Time is running out and human beings are at a loss except those who believe, and do good deeds, and advice one another with truth, and advice one another with patience. Such is the basic notion we extract from Surah Al-Asr in the Qur’an. Scholars struggle to examine the depth of this surah and give it due justice. Nevertheless, at face value it provides a poignant formula in brief.
All human beings are born in a state of fitrah (purity and submission to Allah). This submission is in the context of nature as well as free will. For instance, from birth to an age of independence, a child submits his will and nature to Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’aala. As he begins to discern the ways of the world, his will may change, but his nature will still submit to its Creator.
Submitting to the will of Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’aala means that one’s choices are influenced by the teachings of Islam (the word itself being derived from the Arabic words for ‘submission’ and ‘peace’) and are therefore in accordance with Allah’s pleasure. This submission is not burdensome in any way because it is in line with the way we are created and is the true way to attain peace with one’s own nature as well as with Allah.
However, one must be aware of the lower self or evil influences which also exist and tempt us towards destruction. Hence the test of submission appears as one struggles over the lower self and external forces of evil in order to maintain or regain that purity and peace at heart.
أَفَحَسِبۡتُمۡ أَنَّمَا خَلَقۡنَـٰكُمۡ عَبَثً۬ا وَأَنَّكُمۡ إِلَيۡنَا لَا تُرۡجَعُونَ / فَتَعَـٰلَى ٱللَّهُ ٱلۡمَلِكُ ٱلۡحَقُّۖ لَآ إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ رَبُّ ٱلۡعَرۡشِ ٱلۡڪَرِيمِ
“Then did you think that We created you uselessly and that to Us you would not be returned?” So exalted is Allah, the Sovereign, the Truth; there is no deity except Him, Lord of the Noble Throne.”
[Surah Al-Mu’minun; 23:115-116]
In theory we declare that a Muslim is one who submits himself to the will of Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’aala. In practice this translates into being in a constant state of obedience and, where there are moments of either intentional or unintentional disobedience, making sincere repentance.
Submission to Allah entails putting Allah’s will above our desires, aligning our ambitions with what pleases Him and giving priority to Him in every situation. It is to live the phrase, “الله أكبر” from which we can derive the attitude that, “Allah is greater than everything else on my radar right now”.
قُلۡ إِنَّ صَلَاتِى وَنُسُكِى وَمَحۡيَاىَ وَمَمَاتِى لِلَّهِ رَبِّ ٱلۡعَـٰلَمِينَ / لَا شَرِيكَ لَهُ ۥۖ وَبِذَٲلِكَ أُمِرۡتُ وَأَنَا۟ أَوَّلُ ٱلۡمُسۡلِمِينَ
“Say, “Indeed, my prayer, my rites of sacrifice, my living and my dying are for Allah, Lord of the worlds.”
[Surah Al-An’am; 6:162]
A Muslim is wary of Shaytan’s mission to mislead him and is therefore required to make rational decisions using the intelligence and guidance provided by Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’aala. Included in Shaytan’s artillery are attractive slogans that play with human feelings, arouse evil inclinations, and contaminate media, culture, law and order, dress codes, and more.
One manifestation of submission is the observance of regular prayer. The call to prayer invites every Muslim towards falah five times a day. The word signifies the attainment of all desires as well as protection from all misfortunes.
حَيَّ عَلَى الْفَلَاح
“Come towards success.”
Prayer is not a mere regimental act but also a rudimentary focus point from which all success stems. Prayer is said to be the key to Paradise, while it also opens the doors to barakah (blessing), sakinah (tranquility), and many forms of physical and emotional benefits in this world.
وَمَا خَلَقۡتُ ٱلۡجِنَّ وَٱلۡإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعۡبُدُونِ
“And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.“
[Surah Adh-Dhariyat; 51:56]
No matter what definition of success one subscribes to, there is a consensus that it requires the meeting of one’s mission. The mission of a human being is clearly set out in Islam, with the addition of flexibility for one’s individuality to come through. While there are special acts of worship that require us to withdraw from other activities, other activities themselves can be converted into general acts of worship by making sure that the intention behind them is pleasure of Allah and making sure that they are permissible acts by Allah. Therefore for a Muslim the word ‘worship’ encompasses every thought and deed that is done for the pleasure of Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’aala.
Everything that we have a desire to pursue, if restrained and regulated by the teachings of Allah, can be turned into an act of worship – even if that be intimacy with one’s lawfully wedded spouse. Everything permissible can be turned into a source of reward and every inclination to sin is an opportunity to restrain oneself and seek the nearness of Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’aala. The condition is that it must be done with the sincere intention and be within the confines of religious teachings; i.e. shariah.
Thus worship exists in three senses:
- ritual actions
Apart from the ritual acts, the special acts of worship engage the whole character of a person, i.e.:
Our entire lives can revolve around worship regardless of where we place ourselves on the scale of outward devotion. Is it not a mercy then that success has been made easy?
Human beings are unique in relation to other creations in that we have been given both freedom of will as well as intellect and conscience. We are able to analyze, ponder, and make conscious decisions. We use these qualities to make choices about how we live in this world and how we prepare for the Hereafter.
[Life of this world] x [Performance factor] = [Quality of next life]
We use our freedom of choice and choose to worship Allah – not that we can benefit Him Subhanahu wa Ta’aala – but for our own growth. It is an undeniable observation that, with the proper meaning and spirit, the more we engage in acts of worship, the better we become as human beings.
هُوَ ٱلَّذِى خَلَقَ لَكُم مَّا فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ جَمِيعً۬ا
“It is He who created for you all of that which is on the earth…”
[Surah Baqarah; 2:29]
وَإِذۡ قَالَ رَبُّكَ لِلۡمَلَـٰٓٮِٕكَةِ إِنِّى جَاعِلٌ۬ فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ خَلِيفَةً۬ۖ
“And [mention, O Muhammad], when your Lord said to the angels, “Indeed, I will make upon the earth a successive authority…””
[Surah Baqarah; 2:30]
We recognize that we are placed on Earth as the trustees of Allah (khalifah). Our life and all of the resources on Earth resources are given to us as trusts. Man has been ennobled as the best of creation and given an extent of authority over other creation such as plants, animals, and precious material underground.
وَلَقَدۡ كَرَّمۡنَا بَنِىٓ ءَادَمَ وَحَمَلۡنَـٰهُمۡ فِى ٱلۡبَرِّ وَٱلۡبَحۡرِ وَرَزَقۡنَـٰهُم مِّنَ ٱلطَّيِّبَـٰتِ وَفَضَّلۡنَـٰهُمۡ عَلَىٰ ڪَثِيرٍ۬ مِّمَّنۡ خَلَقۡنَا تَفۡضِيلاً۬ (٧٠)
“And We have certainly honored the children of Adam and carried them on the land and sea and provided for them of the good things and preferred them over much of what We have created, with [definite] preference.” [Qur’an; 17:70]
Not only do we tend to the maintenance of all the resources provided at our disposal, but we also work to utilize these in the most responsible manner, making the most out of them, developing them, and leaving things in a good – if not better – condition for the next generation. It is man’s responsibility to spread the message of God and strive to fulfill His commands.
وَهُوَ ٱلَّذِى جَعَلَڪُمۡ خَلَـٰٓٮِٕفَ ٱلۡأَرۡضِ وَرَفَعَ بَعۡضَكُمۡ فَوۡقَ بَعۡضٍ۬ دَرَجَـٰتٍ۬ لِّيَبۡلُوَكُمۡ فِى مَآ ءَاتَٮٰكُمۡۗ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ سَرِيعُ ٱلۡعِقَابِ وَإِنَّهُ ۥ لَغَفُورٌ۬ رَّحِيمُۢ
“And it is He who has made you successors upon the earth and has raised some of you above others in degrees [of rank] that He may try you through what He has given you. Indeed, your Lord is swift in penalty; but indeed, He is Forgiving and Merciful.“
[Surah An’am; 6:165]
Thus success is not restricted to ourselves and our lifetime. It is considerate of the success of others. It is about serving society more than we serve ourselves. It is about making a positive contribution bigger and beyond our brief existence on Earth.
The concept of “jihad” needs to be understood clearly. The word jihad does NOT mean “holy war”, as any expert of the Arabic language can confirm. This is a Western rendition of a broader concept in Islamic teaching.
In the Arabic language, the word jihad literally means striving and working hard for something. In Islamic terminology, it retains the literal meaning in two different dimensions, which are expressed by “major jihad” and “minor jihad”.
The major jihad is known as the spiritual struggle, a struggle between two powers within ourselves: the physical body and the soul. The conscience is in conflict with the bodily desires. This spiritual conflict is an ongoing jihad within each one of us. Islam expects its followers to give preference to the soul and the conscience over the body and its desires. The fasting in the month of Ramadhan is an example of the annual training for this major jihad.
The minor jihad is the armed struggle. However, that does not automatically mean unjustified use of violence. The minor jihad may be divided into two: aggression and defense. Aggression against any people is not permitted in Islam; however, defense is an absolute right of every individual and nation. Islam has allowed the minor jihad only to defend the Muslim people and their land, and to maintain peace in Muslim societies.
أُذِنَ لِلَّذِينَ يُقَـٰتَلُونَ بِأَنَّهُمۡ ظُلِمُواْۚ وَإِنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَلَىٰ نَصۡرِهِمۡ لَقَدِيرٌ / ٱلَّذِينَ أُخۡرِجُواْ مِن دِيَـٰرِهِم بِغَيۡرِ حَقٍّ إِلَّآ أَن يَقُولُواْ رَبُّنَا ٱللَّهُۗ وَلَوۡلَا دَفۡعُ ٱللَّهِ ٱلنَّاسَ بَعۡضَہُم بِبَعۡضٍ۬ لَّهُدِّمَتۡ صَوَٲمِعُ وَبِيَعٌ۬ وَصَلَوَٲتٌ۬ وَمَسَـٰجِدُ يُذۡڪَرُ فِيہَا ٱسۡمُ ٱللَّهِ ڪَثِيرً۬اۗ وَلَيَنصُرَنَّ ٱللَّهُ مَن يَنصُرُهُ ۥۤۗ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَقَوِىٌّ عَزِيزٌ
“Permission [to fight] has been given to those who are being fought, because they were wronged. And indeed, Allah is competent to give them victory. [They are] those who have been evicted from their homes without right – only because they say, “Our Lord is Allah.” And were it not that Allah checks the people, some by means of others, there would have been demolished monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of Allah is much mentioned. And Allah will surely support those who support Him. Indeed, Allah is Powerful and Exalted in Might.” [Qur’an; 22:39-40]
وَقَـٰتِلُواْ فِى سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ ٱلَّذِينَ يُقَـٰتِلُونَكُمۡ وَلَا تَعۡتَدُوٓاْۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ ٱلۡمُعۡتَدِينَ
“Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed. Allah does not like transgressors.” [Qur’an; 2:190]
وَإِن جَنَحُواْ لِلسَّلۡمِ فَٱجۡنَحۡ لَهَا وَتَوَكَّلۡ عَلَى ٱللَّهِۚ إِنَّهُ ۥ هُوَ ٱلسَّمِيعُ ٱلۡعَلِيمُ
“And if they incline to peace, then incline to it [also] and rely upon Allah. Indeed, it is He who is the Hearing, the Knowing.” [Qur’an; 8:61]
مِنۡ أَجۡلِ ذَٲلِكَ ڪَتَبۡنَا عَلَىٰ بَنِىٓ إِسۡرَٲٓءِيلَ أَنَّهُ ۥ مَن قَتَلَ نَفۡسَۢا بِغَيۡرِ نَفۡسٍ أَوۡ فَسَادٍ۬ فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ فَڪَأَنَّمَا قَتَلَ ٱلنَّاسَ جَمِيعً۬ا وَمَنۡ أَحۡيَاهَا فَڪَأَنَّمَآ أَحۡيَا ٱلنَّاسَ جَمِيعً۬اۚ وَلَقَدۡ جَآءَتۡهُمۡ رُسُلُنَا بِٱلۡبَيِّنَـٰتِ ثُمَّ إِنَّ كَثِيرً۬ا مِّنۡهُم بَعۡدَ ذَٲلِكَ فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ لَمُسۡرِفُونَ (٣٢)
“Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely. And our messengers had certainly come to them with clear proofs. Then indeed many of them, [even] after that, throughout the land, were transgressors.” [Quran; 5:32]
“Do not wish to meet the enemy, but when you meet face) the enemy, be patient.” [Sahih Bukhari]
“Do not long for meeting your enemy, and ask Allah for safety (from all sorts of evil).” [Sahih Bukhari]
لَقَدۡ أَرۡسَلۡنَا رُسُلَنَا بِٱلۡبَيِّنَـٰتِ وَأَنزَلۡنَا مَعَهُمُ ٱلۡكِتَـٰبَ وَٱلۡمِيزَانَ لِيَقُومَ ٱلنَّاسُ بِٱلۡقِسۡطِۖ
“We have already sent Our messengers with clear evidences and sent down with them the Scripture and the balance that the people may maintain [their affairs] in justice…“
[Surah Al-Hadid; 57:25]
Exercising justice is supposed to be a fundamental characteristic of the way we manage all our affairs. The prevalence of justice gives us the balance of hope and the fear to work for success in this world as well as in the Hereafter. We know that we will be accountable for every aspect of our lives. Not only does this keep us in check, but it also helps us to deal with calamities with forbearance because we know that Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’aala is Most Just.
Implementing justice involves recognizing the rights that God has bestowed on us and the people around us, serving to meet those rights, and to avoid hindering them.
يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ كُونُواْ قَوَّٲمِينَ لِلَّهِ شُہَدَآءَ بِٱلۡقِسۡطِۖ وَلَا يَجۡرِمَنَّڪُمۡ شَنَـَٔانُ قَوۡمٍ عَلَىٰٓ أَلَّا تَعۡدِلُواْۚ ٱعۡدِلُواْ هُوَ أَقۡرَبُ لِلتَّقۡوَىٰۖ وَٱتَّقُواْ ٱللَّهَۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ خَبِيرُۢ بِمَا تَعۡمَلُونَ
“O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allah, witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is acquainted with what you do.“
[Surah Al-Ma’ida, 5:8]
The Islamic guidelines for daily life hold the Muslim to a high standard of ethics and accountability. Narrated Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her): Usama approached the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) on behalf of a woman (who had committed theft). The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The people before you were destroyed because they used to inflict the legal punishments on the poor and forgive the rich. By Him in Whose Hand my soul is! If Fatima (the daughter of the Prophet (peace be upon him)) did that (i.e. stole), I would cut off her hand.” [Sahih Bukhari]
The Arabic words falah and fellah (farmer) come from the same root word and it is said that the link between the two is because you have to cultivate and labor for success – be it in this world or in the Hereafter.
أَمۡ حَسِبۡتُمۡ أَن تَدۡخُلُواْ ٱلۡجَنَّةَ وَلَمَّا يَأۡتِكُم مَّثَلُ ٱلَّذِينَ خَلَوۡاْ مِن قَبۡلِكُمۖ مَّسَّتۡہُمُ ٱلۡبَأۡسَآءُ وَٱلضَّرَّآءُ وَزُلۡزِلُواْ حَتَّىٰ يَقُولَ ٱلرَّسُولُ وَٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ مَعَهُ ۥ مَتَىٰ نَصۡرُ ٱللَّهِۗ أَلَآ إِنَّ نَصۡرَ ٱللَّهِ قَرِيبٌ۬
“Or do you think that you will enter Paradise while such [trial] has not yet come to you as came to those who passed on before you? They were touched by poverty and hardship and were shaken until [even their] messenger and those who believed with him said, “When is the help of Allah?” Unquestionably, the help of Allah is near.“
[Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:214]
One must realise that total falah cannot be achieved in this world where nothing is everlasting and everything must ultimately perish. There is nobody who at some time or the other has not been afflicted with pain and anguish.
كُلُّ نَفۡسٍ۬ ذَآٮِٕقَةُ ٱلۡمَوۡتِۗ وَنَبۡلُوكُم بِٱلشَّرِّ وَٱلۡخَيۡرِ فِتۡنَةً۬ۖ وَإِلَيۡنَا تُرۡجَعُونَ
“Every soul will taste death. And We test you with evil and with good as trial; and to Us you will be returned.”
[Surah Al-Anbiya; 21:35]
ٱلَّذِى خَلَقَ ٱلۡمَوۡتَ وَٱلۡحَيَوٰةَ لِيَبۡلُوَكُمۡ أَيُّكُمۡ أَحۡسَنُ عَمَلاً۬ۚ وَهُوَ ٱلۡعَزِيزُ ٱلۡغَفُورُ
“[He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed – and He is the Exalted in Might, the Forgiving“
[Surah Al-Mulk; 67:2]
Tests are not for meant for Allah’s knowledge or benefit. He Subhanahu wa Ta’aala is the All-Knowing and Self-Sufficient. Rather, they are for moulding human beings in this life and for witnessing the justice of Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’aala in the Hereafter. Life experiences are designed to help us grow and master the subject, i.e. how to live as a pious slave of Allah. With every trial, we learn something that equips us for the next and the next, and so on until we reach a point where tests are no longer needed as we would have returned to our Creator.
It is Paradise that is the abode of eternal happiness and an indication of success. However, such a state can only be achieved in the Hereafter and a person who aims at falah must not succumb to the dangerous temptations of this world.
فَلَعَلَّكَ بَـٰخِعٌ۬ نَّفۡسَكَ عَلَىٰٓ ءَاثَـٰرِهِمۡ إِن لَّمۡ يُؤۡمِنُواْ بِهَـٰذَا ٱلۡحَدِيثِ أَسَفًا / إِنَّا جَعَلۡنَا مَا عَلَى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ زِينَةً۬ لَّهَا لِنَبۡلُوَهُمۡ أَيُّہُمۡ أَحۡسَنُ عَمَلاً۬
“Then perhaps you would kill yourself through grief over them, [O Muhammad], if they do not believe in this message, [and] out of sorrow. Indeed, We have made that which is on the earth adornment for it that We may test them [as to] which of them is best in deed.“
[Surah Al-Kahf; 18:6-7]
We are not left to our own means either. The manual for navigating this world is ever-relevant and provides with guidance for succeeding in every aspect of life.
وَقَالُواْ ٱلۡحَمۡدُ لِلَّهِ ٱلَّذِىٓ أَذۡهَبَ عَنَّا ٱلۡحَزَنَۖ إِنَّ رَبَّنَا لَغَفُورٌ۬ شَكُورٌ / ٱلَّذِىٓ أَحَلَّنَا دَارَ ٱلۡمُقَامَةِ مِن فَضۡلِهِۦ لَا يَمَسُّنَا فِيہَا نَصَبٌ۬ وَلَا يَمَسُّنَا فِيہَا لُغُوبٌ۬
“And they will say, “Praise to Allah, who has removed from us [all] sorrow. Indeed, our Lord is Forgiving and Appreciative – He who has settled us in the home of duration out of His bounty. There touches us not in it any fatigue, and there touches us not in it weariness [of mind].”
[Surah Fatir, 35:34-35]
6. Achieving the Pleasure of Allah and Paradise
Out of the 6000+ ayat (verses) in the Qur’an, only about 600 of them relate to laws and rules. In other words, 90% of the ayat are not about rules but about thinking about our relationship with our Creator.
The word that is used for a verse of the Qur’an is ayah (plural: ayat). The word ayah, however, means a sign. So every verse of the Qur’an is not just read at face value but can be taken as a sign that must be interpreted and utilized as a guide towards getting closer to the Creator. Failing to read the signs properly can lead to traveling on off-roads or diversions.
Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) loves those who do good. And therefore we accept our mistakes, repent, and do our best to strive our utmost to earn His pleasure. And He (Glorified and Exalted be He) has revealed to us:
هَلۡ جَزَآءُ ٱلۡإِحۡسَـٰنِ إِلَّا ٱلۡإِحۡسَـٰنُ (٦٠)
“Is the reward for good [anything] but good?” [Qur’an; 55:60]
The approval from your Lord is the ultimate victory, the height of fulfillment and deep contentment. It outshines and outweighs even the tangible pleasures of Paradise that is promised to the believers.
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 great attainment.“
[Surah At-Tawba; 9:72]
وَمِنَ ٱلنَّاسِ مَن يَشۡرِى نَفۡسَهُ ٱبۡتِغَآءَ مَرۡضَاتِ ٱللَّهِۗ وَٱللَّهُ رَءُوفُۢ بِٱلۡعِبَادِ
“And of the people is he who sells himself, seeking means to the approval of Allah. And Allah is kind to [His] servants.”
[Surah Baqarah; 2:207]
Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Seven are (the persons) whom Allah will give shade of His throne on the Day when there would be no shade other than His throne’s shade: a just ruler; a youth who grew up worshipping Allah; a man whose heart is attached to mosques; two persons who love and meet each other and depart from each other for the sake of Allah; a man whom an extremely beautiful woman seduces (for illicit relation), but he (rejects this offer by saying): ‘I fear Allah’; a man who gives in charity and conceals it (to such an extent) that the left hand does not know what the right has given; and a person who remembers Allah in solitude and his eyes well up”. [Bukhari and Muslim]
Islam teaches us the value of orienting all our words, thoughts, and actions for the pleasure of Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’aala. All the actions prescribed for success such as worship and bearing tribulation see their true value when done with the intention of seeking His pleasure alone. The magnitude of an action is determined by the intention behind it. The intention can make a seemingly small deed weigh heavily on the scales on the Day of Judgment, just as a seemingly large amount of deeds can amount to nothing because the intention behind them was misplaced. May Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’aala help us preserve our intention for His pleasure alone.