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Please the One, Not the Many

Please the One, Not the Many

You're not expected to make everyone happy. That's not Islam. Maybe people push that expectation onto you—in some cultures young people are taught to cede control over their lives to every elder aunt, uncle, sibling and even in-laws, until they feel squeezed from every direction and stripped of free will. But that is not the dīn. Respect for others is vital, but in the end we answer to Allāhsubḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

” … But it is more fitting that they should please Allāh and His Messenger … “ [Sūrah At-Tawbah;62]

The ultimate example of this is the Prophet Ibrahim [alayhis], who rejected the idol worship of his people, including his father, to such a degree that they tried to kill him. Imagine him, as a young child, tying a rope to the idols he was charged with caring for, and dragging them through the dust to the marketplace, calling, “Come and buy these lifeless idols that can neither benefit nor harm anyone!” SubḥānAllāh! What incredible will and independence of thought.

Looking at it from a more conventional perspective, many young people nowadays are forced into unwanted marriages, or are denied the partners of their choice because of un-Islamic reasons such as caste and race. Young women are pressured by their boyfriends into having sex -and yes, this occurs among Muslims all the time- because they don't have the fortitude to say no, or because they are suckered by false promises of future marriage. People do all sorts of reprehensible things in order to be accepted by their peers.

Women, in particular, are taught to be “pleasers,” and sometimes measure their own self-worth to the degree to which they make others happy. Pleasers have a narrative running constantly in their minds: “I'm nothing if I can't make others happy. If I please others I will be loved. If I just keep on trying, the people around me will change.”

This narrative is a myth. In reality, pleasers are often taken for granted or taken advantage of, and end up feeling depleted, hopeless, and angry. Managers and co-workers can get away with dumping extra work onto them. Friends ask them for steadily bigger favors, knowing that the pleaser never says no. Stuck in a relationship with an abusive man, a pleaser will try ever harder to cook, dress and smell the way the abuser likes, convinced that if she can only please him, he will become kind and loving. When this doesn't work and the pleaser can't take any more abuse, she feels like a failure. The feeling can be extreme, as if the world is coming to an end.

Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), by contrast, is One who rewards us with far more than we give in His cause. When we strive to please Him we feel contented, right, and spiritually hale, rather than exhausted and disillusioned. Pleasing and serving Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is never a one-way street, as it so often is with human beings. Everything we have already came from Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). When we're grateful, He increases our provision, and when we work in Allāh's cause He outmatches us.

We have to stop surrendering our souls to other human beings, and surrender instead to Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

The Challenge of a Lifetime

We were created to live in the cause of Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), fulfilling our greater purpose, and living the dream imbued in our hearts.

Every one of us has a role to play in healing this fractured world and bringing truth to the fore. We are asked to dedicate ourselves to the One, and it's not a small task. It's the challenge of a lifetime. We shine with our full glory only when we bow exclusively to Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). When we do that, all others will either fall into step with us on this lighted path, or will lose their power to harm us spiritually and emotionally.

“Those (the believers) to whom the people (the hypocrites) said: 'Verily, the people (the pagans) have gathered against you (a great army), therefore fear them.' But it (only) increased them in Faith, and they said: Allāh (alone) is sufficient for us, and He is the Best Disposer of affairs.” [Sūrah Āl-'Imrān;173]

Sahl bin Sad As-Sai'di raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) reported: “A man came to the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and said, 'O Messenger of Allāh, guide me to such an action which if I do Allāh will love me and the people will also love me.' He ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, 'Have no desire for this world, and Allāh will love you; and have no desire for what people possess, and people will love you.'” [Ibn Majah Al-Albani classified this hadīth as authentic]

To “have no desire for this world” doesn't mean that you don't strive to achieve the necessities of life. Rather, it means that you do not hunger for luxuries, and that you don't envy what others have been given (what people possess). You have a greater goal, which is the achievement of Jannah. Therefore your concern in worldly affairs is the pleasure of Allāhsubḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

You will never succeed in gratifying everyone, not if you lived a thousand years. As the old saying goes, you can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time. It is also true that sometimes you will please none of the people, and that's fine too. Work on pleasing Allāhsubḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), and you'll find yourself in harmony with the fundamental forces of the universe.

These are not just pretty words that I toss out like confetti. These are my deepest beliefs, condensed from decades of loneliness, bitter pain, and also joy and gratitude. I have truly seen miracles, and in many ways I'm a walking miracle myself; not because of anything I've done, but because Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has saved me from so much, and guided me from such depths—Alhamdulillāh.

If my posts help anyone then all praise is due to Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). And if you think I'm off the mark, then māshā'Allāh, that's alright. You have lived your own life and gone where you've gone on the face of this earth, and you must make your own judgments. I'm putting forward what I believe to be true, if anything can be said to be true in this dunya. And Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) knows best.

What is Real?

For what is real in this universe if not Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)? All else passes away. If one was to venture into quantum physics, you find that our physical “reality” itself is bizarre and impossible to comprehend.

In the last century the science of physics has been upended. It was once believed that everything was either a particle or a wave. Now we know that particles are also waves, and waves are also particles. Quantum objects can exist in multiple places and states at the same time. Two particles can become entangled on the quantum level such that the behavior of one affects the other instantaneously, even when they are light years apart. When these theories were first proposed scientists resisted them, feeling that the universe would no longer make sense if such things were true (Einstein labeled quantum entanglement “spooky action”). These theories have since been confirmed by repeated experiments, but scientists still have no idea how these things are possible.

What makes sense in this life except Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)? With all the suffering we human beings go through, with all the starvation, war and crime, how can we even justify our existence except in the name of Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)? We need that ultimate justice. We need that One Single Reality, that Eternal Presence, that Final Arbiter.

Coming back to the original thought, why should we torture ourselves trying to indulge people who are themselves flawed? Other human beings don't set the standard of truth. They don't have the right to sit in judgment over every slip and fall. They don't see our souls. They don't know our hearts or our pain. Only Allāh is Al-Baseer (The All Seeing), worthy of our striving. Let us be kind to others, honor our parents, and show respect. But let us not submit our souls to anyone or anything but Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

allah

About Wael Abdelgawad

Wael Abdelgawad is an Egyptian-American living in California. He is the founder of several Islamic websites, including IslamicAnswers.com and IslamicSunrays.com, and of various financial websites. He is divorced and has one lovely young daughter. Wael teaches martial arts, and loves Islamic books, science fiction, and ice cream. For a guide to all of Wael's stories in chronological order, check out this handy Story Index.

31 comments

  1. JazakAllahu khair! May Allah reward you immensely, this is exactly what I needed to know! Alhamdulillah. I truly find this helpful, and I ask Allah to make all of us of those people who truly submit their souls to none other than Him. Ameen.

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  2. assalamualaykum
    u mention pleasers in an abusive relationship.What about when everyone around u , even your own parents want u to go back to the abuser n try to please n change him. i m in an emotionally abusive marriage n i feel lost n suffocated. How can we decide to what extent we have to try n work to save our marriage.
    cz here in India divorcees become outcastes , looked down upon n degraded by society.
    How do i decide whether to stay in marriage or to get out n face more abuse.

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    • InshAllah, Allah will guide you to the best decision. Do not be too hard on yourself, sister.

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    • amatullah, you are in a difficult situation, but I would say do not go back to the abuser unless he is willing to change and shows you that he is changing. For example he could agree to see a marriage counselor. However if the pattern of abuse is persistent and no change is in sight, then get your divorce, and trust Allah to bring you someone better, Insha’Allah.

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    • Amatullah. You are not alone. I am in a similar situation. It took me a long time to realize that i have been abused, because the abuse is rarely physical. If I could leave, I would but I am financially dependent on him, have no family support, and young children to care for, so I stay. At times it is enough to look for the good qualities that my husband has, because in many ways he is religious and a good person, but has this other side that can be very hurtful and isolating.

      I am not telling you what you should do, but rather that you must look to your own circumstances and decide what is best.

      I wonder if anyone at MM, or any readers know of any Islamic resources for anyone who is in an abusive relationship?

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  3. Mashallah, a wonderful reminder for all of us.

    I’d like to add that “not becoming slaves to other people” should not be understood to mean “I’ll live my life the way I want”. By doing so, one may fall into the danger of being a slave to one’s own nafs, and that would be just as bad. Our ultimate goal is to be a slave of Allah, and to follow the example of our beloved prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam).

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    • Great point San Jose about how we shouldn’t go towards the other extreme of “living our lives the way we want”, because that isn’t what Muslims should do either. And great article Brother Wael. I’d just like to add that sometimes some people try to take advantage of others by using Islam as an excuse. An example would be parents pressuring their kids to major in specific fields (such as medicine or engineering) and blackmailing the kids into believing that they would be going against their parents wishes if they refused to do so. Another example would be a family member going around asking other for a loan (that he/she might never pay off) and claiming that if someone refuses to help, they’re breaking the ties of kinship. In these cases, it becomes harder for the pleaser to get away from having to please such people. My advice would be for the pleaser to first explain to those trying to take advantage of them, that Islam does not require that we are forced into doing something we don’t feel comfortable doing, even if that action is permissible. If the person still insists upon trying to make you do something you don’t want to do, then continue to refuse doing it, but continue to maintain the ties of kinship anyway. If they break the ties, they’ll be held accountable for it, not you.

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  4. These are not just pretty words that I toss out like confetti. These are my deepest beliefs, condensed from decades of loneliness, bitter pain, and also joy and gratitude. I have truly seen miracles, and in many ways I’m a walking miracle myself; not because of anything I’ve done, but because Allāhsubḥānahu wa ta’āla (glorified and exalted be He) has saved me from so much, and guided me from such depths—Alhamdulillāh.

    I will engrave these words in my heart. Jazaka Allah Khayr

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  5. Assalaamu Alaykum warahmatullah

    JazaakAllahu khair and baraakAllahu feek

    If I personally follow the opinion that I shouldn’t congratulate others on the gregorian New Year, how would you suggest politely/gently dealing with the situation of my grandparents calling to congratulate me (1 grandparent is atheist or agnostic, and 1 of them is muslim)? Should I say I only celebrate the 2 eids? Should I change the subject? Should I say, I hope each day is better than the next not just on Jan 1..?

    JazaakAllahu khair

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  6. Beautifully written, mash’Allah, brother Wael. You have become one of my most favorite writers in a really short while. May Allah swt reward you immensely for this effort. Hope you and your daughter are doing well! Jazak’Allah.

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    • Thank you Maira, we’re good Alhamdulillah. Salma just read my bio here and wanted me to add, “Her name is Salma and she loves vanilla ice cream. She also loves to ride her scooter. She has lots of dolls. Maybe even millions. She loves them all.”

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  7. I want to say thank you and so i shared t his but had to put it in parts so that others would actually read it. hope you do not mind.I am just learning that many do not like to read long articles. as you have written this well.. Please keep up the work and may Allah bless you greatly

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    • Dear Carolyn:

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  8. Extremely beneficial reminder and the part about women being molded into being “pleasers” is so true…May Allah protect us all.

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  9. This touched my soul and gave words to what I have been contemplating!
    JazakAllah

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  10. As salam.alikum.

    Mashallah very well written.

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  11. JAZAK ALLAH KHEIRYN.VERY BENEFICIAL.

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  12. I am 4 years older to the man I love. We both are muslim, and wish to be married. His parents are against it, and refuse to allow it to happen. His mother has ordered me to stay away from him and told me if I love him, I will let him go. He does not want to disobey his mother, and is torn in the middle. I have my family’s approval, but we do not wish to get married without his parent’s consent even though Islam allows it. She refuses to accept me even though she is a very educated person. Are we disobeying Allah by trying to get married and disobey his parents wishes? I have done istikhara 7 times as well but there is no clear sign.

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    • “desperate”, a man does not necessarily need his parents’ permission to marry, especially if their reasons for rejecting a potential spouse are not based on Islam. If the only reason they are rejecting you is the age difference then I suggest you arrange a visit to them by a knowledgeable Muslim who can point out to them, for example, the age difference between Khadijah (RA) and the Messenger (sws). Perhaps they can be convinced.

      If they are adamant then the decision belongs to you and the son. Get married without his parents’ consent, or break it off. I might point out that often parents threaten a child with being disowned, and they might indeed be angry for sometime, but when the grandkids come along they usually soften and relent.

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  13. Please exclude my name from the post

    ………………. ….

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  14. Mashallah! Well Written! We should do our best to please Almighty Allah! but Allah also tell us to be kind, beneficial, courteous to others.So caring for others is according to commands of Almighty Allah. The Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) and the respected Sahaba Karaam used to sacrifice their own needs for others i.e. they would themselves remain hungry and gave their food to others.The following narrates such an incident

    One old woman made a habit of throwing rubbish on Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) whenever he passed from her house! Muhammad (Peace be upon him) had to pass that house daily on the way to the mosque.
    Even when the old woman threw rubbish on him, he would pass silently without showing any anger or annoyance. This was a regular, daily event.

    One day when the Prophet (Peace be upon him) was passing by, the woman was not there to throw the rubbish. He stopped, and asked the neighbour about her well-being, and wondering why she wasn’t dropping any rubbish on him.

    The neighbour informed the Prophet that the woman was sick on bed. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) politely asked permission to visit the woman. When allowed he entered the house, the woman thought that he had come there to take his revenge when she was unable to defend herself because of sickness.

    But the Prophet (Peace be upon him) assured her that he had come to her, not to take any revenge, but to see her and to look after her needs, as it was the command of Allah that if any one is sick, a Muslim should visit him and should help him if his help is needed.

    The old woman was greatly moved by this kindness and love of the Prophet. By the example of greatness of Muhammad, she understood that he was truly the Prophet of God and Islam was the true religion. She accepted Islam at once, Alhamdulilah.

    I think the article present those cases of pleasing the people which displeases Allah! For example doing something for pleasing others which is against the spirit of Islam. That is what came to my mind. Am I missing something ?

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  15. May Allah reward you for the excellent article. I always look forward to reading your words as I believe you are sincere and honest in your efforts and there is never a hint of self-righteousness in your words. There are several times that your words have brought me to tears because it was exactly the message that I needed to have at the time.

    I think when it comes to abuse, one of the difficulties in the case of many sisters is that obeying and pleasing our husbands is part of obeying Allah, unless it is something that clearly goes against Islam.

    If a husband doesn’t want his wife to see or communicate with friends, or attend social events at the Islamic center, that does not violate Islam, but is detrimental to the woman’s happiness. If a woman has an acceptable view islamically on an issue but her husband takes another view that is also acceptable, he can use his authority to enforce her to follow the opinion that he prefers. By emphasizing obeying the husband, it would be possible for a husband to control virtually every aspect of her life and as long as it didn’t contradict Islam, she will be inclined to obey out of fearing Allah.

    I think this is a point that should be clarified. At what point does it go too far when a husband expects his wife to obey him, and she sacrifices her own identity, wants and needs in order to please him?

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    • Yes exactly Sister X, I was trying to make a similar point to yours up above, except I used an example involving parents and their older kids. This is important to think about in light of this article, over when does unconditional obedience go too far, where the pleaser’s well-being has become neglected, despite them having to obey orders and requests that are not always necessarily haraam? I provided a possible suggestion up above, but would like to hear from others if there are other ways to solve this problem.

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    • Dear SisterX

      Our Comments Policy requires a valid name or Kunyah to be used when commenting. You may also use a blog handle provided your blog is linked and the email address is a valid one.

      Best Regards
      Comments Team

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  16. i request the MM team to please work on something related to emotional needs of women. Many men dont understand that women are like a rib and should be dealt with in a kind manner .Verbal and emotional abuse of women is a rampant problem and even religios men argue that only provision of clothing n shelter is required of them. If a women tries to resist , the society quietens her down and expects her to keep sacrificing to stretch an unhappy marriage.

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  17. Another late response- apologies. I actually always love reading articles like this. I don’t think I can ever be reminded enough to look after the balance in my life.

    I do think you could probably write a separate article on the nature of reality, though. lol.

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