How Do People Deceive Themselves?
One issue that draws people into trouble and unseen torment is their self-deception and belief in the world's falsehoods. By inculcation, a person can persuade himself that something he wants to be true, really is. Since he interprets events in a way as he wishes to view them, he comes to believe in his own interpretations—so much so that even when those offering a different opinion are clearly telling the truth, he thinks that they are committing an error.
For example, by one's own self-inculcation, a person may come to think that his friends do not love him enough. Through such interpretations of every incident, he may create plenty of evidence that he is right. Even if people make satisfactory explanations and perform acts that ought to prove the contrary, a person who has convinced himself that he is right respects none of them. He uses every detail to reinforce his own assumptions and even makes up imaginary evidence to convince himself of what he wants to believe. The fact is, however, that the person in question views the world as he wants to and interprets events as he likes. For this reason, he lives in continual torment.
This characteristic can be observed in most people in ignorant societies, but may also be seen in believers who have not fully established faith in their hearts and who fail to interpret every incident in their lives according to the Qur'an. Failure to interpret events in the light of the Qur'an always drives people into error. Where they do not take the Qur'an as their guideline, people make decisions according to the ignorant society's viewpoint. That is to say, they will side with their selfish desires and the satan's. As a result, they view every event around them, including their perceptions about themselves, in a twisted way that arises principally from their own self-deception. For example, a person regarded to be heedless according to the morality of the Qur'an may consider himself to be very kind, according to his ignorant viewpoint. Alternatively, one who behaves arrogantly according to the Qur'an's definition may think himself to be very humble and submissive, since he fails to measure his behavior by the Qur'an and think in its terms. In the same way, those of weak faith may convince themselves they fear Allah, are wholly and purely committed to the morality of the Qur'an and are completely honest and sincere towards Him. However, at this stage, people have a number of irrational judgments contrary to the Qur'an that they employ to convince themselves and suppress their consciences. Rationalizing these flawed judgments within themselves, they convince themselves that they do not fall afoul of the religion and that their excuses will be accepted in the sight of Allah. Such an attitude distances people from sincerity.
The claims and attitudes of people who deceive themselves prove to be incompatible, for they also claim to be pious Muslims. But such an attitude always causes them trouble. Subconsciously aware of their true lack of moral perfection, they endure constant pangs of conscience. Nevertheless, instead of taking notice of these and correcting the flaws in their behavior, they prefer to deceive themselves and cover up their mistakes. This in turn causes them material and spiritual harm.
The following pages will deal with this harm which the world experiences as torment.
The Damage Caused by Insincerity
Insincerity is a secret curse that not only makes people's lives difficult, leading them into misery, but also causes them swift physical and spiritual harm. Some may not be aware of the harm they suffer. Assuming that the insincerity they hold inside inflicts no harm on them, they make insincerity their way of life.
To anyone of pure faith, however, the harm these people suffer is obvious. Often believers try to explain their situation, call them to sincerity. However, some people's spiritual state causes them to approach with the same insincerity those who try to warn them. As a result, they cannot take advantage of the truths they are told.
We can list some of insincerity's negative effects on people:
Lack of Wisdom
This is one obvious effect of the failure to live by the morality of the Qur'an. Allah grants wisdom to people only if they have sincere faith. Other than wisdom, all other talents can be displayed through intelligence alone. At first glance, an intelligent person may be assumed to have the same characteristics as of a wise one. Indeed, this is the main reason why so many people err in believing themselves to be wise. However wisdom is a superior characteristic ensued by conforming to the Qur'an. Allah speaks of a special type of comprehension granted only to those who fear and take refuge in Him:
You who believe! If you fear Allah, He will give you discrimination and erase your bad actions from you and forgive you. Allah's favor is indeed immense. (Surat al-Anfal: 29)
This comprehension allows people to distinguish right from wrong in every matter relating to their lives, including those directly involving themselves.
People who become distanced from the morality of the Qur'an or who permit insincerity at certain points in their lives are weak in distinguishing right from wrong. The major sign of this deficiency is their inability to see the situation in which they find themselves and evaluate it according to the Qur'an—to such an extent that when their incomprehension is pointed out by others, it still persists.
These people lack the clarity, purity and simplicity that exist in sincere people's minds. On the contrary, turbidity and confusion dominate their minds. When compared with the clear signs of wisdom in pious believers, their state becomes especially obvious. For such people, their inability to achieve clarity of thought and decisiveness in making assessments is a form of torment. Due to the confusion in their minds, they may even not recognize this torment, but they can never attain the comfort of wisdom brought by sincere faith. The way they interpret events and others' behavior clearly reflects their lack of wisdom.
Spiritual and Physical Lethargy
Another harm brought by insincerity, this weariness results from the pressure they place upon themselves by knowingly ignoring their conscience. The spiritual torment produced by a troubled conscience deeply affects both their spiritual state and physical functions. Even if such people live in the most comfortable homes, acquire everything they want, live among people with moral perfection and possess the highest levels of health and beauty, they still cannot be rescued from this trouble. They cannot enjoy as they should any of the blessings around them.
Neither a delicious meal, nor candid talk of a friend, nor a beautiful landscape give them any pleasure. Deep inside, they feel grief in environments where others laugh and enjoy themselves. No matter how they imitate the happiness and cheer of those around them, their inner spiritual torment never leaves them, not for a moment. Never can they experience the cheerfulness or tranquility that others feel. They can achieve these only through special efforts of will and concentration. As a result they always feel a weariness that causes them to live in a kind of stupor even when their bodies are awake. The way they look at things clearly express their weariness.
Their eyes are open, but have a dull and torpid look, and they are far from the signs of alertness apparent in a believer.
The weariness caused by this spiritual pressure also has major physical effects. Such people lack keen perception, speech, coordination and other skills. They are physically capable, but the pressure and dullness in their brains prevent them from leading a normal life. At a subconscious level, they always feel the discomfort stemming from a troubled conscience. As long as they fail to resolve this unrest, they cannot feel at ease.
In the Qur'an, Allah describes the troubled spiritual state of such people who have not fully placed faith in their hearts as follows:
[He said,] "But if anyone turns away from My reminder, his life will be a dark and narrow one and on the Day of Resurrection We will gather him blind." (Surah Ta Ha: 124)
Material and Spiritual Impurity
In this verse of the Qur'an, we are told of another form of harm that insincerity inflicts people: "... He casts uncleanness on those who do not use their intellect." (Surah Yunus: 100)
Allah repays those who do not exercise their consciences or remain sincere to Allah, with a curse described in the Qur'an as "uncleanness." In one verse, Allah reveals, "But as for those with sickness in their hearts, it adds uncleanness to their uncleanness, and they die while they are unbelievers" (Surat at-Tawba: 125). By Allah's will, this can be seen in people in the form of both physical and spiritual impurity. If He wishes, such people may indeed take on a dirty appearance. The lack of tranquility and stress they experience may cause their skin to deteriorate much faster than normal and also cause bad breath and body odors.
Meanwhile, even if these people take all physical precautions and take great care in their personal hygiene, they cannot save themselves from spiritual impurity, and always give the impression of being dirty. Of course, this is an impression created by Allah as a return for their insincerity. No matter how clean they may be, even sitting where they have sat, sharing their food and handling objects they have previously touched may disturb others. This can in turn become a source of inner distress for them. Such people have forgotten Allah and chosen to pursue the approval of others. But the very people whose goodwill they sought, now avoid them and look down on them. This is a secret curse with which Allah afflicts people who do not live in the true faith, even though their consciences tell them to do so.
Lack of Spiritual Light
Another aspect of the spiritual impurity referred to in the verse quoted above is a lack of illumination in the faces of insincere people. This lack does not manifest itself in the same way in everyone. In some faces, it makes itself known through the absence of the lively, eager and honest expressions that appear on the faces of the faithful. In others it appears as the impression of aimlessness and emptiness. In still others, it takes the form of a darkening that comes about with no obvious reason. All these indicate the darkness of spirit these people experience inside.
What is striking is that this darkness has nothing to do with physical beauty. In case of insincerity towards Allah, the most beautiful face, the most flawless skin or the best-shaped eyes cannot compensate for a lack of light in the facial expression. That is because such light is a characteristic Allah grants only to those who believe with a sincere heart. Allah tells us this in a verse of the Qur'an:
Or they [the actions of those who do not believe] are like the darkness of a fathomless sea which is covered by waves above which are waves above which are clouds, layers of darkness, one upon the other. If he puts out his hand, he can scarcely see it. Those Allah gives no light to, they have no light. (Surat an-Nur: 40)
In the Qur'an, Allah draws attention to the impact of what the sincere and the insincere experience in their souls upon their bodies with the following comparison:
Those who do good will have the best and more! Neither dust nor debasement will darken their faces. They are the Companions of the Garden, remaining in it timelessly, for ever. But as for those who have earned bad actions—a bad action will be repaid with one the like of it. Debasement will darken them. They will have no one to protect them from Allah. It is as if their faces were covered by dark patches of the night... (Surah Yunus: 26-27)
To people who believe in Him with a sincere heart, Allah gives a beauty and health that these people bring to every environment they enter. Looking in their faces, hearing their voices and witnessing their attitudes become a blessing for those around them. The Qur'an draws attention to this characteristic of the faithful and the "trace of prostration" that manifests itself on their faces:
Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and those who are with him are fierce to the disbelievers, merciful to one another. You see them bowing and prostrating, seeking Allah's good favor and His pleasure. Their mark is on their faces, the traces of prostration... (Surat al-Fath: 29)
In contrast to the faithful, people who behave insincerely present a negative appearance. The lack of faith these people have inside, their tormented, troubled and tense spiritual state and their pride cause a negative breeze in every environment they enter. Whatever they say or do, they spread negativity around them. Their tense spiritual conditions, their tormented faces and troubled voices make others perceive this clearly. So long as they are insincere and do not show steadfast honesty towards Allah, they cannot overcome this. They can do whatever they want to appear sympathetic to the people around them, but it will have no positive effect.
This is a miraculous situation which Allah creates. Some may not be able to describe this negative feeling at times, but most recognize such people and avoid them. This is one of the internal torments that afflict a person who harbors negative thoughts.
However, keep in mind that from the moment a person purifies his heart and acts with sincere intent towards Allah, by the will of Allah, this negative appearance melts away and is replaced by a bright and open visage.
These traits listed up to now are just some of the recompense that Allah may give for lack of true faith in Him. Allah's power is boundless. Despite all these clear signs, if one ignores how he suffers and fails to take refuge in Allah, He may bring still more harm upon him.
Nobody should deceive himself saying, "I believe. I perform my worship." He should purify his heart for Allah and leave not a trace of insincerity. To avoid an outcome such as the one described in the verses, "No indeed! Truly man is unbridled, seeing himself as self-sufficient" (Surat al-'Alaq: 6-7), he must take refuge in Allah.