Motivation for the Muslims (Part 1)

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Rahila Waqar

Director, Research and Teacher Development at Educational Research Institute (ERI)
Rahila Waqar is Deputy Director, Usman Public School and Lecturer at PAF-KIET.

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bigstock-motivational-concept-got-mot-30228101Any definition of a psychological process or concept is the result of the author’s perception. Even when a researcher carefully collects data and analyses it sincerely and objectively, that analysis is based on the researcher’s paradigm or perception. This is the reason why a definition given by a Western psychologist cannot be applied to the Muslim population because Western rationality and perception is based on assumptions that are completely different from the Muslim belief system. Therefore, it is extremely important to sieve the definitions and theories, coming from Western sources through the Quran and Sunnah and then accept, apply or reject them.

“In human perception, all experience is subjective and hence coloured by individual perceptions, as well as by unconscious motives. We can be certain that reports of our senses will be slightly distorted, viewed through individual prisms that have been shaped by unique genetic structures and cultural experiences.” (Kottler and Shepard129).


Western psychologists define the concept of motivation in several different ways. Some of the definitions are given below for analysis.

“Motivation is something that energizes, directs and sustains behaviour; it gets students moving, points them in a particular direction and keeps them going.” (Ormrod 472).

Motivation is… an internal state that arouses, directs and maintains behaviour.” (Woolfolk372).

Motivation is a force that energizes, directs, and maintains behaviour.” (Steers and Porter, 1975).

I on the other hand prefer to define motivation as:

“… an internal awakening that guides actions over a short or an extended period of time towards a goal.” (Waqar19).


Traditionally, motivation is divided into two basic types, intrinsic and extrinsic.

For Muslims, however, both of these types will make all their efforts go awry.

Extrinsic Motivation

If a Muslim works solely to please a human being, be it the boss, teacher, parent, elder sibling, a relative or any other important person, the work will be labeled as ‘Riyaa’ or showing off because the intention was wrong.

The Prophet Muhammad (sa)said, “The one who prays and wants people to see him has committed shirk. The one who fasts and wants the people to know about his fasting has committed shirk. The one who gives Sadaqah (charity) and wants people to know about his charity has committed shirk.”

“O Allah! I seek refuge with you from associating partners with you knowingly and I seek your forgiveness for what I do unknowingly.” (Bukhari) “Verily, the hypocrites seek to deceive Allah, but it is He Who deceives them.  And when they stand up for As-Salat (the prayer), they stand with laziness and to be seen of men, and they do not remember Allah but little.” (An-Nisa 4:142)

Ar-riyaa is the minor shirk for which the Prophet (sa) warned that it is like the black ant on the black rock in a moonless night. So, extrinsic motivation cannot be a Muslim’s target. This is why the companions were very careful about their intentions.

Hazrat Ali (rta) was fighting a Kafir in one of the battles. During the battle Hazrat Ali knocked him down and raised his sword to kill him. As soon as the Kafir knew that he was going to be killed he spat in Hazrat Ali’s face, so immediately Hazrat Ali left him and went on his way. He was later asked, “Why did you leave him when Allah clearly gave you power over him?!”  Hazrat Ali replied, “I was fighting him for the sake of Allah, and when he spat in my face I feared that if I killed him, it would have been out of personal revenge and spite.”

If a Muslim aims for a material gain, the deed or action will still go wasted.

“Actions are (judged) by motives (Niyyah), so each man will have what he intended. Thus, he whose migration (Hijrah) was to Allah and His Messenger, his migration is to Allah and His Messenger; but he whose migration was for some worldly thing that he might gain, or for a wife he might marry, his migration is to that for which he migrated.” (Bukhari & Muslim)

Say: If your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your wives, your kindred, the wealth that you have gained, the commerce in which you fear a decline, and the dwellings in which you delight … are dearer to you than Allah and His Messenger, and striving hard and fighting in His Cause , then wait until Allah brings about His Decision (torment). And Allah guides not the people who are Al-Fasiqun (the rebellious, disobedient to Allah). (At-Taubah 9:24)

Unfortunately, Muslim kids, who are born on the Fitrah, are trained to be motivated to please important others around them or are bribed to do things or perform actions. From the very beginning they are directed to a skewed course.

Intrinsic Motivation

For intrinsic motivation let’s study the following hadith:

“Knowledge from which no benefit is derived is like a treasure out of which nothing is spent in the cause of God.” (Tirmidhi)

Acquiring knowledge is an inherently noble pursuit. But the hadith tells us that one should pursue knowledge only if it is beneficial for the learner and the humanity at large. The knowledge when spent for the benefit of the Muslim community becomes a source of seeking Allah’s pleasure otherwise it is worthless and not worth being pursued.

Allah (swt) has taught us supplications for it as well.

اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِك مِنْ عِلْمٍ لا يَنْفَعُ، وَقَلْبٍ لَا يَخْشَعُ، وَدُعَاءٍ لَا يُسْمَعُ، وَنفْسٍ لَا تَشْبَعُ

Oh Allah, I seek refuge in you from knowledge that does not benefit and from a heart that does not fear and from a supplication that is not heard and from a self that is not satisfied.

اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَسْأَلُكَ عِلْمًا نَافِعًا، وَأَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْ عِلْمٍ لَا يَنْفَعُ

Oh Allah, I ask of You beneficial knowledge and I seek refuge in you from knowledge that does not benefit.

Thus we will not pursue knowledge just for the sake of it or just because we like acquiring it. We will do it only for its usefulness. Thus doing anything just because we enjoy doing it is not a way a Muslim thinks. A Muslim’s decisions are centred and are laid down by the principles of Allah and his messenger Muhammad (sa). A Muslim does not base his actions on his personal desires or whims.

(To be continued…)

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