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The Qur’ānic Concept of Success
Razi Ullah Lone

The word ‘success’ has as many varied connotations attached to it -- as much as there is diversity in human thoughts. More often than not, the word is vociferously employed to gauge material abundance that, in simple terms, is an inexhaustible supply of everything under the sun. On deliberation, may be not everything, rather every article that brings life closer to that hackneyed but ever-invigorating aphorism: ‘Life should be a bed of roses.’ Looking around, it appears that every individual has embarked upon an unending struggle of weaving an empyrean around him, toiling ceaselessly like a spider whose eternal quest is to maintain a cobweb with an eerily frightening mercilessness for intruders, utterly oblivious to the fact that a cobweb, after all, is as frangible and vulnerable to the vagaries of nature as the tiny and hapless intruders are to the spider. And the word ‘intruders’ also needs some elaboration lest the simile is thought of as being used for some insidious vagrants wanting to snatch away the rights of others! Nay, these are the downtrodden and the dispossessed of this blessed land of ours, whose only intrusion is to ask imploringly for those amenities that so many of us take for granted. And if they are afforded what they ask for, it is with such unspeakable ignominy that the self-respect of the indigent individuals is trampled irreparably. It might occur to some that all I am doing is trying to berate those who have been amply blessed and honoured by the Almighty and that too is born out of an utterly narrow malignity that can never bear to see anyone thriving. While my own word might be as untrustworthy as that of Ananias, I humbly submit that my ramblings are but the consequence of an insufferable consciousness of the suffering humanity. I also concede that I am one of those whom I have reviled in that the vilifier becomes the vilified. The point is that we have to start seeing what is usually hidden from peoples’ ken. We cannot just disport ourselves in the lavishness of our lifestyles while the majority keeps languishing in poverty. Before it becomes a rude awakening on the Day of Judgement, this realization is imminent that the success that we deem success is a mere mirage. Explicating beautifully the true nature of man and the ultimate criterion of success, the Almighty says in the Qur’ān:

Now, as for man, when his Lord tests him, giving him honour and gifts, then says he [puffed up]: ‘My Lord has honoured me’. But when He tries him, restricting his subsistence for him, then says he [in despair]: ‘My Lord has humiliated me!’ Nay, nay! but you honour not the orphans! Nor do you encourage one another to feed the poor! And you devour inheritance -- all with greed, and you love wealth with inordinate love! (89:15-20)

These verses unambiguously typify the myopic vision we cherish viz-a-viz success and the unseemly attitude we adopt toward those who are indeed honoured in the eyes of the Almighty. The tone of these verses is that of indignation and denunciation. They declare forcefully that one should have no misapprehensions about the resources that Allah has rendered at one’s disposal and should not be lured into taking them as a yardstick for success. Conversely, if one finds oneself in consternation by an untoward situation where from it becomes exceedingly difficult to maintain even a precarious subsistence, by no means should such an individual construe it as ignominy. The verses, after establishing a principle, although directly address the affluent leaders of the Quraysh, but are almost as pertinent, if not more, to the moneyed of our times. Unfortunately, our minds have been so obfuscated by the wealth we amass, the brightly shinning vehicles we steer, the palatial houses we call ‘homes’ and the impeccable attires we adorn that the very essence of the Qur’ānic concept of success has lost its meaning in our lives. The phraseology has become utterly distorted. One would quite often hear someone saying, about a people, the phrase ‘Oonchay log’ (lit. elevated people). Don’t be misled into thinking that it is the mention of some highly pious and God-fearing people that scoff at the prospects of material gains and vie with each other for feeding the destitute. These people on the other hand are as intoxicated by their riches as an antelope is by the prospect of grazing in a lush green field, blinded by its insatiable hunger, unmindful of the bloodthirsty predator prowling somewhere around. Their only merits are unfathomable riches, which for them can buy everything and everyone they can think of, a house that is as vast as would make even the Pharaohs in their sarcophaguses envious, a vehicle called car which is looked at by every soul with such bewilderment as if it is a UFO. And then of course they ingratiate themselves with the community leaders, which makes them even loftier. Needless to mention the merits or should I say demerits of ‘Neechlay log’ (lit. inferior people). They are more than obvious; but allow me to say that such mind-set is despicable.

I can, on the basis of the aforementioned verses, safely submit that there is an urgent and pressing need to rethink and reanalyze our perceptions of what constitutes success and what can be taken as failure. While the verses establish that both favourable or unfavourable circumstances are no measure of success or failure, it also affirms that this is but the Almighty’s grand manner of testing us in this ephemeral abode of ours, for it not only sifts the grain from the chaff but is also a sine qua non for the grain to flourish. So one should always be conscious that material gains and worldly achievements are mere ephemeralities, and unattained goals and inconsolable sufferings are in no way manifestations of the Almighty’s wrath. This way of thinking would not allow any breeding ground for arrogance and vanity on the one hand, and would ward off pessimism and dismay on the other. The question then is that what constitutes success? The real success is to be perpetually thankful to Allah for His blessings, to take trying circumstances in stride and to consider his enormous bounties as a right of the less fortunate ones. And not just that! The orphans and the needy should not be just thrown some morsels of food or a few coins; their needs should be taken care of, as they would be in a breathing society. They should be treated with utmost respect and their status in the society should be elevated to the same level that we desire for ourselves. And let us not be intoxicated by the love of wealth, which undoubtedly keeps us afloat but has so many pitfalls that can lead to an abyss of humiliation and torment. 


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