Huma Munir, USA
What if I told you that all humans have been granted a unique ability by Allah the Almighty – if utilised properly, it could enable us all to become better human beings. This ability does not allow us to fly or turn invisible but does enable us to become more kind, empathetic and insightful. This remarkable ability is self-awareness.
All humans have self-awareness to some degree and the more we sharpen our ability to become “aware,” the more we can start to understand ourselves and others. While this “superpower” might not sound as appealing as the ones portrayed in movies and comics, I believe it gives us an immense amount of power over how we live our lives.
Allah the Exalted says in the Holy Quran:
لَقَدۡ خَلَقۡنَا الۡاِنۡسَانَ فِيۡۤ اَحۡسَنِ تَقۡوِيۡمٍ
“Surely, We have created man in the best make.” (Surah at-Tin, Ch.95: V. 5)
Allah the Almighty makes it clear in the Holy Quran that humans are the Best of the Creation. The intelligence bestowed on us by Allah, our Creator, allows us to surpass all other creations. According to a Scientific American article, the author notes that all animals may have “consciousness”, but humans go a step beyond that. In the article titled Does Self-Awareness Require a Complex Brain?, the author claims humans don’t just have consciousness; they also have self-awareness, meaning that humans are not just able to “think” but also “think about their thinking.” (www.blogs.scientificamerican.com/brainwaves/does-self-awareness-require-a-complex-brain/)
This ability to be more self-aware allows humans to improve on their flaws and lead spiritually fulfilling lives. Self-improvement and reflection are key components of our faith as Muslims. In fact, over 1400 years ago, Islam declared that the greatest jihad is that of self-reformation. The Holy Quran also has many verses that urge believers to “reflect,” and “ponder.” Today, psychology is also starting to realise the benefits of self-awareness. Let’s take a closer look at these benefits.
Being more aware helps us remain in control of our emotions
We all have thoughts. As humans, we are able to think about our circumstances and analyse different situations. But self-awareness allows us to monitor our thinking and in turn, gives us an insight into our intentions and motives.
For example, all thoughts that emerge in our brain come from somewhere. We are usually busy thinking about our daily activities or interactions with other people. If someone is rude to us at work, we mull over it all day. Very easily, we allow our brains to take over and let our thoughts spiral into negativity. Self-awareness breaks that vicious cycle.
An article titled The Secret to Fighting Negative Thoughts on Psychology Today talks about how to create distance between your negative thoughts and yourself. “It means being able to observe your own thoughts and feelings; it’s the act of pushing back from how you feel to gain a tiny bit of distance, inside your mind,” writes Loren Soeiro, Ph.D. ABPP, the author of the article. (www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/i-hear-you/202111/the-secret-to-fighting-negative-thoughts)
Islam takes this concept a step further. Not only are you encouraged to reflect and monitor your thoughts, but you are also encouraged to “purify.”
قَدۡ اَفۡلَحَ مَنۡ تَزَکّٰي
“Verily, he [truly] prospers who purifies himself.” (Surah al-A‘la, Ch. 87: V.15)
Once we become conscious of our thoughts and negative emotions, we can truly repent and improve — which can then lead us to purify ourselves and become recipients of God’s true blessings.
Self-awareness helps us become more empathetic
Humans are social creatures, and we have complex social networks. How we deal with one another is of paramount importance in Islam. The Holy Quran talks about the importance of maintaining good relations and speaking words of kindness.
خُذِ الۡعَفۡوَ وَاۡمُرۡ بِالۡعُرۡفِ وَاَعۡرِضۡ عَنِ الۡجٰہِلِيۡنَ
“Take to forgiveness, and enjoin kindness, and turn away from the ignorant.” (Surah al-A‘raf, Ch. 7: V. 200)
Psychologists believe that self-awareness plays a key role in maintaining good relationships. Not only are you more aware of your strengths and weaknesses, but you are also more aware of how your words and actions impact other people, according to an article published in the Washington Post. In the article titled Self-Awareness Can Improve Relationships, the author quotes a psychologist who believes that self-awareness is about “regulating” one’s thoughts and actions at the moment and helps us see how we are being perceived by others. (www.washingtonpost.com/wellness/2022/11/26/self-awareness-emotional-intelligence/)
When someone asked the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa who among the Muslims is best, he responded: “The one from whose tongue and hand the Muslims are safe.” (Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Iman, Hadith 41)
Having empathy for other people and being aware of how your thoughts and actions can impact others can make a huge difference in our relationships. The more insight we gain into our own strengths and weaknesses, the better we become at realising that all humans are flawed and deserve compassion and forbearance.
There are countless benefits to practising self-awareness. Not only does it help you gain an incredible insight into your mind, but it also gives you the tools to fight many inner demons. The more you know about your thoughts and actions, the more you can improve. Your intentions become purer, your thoughts become more positive, and your brain is more regulated.
The essence of being a true Muslim is building on our strengths and working to improve our weaknesses. The Promised Messiah, peace be on him, has beautifully described the concept of self-improvement:
“Stagnant water ultimately becomes foul; due to the proximity of sludge, it develops a bad odour and bad taste. Running water is always excellent, clean, and pleasant tasting.” (Malfuzat [English], Vol. 10, p. 182)
Without proper self-awareness, we are not able to move forward. Without honing this remarkable ability, we are not able to lead spiritually fulfilling lives. We must work on cultivating self-awareness so we can continue to improve not just ourselves but also our relationships.