True Success

 Act for Allah

  بِسْمِ ٱللَّٰهِ ٱلرَّحْمَٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Salāmun ʿalaykum, may Allah bless you, your families, and all the communities around the world.

This is the 4th night of Muḥarram. Before we begin with the topic, I want to share a story of one of our great scholars, who dedicated his life to serving the cause of Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa), Sayyid Qadhi Tabataba’i. Sayyid Qadhi was a great follower of Allah (swt) and the Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa). He was the teacher of some of our greatest ʿulamāʾ, like ʿAllāmah Tabataba’i and Āyatullāh Bahjat.

When we look at his life, we see that what made him so successful was his devotion towards Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa). He used to tell the people to not let a week pass by without having a majlis of Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa) in their homes, even if it was only 2-3 people and that this tradition should be kept alive. He also encouraged the people to especially participate in majālis during the 10 days of Muḥarram. He would tell his students that if anyone wanted to achieve any success in becoming closer to Allah (swt), it was not possible without the special attention and help of Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa).

They say that his love for Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa) was so great, that he would have majālis in his home. Of course, people would remove their shoes before entering. While people were busy after the majlis having tea and catching up with each other, he would secretly sneak outside to where the shoes were. Now, imagine, this was a great, old scholar. He would use his ‘abā to wipe the shoes of the mourners of Abā ʿAbdillāh and then turn them around, so that people could easily put them on as they exit.

When someone saw him doing this, he said, “O Sayyid, you are an old man, a great scholar! Why don’t you let somebody else do this?”

He said, “No, I want to show Allah that in my heart, I am truly a follower of Imām Ḥusayn.”

In this speech, I would like to speak about a special line from Ziyārat ʿĀshūrāʾ. Now, we try to recite Ziyārat ʿĀshūrāʾ often in Muḥarram, at least on the Day of ʿĀshūrāʾ, and at other times as well. It’s a special ziyārah that has many beautiful concepts and teachings in it. In the ziyārah, after we say salām to Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa), and distance ourselves from those who oppressed him, we make a duʿāʾ. It’s a short, but very special duʿāʾ:

اَللَّهُمَّ ٱجْعَلْنِ عِنْدَكَ وَجِيهاً بِٱلْحُسَيْنِ عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلاَمُ فِ ٱلدُّنْيَا وَٱلآخِرَةِ
O Allah, make me someone who you consider to be special and respected, through Ḥusayn (ʿa), in this world and the hereafter.

What a beautiful duʿāʾ! We are asking Allah (swt) to make us wajih, or special and respected in His eyes. In order for us to understand this word wajih, let's think of this example, imagine there is a king. This king has many subjects whom he rules over, but there are a few people in the kingdom who are special. They get special attention from the king. He has special meetings with them. He makes them examples for the rest of the kingdom. These are the people who are special and respected in the kingdom. In this duʿāʾ, we are saying, “O Allah, make me special and respected by you, but let this happen through Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa).”

What I’d like to talk about is the concept of being respected and successful. We’re living in a society that has its own definition of what it means to be successful. The majority of people do not believe in God, or even if they do, it doesn't really affect their lives. So their definition of success is one that has nothing to do with God.

InshāʾAllāh you all are working very hard in school, and pretty soon, you’ll be entering college and university, and thinking about a career. When you go out into the real world, and start working, there’s a lot of pressure out there to be “successful.” What do they mean by “success?”

According to this world, success is making it "big". It means having lots of money and fame. If you make it big, you’re successful. But if you don’t make it big, you’re not considered to be successful. You might be average, or in some cases considered a failure.

Islam, on the other hand, gives us a different definition of success, as seen in this line above from the Ziyārat ʿĀshūrāʾ. What is this definition? Let me share a story that will help us understand.

One day, Prophet Ibrāhīm (ʿa) was looking in the mirror and saw that after living in this world for many years, his hair had turned gray. He had lived through his childhood, his youth, and adulthood. For most people, when they see gray hair, they feel sad. They think now that they are getting old, the happy days of their life are over, and they only have a little bit of time left in this world. But what did Prophet Ibrāhīm (ʿa) say when he saw gray hair?

He said “All praise belongs to Allah, the Lord of the worlds, who has caused me to reach this age, and I have not even for a moment disobeyed him.” He wasn’t sad at all. No, instead, he was very happy! Why? Because he looked at his life and saw that he had been very successful. For him, the definition of being successful was that he hadn’t disobeyed Allah (swt) even for a moment. This is what made him so happy. This was his definition of success.

Prophet Muḥammad (ṣ) has said, “When Allah sees a young person busy worshiping Him, he praises this person to the angels. He says, ‘Look at My servant! Most people are busy in this world chasing things that are ḥarām, but this is someone who has left what is ḥarām for My sake.’

From these stories and from this line of Ziyārat ʿĀshūrāʾ, we can see that Islam gives a very clear definition of success: it’s living a life in obedience to Allah (swt), and doing things that will bring us closer to Him. But sometimes, when we are out in the real world, we are more worried about what other people will think, not what Allah (swt) will think. We have to be very careful about this.

There is an example of someone in Karbala who thought he was being successful by turning against Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa). His name was ʿUmar ibn Saʿd, and he was the commander of Yazīd’s army. The problem was that he wasn’t thinking of the real definition of success — he was using the worldly meaning of success.

Yazīd’s governor, Ibn Ziyād, had promised ʿUmar that if he was able to keep Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa) from Kufa, he would become the governor of Rey, which at that time was the capital of Persia and a very important city. The governor of Rey would have a lot of power and a lot of wealth. ʿUmar had a choice - was he going to choose “success” in this dunyā by becoming the governor of Rey, or was he going to choose real success by joining Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa) and making Allah (swt) happy?

Now that we’ve defined what true success is — becoming closer to Allah (swt) and doing those things that please Him — the question is, how do we get success in this dunyā? How do we become those who are wajih? Whenever someone wants to become successful, they always choose a role model whose path and example they can follow. Well, we have the best examples! The Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa) have given us so much advice and so many practical tips on how we can become successful in this dunyā, and the hereafter.

In Nahj al-Balāghah, Imām ʿAlī (ʿa) gives us the key to success, to becoming wajih, or considered by Allah (swt) to be special. He says that in order to truly be successful, we need to do what we do in this world for the sake of what comes after it and for the sake of Allah (swt). We should always keep the hereafter in mind when we make our decisions, and realize that the choices we make have consequences. One day, the results of all of our choices and actions will be presented to us. Someone who always does things while keeping in mind the hereafter will be wajih and special with Allah (swt). Whatever this person needs from the dunyā comes to him or her. They get both the dunyā and the ākhirah.

They become a king of both the world and the hereafter. That person gains standing in front of Allah (swt). Allah (swt) does not hold back from them anything they ask for.

Let’s understand what Imām ʿAlī (ʿa) is saying. He’s not saying to stay at home all day on the prayer mat, praying to Allah (swt). No. We need to go to school and study hard. If it is our responsibility to do so, eventually we might need to get a job, work, and fulfill our responsibilities towards others. But we need to do so for the sake of the hereafter, not just for this world. We need to work hard, but have the right intention. We need to think about what we are working for. Is it just to gain a lot of money? Or are we working to fulfill our responsibility with Allah (swt)? It should be the second reason. When we work hard for Allah (swt), we are being successful, and Allah (swt) will provide us with whatever we need.

One time, the Prophet (ṣ) was returning from a battle. As he entered the city, the Muslims who had stayed behind were very happy that the Prophet (ṣ) had returned. They all lined up to welcome him. One elderly man by the name of Saʿd walked up to the Prophet (ṣ) and shook his hand. The Prophet (ṣ) shook the man’s hand and found that it was very rough. He asked the man, “O Saʿd, how come your hand is so rough?” He replied, “Ya Rasūlullāh, for years and years, I’ve worked hard in my field, and I’ve used rope to build wells. I’ve been doing this every day, so as a result, my hands have become hard like this.” Rasūlullāh (ṣ) asked, “Why is it that you’re doing this?” He said, “I’m doing this so I can provide for my family.” Rasūlullāh (ṣ) bent down and kissed Saʿd’s hands. This was the type of work that the Prophet (ṣ) appreciated — working hard to support his family and make Allah (swt). He was fulfilling his responsibility, so he was successful.

The Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa) lived a life of success. Every action they did was successful! And this might surprise you, but they were not poor. The Imāms (ʿa) worked hard and actually had quite a bit of money, but they would share and give away their money. At one point Imām ʿAlī (ʿa) could have fed the entire city with his wealth! But he, like all the other Imāms, gave away everything they had. They knew how to work in this dunyā, but they had the right intention! They would work hard for the sake of Allah (swt), they would worship Him in the best way they could, and Allah (swt) took care of them.

What does it mean to study and work in this world but to keep in mind the hereafter? Let’s pretend you want to be a doctor. That’s a great occupation to have! Doctors have the opportunity to serve Allah (swt) in one of the best ways - by helping others! But, you have to make sure your intention is correct. Are you becoming a doctor because you want to gain a lot of money? Or is it because you want to become closer to Allah (swt) by helping and serving others?

Or, let’s say there’s a talented student who has been gifted by Allah (swt). This student barely needs to study for any exam, and without trying they always do well on homework, projects, quizzes, and tests. Now suppose that during their spare time, they never try to learn and instead waste all of their time on things which are not productive. Because they are talented, they feel arrogant towards others and don't treat them kindly. They don't show respect to their parents and other family members, and are not thankful of Allah’s blessings. They don’t care too much about learning how to pray properly, and don't give much importance to praying on time.

Now take another student who is not so gifted naturally. But he tries hard, is humble and pleasant towards others, thankful for Allah’s blessings and eager to worship Him. As a result of his efforts, Allah (swt) gives him more blessings, and he is able to steadily improve his grades, even though at the end of the year, his class rank is not as high as the previous student.

Now the first student might be successful from the perspective of getting good grades and being at the top of his class. But from the Islamic perspective, his success might actually be the cause of his downfall! That’s because his talents have made him arrogant, ungrateful, and mean. If he doesn’t do tawbah and reform, he might get more and more “worldly” success but he is definitely not taking the path of becoming wajih or regarded in a special way by Allah (swt).

So, you see, we should all try our hardest to be successful — not by the standards set by the society around us, rather by trying hard in all parts of our lives, in what we learn, the way we act and treat others, and the choices that we make. We ask Allah (swt) to give us that knowledge that will help us to get closer to Him in this dunyā, and we pray that He helps us all to be successful in this world and the hereafter.

Authored under the guidance of Moulana Nabi R. Mir (Abidi)

Download the related Muḥarram Project Booklet with lessons and crafts.

View the Kisa Kids Crafts for this lesson (on Kisa Kids YouTube Channel)