Deep TafsirsSoul Cleansers

Know Thyself

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A commentary on sūrat al-`Isrā | “Say (O Muḥammad), let each of you work according to his own shākilah.”

قل كل يعمل على شاكلته

I have never dwelled on a string of words so solemnly as with this. I’m amazed at what it does-—adumbrating on self-image and individual personality, adumbrating on the mystery of the soul itself. Do you know what it means, this word “shākilah?” It shares a root with (شكل) “shakl,” meaning “shape,” “mold,” “form.” And the human ecology thrives with all sorts of forms.

But let’s talk about the most despised of forms: destructive personality flaws. I have mine. My perfectionism. In the most extreme case, therapists say, perfectionists are prone to anxiety, eating disorders, and depression. And the perfectionist might spend his entire life caging himself to this label, forgetting any “good” it brought him. ⠀⠀⠀ ⠀
So I consigned to this thought: a destructive flaw is a diseased limb, slim in the spectrum of body parts, but heavy. Harming. Hurting. You feel it everyday. It clings to you like a parasite. It dangles down, hounding on your self-image. Mine the minds in our human ecology and you’ll find that “destructive flaws” exist in each and every one of us: Stinginess. Stubbornness. Impatience. Arrogance. Greed. They’re the diseased limbs, the accursed quirks that keep us asking

“Why am I such a perfectionist?”
“Why am I such a control freak?”
“Why can’t I be easier on myself?”

and no matter how hard you fight it, that diseased limb lingers with you all your life. To amputate it would be to amputate a part of you; to sever a strand of your DNA; to carve out a feature of your personality. Now, would you do it? Would you do it, when our Rabb gave you an alternative? Instead, He guided His prophet to more beautiful ways: Tell them, O Muḥammad, let each of you work according to his own shākilah.

his own unique imperfectly flawed sometimes-awesome sometimes-destructive form

So know “you,” and know that whatever diseased limb dangling from your being is not meant to destroy you. Oh, no, no. Never. That diseased limb? You nurture it into full recovery. Mend your mold of perfectionism into something promising. It’s as Aristotle said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”

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