Steps toward Change

Imam Al-Ghazali (450-505 H; 1058-1111CE) identifies the following 6 steps one can take in the process of change and growth:

Musharatah: to make an agreement or contract. (‘shart’=stipulation)

In this step one must identify and set standards, conditions, limits, terms and guidelines for one’s own thoughts, feelings and actions one is trying to achieve.

Muraqabah: to guard. (‘raqab’=guard)

In this step one must meditate before one’s actions. This involves that one must think, contemplate, be introspective and keep watch over one’s own self. We function as our own observer.

Muhasabah: to evaluate self, taking account. (‘hisab’=account)

This step involves self-examination and one takes account of one’s own actions and continuously checks if one is upholding the agreement.

to punish, to control. (‘aqabah’=punish)

For the contract to work we set consequences for ourselves when we have done something wrong and fail to keep the stipulations we agreed to uphold.

Mujahadah: to make effort, striving. (‘jahd’ = effort)

In this step one is fighting against one’s own lower self and inclinations. This is the stage of continuous and consistent struggle to overcome one’s nafs.

Muatabah: to rebuke. (‘atab’=repent)

In this step, if one has failed to maintain the contract, we make the effort to turn around, regretting and changing one’s ways on recognizing the error.

Imam Al-Ghazali in his ‘Ihya Ulumuddin’ explains these steps using the analogy of a business partnership. He explains that a business is done to make profit and to gain something from it. In a business partnership we start by setting guidelines and make an agreement for conducting that business, rules and stipulations are established for what to do and what to expect.

The next step is to guard and honor that contract and to keep a watchful eye on the process to ensure its success. We need to continually evaluate all our thoughts, actions, decisions and choices.

Usually in a business there are consequences when the contract is not honored. If we do not honor our own contract to change, we must set some consequences for ourselves for failing.

Constant effort and struggle is necessary for the business to succeed and that is what we need to do if we want to be successful in bringing about change.

Finally when there are mistakes we correct them, make amends and try to turn the business around so it can become profitable. In the same manner we must correct our errors and make amends as soon as we recognize the error.

In essence a successful business is based on solid contracts that are honored, everyone is held accountable and responsible, constant effort is made at finding and correcting the failures, with the focus being on improving the business to make profit.

Hence, to bring about change in our personal self, we need to view our life as a business that will produce some net gain or loss depending on how we conduct it.

Imam Al-Ghazali suggests that we must take a few minutes in the morning and make a contract with ourselves about how we will conduct this business of life, consciously try to maintain it, and then spend some time at night evaluating how we did during the day; we will then live with more awareness and will be able to improve the quality of our life.

Ghazali. ‘Ihya Ulumuddin’ (The Revival of Religious Learnings)

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