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Key Principles for Success


1. Passion

Even so, there are some who choose to worship others besides God as rivals to Him, loving them with the love due to God, but the believers have greater love for God. [2:165]

It goes without saying that you cannot successfully accomplish a goal without having the passion inside to reach it. If you want to be successful at memorizing the Qur’ān, it requires an inner drive to stick with it. If there is no passion, if there is apathy, then this goal will never be reached. Passion is the key ingredient that drives us forward. You have to want to be successful at a particular venture or it will not happen.

2. Work

You who believe, be steadfast, more steadfast than others; be ready; always be mindful of God so that you may prosper. [3:200]

No matter how passionate or talented you are, you have to be willing to put in the work to make something happen. Malcolm Gladwell popularized the theory that it takes 10,000 hours of work to become an expert at something. In regards to Islamic work, it is also necessary to understand that there is glamorous work and behind-the-scenes dirty work. A true leader, and a truly successful person, does both.

3. Focus

So proclaim openly [connotation of going through something, like to split the desert in two with your trail] what you have been commanded (to say), and ignore the idolaters. [15:94]

Indeed, Abraham was a [comprehensive] leader, devoutly obedient to Allah, inclining toward truth [ḥanīf], and he was not of those who associate others with Allah. [16:120]

The second ayah indicates Ibrahīm being focused on the characteristic of being ḥanīf. Success requires a laser like focus on the task at hand. Consider the following scenario to understand how a lack of focus can make a program unsuccessful.

There is an organization devoted to teaching Islamic history full time. Their focus is teaching this subject from an academic point of view. Many of their students become drawn to the program and its instructors, and thus begin requesting personal counseling. If the organization allows itself to make that a part of its program, despite the good intention, it will end up detracting from what is the strength of the program to begin with. In the long run, they will over extend themselves and be unable to perform either task properly.

In the personal sense, you know that you have limits to what you can accomplish in a certain amount of time. If you want to study Arabic, then this would require focus in the sense that you can no longer devote time and energy to other subjects until you master this one. The lack of focus is what creates the phenomenon of ‘jack of all trades, master of none‘. Successful people, even those excelling in multiple areas, are usually most recognized for the one thing that initially made them successful.

4. Push

But We shall be sure to guide to Our ways those who strive hard for Our cause: God is with those who do good. [29:69]

Every project will hit a wall where it becomes easy to give up. This applies to studies, work, building a masjid, or any other kind of activity you may think of. You have to push through that wall when it comes. The passion and hard work mentioned above are the key ingredients that enable you to push through the obstacles you encounter.

5. Ideas

And consult them in the matter [3:159]

And whose affair is [determined by] consultation among themselves [42:38]

Successful people constantly come up with new ideas, new projects, and new and innovative ways of helping others. They also test the veracity of these ideas from consulting with others, and take others ideas as well. Every great project and success story starts with a simple idea, sometimes even hastily scribbled onto a dinner napkin.

6. Improve

Seek the life to come by means of what God has granted you, but do not neglect your rightful share in this world. Do good to others as God has done good to you. [28:77]

Is the reward for excellence (iḥsān) [anything] but excellence (iḥsān)?

This is a constant process. If you want to be successful, you must continue to hold yourself to a higher standard than anyone else. Many times an organization or person will be successful but then drop off. A person may become lazy, and an organization may succumb to weaknesses or competition. Continued success means continually improving even if others may not see a need for it.

7. Serve

[Believers], you are the best community singled out for people: you order what is right, forbid what is wrong, and believe in God. [3:110]

True success means that your aims and objectives also help benefit others as well. This is especially the case with Islamic work. Your success is directly tied to how well you serve your community.

8. Persist

Believers, why, when it is said to you, ‘Go and fight in God’s way,’ do you feel weighed down to the ground? Do you prefer this world to the life to come? How small the enjoyment of this world is, compared with the life to come! [9:38]

This is a combination of the ‘push’ and ‘improve’ principles above. It is not enough to keep doing the steps above, but to make sure they are continually repeated no matter how tough. Every time you feel like you have improved yourself or your organization, you have to consistently try to take it to the next level. You also have to persist through any negativity and setbacks that you encounter.

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