It is my strong belief that the Qur’an contains the best personal development technology in existence. I came to Islam after having explored several other spiritual traditions and endless self-improvement courses and books. I can attest to the enormous power of the Qur’an’s unique teachings to transform our lives for the better. Growth and transformation, however, require strong focus, discipline and sustained effort. If we lack discipline and determination, we can begin by making a sincere intention to increase them and pray with earnestness for Allah’s help, subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He).
In Islam, we have all the tools we need to succeed and we must put them to use.
The following five lessons from the Qur’an can transform our lives in profound ways:
Every Little Thing Matters
Human beings have the tendency to think that the small actions we do on a daily basis are irrelevant and that only big decisions have the power to affect the course of our lives. This view is mistaken. Small actions are our lives and they create our future because life builds on a moment-by-moment basis.
The Qur’an tells us that “whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it, and whoever does an atom’s weight of evil will see it,” (99:7-8). This is very powerful because, at any given moment, what we do next is just a small step and therefore easy for us to control.
In The Qur’an and the Life of Excellence, Dr. Sultan Abdulhameed explains that “many times people are overwhelmed thinking that something big has to happen to turn their life around. These ayaat (verses) remind us of the power of taking small steps. Make a list of the many things you can do today. Decide on one item that is good for you and that you know you can do. Then do it. However weak or off-track a person may be, he or she is usually strong enough to take one step in the right direction. The next day will offer this opportunity again. Everything we say or do makes a difference, and it accumulates. The opportunity to make a better future is in the small steps we take hour by hour and day by day.”
The Value of Time
Our time is truly our only resource in life and it is the most precious asset that we have. Imam al-Ghazali gives excellent advice on how to make the best use of it:
“You should structure your time, arrange your regular devotions and assign to each function a set period of time during which it is given first priority but which it does not overstep. For if you abandon yourself to neglect and purposelessness, as cattle do, and just do anything that may occur to you at any time it happens to occur to you, most of your time will be wasted. Your time is your life, and your life is your capital; it is the basis of your transactions with Allah (swt), and the means to attain to everlasting felicity, in the proximity of Allah the Exalted. Each of your breaths is a priceless jewel, and when it passes away it never returns.”
Unless we learn to manage our time, we will be unable to achieve anything of value: “By time, indeed, man is in loss, except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds and advised each other to truth and advised each other to patience.” (Surat Al-`Asr, 103). Here, the Qur’an gives clear instruction on the activities that are worthwhile pursuing and spending our time in.
Mindless, meaningless continuous entertainment is a complete waste of life and is entirely against the teachings of Islam. It is something we must be very careful about since it is promoted constantly in our instant gratification and consumerism-focused society. We must be vigilant about our time and consciously decide how to spend it. We are accountable to Allah (swt) for how we spend our time.
Problems Are Opportunities
This teaching from The Qur’an and the Life of Excellence changed my life: “Allah (swt) is like a coach in the gym who wants me to jump over the bar. He sets it high enough so that I will hit the bar and fall, until I figure out how to jump higher.”
Problems and hardships are an inevitable part of life. They are indeed a sign of life. We will only stop having problems when we stop having life. Once we accept this reality, we can move forward and change how we view our problems. Problems have purpose and meaning. They are not random and they are not Allah’s (swt) punishment. They are placed by Allah (swt) in our lives for our own benefit and growth. Through problems we expand, become stronger and rise to a higher level. Once we ingrain this belief deep within ourselves, our lives completely change.
Dr. Sultan Abdulhameed explains it wonderfully: “Those who make a big difference in the world think of their problems as opportunities and go after them. Those who fail in life think of their problems as punishments and shrink away from them.”
If we believe that Allah (swt) is Most Merciful, Most Compassionate and is our Sustainer, it is easy to also believe that problems exist for our benefit and always come with solutions. Therein lies the key to our growth:
“For indeed, with hardship [will be] ease. Indeed, with hardship [will be] ease.” (94: 5-6). This ayah (verse) tells us that with the problem comes the solution. The solution is not separate from the problem. For example, if my problem is that I hate my meaningless low-paid job, the solution is to find a meaningful one that compensates me adequately. It is not easy, of course, to attain this, but the process of getting there will cause me to grow tremendously as an individual. With faith, effort, sustained focus and determination, I will succeed, insha’Allah (God willing).
The problem itself, if we learn to focus on its possible solutions and lessons, holds the key that will free us from it. If I didn’t mind that my job was meaningless, I would never start thinking of possible new jobs, and I would remain complacent and stagnate.
However, it is important to be aware we must now wallow in the problem itself, instead of directing our energy to the potential solutions. If we lament constantly about how miserable our job makes us rather than confronting it by taking action, thinking of ideas and seeking other work, this negativity will attract more negativity and keep us stuck where we are.
A very powerful exercise to change the way we think is this: whenever you think of a problem in your life, immediately switch to thinking about possible solutions. Say to yourself:
- What will be the positive outcome if this difficulty is resolved?
- What can I do to make this situation better?
- Who can help me to resolve this difficulty?
Self-Confidence Through Reliance on Allah (swt)
Lack of self-confidence is an epidemic in our society. People look for it in all the wrong places where it can never be found. As Muslims, our strong sense of self-confidence is derived from our personal knowledge and understanding that Allah (swt) is always ready and willing to assist us when we pursue a higher purpose.
Self-confidence comes from depending on Allah (swt) and knowing that He is there to help and protect us. Allah (swt) makes a promise in the Qur’an to “ease…towards ease” (92:7) whoever “gives and fears Allah and believes in the best [reward],” (92:5-6).
Self-confidence, explains Khurram Murad, “also emanates from knowing that Allah (swt) in His infinite mercy has equipped you with all you require to undertake the tasks set before you. It is not characteristic of the One who is Most Just and Most Merciful to prepare you for a task without equipping you with the necessary tools.” (In the Early Hours, p. 13).
Self-confidence for a Muslim is the exact opposite of arrogance. In arrogance, we believe that our achievements and positive qualities are our own and stem solely from our own effort, and that therefore we are great. In Islam, we believe that everything we are and everything we achieve comes from the grace of Allah (swt). We have self-confidence because we have complete reliance and trust in the Most Magnificent and Most Merciful Creator. We depend on Him completely, with strong faith.
We take purposeful action and are confident in our decisions and in our abilities because we are convinced that Allah (swt) wants us to succeed and to be the very best we can be. We have faith that Allah (swt) wants us to utilize to a maximum, and for the highest purpose, all the talents and abilities He gifted us with. This is why the self-confidence and determination of a Muslim who has strong faith is unshakeable.
Willpower as a Result of Faith
Strong willpower and perseverance are required to achieve any goal in life. Without willpower and sustained effort, a person cannot do anything. The Qur’an explains that “one of the basic weaknesses in human nature which impedes self development is the weakness of will” (In the Early Hours, p. 12). When narrating the story of Adam `alayhis-salaam (peace be upon him), Allah (swt) states: “And We had already taken a promise from Adam before, but he forgot; and We found not in him determination” (20:115).
Khurram Murad explains that irada is the Quran’ic terminology for sustained determination and willpower that is strong and forever responsive. Irada requires strength and consistency and is in fact “the antithesis of doubt, hesitation or lethargy. Once irada is firmly in place, then you must have no doubts and you must not hesitate,” (In the Early Hours).
As most of us have experienced, it is very difficult to achieve anything with willpower alone. We need faith and prayer to sustain our efforts. Irada is faith. Faith is the very thing that gives us the strength to systematically and continuously persevere in our efforts. We believe Allah (swt) will help us to attain our objective and we act based on this conviction. In other words, we express our faith through our actions. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace and blessings be upon him) achieved so much in his life because of his strong faith, which he acquired through prayer and the constant remembrance of Allah (swt). Prayer sustained him and allowed him to always act with strength, conviction and hope. Of course, this assumes that our objective is a high one and has as its ultimate purpose seeking the pleasure of Allah (swt). We will be unable to succeed if this is not the case.
May Allah (swt) grant us the ability to apply these powerful teachings to our lives and to make 2015 our best year yet, one that leads to personal success and to the resurgence of Muslims worldwide.