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How to Form Good Habits – An Islamic Perspective

Forming good habits are something very important because the Muslim needs to make good his/her habit. At the same time, he/she must work hard to rid themselves of any bad habits, which are not befitting their character. In order to learn how to form good habits, we return to the following Hadith of the Prophet sallahu alayhi wa salam:

عَنْ يُونُسَ بْنِ مَيْسَرَةَ بْنِ حَلْبَسٍ، أَنَّهُ حَدَّثَهُ قَالَ سَمِعْتُ مُعَاوِيَةَ بْنَ أَبِي سُفْيَانَ، يُحَدِّثُ عَنْ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ ـ صلى الله عليه وسلم ـ أَنَّهُ قَالَ ‏ “‏ الْخَيْرُ عَادَةٌ وَالشَّرُّ لَجَاجَةٌ وَمَنْ يُرِدِ اللَّهُ بِهِ خَيْرًا يُفَقِّهْهُ فِي الدِّينِ

It was narrated that Yunus bin Maisarah bin Halbas said:

I heard Mu’awiyah bin Abu Sufyan narrating that the Messenger of Allah said:

“Goodness is a (natural) habit while evil is a stubbornness (constant prodding from Satan). When Allah wills good for a person,He causes him to understand the religion.’”

[Reported by Ibn Majah and others. Graded Hasan by Al-Albani in Saheeh Ibn Majah no. 182]

So good should be the habit of the Muslim.
A habit can be obtained by:

1. Becoming accustomed to it even if done by force:

Imam al-Munaawi rahimahullah said in the explanation of this Hadith:
“Goodness is a (natural) habit due to the soul accustoming itself to it. Its eagerness towards it is from instinct. It was said in al-Ihyaa: whoever is not instinctively generous, for example, then he accustoms himself to that by force/burden [until he is generous]. The one who does not have the characteristic of humility, then he forces himself to be accustomed to it. Likewise, the remaining characteristics are addressed by their opposites until the objective is obtained. Through continuance upon worship and opposing the desires, the inner image will become good”

[Fayd ul-Qadir under Hadith (3/510)]

So we learn that good can become one’s habit by becoming accustomed to it by doing it. If a habit is not instinctual, then it can be obtained through force or burden until it becomes natural.

2. Through continuously doing something, over and over again

Imam al-Munaawi rahimahullah also wrote elsewhere:
“And in the narration: Goodness is a (natural) habit while evil is a stubbornness (constant prodding from Satan). A habit is usually hardship [obtained] from returning to something over and over again until it becomes easy to do goodness and correctness. The intelligent one struggles against himself. Allah says:
والذين جاهدوا فينا لنهدينهم سبلنا

As for those who strive hard in Us (Our Cause), We will surely guide them to Our Paths (i.e. Allah’s Religion – Islamic Monotheism).
[29:69]”

[Fayd ul-Qaadir (3/489)]

Once a habit is obtained, it becomes second nature and hard to forget. Some modern researchers have even mentioned that a habit cannot be forgotten if the right cues are available to trigger it!

Imam Ibn Muflih rahimahullah said:
“The doctors said what others have said: a habit is second nature. In Funoon of Ibn ‘Aqeel it states that Hanbal rahimahullah said: good is by habituation and evil is natural.

The Arab said: a habit is more possessed by a person than manners. It was said: a habit is second nature and they said: good is a habit and evil is a stubbornness (constant prodding from Satan)”. Ibn Abdul-Barr rahimahullah mentioned it and said: It was said: by Allah I will not forget you even if I forget how to swim! That is because if a person learns how to swim, he will not forget it…”

[Adaab us-Shar’iyyah pg. 129]

I ask Allah that He grants us good habits and remove from us our bad habits
And Allah knows best

Faisal Ibn Abdul Qaadir Ibn Hassan