We live in the age of you.
Be true to yourself, you do you, your truth, and your personal journey are phrases we have become familiar with. Authenticity has become the mantra of our time and is lauded as the goal of all personal development.
At the Golden Globes, Oprah Winfrey championed ”your truth” as an imperative; “your truth” appears in Sunday Times bestsellers, podcasts, advertising campaigns, hashtags, and has become a near-global rallying cry.  
It sounds great, it really does. Who wouldn’t want to be “free” to be and do whatever they want, because they are being authentic to themselves?
To be true to your self vs. true to Allah
This is where the path becomes unsteady for Muslims, since what feels pleasurable and “authentic” as individuals may be in direct conflict with the unchanging divine laws given to us by our Creator.
Taken to its logical end point, obedience to Allah can be forfeited as “not being authentic” when being “true to you” is the goal of a happy life.
Beneath the veneer of feel-good slogans and catchy hashtags, ”authenticity” today becomes little more than shorthand for,
“Being true to your nafs (self/ soul) vs. being true to Allah.”
The self is placed at the centre of the orbit of our lives, and we each submit to our own subjective yardstick of wellbeing.
The ever-changing self: embracing the guidance of Allah in decision-making
As Muslims, our authenticity is not to be true to ourselves as much as it is to drag that “self” to be true to Allah!
What feels “good” and “authentic” to us may or may not be in the best interests of our soul’s health.
In fact, this is exactly why Allah Himself points out the limitations of using only our own finite perceptions to judge the goodness of a matter:
”It could be that you dislike something, when it is good for you; and it could be that you like something when it is bad for you. Allah knows, and you do not know.” 
The “self” we use to judge is sometimes a friend, sometimes a foe. This nafs inside us all is constantly in flux, ever-changing and sometimes calling us to contradictory things.
In order to get to know our own selves better, we have been given descriptions of the different types of nafs that exist within us.
1 | Nafs al-Ammarah
إِنَّ النَّفْسَ لَأَمَّارَةٌ بِالسُّوءِ
“Indeed, the soul is ever inclined to evil.” 
This is the nafs that rules over the self.
So when the nafs has any desire, any wish, any appetite, it simply commands us, it dominates us. It is that nafs which is sovereign over a human being.
This is the nafs that is glorified in today’s discourse when we hear,
“Do whatever makes you happy.”
“Whatever pleases you is the right way.”
“…follow your heart, no matter where it leads.”
2 | Nafs al-Lawwamah
وَلَا أُقْسِمُ بِالنَّفْسِ اللَّوَّامَةِ
“And I do swear by the self-reproaching soul!” 
”Lawwam” in this verse means to self-incriminate, to self-reproach, to take the blame, or to call oneself to account.
So, this is the nafs that does sometimes bring a person to do sin, but then it self-incriminates, it reproaches itself, it feels bad, it feels guilty.
Naturally, this guilt exacerbates to the degree that the person leaves those sins because they feel so remorseful inside.
Ultimately, the danger is in ignoring and burying this guilt altogether. This is where the majority of us lie — where what we want and what we know we should do are in conflict with one another. The wrestling, wrangling, and battle with the nafs is the inner conflict; it is often termed Jihad al-Nafs.
3 | Nafs al-Mutma’innah
يَا أَيَّتُهَا النَّفْسُ الْمُطْمَئِنَّةُ ارْجِعِي إِلَى رَبِّكِ رَاضِيَةً مَرْضِيَّةً
“[To the righteous it will be said] ‘O reassured soul, return to your Lord, well-pleased, and pleasing to Him.’” 
This is the aspirational peak of believers: where the “self” that is “mutma’in” is content with the wisdom of Allah, and there is nothing else that brings pleasure.
This person has gone through the process to train and discipline the soul in such a masterful way that their contentment lies only in the contentment of Allah, and their own wants and desires are not in competition with it.
What does authenticity really look like then?
Speaking candidly, for many Muslim women, wearing hijab is not driven by “authenticity” to the self; it usually involves the opposite: suppressing what you naturally desire as a woman.
Your “self” and that fitri inclination to beautify yourself must be subdued in an act of obedience to Allah.
We are true to Allah over our own “self”…
…every time we struggle to shut out the toxic beauty standards that both evolve and pummel us from every angle.
We are true to Allah over our own selves…
…when we do the voluntary fasts, knowing that fatigue and caffeine withdrawal will blight our day.
We are true to Allah over ourselves…
…every time we hold our tongue and remain patient in the face of provocative family members who have rights over us.
We are being true to Allah over ourselves…
…when we hear that tahajjud alarm go off, and every morsel of our being wants to turn off the beeping and return back to sweet slumber. And yet, we drag ourselves out of bed in the darkness of the night.
Being true to Allah over your own self’s inclinations leads to a paradigm shift in your attitude towards life.
Allah promises those of us who perform voluntary acts of worship on top of our religious obligations that:
”…My servant draws not near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have enjoined upon him, and My servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works so that I shall love him.
“When I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes, and his foot with which he walks…” 
Reaching this station then allows for the height of authenticity: where what we love and what Allah loves are seamlessly intertwined.
Align with the Divine; strive for īmān whilst battling the nafs
Today, we lose ourselves in the language of secular liberalism that comes to reconstruct our ideas as Muslims.
We are enticed to worship at the altar of “authenticity”, where the nafs becomes the object of indulgence, and anything that doesn’t immediately feel “good” or pleasurable is abandoned for not being “true to you”. In this paradigm, we discard the obligations to Allah in order to restore the perceived rights of our nafs.
The peak of spirituality would be to have mastered your instincts so they are purely in line with the pleasure of Allah, and that niggle inside to have been peacefully quelled.
That is the aspiration, but for most of us, Allah is watching and rewarding the struggle as we actively engage in the eternal battle with our nafs.
And this is a battle well understood by all those before us; we should take comfort in the fact that this struggle is the path of the believer.
As Imam al-Ghazāli candidly revealed,
”Never have I dealt with anything more difficult than my own soul, which sometimes helps me and sometimes opposes me.”
Significance of breaking down the saying, “Be true to yourself” as Muslims
The very suppression of your own inclinations in order to reach what is pleasing to Allah is the essence of faith, as we have been told in an authentic narration,
”Intelligent is he who suppresses his nafs and works for that which is to come after death, and the weak is he who allows his nafs free reign and continues to build hope in Allah.” 
True to Allah + true to ourselves: embracing the path of belief
“My personal journey” and “my truth” are some of the most common refrains of young Muslims caught in the liberal ideological babble.
The reality, however, is that there is only one true journey: your soul’s journey from Allah back to Allah. How we get there and the obstacles on that path are individual and personal to us all, but the path is defined.
Importing constructs from traditions alien to our world view can only create a Frankenstein outcome of self-centric liberalism cloaked in a fraudulent Islamic veneer.
Words and phrases like “authenticity”, “personal journey”, and “my truth” must be filtered and scrutinised through the lens of Islam. Only then, will we understand what the path to our soul’s success looks like.
And along the way, we may realise that in being true to Allah first and foremost, we become true to ourselves as a result.
- The Purpose of Man
- Knowing your purpose
- Think you’re a “good” Muslim?
- Dimensions of the Human Reality
 al-Qur’ān, 2:216
 al-Qur’ān, 12:53
 al-Qur’ān, 75:2
 al-Qur’ān, 89:27-28