You have indeed in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful pattern (of conduct) for any one whose hope is in Allah and the Final Day, and who engages much in the Praise of Allah. (Qur’an – 33:21)

It is well known and understood that Islam is a holistic system that impacts all areas of a person’s life. We hear this a lot but many times it is difficult to know exactly what it means and how it plays out in our lives. Let us discuss how in Islam, the idea of personality development is fostered and nurtured. As with anything related to human development it is actually the faith in one true Creator (Almighty Allah) that becomes a driver for the real personality development of a human being.

Islamic Faith (Aqeedah) linked to Personality development:

1.       The Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) said: “No one of you has true Iman (Faith) unless his inclinations are in accordance with what I brought”.

2.       We should take heed in the following saying of Holy Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) about the heart.

The Prophet peace be upon him is reported to have said: “It is only called the qalb (heart) because of how it can change. The similitude of the heart is like a leaf hanging by the trunk of a tree that is being blown upside down by the wind.” (Ahmad)

3.       The Prophet peace be upon him used to pray often: “O changer of the hearts (i.e Almighty Allah), make my heart firm upon your religion (deen).” The companions said, “O Messenger of Allah, we believed in you and what you have brought. Do you fear for us?” He answered, “Yes, verily, the hearts are between Allah’s fingers and he turns them any way he wills.” (Tirmidhi)

4.       If care is not taken to ensure that the individuals adopts the belief in the true sense affecting not only his mind but his heart such that its rust is removed then this form of hypocrisy will inevitably exist where someone externally seems like an Islamic personality but in reality is still a mixed personality but with a stronger Islamic mentality.

5.       Companion Abdullah ibn Umar narrated, “Allah’s Messenger peace be upon him said, “These hearts become rusty just as iron does when water affects it.’ On being asked what could clear them he replied, ‘A great amount of remembrance of death and recitation of the Qur’an.'” [Al-Tirmidhi, 673]

This hadith sheds light on the manner of linking the aqeeda in order to purify the nature, it requires triggering the instincts such that the aqeeda and the concepts emanating from it are taken in the personal sense truly affecting the individual. This is what was embodied in the training of the companions of Prophet (pbuh), the theme of the chapters of Qur’an revealed in Makkah clearly demonstrate this. The powerful verses repeatedly highlight the weakness of man in front of his Lord, the inevitability of death, the terror of the day of judgement, the greatness of the Lord of the Universe, the example of previous generations and Prophets, etc. It is clear that the theme of the Makkan chapters of Qur’an is to strengthen the personality of the believers as well as exposing the beliefs, practises and traditions of which have no divine basis. Looking at the verses more focussed on the believers the particular emphasis on issues related to the character becomes apparent containing repeated emphasis triggering the fear and veneration of Allah. The powerful verses strike the emotions, touch the heart and bring tears to the eye.

6.       If a Muslim has a problem with the idea that his spreading of Islam may lead him to be brought to tears due to the fear of Allah in front of his students, companions or in public then his idea of culturing is far away from that of our beloved Prophet. The example of Prophet’s (pbuh) companion Abu Bakr Siddiq (ra) and his recitation of the Quran should suffice The Prophet (pbuh) said “Tell Abu Bakr to lead the people in the prayer.” ‘Holy Prophet’s (pbuh) wife Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) said, “Abu Bakr is a soft-hearted man and he would be over-powered by his weeping.” (Note: This weeping is due to the love of Almighty Allah and the understanding of life after death through Qur’an)

Thus a stage is set to realise the true spirit of personality development.

Fasting and Personality Development:

A unique moral and spiritual characteristic of Islam is the prescribed institution of Fasting. Literally defined, fasting means to abstain “completely” from foods, drinks, intimate intercourses and smoking, before the break of the dawn till sunset, during the entire month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic year. But if we restrict the meaning of Islamic Fasting to this literal sense, we would be sadly mistaken.

When Islam introduced this matchless institution, it planted an ever-growing tree of infinite virtue and invaluable products. Here is an explanation of spiritual meaning of the Islamic Fasting:

1.       It teaches man the principle of sincere Love; because when he observes the Fasting he does it out of deep love for God. And the man who loves God truly is a man who really knows what love is

2.       It equips man with a creative sense of Hope and an optimistic outlook on life; because when he fasts he is hoping to please God and is seeking His Grace

3.       It imbues man with a genuine virtue of effective Devotion, honest Dedication and closeness to God; because when he fasts he does so for God and for His sake alone. It cultivates in man a vigilant and sound Conscience; because the fasting person keeps his Fast in secret as well as in public. In Fasting, especially, there is no mundane authority to check man’s behavior or compel him to observe the Fasting. He keeps it to please God and satisfy his own conscience by being faithful in secret and in public. There is no better way to cultivate a sound conscience in man

4.       It indoctrinates man in Patience and Unselfishness; because when he fasts he feels the pains of deprivation but endures patiently. Truly this deprivation may be only temporary, yet there is no doubt that the experience makes him realize the severe effects of such pains on others, who might be deprived of essential commodities for days or weeks or probably months together. The meaning of this experience in a social and humanitarian sense is that such a person is much quicker than anybody else in sympathizing with his fellow men and responding to their needs. And that is an eloquent expression of unselfishness and genuine sympathy

5.       It is an effective lesson in applied Moderation and Willpower. The person who observes his Fasting properly is certainly a man who can discipline his passionate desires and place his self above physical temptations. Such is the man of personality and character, the man of willpower and determination

6.       It provides man with a Transparent Soul to transcend, a Clear Mind to think and a Light Body to move and act. All this is the never failing result of carrying a light stomach. Medical instructions, biological rules and intellectual experience attest to this fact

7.       It shows man a new way of Wise Savings and Sound Budgeting; because normally when he eats fewer quantities or less meal he spends less money and effort. And this is a spiritual semester of home economics and budgeting

8.       It enables man to master the art of Mature Adaptability. We can easily understand the point once we realize that Fasting makes man change the entire course of his daily life. When he makes the change, he naturally adapts himself to a new system and moves along to satisfy the new rules. This, in the long run, develops in him a wise sense of adaptability and a self-created power to overcome the unpredictable hardships of life. A man who values constructive adaptability and courage will readily appreciate the effects of Fasting in this respect

9.       It grounds man in Discipline and Healthy Survival. When a person observes the regular course of Fasting in consecutive days of the Holy Month and in the Holy Months of the consecutive years, he is certainly applying himself to a high form of discipline and a superb sense of order. Similarly, when he relieves his stomach and relaxes his digestive system, he is indeed insuring his body, not to mention the soul, against all harm that results from stomach overcharge. In this manner of relaxation he may be sure that his body will survive free from the usual disorder and break, and that his soul will continue to shine purely and peacefully

10.   It originates in man the real Spirit of Social Belonging, of Unity and Brotherhood, of Equality before God as well as before the Law. This spirit is the natural product of the fact that when man fasts, he feels that he is joining the whole Muslim society in observing the same duty in the same manner at the same time for the same motives to the same end. No sociologist can say that there has been at any period of history anything comparable to this fine institution of Islam. People have been crying throughout the ages for acceptable belonging, for unity, for brotherhood, for equality, but how echoless their voice has been, and how very little success they have met! Where can they find their goals without the guiding light of Islam?

11.   It is a Godly prescription for self-reassurance and self-control, for maintenance of human dignity and freedom, for victory and peace. These results never fail to manifest themselves as a lively reality in the heart of the person who knows how to keep the Fasting. When he fasts in the proper manner, he is in control of himself, exercises full command over his passions, disciplines his desires and resists all evil temptations. By this course, he is in a position to reassure himself, to restore his dignity and integrity and to attain freedom from the captivity of evil. Once he obtains all this, he has established inner peace, which is the source of permanent peace with God and, consequently, with the entire universe.

12.   Now, someone may be tempted to raise the objection: If this is the case with the Islamic institution of Fasting, and if this is the picture of Islam in this aspect, why are the Muslims not living in a utopia? To such an objection we can only say that the Muslims have lived in and enjoyed a utopia in certain epoch of their history. The realization of that utopia was a phenomenon of a unique achievement in the history of man. We say unique, because no religion or social system other than Islam has ever been able to realize its ideals in reality. The utopia of other religions and social systems has always remained in the category of theories or wishful thinking and dreams – sometimes clear, sometimes vague, sometimes near, most of the time far.

But the utopia of Islam was realized and put into practice and production at full capacity. In a human and practical sense this means that the utopia of Islam can be reestablished once again right here on this earth, and that it is raised on solid foundations and practicable principles.

Fasting in Comparative Perspective

1.       The purpose of Fasting in other religions and philosophies is invariably partial. It is either for spiritual aims, or for physical needs, or for intellectual cultivations. But in Islam it is for all these gains and many other purposes, social and economic, moral and humanitarian, private and public, personal and common, inner and outer, local and national – all combined together as mentioned above

2.       In other religions and dogmas, in other philosophies and doctrines, the observer of fasting abstains from certain kinds of food or drinks only, but he is free to substitute for that with other substituting food and drinks. In Islamic Fasting one abstains from all the things of material nature i.e. all kinds of food & drinks, smoking and intimate intercourse

3.       The non–Islamic fasting does not demand more than a partial abstinence from certain material things. But the Islamic Fasting is accompanied by extra devotion and worship, extra charity and study of the Qur’ an, extra sociability and liveliness, In particular Islamic Fasting demands extra self-discipline and conscience-awakening: The Prophet said “Whoever does not give up lying speech and acting on those lies and evil actions [i.e. if one does not eschew lies and false conduct], God is not in need of his leaving his food and drink [i.e. God will not accept his fasting]” ; also The Prophet said “When anyone of you is observing Fasting on a day , he should neither indulge in obscene language nor should he raise his voice; and if anyone reviles him or tries to quarrel with him he should say: ‘I am observing Fast’ ”

4.       Other moral philosophies and religions teach man that he cannot attain his moral aims or enter the Kingdom of God unless and until he uproots himself from the stem of worldly affairs. Accordingly, it becomes necessary for such a man to divorce his mundane interest, to retreat from the normal course of life and to resort to some kind of severe asceticism of which fasting is an essential element. But Fasting in Islam is not a divorce from life but a happy marriage with it, not a retreat but a penetration with spiritual armaments, not negligence but a moral enrichment. The Islamic Fasting does not divorce religion from daily life or separate the soul from body. It does not break but harmonizes. It does not dissolve but transfuses. It does not disintegrate but bridges and redeems

5.       The timetable of the Islamic fasting is a striking phenomenon. In other religions and dogmas the time of Fasting is fixed at a certain time of the year. But in Islam the time of Fasting comes with the month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the year. The Islamic Calendar is lunar one, and months go according to the various position of the moon. This means that over a period of a limited number of the years the Islamic Fasting covers the four major seasons of the year and circulates back and forth between the summer and the winter through the fall and the spring in a rotating manner. The nature of the lunar calendar is such that the month of Ramadan falls in January, for example, in one year and in December in another year, and at any time in between during the succeeding years. In a spiritual sense this means that the Muslim enjoys the moral experience of Fasting on various levels, and tastes its spiritual flavors at variant seasons of variant climates, sometimes in the winter of short and cold days, sometimes in the summer of long and hot days, sometimes in between. But this variety of experience remains at all times an impressive feature of the liveliness of the Islamic institution. It also stands as an unfailing expression of readiness, dynamism and adaptability on the part of the Muslim believer. This is certainly a healthy, remarkable component of the teachings of Islam.

A great Islamic scholar had mentioned the following ten points regarding a well rounded personality according to the teachings of Islam.

He mentions that the first thing that the Muslim should be concerned with is the reform of oneself. Then he says, “A Muslim should strive to attain a strong body, good character, cultured thought. He should be able to earn a living, have pure belief, and correct worship. He should be able to control his desires, be careful about his time, organized in his affairs, and beneficial to those around him. These comprise the duties of every Muslim as an individual.”