Part 1 | Part 2
Quality 2: Vision
A vision can be defined as an introspective reflection in which we ask ourselves, ‘Where do I want to go? What do I want to do? What do I want to see?’ In our day-to-day lived reality, having a vision means living a life of purpose.
Companies might define vision as an aspirational description of what an organisation aims to accomplish in the mid- or long-term future. In this case, the company’s vision provides a distinct picture of the organisation’s purpose and direction. Many discussions around vision are centred around organisations, with very little attention given to the vision of individuals aside from their business life. We must avoid this pattern, as life is not limited to achievements in business or purely materialistic gains. Achievement encompasses much more than this, and this is particularly the case within the Islamic framework where our current lives are considered nothing but preparation for the next and real life.
The Importance of Vision
It is amazing to see how much emphasis the Qur’an places on the importance of vision.
“For indeed, it is not eyes that are blinded, but blinded are the hearts which are within the breasts”
This means that the blind person is not the one whose eyes cannot see, but rather who has no insight. Even if the physical eyes are sound, they still cannot learn lessons.
It may come as a surprise to some to read that something very similar was said by Helen Keller (d. 1968), an American author, disability rights advocate, political activist, and lecturer who lost her sight and hearing after a bout of illness in her infancy. Keller said, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”
Having a vision is a central requirement for success. Here are some key reasons for this:
- Focus: a vision keeps both individuals and organisations focused. Imagine a ship sailing at sea but does not have a destination. What would happen to it? Effort without a vision is wasted, and a vision without effort is no more than a fantasy. Having a clear vision helps a leader prepare for the future, and as distractions are among the worst enemies of achievement, the solution is to remain focused on one’s vision.
- Inspiration and energy: having a vision provides you with a purpose for existence, thus keeping you motivated. You often run around in frenzied activity, but where are you running to without having a clear goal that you want to achieve in mind?
- A life without vision is dull and demotivating. A person who has everything he wants will live with no challenges; every day for him is the same, with life losing its taste and purpose. This helps explain the high rates of suicide in wealthy and industrialised countries. Contrary to what many people think, young people who are spoon-fed will inevitably face many challenges later on in life. They will become annoyed quickly, lack resilience, perseverance, motivation, and vision. It is common for such people to suffer anxiety and depression.
“A goal is not always meant to be reached; it often serves simply as something to aim at.”
– Bruce Lee
Islam and Vision
A close analysis shows that Islam, by its very essence, is a way of life centred around vision.
The purpose of Islam is to devoutly worship the one and only God, to please Him and thereby be admitted into His Paradise. By gaining this, one is saved from His displeasure and punishment. The ethical framework that comes about by sincerely living life in this manner guarantees a life of peace and happiness. Truly worshiping God, by holding fast to his commands and avoiding actions that would earn his displeasure, is the divine solution for our political, financial, social and (most importantly) spiritual problems and challenges.
Examples of this are evident in the Qur’an:
“Hasten to forgiveness from your Lord and a Garden as wide as the Heavens and Earth, prepared for the righteous”
“Race toward forgiveness from your Lord and a Garden whose width is like the width of the heavens and earth, prepared for those who believed in Allāh and His Messengers. That is the bounty of Allāh which He gives to whom He wills, and Allāh is the possessor of great bounty”
Islam encourages people to strive for Paradise. In every action, moment, and breath, one should always bear this goal in mind. A result of this productive thinking is that one naturally has a goal for one’s existence. The inevitable results of this way of thinking will be seen in the tremendous benefits for individuals and society.
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said that actions are judged according to their intentions. This is the most important of his statements, which is why it is usually quoted in the introductions of Islamic books. The key book in Islam after the Qur’an, Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī, begins with this statement. Imam al-Shāfi‘ī, one of the main four pioneers of Sunni jurisprudence, said: “This ḥadīth is one-third of the knowledge of Islam and relates to about 70 topics of fiqh.” Imam Aḥmad, another of the four main Imams, said, “Islam is based on three fundamentals,” and he regarded this statement as the first of them.
Clearly, a person who lives with the sincere intention of pleasing their Lord, striving to perform all He is pleased with, and keeping away from all that earns His displeasure has a very clear vision and purpose for existence. How beautiful it is to live a life of vision and purpose. How amazing it is to achieve the peace and tranquillity that such a vision affords. How wonderful it is that this vision will lead to so much goodness, safety, and bliss in this world and the next.
“Every soul will taste death, and you will be paid in full only on the Day of Resurrection. Whoever is kept away from the Fire and admitted to the Garden will have triumphed”
Islam as a whole is centred around vision. It follows, then, that all actions required or encouraged by Islam must have a noble vision behind them. For example, the most important pillar in Islam—and the key to Islam—is the prayer. It is performed at least five times a day and should not be stopped under any circumstance, apart from severe mental illness. Look at how the Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) spoke about prayer:
“Allāh the Majestic and Mighty has written five prayers for mankind, and whoever does them and does not waste anything of them by making light of what is due to them, then there is a pact for him with Allāh that He will admit him into the Garden. Whoever does not do them, there is no pact for him with Allāh. If He wishes, He punishes him, and if He wishes, He admits him into the Garden.”
These five daily obligatory prayers are an example of how Islam also encourages people to set targets for many daily activities.
The Prophet also sets another daily target in voluntary prayers. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said:
“Whoever prays twelve rak‘ah in a day and night, a house will be built for him in Paradise: four before Dhuhr and two after it, two rak‘ah after Maghrib, two rak‘ah after ‘Ishā’, and two rak‘ah before Fajr prayer.”
Meeting targets in the hope of attaining an intentional vision can eventually add up to success, whether in this life or the next. Take the example of a person who works hard to earn an honest income and is consequently able to make a charitable donation towards an orphanage on a regular basis. This small donation may be part of a wider vision to support struggling orphans to gain the pleasure of Allāh. Meeting this target of making a regular donation can build up to success from many angles. On an individual level, this person is not only able to sustain themselves and their family, but is also able to selflessly support an orphanage. Over a period of time, this donation will add up to communal and societal benefits that are beyond what we can imagine. So, on the surface, it may only look like a small regular donation, but the results are much bigger than we might expect. When contemplating the reward that Allāh has in store for this person in the Hereafter, we can truly start to comprehend that a small target can add up to great success.
We are encouraged by our Creator to set and follow daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, and life-long targets. There are many more examples like that of the prayer mentioned previously, which we can set as a target and implement in our lives. For instance, we could set targets that relate to charity that we are either obliged or encouraged to give. A yearly target for charity would include Zakāt, the third pillar of Islam. This is nothing but a yearly financial activity whereby people who have a certain amount of wealth must share a small percentage of this with those who are less fortunate.
Society as a whole shares the common goal (and a level of responsibility) to maintain justice and ensure that the welfare of society is met. For example, a target may be to provide suitable living standards for all disadvantaged people living among us.
In an amazing verse, Allāh draws a distinct comparison between two types of human beings. The first example is of one who knows what he wants, and the opposite example is of one who is lost. Allāh says, “Is one who walks fallen on his face better guided, or one who walks erect on a straight path?” The person who walks on a straight path is the one who has a clear vision of the target they aim to reach.
Quotations About Vision From Early Scholars
It was narrated that ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb, the second Caliph in Islam, said: “Do not belittle your being determined, for I have never seen anything that prevents noble actions more than having little determination.”
Imam Mālik, another of the four main pioneers of Sunni jurisprudence, said: “Take on important and noble matters, and stay away from pettiness, for Allāh loves noble matters and loathes those matters that are petty.”
On the authority of Dukayn al-Rajiz who said: “I met ‘Umar b. ‘Abdul ‘Azīz after his inauguration as Caliph, seeking his fulfilment of a promise he had promised me whilst he was deputy over Madinah. He (‘Umar) said: “Dukayn, I am overly ambitious. My soul desired leadership (to become the deputy of Madinah), then after achieving it, (my soul) desired to become Caliph, then after achieving it, it desired Paradise.”
Ibn al-Jawzī, a well-known 6th century (AH) Muslim scholar, said: “Being a person of high ambition is a sign of one’s intellect, and he who accepts lowliness is a lowly person.”
Types of Vision/Goals
Vision can be classified in different ways. Among the key differentiators are:
- – Nature of the vision.
- – Time frame of the vision.
- – Area of the vision.
Firstly: The nature of the vision
We can identify three types of goals or vision by asking the following questions:
What you want to be? In answer to this, one might say, ‘I want to be an engineer’, ‘a doctor’, ‘a top cardiologist’, ‘the best footballer in the world’.
What do you want to see? To this question, one might respond: ‘I want to see a happy family’, ‘I want to see my community thriving’, ‘I want to see poverty eradicated’. For this category, it is important to note that this vision may not necessarily be delivered by one person. Being part of a team that works towards achieving something brilliant can also be a part of your personal vision. For example, picture a person in a team who is responsible for manufacturing a life-changing device for disabled people. This person will want to see the system working. It does not matter to them that it was a team effort—all they want to see is the product working and people benefitting from it. In this paradigm, they will feel happy to contribute towards the manifestation of their vision in whatever way they can. This unique Islamic perspective broadens the scope of the vision from being a purely individualistic and selfish achievement to being one that equates universal benefits for all.
“Cooperate with one another in goodness and righteousness, and do not cooperate in sin and transgression”
What do you intend to do? It is important to note that, in the Islamic context, success is not determined by the same markers as other systems. Indeed, the evaluation of success is based upon the purity of one’s intention and the degree of effort expended in implementing the vision. In this way, failing to reach a target can still be seen as success by virtue of one’s intentions and efforts.
The reality is that most people in this life judge themselves according to tangible positive results. However, Allāh judges you according to two criteria:
- What you intend to do
- The effort you put in to achieve it.
This essentially means that a person will be judged in the true life, which is in life after death, according to their intention and efforts. This is well established in Islam and is addressed in many verses in the Qur’an, as well as in various Prophetic statements and actions.
For example, in the Qur’an we read:
“But whoever desires the Hereafter and exerts the effort due to it while he is a believer—it is those whose effort is ever appreciated [by Allāh]”
Allāh also says:
“The outcome of their endeavours will be seen (in their record)”
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) spoke about a group of Muslims who wanted to join a jihād, yet they could not do so due to constraints that were beyond their abilities to rectify. Later, the Prophet said, “Some people have remained behind us in Al-Madīnah, and we never cross a valley but they are with us. They share the reward with us because they have been held back by a valid excuse.” In another narration, the wording is: “…by any genuine excuse.” In another narration, the wording is: “They are your partners in reward.”
In another amazing ḥadīth, the Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) summarises the categories of people who achieve and the categories of the people who fail:
“The world is only for four persons: A slave whom Allāh provides with wealth and knowledge, so he has taqwā of his Lord with it, nurtures the ties of kinship with it, and knows that Allāh has a right in it. This is the most virtuous rank. And a slave whom Allāh provides with knowledge, but He does not provide with wealth, so he has a truthful intent, saying: ‘If I had wealth, then I would do the deeds of so-and-so with it.’ He has his intention, so their rewards are the same. And a slave whom Allāh provides with wealth, but He does not provide him with knowledge. [So he] spends his wealth rashly without knowledge, nor having taqwā of his Lord, nor nurturing the ties of kinship, and he does not know that Allāh has a right in it. This is the most despicable rank. And a slave whom Allāh provides neither wealth nor knowledge, so he says: ‘If I had wealth, then I would do the deeds of so-and-so with it.’ He has his intention, so their sin is the same.”
Similarly, in another profound and concise statement, the Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) explained the actual criteria used to measure success from an Islamic perspective.
It was narrated from Abū Hurayrah that the Messenger of Allāh said: “A dirham surpassed a hundred thousand dirhams.” They said: “How?” He said: “A man had two dirhams and gave one in charity, and another man spent only part of his wealth and took out a hundred thousand dirhams and gave them in charity.”
The significant benefit of acknowledging these criteria is very much understated. Take the example of a person who faces a serious disadvantage in life. He may see it as a limiting factor preventing him from being able to achieve certain things. Such a person may become depressed, and they might feel like they have been treated unjustly by God. He might end up feeling hopeless and out of his own perceived helplessness might even reach the stage of contemplating suicide. However, if he understands that this life is nothing but a test and that real-life constitutes the next, everlasting one, where he will be judged according to what he wanted to and worked to achieve, irrespective of whether he managed to achieve it or not, he will be content and will experience happiness.
Benefits of the Islamic Approach Over Other Approaches
This approach has two main benefits:
- It leaves room for every single human being to try to excel within their chosen field. A person who enjoys less benefits in life can still have the intention to achieve something that would make a great impact on the world. This person might exert a great deal of effort to fulfil their aim, yet they might not be able to execute their original idea. Within the Islamic framework, they will still be rewarded for their intentional vision.
- It provides people with psychological stability as they understand that tangible achievements are not the actual evaluating criteria. With this understanding, people will not always be worried about the outcomes of their endeavours, but rather the sincerity of their intention and the degree of their efforts.
A Balanced Approach
Our death will mark the end of our earthly lives and the start of our eternal lives in the hereafter. For us, as Muslims, life in the hereafter should therefore be our ultimate goal.
But what about this life?
With the overarching goal of safety from hellfire and entry into Paradise, all of our actions in this life need to be framed with this goal in mind. When we think like this, we become very conscious of doing anything that might cause harm to our life in the hereafter. This divine perspective on this life, and the next, helps resolve all manner of conflicts in one’s life and mind. For instance, a person who was unable to attain justice in this life will certainly gain justice from Almighty Allāh in the hereafter. Using unethical, illegal, or haram means to gain benefit in this life would be rendered very difficult, if not impossible, for one who has an ākhirah-centric view of life. Similarly, the myth of suffering will be resolved once we understand that this temporary suffering is going to produce far greater goodness for individuals and societies.
Types of Goals in Terms of Time Frame
Talk of lifegoals and objectives have become ubiquitous in our times. However, these terminologies becoming lived realities is something quite different. In practice, we should have an overarching vision for our whole lives. As previously stated, the benefits of a lifetime vision are not limited to achievements in life after death but go beyond that to include unlimited benefits in this life too. It follows, then, that our long-term vision, let’s say our 15, 10 or even 5-year vision, should not lack congruence with our overall purpose and vision for life. In the same manner, our mid-term vision should not contradict our long-term vision. The case is the same for our short-term vision. Our yearly, monthly and daily vision needs to fall in line with the broader vision that we have for our lives.
Your Vision and the Morning
The first thing you do in the morning will often determine what your day is going to be like. Many experts in time management, psychology and self-development have confirmed this. So programme your mind to be in a powerful state from the moment you wake up by aligning your day with your vision. That way you are guaranteed to have a productive day.
To achieve this one should:
- – Write down your goals for the day (the ones that align with your vision) every morning.
- – Have a set of different goals – spiritual goals, social goals, financial goals, etc.
Once you’ve done that, identify the activities that you need to do that are in line with your long-term goals, and give them more attention.
For example, as a Muslim, I should plan to perform my obligatory prayers on time, and hence, I should plan my daily activities around that. If I don’t remind myself daily I may forget. Similarly, I should do the same with my other obligations and voluntary activities. Take another example, the recitation of the Qur’an. Again, I should think about that daily to be able to achieve reading my daily targets. As for my studies, I should assign a target for myself in terms of quantity, quality or both. I should ask myself; how much do I want to study today? What subject? I can quantify this either by time or material that I intend to cover. In the same manner you may set yourself daily targets that relate to exercise. You may set the target of burning 1,000 calories or walking 10,000 steps. Having these targets might help you think creatively about how you can reach them. For example, I have personally formed the habit of walking to local places as opposed to driving. This not only helps me reach a higher step count, but also increases my productivity by allowing me to conduct meetings over the phone while I ‘walk and talk’. We can see then how meeting one target might help us fulfil visions from different aspects within our lives.
How to Improve Your Capacity to Live According to a Vision
Many people think that they have a clear vision, but when they are asked to write it down, they discover the sad reality of the contrary. Think about the following questions when it comes to your vision.
Can you write it down?
More so than a question, this is an invitation for you to write down your vision. Don’t just rely on the fact that you have it in mind. There are many things that are in our minds, but they are not well defined or even examined for us to know whether they are correct or not. Writing down your vision helps you in examining the clarity of the vision in your mind. It strengthens your conviction in it, and you will be able to examine whether it actually makes sense or not.
Does it make sense?
Most people fail to articulate their vision. Write down your vision. Look at it. Does it make sense? Leave it for a few days, read it again and check whether it makes sense. Examine whether it meets the requirements of a vision, which will be explained in the following sections.
Other Useful Tools
1) When doing an activity, always ask yourself: why am I doing this?
2) Try to write down goals for as many activities as you can. Work out the percentage of activities that you managed to write goals for. In many cases, we do things without purpose and out of habit, without really reflecting on what we are doing or how what we are doing contradicts or affirms our overall vision. It would be a good idea to track your activities for a week and ask yourself how many of your activities were connected to your overarching vision of life.
3) Set deadlines to accomplish your goals. There is nothing that focuses the mind quite like a deadline. Beware of Parkinson’s law that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. The idea here is that too much time on a project can be counter-productive, leading to procrastination; setting deadlines keeps you on track.
4) Make plans to achieve your goals? As Benjamin Franklin said: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” Take this seriously and set aside time in your week where you will reflect on your goals and plan for the steps that will be necessary for you to complete them.
5) Reward yourself for achieving your goals. When you do achieve a goal – and this can apply to mini goals too – celebrate and acknowledge the step that you have taken towards fulfilling your vision. The reward doesn’t have to be huge. It may, in fact, be very small. The reward will act as an acknowledgment, in turn, this can help motivate and energise you to continue on the path to success.
Evaluate Your Vision/Goals
Many people have goals, but they do not evaluate or reflect on them. Some experts in management suggest that you evaluate your goals by applying the smart/er technique. Please consider the following when you are mapping out the goals that will connect with your vision.
SMART and SMART-ER (e: Evaluated, r: Reviewed)
To make sure your goals are clear and reachable, apply the below criterion to ensure you are on the right track.
Specific: If you are sailing in the sea and you don’t have a clear destination, you will run out of energy and risk your life. Your goal(s) should be clear and specific, otherwise you will be lost and your energy will be wasted.
It is understood that the word ‘specific’ can be subjective. That’s not a problem. Some people struggle to identify what they want specifically. Start with a goal that is general and narrow it down to a more specific one once you have completed the previous stage. For example, a traveller might visit a specific country and different locations within that country in order to whittle it down to their favourite destinations. As a result, the traveller has successfully identified the specific areas they like.
Setting a goal of wanting to be a successful person is quite general and may be vague. However, the good news is that this is the initial stage of setting your vision. As a bare minimum, one really ought to have a vision and desire to be successful. This is far better than the person who has no vision or desire to be successful. You need now to move on to the next stage, which is to specify which area of life you want to specialise in, whether it be education, business, motherhood, fatherhood, a family person or a combination of these!
Measurable: It is far better to have a measurable goal so you can evaluate yourself and your progress over time. This is crucial to assess whether you are progressing or not. However, let us admit that some goals are difficult to measure in a quantitative way. This should not worry us or put us off because there are some guidelines to use in order to evaluate whether you are progressing or not. For example, human and social goals are quite difficult to quantify, however you still can identify key milestones that will help you assess your progress. How wide is your network of people, the quality of your relationship with others and the level of your happiness? You can also prepare a questionnaire to ask for people’s feedback about yourself. Sometimes the goal in itself is not measurable, but the path to it is measurable. If your goal is to arrive at a certain destination, then what is measurable is how close you are to the destination.
Let us look at this simple yet deep story. A simple man by the name of Rabī‘a b. Ka‘b said:
I was with God’s Messenger at night, and when I brought him his water for ablution and what he required, he told me to make a request. I said, “I ask to accompany you in Paradise.” He asked if I had any other request to make, and when I replied that that was all, he said, “Then help me in accomplishing this for you by devoting yourself often to prostration.”
This man was neither a big celebrity or a rich person, nor a commander or a leader. He was a simple man who would serve the Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam). He had a specific and inspiring goal; to be with the Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) in Paradise. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) provided him with a practical plan that can be evaluated frequently to check whether the individual is moving towards the goal or not.
Exercise: Prepare a simple questionnaire to ask different people in your circle to give anonymous feedback about your character.
Achievable: It is true that everyone likes to aim high, but goals should not be set so high that they are unattainable. Goals that are unachievable are nothing but dreams and, in reality, they are more demotivating than motivating. You can train yourself to achieve goals but set small targets first, and then once you achieve them you can move to the next target and so on. If you are running and set yourself a goal of reaching a very long distance, you might become demotivated. However, if you break the entire length of the distance into smaller parts, then you are more likely to achieve it. You may set half of the distance as your first target and once you are there, look at the rest of the distance as your final goal. You can do this exercise in different ways and break down goals into different segments to keep pushing yourself.
Relevant (some experts use realistic, reasonable, realistic, resourced, or results-based). Many people might have goals that are not relevant to them. For example, you have parents who are disabled, and they need someone to help them, and you choose to set a goal to become a successful pilot. If this were to become the case, who is going to look after your parents? Your goal or vision should be in harmony, not only with your values and principles, but also with your individual circumstances otherwise it may not be realistic or beneficial. Many young people want to be famous when they see news about millionaires or big celebrities. But such goals are not in line with their values and circumstances. If the goal is not individual to you, you will eventually witness some failure in your life.
Remember – this life is not the end; it is just a passing stage, and you cannot achieve every single goal you planned. Moreover, it should not be your ultimate goal. There are many good things that we cannot attain in this life, but we can achieve in our second and real life. Therefore, make sure that the goals you want to attain in this life are relevant, realistic and achievable.
Time-bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely or time-sensitive).
When do you want to reach your goal or achieve your vision? If you do not assign a time frame, then you might end up losing a lot of time.
If you consider these guidelines, then you might go for multiple goals in your life to achieve as much as possible within a set time frame. For example, you may want to become one of the best medical doctors specialising in viruses, whilst being a father of 4 children, memorising the Qur’an, sponsoring an orphanage, becoming a good swimmer and a TV presenter.
Professor Rubin also notes that the definition of the SMART acronym may need updating to reflect the importance of efficacy and feedback, as discussed by ‘Wild Ideas’ in their research into ‘Smart Goals.’. However, some authors have expanded it to include extra focus areas; SMARTER, which includes Evaluate and Review.
Evaluate: This is connected to ‘achievable’ and ‘measurable’. You simply, need to evaluate your goal continuously. It is easy to be distracted from your goal(s). The only way to keep yourself on track is by carrying out continuous evaluations of your progress towards your goal(s). You might apply different techniques of evaluation, including outsourcing this process.
Review: Who said that your goals are the correct ones? Without continuous evaluation and review you won’t be able to come up with an honest and accurate answer for this question. There is no harm in changing your goals either fully or partially. The real harm happens when you continue pursuing the wrong, less important or even insignificant goal. If you can do better, then do it.
Final Reflections & Questions on Vision
“Call yourselves to account before you are called to account.”
– ‘Umar b. al-Khaṭṭāb
Living a life of purpose, and on purpose, is essential for every wise person. A life without vision is one in which we wonder, lost in the wilderness. Each person should remember this and contemplate their lives and their direction. Ask yourself: what is my overall purpose in life? What long-term, mid-term and short-term visions have I set for my life, and what have I done to plan a life that aligns with these visions? And finally, and most importantly, to what degree are my worldly goals connected with my permanent life, in the life that is to come hereafter? Ponder over this chapter and take the time to do the activities that have been included herein. Your future-self will thank you for it!
 Al-Qur’ān, 22:46
 Al-Qur’ān, 3:133
 Al-Qur’ān, 57:21
 Al-Qur’ān 3:185
 Al-Qur’ān 67:22
 Al-Qur’ān 5:2
 Al-Qur’ān 17:19
 Al-Qur’ān 53:40