By Shuhani Shohid
Bismillah Ar Rahmaan Ar Raheem
Growing up, success for me was defined as achievement; be it an A grade in an exam, a stable career, living or owning a house, driving a well-functioning car and simply being able to live an independent lifestyle – success was always focussed on an external measure – does this sound familiar to you?
And so, I gladly went on this journey through life, aiming to fulfil this purpose : the passing of my GCSE’s, A levels, the getting into a Russel Group University, the graduation ceremony, and the list goes on – I was constantly journeying through life, from one achievement to the next. My focus on success here was solely on getting the end result. Once that was achieved, I would move on to the next.
It was only when I first started taking Islam seriously that I had a shift in my beliefs. I began to focus on my intentions a little closely. I re-wrote my version of success. I re-wrote it to understand that my everyday actions should be aligned to worshipping Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. And yet, my understanding of worshipping Allah was ritualistic – I was focussed on the external, successful outcomes of praying, fasting, reading Qur’an, being good to my parents and generally helping others. This shift was a positive one but not deep enough to reach the highest level of excellence required of me.
We are told by our beloved Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), that:
“Verily Allah has prescribed ihsan (perfection) in all things. Thus if you kill, kill well; and if you slaughter, slaughter well. Let each one of you sharpen his blade and let him spare suffering to the animal he slaughters.” [Muslim]
The effort is in our control
From my understanding, whatever action we are engaged in can be done with excellence (ihsaan),which means taking into consideration the situation and resources available to us, and it that which is the greatest success. When we exert ourselves with performing in the very best way, we can really change the way we view success. We can achieve so much when we allow ourselves to be present and focussed on pleasing Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala in every given moment. As Muslims, doing the bare minimum of a task or just accepting our minimal effort is not going to get us to the station we want to be in, even if we get the desired external outcome. We need to remember that the outcome is in Allah’s control and the effort is in our control. Therefore, focussing on the effort should be more valuable and precious to us. Al-Aleem Al-Baseer is the All-Knowing and All-Seeing, He knows what your ihsaan looks like in any given moment- He knows what your best is, even if it looks like the minimal effort to someone else.
A shift in the right direction
When I shift my focus to give 100% effort in everything I do, I am shifting every action of mine to be a means of pleasing Allah. I recently came to fully embrace the understanding of this in Ramadan 2023, when Allah helped me to have the shift I needed to believe that everything I do can be a means of pleasure to Allah. Allah reminded me that if I refine and renew my intentions and efforts moments before I take care of my babies, make food or give myself rest, I open myself up to becoming closer to Allah through everyday means and not just through ritualistic actions. After re-evaluating the way I viewed success, I was able to notice that the assessment process we live by in our day to day lives is not the assessment criteria that Allah assesses us by. The sincerity or effort that a person has undergone is only witnessed by Allah and that is the assessment criteria of Allah, the sincerity, the effort, the process, the journey! The more I become aware of Allah, the more likely that my focus will shift towards pleasing Him.
This hadith was pivotal in increasing my awareness of Allah and in making this shift:
“[Ihsan is] to worship God as though you see Him, and if you cannot see Him, then indeed He sees you”. (Al-Bukhari and Al-Muslim).
Allah swt is always on our side
When we truly appreciate that Allah is seeing us, we open up ourselves to so many opportunities to do good, to say good, to behave good and to make the best decision we can in every given moment. Remember that Allah is always acting in our favour. Even when we simply intend to do something good and we put the effort in, but we are unable to do it due to unforeseen circumstances, we are still rewarded as if we did it. Similarly, the person who struggles to recite the Qur’an, Allah gives them double the reward for reciting. These two examples tell me how much Allah wants good from us and how He is ready to accept our efforts and reward them. By recognising that Allah is always in our favour, we begin to improve our efforts and take steps to get closer to Him.
Shifting to sincere effort gives us space to trust Allah, as we know the outcome is already decided. This removes anxiety from our lives as we begin to trust Allah’s plan for us. We realise and reaffirm that perfection is in the Qadr (decree) of Allah. The effort is what is recognised, the outcome is not in our control. Shifting our view to focus on the effort and not the outcome allows us to embrace that we can only control the choices we make right now. If we remember that Allah created the Universe and brought us into existence, then we can truly begin to appreciate and totally trust Allah with our lives.
We are on a journey to Allah
Our situation is known by the Lord of the Worlds. He, Al-Baseer, can see our situation, our pain, our struggles, our wants, needs and desires and with all of that He – Al-Aleem, the All-Knowing, is all aware of our abilities. Through this He is testing us to see if we can be the best in these moments. We have to remember that there is no such thing as a “perfect outcome”, our journey to Allah is what we need to perfect.
About the author:
Shuhani Shohid is a mother of two and a teacher by profession. Born and bred in South Wales, she is an aspiring writer, an active member of the community and co-founder of a faith, creative, community girls group called Roots in Newport.