Originally posted at Muslim Strategic Initiative – a new project dedicated to providing an online resource that helps Muslim organization run professionally in all aspects.
Richard St. John has spent years of his life interviewing successful people to see what characteristics are common to them. The culmination of his research is succinctly presented in the 3 minute video below. The points may seem like common sense, but reflecting on them – better yet, acting on them – shows how valuable they are. It is also not surprising that these themes are outlined in the Qur’ān. This provides further motivation for us to implement them in our da’wah work.
*Disclaimer* The video contains some vulgar language.
Even so, there are some who choose to worship others besides God as rivals to Him, loving them with the love due to God, but the believers have greater love for God. [2:165]
It goes without saying that you cannot successfully accomplish a goal without having the passion inside to reach it. If you want to be successful at memorizing the Qur’ān, it requires an inner drive to stick with it. If there is no passion, if there is apathy, then this goal will never be reached. Passion is the key ingredient that drives us forward. You have to want to be successful at a particular venture or it will not happen.
You who believe, be steadfast, more steadfast than others; be ready; always be mindful of God so that you may prosper. [3:200]
No matter how passionate or talented you are, you have to be willing to put in the work to make something happen. Malcolm Gladwell popularized the theory that it takes 10,000 hours of work to become an expert at something. In regards to Islamic work, it is also necessary to understand that there is glamorous work and behind-the-scenes dirty work. A true leader, and a truly successful person, does both.
So proclaim openly [connotation of going through something, like to split the desert in two with your trail] what you have been commanded (to say), and ignore the idolaters. [15:94]
Indeed, Abraham was a [comprehensive] leader, devoutly obedient to Allah, inclining toward truth [ḥanīf], and he was not of those who associate others with Allah. [16:120]
The second ayah indicates Ibrahīm being focused on the characteristic of being ḥanīf. Success requires a laser like focus on the task at hand. Consider the following scenario to understand how a lack of focus can make a program unsuccessful.
There is an organization devoted to teaching Islamic history full time. Their focus is teaching this subject from an academic point of view. Many of their students become drawn to the program and its instructors, and thus begin requesting personal counseling. If the organization allows itself to make that a part of its program, despite the good intention, it will end up detracting from what is the strength of the program to begin with. In the long run, they will over extend themselves and be unable to perform either task properly.
In the personal sense, you know that you have limits to what you can accomplish in a certain amount of time. If you want to study Arabic, then this would require focus in the sense that you can no longer devote time and energy to other subjects until you master this one. The lack of focus is what creates the phenomenon of ‘jack of all trades, master of none‘. Successful people, even those excelling in multiple areas, are usually most recognized for the one thing that initially made them successful.
But We shall be sure to guide to Our ways those who strive hard for Our cause: God is with those who do good. [29:69]
Every project will hit a wall where it becomes easy to give up. This applies to studies, work, building a masjid, or any other kind of activity you may think of. You have to push through that wall when it comes. The passion and hard work mentioned above are the key ingredients that enable you to push through the obstacles you encounter.
And consult them in the matter [3:159]
And whose affair is [determined by] consultation among themselves [42:38]
Successful people constantly come up with new ideas, new projects, and new and innovative ways of helping others. They also test the veracity of these ideas from consulting with others, and take others ideas as well. Every great project and success story starts with a simple idea, sometimes even hastily scribbled onto a dinner napkin.
Seek the life to come by means of what God has granted you, but do not neglect your rightful share in this world. Do good to others as God has done good to you. [28:77]
Is the reward for excellence (iḥsān) [anything] but excellence (iḥsān)?
This is a constant process. If you want to be successful, you must continue to hold yourself to a higher standard than anyone else. Many times an organization or person will be successful but then drop off. A person may become lazy, and an organization may succumb to weaknesses or competition. Continued success means continually improving even if others may not see a need for it.
[Believers], you are the best community singled out for people: you order what is right, forbid what is wrong, and believe in God. [3:110]
True success means that your aims and objectives also help benefit others as well. This is especially the case with Islamic work. Your success is directly tied to how well you serve your community.
Believers, why, when it is said to you, ‘Go and fight in God’s way,’ do you feel weighed down to the ground? Do you prefer this world to the life to come? How small the enjoyment of this world is, compared with the life to come! [9:38]
This is a combination of the ‘push’ and ‘improve’ principles above. It is not enough to keep doing the steps above, but to make sure they are continually repeated no matter how tough. Every time you feel like you have improved yourself or your organization, you have to consistently try to take it to the next level. You also have to persist through any negativity and setbacks that you encounter.
Criticism, Rejection, Adversity, Prejudice
This forms an easy acronym to remember the main obstacles you have to overcome no matter what the endeavor.
Criticism: Every project and goal has its critics. They key is being able to differentiate which criticisms are constructive and which ones are destructive.To overcome the ‘criticism hurdle’ you have to find a way to cast aside negativity from destructive criticism and subdue your ego enough to benefit from constructive criticism.
Rejection: Even the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) faced rejection initially, and from his own family at that. Being rejected by some should be an expectation. Sometimes the rejection will come from peers, and sometimes it will come from those who hold some authority over you. The key is to not let the rejection be the reason you give up.
Adversity: Simply put, nothing good ever comes easy. The adversity can come in different forms. It can be a decrease in the amount of time spent with family, it can be financial, it can be emotional, and sometimes a project that has spiritual goals may present itself as a test on your own spirituality. Overcoming this adversity requires a good dose of wisdom, patience, and persistence.
Prejudice: This is when the negativity is no longer about your project, but about you personally. People will judge you and say things about you that are extremely hurtful, but you must remember that it comes with the territory.
Take the example of a masjid building project in America. When it starts out, the members starting it are often criticized for even wanting to build one in the first place. They are told that its unnecessary and that it is too much work. They may face rejection from the local community who refuses to donate money. In fact, they may even face rejection from other local masjids who refuse to support this project out of fear that it will somehow hinder their own projects.
Those involved will face countless moments of adversity. They may face unexpected obstacles with the local city. They will face adversity within their family due to the amount of time the project takes. They will face adversity when finances run out.
Prejudice is also a big factor. We see it in our times where people protest against a masjid being built. In other places the Muslim community becomes prejudiced and accuses the people starting a masjid of having ulterior motives or a faulty ideology.
A number of projects that fail to overcome these obstacles, and yet others are able to finish out and build successful masjids and community centers. The people involved in these projects are driven by a passion for having their own masjid. They wake up and go to sleep every day thinking about having a place to make their daily prayers and take their children.
They work hard to get the project done. They run around finding architects, engineers, and contractors. Many times they have to immerse themselves in issues they have not dealt with before and, therefore, have to put in double the amount of work to catch up.
They focus on the end result. They are not distracted with other projects, nor do they let anything else get in the way. A completed masjid is always the end goal that they use to focus their efforts.
They push through obstacles that come. They consult with one another and look for innovative solutions [ideas] to any issue that arises. They may be halfway through the project when they realize they need to change it around to meet a city regulation, but this does not hinder them. Moreover, they do not settle for simply finishing. Throughout the process they work as hard as they can to make every minute detail of this masjid the best it possibly can. They persist and persevere and let nothing get in their way.
Finally, they remember that this masjid is meant to be a service to the community. It is meant to help bring people closer to Allah, and Allah blesses them with bringing this project to successful fruition.