IN PAR 1 we re-examined our definitions of ‘success’, as well as our short- and long-term goals and their projected gains as a way to plan for our ultimate ‘success.’ Now what about when things don’t go according to plan? Or when our ‘what-if’ pessimistic mentality kicks in? What can we know for sure about what makes for ‘successes?
Understanding ‘Success’ As Defined in the Quran
We know from the Quran that this life is designed as a test:
Do men think that they will be left alone on saying, “We believe” and that they will not be tested? We did test those before them, and Allah will certainly know those who are true from those who are false. [Sûrat Al-ʿAnkabût, 29:2-3]
And certainly, We shall test you with something of fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives and fruits, but give glad tidings to al-ṣâbirûn (the patient). [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:155]
It is important to be patient in the face of the tests and trials that we encounter–and to be reminded that patience is a key survival skill. This takes daily effort and struggle; this can take even a whole lifetime to master.
The Two Paths
Through adhering firmly to our Islam and abiding by it we can taste true success in this world and the next, and learn lessons that benefit us in both.
For a Muslim the answers are crystal clear in terms of their long-term vision of achieving Paradise (long-term goal with long-term gain); and—with Paradise in focus—all the other matters fall beautifully within that context. The Quran acts as a guide and criterion; it is the greatest support, focusing our understanding on logical, rational explanations for every type of problem we may face.
The two paths of success and failure are clear, and the methods to achieving real success are clearly and beautifully outlined in several passages. The one who created us, our world and society we live in, knows best the ways for us to be successful, and those ways have been revealed to human beings over and over again through revelations.
The final revelation in the form of the Quran gives clear guidance and practical ways to train ourselves to be successful. Without that conviction many people go through life striving for material gains, which eventually bear them no fruit and happiness. The suicides of celebrities and famous people are testament to the fact that even the ultimate in money or fame cannot buy happiness. Without happiness and inner peace financial or material success means nothing.
Revealed Itinerary on Our Straight Path
The five daily Prayers teach us many lessons in life including time management, self-discipline, harmony and unity. In fact, it could be argued that each verse and method of worship passed on to us by the final Messenger of Allah ﷺ benefits and improves our daily lives, our characters, and leads us to a more wholesome meaningful life.
Writing things down is one of the best ways of remembering and teaching ourselves and others, and we can see that this method was used to preserve the Quran as a book. Its recitation, repetition and propagation are encouraged to increase our understanding and encourage the acquisition of knowledge and truth. This effort of seeking nearness to the Quran leads to remembering to stay on the prescribed path.
Giving Zakah (obligatory charity) and Ṣadaqa (voluntary charity) purifies our wealth. It also purifies our hearts from many evils, temptations, desires and attachment to this life. The act of giving charity benefits the one giving it as well as the recipient.
Fasting cleanses and benefits our body and soul. It teaches us the ability to control our desires, and doing this purely for the sake of Allah teaches us the importance of sincere intention in all our actions.
The Hajj pilgrimage teaches us invaluable skills including self-discipline, humility, unity, patience, courage and the importance of planning and preparation. Planning and preparation are key to performing a successful Hajj, and both these skills are key to general success in many aspects of daily life. Planning and organizing our time and thinking about what we want and how we will achieve it can provide us with much needed reassurance.
Planning and Organizing for Ultimate Success
Approaching life in a wider context and with an open mind can unravel our confusions and unearth more emotional strength and fuel to help us achieve goals. It can help put our minds at rest knowing that there is a greater purpose that we are working towards.
Focusing and visualizing our end goal is the first step to achieving it. This life is temporary and human beings are not immortal. Living for temporary, instant gratification is not only illogical and unproductive, but it also distracts us from our true end goal of Paradise—which needs daily effort and striving. When we get lazy in our worship and regarding our true purpose in life, then we find ourselves off track.
Maintaining Correct Vision
Prioritizing everything in terms of the wider context stops us from getting overly attached to the many temptations and desires in life.
We are responsible and accountable for our actions. Remembering that each action is being monitored by our creator and recorded by his angels can help motivate us, so that our own actions don’t become our own worst enemy, and actually testify against us on the Day of Judgement.
Seeing life in perspective is crucial to being content and satisfied with our lives. This helps in making the right choices and laying our individual foundations for success.
Life is Full with Cycles of Hardship and Ease
As the Quran teaches:
Verily, along with every hardship is relief. Verily, along with hardship is relief. [Sûrat Al-Inshirâḥ, 94:5-6]
This verse implies that there is one hardship with two reliefs; accordingly, one hardship cannot overcome two reliefs. Being thankful for what we have and patient during our hardships can help us through the dips in life. Once we recognize and acknowledge that relief will come after every hardship, this can give us hope, strength and courage to battle the bad times.
Gratefulness and Thankfulness with Our Allotted Provision
In the good times we should be thankful and appreciative of the many blessings we have been gifted with. The Prophet ﷺ said:
If the son of Adam were given a valley full of gold, he would love to have a second one; and if he were given the second one, he would love to have a third, for nothing fills the belly of Adam’s son except dust (some narrators have added this refers to the grave). And Allah forgives the one who repents to Him. (Bukhâri)
This shows—unless we strive to perfect our character by purifying our souls and curbing our desires— that by nature we are greedy and want more. We should recognize this so that we can avoid this pitfall.
Remembrance as Our Ticket to Success
We have been warned:
The similitude of the one who remembers his Lord and the one who does not remember his Lord is like the similitude of the living and the dead. (Bukhâri and Muslim)
The analogy given here means that to be spiritually alive we should remember our Lord. This remembrance (dhikr) in its many forms—encompassing all times of day and all actions, of every kind—has been taught us to the finest details through the Prophet ﷺ: from the many beautiful morning and evening duʿâs, and those in our five daily prayers, to the specific ones that we recite when eating, getting dressed or travelling.
Our Creator who has blessed us with many known and unknown blessings deserves to be remembered, and it is for our own benefit that we remember Him always. This remembrance and thankful attitude purifies our hearts and helps us view the world in a larger perspective and in doing so we can prioritize effectively, as well as constantly remind ourselves to strive in achieving our ultimate goal of attaining Paradise.
And remind, for indeed, the reminder benefits the believers. And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me. [Sûrat Al-Dhârîyât, 51:55-56]
Remember Allah during times of ease and He will remember you during times of difficulty. (Tirmidhi)
Hayya ʿala al-falâḥ
Before each obligatory salah comes an audible reminder that the Prayer is the path to success. We are invited to “come to success” (hayya ʿala al-falâḥ). This phrase signifies that by responding five times every day to the call for Prayer to our Creator, we are on the path to success.
This reminder and proclamation, over and over, also implies that without obeying this command of performing Prayers we cannot be successful. Prayer (Ṣalah) is a vital ingredient of the essence of our faith. This command given directly to the Prophet ﷺ without even the angel Jibrîl being present shows the significance of it.
Therefore abandoning or leaving aside the Prayer is a very serious issue. The main difference in terms of worship—that distinguishes Muslims from non-Muslims—is the Prayer that was taught to us through the final Messenger ﷺ. It completes our faith so that we are able to connect completely and directly to our Creator.
Success can only come from our Lord so that constant connection to him is a vital ingredient for our success.
What Makes for Success—Acting on What We Can Know for Sure
The Quran emphasizes the importance of the mention and remembrance of Allah:
He has certainly succeeded [the one] who purifies himself and mentions the name of his Lord and prays. But you prefer the worldly life, while the Hereafter is better and more enduring. [Sûrat Al-Aʿlâ, 87:14-17]
Those who believe, and whose hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of Allah: for without doubt in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find satisfaction. [Sûrat Al-Raʿd, 13: 28]
With regard to true success we know that this can come only from our Lord:
And whosoever believes in Allah and performs righteous good deeds, He will expiate from him his sins, and will admit him to Gardens under which rivers flow (Paradise) to dwell therein forever, that will be the great success. [Sûrat Al-Taghâbun, 64: 9]
He knows what is before them, and what is behind them. And to Allah return all matters (for decision). O you who have believed! Bow down, and prostrate yourselves, and worship your Lord and do good that you may be successful. [Sûrat Al-Ḥajj, 22:76-77]
True success spanning from this life to the next comes only by the mercy and will of Allah. May we all achieve satisfaction, prosperity and true success in this life and the next. Ameen!