nahjul balagha

Navigating Individualism: Insights from Nahjul Balagha for Muslims

Nahjul Balagha

Mohammad-Hussein-DewjiThe writer, Mohammad Hussein Dewji (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania) a tech and AI enthusiast with over a decade of coding experience. He has had the privilege of working with FAANG companies, where he has been exposed to cutting-edge technologies and collaborated with brilliant minds. Mohammad is passionate about transforming ideas into efficient software solutions and leveraging AI to tackle real-world challenges. Constantly learning and staying up-to-date, he strives to make a positive impact by merging Tech, AI and today’s world.


n an age where individualism and competition have become the norm, the call to nurture empathy, compassion, and a profound sense of community responsibility echoes louder than ever. Picture a world where uniqueness is celebrated, but in the pursuit of personal distinction, the fabric of social bonds begins to fray. This is the backdrop against which we must navigate the challenges of our time.

Enter the concept of individualism, a prevailing force that extols the intrinsic worth of each person, often at the expense of collective well-being. It is within this intricate dance between personal identity and communal harmony that the teachings of Nahjul Balagha, attributed to the esteemed Imam Ali (AS), come to life with unparalleled relevance.

Before we dive into the enlightening words of Imam Ali (AS) let’s understand what individualism is and its impact in today’s society, let’s unpack the concept of individualism and its significance in today’s world. Individualism is a philosophy that places a high value on each person’s unique qualities and independence. It’s a prevailing mindset, shaped by factors like technology and globalization, encouraging self-expression and personal achievements. This ideology extends beyond mere self-expression; it exalts the notion that personal achievements hold profound value. It encourages individuals to pursue their goals with a fervor, emphasizing the fulfillment of personal aspirations as a significant measure of success. However, within this celebration of individual uniqueness and autonomy lies the intricate challenge of navigating the delicate balance between personal accomplishments and collective well-being.

The prominence of individualism in our contemporary landscape can be attributed to the transformative influence of technology and the interconnected global framework we inhabit. The advent of technology has ushered in an era where information flows seamlessly across borders, connecting individuals to diverse ideas and cultures at an unprecedented pace. This interconnectedness, while fostering an environment conducive to personal expression and cross-cultural exchange, also plays a pivotal role in accentuating the prominence of individualism.

In this interconnected world, exposure to diverse perspectives and lifestyles becomes an everyday occurrence, allowing individuals to craft and articulate their unique narratives. Social media platforms, acting as virtual forums for self-expression, amplify the voices of individuals, enabling them to share their thoughts, experiences, and aspirations on a global scale. The ease with which information is disseminated contributes to the celebration of individual uniqueness, as people draw inspiration from various cultural, religious, and societal influences to shape their identities.

The surge of individualism, fueled by technology and globalization, often relegates acts of kindness and communal well-being to the sidelines. In this interconnected world, where personal achievements are spotlighted, there’s a tendency for individuals to prioritize selfish goals over selfless deeds, which are strongly encouraged in Islam. This shift in focus can have profound implications, diminishing the significance of acts of kindness without expecting anything in return—a virtue deeply ingrained in Islamic teachings.

Consider the impact of this shift. On one side, celebrating personal achievements is undoubtedly positive—it reflects personal growth, resilience, and dedication. However, the flip side of this celebration can cast a shadow over the importance of helping others and contributing to the welfare of our communities. In an individualistic society, the pursuit of personal goals may drown out the resonance of collective efforts for the well-being of all.

For Muslims, this presents a unique challenge. Islam places immense emphasis on selflessness, generosity, and community welfare. Acts of kindness, whether big or small, are viewed as integral to one’s faith, reflecting the values of compassion and empathy taught by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his family, including Imam Ali (AS).

Yet, in the midst of an individualistic societal ethos, these teachings sometimes face the risk of being overshadowed. The pursuit of personal success may inadvertently diminish the time and effort dedicated to community service and supporting those in need. The act of giving without expecting anything in return, a cornerstone of Islamic ethics, can find itself relegated to the background when individuals are driven by the desire for personal recognition and achievement.

For instance, the concept of “sadaqah” (voluntary charity) holds immense significance in Islam, urging believers to extend generosity to those less fortunate without seeking acknowledgement. However, in an individualistic environment, the allure of public recognition and personal accomplishment might impact the purity of such acts.

In essence, the clash between individualism and Islamic teachings prompts reflection on the balance between personal success and communal well-being. To navigate this dynamic, it becomes crucial to uphold the values of selflessness and community service, ensuring that acts of kindness remain integral to the fabric of our faith despite the prevailing individualistic currents of the world.

This brings us to the teachings of Imam Ali in Nahjul Balagha. Despite living centuries ago, his guidance remains incredibly relevant. It’s like he’s reminding us, “Sure, embrace your uniqueness, but always remember the bigger picture. We’re all interconnected.” So, as we explore his words, let’s stay grounded in the present—acknowledging the benefits and challenges of individualism while seeking insights that help us strike a balance between personal growth and a shared responsibility for the well-being of everyone around us.

Imam Ali’s Letter to Malik al-Ashtar: The Richest Treasure

Be it known to you, O, Malik, that I am sending you as Governor to a country which in the past has experienced both just and unjust rule. Men will scrutinize your actions with a searching eye, even as you used to scrutinize the actions of those before you, and speak of you even as you did speak of them.

The fact is that the public speaks well of only those who do good. It is they who furnish the proof of your actions. Hence the richest treasure that you may covet would be the treasure of good deeds. Keep your desires under control and deny yourself that which you have been prohibited from, for, by such abstinence alone, you will be able to distinguish between what is good to them and what is not.

Imam Ali underscores a fundamental truth in his words, that the public’s judgment is a reflection of a leader’s deeds. The richness of a leader’s legacy lies not in material wealth but in the treasure of virtuous actions. In simpler terms, his words urge Malik Al-Ashtar to contribute with goodness into society, and the way that people act and speak about him would be his greatest treasure.This prompts us to reflect on the essence of genuine wealth; does it reside in the amassing of possessions, or does it find its true value in a heart enriched with kindness and compassion? The Imam’s words invite us to consider the lasting impact of benevolence versus material accumulation, challenging the conventional metrics of success.

Develop in your heart the feeling of love for your people and let it be the source of kindliness and blessing to them. Do not behave with them like a barbarian, and do not appropriate to yourself that which belongs to them. Remember that the citizens of the state are of two categories. They are either your brethren in religion or your brethren in kind. They are subject to infirmities and liable to commit mistakes.

Some indeed do commit mistakes. But forgive them even as you would like God to forgive you. Bear in mind that you are placed over them, even as I am placed over you. And then there is God even above him who has given you the position of a Governor in order that you may look after those under you and to be sufficient unto them. And you will be judged by what you do for them.

 The guidance extends further to embrace the virtues of a soft heart and forgiveness. Does extending kindness signify vulnerability, or does it serve as a testament to inner strength? Moreover, can acts of forgiveness, seemingly small on an individual level, accumulate into a force for significant positive change within a community? These reflections encourage us to recognize the profound influence of compassion in forging robust connections and cultivating a more harmonious society. The interconnectedness of individual acts of kindness and forgiveness creates a ripple effect, fostering an environment where understanding and empathy flourish.

Consider, then, the collective impact if everyone were to heed this advice; embodying kindness, adhering to ethical principles, and embracing forgiveness. Such a collective commitment prompts us to envisage a world where collaborative efforts prevail, individuals support one another, and collective achievements surpass individual endeavors. From this excerpt we need to understand that kindness and compassion is a sign of inner peace, the ability to let go and help requires alot of discipline, as well as mental and emotional strength. When we take steps towards this, we can collectively contribute to a larger picture. Whether it’s assisting in the goals of the community or giving some sadqah allowing someone the means to continue living, each of us have a role when it comes to contributing to the bigger picture. 

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