We are going to talk about the American dream: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I am going to start with the pursuit of happiness. Even though it is an incredible notion, I was pretty surprised to find that the Quran does not talk about the pursuit of happiness. The Quran talks about contentment as an ultimate peace. In Surah Najm (53:39), Allah (swt) says: “Wa Al-Laysa Lil-Insani Illa Ma Sa‘aa.” Human being will have nothing for his benefit, except whatever efforts he made.
- Happiness. The lowest of all the pursuits is happiness. It comes and goes, so you keep running after this drug. If your pursuit is only happiness, you are in for a lot of disappointment. One can never live in a constant state of happiness.
- Being cool. Let’s go to the second pursuit, which is the pursuit of ‘cool’. In order to be blended into the society, let me be cool, so that nobody would pick on me. Nobody would point at me and say: “Why are dressed like that? Why do you look like that?” You want to fit in and want to be invisible. In this case, the decision of what you are going to buy is actually driven by what people are going to think of it.
- Popularity. Next comes the pursuit of popularity. Let’s put it as follows: I do not just want to blend in – I want to be the coolest person around! I want to be the one that everybody else wants to be friends with. The obsession of “I want to be talked about”, “I want to be the centre of attention” and “I want people commenting on me” leads the way. Pursuit of popularity is a strange thing, because it makes people humiliate themselves. To achieve the pursuit of popularity, you have to maintain your image.
- Prestige. Above that is another pursuit – the pursuit of prestige. This is the pursuit that has more to do with college students. It means you want to be able to associate yourself with something that is very valuable. You want to be able to tell people: “You know, I went to Harvard!” You would like to use your name in the same sentence as Harvard. You would like to have your name associated with a prestigious institution or a famous brand, so you would like to wear clothes of a certain brand, and if the brand label is not mentioned, you want to have a conversation with people, forcing them to ask where you got that. You do not want to take a selfie with someone, because you would like to remember them; rather, you want to take a selfie, so you can post it for other people to think that you are more important, as you are standing next to this person. It becomes a matter of prestige. It’s more about letting others know how awesome you are by association not by accomplishment. Unfortunately, in the Muslim community, there is another kind of prestige – sometimes our parents are really bent on making their child a Hafidh-ul-Quran and a doctor. They love telling people: “You know, my son is a Hafidh!” They turn him into a trophy. It happens! Tafakhurum Bainakum, the Quran calls it.
- Money. Above that there is the pursuit of money. These are people who do not care about happiness, cool, popularity or prestige. All they care about is money, and they know how to make money. It takes more pain, more efforts to get money, but they would not take a break.
- Excellence. Above that is the pursuit of excellence. “I do not want to be just a student of the class – I want to be the top student.” “I do not want to be an employee – I want to be the best employee.” Such people are never satisfied with themselves and will look up for excellence in whatever field they are in – they need to be on top. Whom they compare themselves to? They compare themselves to who they were yesterday. They do not look up to anybody else or compare themselves to anybody else. So they are never satisfied. They never sit back. They just keep pushing themselves harder and harder. Such people are really few.
- Impact. There is something above excellence and that is impact. There comes the pursuit of impact. “I don’t care what I get, I don’t care how much money I make, I don’t care what the world thinks about me, but I want to leave a legacy.” “I know that I have a limited time on this planet and when I go, I want to leave my mark on this world.” “I want to make this world a better place for other people. I want to be a person of impact.” This kind of selflessness is for a very few people. We are talking about non-Muslims here. People who could have made a straight six figure salary right after school, but they choose to do social work. These are the people who make this planet a better place to live. Think about Nelson Mandela! These are people who have spent time in jail because they believe in impact. They sacrifice themselves for the greater good. They are servants of a cause. Excellence is a byproduct for these people.
- Ultimate truth. You might think the highest level somebody can reach is impact; but no, there is something even higher. There is the ultimate truth. Somebody pursues the idea of justice, somebody pursues the truth. Now, justice is something you cannot fully see in the world, can you? But these people who pursue it do not care. They are going to work towards it anyway. When you work towards an idea, you become the most resilient, incredible person.
Now you know that the legacy of our prophets was actually the pursuit of truth.
A Mumin should be always in pursuit of impact. He should always be thinking about others. Mumin should never be satisfied.
Allah (swt) says: “La yukallifullahu nafsan illa wus‘aha.” (Al-Baqarah 2:286) Do you know the true meaning of this verse? It means Allah (swt) hasn’t burdened you with anything, except your own potential.
In other words, did you have the potential to do better? Yes! Could you have done more? Yes! Allah (swt) would hold you accountable for what you could have done, not the bare minimum but the maximum. Allah (swt) wants you to push yourself and show Him what you are made of. That’s the idea of the pursuit here.
We are not interested in the pursuit of happiness because that is something which Allah (swt) gives as a side achievement. We are not interested in the pursuit of cool because it is lame! We are not interested in the pursuit of being popular in the eyes of those who do not know their purpose of life. We are not interested in the pursuit of prestige, as it comes from Allah (swt). Prophets were homeless, but they had prestige. They were spit on; yet, they had the highest of prestige.
When it comes to the pursuit of excellence, we, Muslims, cannot afford mediocrity. If you are studying, you can study better. If you are volunteering, you can volunteer better. Whatever you are doing, it can be done better. This applies best to the youth, as you are not entitled to too many responsibilities. Once you get married, your responsibilities multiply, but this is the best time! This is the time to push yourself and not sit back for playing video games. This is not the time to watch movies after movies. Everybody else is expecting from you! The entire world is waiting for the impact that you will have.
You cannot sit around, everybody else can. They do not have pursuit, so it is fine for them. You have to be the person of excellence. You should be thinking about what Allah (swt) has given you, what talent He has blessed you with, and what you are going do with it.
As you think about that, you are actually thinking about contentment. You are now thinking about meeting with Allah (swt), which is our ultimate truth. You want to be able to show Allah (swt) that you did everything in your potential. That is what you want to be able to do.
You should have the best dietary plans and the best sleeping habits. You should be best in your studies, exercise schedules, and in your prayers. You should be pushing yourself to excellence in everything you do in life. You should be at the top. You should not be eating junk food; you should not be wandering around. You should be like a model!
When people see you, they should say, “I want to be like him. Everything he does is awesome. He does it the best.”
That’s what you, the youth, need to be. That is exactly what this Ummah needs.
Allah (swt) says in Surah Najm: “Wa Al-Laysa Lil-Insani Illa Ma Sa‘aa” (“Human beings will have nothing for themselves except their efforts.”) (An-Najm 53:39)
The pursuit! It is the most valuable thing to Allah (swt).
Allah (swt) respects the pursuit of prophets, even if they had a zero impact, because they made efforts. Think of Nooh (as) – constant pursuit!
Think about this: what is your life going to mean if it is one video game after another or a movie after another? How does that change the world?
You have to think higher than that.
And when you start doing that, I can tell you what Allah (swt) will give you. Allah (swt) will give you happiness. When you really have pursuit, then your life means something. Internalize the pursuit to find eternal happiness.
Allah (swt) says: “Wa Anna Sa‘yahu Sawfa Yura.” (“His effort will soon be seen.”) (An-Najm 53:40)
We judge each other on the basis of results. Nobody cares about the effort you made – if you did not get good results, you will be fired! No human being in this world sees your efforts. I cannot see yours, and you cannot see mine. Only Allah (swt) can! All we see is impact. All we see are results.
Allah (swt) on the Judgement Day would be looking at your efforts, not your results. Allah (swt) is the Judge of efforts. What an incredible Master!
Therefore, never underestimate your efforts. Keep pushing yourself.
Two people put the same effort, but one sees immediate results, while other has to wait for long to see anything. That is in the hands of Allah (swt).
Allah (swt) judges the quality not quantity. Fix your quality and, Insha’Allah, this Ummah has a bright future. This will change the world.
May Allah (swt) make this youth the heroes of this Ummah.
Transcribed for Hiba by Asma Hamza – Educationist and freelance writer.