Friday, December 2, 2022
Seeking Excellence Amidst Vulnerabilities
Author: Maria Armaghan
There was a time when the ability to undertake the maximum load of physical work was the most critical success factor. Today, Smart Machine Age (SMA) led by artificial intelligence (AI) has turned the tables.
There is no scope left for humans to be able to beat the machines in terms of quantity of work. Isn't it?
Humility: The new smart
To excel in the future job markets, people need to be humble, good team players with critical thinking, and have the ability to genuinely engage with others - something that machines cannot do well.
So, humility is the new game-changer!
Interestingly, this idea of “quantity vs quality” is something that can be traced back to the very beginning of mankind. Allah سبحانه و تعالى has created the entire universe to obey Him; the purpose of our existence as we know it. But then we were told that there are creatures (Angels) in this universe who do not disobey Allah سبحانه و تعالى even for a second. Every single moment, they are either in the position of Qayam (standing), Ruku (bending), or Sujood (prostration), seeking the pleasure of their Lord. سبحان الله!
Therefore, in the “quantity vs quality” debate, unarguably, we cannot beat the Angels! Yet, Allah سبحانه و تعالى says that we are the best creatures.
Consequently, our route to excellence (Ihsān) in worship is only through our willingness to worship Allah سبحانه و تعالى in the human-way and not like robots.
Practice makes perfect, or does it?
Indisputably, the first step for every believer is to discipline himself on the Fara’idh (obligatory acts of worship); saying his salah five times a day, observing fasts throughout Ramadan, etc. But the problem is that most of us never go beyond that first stage to improving the quality of our worship.
We stand up for our Salah and raise our hands for Takbeer, and sadly everything that happens after that is an automated process. The key to excellence (Ihsān) is in recognizing that quality is the core of our worship.
The concept of Allah (the Exalted – the MostHigh) seeing a human being can be overwhelming for some of us. Sometimes we think that “who am I to be able to connect with Allah سبحانه و تعالى?" But an aspect of excellence in worship is to stand in front of Him, with all of our vulnerabilities.
Remember “perfection” is only a function anticipated for robots and our beloved Creator has not programmed us like that. There will be times when you will find yourself constantly struggling, being on the verge of falling, and being shattered in the hands of indescribable circumstances. But Allah سبحانه و تعالى does not care about the imperfection of our state; our flawed inward or/and outward manifestation.
Rather, Allah سبحانه و تعالى wants us to stand in front of Him; dispirited, exhausted, remorseful, grieving, ashamed, tired, disheartened, dejected, in all forms of vulnerability. BUT STANDING IN FRONT OF HIM IS THE REAL DEAL. Stand in front of Him and tell him that O Allah! My faith is shaken, and I am struggling to connect with you. But I am here! Do not be shy to express the state of your heart in front of your Creator, no matter how fragile and imperfect it is. Indeed, this is the form of worship that paves the way toward the highest level of excellence (Ihsān).
"And when my servants ask you about Me, then tell them I am near." (Qur'an 2:186)
Once, a scholar was asked, "What is the point where an Abd (human) meets (actually experiences) the ILAH (Lord)?" He replied, "ejz" (state of helplessness); when a person stands on a musallah (prayer mat) in the most helpless state, that is the exact point in this vast universe where the Abd (human) meets the ILAH (Lord).
Are we still not sure about our opportunities to seek excellence through worship amidst our vulnerabilities?
Consistency is the key!
Another dimension of creating excellence in our worship is focusing on consistency. We all have days when we are super motivated to perform maximum Nawa’fil (supererogatory prayers) and multiple recitations of the Qur'an. But then there are those weeks (and months) when we struggle to maintain the bare minimum level. That is where we receive the most insightful advice from our beloved Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم:
اكْلَفُوا مِنَ الْعَمَلِ مَا تُطِيقُونَ فَإِنَّ خَيْرَ الْعَمَلِ أَدْوَمُهُ وَإِنْ قَلَّ
“Take on only as much as you can do of good deeds, for the best of deeds is that which is done consistently, even if it is little.” (Grade: Shahih, Sunan Ibn Majah 4240)
"And whoever is mindful of Allah, He will make a way out for them". (Quran 65:2)
Be a life-long seeker of sacred knowledge
Lastly, one of the most important elements in our pursuit of excellence is recognizing the significance of having an unwavering foundation of knowledge. Sadly, most of our Islamic knowledge is what we acquired as a child in a maktab (weekend Islamic school). The process of learning stopped as we stepped out of the door of that maktab. Naturally, there is only an extent of depth that you can develop out of that knowledge, as a child. We will always struggle to strive for excellence through worship if we are not willing to actively work on the foundation of our Islamic knowledge as adults. There is absolutely no excellence that can be attained through hot debates on social media if we don’t know our basics.
Indeed, true excellence (Ihsān) transpires standing on musallah with the consciousness of Allah سبحانه و تعالى’s presence - as if you are seeing Him, or He is seeing you. That will only happen when you will KNOW HIM through the primary lens of the Qur’an and Hadith.
This article is inspired by the talk of Shaykh Abdullah Ayaz Mullanee on Pursuing Excellence - Online Conference organized by i3 Institute. The full talk can be accessed through the link below: