Q. What are my tools of trade when I go to work for Allah?
A. Ah, I thought you would never ask. I have a one-word answer for you: YOU. That is your primary asset and resource: you yourself. You are in fact the message as well as the messenger when you work for Allah – a fact most of us tend to forget.
That means every time you open your mouth and say something about Allah, people will focus not just on your words and on Allah, but also on you. So, work on making yourself as presentable as possible, as acceptable to people as possible in terms of your manners and conduct. If people don’t like you, chances are they will not like your message either – or they may not even listen to you in the first place.
After that let me share with you some ideas that created an enormous stir in my own soul when I first read them. According to that Islamic thinker Iqbal, about whom Muslims know so little and care even less, life is a struggle. Iqbal calls it a Jihad – Jihad-e-Zindagani: the great struggle of life.
Then Iqbal goes on to list, item by item, the weapons of war in the great big battle of life, and they are as follows:
- Rock-solid conviction. Iqbal calls it Yaqeen Muhkam.
- Ceaseless toil – what Iqbal calls ‘Amal Paiham.
All-conquering love – in the language of Iqbal, Mahabbat Fatihe Aalam.
Iqbal, may Allah bless him, put this model together, at the beginning of the 20th century. This was a model he took right out of the pages of the Qur’an and Hadith.
Few people throughout history have been able to translate the living message of Rasul, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, in more apt or effective terms than Iqbal did.
And then here is the upper limit of human achievement for you – meaning, that is as far as any human being can go: cultivate Allah’s own characteristics in yourself – Takhallaqu Bi-Akhalqillah.
After that, here is a practical guide for every one of us: follow the example of Rasulullah, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam. But here alas is where many Muslim stalwarts falter and slip. Many of them seem to think this primarily means wearing certain type of clothes and eating certain type of food and adhering to certain type of formal worship routines.
Yes, all of that too. But there is more to it than that. Following the Rasul, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, means trying to be the best human being in your family, in your neighborhood, in your community, in your town, in your region, in your society – well, I will not say in the whole world, but that is what it means. Therefore, that is what you need to try to be when you become aware of your responsibility to work for Allah.
Let me add a few more things from Qur’an and Hadith to this wonderful list of Iqbal’s – as if these things were not enough in and of themselves:
Haqq. Truth. For, Islam is truth, and mixing it with falsehood either in speech or behaviour will be counterproductive. It will backfire on you. Truth is human beings’ foremost qualification – after knowledge – for being Allah’s representatives on earth. In fact, individuals, groups, organizations, nations, societies, cultures and civilizations that lose sight of truth or dilute it in their day-to-day dealings, lose their claim to a moral existence in Allah’s mercy and on Allah’s earth as his vicegerents.
Sabr. Courage, perseverance and patience. In many ways, this business of working for Allah is a tough job, no matter how you look at it. You need to hang in there, do the best you can, put your trust in God and wait for results to show. Sabr is also important for another reason. Allah does not accept our work on face value. He puts us through some tests to see who really are the people who mean what they say. So when that happens we should not panic and run. We should persevere in the path of helping humanity that we have chosen for ourselves.
Hikmah. Common sense. This is what many human beings lack – Muslim as well as non-Muslim. But Hikmah is more than common sense. It is the ability to see things clearly and act wisely in life’s day-to-day situations. It is a combination of all sorts of talents and skills including problem solving and creativity.
Mau’idha Hasanah. A sweet tongue. This is at the same time an art, a science, a skill and – like everything else – a supreme gift and blessing from Allah. Work to cultivate it and ask Allah for it.
Sadaaqah and Amanah. Candor, honesty and integrity – in speech as well as in behaviour. Sadaaqah and Amanah. These are the twin concepts that provide the basic personality and social foundation required for working for Allah. In Islam, purity of motives and intentions is one of the prerequisites for all truly meaningful actions. It is also one of the most important things in dealing with people.
Ilm. Knowledge. Muslims are in their present pathetic condition, not just because their Iman is lacking, but also because their ‘Ilm is lacking – even though they are both interlinked. So, if our knowledge is sketchy we are not likely to be very effective in working for Allah.
Fahm. Understanding. Ask yourself this: What use is knowledge if you don’t understand it? Or if you don’t understand the nature of the place, the time, the situation, the circumstances, the context and the conditions in which that knowledge is supposed to be useful. This is another major area of weakness among Muslims. To a significant extent it provides the explanation and the background for the failures and frustrations that so many suffer when they set out to work for Allah.
Resources. You would need all kinds of resources including money and time. You will have to learn to generate and mobilize these resources as you go along. To tell you the truth, you do the work, Allah will guide you to the resources.
This summary of some of what you may consider to be individual attributes should get you started on your way to working for Allah. At the same time, these attributes should also provide a larger perspective in your life with regard to your multiple relationships with the broader human collective of which you are a part.
By this I mean the larger structural arrangements in your life such as your organizations, associations, Jama’ats, neighborhoods, workplaces and the rest. They pertain to the institutions of the society and to the culture that dominates society.
The attributes Iqbal mentions, and the ones I have added to Iqbal’s list, are some of the critical variables that individuals, groups, organizations, Jama’ats, societies and cultures need if they are serious in their commitment to work for Allah. With them, working for Allah is the greatest fun anyone can ever have. Without them all claims to work for Allah are a fraud.
Q. What if I am a woman? Surely Allah does not expect a woman to work for him? Or does he?
A. Sure he does. Men and women are two sides of the same human equation, and Allah created men and women both to work for him. You will be amazed how often Allah brackets men and women together throughout the Qur’an – men this and women this, men that and women that. I don’t think there is a parallel to that in all the old annals of human thought and discourse.
To me this is one of the greatest miracles of the Qur’an – of course, the Qur’an is brimful of them, each more tantalizing than the other.
At the same time if you are a woman, then in some ways you are the lucky one – because you are the recipient of all sorts of concessions and special dispensations from Allah. I wish I had the time to go into them in some detail, but I don’t.
However, it is foolish to think men and women are either created the same or they must do things the same way. People – men and women both – would need to use common sense (Hikmah) to figure out appropriate gender-sensitive ways of doing what needs doing on a daily basis if they are to be successful in working for Allah.
If you don’t understand this, read books like Men Are from Mars and Women Are from Venus. You will get some sense of how the two genders function differently in some key areas of life, even though they share the same common human essence.
If you are a man, and if you still don’t get it, then my advice to you is: get pregnant a little bit. Reality will then hit you like a thunderbolt.
Q. Why should I work for Allah anyway? What is in it for me?
A. This may perhaps be the most important question of all. Here are some reasons why I think you should work for Allah:
First, because that is what you were created to do: I did not create humans and Jinns save to work for me, says Allah in the Qur’an. Wa Ma Khalaqtul Jinna wal Insa Illa liya’budoon (Qur’an 51:56).
Second, because the pay is good and the conditions are great.
Let me ask you this: Why do you work for your present employer? I am sure it is because the pay and perks are good. Allah gives you all that your present employer promises you and more. So why wouldn’t you work for him?
Here is Allah’s promise for those who work for him: What would you like? Name your price. I will double it for you. In fact I will multiply it by a factor of 700 – or more.
Thus, when you work for Allah, you will have quantity of compensation more than you ever dreamt. And you will have quality of reward better than you can possibly imagine. If someone else offers you a better deal go ahead and take it.
Third, it is sheer fun – working for Allah is. Nothing in this world compares to the joy and excitement of working for Allah. It is your personal password to happiness.
Fourth, no matter how you look at it, working for Allah makes a lot of sense. It was Allah who made you; and it is he who now wants you to work for him. If you did a good job of it, this world will be a better place, and all of us can then live happily together in peace and joy in such a world. So why not do it?
Fifth, you are doing it anyway. So why not do it right and why not claim credit for the work you do. As a human being and as a Muslim you are already doing a great amount of what is expected of you in all the involuntary aspects of your life. Why don’t you then bring the voluntary part of your life in harmony with it as well?
Sixth, self interest. When you work for Allah, you are working for your own best interests – right here in this world as well as in the next world. Thus, when you work for Allah, you are really working for yourself. Because, even though Allah made you and the world in which you live and work, and even though Allah thus completely owns you, and you owe everything you have to him, he rewards you most handsomely for every iota of work you put in for him.
As I said earlier, he offers the most comprehensive compensation package you can’t even imagine in your wildest dream or speculate about, no matter how wild you let your imagination run. Listen to one simple idea from that incredible deal that Allah offers you when you agree to work for him. It has to do with your actions and intentions.
If you decide in your heart to do something wrong, something Allah does not like, something that may be harmful to Allah’s creation in some form, do you know what Allah does? He does not yet count that against you. He almost lets you get away with it – because all you are doing is thinking in your own heart. You have not yet put that evil thought into practice.
Not guilty. No crime has been committed. No laws have been violated. You get the benefit of the doubt even from the one who knows your most intimate thoughts better than you know them yourself. Do you think it can get better than this? But wait there is more.
Then let us say, Allah forbid, you decide to go ahead and do it anyway. In that event, you are charged for one crime – for one wrong act, one bad deed, for one violation. Quite fair, wouldn’t you say? You committed one sin and one sin was charged to your account.
But then let us reverse the equation and see what happens. Let us say this time you were thinking of doing something good. You haven’t yet done it, you are just considering it and seem inclined to do it. Do you know what Allah does? He immediately credits your account for one good deed done. That means your very intention to do a good act is treated as a good deed in itself.
And then let us say you go ahead and do whatever the good act was you were thinking of doing. Now Allah opens up a whole big account for you. To that account is credited the reward for your good deed – from one to seven to ten to 700 times to infinity. In some cases your reward may last forever – for as long as the world lasts and for as long as anyone in any shape or form continues to benefit from your work and its fruits.
When did you ever hear of a deal this magnanimous, this amazing and this mind-boggling?
That is why it makes good sense to work for Allah.
Q. How should I work for Allah?
A. Now that is a tough one, isn’t it? That is where clarity often seems to elude many of us. That is because there are so many levels and ways of working for Allah.
There is, for example, a general level of working for Allah and then there are all sorts of specific levels and ways. What every one of us needs to do is to develop a plan and follow that plan depending on where we are – the way Allah’s Rasul, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, did.
He started out alone in a cave in a barren rock and through hard work and divine grace changed the world into what it is today. Just follow his method.
By the way did you hear what I just said? I said he changed the world into what it is today. I can hardly wait to get into it in greater detail. But I will make an effort and not do it. To some degree I will let you start figuring some of these things out by yourself.
If you want to pursue this further, talk to me. We are talking about a whole book right here – several books in fact. So let us work together on it.
Q. How can one person make a difference – change the world I mean?
A. How else do you change the world? How else do you do anything in this world? Do you know any other way of doing it? Don’t you know that change always begins with one person?
Yes, that is where it all begins. In the mind, heart and soul of an individual. From there, it mushrooms out to the rest of the world. Always. I wish I had the time to tell you how one person can and does make a difference, but I am afraid I don’t. On second thought maybe I should quickly throw some hints out.
What about Margaret Thatcher, the former Ronald Reagan-era British prime minister? Do you think she made a difference? Let us not worry about what kind of difference she made and for whom and using what methods? But did she or did she not make a difference? That is the question.
Do you think Tony Blair, the present British prime minister, had anything to do with getting the British Labour Party to win a consecutive second term in office – a most remarkable achievement for Labour since World War II?
Do you think George Bush is personally making the world a different place for a lot of people, even though he is surrounded by hosts of specialists and advisers to help him?
You probably know cricket – not the little chirpy thing but the sport. Do you think a Brian Lara or a Nasser Hussein or an Imran Khan can make a difference in a test match? Do you think Michael Jordan ever made a difference in a basketball game? Well, you get my drift, do you not? Just don’t lose it. Build on it.
Besides, here is something you may not have realized: You are actually changing the world even when you think you are not doing anything to change it.
That is the nature of human life on earth. In the real scheme of things, your non-action also is action, and it is just as important as your action. So give it some thought.
That means, there are two ways in which people act – and change the world:
- By acting.
- By not acting.
When you don’t act, what you have done is simply chosen to act by not acting. What you understand is the fact that your not acting still has an impact on the world. And the world is the sum total of your – and everyone else’s – action and inaction.
In other words, this is the world you have built through everything you did as well as through everything you failed to do. This world is a product of your caring as well as your indifference; of your commission as well as of your omission; of your triumphs as well as of your bunglings.
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