The Self and Submission to God

Islamic tradition advocates a fundamental distinction between God and His creatures. But immortality and godliness always tempt man. Defying God, man loves himself and tries to have all powers of the world vested in him. This narcissism reaches its pinnacle when a person replaces his self with God, when he sees it as an ultimate ground that imparts meaning to everything else. The consequence of this narcissism is arrogance accompanied by denial of God. A fitting example is Ramses ll, who, according to the Qur'an, proclaimed, " I am your lord"(79:24), even though it was proven to him that he was imperfect and dependent. Like all other narcissists, Pharaoh attempted to suppress the truth and the resultant inner conflicts through self-deception. That Pharaoh demanded a skyscraper to be built to confront the God of Moses, sent an arrow only to be sent back smeared with blood, and used it as evidence for the death of Moses' God, it serves as an appropriate example. When a narcissist of this type realises that he is purely dependent upon God, his arrogant mind will continuously attempt to cover the truth with multiple lies to the extent that he may deny the possible inner conflicts that emerge out of the denial of the truth. Actually, the narcissism and its crisis found in the likes of Pharaoh stem from mistakenly attributing the capacity of being ground of everything to things that do not qualify for that status. 

Recognising the reality of human existence, the German philosopher Martin Heidegger called the man "the groundless ground of Being” in his earlier thoughts[1]. This makes us aware of the security guaranteed in taking refuge in God, who is the perfect and reliable ground. An appropriate example in literature of the undesirable consequences of finding the meaning of life in groundless, transient things is "Overcoat", a famous story by Russian writer Nikolai Gogol[2]. The protagonist Akaky Akakievich, who finds the meaning of his wretched life in a new overcoat he recently bought, dies shortly after he loses the coat as emptiness overwhelms his life. After death, he becomes a ghost that takes off the coat of those responsible for his being deprived of his beloved coat. Here, Akakievich faces the consequence of searching for the meaning of life in a trivial thing in two ways: First, there is no God to punish those responsible for Akakievich's loss, hence he has to turn into a ghost to ensure that the culprits get what they deserve. Second, loss of his coat was like loss of his life, whereas it was not so for those he punished because many of them were rich enough to buy another one. This means, his revenge does not make up for his suffering; he is not even fortunate enough to experience the contentment that revenge usually brings. This subjects his soul to endless agony. In fact, this is the consequence of grounding the precious gift of life in worthless things. The same happens to the narcissist who worships the self as he will be subjected to everlasting conflicts within himself. But faith in its true spirit is contrary to this.

Nature of Faith

True faith is vanquishing pride and submitting the self before God unconditionally. This submission is never complete unless intellect and passions attain total contentment and gratification in the ultimate reality of God. This is what heaven is.

According to Fakhruddin al-Rāzi, heaven is attained when intellect and passions are reconciled without conflicts. Heaven is as much a balanced mental state as it is a space. This is why al-Rāzi asserts that Prophet Adam lost heaven as earlier as instincts started rebelling against his intellect[3]. When someone loves the self and finds meaning in it, his intellect and passions will not be in harmony. When the intellect feels imperfect in the self, it feels the need for perfection and becomes restless at the transient emotional excitement. Even if the intellect is pacified, lack of a total enjoyment is likely to be felt within, leading to the passions uprising against the intellect. This state can be rectified only through the total submission before Allah, the supreme reality.

In short, heaven becomes heavenly only when one submits himself before the grandeur of the divine name " Al-Jameel". Through the vision of Allah in afterlife, through witnessing that moment when the name "Al-Jameel" reveals itself, both intellect and passions become fully satisfied because both of them will find proper object of satisfaction in that name. Thus, the hu human attains heaven.

[1] Catriona Hanley, Heidegger on Aristotle’s Metaphysical God, Continental Philosophy Review, 32,1999, 25-27

[2] Nikolai Gogol, Overcoat, in The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol, Translated and Annotated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, First Vintage Classics Edition, Pantheon Books, July, 1999, 219-235

[3] Mafathihul Ghaib, Fakhruddin Razi, Part Thirty Two, Darul Fikr, 1981, 177

About author:

Kidhar P.T is a PG student at Darul Huda Islamic University, India, and the sub-editor of Thelitcham Monthly. His research areas include philosophy, Islamic theology, Sufism, and ancient history.


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily mirror Islamonweb’s editorial stance.

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