There is a disease of the heart between faith and faithlessness, which shows itself when people get involved in trying to alter the precepts of the religion. The cause of this illness is total dependence on limited human logic and intelligence; total faith in one's own opinions; obedience to the desires of one's flesh and the ambitions of one's ego. The worst of these is slavery to the ego.
Guidance from Allah
Do not be misled by your egos, or you will be led away from the truth and into lies. (hadith qudsi)
He also says that your egos will lead you away from your Lord. And He promises:
For such as had entertained the fear of standing before their Lord's judgment and had restrained the ego from its desires, the abode will be Paradise. (79:40-41)
Have not you known the ones who take their whims and desires as their god? (45:23 and 25:43)
Who is more led astray than the ones who follow the fancies of their ego? (28:50)
Nay, the wrongdoers merely follow their own lusts, being devoid of knowledge. But who will guide those whom God leaves astray? For them, there will be no helpers. (30:29)
Guidance from Prophet Muhammad ﷺ
Anas ibn Malik reported that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:
What destroys the human being is arrogance, following lusts and the desires of the ego, and miserliness. (Bazzaz)
The blessed `Ali ibn Abi Talib reported that the Prophet ﷺ said:
What I fear for you most are two habits: to go along with the dictates of your egos and to be ambitious for this world. (Ibn Abi Dunya)
Shaddad ibn `Aws related that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:
The sign of a person who is aware and intelligent is that he has his ego under control and devotes his life to the preparation for the Hereafter. The sign of the weak person is that he continues being a slave to his ego and hopes for his Lord's forgiveness. (Tirmidhi)
Guidance from the Companions and the Wise
The blessed 'Ali ibn Abi Talib advised
Give comfort and rest to your heart. For if you oppress your heart with heavy tasks, it will tire of them, and leave them and everything else.
Abu Darda' said
At times I give rest and comfort to my ego. When I do this, it helps me on the path to truth.
Imam Ghazali advised
When your wish and desire for prayer and worship diminishes if you feel that some rest, sleep, amusement, or recreation would restore it, do it without delay. This rest is better than making one's prayers unwillingly.
To seek rest, comfort, and recreation, not for their own sake, but to give one strength and motivation to live a righteous life, is to abide by the rules of religion.
The Destructive EGO
Our egos and the appetites of our physical being contain a tendency toward wrongdoing. They have the strength to impose their wishes in our lives-but to obey all their desires is surely the way to our downfall. Almost always they lead to forbidden things, harmful even to our material being and life in this world, in addition to being disastrous for the Hereafter. They push us to revolt against Allah's prescriptions and the path of salvation, leading us to regions of pain, confusion, disaster, and sin by pretending that these are desirable conditions and good for us. And those of us who remain slaves to our egos become lowly, immoral, tyrannical, selfish, stingy, hypocritical, lying, cursed beings, enemies of the public and of themselves.
Reduce the Demands of the EGO
It is necessary to fight an endless battle in this life in order to protect ourselves against this greatest of evil enemies. A continuous effort must be made to repel it, or at least to reduce our acquiescence to its demands.
Perhaps the first attempt should be to change our habits, which usually already represent the established rule of our egos. That struggle is the true sign of the righteous. It is the only way to take hold of the force that leads us astray. We must fight to bring our egos under control, in order to save our souls and afford them their rightful ruling place in our lives.
Help from Allah
O seeker of truth, if you wish your Lord to lead you on the straight path to truth, first you must eliminate the hindrance of your ego on that path. Then Allah will certainly act upon what He promises:
And those who strive in Our cause, We will certainly guide them in Our path, for verily Allah is with those who do right. (29:69)
Be Compassionate Towards your EGO
In the struggle with the ego, we should be careful not to tyrannize ourselves. Among the desires of our flesh, there are things permissible, even necessary. One should be able to gauge the strength and insistence of these desires: it is excess that makes them blameworthy. Indeed, it is not possible for human nature totally to deny what the flesh and the ego desire. The exaggeration of asceticism is forbidden in Islam. Even in our worship, moderation is advised.
The blessed `A'ishah, may Allah be pleased with her, reported that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:
O people, only do things that you are able to continue doing, for otherwise you will soon be discouraged and stop. The actions that Allah considers to be the best are the constant and continuous ones, even if they are small. (Bukhari)
Adapted from "The Path of Muhammad" by Imam Birgivi
Imam Birgivi was a scholar and moralist who lived during the height of the Ottoman Empire, in the 16th century CE. His influence on Islamic morals and ethics continues to this day. This book is still being used as a text in the most important faculties of theology and in the universities of many Muslim countries.