In life only overcomers are rewarded. Allahﷻ is the only one who rewards effort, but not this world. In this world you get rewarded for results only. Allahﷻ said about effort in Dunya and Aakhira:
وَأَن لَّيْسَ لِلْإِنسَـٰنِ إِلَّا مَا سَعَىٰ
Najm 53: 39 And that man can have nothing but what he does (good or bad).
Overcomers are rated by the magnitude of the challenge they overcame. The bigger the challenge, the greater the honor. Mount Everest is 8 kilometers high. If I walk 10 kilometers and claim that I should be given an award because I walked more than Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay who were perhaps the first people to scale the peak of Everest, people will laugh at me. If I try to argue and say that they and I, both walked on earth, people will laugh even louder. Because it is not the distance on earth but the angle of the earth which makes their feat memorable and inspirational. If they had tried to climb but failed to reach the peak, nobody would have remembered. If they had gone up in a helicopter and been dropped on the peak, it wouldn’t count as ‘scaling the mountain’. The difficulty of the task is what makes it honorable and worthwhile. So, the first thing to ask yourself is, ‘What is my internal conversation with myself?’ To listen to that, you must switch off the external noise that we have willingly inflicted on ourselves. You can listen to your heart, or you can listen to your phone. You can’t do both. What are you telling yourself? Are you saying, ‘I can succeed’? Or ‘There’s no point in trying because I will surely fail.’ Both statements are not fact. They are hopes. But for you, both can come true, depending on which one you want to use most often. My friend Dr. Fridolin Stary tells me that in German, there is a saying, “Hope dies last.” We must never allow hope to die. We must continue to hope and to work to make that hope a reality. So, ask what you are saying to yourself inside. That’s where it begins.
Our internal conversation depends on our connection with Allahﷻ because it is based on Tawakkul. Tawakkul is an outcome of Taqwa and Taqwa is the result of the love (Hubb) of Allahﷻ. The more we love Allahﷻ, the more we fear to displease Him (Taqwa) and the more we rely on Him (Tawakkul). Allahﷻ described the stages and said:
إِنَّمَا ٱلْمُؤْمِنُونَ ٱلَّذِينَ إِذَا ذُكِرَ ٱللَّهُ وَجِلَتْ قُلُوبُهُمْ وَإِذَا تُلِيَتْ عَلَيْهِمْ ءَايَـٰتُهُۥ زَادَتْهُمْ إِيمَـٰنًا وَعَلَىٰ رَبِّهِمْ يَتَوَكَّلُونَ
Anfal 8: 2 The believers are only those who, when Allah is mentioned, their hearts shiver (with the awe) when His Ayaat (Qur’an) are recited unto them, they (Ayaat) increase their Faith; and they put their trust in their Rabb.
Ask yourself what must have been going on in the heart of Rasoolullahﷺ when he stood on Safa and called his people to Islam. What sustained and supported him was his connection with Allahﷻ. Allahﷻ was real to Him.
Ibn Abbas (R) narrated that when Rasoolullahﷺ used to awake for Tahajjud he would say: Allahumma lakal-hamd. Anta qaiyimus-samawati wal-ardi wa man fihinna. Walakal-hamd Laka mulkus-samawati wal-ardi wa man fihinna. Walakal-hamd anta nurus-samawati wal-ard. Walakal-hamd an-tal-haq. Wa wa’du-kal-haq wa liqa’uka Haq. Wa qawluka Haq wal-jannatu Haq wan-naaru Haq. Wan-nabiyoona Haq Wa Muhammadun, sallal-lahu’alaihi wasallama Haq. Was-sa’atu Haq. Allahumma laka aslamtu wabika amantu, wa ‘Alaika tawakkaltu wa ilaika anabtu. Wa bika kha-samtu wa ilaika hakamtu. Faghfir li ma qaddamtu wama akh-khartu wama as-rartu wama ‘a-lantu. An-tal-muqaddimu wa an-tal-mu akh-khir. Laa ilaha ila ant. [Bukhari]
O Allah! All praise and all thanks for you. You are the Establisher of the Heavens and the Earth, and whatever is in them. All praise and all thanks for You; You have the possession of the Heavens and the Earth and whatever is in them. All praise and all thanks for You; You are the Light of the Heavens and the Earth. And all praise and all thanks for You; You are the Truth. And Your Promise is the Truth. And the meeting with You is True. Your Word is the Truth, and Jannah is True, and the Fire is True. And all the Prophets (Peace be upon them) are True and Muhammadﷺ, is True. And the Day of Resurrection is True. O Allah! I surrender (my will) to You; I believe in You and depend on You. And repent to You, And with Your help I argue (with my opponents). And I take You as a judge (to judge between us). Please forgive my previous and future sins; And whatever I concealed or revealed. And you are the One who raises some people to stations of honor and lower others. There is none to be worshiped but You.
Our problem is that for us Allahﷻ is a concept, an idea, a thought. Is Allahﷻ real for us? The sign that Allahﷻ is real for us, lies in our actions. Those for whom Allahﷻ is real, never disobey Allahﷻ. They love Allahﷻ and they never do anything to displease Him. That is what Taqwa is. It is not fear of Allahﷻ but fear of displeasing the one we love the most.
The most difficult thing to do is to change people’s minds, beliefs, and attitudes. But that was the task that Allahﷻ gave His beloved Messengerﷺ. Rasoolullahﷺ was given this task but no material help to achieve his goal. That is why even someone like the French historian Alphonse de Lamartine, who was very critical of Islam, said in his book, History of Turkey, about Rasoolullahﷺ, “If greatness of purpose, smallness of means, and astonishing results are the three criteria of a human genius, who could dare compare any great man in history with Muhammadﷺ?”
That is where the issue of certainty of belief comes in. The first and most differentiating quality of Rasoolullahﷺ’s attitude in his Da’awa, was his total certainty in the truth and worth of his message. Without that he could never have sustained his effort and continued to give his utmost consistently in the face of almost no sign of success. That is the power of purpose. When you know your purpose, it strengthens you like nothing else. It helps you to keep the focus. Not to get distracted. To fight fear.
Mark Twain said, “Every man has two birthdays. The day he was born and the day he discovers why.” I remind myself that I know the day that I was born, but do I know why I was born? What did Allahﷻ create me for? What am I supposed to accomplish in my life based on which I will be judged?
Sit in silence and ask yourself three questions:
- Why do I exist?
- What will be lost and for whom when I leave this life?
- What am I doing to fulfill the reason I exist?
Remember that this can take a long time. But it is the most important thing that you can do and will give you the most powerful results going forward from today. It doesn’t matter how old you are. What matters is if you want your life to be worthwhile or not. That will be your real birthday. Not the day you were born, but the day you discover why. A life, lived to fulfill a great and noble purpose is the life of a human being. A life lived to fulfill every desire, whim, and fancy is the life of an animal. We get to choose for ourselves. Allahﷻ defined for us, our purpose in life and said:
وَمَا خَلَقْتُ ٱلْجِنَّ وَٱلْإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ
مَآ أُرِيدُ مِنْهُم مِّن رِّزْقٍ وَمَآ أُرِيدُ أَن يُطْعِمُونِ
إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ هُوَ ٱلرَّزَّاقُ ذُو ٱلْقُوَّةِ ٱلْمَتِينُ
Dhariyaat 51: 56-58 And I (Allah) created not the jinn and humans except they should worship Me (Alone). I seek not any provision from them (provision for themselves or for My creatures) nor do I ask that they should feed Me (or the creatures). Verily, Allah is the All-Provider, Owner of Power, the Strongest.
It is really very simple. Allahﷻ created us to please Him. He created the rest of the world to serve those who please Him. When we are focused on pleasing Allahﷻ, everything falls into place. We are content, are respected, have influence, live in harmony with others, and are happy. When we try to get all these on our own without regard to whether our actions, please Allahﷻ or not, we get stressed, anxious, fearful, humiliated, and depressed. It makes no sense to chase what Allahﷻ has already written for us and ignore what Allahﷻ put us in control of. Allahﷻ wrote for us whatever He wants for us in this life. And gave us the power to write whatever we want for ourselves in the Aakhira. If we understand this and act on it, we will be content in this life and get Jannah in the Aakhira. If not, the opposite is the likely consequence. The choice is ours.
Someone asked Imam Hasan Al Basri (RA) how he lived a life of total contentment and was not stressed about anything. He said, “I know that Allahﷻ created me to worship Him and that nobody else can do it for me, so I concentrate on worshipping Allahﷻ. I know that what Allahﷻ has written for me, nobody else can take, so I don’t worry about that. I know that one day I will die, so I prepare for that. And I know that Allahﷻ is watching me, so I am ashamed to do anything that displeases Himﷻ.” I remind myself and you to reflect on this. To reflect on the purpose of our lives.
Islam doesn’t stop us from doing anything in the Dunya. Allahﷻ created us to live in this world and to enjoy what it has to offer. And He created the boundaries for that enjoyment. Those are His prohibitions. As long as our actions are within those boundaries and we stay away from what Allahﷻ prohibited, this will count towards the deeds that will earn Jannah for us. The opposite it equally true. The choice is ours, so let us choose wisely.
Very important: Keep a writing pad and pencil handy. Write down your thoughts about your purpose. I say pencil because you will want to erase some things and write them over. Do that. Don’t hesitate. Finally, get to a statement of not more than one line of say 8-10 words, which describes your purpose. Don’t try to do this on your devices. Use paper and pencil. There is something about writing that invokes the power of the brain that doesn’t happen with the phone or tablet. Write. That also distinguishes us from animals. Take as long as you need. But stick with it.
Keeping the Purpose Statement in front of you ask yourself, “What are the three things that I need to do in order of priority to go forward?” Remember, we are not looking at fulfilling the purpose as in ‘end result’. We are looking at the road, the process, that will take us forward. If you are driving to a destination, to determine if you are going in the right direction, you don’t look for signs of your destination at the start. You look for signs for the first town on the way to your destination. Then the next one and so on, until you start seeing the signs of your destination. That is why Allahﷻ taught us to ask for the Siraat, the way. Siraatul Mustaqeem. The straight path, the path of steadfastness, of the Prophets, and those who Allahﷻ blessed. In Islam both path and destination are equally important. Ways and means. So, keep the purpose in front of you and ask, “What is the first thing I need to do to achieve my purpose?” That may be to change your wake-up time. Or your daily schedule. Or your friends list. Usually, it is all three. And also, it can be painful. That is why you need to keep the purpose in front of you. It will remind you that it is worth the pain. And make dua to invoke the help of Allahﷻ.