Hadith 21:The Concept of Istiqāmah
By Imam Nawawi
In the name of Allāh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful;
All the praise and Thanks is due to Allāh, the Lord of al-‘ālameen. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allāh, and that Muhammad, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam, is His Messenger
On the authority of Abu ‘Amr, though others call him, Abu ‘Amrah Sufyan bin ‘Abdullāh, (radiyallāhu’anhu), who said: I said:“O Messenger of Allāh! Tell me something about Islam which I could not ask anyone about but you.” Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) answered: “Say: ‘I believe in Allāh’, and then stand firm and steadfast.” [Muslim]
In a narration by ‘Aishah (radiyallāhu’anha), who said: Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) liked that act of worship most in the performance of which a person was regular and constant. [Muslim].
The literal meaning of “Istiqāmah”: to go straight into the right direction, acting rightly, allowing no deviation. It is derived from the stem “Qiyyam”, which implies the continuity of doing something, following up with it and making sure that it is done in the right way and there is neither deviation nor swerving.
The term has been used by the Qur’ān in many verses. Allāh the Almighty says: “Therefore, stand firm (on the Straight Path) as you are commanded and those who turn in repentance with you. And do not transgress, for He (Allāh) sees well all that you do." [Surah Hud, 11: 112]
Ibnu ‘Abbas (radiyallāhu’anhu) said that this verse was the hardest and most difficult verse of the Qur’ān on the Prophet, (Sallallāhu 'alayhi wasallam).
Indeed it is a difficult task to achieve Istiqāmah, hence, the Prophet, (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam), said: "Be straight on the path or be close to it."
Allāh the Almighty also says: “So unto this (religion) invite (the people). Stand steadfast as you are commanded and do not follow their desires.....” [Surah al-Shura ,42: 15]
Based on these two verses, it can be inferred that Istiqāmah is to stand firm and steadfast to what we have been commanded by Allāh, i.e. to fulfill obligations and to avoid prohibitions. Also, we should not allow ourselves to follow or be misleading by desires (whether it is our desires or the desires of others) as it will cause deviation and lead us astray.
‘Abdullāh bin ‘Amr bin Al-‘As (radiyallāhu’anhu) reported: Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said to me: "O Abdullāh! Do not be like so-and-so. He used to get up at night for optional prayer but abandoned it later." [Al-Bukhari and Muslim].
The excellence of manners demands that if someone has something reprehensible in his character, the person concerned should not be mentioned but the shortcoming must be indicated so that people refrain from it. The second point that we learn from this Hadith is that if one starts a good deed, he should try his best to do it perpetually because its perpetuation is liked by Allāh.
‘Aishah (radiyallāhu’anha) reported: When Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) missed the Optional Night Solāt (Tahajjud) due to pain or any other reason, he would perform twelve Rak’ah during the day time. [Muslim].
According to Ibn al-Qayyim (rahimahullāh), there are five conditions to achieve Istiqāmah in performing required deeds:
1. The act should be done for the sake of Allāh alone (ikhlās).
2. It should be done on the basis of knowledge ('ilm).
3. Performing ‘ibadah should be in the same manner that they have been commanded.
4. To do it in the best way possible.
5. Restricting oneself to what is lawful while performing those deeds.
Ways to achieve Istiqāmah
According to other scholars of suluk, i.e. scholars of behavior, there are certain steps to be followed in order to achieve Istiqāmah:
1. Always being aware of the final destination, i.e. the Day of Judgment (Akhirah). And to use this awareness in a positive way as a motive to do good deeds. One way to do it is through remembering that a person's journey towards Akhirah starts the minute he or she passes away and leaves this world. One of the Salafs said: "If you live until the morning do not wait for the evening and if you live until the evening do not wait for the morning."
2. Commitment (Mushāratah). One has to make a commitment that he or she will be steadfast and will do things in the right way and in the best way possible, and to adhere to conjunctions of Islam. Unfortunately many Muslims are being lenient in making such a commitment.
3. To make continuous efforts (Mujāhadah) to bring that commitment to reality. Some Muslims dare to make the commitment, but dare not to make the effort to make the commitment a reality.
4. Continuous checking and reviewing of one’s deeds (Muraqabah). Being honest with oneself so as not to give false excuses for failing to fulfill a commitment.
5. Self accountability (Muhāsabah). This should be done twice: Firstly, before we start doing something, ensuring that it pleases Allāh, that we do it for His sake only, realizing the right way it should be done. Secondly, after the action has been done, to check whether we have achieved what we aimed for, and to check for defects and shortcomings, and that we still could have done it better by not being satisfied with our action.
6. Blaming oneself for not doing it perfectly after it has been done. Self blaming here is a positive one by using it as a motive, and by aiming for improvement and having the intention of doing things better next time. This leads to making another commitment and continual commitments to improve our performance.
7. Striving for improvement (Tahsin). We have to make improvements in all that we do (daily activities, work, actions, good deeds, ibadah, etc.) as one of our objectives.
8. To be humble towards Allāh. Realizing that no one is perfect except Him, seeking His forgiveness, guidance and support.
It should be emphasized that these steps or conditions apply to worldly matters as well as ‘ibādah and good religious deeds.
Factors that lead to the weakening of Istiqāmah include:
1. Committing sins (ma’siah), insisting on repeating them again and again, without istighfar (seeking Allāh's forgiveness) and without practicing repentance.
2. Syirik (associating anything with Allāh) whether in intentions, by showing off our good deeds to others, seeking others' appraisal, avoiding being blamed by others, being afraid of someone, or to seek rewards from others than Allāh. This part of syirik is also called riyya' or showing off. All these lead to deviation in Istiqāmah, and when these stimuli are not there, the person's work is not perfect anymore and it is not done in the best way possible.
3. Nifaq (hypocrisy). There are two forms of nifaq: in belief and in action. The Muslim who surrenders totally to the will of Allāh and accepts Islam based on his or her choice is free from the first form of hypocrisy. However any Muslim is subject to and should avoid the second form of nifaq which the Prophet, (Sallallāhu 'alayhi wasallam), warned us about: Not keeping promises and breaking them continuously without good reasons or excuses, not fulfilling commitments we make with others, being aggressive and unjust to others in quarrels, and disputes, failing to shoulder responsibilities or burdens we are entrusted with, etc. All these bad qualities should be avoided since they lead to the weakening of our Istiqāmah.
4. Bid’ah (innovations in ‘ibadah), whether genuine bid’ah (performing ‘ibadah which has not been ascribed by Syari’ah, i.e. revelation, or relative bid’ah (failing to observe the requirements of doing ‘ibadah - the five criteria discussed in Hadith 5), will lead to decreasing the quality of good action or ‘ibadah.
There are other factors that also contribute to the weakening of Istiqāmah, such as: recklessness, reluctance, heedlessness, being overwhelmed by a deceiving enjoyment, and being mislead by self interests and desires.
Applying the above mentioned steps and requirements pinpointed by scholars will help in overcoming all these obstacles and barriers.
Allāh, the Exalted, says:
"Has not the time come for the hearts of those who believe (in the Oneness of Allāh - Islamic Monotheism) to be affected by Allāh's Reminder (this Qur'ān), and that which has been revealed of the truth, lest they become as those who received the Scripture [the Tawrat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel)] before (i.e., Jews and Christians), and the term was prolonged for them and so their hearts were hardened?" [Al-Hadid 57:16]
"And We sent 'Isa (Jesus) - son of Maryam (Mary), and gave him the Injeel (Gospel). And We ordained in the hearts of those who followed him, compassion and mercy. But the monasticism which they invented for themselves, We did not prescribe for them, but (they sought it) only to please Allāh therewith, but that they did not observe it with the right observance." [Al-Hadid 57:27]
"And be not like her who undoes the thread which she has spun, after it has become strong..." [Al-Nahl 16:92]
"And worship your Rabb until there comes unto you the certainty (i.e., death)." [Al-Hijr 15:99]
Istiqāmah is an important Islamic concept. Its significance can be seen where every Muslim is required to recite Surah al-Fātihah at least seventeen times each day seeking continual guidance to the straight path from Allāh.
'Abdullah bin Mas'ud (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) reported that the Prophet (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) used to say:"Allāhumma inni as’alukal-huda wat-tuqa wal-‘afafa wal-gheena (O Allāh! I ask You for guidance, piety, chastity and self-sufficiency)". [Recorded by Muslim].
This Hadith contains four words, the meanings and implications of which constitute its essence. These words are guidance, piety (fear of Allāh), chastity and sufficiency. Guidance here means guidance at every turn of life and steadfastness on the path of truth. Fear of Allāh is the greatest means of piety and strongest defense against sins. Chastity is the state of being free from what is unlawful. Self-sufficiency is the antonym of poverty and here it means the self-contentment. What it implies is that one should not care for what people possess. In view of all these qualities, the du’a of the Prophet (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) mentioned in this Hadith is very comprehensive and valuable.
Ibn Abi Hatim and Ibn Jarir recorded that Umm Salamah (radiyallāhu`anha), said that the Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam)used to supplicate: ‘Ya muqallibal-qulubi, thabbit qalbi `ala deenik (O Controller of the hearts make my heart steadfast in Your religion).” Rasulullah (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) then recited: Rabbana la tuzia’qulubana ba’ daiz hadaytana wahab Lana min laduñ karahmah; Iñnaka an tal wahhāb. (Our Lord! Let not our hearts deviate (from the truth) after Thou have guided us, and grant us mercy from Thou. Truly, Thou are the Bestower.) (Al’-‘Imran, 3:8) [This is recorded by Muslim and At-Tirmidzi]
Anas bin Malik (radiyallāhu'anhu) reported: The supplication most often recited by the Prophet (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was:“Allāhumma atina fid-dunya hasanatañ wa fil-akhirati hasanatañ wa qina ‘adzaban-nar (O our Rabb! Give us in this world that which is good and in the Hereafter that which is good, and save us from the punishment of the Fire).”‘[This is recorded by Al-Bukhāri, Muslim, and Tarmidzi].
It is desirable to recite this Du’a which is mentioned in the Qur’ān (Al-Baqārah, 2:201) and which comprehends all that is good both in this life and the Hereafter. The Prophet (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) made it a habit to recite this Du’a, and the Companions were eager to follow him in all his words and actions. Tarmidzi (rahimullāh) said: “Hasanah is very comprehensive and includes in all kinds of good and benefits of this world and of the Hereafter. Good health, wealth and satisfaction of the world and good status in Jannah, forgiveness from sins and Allāh’s bounties and favours in both worlds are included in this duā’” [ Jāmi’ At-Tarmidzi]
And Allāh Almighty Knows best.
[Excerpted from commentary of “Hadith 21 : "The Concept of Istiqāmah" 40 Hadiths Of Imam Nawawi, By Dr. Jamal Ahmed Badi, via IC Truth]