Nothing offers us a better understanding of our belief system as well as our secret desires, motivations and biases than going through the process of selecting a spouse, whether it is for ourselves or for our children. It is during that time that we really begin to acknowledge and give weight to the qualities that are of value to us in others. Of course, there are many things to be considered such as religion, ideology, background, education, financial status and personal compatibility in making the final choice but we will often find ourselves given more weightage to some of these over others.
I found myself in such a dilemma a few years ago when I had a marriage proposal to consider. I asked many sincere and trusted people for advice but the best solution came to me from one of my closest friends, who shared with me what I consider to be priceless wisdom. She told me that there was one quality I needed to focus on above everything else in my assessment of potential candidates for marriage: genuine fear of Allah. Why? This is because if a man fears Allah (swt), everything else in his life would fall into its proper place. He would give his wife and his parents their rights; he would be honest and just in his dealings with others, whether at home or at work; he would worry about whether he was fulfilling his duties rather than focusing solely on his rights.
This holds true for just about everything we do in our lives. If fear of Allah (swt) becomes the criterion by which we live, then everything, not just any one aspect of our lives, becomes ordered and meaningful.
Let us look deep within our own selves and ask: Where do we stand when it comes to fearing Allah (swt)?
This question is important because it has everything to do with how we define success in our lives.
In our society, as well as those across the world, success is defined in terms of what an individual achieves for oneself and her family in this world. Even a dictionary will give a generic meaning of success as “a favorable outcome of endeavors” and then go on to define it as “the attainment of wealth, position, honors, and the like”, all of which are material gains, limited to the life of this world.
So, for example, when parents want their children to acquire a good education, they are hoping for their children’s worldly success in terms of careers or lucrative jobs. Hence the stress on going to the best medical school or the best business, engineering or law schools and the stress on not being late for school but not on making Salah on time.
Focusing on our life in this world alone makes us short-sighted. We forget that our time is running out and that any moment could be our last. We put off important considerations regarding living our lives according to Islam, thinking that we will have time for all of that later. We give little importance to our Salah, our fasts, charity, our character, our relationships with those we are related to and those who have less than us in this world. We lose ourselves in the Dunya and become shackled by its definitions of success.
The Quran puts forth numerous examples of success and failure for our benefit. For instance, Firaun (pharaoh) had great wealth and power, he had absolute authority in the land, he had made slaves of an entire nation, the Children of Israel, and yet Allah says about him:
“Verily, Firaun (Pharaoh) exalted himself in the land and made its people sects, weakening (oppressing) a group (i.e. Children of Israel) among them, killing their sons, and letting their females live. Verily, he was of the Mufsidun (i.e. those who commit great sins and crimes, oppressors, tyrants, etc.).” (Al-Qasas 28:4)
“And (We destroyed also) Qarun (Korah), Firaun (Pharaoh), and Haman. And indeed Musa (Moses) came to them with clear Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.), but they were arrogant in the land, yet they could not outstrip Us (escape Our punishment).” (Al-Ankabut 29:39)
“…It was not Allah Who wronged them, but they wronged themselves.” (Al-Ankabut 29:40)
The world, however, only recognizes the material greatness of the Egyptian empire and exalts the pharaohs in history textbooks. By worldly standards, therefore, the pharaoh was a success. Yet, to Allah (swt), he was a failure. This itself is an indication of how different society’s interpretation of success is from its absolute definition, the definition Allah gives us in the Quran.
“Everyone shall taste death. And only on the Day of Resurrection shall you be paid your wages in full. And whoever is removed away from the Fire and admitted to Paradise, he indeed is successful. The life of this world is only the enjoyment of deception (a deceiving thing).” (Ale-Imran 3:185)
Allah clearly tells us that success is that which leads to our admittance to Paradise, not simply that which is attained in this life.
How then is this ultimate success to be attained?
In numerous places in the Quran, when Allah (swt) talks about success, He associates success with the fear of God.
“O you who believe! Do your duty to Allah and fear Him. Seek the means of approach to Him, and strive hard in His Cause as much as you can, so that you may be successful.” (Maidah 5:35)
“And whosoever obeys Allah and His Messenger, fears Allah, and keeps his duty to Him, such are the successful ones.” (An-Nur 24:52)
This implies that worldly success alone will not suffice us in the Hereafter. In Islam, the concept of success is tied to being conscious of Allah (swt) in everything we do: whether it is fulfilling the rites of religion such as praying, fasting, giving charity or it is related to our worldly duties and responsibilities like interacting with other people or earning a living.
This in turn means that being God-conscious in everything we do is what leads to eventual success. There is thus nothing wrong with aspiring to be a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer or a teacher, as long as we fulfill our duties as students and as professionals in the best possible way for the sake of Allah (swt), with the aim to please Him (swt), and work not just for the sake of our Dunya but for our Akhirah as well.
May Allah (swt) make us among those who are successful in this world as well as the Hereafter. Ameen.