The path to God is only illuminated when a person recognizes the central place of God in his life and strives to develop his self accordingly. The Messenger of God (peace be upon him) said:
“If someone wants to know what position he enjoys in the eyes of God, he has only to look at what place he gives to God (in his heart and life).” (Al-Hakim)
The term nearest in meaning to self-development in the Qur’anic vocabulary is tazkiyah. Tazkiyah means purification and refers to the cleansing of the human self from all that is unwholesome, undesirable and unwelcome.
It also refers to the nurturing and strengthening of all the qualities within the human self that are essential for growth and development, for blossoming and flowering.
The Goal in Life
Success and happiness in this world and the Hereafter depend on tazkiyah, the purification and nurturing of our personality. The Qur’an states that true success is only reserved for those who seek to purify themselves:
Successful indeed is the one who purifies his whole self. (Ash-Shams 91:9)
Our personality comprises not only the physical body but also the mind and the heart, feelings and attitudes, character and behaviour. Proper nurturing and development of these elements of the personality will achieve desirable goals. When goals are desirable, the process of aspiring to, working towards and achieving them also become desirable.
This is part of human nature. It is critical, therefore, that we recognize and understand the true nature of our ultimate goal in life.
For the believer, the most coveted goal in life is to seek the good pleasure of Allah and Janna or Paradise. Our Creator has set this goal for us: “And surely Paradise – it is the goal” (An-Nazi`at 79:41); “Indeed the Next abode – it is truly the life!” (Al-`Ankabut 29:64); “The companions of Paradise – they are the triumphant ones” (Al-Hashr 59:20).
Way to Paradise
Know, however, that attaining the pleasure of Allah takes precedence over seeking Jannah but the two are closely connected. Paradise can only be attained through seeking Allah’s pleasure, and when Allah’s pleasure is gained, we will indeed be granted Paradise. Reflect upon the following two verses in the Qur’an:
And there is a kind of person who would willingly give up personal interests, seeking Allah’s pleasure; and God is Most Compassionate towards His servants. (Al-Baqarah 2:207)
Indeed Allah has purchased from the Believers their lives and their possessions, promising them Paradise, in return. (At-Tawbah 9:111)
The alternative to attaining Paradise in the Hereafter is to be placed in Jahannam or Hellfire and to receive its punishments. The Quran states: “But in the life to come: (it is either) severe suffering, or God’s forgiveness and His goodly acceptance.” (Al-Hadid 57:20). What is it that makes a person deserving of such a suffering?
The answer is to be found in the second part of the same verse: “for the life of this world is nothing but an enjoyment of self-delusion” (Al-Hadid 57:20). Jahannam therefore, is for those who seek as their ultimate goal in life, not the pleasure of Allah or Paradise, but the enjoyment of worldly gains.
The pursuit of worldly gain is but a mirage. All worldly gains are left behind when you die. All that is on earth is bound to perish while Allah and His good favour will remain forever. It is for this reason that the Qur’an advises:
Vie with one another in seeking to attain to your Sustainer’s forgiveness; and to a Paradise as vast as the heavens and the earth, which has been readied for those who have attained to faith in God and His messengers: such is the bounty of Allah which He grants unto whomever He wills -for Allah is limitless in His great bounty. (Al-Hadid 57:21)
All your efforts in this world should therefore be focused only on seeking Paradise. It is the promise of the Almighty that:
You will only be rewarded fully for all your good deeds on the Day of Resurrection, and (on that Day) whoever will be drawn away from Hellfire, and admitted into Paradise, will indeed have triumphed. (Aal `Imran 3:185)
The article is excepted from the author’s book “In the Early Hours: Reflections on Spiritual and Self-Development”.