows you better than yourself. The more you know Allah, the more you know yourself. 

“…He knows the secret and what is more hidden.” [Qur’an – 20:7]

There are dynamics inside us that we are not even aware of which impact the way we behave, but Allah knows us even better than we know ourselves. Our spiritual closeness to Him will help us unravel our deeply-ingrained complexities, becoming healthier human beings, giving us confidence and clarity and alleviating us from sadness and negative emotions in our lives. (Bayyinah Institute)

2) Ask Allah for guidance towards the truth:

 

Set your intention to know yourself better for the sake of being closer to Allah and ask Him to help you. (Side benefits of knowing oneself can include better personal relationships, improved work performance and overall contentedness).

 And be not like those who forgot Allah, so He made them forget themselves. [Qur’an – 59:19]

Trust Allah that He WILL guide you to the truth! When Moosa (AS) and his people fled from Pharaoh and his troops, and the two sides saw one another, we see the trust that Moosa (AS) had in his Lord. 

And when the two companies saw one another, the companions of Moses said, “Indeed, we are to be overtaken!”  said, “No! Indeed, with me is my Lord; He will guide me.” [Qur’an – 26:61-62]

3) Practice self-reflection (especially with journaling):

Ask yourself why you do/did the things you do. Be mindful not to judge yourself, we all have room for improvement and shaming yourself is like taking two steps forward and three steps back – it can cause stagnation. Just try to recognize your motives and patterns. Track and celebrate your successes, while building on what you are learning.

Journal about your thoughts/moods – What do you think about during a normal day? Or a week? Write it all down. By doing so you can find recurring patterns of thought such as fears or maybe that you spend a lot of time regretting what happened in the past. Or you may find that you are actually a more positive person than you may think. This is a really interesting exercise because it can help you spot both positive things and negative things about yourself and just how accurate your current image of yourself is. You’ll probably run into some surprises.

Journal about your actions – what you want to do more or less in life  Just write down what you do during one day. Or during one week. Write down what you spend your time on and how much time you spend on each thing. You may, as me, be surprised about how much time you waste on procrastinating and pretty pointless busy work. Even if you may have an image of yourself as an effective person.

3) Ask your wise loved ones about yourself:

 

Ask from people who will neither sugar coat things for you nor would discourage you to the point that you feel disheartened to even improve yourself (if required). Listen thoughtfully to the people you respect when they give you advice about yourself and your behavior. They know you and care about you. Their view of you may help you to better see yourself. The Prophet (SAW) and the khalifas are known to have regularly sought out advice and accept personal criticism.

 

4) Take personality tests

If it appeals to you, take a personality test. It may help you answer some of the questions you’ve been looking for. The rule of such tests is to be as honest as possible with yourself. It’s not about knowing who you WANT to be, it’s about knowing who you already ARE (and then in shaa Allah working on how you want to improve).

“O you who have believed, upon you is yourselves…” [Qur’an – 5:105]

5 Free Effective Online Personality Tests:

Following are some of the famous personality tests that you may try (personally tested as well):

1) Big 5 personality test by Psychology Today

The basic result is free while the detailed result is paid. Nonetheless, the free basic result tells you a lot about yourself as well.

2) Quiz based on your personality as a child by Color Code

This one was unique because it asked questions on how you were as a child – and even though you may have changed as an adult, the base nature remains the same and it helps you truly know yourself in depth. You can also take this test to know your child better perhaps. Or let your parent answer the questions for you (in case you don’t remember how you were as a child).

3) Free personality test by 16 Personalities

This one had the most detailed result. The quiz shows the result broken down into categories of relationship, parenthood, friendship, career path, strengths and weaknesses etc.

4) Interpersonal Skills Self-Assessment MCQs by Skills You Need

This one is detailed yet short. I loved how they asked how would you rate yourself and then they rated you based on the questions you answered. Sometimes we overestimate or underestimate ourselves!

5) EQ quiz by IHHP

If you wouldn’t like to spend a lot of time taking these tests, this was one of the shortest (but also good).

5) See a counselor

I know this is a big taboo subject for many of us, but personally I love it. It feels a bit like cheating, really. A counselor is trained in human psychology and behavior, so they can give you lots of explanations and tools to better know yourself. If you can find a Muslim Counselor then that would be even better as they can guide you keeping your faith in mind as well.

 

6) Spend time with a diverse body of people (developing empathy)

One of the very best ways, and I believe funnest, to get to know yourself is by spending time with a diverse body of people as your perspective broadens. By spending time with all kinds of people, you can recognize your differences and similarities, improving aspects you like in yourself and removing those you don’t. Gaining self awareness can be a daunting task. But knowing myself helps you to better operate in this world. And that eases life. Alhamdulillah.

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another…” [Qur’an – 49:13]

Empathy , another ability that builds on emotional self awareness, is the fundamental “people skill”. As the states of mind, beliefs, and desires of others are intertwined with their emotions, one with empathy for another may often be able to more effectively define another’s mode of thought and mood. Empathy is often characterized as the ability to “put oneself into another’s shoes”, or experiencing the outlook or emotions of another being within oneself, a sort of emotional resonance. It is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other person’s frame of reference. 

The Messenger of Allah said: “By the One in Whose hand is the soul of Muhammad, none of you has believed until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself of goodness.” [Nasa’i]

Types of empathy include COGNITIVE EMPATHY (the capacity to understand another’s perspective or mental state – cognitive empathy is ‘empathy by thought’, rather than by feeling), EMOTIONAL EMPATHY (the capacity to respond with an appropriate emotion to another’s mental states – as if you had ‘caught’ the emotions), and COMPASSIONATE EMPATHY (the ability to feel someone’s pain, and taking an action to help – feeling another person’s pain, as if it was happening to us, and hence expressing the appropriate amount of sympathy while also remaining in control of our own emotions and making better decisions to provide appropriate support to them when and where it is necessary).

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BIO: Brooke Benoit is a magazine editor, unschooling mama of seven and co-host of retreats exclusively for Muslimahs at thebigreconnectsleepover.com

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