By Tabassum Mosleh |

If I tell you, “You should read this article,” you will ask me, “Why should I?” And you have every right to ask.

Coming from someone else, “should” statements, instead of motivating us to do the thing we “should” be doing, do the very opposite: they repel us and can even offend. And yet, how often do we use “should” statements when talking to ourselves? I should pray. I should give charity. I should read the Quran. I should do my homework!

Of course, we all “should” be doing these things. But “shoulding” ourselves all the time just doesn’t work. “Should-statements,” says psychologist Dr. David Burns, “generate a lot of unnecessary emotional turmoil in your daily life. When the reality of your own behaviour falls short of your standards, your shoulds and shouldn’ts create self-loathing, shame and guilt.” [Feeling Good]

So, if we can’t “should,” how do we motivate ourselves? We can’t stop doing the things that are obligatory on us, can we? We can’t shrink from responsibilities just because it feels bad.

Of course not. But there’s a better way of doing it – the Quranic way.

Is there any should in the Quran? Frankly, I don’t know. But it seems that Allah (swt) gives commands in the Quran in either direct form (Do this!) or by giving us incentives (i.e. if you do A, you get B). A whole branch of Islamic sciences is dedicated to these incentives – Maqasid al-Shariah (the Goals of the Shariah).


The first command in the Quran (if read from cover to cover):

O mankind, worship your Lord, who created you and those before you, that you may become righteous – who made for you the earth a bed and the sky a ceiling and sent down from the sky, rain and brought forth thereby fruits as provision for you. So do not attribute to Allah equals while you know [that there is nothing similar to Him]. [Quran, 2:21-22]

The first ever command Allah gave to human beings: When Allah (swt) told Adam (as) to stay away from the tree –

O Adam, dwell, you and your wife, in Paradise and eat therefrom in [ease and] abundance from wherever you will. But do not approach this tree, lest you be among the wrongdoers. [Quran, 2:35]

How we can transform our should-statements into more inspiring ones:

I should pray the five daily prayers. If I pray the five daily prayers properly, I fulfil one of the criteria for ultimate success in the Hereafter.
I should ask Allah for help. If I ask Allah for help, I don’t have to worry about my problem anymore.
I should give charity. If I give charity, it will cleanse my sins as water extinguishes fire.
I should fast in Ramadan. If I fast in Ramadan, I will be fulfilling one of the five pillars of Islam, and I will develop taqwa and gratefulness to Allah, in sha Allah.
I should go to Hajj. If I go to Hajj, I will be fulfilling one of the five pillars of Islam, and I will return as sinless as a new-born baby, in sha Allah.
I should do my homework. If I do my homework, I can relax and watch the cricket match in peace.


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Any benefit that comes from this article is from Allah. Any evil that comes from it is from me, and from Shaytan; I ask Allah’s forgiveness and guidance.

Tabassum Mosleh is a freelance writer and a student of Al-Salam Institute.

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