If you have the aspiration to overcome an enemy, place your trust in Allah and apply the 1000th principle. If you wish to become an influencer in spreading goodness, then apply the 1000th principle. Similarly, if you wish to transform your life from a state of failure to success, from lethargy to productivity, and ultimately from misery to happiness, then apply the 1000th principle. In fact, if you wish to enter paradise and be spared from hell, then apply the 1000th principle. But this all leads to a central question: what is the 1000th principle?
Kop Kopmeyer has written four large books, each of which contains 250 success principles which he derived after more than fifty years of research and study. He was asked the question: “Of all the one thousand success principles that you have discovered, which do you think is the most important?” He provided the following response, without the least bit of hesitation: “From all of the 999 success principles that I have found in my reading and experience, without the following none of them work; Do what you should do, when you should do it, whether you feel like it or not.”
Shortly after the Battle of Uḥud, news was conveyed to the Prophet ﷺ of a potential surprise attack. Khālid b. Sufyān al-Hudhalī, one of the mightiest Arab warriors and whose strength was said to rival a thousand men, was rallying the people to invade Madinah. In order to avoid the bloodshed of war and to minimise casualties, the Prophet ﷺ summoned ʿAbd Allāh b. Unays and gave him specific instructions relating to this war criminal:
إِنَّهُ بَلَغَنِي أَنَّ ابْنَ نُبَيْحٍ الْهُذَلِيَّ يَجْمَعُ النَّاسَ لِيَغْزُوَنِي، وَهُوَ بنخله ، أو بعرنة فأتيه فَاقْتُلْهُ
“News was conveyed to me that Khālid al-Hudhalī is gathering the people to invade us. He is currently present at Nakhlah or ʿUranah [the names of two places]. So make your way to him and kill him.”
ʿAbd Allāh said:
يَا رَسُولَ اللهِ. انْعَتْهُ لِي، حَتَّى أَعْرِفَهُ
“O Messenger of Allah, describe him to me so that I may recognise him.”
آيَةُ مَا بَيْنَكَ وَبَيْنَهُ.أَنَّكَ إِذَا رَأَيْتَهُ، وَجَدْتَ لَهُ قُشَعْرِيرَةً
“There is a sign for you: when you see him, you will experience a shiver.”
ʿAbd Allāh said: “So, I made my way to him carrying my sword until I found him at ʿAsr time with his wives as he took them home. The moment I saw him, I felt a shiver in my body. As I made my way to him, I feared that something would prevent me from carrying out my task. So I performed the ʿAsr prayer as I walked, while bowing and prostrating by tilting my head…Then, when the time was right, I pounced upon him and left him lying on the ground, with his wives weeping all around him.
“When I came back to the Prophet ﷺ, he said to me: أَفْلَحَ الْوَجْهُ ‘That is a face of success.’ I said: قَدْ قَتَلْتُهُ يَا رَسُولَ اللهِ ‘I have killed him, O Messenger of Allah.’ To this he replied: صَدَقْتَ ‘You have spoken the truth.’”
Then the Prophet ﷺ gave him a stick and said: أَمْسِكْ هَذِهِ عِنْدَكَ يَا عَبْدَ اللهِ بْنَ أُنَيْسٍ “Keep this with you, O ʿAbd Allāh, son of Unays.” ʿAbd Allāh b. Unays continued by saying: “So, I met the people as I carried the stick. They said to me, ‘What is the story behind this stick?’ I said, ‘The Messenger of Allah gave it to me and told me to keep it with myself.’ They said, ‘Why do you not go back to him and ask him about it?’” So, ʿAbd Allāh returned to the Prophet ﷺ and asked him why he had given him the stick, to which he responded:
آيَةٌ بَيْنِي وَبَيْنَكَ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ. إِنَّ أَقَلَّ النَّاسِ الْمُتَخَصِّرُونَ يَوْمَئِذٍ
“This will be a sign between me and you on the Day of Judgment. On that day, those who will have sticks to lean on will be few.”
Ever since that day ʿAbd Allāh tied the stick to his sword and kept it with himself until he died. He had also written in his will that it be buried with him, and so it was.
I do not wish to focus on the details of this encounter. However, there is one peculiar feature of the whole exchange which I believe should be pointed out. Notice how surprisingly minimal the conversation was, yet how abundant the actions carried out were. When the Prophet ﷺ instructed ʿAbd Allāh to eliminate the threat of one of the mightiest Arab men, ʿAbd Allāh responded with only two words: انْعَتْهُ لِي “Describe him to me.” And when he returned from the enormous mission, he uttered only a single word:قَتَلْتُهُ “I killed him.” Lastly, even the response consisted of only one word: صَدَقْتَ / “You speak the truth.” Then when he was given the stick, ʿAbd Allāh did not even think of asking what it was given for.
In short, the general rule says: the more you speak, the fewer your actions will be.
I will now share five principles for those who wish to become forces of goodness in their communities, people of public service, motivated visionaries, seekers of a fulfilled lifestyle, and builders of Jannah who are eager to develop the art of action and harness the power of now.
The first principle: Put an end to excuses
People are incredibly creative when it comes to forming excuses in order to absolve themselves of responsibility, hard work, and sacrifice. In a parallel fashion to the English idioms of “you can’t have the penny and the bun”, and “you can’t have your cake and eat it too”, you likewise cannot live a truly accomplished life whilst making excuses for yourself.
Excuses are the tools of failure, walls which people hide behind in order to justify their inaction to others and, even worse, themselves. In fact, as mentioned in the Qur’an, excuses are the very tools employed by some of the worst people to have walked on the earth: the hypocrites of Madinah.
Just before the Battle of the Trench, the hypocrites declined to appear and participate with the Companions of the Prophet ﷺ in their defensive preparations, which consisted of digging a trench in the Northwest region of Madinah. This was done to defend themselves from the massive and well-equipped pagan alliance charging towards Madinah. The hypocrites argued that their homes were vulnerable at the moment, and hence they could not provide assistance. However, the Qur’an swiftly exposed their true intentions by saying:
وَيَسْتَـْٔذِنُ فَرِيقٌ مِّنْهُمُ ٱلنَّبِىَّ يَقُولُونَ إِنَّ بُيُوتَنَا عَوْرَةٌ وَمَا هِىَ بِعَوْرَةٍ ۖ إِن يُرِيدُونَ إِلَّا فِرَارًا
“Another group of them asked the Prophet’s permission ˹to leave˺, saying, ‘Our homes are vulnerable,’ while in fact they were not vulnerable. They only wish to flee.”
This is the textbook definition of an excuse, which is when one shifts the liability for an internal problem to an external condition instead. In short, if you find your excuses mounting, and you have developed a habit of frequently explaining away why you did not, could not, should not, or would not do something, then realise that you are creating the illusion of security. You are only masking your internal pain with temporary painkillers, and are trekking upon a dark path to failure. However, if you follow the right advice and principles, you can eliminate this bad habit starting from today.
The second principle: What you do today is a definition of your future
Just as your marriage cannot survive on the love of yesterday, and as your business cannot thrive on past profits, likewise your life trajectory as a whole must be fashioned through continuous efforts. The more action you take today in the present period, the more the future will look like how you want it to be.
The successful person realises that every unit of struggle, sacrifice, and pain which they invest in today will translate into an equivalent unit of success, pleasure, and happiness in the future. There are immense differences between the ones who simply dream of this success and those who wake up five in the morning every single day to achieve their goals.
What does your future look like? No crystal balls are required to answer that question. Just as the decisions of yesterday are your realities of today, the decisions you undertake today are the realities of your tomorrow.
The third principle: Aim high because the lower levels are very congested
One day Thomas Edison came home and handed a paper over to his mother. He told her, “My teacher gave this paper to me and told me to only give it to my mother.” His mother’s eyes were tearful as she read the letter out loud to her child: “Your son is a genius. This school is too small for him and doesn’t have enough good teachers for training him. Please teach him yourself.”
Many years passed. After Edison’s mother died and he was now one of the greatest inventors of the century, he one day began looking through his old family belongings. Suddenly, he found a folded paper in the corner of a drawer inside a desk. He grabbed it and opened it out. On the paper the following was written: “Your son is mentally ill. We won’t let him come to school any more.” After reading this, Edison cried for several hours. Afterwards, he wrote in his diary: “Thomas Alva Edison was a mentally ill child that, by a hero mother, became the genius of the century.”
Most people aim at nothing in their lives, and unsurprisingly enough, meet their non-existent targets with amazing accuracy. Statistics suggest that approximately 80 percent of people never set goals for themselves. The data suggest that from the 20 percent of the overall population that does set goals, roughly 70 percent fail to achieve the targets they delineated.
The Prophet ﷺ said:
إنَّ اللهَ تعالى يُحِبُّ مَعاليَ الأُمورِ ، و أَشرافَها ، و يَكرَهُ سَفْسافَها
“Allah loves the lofty and noble matters, and hates the petty ones.”
Most people fail in life not because they aim too high and miss, but because they aim too low and hit easy targets. Research conducted by Edwin Locke and Gary Latham found that when people followed the two principles of setting specific and challenging goals, it led to higher performance levels 90 percent of the time. The more specific and challenging your goals are, the higher your motivations will be in meeting them. That explains why easy or vague goals rarely are met. A prime example of this principle in action can be found in the conduct of the righteous Muslim Caliph, ʿUmar b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz.
He (raḥimahu Allāhu) once said:
إنّ لي نفسا تواقة، وما حققت شيئًا إلا تاقت لما هو أعلى منه؛ تاقت نفسي إلى الزواج من ابنة عمي فاطمة بنت عبد الملك فتزوجتها. ثم تاقت نفسي إلى الإمارة فوليتها، وتاقت نفسي إلى الخلافة فنلتها، والآن تاقت نفسي إلى الجنة. فأرجو أن أكون من أهلها
“I have a restless soul. Whenever I achieve a matter, I then yearn for what is above it in rank. I aspired to marry my cousin, Fāṭimah, the daughter of ʿAbd al-Malik, and so I married her. I then sought a position in political authority, and I achieved it. Then I aspired to become the Caliph, and I achieved it. Now, my soul aspires for paradise, and I hope to be from its people.”
From now on, let Allah see inside yourself a true desire for a new life. He will show you the way out of the congested lower decks of idleness, and the way to the doorway of the frontrunners.
The fourth principle: Most search for what is easy. But it is the greats who always search for a challenge
An Arab Bedouin man came to the Prophet ﷺ and embraced Islam. After a particular battle had taken place, the Prophet ﷺ distributed the booty between his men, and a portion was given to the Bedouin. He asked, “What is this?” The Companions said, “Your portion of the booty.” He then carried it and took it to the Prophet ﷺ and asked once again, “What is this?” The Prophet ﷺ replied by saying, “Your portion.” However, at this point the Bedouin replied with the following:
ما على هذا اتَّبعتُكَ ، ولَكِنِّي اتَّبعتُكَ على أن أُرمَى هاهُنا وأشارَ إلى حلقِهِ بسَهْمٍ فأموتَ وأدخلَ الجنَّةَ
“I did not follow you for this. Instead I followed you in the hope of being struck with an arrow right here – and he pointed to his throat – which would cause me to die and enter paradise.”
The Prophet ﷺ replied:
إن تَصدُقِ اللَّهَ يَصدُقْكَ
“If you are true to Allah, Allah will be true to you.”
Days later, they found themselves at war. When the dust had settled, a corpse was carried to the Prophet ﷺ. It was that of the Bedouin man, who had died due to an arrow that had struck his throat. The Prophet ﷺ asked, أَهوَ هوَ ؟ “Is it him?” They said, “Yes.” So the Prophet ﷺ said: صدقَ اللَّهَ فصدقَهُ “He was true to Allah, and so Allah was true to him.”
The Prophet ﷺ shrouded him in a cloak and performed the funeral prayer over him. During his prayer, they heard the Prophet ﷺ say:
اللَّهمَّ إنَّ هذا عَبدُكَ ، خرجَ مُهاجرًا في سبيلِكَ ، فقُتلَ شَهيدًا ، أَنا شَهيدٌ علَيهِ
“O Allah, this servant of yours migrated for Your sake and was killed as a martyr. I am a witness for him!”
As human beings, we are built to handle struggles, given the fortitude to meet challenges, and provided the spiritual ability to contend with the comforts of life. We are entrusted with the tasks of confronting any challenges that come in the way and discovering our fullest life potential. One figure in history who realised all of these objectives was the celebrated Companion and commander Khālid b. al-Walīd. He would not have clinched such an eminent spot in history had he opted for a flexible life free of targets and indulged in excessive sleep. To the contrary, he was the general who was described as being the following:
الرجل الذي لا ينام، ولا يترك أحداً ينام
“The man who does not sleep, nor does he allow anyone to sleep.”
He said about himself, describing his ethos of life during the Battle of Mu’tah:
لَقَدْ دُقَّ فِي يَدِي يَوْمَ مُؤْتَةَ تِسْعَةُ أَسْيَافٍ، وَصَبَرَتْ فِي يَدِي صَفِيحَةٌ لِي يَمَانِيَةٌ
“Nine of my swords broke while they were held in my hands during the Day of Mu’tah. It was only a Yemeni sword that showed patience in my hand on that day.”
Every good thing in life happens on the other side of the comfort zone.
The fifth principle: Never say “I have missed the opportunity”
If it was possible to summarise life in one word, perhaps it would be “continue” or “plough on”. Until your eyes fall on the Angel of Death, the door of opportunity remains open. Before that exact moment, it is a free-for-all. Henry Ford was 45 when he created the revolutionary Model T car in 1908, Joe Biden became the US President at the age of 78, and Margaret Ford became an author while being 94 years old.
In our tradition, Abū Bakr – the most eminent scholarly figure from our Ummah after the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ – began his quest for knowledge when he was around 40 years old. Imam Ibn al-Jawzī mastered the 10 modes of Qur’anic recitation at the age of 80. The same can be said about the likes of al-Fuḍayl b. ʿIyāḍ, Ibn al-ʿArabī, Ibn Ḥazm, and al-ʿIzz b. ʿAbd al-Salām. All of them commenced their religious studies during the later years of their lives.
In fact, Yūsuf b. Tāshfīn led the Muslims at the ripe old age of 80 against one of the most famous kings of Europe, the Castilian Alfonso VI. Alfonso had gathered a large army and boldly announced: “With this army, I will defeat the humans, spirits, angels of the heavens, and Muhammad and his men.” The two armies met in a ferocious encounter, so stiff that the battle would later be known as al-Zallāqah. In Arabic, this literally means “the slippery plain”, in a reference to the amount of blood that had covered the battlefield.
After nine hours of intense conflict, none remained of Alfonso’s 100,000 warriors except 500 men, which included the king himself. He managed to flee from the bloody battlefield, with one of his legs missing. Yūsuf b. Tāshfīn was 80 years old at the time. Hence, how misinformed is the Muslim who justifies their inactivity by stating that they “have missed the boat”.
“Do what you should do, when you should do it, whether you feel like it or not.” Why? Because there is a stark reality that no human being can escape from. You must experience one of two bitter pains: the pain of sacrifice, reformation, and hard work today, or the pain of failure tomorrow. There is no third option.
 Brian Tracy, The Power of Discipline.
Al-Bayhaqī, Dalā’il al-nubuwwah.
 Al-Qur’ān, 33:13.
 Al-Ṭabarānī, on the authority of al-Ḥusayn.
 Khālid Muḥammad Khālid, Rijāl ḥawl al-Rasūl.