Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim said:
“High aspiration is when one’s soul does not stop until it reaches Allāh, and when it finds no replacement to Him, and when it never accepts anything other than Him.”
What is success?
As human beings, we are innately programmed to think of materialistic possessions and goals when thinking of success. It may be having the perfect job, the biggest house, the nicest car, or the number of academic degrees. But, as Muslims, viewing life through the lens of the hereafter, view success in a slightly different light.
Allāh tells us what success is in the Qur’ān:
كُلُّ نَفْسٍ ذَائِقَةُ الْمَوْتِ وَإِنَّمَا تُوَفَّوْنَ أُجُورَكُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ فَمَن زُحْزِحَ عَنِ النَّارِ وَأُدْخِلَ الْجَنَّةَ فَقَدْ فَازَ وَمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا مَتَاعُ الْغُرُورِ
“Every soul will taste death, and you will only be given your full compensation on the Day of Resurrection. So, he who is drawn away from the Fire and admitted to Paradise has attained his desire. And what is the life of this world except the enjoyment of delusion.”
In a general sense, success is to belittle every obstacle that stands between you and your objective. In our case, this means not letting anything stop you from getting closer to Jannah, whether that is illness, marriage, divorce, or anything else.
Being successful is what everyone – human, jinn, and animal alike – strives for, but it is not the outcome that everyone achieves. It will only be on the Day of Judgement, where we will be given the final result of our life exam, and learn accordingly, whether we are from the successful or not.
What is a vision?
According to Stanley K. Ridgley, a vision is an “articulation of a powerful, achievable, and motivating stretch goal”. There is no one-size-fits-all route to success. By the mercy of Allāh, the paths to Paradise are many. Ibn Taymiyyah said:
“People differ in this regard. From amongst people, some find knowledge easier than zuhd, some find zuhd easier than ‘ilm, and some find ‘ibādah easier than both of them. What is prescribed (mashrū’) is that everyone acts according to what they are capable of goodness based on the verse, “Have taqwa of Allāh as much as you are able.” So when the branches of faith become crowded, a person proceeds with what is most pleasing to God by acting according to what he is most capable.”
The fruits of this statement can be contextualised in the time of Imam Malik, who was once questioned why he occupied himself in circles of knowledge and not in other aspects of Islam. Imam Malik responded by saying:
“Certainly, Allāh has divided good actions like he has divided His providence (rizq). It may be that prayer has been facilitated for a person but fasting has not. Another person may have a tendency for charity but not fasting… And I am happy with what Allāh has facilitated for me (in the pursuit of knowledge). I do not think what I am focused on is lower than what you are focused on. Rather, I hope that we are both upon goodness and righteousness.”
Therefore, to ask Allāh to facilitate a path of goodness for eternal success, we need to first think and ask ourselves: what do I want to meet Allāh having achieved?
We have learnt what a vision is not. It is not a mission statement or a strategy, nor is it a goal or an objective. Take the example of building of a mosque. Although this is a highly rewardable and encouraged gesture, it is not a vision in and of itself. It is one part of an overall vision. Once the building of the mosque is complete, there are no more steps to take besides moving onto another mosque construction project. On the other hand, raising pious children is a vision – and an extremely noble vision at that – that a person can continue doing for years and years.
How do we create a vision?
In order to decide on your vision, there are two approaches you can take: the ‘top-down’ or the ‘bottom-up’ method.
The top-down method is where you spend a few days reflecting on your skills, relationships, networks and passions, and then aim to formulate a clear, powerful vision that will drive you for the rest of your life. Whereas the bottom up method is where you are “socially productive” in many areas until you find its focus, almost like a young teenager completing his or her work experience in different fields before homing in on the career pathway for them.
While a bottom-up method will work for some people, I would recommend that it is better to try the top-down method first. Using this method, focus on:
- Doing things you can actually do (not always thinking about the things in your way)
- Taking control of your decisions
- Gaining knowledge and skills
- Having a positive outlook.
Once you have outlined your overall vision, you can then break this up into all the main areas of your life, such as family, career, spiritual needs, and educational needs. Under these categories, give yourself objectives. Under objectives, give yourself milestones. Finally, under milestones, give yourself tasks that should all lead back to the overall vision.
There are many quizzes you can do to find out more about yourself to help streamline your vision-finding process. An example of a personality traits quiz can be found here.
Procrastinating and things getting in the way of our vision
It is often called the fear of success; the cousin of failure; the thief of time. Procrastination is a rising epidemic that results in the postponement of a task you need to complete in order to achieve a goal. What can we do to fight distractions? The most important thing is to drop the perfectionist within you. Criticising yourself simply because you cannot do something perfectly does not mean you should not do it all or do it well. Forgive yourself when you procrastinate, because hanging onto the guilt of lost time is not going to bring it back.
As Umar b. al-Khattab said:
“No amount of guilt can change the past, and no amount of worrying can change the future.”
Set yourself 5 minutes for you to do a task. Not only is it good to do things shortly and often, it will also help encourage you to do them for longer once you have started. Depending on the kind of person you are and your motivations, it will either be easier to do the hardest task first (so you can get it out of the way) or the easiest task first (as it is usually the most enjoyable one). In any case, do whichever one works for you as a person, but ensure you stick to it.
The Qur’ān and Sunnah on productivity
There are three important things to remember when it comes to productivity:
One of the greatest examples of beaming sincerity in our dīn was demonstrated by the illustrious Imam Malik. During his time, there were countless different types of Muwaṭṭaʾ that were being authored. Imam Malik was asked by a group of people: “You have troubled yourself so much by compiling this book, but so many other scholars have compiled similar ones!” Imam Malik replied: “You shall soon find out which of these works was produced for the sake of Allāh.” Hundreds of years later, amidst all the types of Muwaṭṭaʾ that were compiled, it is only the Muwaṭṭaʾ of Imam Malik that is recognised and referenced today.
Time is a valuable commodity that we cannot get back – do not ever let the angels stop building your Jannah by wasting it.
The Prophet Muhammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
“There are two blessings that many people waste: health and free time.”
Allāh says in the Qur’ān:
وَاتْلُ عَلَيْهِمْ نَبَأَ ابْنَيْ آدَمَ بِالْحَقِّ إِذْ قَرَّبَا قُرْبَانًا فَتُقُبِّلَ مِنْ أَحَدِهِمَا وَلَمْ يُتَقَبَّلْ مِنَ الْآخَرِ قَالَ لَأَقْتُلَنَّكَ قَالَ إِنَّمَا يَتَقَبَّلُ اللَّهُ مِنَ الْمُتَّقِينَ
“And recite to them the story of Adam’s two sons, in truth, when they both offered a sacrifice [to Allāh], and it was accepted from one of them but was not accepted from the other. [The latter] said, “I will surely kill you.” [The former] said, “Indeed, Allāh only accepts from the righteous [who fear Him].”
From this verse, we know that Allāh only accepts from the people of taqwa. Henceforth, we need to strive to be people whom Allāh loves.
Habits of a productive person
- Cut your to-do list in half – prioritise the key points you need in order to reach your vision
- Take more breaks – this will keep you energised and focused on your goal
- Use your morning to focus on yourself – spend your morning focusing on what will make you productive that day. This may be reading the Qur’ān, having a shower, or whatever else works for you. Do not start your day by checking your missed calls and emails straight away
- Create a system – putting things into place makes for time efficiency later on. This may be in the form of categorising your emails, as well as having your things ready the night before to start the day in the best way, among many other things
- Stop multitasking – there is no one who can truly multitask. When you do, one task will always be at the detriment of another. Just focus on one thing at a time.
Helps you rely more on Allāh
When you have a clear goal you want to attain, you are more likely to make du’ā for it. When something goes wrong, you are more likely to understand that it is from the qadr of Allāh. Du’ā and an understanding of qadr will help you trust that whatever happens, you can continuously strive towards your vision rather than become demotivated and give up when things go wrong. Remember, people look at your results, but Allāh looks at your efforts!
Helps you overcome desires and Satan
Have you ever had doubts about your intentions for a certain action? Have you wished you had a purer intention for a worldly desire? Understanding what your vision is and being productive towards it can clarify these deceptive thoughts by allowing you to focus on the things that are truly beneficial.
Less distracted from meaningless pursuits
Be honest: how much of our daily life is spent checking unnecessary emails, talking in overly long phone calls, or binge-watching unhealthy amounts of television? By truly knowing what your vision is, you are able to focus every single aspect of your waking hours to see whether your intentions and actions coincide with your vision, or whether you are just wasting time on things that are not going to get you any closer to your goals.
Knowing what you want to have achieved before you meet Allāh in the next life can give you a sense of direction in this life, which will only make you a more productive person, in shā Allāh.
Based on a seminar delivered by Sabeel. Visit sabeel.org.uk to find out more about their seminars and retreats.
 Al-Qur’ān, 3:185
 Al-Qur’ān, 64:16
 Majmū’ Al-Fatāwa, vol. 6, pp. 651-652.
 Al-Dhahabi, Siyar Al-Nubala
 Al-Tamhīd by Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr
 Al-Qur’ān, 5:27