What is true success? A Quranic explanation and how Allah explains it.

Successful business man with a trophy

Ultimate success

In the Quran, a carpenter is mentioned. Habeeb was his name. He had converted to Islam after visiting their town with Muslim missionaries. He made plans to accompany them after learning that his people from the recess had rejected the missionaries and were instead embracing Islam like he had done.

His declaration incensed the villagers, who attacked him and killed him. He screamed, “Ah me! Would that my people knew. For that my Lord has granted me forgiveness and has enrolled me among those held in honor!”

So did the carpenter attain ultimate success and his people were eventually destroyed by a mighty blast. They lost all they had labored to amass and lost eternal bliss: (36:13-29).

What is success?

One wonders if achievement ever has value in people's lives in a nation where corruption and impunity, prostitution and infidelity, greed and brutality, carelessness and poverty are the norm. Everyone aspires to be successful, but not everyone will actually achieve it. That is due to the fact that not everyone is aware of what success is.

What then is success?

Success from the Islamic perspective can be defined as a beneficial accomplishment. It is a remarkable achievement which benefits the achiever and benefits others here or hereafter. A distinction should always be made between an achievement or accomplishment and success. Success is a profitable achievement. Success in itself is not success until it is beneficial. Success must have a positive impact.

The Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) once said about AbdurRahman bin ‘Awf, “What a remarkable achievement: a righteous man blessed with lawful wealth.”

While wealth without holiness could lead to calamity, wealth with righteousness is prosperity since it would be used to do helpful things. Illegally obtained wealth is never a success. It is rather a failure in disguise.

The Prophet had said, “I was shown the Paradise, behold, most of the people inside are the poor.”

Wealth could be of possessions, knowledge, influence, experience and beauty. Each of these types of riches has the potential to be used for good or for evil. Therefore, until they are profitable and the means of achieving them are pure, our success in them cannot be considered.

About some people, Allah says, “Do not let their possessions or their children impress you: through these Allah only intends to punish them in this world and for their souls to depart while they disbelieve,” (9:55)

So wealth and children of the unbelievers will certainly become a source of punishment for them because of their infidelity to Allah even though those unbelievers would always see those possessions as success.

Success must be inclusive, transitive

Islam wants us to take a holistic approach to life. Every aspect of life works to complement and perfect the other. Such should be success. A person who is successful at work and is not successful in the family is not successful.

His failure in the family could cause him stress which will later affect his quality of work. They won’t be happy. And can there be success without happiness and fulfillment in your home? Your family is your life. It is your real world. It is here you build your future. You labour to build it and sustain it. No place like home.

Problems have always arisen between couples when there is no money to meet the basic needs. Likewise, one suffers stress when one is not fulfilled at his job. Stressors generally have a negative impact on health and behavior. How can success have meaning with ill-health and disorderly behavior?

Life is meant to be lived and explored.

Allah says, “It is He who created all that is on the earth for you…” (2:29)

It is recklessness to abandon to pursue spiritual growth because of material pursuit, as it is a forbidden asceticism to abandon the world and its enjoyment because of spirituality. Both should be pursued with tenacity and healthy competition. So, true success requires some balance in our life.

Allah says, “Children of Adam, dress well whenever you are at worship, eat and drink [as We have permitted] but do not be extravagant: Allah does not like extravagant people. Say [Prophet], ‘Who has forbidden the adornment and the nourishment Allah has provided for His servants?’ Say, ‘They are [allowed] for those who believe during the life of this world: they will be theirs alone on the Day of Resurrection.’ This is how We make Our revelation clear for those who understand. Say, ‘My Lord only forbids disgraceful deeds – whether they be open or hidden – and sin and unjustified aggression, and that you, without His sanction, associate things with Him, and that you say things about Him without knowledge. There is a time set for every people: they cannot hasten it, nor, when it comes, will they be able to delay it for a single moment.” (7:31-34)

A person who is successful at work and in the family is not really successful if he is at odd with his Lord.

Allah has created everything in pairs: male and female, right and wrong, day and night, happiness and sorrow, up and down, right and left, and this world and the Hereafter. It would be foolhardy to attain the best of this world and call it success while one is oblivious or negligent to his purpose of life and the primary assignment on earth which is to worship Allah through Islam.

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