The Concept of Success from an Islamic Point of View

وَمَن يُطِعِ ٱللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ ۥ وَيَخۡشَ ٱللَّهَ وَيَتَّقۡهِ فَأُوْلَـٰٓٮِٕكَ هُمُ ٱلۡفَآٮِٕزُونَ

“And whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger and fears Allah and is conscious of Him – it is those who are the successful ones.”
[Surah An-Nur; 24:52]

 

From the above verse, we see that the fulfillment of spiritual needs is a determinant of success and cannot be ignored. Hence, there is a need to provide a plan for how to achieve success according to the Qur’an.

 

زُيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ حُبُّ ٱلشَّهَوَٲتِ مِنَ ٱلنِّسَآءِ وَٱلۡبَنِينَ وَٱلۡقَنَـٰطِيرِ ٱلۡمُقَنطَرَةِ مِنَ ٱلذَّهَبِ وَٱلۡفِضَّةِ وَٱلۡخَيۡلِ ٱلۡمُسَوَّمَةِ وَٱلۡأَنۡعَـٰمِ وَٱلۡحَرۡثِ‌ۗ ذَٲلِكَ مَتَـٰعُ ٱلۡحَيَوٰةِ ٱلدُّنۡيَا‌ۖ وَٱللَّهُ عِندَهُ ۥ حُسۡنُ ٱلۡمَـَٔابِ

“Beautified for people is the love of that which they desire – of women and sons, heaped-up sums of gold and silver, fine branded horses, and cattle and tilled land. That is the enjoyment of worldly life, but Allah has with Him the best return.”
[Surah Aal-Imran, 3:14]

 

The Qur’an mentions two types of success: falah (success in this life, mainly) and fawz (ultimate success in the next life). Fawz has been described as al-fawz-ul-adheem (triumphant success), al-fawz-ul-mubeen (evident success), and al-fawz-al-kabeer (huge success).

There are many definitions for the word ‘success’ in the English dictionaries. However, the aim of the this project is to provide a self-help guide to the reader in striving for falah that can lead to fawz – the ultimate and supreme success (fawz-al-adheem).

 

وَعَدَ ٱللَّهُ ٱلۡمُؤۡمِنِينَ وَٱلۡمُؤۡمِنَـٰتِ جَنَّـٰتٍ۬ تَجۡرِى مِن تَحۡتِهَا ٱلۡأَنۡهَـٰرُ خَـٰلِدِينَ فِيہَا وَمَسَـٰكِنَ طَيِّبَةً۬ فِى جَنَّـٰتِ عَدۡنٍ۬‌ۚ وَرِضۡوَٲنٌ۬ مِّنَ ٱللَّهِ أَڪۡبَرُ‌ۚ ذَٲلِكَ هُوَ ٱلۡفَوۡزُ ٱلۡعَظِيمُ

“Allah has promised the believing men and believing women gardens beneath which rivers flow, wherein they abide eternally, and pleasant dwellings in gardens of perpetual residence; but approval from Allah is greater. It is that which is the greatest success.”
[Surah At-Tawbah; 9:72]

 

Although falah is sometimes used in relation to the Hereafter, it is mostly used for success in committing to the path of Allah in this world and fawz is the ultimate success in the next world as a result of striving for falah in this world.

 

ذَٲلِكَ ٱلۡڪِتَـٰبُ لَا رَيۡبَ‌ۛ فِيهِ‌ۛ هُدً۬ى لِّلۡمُتَّقِينَ / ٱلَّذِينَ يُؤۡمِنُونَ بِٱلۡغَيۡبِ وَيُقِيمُونَ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ وَمِمَّا رَزَقۡنَـٰهُمۡ يُنفِقُونَ / وَٱلَّذِينَ يُؤۡمِنُونَ بِمَآ أُنزِلَ إِلَيۡكَ وَمَآ أُنزِلَ مِن قَبۡلِكَ وَبِٱلۡأَخِرَةِ هُمۡ يُوقِنُونَ / أُوْلَـٰٓٮِٕكَ عَلَىٰ هُدً۬ى مِّن رَّبِّهِمۡ‌ۖ وَأُوْلَـٰٓٮِٕكَ هُمُ ٱلۡمُفۡلِحُونَ

“This is the Book about which there is no doubt, a guidance for those conscious of Allah – Who believe in the unseen, establish prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them, And who believe in what has been revealed to you, [O Muhammad], and what was revealed before you, and of the Hereafter they are certain [in faith]. Those are upon [right] guidance from their Lord, and it is those who are the successful.”
[Surah Baqarah; 2:2-5]

 

تِلۡكَ حُدُودُ ٱللَّهِ‌ۚ وَمَن يُطِعِ ٱللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ ۥ يُدۡخِلۡهُ جَنَّـٰتٍ۬ تَجۡرِى مِن تَحۡتِهَا ٱلۡأَنۡهَـٰرُ خَـٰلِدِينَ فِيهَا‌ۚ وَذَٲلِكَ ٱلۡفَوۡزُ ٱلۡعَظِيمُ

“These are the limits [set by] Allah, and whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger will be admitted by Him to gardens [in Paradise] under which rivers flow, abiding eternally therein; and that is the greatest success.”
[Surah An-Nisa; 4:13]

A Muslim’s view of life is long-term. It is not restricted to life on Earth. His decisions are influenced by benefits and consequences in the afterlife. True success is the success of the eternal life. This does not restrict the pursuit of success in worldly terms. However, there is an emphasis on intentions behind worldly pursuits–whether they are for the pleasure of Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) or for other purposes.

If success is only about the accumulation of material gains, climbing the corporate ladder, and breaking the glass ceiling, then what about the person who accumulates all these through immoral means? Is this fair and is it true success?

Such pursuits only bring a temporary feeling of happiness and achievement. No sooner does one accomplish a worldly goal, he moves swiftly thereafter from climax to anti-climax because, although the achievement brings euphoria, perhaps it does not truly fulfill his soul. And so perhaps he may go after a new pursuit, or perhaps he may give up altogether and find other ways to fill the void–such as entertainment and idle habits.

Lasting peace of mind and contentment, on the other hand, is better worth striving for than temporary joy. This necessitates that one begins by pondering about how he came into existence, his purpose on Earth, and where he is headed. Subsequently he must equip himself to fulfill that purpose and strive for a good destination by living in accordance with the Creator’s terms and conditions (which are ultimately in the best interests of man himself).

Contemporary Definition of Success

In worldly terms, success is associated with prosperity and financial well-being. In some communities, success is defined as possessing the 5Cs; namely cash, car, credit card, condominium, and a country club membership. However, even a person who hasn’t embraced Islam would eventually understand that there is a greater purpose to our existence and that success is a more nuanced concept.

Perhaps success means different things to different people and the individual approaches to achieving this success would also vary.

Napolean Hill, in his book The Law of Success, lists having a definite purpose as the first lesson, so that one does not waste life in aimlessness. While people spend a lot of time and money on discovering their life purpose, this step has been simplified for Muslims. Allah informs us:

وَمَا خَلَقۡتُ ٱلۡجِنَّ وَٱلۡإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعۡبُدُونِ

“And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.” [Qur’an; 51:56].

He goes on to list key attributes of attaining success. Thus it is understood by prominent thinkers that one’s inner grit and character plays an important role in attaining success. Attaining success is not a mere rat race stripped of emotion. Another author who emphasized this is J. Philip London in his book Character: The Ultimate Success Factor. Similar sentiments have been echoed by other thinkers, including Tom MorrisDr. Wilbur Brower, Angela Duckworth, and Paul Tough.

Compare this with the statement of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) summarizing his entire mission as, “I was sent to perfect good character.” [Muwatta Malik]

Islam does not shun the seeking of worldly pursuits. In fact, perhaps it is even helpful to taste what the world has to offer (within moral boundaries) so that we can crave the infinitely better provisions of the Hereafter. There is no vast dichotomy between being a successful Muslim and being a successful citizen of the Earth. On the contrary, true success in this world requires submitting to Divine Law and sticking to its parameters.

The intelligent human being understands the transience of worldly comforts and he plans for the long-term. Striving for worldly success is one of the many means to reaching the success of eternal life. He uses it as such, rather than allowing himself to be consumed by the transient to such an extent that he shortchanges himself of the everlasting success.

“But seek, through that which Allah has given you, the home of the Hereafter; and [yet], do not forget your share of the world. And do good as Allah has done good to you. And desire not corruption in the land. Indeed, Allah does not like corrupters.” [Quran; 28:77]

When we are gathered for accounting on the Day of Judgment, what will matter is not what kind of car we drove, the size of our house, the clothes we wore, or even our job title. What will matter, rather, is what we used our car and house for – to serve Him and His creation, or to earn His displeasure? Did we wear good clothes for His pleasure or did we use clothes as an expression of arrogance? Did we do our work honestly and handle or finances with integrity or did we betray our customers? Every ambition and desire must be fueled by the aim to please Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He).

Thus we supplicate to Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) with the following words:

رَبَّنَآ ءَاتِنَا فِى ٱلدُّنۡيَا حَسَنَةً۬ وَفِى ٱلۡأَخِرَةِ حَسَنَةً۬ وَقِنَا عَذَابَ ٱلنَّارِ

“Our Lord, give us in this world [that which is] good and in the Hereafter [that which is] good and protect us from the punishment of the Fire.” [Qur’an; 2:201]

The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is reported to have said, “Be in this world as though you were a stranger or a wayfarer.” [Arba’oon An-Nawawi]

It is also reported that Ibn Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) used to say, “In the evening do not expect [to live until] the morning, and in the morning do not expect [to live until] the evening. Take [advantage of] your health before times of sickness, and [take advantage of] your life before your death.” [Arba’oon An-Nawawi]

Concept of Multiplicity in Islam

As Muslims, we accept that the rewards for our deeds can be multiplied.

“Allah ordered (the appointed angels over you) that the good and the bad deeds be written, and He then showed (the way) how (to write). If somebody intends to do a good deed and he does not do it, then Allah will write for him a full good deed (in his account with Him); and if he intends to do a good deed and actually did it, then Allah will write for him (in his account) with Him (its reward equal) from ten to seven hundred times to many more times: and if somebody intended to do a bad deed and he does not do it, then Allah will write a full good deed (in his account) with Him, and if he intended to do it (a bad deed) and actually did it, then Allah will write one bad deed (in his account) .” [Sahih Bukhari]

Good deeds have an exponential effect. It is a motivating concept because we are inclined to look for more returns.

…يَرۡزُقُ مَن يَشَآءُ بِغَيۡرِ حِسَابٍ۬ (٢١٢)

“…Allah gives provision to whom He wills without account.” [Qur’an; 2:212]

 

[Human Efforts] x [Conversion Factor] = [Results]

 

This conversion factor is determined by Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) by His ultimate wisdom. Sometimes a small effort brings results of great magnitude (if conversion factor is above 1). At other times, great effort brings little in return (conversion factor between 0 and 1) or no results (conversion factor is 0). For instance, a great effort backed by bad intention can bring little or no results.

What is comforting though is that we are not accountable for the results. Unlike in the corporate world where results are all that matter and others may not be interested in your efforts, in Islam, what matters most is the intention and the effort. Knowing this brings peace and tranquility because we do not have to be overly concerned with the results as much as we should concern ourselves with maintaining upright intentions and striving. A fair judge will always consider efforts and intention (motives).

لَا يُكَلِّفُ ٱللَّهُ نَفۡسًا إِلَّا وُسۡعَهَا‌ۚ لَهَا مَا كَسَبَتۡ وَعَلَيۡہَا مَا ٱكۡتَسَبَتۡ‌ۗ…

“Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity. It will have [the consequence of] what [good] it has gained, and it will bear [the consequence of] what [evil] it has earned….” [Qur’an; 2:286]

Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) is the Most Generous and He multiplies the rewards for our deeds. In addition, He has bestowed on us the ability to earn abundant deeds with relatively little effort. Examples:

  • a special night in the month of Ramadan when worship is better than a thousand months [Quran; 97]
  • the value of the five daily obligatory prayers is equal to fifty [Tirmidhi]
  • fasting in the month of Ramadan and six days in the month of Shawwal equals fasting for an entire year [Tirmidhi] and other reward for fasting [Ibn Majah]
  • a prayer in Masjidul Haram is worth 100,000 times more and a prayer in Masjid-un-Nabawi is worth 1000 times more. [Bulugh Al-Maram]
  • “Whoever attends Isha (prayer) in congregation, then he has (the reward as if he had) stood half of the night. And whoever prays Isha and Fajr in congregation, then he has (the reward as if he had) spend the entire night standing (in prayer).” [Tirmidhi]

Further Resources

[Video] Detachment from the Worldly Life