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Chapter 25. Self Discipline

The basic principle is that mankind's nature, disposition is sound and healthy. Whereas disease and defects are extraneous, every child is born upon the
fitrah (natural disposition), which is further explicated in knowing that discipline is ineffective except in an intellectual, thus it does not benefit a mule, and a wild animal that is looked after while young, will not leave hunting when it matures. And you know of the famous story, 'who informed you that your father was a wolf?'.

Know that within every human being there exists three capacities: A lingual capacity, a lustful capacity, and an anger capacity. That said, he who Allah honored by bestowing upon him the love of knowledge should care for perfecting his lingual self, by which Allah favored him over all animals, and with which he shared a common characteristic with angels. He should make this self capacity predominant over the other two capacities. So that it becomes like the rider, his body becomes like the horse, because a rider should be predominant over a horse due to his elevation, so he be able to lead it wherever he likes and he should be able to slaughter it if he so wishes. Likewise the lingual capacity should be predominant over the other two capacities, using and ceasing to use them as it likes and whoever is like that truly deserves to be called a human being.

Plato said: "A true human is he whose 'lingual self' is stronger than the rest of his other types of selves, because if lustfulness is excessive, a person becomes an animal. If a person releases his Hawa, lives an unrestrictive life, then he becomes displaced from his centre, hence he will become worse than an animal, because that is actually the nature of animals, but, in his case, he has con­ tradicted his [humanly] nature. And when the anger capacity is excessive, humans' traits become as that of wild and beastly animals. Hence, one should tame his inner self by opposing lustfulness, controlling anger and following the lingual capacity, so as he may become like the angels and avoid worshipping lust and anger."

Section One: How to Discipline Oneself

Know that discipline of the self is achieved through lenience and moving from one state to another. This should not be done violently but rather leniently, and then he should combine both hope and fear. He strengthens this discipline by keeping good company, leaving bad company, studying the Quran, beneficial stories, thinking about paradise, hell and reading the biographies of wise people and ascetics.

Some of the righteous predecessors would desire a sweet treat, and so they would promise themselves to eat it. If they prayed the night prayer they would allow themselves this reward.

Sufyan al-Thawri used to eat whatever he desired and then when he woke up in the morning he would say: "The black man has fed his child!" Scholars and exegetes have always been and continue to be lenient to the self until they have owned and subjugated it.

A neighbour of Malik ibn Dinar said, "One night I heard him saying to himself, 'That's how you should be!' The next morning I told him, 'There was no one home with you, so who did you say that to?' He said, 'Myself asked me for some bread, it insisted so I restrained it from eating for three days, then I found a dry piece of bread, when I was about to eat it I said, 'Wait I will get soft bread' so it [his selfj said, 'I am contented with this.' So I said, 'That's how you should be!"

Know that if the self knows that you are serious it will also be serious and hardworking, if it knows that you are indolent it will become your master.

A poet said:

A horse rider knows the characteristics of his horse,
so he exhausts it repeatedly, by making it sense fear.

From among the practices of discipline of the self is bringing it to account for every statement, for every action, for every negligence and sin. When its discipline is over, it will appreciate the exhaustion it endured.

Thabit al-Banani said, "I endured the night for twenty years [by praying] and [then] I delighted in the night for twenty years."

Abu Yazid said, "I kept driving myself to my Lord while it cried, until I drove it while it smiled."

A poet said:

I still laugh and weep every time I look
Until its eye is tainted with my blood

Nevertheless one should not forget the rights of the self, which is giving it its gratifications that do not oppose the object of discipline. For if it is prevented from its aims in general, the heart will become blind, worries will disperse, and the slave will become constrained. And know that the estimation of the self with Allah, May He be exalted, is greater than the estimation of the acts of worship. This is why He has permitted the breaking of the fast for a traveler; however it is only the people of knowledge who understand this.