Stoicism

How to balance the need for control with the need for freedom

Mohamedarif-Suleman The writer, Mohamedarif Mohamed Suleman (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania) is a digital marketing specialist and an Educator-cum-Trainer. He has involved himself in community organisations and matters from a young age, and through his writings, continues to speak of social and cultural reform to this day. He is also the founding moderator of this forum.

Stoicism:

Society is made up of several individuals, some believe in a higher divine force that retains control over everything, and others subscribe to the hypothesis of power in their own hands.  The latter is more in reference to actions and their consequences rather than the muscular build of one’s biceps or fist grip.  In all, this topic makes up for an interesting philosophical and religious discussion.

The perplexing question we regularly face is whether one is more true than the other. For is this what we have not been taught since adolescence that we have to ‘make something of our lives’ by way of making the right decisions and taking the proper steps towards building a sound future? And before we are tempted to digress into the slippery slope of then defining what success means to each one of us, being Muslim necessitates the understanding of who is really in control of the Universe and by extension our lives.

The “dichotomy of control” is one of the most significant and valuable components of stoicism. You must realize that certain things are under your control and some are not. Focusing only (literally – solely) on the things you can control and letting go of everything else can lead to happiness.

It turns out that there are not many things you can control if you’re a stoic. In fact, according to stoicism, the only aspect of your life that you truly have control over is how you react to it. In Reasons not to worry: how to remain stoic in turbulent times, journalist Delaney summarizes that there are only three things we have control over

  • Our character,
  • Our reactions, and
  • And how we behave toward others.


Anything else is considered to be an unnecessary waste of time and energy.

And one can clearly see how Stoicism matches Islamic teachings but only to the extent that it acknowledges the concept of Allah as being al-Qaadir.  

“Islamic philosophy is essentially stoic in nature. In Islam, you are supposed to maintain control over your impulses. Marcus Aurelius compared life to a war in which you are constantly fighting to keep your impulses in check and to maintain an emotional equilibrium. This is what internal jihad is in Islam” contends Sadaf Anya Saeed, a BA in Philosophy, Wellesley College. 

This perspective on the other concepts of a Muslim’s struggles is well captured by her within the caricature of Stoicism.

Ayatullah Naser Makaarim Shirazi in his book ‘Ethical Discourses – Volume 2’, declares:

It has been narrated from Ibn ‘Abbas that the Messenger of Allah (S) said: “One who keeps his hopes solely upon Allah, He will be sufficient for that person in all affairs (of his life); one who keeps his hopes on the material world, Allah will leave him (with the world); one who wishes to reach his goals through disobeying Allah will be the furthest away from that which he wishes (to achieve) and will be the closest to difficulties; one who seeks to please the people through the disobedience of Allah, He will change the pleasure (of the people) towards him to be his disgrace (amongst the people).

Once more, this promotes the concept of tawakkal in Allah as the absolute pathway to a successful life.

In turn, the duality of control as prescribed by Islam is to ingrain and nurture the presence of Allah’s control over all affairs at a level where other created agencies do not operate.  For instance, when human beings are granted the faculties of intellect and reason, it could not have been just for the sake of it, and hence we are required to engage these faculties in the furtherance of our pursuits, and within the realms of His universal dominion. 

In summary, what we now need to ponder upon is how to put in maximum effort in the realisation of a successful hereafter through a life of obedience and submission in this. And in so doing, we would have to both exert our own effort as well as accept limitations from time to time, even though they may be less desirous to our immediate goals. That struggle, that part of stoicism, is a snapshot definition of Islam for us to comprehend and talk about.

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