Everything we do in life is shaped by our definition of success. Our day to day decisions, knowingly or unknowingly, are determined by what we each believe success to be.
For most of us, it is measured by one or more of three from; material wealth, fame and status. We thus find that everything from our day to day decisions all the way up to our major life decisions are measured and judged against these criteria. We need look no further than our Muslim youth to see this in effect; to see them either falling into an intense pursuit of the dunya, seeking its treasures, or finding them obsessing over celebrities, fame and status, whether through the online sphere, or gang culture and the like.
As Muslims, it is imperative that we regularly refresh our understanding of success. It is this understanding that will determine our short-term and long-term goals, the overall direction we take in life and the difference between Jannah and Jahannum for us.
Dear reader, understanding the reality of success is arguably the most important factor in us attaining Jannah and avoiding the Hellfire. This therefore begs the question, what is real success?
Allāh, the Lord of the heavens and the earth and our Creator, repeatedly tells us what real success is in the Qur’ān. He tells us:
“And whosoever obeys Allāh and His Messenger (Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam)) will be admitted to Gardens under which rivers flow (in Paradise), to abide therein, and that will be the great success.”
In another verse,
“Allāh has promised the believers — men and women, Gardens under which rivers flow to dwell therein forever, and beautiful mansions in Gardens of ‘Adn (Eden Paradise). But the greatest bliss is the Good Pleasure of Allāh. That is the supreme success.”
And in one more verse, out of many:
“Who is averted from (such a torment) on that Day, (Allāh) has surely been Merciful to him. And that would be the obvious success.” 
Allāh tells us time and time again that real, tangible, true success lies in:
- Attaining Paradise / the pleasure of Allāh
- Avoiding the fire of Hell / punishment from Allāh
By this logic, everything leading to the attainment of Paradise and the pleasure of Allāh is itself a success and everything leading to the Hellfire and the wrath of Allāh is a failure.
With this understanding, we should naturally look for steps to achieve true success, some of which are considered below.
1. Hereafter centricity
Make the Hereafter the core focus of your life. Set your eyes on the real goal, the lofty heights of Jannah; al-Firdaus al A’la. Seek the ultimate pleasure – gazing upon Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) and prioritise your goals in line with this. For setting our eyes upon the Hereafter and pursuing it wholeheartedly is that which will reap success in this life and the next.
On the authority of Zaid b. Thābit (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu): The Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said,
“Whoever makes the world his most important matter, Allāh will confound his affairs and make poverty appear before his eyes and he will not get anything from the world except what has been decreed for him. Whoever makes the Hereafter his most important matter, Allāh will settle his affairs and make him content in his heart and the world will come to him although he does not want it.”
As part of this, we must remember that we attain reward according to intention and that even mundane acts can earn reward if the intention is to please Allāh alone. By having a Hereafter-centric view in our daily lives and remembering Allāh in all actions, success can be attained through even the seemingly insignificant aspects of life.
2. Amassing good deeds
Allāh tells us many times in the Qur’ān that those who both have belief and do good deeds will inherit Jannah. Simply saying I believe is not sufficient, rather that belief in the heart necessitates action of the limbs.
After all, we will all stand before Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) with nothing except our good deeds; this is the currency of the Hereafter and it is these good deeds which will be weighed on the scales against our bad deeds. And our objective in this life is to amass as many good deeds as possible and to avoid sinning as much as possible. This is what will allow us to earn Allāh’s mercy and avoid His anger, inshāAllāh. This is our ticket to success in this life and Jannah in the next.
Good deeds can be gained through acts of personal worship but also through worldly affairs; again it comes back to intention. A balanced approach should be taken – as Muslims, we do not neglect attaining success in this life, but we do it for a greater purpose. Thus we seek higher salaries in order to give more in charity, or climb the career ladder in order to increase our sphere of influence to spread divine values, and so on.
Consequences of pursuing incorrect “success”
Imagine you had an exam for which you revised day after day, night after night, week after week. Imagine after having revised for so long you enter the examination hall only then to realise that you had revised for the wrong exam. How regretful would you be?
This is over a small exam in the dunya.
Now imagine you have worked your whole, entire life and on Yawm al Qiyāma you realised you had picked up the wrong mark scheme. Your existence was wasted working towards the wrong goal. Can words describe how regretful you would be?
As Muslims, we must truly understand the definition of success, because everything we work towards in life is determined thereafter. Most importantly, we must not waste our lives working solely for worldly benefit. If we work for the Hereafter, we are certain to find that not only are our worldly needs taken care of but also our Hereafter.
We ask Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) to allow us to understand true success and to work tirelessly to achieve it.
 Al-Qur’ān, 48:17
 Al-Qur’ān, 9:72
 Al-Qur’ān, 6:16
 Sunan Ibn Majah