Meaning of Istiqamah

Istiqamah is one of the important concepts of Islam. In every time and every place and under all circumstances, Muslim should be steadfast and adhere to the noble principle of Istiqamah. Istiqamah emanates from strong faith and unshakable trust in Allah, and yields its ripe fruits in all spheres of life – in ‘Ibadah as well as in one’s daily activities.

The literal meaning of “Istiqamah”: to go straight into the right direction, acting rightly, allowing no deviation. It is derived from the stem “Qiyyam”, which implies the continuity of doing something, following up with it and making sure that it is done in the right way and there is neither deviation nor swerving.

Istiqamah and Sahabah

Abu Bakr when asked about the meaning of istiqamah, replied: “That you do not associate partners with Allah.”

Umar ibn al-Khattab said: “It is that you should be steadfast on the matters that are obligated and to abandon the prohibitions.”

Uthman ibn Affan said: “To have ikhlas (sincerity) to Allah only in doing actions .”

Ibn Abbas (r) has defined Al Istiqamah in Din as one’s persistence in carrying out all duties and obligations which He has prescribed to us for eternity and for our greatest good. The Qur’an explains:

“And worship your Lord until there comes unto you the Hour (the death) that is certain.” (Al Hijr 99)

Conditions of Istiqamah

According to Ibn al-Qayyim, there are five conditions to achieve Istiqamah in performing required deeds:

1. The act should be done for the sake of Allah alone (ikhlas).

2. It should be done on the basis of knowledge (‘ilm).

3. Performing ibadah should be in the same manner that they have been commanded.

4. To do it in the best way possible.

5. Restricting oneself to what is lawful while performing those deeds.

Steps in Istiqamah

According to other scholars of suluk, i.e. behavior, there are certain steps to be followed in order to achieve Istiqamah :

1. Always being aware of the final destination, i.e. the Day of Judgment (Akhirah). And to use this awareness in a positive way as a motive to do good deeds. One way to do it is through remembering that a person’s journey towards Akhirah starts the minute he/she passes away and leaves this world. One of the early scxholars said: “If you live until the morning do not wait for the evening and if you live until the evening do not wait for the morning.”

2. Commitment (Musharatah). One has to make a commitment that he/she will be steadfast and will do things in the right way and in the best way possible, and to adhere to conjunctions of Islam. Unfortunately many Muslims are being lenient in making such a commitment.

3. To make continuous efforts (Mujahadah) to bring that commitment to reality. Some Muslims dare to make the commitment, but dare not to make the effort to make the commitment a reality.

4. Continuous checking and reviewing of one’s deeds (Muraqabah). Being honest with oneself so as not to give false excuses for failing to fulfill a commitment.

5. Self accountability (Muhasabah). This should be done twice: Firstly, before we start doing something, ensuring that it pleases Allah, that we do it for His sake only, realizing the right way it should be done. Secondly, after the action has been done, to check whether we have achieved what we aimed for, and to check for defects and shortcomings, and that we still could have done it better by not being satisfied with our action.

6. Self-criticism for not doing it perfectly after it has been done. Self criticism is a positive way to motive oneself and aim for improvement and having the intention of doing things better next time. This leads to making another commitment and continual commitments to improve our performance in the future actions.

7. Striving for improvement (Tahsin). We have to make improvements in all that we do (daily activities, work, actions, good deeds, ibadah, etc.) as one of our objectives.

8. To be humble towards Allah, realizing that no one is perfect except Him, seeking His forgiveness, guidance and support.

It should be emphasized that these steps/conditions apply to worldly matters as well as ibadah and good religious deeds.