Success is inevitable…if….

Allahﷻ sent us Islam to make us successful in this life and the Hereafter. In this and subsequent lectures, I want to share with you some key lessons for us to follow to become successful. It is only at the finish line that you know who won the race. Not before. This life is a race and every one of us is running in it. This Khutba and a number of them going forward are about how you can win that race. Remember that all that I can do is to share with you the lessons I learnt in my life. To use them or not is your choice.

To win any race you must know the rules. What makes a winner and what will disqualify you? You can be the fastest person on the planet, but you can win only if you run in the right direction. That may sound like stating the obvious, but it is the most common reason most people lose the race, because they are running away from the finish line. What is the right direction? It is the direction that will take you to the goal. Only those who reach the goal are winners. Even those who don’t reach the goal, but try their best to do so, can hope for a ‘consolation prize’. But what about those who don’t even try or worse do the opposite of what it takes to reach the goal?  

We have two lives. One that we live here on Planet Earth. And the other that we will live in the Hereafter – the Aakhira. We cannot write our destiny in this life because we have been given limited choice. But in the Aakhira – the life in the Hereafter – we have total freedom to choose what we want. Those decisions are based on the choices we make in this life. What is the goal? How can we win and what can disqualify us? This is critical to know.

The Qur’an in its lucid and concise way defines the goal.

كُلُّ نَفْسٍ ذَآئِقَةُ ٱلْمَوْتِ وَإِنَّمَا تُوَفَّوْنَ أُجُورَكُمْ يَوْمَ ٱلْقِيَـٰمَةِ فَمَن زُحْزِحَ عَنِ ٱلنَّارِ وَأُدْخِلَ ٱلْجَنَّةَ فَقَدْ فَازَ وَمَا ٱلْحَيَوٰةُ ٱلدُّنْيَآ إِلَّا مَتَـٰعُ ٱلْغُرُورِ

A’al Imraan 3: 185  Everyone shall taste death. And only on the Day of Resurrection shall you be paid your wages in full. And whoever is moved away from the Fire and admitted to Jannah, he indeed is successful. The life of this world is only the enjoyment of deception (a deceiving thing).

There are four matters which are stated in this Ayah.

Let’s take each of these and look at ourselves in the light of the Ayah.

  1. Everyone, without exception, will die

If there is one thing on which the whole world is agreed upon, it is that we will all die one day. There are all kinds of theories and philosophies about what will or will not happen after death, ranging from, ‘we will become plant food and push up the grass’ to reincarnation as another human or animal. Only the Qur’an tells us with certainty what will happen because its author is the One Who Never Dies – Allahﷻ. Only the one who never dies can tell us what happens after we die, because He is there to see it. He told us that we will be resurrected and brought back to Him and be held accountable for what we chose to do or not do in this life. This is a heads-up to all intelligent people saying, ‘Watch it, because you are being watched. You can’t hide. And you will have to give account for it.’ This life is a time to choose. Death is not the cessation of life but cessation of choice. Death opens the door to another life and shuts the door on choice. So, let’s choose wisely. This life operates on the principle of cause and effect. If we want to change an effect, we must address the cause. The interesting thing about it is that each cause has two effects. An interim, temporary one in this life and a permanent one in the Hereafter. If I smile, I look and feel friendly and make friends. And since smiling is Sadaqa, every time I smile, a Hasana (good deed) is added in my account with Allahﷻ. Of course, the condition is that my intention must be to please Allahﷻ by smiling. It may sound simplistic, but it is not. It is simple. Not simplistic. Small deeds with great results are a sign of Allahﷻ’s Mercy. That is the beauty of Islam, which Allahﷻ gave us.

The intelligent thing to do when we know that we will die and believe that we will be called to account is to ensure that we speak and act in a way that will not create embarrassment and worse for us when we meet Allahﷻ.

To live thoughtfully is a hallmark of Islam. Because to live is not merely to draw breath. Breathing is different from living. A person in a coma is breathing. But is he living? Life has a purpose and to live it to fulfill that purpose is a sign of living thoughtfully. What distinguishes us from animals is this thoughtfulness and speaking and acting to fulfill our purpose. Living by default, from sensation to sensation, pandering to base desires is to live like an animal. Allahﷻ in His Infinite Mercy didn’t leave us without guidance about how to win. He sent us instruction manuals and coaches; His Books and His Messengers, all of whom came to show us how to win. Remember that they came to show the way. Not to force us to walk on it. As they say, ‘You can take a horse to the water, but you can’t make it drink.’ It is for us to decide if we want to drink or not, knowing that it is this water which gives us life and without which we will perish. That water is Hidaya, guidance from Allahﷻ to what is good for us and what pleases Him. Allahﷻ gave us the freedom to choose.

لَآ إِكْرَاهَ فِى ٱلدِّينِ قَد تَّبَيَّنَ ٱلرُّشْدُ مِنَ ٱلْغَىِّ فَمَن يَكْفُرْ بِٱلطَّـٰغُوتِ وَيُؤْمِنۢ بِٱللَّهِ فَقَدِ ٱسْتَمْسَكَ بِٱلْعُرْوَةِ ٱلْوُثْقَىٰ لَا ٱنفِصَامَ لَهَا وَٱللَّهُ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ

Baqara 2: 256   There is no compulsion in religion. Verily, the Right Path has become distinct from the wrong path. Whoever disbelieves in Taghut and believes in Allah, then he has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that will never break. And Allah is All-Hearer, All-Knower.

All humanity is free to choose. The path of righteousness is clearly defined but the choice is left to us. It is like the warning sign on cigarettes. Those who smoke can’t say that they didn’t know that it was going to harm them. We are free to choose but every choice has a price tag. Not choosing is also a choice. That is why Allahﷻ sent us guidance in the form of the Qur’an and its explanation, the field-book, the Sunnah of His Messenger Muhammadﷺ. We are not asked to choose blind, but to choose with full knowledge of the price of each choice. There is no blind faith in Islam. There is faith with the knowledge of who Allahﷻ is and what our relationship with Him is. The one who chooses to obey Allahﷻ has grasped a handhold that will never break and will lead him into Jannah.

  • Winners and losers in the race called life, will be decided on the Day of Judgment and full reward and punishment will be given.

As I said earlier, winners and losers are decided only at the finish line and not during the race as it is being run. There are many instances of runners who show great promise in the beginning, pulling ahead of all others, but later in the race for one reason or another, they fall behind or drop out of the race altogether. Examples of the opposite are also many. This is important to remember because we get deceived by people’s material success and think it is a sign of blessing. Remember that Allahﷻ never called wealth, children or power, His blessing. He called them tests. About the situation of all human beings, Allahﷻ told us very clearly in Sura Al Asr.

وَٱلْعَصْرِ إِنَّ ٱلْإِنسَـٰنَ لَفِى خُسْرٍ

إِلَّا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ وَعَمِلُوا۟ ٱلصَّـٰلِحَـٰتِ وَتَوَاصَوْا۟ بِٱلْحَقِّ وَتَوَاصَوْا۟ بِٱلصَّبْرِ

Al-Asr 103: 1 – 3   By Al-‘Asr (time). Verily! Man is in loss, except those who believe (in Islam) and do good deeds and recommend one another to the truth (enjoin good, forbid evil) and recommend one another to patience.

Allahﷻ is telling us that by default everyone is a loser except those who satisfy four conditions. Those who have faith (Islam), do righteous deeds (for Allahﷻ’s sake), advise each other to be truthful (while practicing this themselves) and advise each other to be patient and steadfast (while being so themselves). Remember that all these conditions must be satisfied simultaneously. Today we seem to believe that simply being born in a Muslim home and having a so-called ‘Muslim’ name is sufficient to be a winner. This is how we have separated our actions from our belief. But that is not Islam. Islam is not a set of worship rituals. It is a complete way of life. Being Muslim is not about ethnicity or nationality. A Muslim is someone who believes in and follows Islam. Just like a Musalli is someone who prays. It is not someone who knows about Salah but doesn’t pray.

A Haji is someone who performed Hajj. It is not someone who accompanied his friend as a tourist while his friend was performing Hajj. Though he would have gone to Makkah, Mina, Arafa, Muzdalifa and back to Mina and Makkah, he will not be called a Haji because he didn’t perform Hajj. He was only a spectator. A Sa’aim is the one who fasts. Not the one who goes to an Iftaar party. So also, a Muslim is one who practices Islam. Not someone who knows about Islam but doesn’t practice it. Islamically there are no NPMs. That is why Allahﷻ ordered:

يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ ٱدْخُلُوا۟ فِى ٱلسِّلْمِ كَآفَّةً وَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا۟ خُطُوَٰتِ ٱلشَّيْطَـٰنِ إِنَّهُۥ لَكُمْ عَدُوٌّ مُّبِينٌ

Baqara 2: 208    O you who believe! Enter completely into Islam (in all aspects of life) and follow not the footsteps of Shaytaan. Verily! He is your plain enemy.

Islam means to submit our will to the Will of Allahﷻ in every aspect of life, in all our decisions, attitudes, likes, dislikes, aspirations, and goals. To submit completely without exception is to be a Muslim and enter that special group that can look forward to the forgiveness of Allahﷻ and entry into Jannah. Selective obedience is disobedience. Allahﷻ warned us severely against it because selective obedience is arrogance.

أَفَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِبَعْضِ ٱلْكِتَـٰبِ وَتَكْفُرُونَ بِبَعْضٍ فَمَا جَزَآءُ مَن يَفْعَلُ ذَٰلِكَ مِنكُمْ إِلَّا خِزْىٌ فِى ٱلْحَيَوٰةِ ٱلدُّنْيَا وَيَوْمَ ٱلْقِيَـٰمَةِ يُرَدُّونَ إِلَىٰٓ أَشَدِّ ٱلْعَذَابِ وَمَا ٱللَّهُ بِغَـٰفِلٍ عَمَّا تَعْمَلُونَ

Baqara 2: 85   Then do you believe in a part of the Scripture and reject the rest? Then what is the recompense of those who do so among you, except disgrace in the life of this world, and on the Day of Resurrection they shall be consigned to the most grievous torment. And Allah is not unaware of what you do.

About those who insist on following their desires in opposition to Allahﷻ’s orders, Allahﷻ said that their desires are the deities they worship.

أَرَءَيْتَ مَنِ ٱتَّخَذَ إِلَـٰهَهُۥ هَوَىٰهُ أَفَأَنتَ تَكُونُ عَلَيْهِ وَكِيلًا

Furqan 25: 43   Have you (O Muhammad) seen him who has taken as his ilah (god) his own desire? Would you then be a Wakil (advocate) over him?

What more can I say? Let us ask ourselves if we fall into this category for whom Allahﷻ is prohibiting Rasoolullahﷺ from interceding for forgiveness. If so, it is high time to repent and return to Allahﷻ from Whom nothing is hidden. The fundamental thing to remind ourselves is that all goodness begins with obedience to Allahﷻ. And nothing good can come out of disobeying Him. And that one day we will answer to Him about our choices. There is no escape from this day, no matter what we want to believe. Let us reflect on the Ayah we hear in every Jumu’ah Khutba where Allahﷻ states:

يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ ٱتَّقُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ وَقُولُوا۟ قَوْلًا سَدِيدًا يُصْلِحْ لَكُمْ أَعْمَـٰلَكُمْ وَيَغْفِرْ لَكُمْ ذُنُوبَكُمْ وَمَن يُطِعِ ٱللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُۥ فَقَدْ فَازَ فَوْزًا عَظِيمًا

Ahzab 33: 70-71    O you who believe! Have Taqwa of Allah and fear Him and (always) speak the truth. He will direct you to do righteous deeds and will forgive your sins. And whosoever obeys Allah and His Messenger (SAW) he has indeed achieved the greatest success (he will be granted Jannah).

And for those who do this, the reward is the company of those Allahﷻ loves.

وَمَن يُطِعِ ٱللَّهَ وَٱلرَّسُولَ فَأُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ مَعَ ٱلَّذِينَ أَنْعَمَ ٱللَّهُ عَلَيْهِم مِّنَ ٱلنَّبِيِّـۧنَ وَٱلصِّدِّيقِينَ وَٱلشُّهَدَآءِ وَٱلصَّـٰلِحِينَ وَحَسُنَ أُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ رَفِيقًا

Nisa 4: 69    And whoso obeys Allah and the Messenger (Muhammad), then they will be in the company of those on whom Allah has bestowed His Grace, of the Prophets, the Siddiqun (Sahaba like Abu Bakr Siddique etc.), the martyrs, and the righteous. And how excellent these companions are!

The secret of success of the Sahaba was that they changed their criterion of success, from worldly wealth and power to pleasing Allahﷻ. The result of that was that they got both worldly wealth and power and the pleasure of Allahﷻ. This is what seems to escape a lot of people, that Islam is not about making EITHER-OR choices, but to look for the AND in all matters. The only way to have our cake and eat it too, is to focus on the source of wealth and power. Please Him and we can have both. Displease Him and we will have neither or worse still, we will have wealth and power but not the pleasure of Allahﷻ. That is truly the greatest misfortune because that means that the doors of guidance have been shut for that person.

Allahﷻ stated clearly:

فَلَمَّا نَسُوا۟ مَا ذُكِّرُوا۟ بِهِۦ فَتَحْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ أَبْوَٰبَ كُلِّ شَىْءٍ حَتَّىٰٓ إِذَا فَرِحُوا۟ بِمَآ أُوتُوٓا۟ أَخَذْنَـٰهُم بَغْتَةً فَإِذَا هُم مُّبْلِسُونَ

An’am 6: 44    So, when they forgot (the warning) with which they had been reminded, We opened to them the gates of every (pleasant) thing, until in the midst of their enjoyment in that which they were given, all of a sudden, We took them to punishment, and lo! They were plunged into destruction with deep regrets and sorrows.

Somebody asked Imam Shafai why people who openly disobey Allahﷻ are not punished but seem to become even more wealthy and powerful. He recited this Ayah and told them that means that the door of Hidaya has been shut on them. Success and failure are a factor of the person’s ability to gain Allahﷻ’s pleasure. Not of material possessions, physical happiness, or temporal power. All these are transient. Allahﷻ’s pleasure is forever.