At one point in your life you have probably been part of or used the services of an ‘Islamic Organisation’. By this I mean, a mosque, madrasah, Muslim school, youth club, ISOC, professional organisation, da‘wah organisation or a charity. And you’ve probably heard or done your fair bit of complaining about any one of the above.
Something that may have irked and puzzled you at times is the rivalry that exists between different organisations that seem to be working for the same cause. Sometimes it can extend to downright insults and attacks and at other times it is much more subtle. Our standards are much higher than theirs, our shaykh has more ijāzahs than theirs, if their Masjid has heated floors then our toilets will have marble flooring, if they ordered their tiles from Dubai, we will order ours from China. (Whether the mosque is accommodating the needs of the local community or the youth is of course not relevant)
Surah al-Takāthur grabs the attention of the listener by its powerful opening: “Fierce competition distracts you, until you visit the graves.” Scholars have mentioned that the object of what humans ‘compete’ in has been left unmentioned. This is in order to indicate that everything human beings compete in, from wealth and children to strength and status is included in this. Everything that one competes in for other than Allah’s sake is condemned in this ayah. However, competing with fellow Muslims in striving for the good and achieving Allah’s pleasure is commendable. This can be seen in the incident in which the great companion ‘Umar tried to outdo Abu Bakr by giving half of his wealth to charity.
Similarly, the Prophet (peace be upon him) urged his companions to be competitive when he said: “Should I teach you something with which you can catch up with those who have gone ahead of you and outstrip those who are behind you and none will be better than you except the one who does as you do?’ They said: ‘Yes! O Messenger of Allah!’ He said: ‘You should glorify Allah, exalt him and praise Him 33 times at the end of every prayer.” (Muslim) When being competitive leads to Muslims excelling and performing outstandingly (ihsān) in obedience to Allah, this is positive competition. Al-Hasan al-Basri prudently said: “If someone vies with you in your religion, you must vie with him; and if someone vies with you in this worldly life, then leave it to him.”
What becomes problematic is when we compete for the dunyā under the guise of competing/working for the deen. When we start thinking it is more important to satiate our egotistical needs instead of the needs of other people and Allah’s deen, our problems become colossal. Boasting, having pride in achievements and not attributing them to Allah, envy, malice and backbiting corrupt our efforts. We delude ourselves into thinking we are working for Allah, but we forget the essence of Islam, the basis of faith and the foundation of one’s personality: sincerity.
Working and volunteering for an ‘Islamic organisation’ may make one more vulnerable to this, as for example the mutual rivalry of wealth, condemned by the Qur’ān is more easily gaugeable than condemned rivalry and its negative effects, when one is engaged in matters of the deen. A question we have to introspectively engage in daily is: are we really doing it for the sake of Allah?
Muslims and Muslim organisations need to collaborate and work together to continue working for the deen. Diversity definitely adds to the quality, and it’s a beautiful thing but collaborating in order to avoid repeating work that’s already been done and instead further developing it seems like the smarter option. For example, if a youth club exists in one Masjid, why not open doors and share the expertise and resources with another Masjid, and there will be plenty of opportunities for healthy competition later e.g. a football tournament. Or similarly, if a madrasah exerts great effort into making learning a relevant and enjoyable experience for children and revamp the syllabus why not share that with other madrasahs and share the khayr (good)?
The above may sound simplistic and to some, even naïve. Yet the challenges we face as a community are great and openheartedly sharing and working in partnership with ‘competitors’ to achieve greater benefit in our self-aggrandising ‘iTimes’ is actually an apt litmus test of sincerity. Let us remind each other of why we’re here, not lose sight of what we’re doing and stay in focus by keeping the bigger picture in mind.
Let us move from competition which diverts us from our true purpose in life to cooperative competition; where we cooperate in doing good and compete in good deeds. And let our inspiration in all of this be: ‘Cooperate in doing good and piety, but do not cooperate in sin and aggression.’ and ‘Vie with one another for your Lord’s forgiveness and a Garden as wide as the heavens and earth, prepared for those who believe in God and His messengers: that is God’s bounty, which He bestows on whoever He pleases. God’s bounty is infinite.’
O Allah, purify our intentions and deeds and let us appreciate You how you deserve to be appreciated.