It is necessary for individuals to pause at the end of each day in order to assess themselves and run through their achievements: What have they done in the course of the day? Why have they done it? What have they omitted? And why have they omitted it?
How excellent it would be if this self-criticism were to take place before retiring to bed. This period of self-criticism and appraisal should certainly be counted among one's moments of progress; it is a moment when one impartially sits as a judge over oneself and reviews yearnings and motivations. It is a moment when the believer appoints, out of conscience, an investigator to probe his or her actions, and a judge to condemn or acquit. In this way, one progresses from the state of "the soul that incites to evil" to the state of "the self-reproaching soul," which reproaches its owner whenever he or she plunges into sin or falls short of expectations.
It is narrated in one hadith that "it behoves any wise person to have four periods of time" and one of the four periods is "a period in which one engages in self-criticism."
The Second Caliph, `Umar ibn Al-Khattab(RA) said, "Criticize and appraise yourselves before you are criticized and appraised on the Day
of Judgment, and weigh out your deeds, before they are weighed out for you." He himself used to whip his foot at night and say to himself,
"Tell me, what have you done today?"
Maimun ibn Mahran(RA), a famous Companion of the Prophet(SAW), used to say, "A pious person scrupulously examines and appraises himself more than he would a tyrant ruler and a tight-fisted partner!"
Al-Hasan said, "A believer polices his own self; he criticizes and appraises it for the sake of Allah. Actually, the final appraisal (on the Day of Judgment) may turn mild on some people simply because they were wont to appraise themselves in this life; on the other hand, it may turn out to be rigorous on people who took this life with levity, and thought they would not be called to account." Al-Hasan went on, explaining how this self-criticism operates in practice.
"A tempting thought (or idea) may occur to the believer. He says to himself, 'By Allah, this is a fascinating idea; I would like to do it! But no, never, get away! I am prohibited from executing you!'" This is self-criticism and appraisal before action.
And, "a believer may inadvertently do something. He would then turn to himself and say, 'What did you mean by this? By Allah, I cannot find an excuse for this. I shall never repeat it, in sha Allah!'" This is self-criticism and appraisal after action.
If a believer fails to observe this brief period of soul-checking daily, then that person should at least try to do so once every few days or once a week. In this way, people can draw up the balance sheets of their lives, depicting their spiritual assets and liabilities.
A believer should also have a longer period of this practice at the end of each month and an even longer period at the end of each year, when bidding farewell to one year and preparing for another. This is the time to critically review the past and plan for the future. This is the spiritual equivalent of one's final accounts for the year.
One blameworthy innovation which is unfortunately imitated by some Muslims, is the annual birthday celebration, where people are invited to a party and served with delicious food and drink. They light a number of candles, each one representing a year in the lifetime of the celebrant. Gifts are presented and pleasantries exchanged on the occasion. Rather than this blind, useless imitation, it is better for a wise person to seize this occasion-which marks the expiry of one whole year of one's lifetime-to reconsider and reflect upon his or her life.
At the end of every year, a careful trader applies the brakes in order to measure the past year's performance and to establish his or her financial position at the end of it. The trader wants to know his or her profit, loss, assets, and liabilities. Likewise, believers ought to call themselves to account for one whole year of their lives that have expired and about which Allah will question them.
A year is not a short time. It is a period of twelve months: a month is, on average, thirty days, each day has twenty-four hours, each hour sixty minutes, and each minute sixty seconds. And every second should be counted as a blessing, a favor from Allah, and a trust in one's hands. May Allah have mercy on Al-Hasan Al-Basri when he said, "O son of Adam! You are but a bundle of days. As each day passes away, a portion of you vanishes away!"
Abu `Ali ad-Daqqaq used to chant the following lines:
Each day that passes, a portion of me it takes away,
On the heart, a bitter taste it leaves, and then glides away.
"Satan puts three knots at the back of the head of any of you if he is asleep. On every knot he reads and exhales the following words, 'The night is long, so stay asleep.' When one wakes up and remembers Allah, one knot is undone; and when one performs ablution, the second knot is undone, and when one prays the third knot is undone and one gets up energetic with a good heart in the morning; otherwise one gets up lazy and with a mischievous heart." (Sahih Bukhari)