I have always thought that self-help books were nonsense, written by people who wanted to make a profit from the insecurities of others.
Last month, however, I stumbled upon an online community who were genuinely trying to change themselves and the lives of the others just because they truly believe in making the world a better place. They believe in themselves, in their work, and they believe that every single one of us can make a difference.
These are successful web designers, programmers, writers, ex-hedge fund managers, past CEOs of dotcom companies or founders of startups. These are people who could have the wealth of the world, but have decided to give it up in totality or in portion, as a means to contribute back to society.
Ironically, in giving up the wealth (in its many forms) that others hoard, wealth gravitates naturally to them.
As I read one free e-book after another, I realized that in many ways, the manifestos and practices of these individuals are echoes of Islamic values.
For example, many of these successful individuals actually go to bed early and wake up at 4am in the morning to spend some alone time. In these moment where the whole world sleeps, they take the time to contemplate on the things they are grateful for, to read and be inspired, to do some simple exercises like yoga in order to clear their mind.
To them, waking up at 4am gives them the best clarity of their own lives and prepares them with the right attitude and mindset for the day. This in turn allows them to be better people – better spouses, better parents, better designers, authors etc.
They understood that to be able to serve others better, they would first need to serve themselves by fulfilling all the rights their own body requires of them.
Comparing this practice, the Prophet Muhammad (s) has long advocated getting up in the last third of the night to perform tahajjud prayers and exercise contemplation. The Qur’an even goes on to say that one of the characteristics of successful people is that they are those who spend the night in prayer.
In fact, getting up at 4am is just one out of the many manifestos and practices that these people uphold which are in line with Islamic teachings.
Many other examples talk about concepts like minimalism which is similar to zuhd, recognizing the different states of the body, the importance of self-contentment or the need to free yourself from being dependent on other people.
The more I read, the more it struck me that Islam is indeed the true manual for man.
Look at it this way:
In order to assemble a rocket, we have to refer to the manual written by the original creator of the rocket. We can refer to manuals written by other people, for the good in them is that perhaps they have simplified, summarized, elaborated or built upon the original manual.
However, these offshoot manuals will never be as complete and comprehensive as the original manual. Only the creator knows the secrets of his creation. These other manuals should only serve as supplements to build the understanding of the original manual.
The same goes with man.
We have been created by Allah swt and He has provided us with the manual on how to operate our lives – the Qur’an and the Sunnah. We can read all the self help books in the world and attain success that way, but these self-help books are only echoes of the real thing.
If we don’t use these books in order to build upon our understanding of the real manual, then we will truly miss the whole purpose of any success we may achieve.
Self-help books are only good insomuch as our ability to relate it back to the Qur’an and Sunnah.
With this new insight, I tucked myself into bed at 930pm last night and made a long forgotten intention to spend the last third of the night in His company.
At 4am, I did my tahajjud instead of yoga, read the Qur’an instead of any other books, spent some time thanking Allah swt for all the blessings He has bestowed upon me and making du’a for the people I love and care for.
By 6am when my family gathered for the fajr prayers, I was awake enough, peaceful enough inside, to truly appreciate our act of facing Allah swt together as a family unit.
And for all of these, I only have nonsensical self-help books to thank for.