Note: The lessons in this 4-Part Series were inspired by the free 7-Day Trial of the iPersonalEnrichment.com program. While this series focuses mostly on concepts, the program works to internalize them.
Part 1: The Amazing Race, The Different Races, The Race to Allah
Imagine three people running a race of equal athletic ability. The first person has weights strapped on to every inch of their body, so they don’t see the load they carry but they just feel heavy and exhausted, and in a short amount of time, they burn out. They keep trying but keep burning out quickly every time. The second person is trying to run while carrying a heavy load they recognize and see is on their backs, but they are still determined to run. Unfortunately, the load they carry slips around and even distracts their vision from the racecourse so they veer off in the wrong direction often. Because they won’t simply let go of the load, even coming back to the racecourse itself becomes its own challenge. The third person has no weights or loads. They are free to run without anything holding them down. They feel light as the wind, and they actually enjoy the run.
Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) mentions twice in the Qur’an:
We see the image of the race, of rushing to Allah (swt) with speed, in the following verses:
“Race toward forgiveness from your Lord and a Garden whose width is like the width of the heavens and earth, prepared for those who believed in Allah and His messengers. That is the bounty of Allah which He gives to whom He wills, and Allah is the possessor of great bounty.” (Qur’an 57:21)
“And hasten to forgiveness from your Lord and a garden as wide as the heavens and earth, prepared for the righteous.” (Qur’an 3:133)
“It is these who race for the good deeds, and they are foremost in them.” (Qur’an 23:61)
“And the foremost in the race, the foremost in the race. Those are the ones brought near to Allah.” (Qur’an 56:10-11)
In these verses, two different roots are used to describe this act of racing. The first – ‘s-b-q’ – has the meaning of competition. The second – ‘s-r-‘’ – has the meaning of speed and haste. Both roots have also been used with an alif—implying it is done with others.
Sheikh al-Tantawi mentioned in his tafsir (exegesis):
إذ السبق معناه : أن يتجاوز السائر من يسير معه ، ويسبقه إلى المكان المقصود الوصول إليه
“The meaning of al-Sabq is that the one who walks surpasses the one walking with them, and reaches the destination before them.”
The Different Races
There are some important reflections to take from these verses. First, the truth is, we are all headed somewhere in a race whether we consciously know it or not. Allah (swt) asks all of humanity, “Where are you going?” (Qur’an 81:26). And just as Allah (swt) mentions those who race for good he also mentions those who actually race for disbelief.
“O Messenger! Let them not grieve you (those) who vie with another in the race to disbelief…” (Qur’an 5:41)
Secondly, many times the concept of competition ‘being healthy’ is actually practiced in a very worldly sense where greed, jealousy, and enmity towards the competitors would be felt. Subhan Allah (glory be to God), this is the way of those in the “Rat Race” which is also described by Allah (swt) in the Qur’an:
I use the term ‘chosen’ because holding onto jealousy is something we have been asked to avoid, so it falls within the realm of our own abilities and choices. The Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) mentioned, “Avoid jealousy, for it destroys good deeds as fire destroys wood.”
There are also those who always assume others are jealous of them, that they are the destination of other people’s races. This usually means that instead of looking ahead of themselves, they’re busy looking back and wishing for others not to catch up. Rather than fixing their sight on the pleasure of Allah (swt), they too get caught in the “Rat Race” of enmity, and veer off course.
The Race to Allah (swt)
Yet subhan Allah, the opposite spirit is the case for those truly racing towards Allah (swt). Surrounding yourself with excellent company means you will be competing with the best. This means you will actually achieve much more than you would on your own. Their company is a blessing that helps you push yourself harder. The race is not about beating others as much as it’s about achieving your own best efforts for Allah (swt), because al-Kareem (the Generous) rewards without measure from his infinite Mercy to each and every one of us.
In this race, the competitors are inspired by one another and want each person to do as well as possible. They are happy to see them advance and help them. If they see someone headed in the wrong direction, they try to correct them and bring them back. Each time they help their competitors advance, they are also advanced. They help their competitors through obstacles, and obstacles are magically removed from their own path. The race track is much more of an obstacle course anyway with each person racing through their own set of unique life challenges and opportunities designed according to the perfection of Allah’s plan. This is exemplified when Zakariyah ‘alayhi sallatu wa sallam (may Allah send His peace and blessings on him) was inspired to make du`a’ to Allah (swt) for a son right after Maryam `alayha as-salaam (peace be upon her) explains to Him that Allah (swt) is the source of her rizq (wealth or provision).
Now imagine that as we race to Allah (swt), He also rushes towards us as is mentioned in the Hadith Qudsi (record of the words of the Prophet ﷺ, relating words of God that were not revealed as part of the Qur’an):
“He who draws close to Me a hand’s span, I will draw close to him an arm’s length. And whoever draws near Me an arm’s length, I will draw near him a fathom’s length. And whoever comes to Me walking, I will go to him running.”
Finally, the sirat (bridge) over Hell-Fire which we all have to cross in order to enter Jannah (paradise), provides important imagery. Some will crawl, others will walk, and the very fortunate will run across. It is those who ran to Allah (swt) in this life, who will get to run to Him in the next. May we be of them insha Allah (God willing). Ameen.
Stay tuned for Part 2 which includes: Understanding the Racers’ Weights and Loads, What Does Allah Wants for Us? and Tricks of the Mind and Nafs.