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Types of Self-Delusion

MISGUIDED CHARACTER: TYPES OF SELF-DELUSION

By Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali (D.505 AH)

Self-delusion is not peculiar to non-believers; it happens to believers as well. The following is a sincere look and discussion of self-delusion, its subtleties and how it could possibly happen to believers of varying degrees of faith, be they worshippers, men of learning, men of wealth, etc.

Among the self-deluded are those who are extremely “fastidious about certain things like wudhu (ablution before prayers)” for example. They obsess about typically unnecessary and minute details of making wudhu -as regards the purity of the water for instance, so much so that that scrupulousness sometimes leads them to delay obligatory Salaats (Prayers) beyond their prescribed times, or to ignore authentic legal evidences on how wudhu should be performed. Yet, when it comes to matters of higher urgency like earning money and provision, those very same people tend to be lax and licentious, ignoring legal restraints in this regard and employing all sorts of ploys and artifices.

Were they to display this meticulousness in matters of wealth and finance, they would advance a step closer to the behavior and attitude of the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad, (PBUH). It was narrated that on one occasion Umar, (RAA) performed wudhu from a water pitcher belonging to a Christian woman; he did that despite the apparent likelihood that that water might be impure. However, it is reported that this very same Umar used to abstain from partaking of some legal gains when he feared they might lure him unto illegal ones.

Self-delusion also afflicts some of those who are good at reciting the Quran, which they do a great deal of that they sometimes finish reciting the whole Quran in a single day! But those people seldom ponder over the meanings inherent in the verses they are busy reciting, nor attempt to bring their life and conduct in line with their spirit. Anyone who does not heed the divine commands and prohibitions stated in the Quran, his or her recitation will not carry much weight in the eyes of Allah nor will it bring him any closer to His mercy, no matter how many times or how beautifully he or she recites the Quran.

Of the self-deluded are some of those who have taken to fasting – in addition to mandatory fasts, they accumulate have little bearing on their conduct-they do not, for example, rein in their tongues from backbiting or hurting others, rid their minds of evil thoughts or abstain from haram provisions. Theirs is certainly a grand self-delusion. For they heed the recommended acts and disregard the mandatory ones and yet entertain a false belief that they are treading the path of the righteous! How far, how far is that which they are deceiving themselves unto getting!

And there are those who appropriate the undertaking of enjoining good and forbidding evil. They go around breathing down people’s necks and engaging in intense preaching. But they do not really practice what they preach. Rather, their eyes are on the spotlight, leadership and prestige; and if criticized or corrected, pride in the sin takes hold of them, show resentment and tell their critics to shut up. They harbor this bogus feeling that their standing as enjoiners of good and forbidders of evil places them above criticism and correction when the truth of the matter is that they are just showing off and are in fact after certain personal ambitions.

Self-delusion also misleads some into thinking that frequenting the sacred sites in Makkah and Madinah is the utmost act of devotion. They boast of frequent visits to and sojourns in those shrines. But if you vet their attitude, you will find them unobservant of the rights and limits of Allah and His Prophet (PBUH) whom they claim to esteem. Those are truly deluded ones who think journeying to those sanctoriums will guarantee them salvation. How far, how far that which they seek. And how could such people achieve salvation when they are incapable of a righteous deed as tiny as feeding a hungry soul.

From among the self-deluded are the ones who attach great importance to the voluntary acts of worship and devotion while neglecting or giving little attention to the obligatory acts. For instance, they find pleasure and fulfillment in performing Salatul-Dhuha (midday salah), tahajjud (night salah), etc., but only little delight or satisfaction do they find in doing obligatory salahs. This attitude of their runs counter to a great Prohetic teaching that “nothing brings the servant closer to Allah than his observing of the things Allah has made obligatory on him.” (Bukhari).

Disregarding the principle of prioritization of devotional acts relative to the importance, rank and urgency of each one of them is a kind of self-delusion. For at times a person may encounter two obligatory acts, with one of them being more urgent than the other, and if he can’t decide which act to give precedence to and which act to sacrifice, he is sure doomed to commit egregious blunders. Examples of such tricky situations that call for fiqh and knowledge are endless. Moreover, acts of disobedience or sins are normally distinct and can easily be detected, but the same doesn’t hold for acts of obedience which tend to be mixed up at times, and only those conversant with fiqh, particularly the fiqh of prioritization, are capable of sorting them out.

Self-delusion is also noticeable among those who believe that they can achieve true asceticism just by renouncing material comforts and bodily pleasures, while their hearts are still gripped by love of prestige and celebrity. The problem with those pseudo-ascetics is that they attach unduly importance to the ostensive trappings or righteousness while giving no or little thought to the far more significant act of ridding the heart of spiritual maladies like conceit, showing-off and pride, to name but some. Those folks fail to understand that an atom weight of conduct of a truly God-fearing person outweighs tons of apparently good deeds done by someone whose inner soul is not yet touched by the light of faith.
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(Courtesy: Al Jumuah Magazine)

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