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This Article Could be Zakat-Eligible

Who Accounts For This Pillar of Islam

Co-written by Shaykh Osman Umarji

As writers on MuslimMatters, it came as a surprise when the website we write on marked itself zakat-eligible on its fundraiser for operations in Ramadan. This website has previously highlighted the misuse and abuse of zakat for vague and dodgy reasons, including instances of outright fraud by nonprofit corporations.  We have lamented the seemingly inexorable march from zakat being for living human beings in need to financial play-doh for nonprofit corporate boards.

Estimated global zakat is somewhere between $200 billion to $1 trillion.  Eliminating global poverty is estimated at $187 billion– not just for Muslims, but everyone.  There continue to be strong interests in favor of more putty-like zakat to benefit the interests of the organizations that are not focused on reducing poverty. Thus, in many ways, a sizeable chunk of zakat benefits the affluent rather than the needy. Zakat, rather than being a credit to the Muslim community, starts to look more like an indictment of it.

No, it’s not ikhtilaf

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The recent article on this website, Dr. Usama Al-Azmi seemed somewhat oblivious to the cavalier way the nonprofit corporate sector in the United States treats Zakat.  The article did not do justice to legitimate concerns about zakat distribution by dismissing the issue as one of “ikhtilaf,” or a reasonable difference of opinion, as it ignored the broader concern about forces working hard to make zakat a “wild west” act of worship where just about anything goes.  

It’s essential to identify the crux of the problem. Zakat has eight categories of permissible beneficiaries in the Quran. 1 Two are various levels of poor, distribution overhead; then there are those whose hearts are to be inclined,  free captives, relieve indebtedness, the wayfarer, and the cause of Allah (fisabilillah). The category of fisabilillah, historically,  the majority of scholars have interpreted as the cost of jihad (like actual fighting). However, in recent times, Muslim nonprofit corporations, with support of learned Muslim leaders, have adopted an increasingly aggressive and vague posture that allows nearly any beneficial cause to get zakat.   

The concerns about the abuse of zakat, and the self-serving desire by corporations to turn fisabilillah into a wastebasket Zakat category that could be “incredibly broad” has to do with far more than a difference of opinion (ikhtilaf ) about the eligibility of Dawah organizations. Let’s assume dawah and educational organizations are eligible to administer Zakat funds.  We need to know what that means in practice. What we have is a fundamental question the fisabilillah-can-mean-virtually-anything faction never manages to answer: are there any limits to zakat usage at all?

Show Your Work

We fully understand that in our religious practice, there is a set of rules.  In Islamic Inheritance for example, for example, we cannot cavalierly change the definition of what a “daughter” is to mean any girl you want to treat like a daughter. There is an established set of rules relating to acts of worship. For the third pillar of Islam, zakat, there seem to be no limits to the absurd-sounding questions we can ask that now seem plausible.  

Unfortunately, we have too many folks who invoke “ikhtilaf” to justify adopting almost any opinion and not enough people who are willing to explain their positions. We need a better understanding of zakat and draw the lines on when nonprofit corporations are going too far.

You can be conservative and stand for zakat as an act of worship that contributes to social justice. You can have a more expansive interpretation friendly to the nonprofit corporate sector’s needs to include the revenue source. Wherever you stand, if you don’t provide evidence and develop detailed uniform and accepted principles and rules that protect those people zakat was meant to help, you are inviting abuse and at the very least, opening the door towards inequitable results. 2

Can you feed the needy lentils and rice for $100 a meal, with margins of $99 a meal going to pay salaries to provide these meals and fundraise for them?  Why or why not?

Can a Dawah organization purchase an $80 million jet for its CEO, who can use it to travel the world to do “dawah,” including places like Davos or various ski resorts?  What rules exist that would prevent something like this? As far as we know, nothing at all.

Bubble Charity

In the United States, demographic sorting is a common issue that affects all charitable giving, not just giving by Muslims. The most affluent live in neighborhoods with other people who are generally as prosperous as they are. Certain places seem almost perversely designed to allow wealthy residents to be oblivious to the challenges of the poor.  There are undeniable reasons why what counts as “charity” for the wealthy means giving money to the Opera, the Met Gala, and Stanford University.

The only real way affluent Muslims know they supposed to care about poor people is that maybe they have a Shaikh giving khutbas talking about the need to do so and their obligation of zakat once a year or so. That is now becoming a thing of the past. Now it is just care about fisabilillah- it means whatever your tender heart wants it to mean.   

As zakat becomes less about the poor, appeals will be for other projects with a higher amount of visibility to the affluent.  Nonprofits now collect Zakat for galas with celebrities. Not fundraising at the gala dinner mind you, but merely serving dinner and entertaining rich people. Educational institutions and Masajid that have dawah activities (besides, everything a Masjid does is fisabilillah) can be quite expensive. Getting talent to run and teach in these institutions is also costly. Since many of the people running these institutions are public figures and charismatic speakers with easy access and credibility with the affluent. It is far easier for them to get Zakat funds for their projects.

People who benefit from these projects because they send their children to these institutions or attend lectures themselves will naturally feel an affinity for these institutions that they won’t have with the poor. Zakat will stay in their bubble.  Fisabilillah.

Dawa is the new Jihad

Jihad, as in war carried out by a Khalifah and paid for with zakat funds, is an expensive enterprise. But no society is in a permanent state of warfare, so they can work towards eliminating poverty during peacetime. Muslim communities have done this in the past.  Dawah is qualitatively different from jihad as it is permanent. There was never a period in Islamic history when there was no need to do dawah. Many times in history, nobody was fighting jihad. There was no period of Islamic history when there were there was never a need for money to educate people. Of course, earlier Muslims used zakat in education in limited, defined circumstances. It is not clear why limitations no longer apply.  

Indeed dawah is a broad category.  For example, many people regard the Turkish costume drama “Diriliş: Ertuğrul” as dawah.  Fans of the show can’t stop talking about the positive effects it has had on their lives and their iman. What prevents zakat from funding future expensive television costume dramas? Nothing, as far as we can see.   

No Standards or Accountability

Unfortunately, in the United States, there are no uniform, specific standards governing zakat. Anything goes now when previously in Islamic history, there were appropriate standards. Nonprofit corporations themselves decide if they are zakat-eligible or not. In some instances, they provide objectively comical explanations, which supporters within the corporation’s bubble pretty much always swallow whole. Corporations don’t have to segregate Zakat-eligible funds from general funds. When they do, they can make up their own rules for how and when they spend zakat. No rules make zakat indistinguishable from any other funding source since they can change their standards year after year depending on their funding needs (if they have rules at all) and nobody would be the wiser. It is exceedingly rare for these corporations to issue detailed reports on how they use zakat.  

The Shift to Meaninglessness

Organizations with platforms (like the one that runs this website) are going to be eager to get on the zakat gravy train. There is no cost to slapping a “zakat-eligible” label on yourself, either financial or social. It seems like everyone does it now. Some Zakat collectors are conscientious and care about helping the poor, though they are starting to look a little old-fashioned. For them, it may make sense to certify Zakat administrators like halal butchers.

Zakat used to be about helping discrete categories of human beings that can benefit from it.  It can now mean anything you want it to mean. In the end, though, without real standards, it may mean nothing at all.

Footnotes:

  1. The sunnah also highlights the essence of zakah as tending to the needs of the poor. For example, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) commanded Muadh bin Jabal, when sending him to Yemen, to teach the people that Allah has obligated charity upon them to be taken from their rich and given to their poor (Sahih Muslim).
  2. In Islamic legal theory (usool al-fiqh), sadd al-dhariya is a principle that refers to blocking the means to evil before it can materialize. It is invoked when a seemingly permissible action may lead to unethical behavior. This principle is often employed in financial matters.

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Ahmed Shaikh is a Southern California Attorney. He writes about inheritance, nonprofits and other legal issues affecting Muslims in the United States. He is the co-author of "Estate Planning for the Muslim Client," published by the American Bar Association. His Islamic Inheritance website is www.islamicinheritance.com

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Spirituality

    June 10, 2019 at 2:27 PM

    As Salamu Alaikum,

    Jazak Allahu Khayran for this very necessary article.

    Do you have any organizations that you recommend for zakat payment? What about Islamic Relief USA, Helping Hands for Relief and Development, Zakat Foundation of America?

    Many of these organizations have a mission of working with the poor, and also, allow one to designate their payment as ‘Zakat.’

    • Avatar

      Osman Umarji

      June 11, 2019 at 12:55 PM

      My advice is to seek to out an organization that gives 100% of zakat proceeds to the poor in your locality or greater region. Ask a respected scholar for specific recommendations in your area.

      • Avatar

        Spirituality

        June 11, 2019 at 2:20 PM

        Jazak Allahu Khayran for your response!

        Unfortunately, as you mention, ‘respected scholars’ do not seem to be trustworthy regarding this issue…

        If anyone knows of any respected institutions in the Baltimore/Washington area that gives 100% of the zakat proceeds to the poor, please let me know!

        • Avatar

          Ahmed Shaikh

          June 11, 2019 at 6:38 PM

          You are right. Even terms like “Scholars” in the US Muslim community are questionable and up for grabs. There is no uniform criteria for what is “respected” (and by whom). So it comes down to who you respect and why. Like Zakat organizations, there is no accrediting body for Shuyukh, Imams and such, no disciplinary process, no codes of conduct and no minimum level of qualifications. I point this out only because often we use scholars as a crutch, we go by endorsements of charismatics to substitute for our own judgment. It would be great if there were accredited Zakat distributors who followed uniform, strict audited standards.

          Some local communities have brothers and sisters that work hard though to distribute Zakat to the poor and needy. Shuyukh will not audit them, that is not what they do. Any endorsements they get are usually in the “he is a good brother” genre. I have seen Shuyukh endorse organizations, products, and services they know next to nothing about. You should do your own due diligence. You can of course also distribute Zakat yourself to the poor and needy that may be among your own family or friends, or of people that you know and trust to do this. You can also look to an organization with a master strategy on accomplishing something big with their Zakat distributions. There are large Muslim organizations that take their role as Zakat distributors seriously and want to do it with ehsan (though they do it using their own standards and not uniform standards, which don’t exist). You should make sure where you donate meets the criteria for the kind of impact you want. It would be too easy for me to say “donate to charity X.” I won’t do that. For your research, I would suggest looking at the following:

          1) Does the charity publish Zakat distribution policies?
          2) Does it claim everything it does is Zakat eligible? If so, stay away (though feel free to read and comment on their website (I’m looking at you, MuslimMatters).
          3) Does the charity have a policy on segregating Zakat funds?
          4) Does the charity have a policy of not using Zakat funds for overhead? This is not a deal killer, it may be part of having a sustainable operation and Allah expressly permits it in the Quran. But if there is an endowment that pays for overhead or if it is a small, well-run volunteer operation, bonus points.
          5) Are there independently-audited financial reports? If they do, read it or have it read by a trusted friend who likes reading these things.
          6) Read the organization’s 990, is something out of whack? Note Masajid almost never have 990s since they are not required to file them, but they should make their financials available if you are going to donate to them.
          7) Does the charity use Zakat funds only to benefit the poor and needy (that may include services)? Yes, there are other legitimate criteria, but so long as people are starving or have no access to water that won’t make them sick, c’mon.

          • Avatar

            Tariq al-Timimi

            June 12, 2019 at 6:41 AM

            Totally agree with you. It’s refreshing to see these issues being addressed frankly, and, with respect to your point about about “scholars” (whatever that means today–as you mention) endorsing causes and charities that they have no idea about, this displays a lack of ethical practice on their part: that endorsement is, in fact, a shahada – one that they will most certainly be asked about. It devalues the entire exercise.

          • Avatar

            Spirituality

            June 12, 2019 at 1:05 PM

            Jazak Allahu Khayran for your very comprehensive response and guidance. It will help my process of searching for an organization to give my zakat to, Insha Allah!

        • Avatar

          Ramy

          June 23, 2019 at 7:58 AM

          In response to the question about a local organization in the Bal-DMV area that gives strictly to the poor: see the Islamic American Zakat Foundation (IAZF) headed by Dr Imad ad-Dean Ahmad.
          https://www.iazf.org/

          IAZF sticks to the 8 categories of zakat, and can diligently provide it’s records if asked.

      • Avatar

        Imran

        June 17, 2019 at 3:03 PM

        Just an issue I’ve been grappling with re the “locality” clause. I am conflicted between giving zakat that will literally save the lives of poor Muslims in Africa or Yemen or Myanmar via digging wells, food staples, medical aid, etc. on the one hand, and say, cancelling some student debt for a local student in Laguna Beach, CA who has decided to obtain their Masters or PhD in Gender Studies or Psychology at USC for $75,000 a year on the other.
        In considering local preference, is there or shouldn’t there be some antecendent presumption that absolute living standards for those in “poverty” be roughly equal?

        • Avatar

          Osman Umarji

          June 17, 2019 at 11:28 PM

          There are numerous considerations regarding local vs global zakat giving that will inshaAllah be the subject of a future article. However, I will say that student loan debt, especially for graduate school, absolutely does not qualify for zakat. The category of people in debt is not a free for all who take loans for non-essential things like higher education, mortgages, cars, etc.

          In short, give your zakat to a local organization you trust. If you really want to give globally, give some of your zakat to a global cause through an organization that gives 100% of the proceeds to the needy.

          • Avatar

            Imran

            June 18, 2019 at 11:46 AM

            JazakAllah khair Sh. Osman, looking forward to the article. It is timely because literally last week at Jumah the khateeb advocated cancelling college student debt with Zakat instead of sending it abroad. It would be interesting to address what “local” means in our modern technology-driven times versus in the Prophet’s (saws) time.

  2. Avatar

    Abdallah Jadallah

    June 10, 2019 at 9:56 PM

    Great article!! This has been on my mind for a long time.

  3. Avatar

    Tariq al-Timimi

    June 11, 2019 at 5:46 AM

    I never comment, but here I must: thank you for this piece, that tackles several of the frustrations I have recently had with this very hazy, loose take on zakah.

    The only thing I would highlight though is that, in terms of da’wah and jihad, many jurists (eminent Hanafi ones in particular) recognised their relationships as congruent: that is to say, jihad is da’wah by other means (to take a leaf out of Von Clausewitz), and vice versa.

    • Avatar

      Ahmed Shaikh

      June 11, 2019 at 5:54 PM

      Jazakallahu Khair. What do you think about using Zakat funds to pay for a TV series about the Sahabah? Say it is intended for dawa?

      • Avatar

        Tariq al-Timimi

        June 12, 2019 at 11:04 AM

        Thank you for your question and engagement. The question is difficult to answer, and before I do, I’d like to provide some pointers:

        – zakah is a ‘ibada and a pillar; it has vertical-horizontal dimensions (that is to say it is a haqq towards Allah, and towards the people – all people that is, including non-Muslims); it is reasonable for the most part (viz. we can understand its aims and purposes); and Allah has set out fairly explicitly the categories whom are eligible (which is contra the Qur’anic norm – an important point here in fact, but it’s one too long to go into here at length).

        The question then becomes: what exactly is the purpose of this TV series about the Sahabah? And – crucially – under which of the eight categories may it be subsumed? They’ll argue that it falls under fi sabil illah (small letters to distinguish it from Fi Sabil Illah – a little more on that in a moment).

        This would bring us back full-circle to asking: what is the ambit (the ‘bandwidth’) of this category. Here there are three positions essentially:

        [1] the historical, classical meaning, that itrefers to qital (definitely the stronger case, IMO – for numerous reasons that would take too long to go into);

        [2] a minority modern take, the linguistic meaning: anything done for Allah’s sake), but this is sorely lacking for many reasons – again going into it would warrant a lengthy essay, but I will raise two important points here:

        i) even those who adopt this expansive definition, they will limit its scope (anyone reading their works on this will pick up on it immediately): they explicitly state that the purpose of fi sabil illah is to establish God’s rule on earth or that which upkeeps the existence of the religion and the masses (which is what Rashid Rida says, although it went without mention!), or to ‘revive an Islamic life in all spheres’. I’ll leave it to your mind to determine how this can be seen as violating all sorts of terrorism legislation in the West (something that, alarmingly, many charities and ‘scholars’ seem oblivious too when discussing this issue).

        ii) That even if one were to accept that fi sabil illah can be used for anything that is in the wide interests of the people, we have to seriously contend with what a widespread interest here is (maslaha ‘amma) – and, furthermore, and I always recall here something al-‘Uthaymin said regarding this: that even if one were convinced that it may be used for all purposes that serve the din, I would still refuse to give a fatwa in accordance with this (because of the huge possibilities for abuse – something you alluded to in your piece and comments).

        [3] Finally we have the centrist position (which takes some slight semantical gymnastics, but we don’t need to get into that), which is to say that it IS indeed for jihad – but jihad is not qital. Here they argue that since jihad is a means, and not an end in itself, we need to ask: for what purpose was jihad legislated (they will say: to defend the din, to spread the din, and to protect life and wealth). On that basis they say that whatever fulfils those functions may be subsumed fsa. (They have other arguments too, by no means at all is this comprehensive).There are many holes in this case, however, not least is the question of indeterminacy: who is to say that this fulfils or doesn’t fulfil the purpose of fsa? Again, I raise the point I did above about the implication here with issues to do with counter-terrorism legislation. If your intention (explicit or inferred) is that it is fi sabil illah – and you accept, as they often unwittingly do, that fsa = jihad in it’s broadest remit – then you are, essentially fundraising for terrorism (even if all you’ve done is collect money for a school or orphans).

        If we go back to our point earlier however regarding zakah: if it is ma’qul al-ma’na (reasonable), then what if someone were to argue that taxes paid to our governments are tantamount to zakah (and fulfil the purposes of zakah, not all of which have to be ‘activated’ at all times)? The concern I have here really is that this very important point seems to go totally unaddressed, even though, it was entertained and discussed in the classical sources and in more recent times.

        They will say: no, it is a ‘ibada and therefore requires a specific intention. We say, let’s accept this (there is a different take as to the type of intention required, one that is more consistent with the aforementioned point): fine, give that money with the intention of zakah (in fact, my understanding is that some mechanisms of this sort are already in place in some countries) – again this opinion is there in the sources.

        They will say: but zakah is for a particular categories and purposes! We say: but you’ve already widened those to encompass pretty much anything!

        Going back to your question then, what we require – casting aside all the points of concern I raise above (and I have many others too) – are a set of constraints and limitations (if we go with fsa centrist position). Since we have no authority to tell us (or do we? Fiqh Councils? The law of the land?): this is valid and this is an invalid cause, we are left, for our own purposes with having to devise a set of parameters enshrined in the texts. Some of these may be:

        1) (The question of alternatives):

        Do we have other good, successful series on the sahabah? Yes.

        2) (The question of needs):

        Is there a need for another one? IMO: No.

        3) (The question of proportionality):

        Is this an issue that is core/central and must be addressed? IMO: No. Even if one has disparaging opinions regarding the companions, there are still more fundamental concerns and issues to deal with. Besides, one really must ask themselves to what extent raising issues about the disputes among the companions, the battles and whatever else could serve the da’wah and religion in the current climate.

        4) (The question of public interest)

        Is this an issue effecting the masses of people, or even the masses of Muslims? Is it a harmful phenomenon for humankind? IMO: No, not at all. Most people aren’t occupied with these issues at all, I’d argue.

        Therefore in order to determine (without an authority) whether something falls within the rubric of fsa: is it needed? ii) proportionate. iii) public interest. iv) alternatives.

        Perhaps a final point worth noting/repeating: most of the fatawa and opinions permitting zakah for the purposes of the expansive fsa, appear to invariably mention the existence of legitimate authorities/a recognised collective of Muslims (a jama’ah, most often one engaged in FSA proper). There’s a huge elephant in the room, therefore, and one that I never see raised, as to what extent these charities are entitled to collect and administer zakah in the first place. In fact, upon surveying an anthology of such opinions regarding expansive fsa, one would quickly come to realise that they generally mention them in the context of ‘widespread public interests of the Muslims’ or in the context of a fatwa given to a government – in other words, not charities, and not for all these spurious causes, with all due respect to the intentions of those behind them.

        Anyway, these are really little more than a few of the issues that have been on my mind lately, and I am very tempted to raise a bundle of others, but this is way too long as it is. Bottom line my respected brother Ahmed is: if I were asked, my answer would be a firm no, but they’re welcome to other sources of revenue (again with a string of conditions attached). Wallahu a’lam.

  4. Avatar

    DI

    June 11, 2019 at 10:55 AM

    THANK YOU!

    Yet another example of Frankenstein Islam of the West that is totally out of touch with Islam of the ummah. Our community is better at creating thieves and greed than it is genuine concern for the fuqara. Islam is becoming much like affluent Christianity and affluent Judaism in the West.

    Our ulema are to blame too for creating the ‘its okay to be rich’ attitude and encouraging a prosperity gospel Islam. Endless fundraising without accountability has become a sect in itself.

    di.

  5. Avatar

    Ahmad

    June 12, 2019 at 12:27 PM

    Mashallah excellent article. There is an organisation in the UK which campaigns for local distribution and as of last year has started to donate funds to community and leadership development type funds.
    From the looks of it a lot charities do not adequately differentiate between zakat and sadaqah, and those that do sometimes take lax opinions.
    This is in particular to fee sabeel illah and paying people from zakat money.

    I have no problem with a charity saying ‘ to administrate your donation of £x we will place a charge of y%’ and that y% to be spent as sadaqah.

    For those in the uk i contacted UWT and was satisfied with their criteria of transferring wealth to the poor (please can brothers/sisters verify this statement is accurate at the time of donating)

    • Avatar

      Spirituality

      June 12, 2019 at 1:03 PM

      “I have no problem with a charity saying ‘ to administrate your donation of £x we will place a charge of y%’ and that y% to be spent as sadaqah.”

      As Salamu Alaikum, I completely agree. This seems to be a win-win situation…

  6. Avatar

    Imran

    June 17, 2019 at 2:49 PM

    Shukran for an essential article. Agree with you 100%.

  7. Avatar

    muslims life

    July 12, 2019 at 5:43 AM

    My advice is to seek to out an organization that gives 100% of zakat proceeds to the poor in your locality or greater region. Ask a respected scholar for specific recommendations in your area.

  8. Avatar

    Donate Your Zakat

    July 23, 2019 at 6:41 AM

    Mashallah amazing article. There is an association in the UK which battles for nearby conveyance and starting a year ago has begun to give assets to network and initiative improvement type reserves.

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30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 20: Come to Success

Now that we have learnt about how Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) Mercy encompasses all things, let’s now talk about coming to success.

Whenever we hear the adhan (call to prayer), there is a part where the mu’adhin (person calling the athan) calls out: “حي على الصلاة” hay ‘ala as-salaah (come to prayer). Then he says: “حي على الفلاح”- hay ‘ala al-falaah.” 

Question: Does anyone know what hay ‘ala al-falaah means?

It means ‘come to prayer, come to success.’ Is that how we usually think of success?

Question: What is your definition of success?

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Yes, sometimes we think that having a good job, a nice house, and a loving family are the measurements of our success. There may be some truth to that  for this world, but how does Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) measure our success?

Do you know that there is a surah in the Qur’an called “The Believers” (Al- Mu’minun), and that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) promises that the believers will be successful? He says:

قَدْ أَفْلَحَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ 

“Indeed, the believers have attained success” [23; 1]

Let’s dig a little deeper into the Arabic word for success: فلاح (falaah). Do you know that a derivative of that word فَلَّاح (fallaah) means a farmer? 

Question: What are some of the things that a farmer needs to do everyday?

Farmers need to fertilize their soil, plant seeds, pull out weeds, protect their plants from predators, and water their crops. Do you think that’s a lot of work? Do you think it’s easy to be a farmer? I want you to imagine a time when farmers couldn’t turn on a hose to water their plants. They completely relied on rain to irrigate their crops. So, they could do all of this hard work, but if there was a drought, their crops wouldn’t be able to survive. To be a farmer requires a deep sense of تَوَكُّل, tawakkul (reliance on Allah)

So, part of success is hard work, and a big part is also knowing that nothing happens without the will of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). That’s why when the muadhin tells us to come to salaah (prayer) and to come to success, we respond by saying: 

لَا حَوْلَ وَلَا قُوَّةَ إِلَّا بِٱللَّٰهِ‎

“There is no power nor strength except by Allah.”

We can only come to prayer and we can only achieve success if Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) wills it. The only thing in our control is the amount of effort we exert in the process. 

So, let’s be farmers; let us try our best to plant good seeds, water them, nourish them, and pray that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), places baraka (blessings) in all of our efforts! 

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The Slave Of Ar-Rahman : A Story Of Illness And Faith

Life is Life.

It is a battle against the sensory and base impulses that are within us all, manifesting at moments of trial, seeking to strip us of the innate serenity of Trust between us and The Almighty.  You hear the call to arms and rebellion in the invocation of our blessed Nabi ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him):

“I beg of You, My Lord, contentment – Ridaa – after fate strikes.”

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On occasion:

“O Allah, My Lord, I ask of You to grant me a tranquil soul that is faithful to the inevitability of meeting You, content with my destiny, and accepting of all that You have provided.”

To know Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is to accept.

To accept that all is from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

To accept that all is for Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

To accept that all is to return to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

A life-changing diagnosis

March 2018: I had relocated from NY to California’s Bay Area and was working as the Executive Chef at Google in Silicon Valley. My life had been truly blessed. I was a Muslim woman who had achieved an unparalleled level of success in a male-dominated industry. Worldly success was in the palm of my hand. I thought this was it; this is what life is about. But I was about to learn that I was a misguided soul, and that a meaningful purpose was amiss.

December 3 2018:

My 38th birthday. Another typical day at work, when my phone rang.

It was the doctor. She asked if I ever had ever had an abnormal Pap before. She said: “Ms. Agha, we got the results of your Pap smear, and it shows some atypical cells. I would not worry too much, but we need to do a colposcopy.”

I honestly did not know what she meant by ‘atypical cells’ or a ‘colposcopy.’ I did some research, which gave me numerous possible outcomes; one more scarier than the other. I tried to convince myself not to be a Google doctor and not to worry unless I had to.

January 22, 2019,

I had  the colposcopy. A week following the procedure, the doctor called. She was not too pleased with the result and wanted to schedule me for a more extensive biopsy called a cone biopsy.

February 14, 2019:

I had my my cone biopsy; an outpatient procedure under general anesthesia. All went well, minus some discomfort and pain, which is typical of a procedure like that. The procedure was on a Thursday, which meant I would not have any results until Monday the 18th at the earliest.

I tried not to be very concerned and tried to stay positive. I had read that this happens in many cases, but it turns out to be nothing. Besides, I had just turned 38. You do not expect something terrible may happen to you. I had youth on my side, and I was healthy and fit.

Back at work on a Monday -which is the most demanding and busiest day in my profession- and despite being preoccupied, I was very conscious of my phone. I remember looking at it several times to see if I had missed a call from the doctor. The day went by in complete silence, and that night was restless. The next ninety-six hours were uneasy because fear and anticipation had clouded my head. This urge to know, but all I could do was wait patiently.

February 22, 2019, 9:34 AM:

The phone rings. I was in the kitchen, and immediately I dropped everything and ran to my office to take the call.

Hello?

I could hear the distress in my doctor’s voice.  She said, “Ms. Agha, I am so sorry to tell you, but you have cervical cancer. We do not know what stage it is, but I am going to set you up with an oncologist.”

I got off the phone and slumped into my office chair. I heard what the doctor said clearly, but my brain was unable to process the information. The words were replaying in my head over and over and over again. You could say I was in a state of disbelief or even shock. I did not cry. I did not tell anyone. I took a deep breath, and because I was at work, continued to work.

The forty-eight hours after the call I spent in a daze. I went about my life like a robot, without being able to process anything. I had to work; I was the boss. The doctors had gone into what I like to call “beast mode.” They bombarded me with phone calls, consent forms, appointments for MRIs, CT scans, and insurance issues. Everything sounded like it was in a foreign language. In hindsight, I could have taken time off, but that was something I did not do. I would have to be on my death bed to call time off. I put a brave front and functioned, while the voice in my head kept saying. “I have cancer.” “I have cancer.” “I have cancer.”

By Friday, I had told two very close friends, one of whom is a doctor. Their reaction naturally was one of concern, coupled with a lot of hand-holding, and reassurances that I was courageous and was going to fight it. They understood the magnitude of my diagnosis, but I still did not quite comprehend it. You could say that there was some level of denial there. It felt like an out of body experience.

I had never really been a very emotional person. I had always been tough; the years of being strong had given me this resilience, which was my armor. I could not afford to be weak; I needed to adopt a more practical and logical approach if I was to fight this. Besides, at this point, I had not even told my mother. Who would support her if I was falling apart? Just the thought of her gave me more anxiety than the tumor growing inside me.

I was born and raised in a Muslim family. Unfortunately, like many families, the focus on Islam was limited. I was, however, fortunate that around 2013, I had slowly started to take an interest and was curious to learn about my true faith. At the time of my diagnosis, I was practicing; I prayed five times a day, fasted, had been for Umrah, took part in the necessary obligations that were expected of me—living an honest life striving to do the best. Thus far, this was my understanding of faith. I knew nothing different. What I was about to realize was that this was mere action. I had not been calling out to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) sincerely because I felt this distance from Him; there was this gap that needed to be bridged.

The Saturday after my diagnosis I was drinking my morning coffee when out of nowhere, my mind started to run a mile a minute. Thoughts of my diagnosis, realities of life, the purpose of life just started pouring in. I became incredibly aware of myself; conscious of this reality that was not on my radar before this moment.

You see, I walked this earth under the illusion that I have control of life, destiny. Until this moment, I had plans laid out, plans for promotions, a house, a car, and travel—an upward trajectory. Then I received that phone call, and in a blink of an eye, I had lost complete control of everything. The power of my youth, health, wealth, was all gone. I was insignificant, just so minuscule when it came to His decree. I came to realize that every moment we are alive, we are gasping for breath on life support machines. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) can pull that plug any second. I became conscious of the reality that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) was The One providing for me every moment. I did not earn any of this on my own, and none of this was something that I deserved. Humbled -the first crack in my armor-, I cried, ashamed, and remorseful to my Lord for my delusion. I cried, begging Him and praying to Him as I have never prayed before, feeling closer to Him like I have never felt before, pleading with Him to carry me through this battle and the unknown I was about to face.

Cancer was the catalyst, that was the beginning of an arduous journey, one filled with a whirlwind of complications and diagnosis one after the other. Every moment from this point was going be a lesson in life. Every moment was going to be humbling. Every moment was going to be one of gratitude. Every moment was going to enable me to earn the greatest treasure I could even earn, and that is humility and a closeness to my Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

Relinquishing Control

March 3, 2019:

The first appointment with the oncologist. I was anxious, eager to know what stage of cancer I had, desperate to know of a treatment plan. I felt like a blind person stumbling in the dark, looking for an answer, but it was not Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) Will that I find one that day. Unfortunately, my CT scan was inconclusive, and the sample of my cone biopsy was “too mushy” for the doctor to give me a staging. He said to come back, as he needed to speak to the tech. There was nothing I could do. I had to relinquish control and submit to Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) Will.

March 22, 2019:

I had my second appointment with the oncologist. By this point, my mother had been told and had flown into California. Having her there, seeing the fear on her face, the pain I felt in my heart to see her was more wearisome than cancer. I will never be blessed enough to know what a mother feels. That was not part of Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) plan for me. I would be wrong in saying that I can understand her pain. I can, however, say this: if I could have taken her pain away, I would have done anything to do that. We went to the doctor hoping for some answers, but again Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) had different plans. The doctor wanted to schedule me for another cone biopsy; the previous sample was inconclusive. To add to that, I could not have the second cone biopsy for another three weeks because I was still healing from the previous one.

It had been thirty days since my diagnosis, and I had to wait an additional three weeks for further testing. I did not know what stage it was, nor what my treatment plan was. All I knew was that I had cancer. These chain of events and the lack of control was a new reality. It was challenging, but Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) was also teaching me a valuable lesson. He was teaching me tawakkul by putting me in a position where I had no choice. The circumstances were forcing me into submission. I was facing my mortality, not knowing if I am going to live or die, having to give up my complete autonomy. You see,  Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) only wanted what is best for me. My cancer was a mercy to me. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) willed that through this; that I return to Him. That I seek the path that leads to His door. That I understand, and accept the divine decree, and focus my reliance on Him and only Him. All Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) wanted me to do was knock on His door and trust Him.

March 25, 2019:

I had an appointment with a surgeon in NY. My doctor in NY became privy of my diagnosis, and she urged me to get a second opinion. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is one of the top cancer institutes on the east coast. NY was my home as I had just recently moved to California. I put my trust in the All-Merciful. He is the only one I could call upon for support, and I gathered all my reports and flew into NY on that Sunday. The next morning was my appointment, and I was catching the evening flight back to California. Twenty-four hours was what I had. I met the doctor, and finally, alhamdulillah, there was light at the end of the tunnel. The doctor examined me, diagnosed me, gave me the staging of 1B2, and presented me with a treatment plan, all in a matter of a few hours.

Surgery and complications

My cancer required a three-pronged treatment plan, surgery, followed by some chemotherapy and radiation as a preventive measure. The doctor in NY had emphasized a sense of urgency.

Here I was back in California, packing up a house again, that I had just finished unpacking, not knowing if I will ever return. My belongings in storage, I was forced to go back to NY to fight this battle. No home of my own, no job, and worried about my finances, it was all overwhelming and lonely. It was terrifying how much of all of this was outside of my control. We do not pay attention to just how one little event can drastically and wholly change our entire life.

April 29, 2019:

Pre- Surgical testing

April 30, 2019:

PET Scan and MRI

May 6, 2019:

Follow up visit with the surgeon, followed by a lab visit, and ECG

Hospital visits were my new life; a life full of uncertainty, and moments where it felt like everything was falling apart. I did not recognize this life. To add to this, I wanted to keep a brave face because I was terrified for my mother. I was living in her home. I could not even cry or grieve. If I cracked who would console her?

May 7, 2019: I was scheduled for a radical hysterectomy (removal of the cervix and uterus). The goal was to try and save my ovaries and tubes because I was still young. It was a 4-hour procedure; another step into the unknown, presented with paperwork, DNR’s, and health care proxies. I was 38, but I needed a health care proxy! I picked my younger brother. My heart broke for him. He put on a brave face, but I could see the sadness in his big brown eyes. They took me in, and there I lay on that cold table, bright lights shining down on me, my lips moist with the Ayatul Kursi. Count back from ten, and I was asleep. As I came too, I remember looking up at the clock. I knew something was wrong. Even in my semi-conscious state, I knew that I had only been in surgery for two hours. The doctor came into the recovery room. He said that they had discovered that I had severe endometriosis, which had caused my organs to fuse into each other. There were no clean margins. If he had tried to cut it out, cancer could have spread to my entire body.

The irony is that the surgeon ended up doing a bi-lateral salpingo-oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries and tubes), deciding it was the best option to try and contain cancer from spreading. That night I lay in that hospital bed, nothing but the lights of the monitors connected to me. The voice in my head said: “They could not take it out. Not even a tiny bit of it. It is still inside me.” I began to think about my mother again and what this news meant to her. A sense of hopelessness overwhelmed me. It felt as though everything was spiraling out of control, and I was free-falling with no one to catch me. However, my inner voice called out to The One who put me in this difficulty, and I realized this difficulty as exhausting as it is, was to remind me fundamentally of who I am and who He is and what this world is. A reminder that I need to carry myself in an absolute state of trust and that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)  will see me through. That these events are in my best interest as the purpose is for me to gain a further closeness to Him.

Two types of radiation

May 16, 2019:

I was introduced to my radiation oncologist. The new plan involved eight weeks of chemotherapy and two types of radiation. Forty sessions of external, in which I was to lie on a table, and a machine would direct X-ray beams at the affected part of my body. Two sessions of high-dose-rate (HDR) brachytherapy, internal, in which radioactive materials would be inserted into my body. I was overcome with emotion, not wanting to cause my mother any more grief and cry in front of her; I excused myself and walked away, to try and gather myself. The description of the treatment just broke me. I stood in that hallway outside the room, helpless. I thought Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) was sending me hardship after hardship, and that nothing has gone right. I feared this was punishment for my transgressions. I turned back to Him penitent, drawing closer to Him than I had ever been, having moments of vulnerability, alone just Him and me, experiencing some of the sweetest moments of my entire life.

May 19, 2019:

The wound of my surgery had developed some drainage. The drainage started as a trickle in the morning. I put a paper towel there to collect the fluid. As the day progressed, the liquid increased. Paper towels were changed more frequently. I was trying to be secretive about it, and I did not want to stress out my mother. She was not dealing well with all of this. The liquid continued to increase, and eventually, I ended up calling the emergency at Memorial Sloan Kettering. It was a Sunday, which meant the clinics were closed. I had an appointment the next morning with my surgeon, so the doctor on call gave me the option to either come in or wait till the next morning. I opted to wait. The night was uncomfortable, and I could not lie for more than 15 – 20 minutes before I would have to change the paper towels out because they would get wet. I lay there at night contemplating; I was walking on this path of turmoil, surrounded by hardship, uncertainty, enduring difficulties, forced to be patient. I had plenty of people and support around me, but I was alone. No one understood me anymore. How could they? My cancer was my experience, not theirs.

May 20, 2019:

I had two appointments. The first one was with my surgeon, followed by a new doctor, my chemotherapist. By this point, I had an excessive amount of fluid draining from the site of my incision.  My surgeon examined it; he did not say much, but I could tell by his face that he was bothered. Right there, not even a moment to think, his nurses brought in sterile packaged instruments. The gave me some local anesthetic, and with a scalpel, while I was awake, he reopened my entire incision. It is burnt in my memory like it was yesterday, one of my nurses was holding my hand. I could not see what they were doing; I was not in pain, but I was completely conscious. It was a state of sheer terror, not because they were untrained or unprofessional, but the idea of what was happening to me was unnerving. I could feel my heart rate increase; my body, hands, and feet were perspiring profusely. The nurse was trying to converse with me to keep my preoccupied, but the only words on my lips and tongue were the remembrance of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

حَسْبُنَا اللَّهُ وَنِعْمَ الْوَكِيلُ

Hasbunallah wani’mal wakeel

A fair amount of fluid drained, and the diagnosis: I had a seroma (an accumulation of fluid that can occur after surgery). There is no treatment for a seroma other than patience. Here I was two weeks after surgery. I was supposed to get my stitches removed today, go home and take a nice shower today, but again that was not in Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) plan. It is astonishing how we take these little blessings for granted. There was an open incision across my stomach 8 inches wide and 4 inches deep. I had to have the wound cleaned with saline and packed with gauze at least twice a day. This wound was debilitating. No more stitches; we were going let nature takes its course to ensure the wound heals from the inside out. I was already helpless, I did not think I could be any more disabled, and now I faced this complication.

I had a level of comfort with my doctors and nurses at the hospital, but now I faced a new challenge. I had to have a home nurse come in twice a day to dress my wound. I tried it for the first week, and it was terrible. I did not want to be at the mercy of a stranger, sitting saturated with fluid through the night, waiting for the nurse to arrive in the morning before I could get any relief. I was having a different nurse come in each time. It might seem trivial, but when you are that broken, tired, and so sick, and your body is falling apart, these little things matter. You do not want some stranger touching you, dressing a wound that causes immense pain. Some of them just want to be in and out, lacking compassion for the patient. However, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) already knew that this is something that I would have difficulty with, so He made a way out for me—blessed me with the help of a true friend. The following week my doctors and nurses trained her in the process. No longer was I at the mercy of a stranger coming over twice a day to change my dressing. Here was ease, relief, mercy in my time of need sent in the form of someone I was comfortable with, someone I trust to care for me, to clean me, to dress my wounds, diligently day in and day out, with love, patience, and compassion. A force by my side day and night through every chemo, every radiation, every hospital visit and stay. Urging me on and dragging me to my appointments when I was just too tired to fight.

There was a two-week delay in starting radiation therapy. Once radiation and chemo begin, it slows down the body’s healing process. The doctors wanted my wound to start to heal before any of the treatments.

June 3, 2019:

The external radiation started; they would last ten minutes each. I requested they schedule me first thing in the morning. I was in and out in fifteen minutes every day. Monday through Friday, this was my routine. The process was physically painless, but emotionally it took a toll on me. I would lie there every day on my chest, this hard table, naked, with a big open wound. Nobody in there but me and Him, my eyes closed in constant remembrance.

June 6, 2019: Right after the radiation was my first chemotherapy, and it would be administered every Thursday following. The nurses had trouble finding a suitable vein. I was not surprised; I have had small veins since I was a young child. Finally, they managed to get an IV in, and I got my infusion, but my chemotherapist set me with an appointment for a PICC line to help with future treatments. It had been a long day. My body was exhausted, but my mind was awake because of the steroids they gave me before chemo. It felt like torture. All I wanted to do was sleep, but the steroids had me so stimulated I could not bring myself to sleep.

June 8, 2019:

As the anti-nausea began to wear off, the effects of the chemotherapy started to kick in. I felt ill, dry heaving and vomiting, loss of appetite, exhaustion, mouth sores, slowly my body was disintegrating. I experienced the same side effects every week, becoming more and more aggressive and tiresome as the weeks progressed. It was like clockwork.

One of the many side effects of this chemotherapy is a loss of hearing. I had to have a regular hearing test; my ears would ring at odd hours. As the weeks progressed, my health started to decline. I could no longer sit in salat, let alone stand in salat. I would start retching in between, hoping I could just push through two rakat without having to start again. Sometimes I could not even make it to the bathroom. I used hospital vomit bags in bed. The radiation was starting to do its damage as well, and it was affecting my bowels, a constant upset stomach. I was unable to eat anything; my mouth would bleed from the sores. I was always fatigued, lost control of my bladder. My body was slowly disintegrating from all the poisonous chemicals. I was ailing, had no strength, queasy all the time,—a large open wound across my stomach, a PICC line in my right arm. I just wanted to close my eyes and sleep, but I could not lie comfortably. Very slowly withering away. All that was left were my tears, my supplication, and repentance, acknowledging Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) magnificence as I remembered Him.

June 26, 2019, and July 3, 2019:

Two of the most debilitating days of my treatment were the days I had the brachytherapy. The procedure done under general anesthesia involved the radiation oncologist placing a cervical stent attached to an applicator (two metal rods), used to deliver internal radiation. Following the procedure, they took me to my room. Here I had to lie still on my back; I could not move my legs; I could not sit or stand. I was only allowed to raise my head of the bed a little bit, about 20 degrees. I had to patiently endure this until they removed the applicator the following day. For the treatments, my bed was moved from my room to the Brachytherapy Suite, Radiation Oncology department. Here the applicator was connected to a machine. This machine then delivered tiny radioactive pellets into my body. We did this twice. I do not think I could have done it a third time. I did not even want to go the second time.

These two sessions were physically exhausting, but the effect that it had on my self-esteem, my sense of security. Each time was dehumanizing, heart-wrenching, and painful. There is no dignity in illness. Health is the greatest blessing from our Creator, and we take it for granted.

I was exhausted physically and mentally—my body ravaged by illness and chemotherapy. I did not have a home of my own; I had no job. There are no words that can do justice to how broken I was. I was not afraid to die anymore; I was afraid that I would die without earning complete forgiveness, which made me supplicate more. I held on to the dua of Ayub 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him):

 أَنِّي مَسَّنِيَ الضُّرُّ وَأَنتَ أَرْحَمُ الرَّاحِمِينَ

Annee massaniya alddurru waanta arhamu alrrahimeen

October 10, 2019:

My Pet scan showed I was cancer-free.

January 2019:

My wound from my surgery had finally closed.

February 6, 2020:

My MRI showed I was cancer-free.

This battle has not left me weak, defeated, or helpless. I learned to trust Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), never to concede or be defeated. I learned how to call upon Him, knowing that He loves me and loves to hear from me. I learned to put the highest level of trust in my relationship with Him while engaging in patience. I learned to be strong in my faith, in my body, my spirit, resilience to all that is around me. I learned piety, to be God-conscious, to walk a new path where I abandon all that is displeasing to Him, striving to earn His love.

I pray Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) enables me to never compromise my love for Him.

To make me beloved to Him in my repentance and allow me to reach better states of His love.

To make my weakness a reason for strength, being strong in every way possible, and to use this strength and this second chance at life he has given me, justly in the cause and the benefit of others.

Ameen

This article was checked and guided by Sh Yahya Ibrahim

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#Islam

Principles of Success from Surah Al-Mu’minoon

Success; something which everyone desires. There has not been a person who has walked the face of this Earth, or who will come to this dunya except that they spent their life striving for success. What is success, however? We all have our very own perception of success. If you ask people “what is success to you?”, you will receive varied responses. For some, success is doing well in education, whilst for others, it is about excelling in one’s career. For some, success is driving a nice car, having a beautiful spouse, lovely children, a spacious dwelling etc. People have various perceptions of success. As Muslims, we must know and acknowledge that our religion has provided clarification for everything that we need to know. There is no issue that we will come across within our life, from the time we came out of the wombs of our mothers till we reach that grave, except that the shari’ah has provided some sort of guidelines for it. So, do you think that the religion of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will leave out this imperative issue that is at the forefront of every mind?

Without a doubt, the greatest form of success is earning the pleasure of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)  as Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says in Surah Ali ‘Imran:

فَمَن زُحْزِحَ عَنِ النَّارِ وَأُدْخِلَ الْجَنَّةَ فَقَدْ فَازَ ۗ

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“…so the one who is saved from the Fire and admitted to Paradise has truly succeeded…” [185]

Having relief from the anger of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), and achieving His mercy will be the only form of success in the akhirah. But that having been said, our religion is one which is comprehensive, and for that reason, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) knows that we will still crave success and have various perceptions of it within this dunya. There is nothing wrong with aiming for a top position that will accelerate your career, or working hard to earn a six-figure income; rather we are encouraged to excel and seek success within this dunya, but on the condition that we do not sacrifice the akhirah. From the mercy of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is that he Has never left us abandoned. He has revealed the shari’ah in order for us to know how to achieve success in the akhirah, but is that it? If that is the perception you have of the Qur’an and Sunnah; that it is only a source of guidance for our religious affairs, then know that Islam is more than that. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has not only given us the guidelines for achieving success in the akhirah, but he has also provided us with principles of success pertaining to the dunya. The Book of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is filled with gems and treasurers; it only requires us to analyse His verses carefully in order to extract those principles. The Qur’an will not give you details of a specific issue, but rather the Qur’an will give guidelines and principles, thus making it miraculously pertinent to every single time and era. The Sunnah of our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) will then go into detail and provide commentary on those guidelines and principles.

Within this article, I aim to highlight a number of principles contained within Surah Al-Mu’minun (Chapter 23 of the Qur’an) that can aid a person in their striving for success. These golden principles are generic (as mentioned before regarding the principles and guidelines contained within the Qur’an); what I deem success to be will probably be different to what you portray success as, and so from the beauty of these principles is that they can be applied to whatever worldly pursuit you have.

Principle 1: The desire for success

For a person to achieve success, they need to passionately desire it. If you force your child to study something they do not like, they may not do well in it because there is no motivation there. However, when a person puts their mind to something and has that passion, the desire for success kicks in. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) gives us a beautiful portrayal by describing paradise; but not just any level of paradise, but Al-Firdous: the highest level of paradise that will be inherited by a selected few. This mention of Al-Firdous is given here for us to have that desire to achieve the greatest form success within whatever mission we are open to,  making sure it is a halal path. Yes, even though everyone will not enter Al-Firdous, we should still aim for it, as having it as a goal builds our level of optimism, and our aspirations become robust. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:

“Paradise has one hundred grades, each of which is as big as the distance between heaven and earth. The highest of them is Al-Firdous and the best of them is Al-Firdous. The Throne is above Al-Firdous, and from it springs forth the rivers of paradise. If you ask of Allah, ask Him for Al-Firdous” [Sunan Ibn Majah No. 4331]

Principle 2: Realize how much time you have

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mentions the creation and the demise of the human being within a few verses to show how short this worldly life is:

وَلَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ مِن سُلَالَةٍ مِّن طِينٍ

And certainly did We create man from an extract of clay.”

ثُمَّ جَعَلْنَاهُ نُطْفَةً فِي قَرَارٍ مَّكِينٍ

“Then We placed him as a sperm-drop in a firm lodging.”

ثُمَّ خَلَقْنَا النُّطْفَةَ عَلَقَةً فَخَلَقْنَا الْعَلَقَةَ مُضْغَةً فَخَلَقْنَا الْمُضْغَةَ عِظَامًا فَكَسَوْنَا الْعِظَامَ لَحْمًا ثُمَّ أَنشَأْنَاهُ خَلْقًا آخَرَ ۚ فَتَبَارَكَ اللَّـهُ أَحْسَنُ الْخَالِقِينَ

“Then We made the sperm-drop into a clinging clot, and We made the clot into a lump [of flesh], and We made [from] the lump, bones, and We covered the bones with flesh; then We developed him into another creation. So blessed is Allah, the best of creators.”

ثُمَّ إِنَّكُم بَعْدَ ذَٰلِكَ لَمَيِّتُونَ

“Then indeed, after that you are to die.”

ثُمَّ إِنَّكُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ تُبْعَثُونَ

“Then indeed you, on the Day of Resurrection, will be resurrected.”

[Surah Al-Mu’minun; 12-16]

The objective here is to encourage us to be productive, efficient, and not lazy. By procrastinating, your motivation weakens, and as a result, your objective for success begins to die out. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mentions procrastination and laziness only twice in the Qur’an, and both references are pertaining to the hypocrites! The believer is the one who is always weary of their time and strives to make the most of it.

Principle 3: Remember Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) through the magnificence of his creation

In the next passage of this Surah, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) makes mention of some of His greatest creations and signs. When treading the path of success, ensure that you remember Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and take those practical means that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has created and provided for you in your conquest for success. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says:

هُوَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ لَكُم مَّا فِي الْأَرْضِ جَمِيعًا

“It is He who created for you all of that which is on the Earth.” [Surah Al-Baqarah; 29]

Principle 4: People will try to put you down

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) within the next passage narrates for us the stories of four of the previous Prophets who came before our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him); Nuh, Hud, Musa and Isa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him). Even though their stories are mentioned in other places within the Qur’an, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) links these four stories by mentioning that when all of these four prophets came to their people and gave them da’wah, they mocked them and said “you are only men”.

Regarding prophet Nuh 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says:

فَقَالَ الْمَلَأُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا مِن قَوْمِهِ مَا هَـٰذَا إِلَّا بَشَرٌ مِّثْلُكُمْ يُرِيدُ أَن يَتَفَضَّلَ عَلَيْكُمْ وَلَوْ شَاءَ اللَّـهُ لَأَنزَلَ مَلَائِكَةً مَّا سَمِعْنَا بِهَـٰذَا فِي آبَائِنَا الْأَوَّلِينَ

“But the eminent among those who disbelieved from his people said, ‘This is not but a man like yourselves who wishes to take precedence over you; and if Allah had willed [to send a messenger], He would have sent down angels. We have not heard of this among our forefathers.”

إِنْ هُوَ إِلَّا رَجُلٌ بِهِ جِنَّةٌ فَتَرَبَّصُوا بِهِ حَتَّىٰ حِينٍ

He is not but a man possessed with madness, so wait concerning him for a time.’” [24-25]

Then regarding prophet Hud 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says:

وَقَالَ الْمَلَأُ مِن قَوْمِهِ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا وَكَذَّبُوا بِلِقَاءِ الْآخِرَةِ وَأَتْرَفْنَاهُمْ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا مَا هَـٰذَا إِلَّا بَشَرٌ مِّثْلُكُمْ يَأْكُلُ مِمَّا تَأْكُلُونَ مِنْهُ وَيَشْرَبُ مِمَّا تَشْرَبُونَ

“And the eminent among his people who disbelieved and denied the meeting of the Hereafter while We had given them luxury in the worldly life said, This is not but a man like yourselves. He eats of that from which you eat and drinks of what you drink.”

وَلَئِنْ أَطَعْتُم بَشَرًا مِّثْلَكُمْ إِنَّكُمْ إِذًا لَّخَاسِرُونَ

“And if you should obey a man like yourselves, indeed, you would then be losers.” [33-34]

Thereafter, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)says about Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and Harun 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him):

ثُمَّ أَرْسَلْنَا مُوسَىٰ وَأَخَاهُ هَارُونَ بِآيَاتِنَا وَسُلْطَانٍ مُّبِينٍ

“Then We sent Moses and his brother Aaron with Our signs and a clear authority”

إِلَىٰ فِرْعَوْنَ وَمَلَئِهِ فَاسْتَكْبَرُوا وَكَانُوا قَوْمًا عَالِينَ

“To Pharaoh and his establishment, but they were arrogant and were a haughty people.”

فَقَالُوا أَنُؤْمِنُ لِبَشَرَيْنِ مِثْلِنَا وَقَوْمُهُمَا لَنَا عَابِدُونَ

“They said, ‘Should we believe two men like ourselves while their people are for us in servitude?’” [45-47]

There will be people who will work hard to put you down. Know, that even though those who love you will only want the best for you, there will be people who will try to put you down because of the jealousy and hatred they have within themselves. There will be people on your path who will not want you to succeed and thus, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) highlights this here in the Surah. However, through mentioning these stories of these previous prophets, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) also wants us to know that even if everyone is against us, if he wants success to come us, it will surely be delivered!

Principle 5: Seek protection from Shaytan

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) warns us time and time again within the Qur’an, of the tricks and traps of Shaytan. Our human bodies have been designed to detect danger; there is a part of the brain known as the amygdala that is programmed by the grace of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) to detect danger. For instance, when you smell gas in your home, or when your young child lets go of your hand whilst walking down a busy street, you will automatically detect danger. But as for the Shaytan, the amygdala cannot detect this danger and so Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) warns us time and time again within His speech, because the traps of Shaytan come in steps and are subtle. You may have your noble goal of success, however, Shaytan will come and try to distract you, cause you to procrastinate, or lead you astray. But from the mercy of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is that not only has He warned us from Shaytan and his allies, He has also mentioned a supplication from within Surah Al-Mu’minun that we can use for ourselves and children to supplicate to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) for protection:

وَقُل رَّبِّ أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْ هَمَزَاتِ الشَّيَاطِينِ

“And say, ‘My Lord, I seek refuge in You from the incitements of the devils,”

وَأَعُوذُ بِكَ رَبِّ أَن يَحْضُرُونِ

“And I seek refuge in You, my Lord, lest they be present with me.’” [97-98]

If Allah, Al-Muhaymin (The Protector) wishes to protect you with his divine protection, who is there that can harm you?

Principle 6: Stay on the Path of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)

The final principle highlighted in Surah Al-Mu’minun is knowing the path of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). That is why in this last passage of this beautiful Surah, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) distinguishes the believers from the disbelievers and ultimately what their final fate will be:

فَمَن ثَقُلَتْ مَوَازِينُهُ فَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ

“And those whose scales are heavy [with good deeds] – it is they who are the successful.”

وَمَنْ خَفَّتْ مَوَازِينُهُ فَأُولَـٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ خَسِرُوا أَنفُسَهُمْ فِي جَهَنَّمَ خَالِدُونَ

“But those whose scales are light – those are the ones who have lost their souls, [being] in Hell, abiding eternally.”

تَلْفَحُ وُجُوهَهُمُ النَّارُ وَهُمْ فِيهَا كَالِحُونَ

“The Fire will sear their faces, and they therein will have taut smiles.”

أَلَمْ تَكُنْ آيَاتِي تُتْلَىٰ عَلَيْكُمْ فَكُنتُم بِهَا تُكَذِّبُونَ

“[It will be said], ‘Were not My verses recited to you and you used to deny them?’”

قَالُوا رَبَّنَا غَلَبَتْ عَلَيْنَا شِقْوَتُنَا وَكُنَّا قَوْمًا ضَالِّينَ

They will say, ‘Our Lord, our wretchedness overcame us, and we were a people astray.”

رَبَّنَا أَخْرِجْنَا مِنْهَا فَإِنْ عُدْنَا فَإِنَّا ظَالِمُونَ

“Our Lord, remove us from it, and if we were to return [to evil], we would indeed be wrongdoers.’”

قَالَ اخْسَئُوا فِيهَا وَلَا تُكَلِّمُونِ

“He will say, ‘Remain despised therein and do not speak to Me.”

إِنَّهُ كَانَ فَرِيقٌ مِّنْ عِبَادِي يَقُولُونَ رَبَّنَا آمَنَّا فَاغْفِرْ لَنَا وَارْحَمْنَا وَأَنتَ خَيْرُ الرَّاحِمِينَ

“Indeed, there was a party of My servants who said, ‘Our Lord, we have believed, so forgive us and have mercy upon us, and You are the best of the merciful.’”

فَاتَّخَذْتُمُوهُمْ سِخْرِيًّا حَتَّىٰ أَنسَوْكُمْ ذِكْرِي وَكُنتُم مِّنْهُمْ تَضْحَكُونَ

“But you took them in mockery to the point that they made you forget My remembrance, and you used to laugh at them.”

إِنِّي جَزَيْتُهُمُ الْيَوْمَ بِمَا صَبَرُوا أَنَّهُمْ هُمُ الْفَائِزُونَ

“Indeed, I have rewarded them this Day for their patient endurance – that they are the attainers [of success].” [102-111]

What is the point of succeeding in this temporary worldly life and then being from amongst those whom Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) does not even talk to the on the Day of Judgement? This final principle culminates our whole life and existence: regardless of your worldly pursuit of success, do not forget the greatest goal or objective of this worldly life; to earn the pleasure of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and attain his salvation.

 

I ask Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) with His mighty names and lofty attributes that He fulfils all of our aspirations, goals and objectives. May He allow us to truly understand the Qur’an and grant us success in the hereafter by giving us salvation from the fire of hell.

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