"Don't worry about what they think or say. Just be yourself!"
When you read the above, what does it make you think about?
If someone said it to you, how would you feel?
But how much of our 'self', is actually ours?
How many hours of the day are you the 'self' which pleases your boss, colleagues or classmates?
What about our friends?
Do you always feel you can say what you really think to your parents?
How often can you just sit back and 'be yourself'?
And is it actually good to do so? We, as Muslims, should constantly be trying to better ourselves. Or so we are told. And there seems to be a lot of wisdom in the command to
"try to improve yourself. don't take what you've got or what you've done for granted. Remain humble and self-effacing. Take yourself into account."
But what about what your self wants? If you should 'be' yourself, that means you should 'want' what yourself wants too.
But, from what I understand, the self in Islam has different parts. Broadly, these could be described as your Fitrah and your Nafs. Without embarrassing myself by trying to go into detail and showing my ignorances, a way to understand them could be the fitrah is what pulls you towards God and is something we have in common with angels, and the nafs is what pulls us towards this life and is what we share with animals.
That would mean our fitrah is concerned with doing right and would desire good deeds, self-sacrifice, love, obedience to God, etc. While the nafs would be our animal desires: hunger, thirst, laziness, aggression, sex, bravado. I realise this is being harsh on some animals (which I supposed means I think some humans could be below animals in moral worth).
So when we crave something which is haraam for us, isn't the 'giving-into-your-desires' part of us actually 'being ourself'? Is the person who says 'just be yourself' the shaitan for that moment?
The original sentence should now be "Just be yourself if you are a good person. If you don't have any weaknesses then you can truly be yourself. If you are already a morally corrupt person, then try to be someone else."
If that's the case, who should we try to become, and how should we go about doing that?
Some advice that I've been given by people who wanted to talk about this as if they knew a lot, was to sit in the company of Good People. This will lead to, they say, their goodness/piety/humility/taqwa/barakah rubbing off on you. They know it all, you see, and you should just sit back and do exactly what they tell you. You should think what they tell you to think, feel about things the same way that they feel about them. If you do this, you will become a better 'self', who follows his/her fitrah more than his/her nafs.
So far, so appealing. So tempting. So good to be true. But then I start having a little lingering doubt about if this is genuine at all. We hear constantly in the Qur'an about the dangers of becoming a hypocrite. If the only thing making us act better is the fact that we're surrounded by people we respect/revere/want to impress, then that is very hollow indeed. The logic of spending time with them is that it will encourage us to try hard or stop us being lazy, right? And if we don't act so well when we're on our own, then that means that (at least part of) our efforts are not for God Alone.
Isn't that shirk?
Look, I'm not going out against sufism and/or sufis. I'm talking about our deep, inner-self which struggles with issues like tawhid whether we are Muslim or not, salafi or sufi, wahabbi or shia, immigrant or conquerer, rich or poor, etc or etc.
OK, so what's your problem with people if that's what they wanna do ?
I don't have the slightest problem with what anyone else does/chooses/believes. You don't see me getting annoyed if people want to share their beliefs with me or even if they want to shovel their beliefs down my throat as if there wasn't any debate about them; as if they were fact.
I'm just thinking about myself (again!) and wondering how I should go about improving myself. Is the only option available to me really to hang around with the people with the biggest beards I can find and do what they tell me? If not, then would it be ok if I asked for evidence from the Qur'an and Sunnah for everything they told me (and didn't argue as long as the hadith was accepted by Albani)?
If I can only act in a praiseworthy manner when I'm being judged by people I deem to be 'better Muslims' (even if they're not doing it, I'm acting as if they are), then surely that makes me a hypocrite when I'm "just being myself", when I'm not with them.
So what's the conclusion?
There is no conclusion, stupid! If there was I'd be publishing a book about it, not writing a blog on here!