Self -examination or accountability is one of the ways reaching the peak of righteousness and piety, without which spiritual ecstasy cannot be achieved. Subjecting oneself to accountability leads to remorse for sins done , regretting over ones mistakes and a determination of overcoming one’s weaknesses towards acts of worships and the rights of other servants of Allah over one. This ultimately leads to repentance, seeking of forgiveness and returning of people’s rights to them.
Self-accountability was the way of the pious people who filled the world with knowledge and piety. The first caliph of Islam; Abu-Bakr Siddique (RadiyAllahu Anhu) Once went to a garden where he saw a bird. He sighed deeply and said,
“O bird! You are lucky indeed! You eat and drink as you like and fly but do not have fear of reckoning on the Day of Judgment. I wish that I were just like you”.
Sometimes he said,
“I wish I were a blade of grass whose life ended with the grazing of some beast; or a tree that would be cut and done away with”.
This action is not an ordinary act, for we see birds and other animals every day, but we are not moved to feel what Abu-Bakr Siddiq (RA) felt, because if one does not take account of himself, and visualize the dreadful Day he shall be presented before the Majestic Lord of the Worlds for the great accountability, hardly can such a person feels the luck of those creatures who shall not face what humans will face on the day of Judgement.
Allah wants man to know his work (acts and deeds), which might be good or evil. He wants him to ask himself if the work is good or evil, and if it is permissible or prohibited. Man ought to know himself and learn about his points of strength and points of weakness, to reach a balanced view, and not become conceited, because he was successful in a certain domain or a certain stage, or become desperate, if he encounters a certain loss or failure. Allah says:
“O you who believe! Fear Allah, and let every soul consider what it has forwarded for the morrow, and fear Allah. Allah is Aware of what you do.”
The Prophet (ﷺ) said,
“A wise man is the one who calls himself to account (and refrains from doing evil deeds) and does noble deeds to benefit him after death; and the foolish person is the one who subdues himself to his temptations and desires and seeks from Allah the fulfillment of his vain desires”.
In another tradition, people who take account of themselves were described by the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) as the most prudent and noble people, as reported by Ibn Umar (RadiyAllahu Anhu) who said;
‘Once I was sitting in the company of the Prophet (ﷺ) then a man from Al-Ansar (the supporters) came, he greeted the Prophet (ﷺ) and asked him:
“O Messenger of Allah, who is the best among believers?”
He (ﷺ) answered:
“They are those with the best characters.”
Then, that man asked:
“Who is the most sagacious and the most prudent among believers?”
He (ﷺ) said:
“They are those who remember death most often and are well-prepared for what is after it. Verily, those are the wisest believers.”
It is apparent from the above that people who subject themselves to self-scrutiny and examination are the noblest of people in conduct and behavior. They work righteousness in preparation for what is after their death. They seek to clear themselves of any iniquity, blameworthy act before the Day of accountability and Recompense, thus, a society of such people is most surely going to be characterized with piety, and righteousness, hence, the essence of self-examination becomes apparent.
The axiom of self-inspection and examination of man’s conduct is an unavoidable issue and is understandable and perceivable. Self-examination is very essential in building righteous communities in many ways:
1 – It helps one knows his/her capabilities, strengths and weaknesses. All his religious and societal endeavors would now be based on this leading to one excelling both religiously and materially.
2 – Sins committed and mistakes done are repented from and amended before they accumulate to culminate one into destruction and failures in the two abodes (this world and the hereafter).
3 – They help in achieving sagacity and nobility represented in doing good deeds and righteous conducts.