بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Five years ago, I wrote a post entitled “Nobody appreciates me” on my Greatest Month blog.
That post was about how people wanted others to appreciate them and the dangers associated with that way of thinking because it removed one’s sincerity to Allah.
A few years after I wrote that post, I started noticing something else that was in a way linked to this issue but was more subtle – and much worse.
I noticed that people didn’t just do things to make others appreciate them more – they also seemed to do things to increase in their estimation of themselves.
Did you understand that part? If not, let me repeat.
I noticed that people did things so that they improved in their own eyes i.e. they did what they did to increase their own self-worth. I refer to this phenomenon as “The Trophy of Self-Appreciation”.
In this post, I will be talking about all the things that I witnessed that led me to the conclusion that many people are focused on self-appreciation (in a bad way, I should point out).
Now, this post is unlike most of my other posts, in that it is pretty much opinion-based, as opposed to evidence-based. One reason for this is that I cannot say for certainty that these people are doing these acts for the reasons mentioned. I only assumed so because of many factors that I witnessed.
You are absolutely free to disagree, because as this is an opinion-based piece, I might be completely wrong with my observations. In fact, if you do disagree, I would like you to comment and point out which parts of this post you had issues with.
So, one of the things that alerted me to the phenomenon of self-appreciation was an online time management lecture (Islamic-based) I attended, where the speaker pointed out something very interesting. He stated that in time management, the traditional wheel of life involves the person being at the centre and all the aspects of life revolve around him or her.
He then pointed out that Allah guided him to a better way. He displayed a similar circle to the one above, but with the spirituality part removed and with the name of Allah in the centre, not the person.
So, he was trying to say that in today’s way of thinking, life revolves around the individual. However, in the Islamic way, life revolves around Allah.
To me, the point he made about the traditional wheel of life was an eye-opener. To me, it seemed that if this was the case, and people were being taught to focus so much on their own selves, then this would mean that they would also focus a whole lot on things that increased their self-appreciation.
Another thing I came across that made me ponder was the issue of narcissism. This concept is named after Narcissus, an imaginary Greek fellow, who fell in love with his own reflection. Narcissism is defined as ““.
After reading up about narcissism, I realised that this was what I had been witnessing, and that things like the traditional wheel of life were increasing this way of thinking. I was alarmed to find out that many articles pointed out that narcissism was on the rise in today’s time.
Now, one might ask: Where is the proof of this self-appreciation thing, you mention? And what proof do you have that people are becoming narcissists and only focusing on themselves?
Well, as I said, I have no proof, but I do have some examples that I’ve witnessed.
The first example that I’ll start with is social media. Many people have Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts.
Now, what are people most concerned about when they have these accounts? Well, it’s the number of followers and also likes, isn’t it? That’s what people focus on.
Now, the question is why do they focus on it so much? What happens if you get a huge amount of followers or a huge amount of likes? Well, to be honest, nothing happens – except that the person (with the followers and likes) feels really good about themselves.
Part of this would be because they want to feel superior to others, but I think part of this has to do with how they view themselves. To many people, a small amount of followers and likes = loser, and a huge amount of followers and likes = winner.
So, people feel satisfied and happy with themselves when they have many followers and likes. They seem to appreciate themselves more in that case.
Now, the question is: should a large number of followers be a reason to increase in one’s appreciation of oneself? So what if you have a small amount of followers? Why would you consider yourself inferior as a result of that?
Subhan Allah, in Islam, even if you do many acts of WORSHIP, you are still not allowed to praise yourself or think highly of yourself, so how is it that those with a huge number of Twitter or Facebook followers can have a high opinion of themselves based on that!
وَلِلَّـهِ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ لِيَجْزِيَ الَّذِينَ أَسَاءُوا بِمَا عَمِلُوا وَيَجْزِيَ الَّذِينَ أَحْسَنُوا بِالْحُسْنَى
الَّذِينَ يَجْتَنِبُونَ كَبَائِرَ الْإِثْمِ وَالْفَوَاحِشَ إِلَّا اللَّمَمَ ۚ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ وَاسِعُ الْمَغْفِرَةِ ۚ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِكُمْ إِذْ أَنشَأَكُم مِّنَ الْأَرْضِ وَإِذْ أَنتُمْ أَجِنَّةٌ فِي بُطُونِ أُمَّهَاتِكُمْ ۖ فَلَا تُزَكُّوا أَنفُسَكُمْ ۖ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَنِ اتَّقَىٰ
And to Allah belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth, that He may requite those who do evil with that which they have done (i.e. punish them in Hell), and reward those who do good, with what is best (i.e. Paradise). Those who avoid great sins and Al-Fawaahish (illegal sexual intercourse, etc.) except the small faults, verily, your Lord is of vast forgiveness. He knows you well when He created you from the earth (Adam), and when you were fetuses in your mothers’ wombs. So ascribe not purity to yourselves. He knows best him who fears Allah and keep his duty to Him [i.e. those who are Al-Muttaqoon (pious)]. [Surah An-Najm (53) : 31-32]
Another example I came across was in blogging. I noticed that many bloggers displayed the number of hits that their blog has had. They also displayed the number of followers that they had. Of course, most of them only did this when both numbers were high.
Just a question: Why does anyone, let alone a Muslim, have to share this information? Does anyone have to know this apart from the website administrator? Isn’t this a subtle way of showing others how amazing one is?
Think about it. Isn’t it as though the person is proving to others that they are indeed successful?
Now, this might go under showing off as well. I’m not discussing that in this post though. I’m just talking about the part where they use these stats to appreciate themselves and improve their own self-worth.
Apart from the stats, some Muslim bloggers also had a very interesting About page where they talked about well, themselves. Some mentioned their extensive dawah (calling to Islam), whereas some others mentioned how much knowledge they had sought and yet others mentioned different achievements.
I must admit that some of these About pages made me feel very uncomfortable. See, dawah and seeking knowledge (of Islam) are acts of worship so they are supposed to be done only for Allah and cannot be done to show-off.
I know that sometimes people need to talk about their experience levels in order to gain credibility and also so that people know under whom they studied, but shouldn’t we be a bit careful about oversharing this type of information?
I might be completely wrong but I sense that some people have a huge inferiority complex and feel the need to prove that they do indeed “belong” in dawah and circles of knowledge and hence end up advertising their own achievements.
Again, it’s what I call the Trophy of Self-Appreciation. Dawah and seeking knowledge get turned into tools via which a person increases in their love and appreciation of themselves. However, both of these acts are supposed to be done in order to raise the doer in the sight of Allah.
Also, neither of these two should be done to raise a person over other people. After all, dawah was the work of the Prophets (alaihimissalaam) and they were the most knowledgeable of people. Yet, they were always humble and never raised themselves up over others nor were they ever infatuated with themselves as many people seem to be today.
Another example I would choose to illustrate this point (of self-appreciation) is the choosing of spouses. These days, many men, even religious ones, want educated women who also happen to look like models and who will treat them like princes.
Now, many women, even religious ones, are not that much better in their way of thinking. They would really prefer a handsome, rich, educated man, thank you very much. And of course, he had to treat her like a princess.
Now, let’s think about that for a minute. Why is it that people look for these things in their spouses? Isn’t it so that it reflects well on themselves?
If a man gets a beautiful wife, doesn’t that reflect well on him that he got her? He deserved such a wife, therefore he must be awesome.
So then, doesn’t this make his wife a Trophy of Self-Appreciation for him?
Now, I’m not saying that everyone thinks like this. I just want people to realise that this possibility does exist and it’s something they should think about.
Another example is with regards to children. Some parents seem to view their children as trophies too.
How, you ask? Well, they only seem pleased with them when the children reflect well on the parents. For example, the child HAS to do well in school, or else.
I understand that parents want the best for their children but should a child be given love according to his or her achievements? Shouldn’t parents offer their children unconditional love?
You might disagree with this point but this issue in particular has been mentioned by numerous psychologists – i.e. narcissistic parents viewing their children merely as an extension of themselves and only being (superficially) happy with them when they achieve something.
Needless to say, the children go through a huge amount of emotional torture and many end up suffering from Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This issue is a very long one and I won’t discuss it in detail here.
And for those who think that parents can never be bad, might I ask your opinion on the father of Ibrahim (alaihissalaam) who did nothing to prevent his people from throwing his own son into a fire? Yeah.
The last example that I’ll mention is that of awards. Many people run after the awards of their own industry. For example, actors want Oscars, writers want the Nobel Prize in Literature and tennis players want grand slams. [No, I’m not advertising movies or grand slams. These are just examples!]
Being a former tennis fan (as you already know from this post), I noticed that many great tennis players always eyed big achievements. They would pursue them relentlessly and then most would get what they wanted. And then after that, they would just lose motivation.
Why? Well, I’m assuming it’s because they made this achievement their main goal in life and then when they got it, they felt empty because they had no other goal planned so they lost motivation.
Do you know what I else I think? I’ve always suspected that they felt a great amount of emptiness shortly after the adrenaline wore out from their achievement. And I think that other awards winners like Oscar winners probably go through the same thing.
I always imagine these people just soaking in the adulation and the applause right after they win. After that, I envision them going home with a slow realisation that the feeling of contentment and achievement, that they thought they would feel after their win, wasn’t there, and then a feeling of emptiness slowly taking its place.
Why do I feel that they go through this? Well, because everyone whose focus is this world, goes through this.
I remember that before I started to practice Islam, I had a lot of worldly things. I had a big house (okay, I still have a big house) and a nice car. I went to one of the best schools in this country (i.e. the UAE) and also one of the best universities here.
And I felt so empty.
I didn’t realise it at the time but something was really missing. It was only after I found Islam, that I realised what was missing: the feeling of contentment and fullness.
And I’m not the only one to have gone through this. I know of other people who also felt empty prior to Islam and that practising this wonderful way of life changed everything for them.
You know the problem with the people who are trying to get the huge number of social media followers, and the people who are chasing the Oscars? They all seem to be trying to achieve that sense of wholeness and contentment but are doing so the wrong way, hence their emptiness increases which in turn increases their need to appreciate themselves.
Contentment of the heart doesn’t come by appreciating oneself, it comes through worshipping Allah alone. That’s because this heart, and indeed the whole body and soul, was created to worship Allah. So how can one think that self-appreciation can soothe it?
No, only the remembrance of Allah will soothe it.
الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَتَطْمَئِنُّ قُلُوبُهُم بِذِكْرِ اللَّـهِ ۗ أَلَا بِذِكْرِ اللَّـهِ تَطْمَئِنُّ الْقُلُوبُ
“Those who believe (in the Oneness of Allah), and whose hearts find rest in the remembrance of Allah, Verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest.” [Surah Ar-Rad (13) : 28]
This tranquility of the heart that everyone seeks cannot be gained by self-worship – which is what the Tophy of Self-Appreciation might be in reality. It’s when a person puts their own self above everything, including Allah. Think about that for a second.
Only Allah can put tranquility into the hearts.
هُوَ الَّذِي أَنزَلَ السَّكِينَةَ فِي قُلُوبِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ لِيَزْدَادُوا إِيمَانًا مَّعَ إِيمَانِهِمْ ۗ وَلِلَّـهِ جُنُودُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ۚ وَكَانَ اللَّـهُ عَلِيمًا حَكِيمًا
He it is Who sent down As-Sakinah (calmness and tranquillity) into the hearts of the believers, that they may grow more in Faith along with their (present) Faith. And to Allah belong the hosts of the heavens and the earth, and Allah is Ever All-Knower, All-Wise. [Surah Al-Fath (48) : 4]
As I said earlier on in this post, narcissism i.e. the focus on self, seems to be increasing. The way to stop this increase is for each of us to apply the cure.
What is the cure, you ask? Well, Islam, of course. It’s the solution to all the problems that we have today, including narcissism.
The first pillar i.e. tawheed (singling out Allah for worship) makes one realise that it’s all about pleasing Allah, not gratifyng one’s own soul. The second pillar, prayer, aids in strenghtening that realisation.
The third pillar, the zakaah (the obligatory charity) forces one to focus on others, not just themselves. It also teaches us that giving for the sake of Allah brings contentment and that taking things for oneself does not.
The fourth and fifth pillars, fasting in Ramadan and going for Hajj, also help in fighting narcissism by improving one’s connection with the Creator and also making one aware of the needs of others.
And all of them help one to increase in humility.
Contrast this with the attitude that many people have today. They look down upon worshipping the Creator, instead claiming that they do the good just for themselves.
Just for themselves? You mean just to gratify their own souls? Is essentially worshipping oneself sincerity? Or is sincerity in singling out Allah for worship?
I think a lot of people, even Muslims, suffer from this issue i.e. the need for self-gratification and self-appreciation. This disease of narcissism and self-infatuation seems to be eating away at our sincerity.
So many people approach life as something that should revolve around them, yet the Creator has commanded us to make our lives revolve around Him.
وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ
And I (Allah) created not the jinns and humans except they should worship Me (Alone). [Surah Adh-Dhaariyat (51) : 56]
قُلْ إِنَّ صَلَاتِي وَنُسُكِي وَمَحْيَايَ وَمَمَاتِي لِلَّـهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ
Say: “Verily, my salaah (prayer), my sacrifice, my living, and my dying are for Allah, the Lord of the Alameen (mankind, jinns and all that exists). [Surah Al-Anaam (6) : 162]
Fulfilling this command is the only way that souls can find the solace and comfort that they seek, both in this world and the hereafter.
مَنْ عَمِلَ صَالِحًا مِّن ذَكَرٍ أَوْ أُنثَىٰ وَهُوَ مُؤْمِنٌ فَلَنُحْيِيَنَّهُ حَيَاةً طَيِّبَةً ۖ وَلَنَجْزِيَنَّهُمْ أَجْرَهُم بِأَحْسَنِ مَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ
Whoever works righteousness, whether male or female, while he (or she) is a true believer (of Islamic Monotheism) verily, to him We will give a good life (in this world with respect, contentment and lawful provision), and We shall pay them certainly a reward in proportion to the best of what they used to do (i.e. Paradise in the Hereafter). [Surah An-Nahl (16) : 97]
ادْخُلُوا الْجَنَّةَ أَنتُمْ وَأَزْوَاجُكُمْ تُحْبَرُونَ
يُطَافُ عَلَيْهِم بِصِحَافٍ مِّن ذَهَبٍ وَأَكْوَابٍ ۖ وَفِيهَا مَا تَشْتَهِيهِ الْأَنفُسُ وَتَلَذُّ الْأَعْيُنُ ۖ وَأَنتُمْ فِيهَا خَالِدُونَ
Enter Paradise, you and your wives, in happiness. Trays of gold and cups will be passed round them, (there will be) therein all that the one’s inner-selves could desire, all that the eyes could delight in, and you will abide therein forever. [Surah Az-Zukhruf (43) : 70-71]
I wrote this post so that all of us could ponder over this issue and see if we suffer from this disease of narcissism. If so, we need to rectify ourselves and try to locate the areas in which we tend to have our trophies of self-appreciation so that we can chuck them all out and turn our whole selves to Allah.
Now, I’ll admit that I’m not sure if this post made any sense. It was like I was trying to write down my deepest observations and it was not easy, which is why I almost didn’t post this article.
I look forward to your comments telling me if I made sense or not!
I’ll end this post with this beautiful dua (supplication) of the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) that we really need to say:
عَنْ أَبَي هُرَيْرَة، يَقُولُ كَانَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ـ صلى الله عليه وسلم ـ يَقُولُ “ اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنَ الأَرْبَعِ مِنْ عِلْمٍ لاَ يَنْفَعُ وَمِنْ قَلْبٍ لاَ يَخْشَعُ وَمِنْ نَفْسٍ لاَ تَشْبَعُ وَمِنْ دُعَاءٍ لاَ يُسْمَعُ ”
Abu Hurairah (radiallahu anhu) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) said: ‘Allahumma! Inni a’udhu bika minal-arba’: min ‘ilmin la yanfa’u, wa min qalbin la yakhsha’u, wa min nafsin la tashba’u, wa min du’a’in la yusma’ [O Allah, I seek refuge with You from four things: From knowledge that is of no benefit, from a heart that does not fear (You), from a soul that is never satisfied, and from a supplication that is not heard].'” [Sunan Ibn Majah, Hadeeth No. 3837. Graded “sahih” (authentic) by Al-Albani.]
And Allah knows Better.