Self-love, not Egoism
Islam provides man with reliable criteria and adequate methods for the fulfilment of his psychological needs. It devotes itself to the reform and refinement of human nature through a comprehensive and all-round programme. The rules and regulating devices that Islam employs for moderating human wants give a burnish to the human spirit and intellect, thus basing all human effort on true reality. That is because if emotions and feelings are left uncontrolled, they will not only be harmful for others but will also create psychological disorders and conflicts which will lead to the individual's degeneration and fall.
Self-love is one of the factors whose significant role in life cannot be ignored. Were it to be oriented towards a sublime goal it would impel man towards virtue and merit.
However, there is a great difference between self-love and narcissism. Self-love is a sign of spiritual greatness and an expansive personality, which prompts man toward humbleness and sacrifice. Egotism on the other hand restricts the scope of one's thoughts and leads human nature into abasement and indignity.
Imam 'Ali, may Peace be upon him, said:
The humblest of men is one who has a high regard for his personal worth. 9
Egocentrism means sacrificing others for the sake of one's wishes and happiness, while self-assertion is a psychological state that is distinguished by the determination to develop one's personality. Egocentrism is always accompanied with extreme weakness, whereas self-assertion is accompanied with an extraordinary strength.
If you resolve not to surrender to the will of others and you think that its imposition is contrary to your health, vitality and personal success and effectiveness, you are a self-asserting person.
But this does not imply that you should be insensitive and unresponsive to others' indignity and misfortune. I am only suggesting that instead of dissipating one's energies in a thousand directions one should store them for opportune occasions. Self-assertion does not preclude self- sacrifice either, but subjects it to a certain principle, and a self-asserting person is most willing to assist someone in a desperate condition or to make a friend happy.
Morally speaking, one who does not have sufficient strength to preserve his courage and mental equanimity in the midst of problems should avoid the company of weak people and join the ranks of the strong. Otherwise he will soon find weakness settling upon him, leading to torpidity and lack of courage. It is the duty of everyone to respond to the wishes and aspirations of others. But on the other hand there is a simple criterion of a correct balance between egoism and self-sacrifice, and that is making an effort to accomplish one's duty whether it is meant for personal or general benefit.
There is no doubt that if the members of a nation resolve to develop their personalities they will attain to the highest degree of equilibrium efficiency, and dynamism. Accordingly, there is nothing better than spiritual training, and it is self-assertion that develops self-denial to its highest degree. In fact, moral rectitude is a product of spiritual balance. 10
Islam suggests every means that is required for the development of this strong urge, which is based on very firm foundations, giving great care to its refinement. But it also negates the same urge when it assumes a destructive aspect under the influence of rebellious appetites. In fact, one who allows himself to be led by this unguided and devastating urge ruins the foundations of his well-being and will meet a blameworthy end.
Self-love is approved by Islam when it has a right and straight orientation, is free from any kind of deviation and crookedness, and is not subversive. It should be so oriented as to secure happiness in this world as well as everlasting felicity, nothing greater than which is conceivable. A Muslim who discovers reality with an open mind and a clear insight will never surrender everlasting felicity for transitory pleasures, which are moreover mixed with all types of pains and anxieties. Real love and sympathy for himself do not allow him to yield to the indignity and bondage of base and destructive appetites, which would moreover invite everlasting punishment and endless torment. A self-love that leads one to such a fate is not at all worthy of the sublime station of the human being.
9. Ibid., p. 195.
10. Paul Clement Jagot, Persian trans. Qudrat-e iradeh, pp. 70-71.
Adapted from: "Ethics and Spiritual Growth" by: "Sayyid Mujtaba Musawi Lari"
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