Belief & Worship Reflections

Striving for Excellence

First Topic: Why Be Good When You Can Be “Excellent”?

By Uzma Awan

Photo: Mike Bitzenhofer

It so happens, sometimes Shaytan (Satan) fools us into believing we are doing well. We are keeping up with our fard (obligatory) salah (prayer), Ramadan fasts, yearly zakat (a tax that is the duty and social obligation of every Muslim), and infrequent or daily readings of the Qur’an and that’s sufficient. We enter from one day into another being content with ourselves.

Then we read biographies; biographies of Muslim men and women of the past, of leaders and accomplished individuals. We meet people in our lives who have achieved much more than we can ever imagine. And then we wonder, “Why can’t I be like them too?”

Most of us aspire to tread in the footsteps of the prophets and their companions (may Allah be pleased with all of them), however only a handful actually do it. Aspirations are kept aside thinking we are not good enough, too young, the time has not come yet, one day, insha’Allah (God willing)!

Ask any person regarding what they would like to do in life and their response will be something that they value most. The question that arises here is that when “this” is what you most value in your life then why not start with it? Why put it on the backburner? If Jannah (paradise) is what we aspire towards, then what will get us to a higher level than others?

Doing Extra

Fard salah are okay, appreciable, but why not add to them sunnah (all the traditions and practices of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, peace be upon him) and voluntary prayers? Scholars have emphasized the importance of voluntary acts of worship because it is through them that a servant draws closer to his Lord.

Everybody is keeping up with the fard acts of worship, then how do we have a better chance of getting Jannah? What is it that we sacrificed?

The reward for offering duha (mid-morning) prayer has been compared with that of umrah (pilgrimage to Makkah). Stressing its importance, Abu Umamah radi Allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) narrated from the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) that he said, “…a prayer followed by a prayer with no worldly talk during the gap between them will be recorded in Illiyyun.”1

Illiyyun is the plural of `ulayy which means “highness, high places or the people who sit in high places.” The more something ascends and rises, the more it increases and becomes greater.2

Encompassing all the trials and tribulations of this world, this life has been given to us to ascend our status in Jannah. There are several possibilities of achieving that status. As Abu Huraira (ra) narrates, “My friend [the Prophet ﷺ] advised me to do three things and I shall not leave them until I die, these are: To fast three days every month, to offer the duha prayer, and to offer witr before sleeping.”3

By adding voluntary prayers, reviving sunnah fasting, reading, teaching and memorizing the Qur’an, we can hope Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala, the Most Exalted, will overlook our shortcomings, help us see our mistakes and lift us up to perform more good deeds, insha’Allah.


Those who have not been homeschooled know that from the first day that we entered the school building we are taught perfection. Perfectly made hair, properly trimmed nails, perfectly tied shoelaces, perfectly ironed uniforms, perfectly assembled school bags and stationery boxes, and perfectly straight assembly lines. If this is the code of conduct for the worldly life then what about the religious duties?

Many of us can keep up with the fard prayer but sometimes these prayers are half-hearted lacking khushu (humility, devotion, and concentration) and perfection. We come to the prayer mat as if one comes to an event merely for attendance or to show their face without feeling like coming.

Ibn Laila narrates from Umm Hani who said, “I never saw the Prophet ﷺoffering a lighter prayer than that (Duha) prayer, but he was performing perfect bowing and prostrations.”4

The Prophet ﷺ revered the voluntary prayers as he did the fard salah. Perfection, out of love for Allah! There are other similar ahadith (sayings and traditions of the Holy Prophet Muhammadﷺ) where he advised his companions to save their heels and perfect their ablution.

Utilization of Time and Other Resources

Hasan al-Basri said, “O son of Adam! You are but a collection of days; whenever a day passes, a part of you ends with it.” One morning, when Muhammad ibn Wasi was asked how he was, he replied, “What can the condition of a man be who draws closer to the Hereafter with every passing day?”

We are getting closer to our death every day. Our life is coming to an end. Soon our role on earth will be over. What is it that we have done that is going to make us proud on the Day of Judgment? Will we be of those who would wish they had done more?

This calls for a poignant introspection of our lives and our times. Talking about productivity, Annie Dilliard writes in her book, The Writing Life, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.”

If we look at our lives, what deeds consume most of our time, skills and energy? Are we really doing our best for the sake of Allah (swt) and His Cause, and for the sake of our own salvation in the Hereafter?

If we are good speakers, are we spreading the word of Allah (swt) by our talks? If we are good writers, are we using that talent for the sake of Allah (swt)? If we are great cooks, do we take out time to cook meals for a poor family at least once a month, if not every week? We spend so much on ourselves, sometimes in ostentation. What about impressing Allah?

Yes, it is toilsome to do the extra along with other stresses of a modern life, but what if we trained our minds to believe our Hereafter depends on it?

In Surah al-Balad, Allah, the Most Exalted talks about the steep path that He encourages us to choose. He says, “But he has not broken through the difficult pass.” (Qur’an 90:11)

He has shown us two paths – one that leads to Shaytan and the other that leads to Jannah. The one that leads to Shaytan has been likened to descending a hill. It’s easy but choosing this path will wreck our hereafter.

On the other hand, there is aqabah—a steep path. The word iqtiham means “to apply oneself to a hard and toilsome task”.5

Climbing a steep hill is tedious and causes fatigue but we also learn from a hadeeth recorded from `Amr ibn `Abasah that the Prophet ﷺ said, Whoever builds a Masjid so that Allah may be remembered in it, Allah will build a house for him in Paradise; and whoever frees a Muslim person, then it will be his ransom from Hell; and whoever grows grey in Islam, then it will be a light for him on the Day of Judgment.”6

There are so many tasks that lie before us. There are masajid (mosques) to be built, renovated, improved and filled. There are orphans and needy to be fed and looked after. When one looks at war and the growing tribulation in the Muslim world one cannot ignore the statistics of hungry people. There are our brothers and sisters, unjustly imprisoned. They are waiting for our assistance. What are we doing for them?

We seek Allah’s refuge from living a negligent life and ignoring our responsibilities.

  1. Extracted from a long hadeeth, Sunan Abu Dawoud, Book # 2, Hadeeth # 0558. []
  2. Tafseer Ibn Katheer, Surah Al-Mutaffifeen, Ayah 18. []
  3. Saheeh Bukhari, Book # 21, Hadeeth # 274 []
  4. Saheeh Bukhari, Book # 59, Hadeeth # 587 []
  5. Tafheem-ul-Qur’an, Maulana Maududi, Surah al-Balad []
  6. Tafseer Ibn Katheer, Surah al-Balad, recorded by Imam Ahmad []

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