Understand, Live by, Inspire

Being selfish

Is there is any reality or truth behind the statement uttered by many people that ‘whatever I do, I do for others’. ‘I live for others’. ‘I don’t need anything, I just want others to be happy’. ‘I am not selfish!’

How can you reconcile such statements with the Qur’anic verses which clearly emphasize and establish the fact that whatever you do, you do for your own self! 

The Arabic word ‘Nafs’ is translated as ‘self’ or ‘soul’.

Let me first mention a few aayaats from the glorious Qur’an:

1. If you see the reality of Enlightenment, you see for the benefit of yourself: 

“There has come to you enlightenment from your Lord. So whoever will see does so for [the benefit of] his soul, and whoever is blind [does harm] against it. And [say], “I am not a guardian over you.” (Surah Al An’aam 6: 104)

2. If you follow your Lord’s Guidance, you do so for the benefit of your own self: 

“Say, “O mankind, the Truth has come to you from your Lord, so whoever is guided is only guided for [the benefit of] his soul, and whoever goes astray only goes astray [in violation] against it. And I am not over you a manager.” (Surah Yuunus 10:108)

3. If you strive against evil in the cause of Allah, you do so for your own self:

“And whoever strives only strives for [the benefit of] himself. Indeed, Allah is free from need of the worlds.” (Surah Al Ankabuut 29: 6)

4. If you are grateful, you are indeed grateful unto yourself:

“And We had certainly given Luqman wisdom [and said], “Be grateful to Allah.” And whoever is grateful is grateful for [the benefit of] himself. And whoever denies [His favor] – then indeed, Allah is Free of need and Praiseworthy.” (Surah Luqmaan 31: 12)

5. If you are clean and purify yourself, you do so for the benefit of your own soul:

“And no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another. And if a heavily laden soul calls [another] to [carry some of] its load, nothing of it will be carried, even if he should be a close relative. You can only warn those who fear their Lord unseen and have established prayer. And whoever purifies himself only purifies himself for [the benefit of] his soul. And to Allah is the [final] destination.” (Surah Faatir 35: 18)

6. If you are unjust, know that you are unjust unto yourself: 

“Then we caused to inherit the Book those We have chosen of Our servants; and among them is he who wrongs himself, and among them is he who is moderate, and among them is he who is foremost in good deeds by permission of Allah. That [inheritance] is what is the great bounty. “ (Surah Faatir 35: 12)

7. If you do a good deed, you do it for the benefit of your own self:

“Whoever does righteousness – it is for his [own] soul; and whoever does evil [does so] against it. And your Lord is not ever unjust to [His] servants.” (Surah Fussilat 41: 46)

If you have read the above aayaats very carefully, you would have noticed two common points in all these verses:

1. You are neither doing any favour to your Lord nor is He in need of anything from you. He is above all needs.

2. If at all you do anything, you do it for your own advantage and benefit! 

Let us see how Islam draws a line between doing things for one’s own self and at the same time not being selfish.

This is the Definition of Selfish:

1. concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself : seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others.

2. arising from concern with one’s own welfare or advantage in disregard of others <a selfish act>

While being selfish is bad, the reality is everything we do is for one’s own self.

Seems Contradictory?


If you do things in steep disregard for others, that is bad. Two examples:

1. You are in a group at a dining table. If you take everything for yourself and leave nothing for others, is that good? No, right?

So even though you eat for your own self, for your own survival,  you adopt sharing attitude. You are not selfish to let others suffer.

2. You offer salah. And you do so for your own benefit, for your own reward and success.

But if you are selfish in that you don’t care whether your wife is praying or not, whether your son or daughter is regular to salah or not, then that is bad. You are too selfish in that you want to achieve success in Aakhirah but are unmindful or careless about the well being of your own family!

Here comes the role of amr bil ma’roof and nahi ‘anil munkar, that is, enjoining good and forbidding evil. 

Two references, one from hadeeth and one from Qur’an, are given below:

1. I would like to refer to the spirit and substance of that hadeeth which tells us that we are all on board a ship. (I am giving the understood meaning of that hadeeth as I could not trace the exact text)

The Prophet sal-lal-laahu-alaihi-wa-sallam said in one hadeeth: Imagine that you are on board. The boat has two tiers. But water is available only at the first floor. Every time the people in the ground floor want water, they have to climb up to the first floor. So they thought of an idea. To drill a hole in one part of the boat.

The example of people in the ground floor is that of bad people who live in ignorance. The people in the first floor are knowledgeable and righteous.

Now, if the people in the first floor do not stop those making a hole in the ground floor, what will happen?

Everyone will sink, and all will suffer!

The parable in the hadeeth has many lessons for us:

1. If you adopt the role of being a silent spectator, then the world will go to dogs!

2. In this dunya, we have bad elements and good elements. If people who have the knowledge of deen, do not convey the message of Islam to others, when punishment comes, everyone will suffer including the righteous people.

3. Even though being safe and secure is every one’s concern and no one wants to suffer, you cannot be fully safe and secure unless you do not stop others from bringing harm to the society.

2. Surah al Asr shows us the way:

“By time, Indeed, mankind is in loss, Except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds and advised each other to truth and advised each other to patience.” (Surah al Asr 1-3)

According to this Surah, if you want to save yourself from loss and destruction, you need to do four things:

1. Have faith by believing in Allah, His angels, His books, His Messengers, the Last Day, Fate (good or bad), Resurrection and life after death.

2. Do good deeds

3. Advise and counsel one another to truth and about truth.

4. Advise one another to be steadfast and bear with patience.

While whatever you do in this world is primarily for the benefit of your own self, you cannot ignore or shirk the responsibility of performing da’wah because if you don’t do that you will be questioned in the Hereafter and that would be to the disadvantage of one’s self!

So be good and do good but at the same time have concern for others, and your having concern for others will be ultimately for the benefit of your own self!

May Allah guide us all unto the Right Path. May we come up to the standard and expectations of Surah al Asr.

Jazakallaahu Khayra for reading this post.

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So your comments are welcome!

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August 22, 2013 - Posted by | Reflections | , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. jazaakaLlahu Khaira.

    Comment by remah, | August 22, 2013 | Reply

  2. At times the statement is true…as some people don’t want to do a certain thing (I don’t mean sinful acts) but actually are pressurized to do it. Or they do it for other’s happiness. Well…just my opinion.

    Comment by OutspokenHijabi | August 22, 2013 | Reply

    • Yes, sister. I think you are mentioning of families or cultures where man dominates and let people work without caring for other’s feelings. In case of some parents, children do things for parent’s happiness even though they don’t like or aren’t happy with that.
      Thank you for sharing your opinion, sister.

      Comment by MuQeet | August 22, 2013 | Reply

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