There are many definitions, thoughts, and opinions about success as humans try to define what true success really is. Some think success is to accumulate wealth and material things or try to get to the top of the corporate ladder or attain a high position in government. Is success the internal feeling of satisfaction and being happy with what is achieved after sacrifice, struggle, and endeavor? If that is the case then a person who does evil, with some efforts and struggle of course, will be quite happy and feel successful with what he achieves, like a thief after he loots and plunders other people’s properties. But is this true success?
Allah (SWT) bases success of any individual on his or her belief in Him and the building of a relationship with Him through acts of worship and obedience to His Message.
Man in the end realizes that what he thinks success to be is nothing more than a temporary feeling. No sooner does he achieve success, what he thought would bring him a deep sense of satisfaction before he starts the quest all over again because his worldly achievement does not full fill the soul. He chases the gratifications of the Dunya, running after fortune or fame till death overtakes him. Some people try to fill the inner void with drugs or alcohol. Some are so miserable that they think of or try suicide. What we know for certain is that genuine happiness and success cannot be achieved through worldly achievement or wealth alone. In fact, many affluent or famous people live miserable lives.
Allah (SWT) describes how people who chase this Dunya and are unable to find true success react when the Angel of Death approaches. Such a person realizes that the worldly things he was running after in this life are left behind and now he begs Allah (SWT) for another chance. Any person with such belief that materialism is success will never be satisfied or happy in life. He will always want more and more, nothing will please him enough, until death overcomes him. Allah (SWT) tells us in Surah Mo’minoon, “Until, when death comes to one of them, he says, ’My Lord, send me back that I might do righteousness in that which I left behind.’ No! It is only a word he is saying; and behind them is a barrier until the Day they are resurrected” (Quran 23:99-100).
Seeking True Success
The attainment of true success is a fundamental quest of all human beings. Most would agree that a lasting peace of mind, contentment, happiness, and freedom from worries and anxiety are true hallmarks of success, and that material gains alone cannot achieve that. The question we should then ask is how can we achieve these attributes of success. The answer necessitates pondering our existence here on earth: How did we come to be here on earth? Is it by accident or by the design of a Wise Creator who has created everything that exists?
Any person who thinks deeply enough concludes that there must be a Creator for all that exists. As Muslims, we believe, without any shadow of a doubt, that Allah (SWT) is the Creator of the heavens and earth and everything between them, everything that exists. We firmly believe that Allah is the One and Only God, Allah has power over all things, and He is the Rich and Self Sufficient. All the most beautiful names and attributes belong to Allah (SWT) alone. This wise Creator did not create man and then leave him to chart his path alone. He (SWT) did not leave him to decide by himself what is good or bad, what is guidance, and what is success. Allah (SWT) says: “Then did you think that We created you in mere idle play and that to Us you would not be returned?”(Quran 23:115). And in another verse He again asks: “Does man think that he will be left neglected?” (Quran 75:36).
In fact, He Almighty knows that man, with his selfish interest, greed, and short-sightedness, would not be able to determine what true success is. So with His infinite wisdom and knowledge, Allah (SWT) has sent Messengers such as Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (peace be upon them all) to convey His Divine Message, guiding all of mankind to true success in this world and true success in the world to come. The message of the prophets was one and the same. Allah (SWT) makes this clear in the following verse: “Say: ’We have believed in Allah and what has been revealed to us and what has been revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the Descendants and what was given to Moses and Jesus and what was given to the Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction among any of them, and unto Him we are those who surrender’” (Quran 2:136).
In fact, from the very beginning He (SWT) has equipped man to strive for true happiness and success. In the Quran, we learn what the Creator told Adam and Eve after they disobeyed Allah’s directive not to eat from a particular tree: “We said, ’Down with you all from this [state]. And when guidance comes to you from Me, whoever follows My guidance, need have no fear nor will they grieve. And those who disbelieve and deny Our signs — those will be companions of the Fire; they will abide therein eternally” (Quran 2:38-39). But from the very early time mankind has rejected God’s guidance and instead chosen his own way. The consequences have been severe whether they were individuals, communities, or nations. He (SWT) says: “And whoever turns away from My remembrance – indeed, he will have a life of narrow scope, and We will gather him on the Day of Resurrection blind” (Quran 20:124).
The Quest in This Life
Allah (SWT) describes man’s quest in this life as falling in one or the other of two categories. He (SWT) says: “And when you have completed your rites, remember Allah like your remembrance of your fathers or with greater remembrance. And among the people is he who says, ’Our Lord, give unto us in this world,’ and he will have in the Hereafter no share. But among them is he who says, ’Our Lord, give unto us in this world good and in the Hereafter good, and protect us from the punishment of the Fire.’ Those will have a share of what they have earned, and Allah is swift in account” (Quran 2:200-202).
In these verses, Allah SWT describes the first category of people who work for this life only and have no desire for the Hereafter. He sees this life as his ultimate abode, his ultimate concern, and therefore success is only to achieve things that are worldly. We should be reminded of the du’a we make during our Qunoot in Witr prayer, especially in the month of Ramadhan: “Allahumma la taj’alid dunya akbara hammina”– “O Allah, don’t make this world our biggest concern.” Ameen.
The second category of people are those who listen to the guidance from Allah (SWT) and supplicate to Him fervently to have success both in this world and the next. Such a person is mindful of his duty to Allah and makes sure to make good use of whatever Allah has bestowed upon him in this world. He believes that he has a role in this life and must utilize it to get to the Hereafter and he tries to seek success in both. There is no third category. So if someone thinks that success is only in the Hereafter, then he has made a category other than which the Creator has described.
Ways to Attain True Success
Faith and righteous deeds are the greatest and most fundamental of means of attaining true success. Allah says, “Whoever works righteousness — whether male or female — while he is a true believer, verily to him We will give a good life, and We shall pay them certainly a reward in proportion to the best of what they used to do” (Quran 16:97).
This is also taught in the Bible in Galatians 6:8: “Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. “The reason for this is clear: those who believe in Allah are sincerely motivated to do righteous deeds and by so doing, hearts and attitudes are changed and these individuals are guided to success in this world and the Hereafter. Such are the people who follow principles and guidelines by means of which they deal with everything that happens to them, be it circumstances of happiness and excitement or circumstances of anxiety, worry, or grief. This has been explained in the hadith of Rasoolullah (pbuh) in which he said: “How wonderful is the situation of the believer, for all his affairs are good. If something good happens to him, he gives thanks for it and that is good for him; if something bad happens to him, he bears it with patience, and that is good for him. This does not apply to anyone but the believer” (Muslim).
As to righteous deeds, Allah (SWT) gives us many opportunities to do good deeds that bring about success. Allah (SWT) describes some of the behaviors of those who truly succeed: “Certainly will the believers have succeeded, They who are during their prayer humbly submissive; And they who turn away from ill speech; And they who are observant of zakah; And they who guard their private parts, except with their wives or those their right hands possess, for indeed, they will not be blamed – but whoever seeks beyond that, then those are the transgressors; And they who are to their trusts and their promises attentive; And they who carefully maintain their prayers. Those are the inheritors who will inherit Paradise. They will abide therein eternally” (Quran 23:1-11).)
One reads in the Bible, as the final words of Prophet David (pbuh), in 1 Kings 2:3, “And observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to Him, and keep His decrees and commands, His laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go.”
As the quest for true success has been the ways of the Prophets of God Almighty, including Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (pbut), we must join in this pursuit if we also want true success. We must supplicate to Allah (SWT) to help us in this process, and a beautiful du’a we learn from the Prophet (pbuh) is the following: “Allahumma aslih li deeni alladhi huwa ‘ismatu amri, wa aslih li dunyaya allati fiha ma’ashi, wa aslih li akhirati allati ilayha ma’adi, waj’al al-hayata ziyadatan li fi kulli khayr, wa’l-mawta rahatan li min kulli sharr.” — “O Allah, correct my religious commitment which is the foundation of my life, and correct my worldly affairs in which is my livelihood, and grant me good in the Hereafter to which is my return. Make my life a means of accumulating good, and make death a respite for me from all evil.” (Muslim).
Allah (SWT) bases success of any individual on his or her belief in Him and the building of a relationship with Him through acts of worship and obedience to His Message. The opportunity to strive for that success is a true gift from God, a blessing to be experienced, and available to each and every person on earth. And the reward for that success is a promise, without fail, made by God. I ask Allah (SWT) to grant us true success as He granted to Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (peace be upon them) and His righteous servants.