If you enjoyed the ibadurrahman post then you are going to enjoy this. I was initially going to entitle this ‘levels’ but as you read on, I think you’ll agree with me that the pursuit is more appropriate.
Like the Ibadurrahman post, a lot of the things mentioned are not in my words, they are mainly quotes, excerpts and summaries of a 40 mins long video made by my arabic tutor Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan (NAK). It is for those that may not have the patience to watch it but still want the knowledge or reminder. I listen to Ustadh a lot and each time he stands or sits before a microphone he delivers, but this particular lecture is undoubtedly one of his finest.
Happiness, you would agree with me is something sought by every person on this earth. What I find very strange is that the Quran does not explicitly talk about the pursuit of happiness. It makes me wonder, why is this such a fundamental crux of modern society that people just want to be happy and Allah is not talking about it? It’s interesting because the highest thing the Quran talks about, is contentment; just being at peace. Being at peace and being happy are two very different things.
Allah stated in suratul najm (53:39) “A human being will have nothing for his own benefit except whatever effort he makes”.
Let’s begin with the first and the lowest pursuit any one of us would have:
- The pursuit of happiness. This is the lowest of all pursuits and I will demonstrate why. Some kid has been playing video game all night and he has got a huge migraine but since he beat the game he is somehow happy. Somebody gets a call at work: listen its a stormy day you don’t have to come in, guess what? The person is happy. In other words, when it comes to small things happiness is easy. In relationships on the other hand its difficult. Making your parents happy is very hard, making your spouse happy is hard but for yourself, attaining happiness it could be as simple as you watching a movie and you felt happy. You went to see some friends or dined at your favourite restaurant and you felt happy. It doesn’t take much to be happy, but you know what? It comes and goes; you get bored again, you get frustrated again and you want to be happy again. You keep going after this drug of happiness which keeps leaving you; it never stays with you. So when people say ‘I just want to be happy’, I really don’t understand what that means because no one is always happy. Allah gave us a huge score of emotions to experience in life and they are all part of a healthy life, happiness is just one of them. If your pursuit is just happiness, you are in for a lot of disappointment because life is about struggles too. When you are studying late for your finals, you’re not happy. When you are in the middle of a 3 hour flight delay you are not happy. Okay so this is the lowest stage, let’s go a step forward to the second pursuit that requires more effort.
- The pursuit of ‘cool’. This just means nobody is going to pick on me. I’m going to blend in like everyone else. People will point at you and criticise you and you just don’t want that to happen. Those of you that are in high school or college, how you dress to school is a really big deal and actually before you pick an outfit from the closet, the thought goes through your mind of who’s going to be making fun of you for wearing it. When you go shopping, the decision to buy whatever clothes you buy is actually driven by what people are going to think of you, when you wear it. It takes more work to blend in and be like everyone else. A lot of young people have to give themselves up and pretend they are someone they aren’t. So this is the second lowest pursuit, lets go a step higher.
- The pursuit of popularity. This just means I want to be talked about. I don’t just want to blend in, i want to be the coolest person there is. I want to be the one everyone else wants to be friends it. Before anyone makes fun of me, I want to be the one that makes fun of everybody else. Though this focuses more on young people, it happens with adults too. You just want to be the centre of attention. I need people to be commenting on me. I’m going to post a picture, i’m going to tweet something so that people will be talking about me. and every time the commentaries start going down, I need to do something new so the conversation starts anew again. This is the pursuit of popularity and in order to become popular it takes work. You gotta spend money and time on yourself, and it becomes very important for you to work on your image, to maintain that status among people. Now above that is another pursuit.
- The pursuit of prestige. This means you want to be able to associate yourself with something that is very valuable. You want to be able to tell people you know, I went to Harvard. You don’t tell them you went there for a weekend to pick up your friend…but you would like to use your name in the same sentence as Harvard. As a matter of fact even if you are a freshman at Harvard, what have you accomplished? Nothing. Okay so you are at that school, what have you done for the world? Nothing. You don’t want to take a picture with someone so you can remember them, you want to take a picture so you can post it and make people feel like you are more important because you are standing next to this person. It becomes a matter of prestige. If it’s just for you its great but it’s all about letting other people know how awesome you are by association not by accomplishments. In the muslim community, another kind of prestige our parents go through is they want to make our kids a hafiz (of the quran) and a doctor. A hafiz and a doctor? Forget it they are already in Jannah. There is deen and dunya; Rabbana atina fid-dunya hasanatan wa fil ‘akhirati hasanatan; I mean done deal. They love telling people you know my son he’s a hafiz and they turn them into a trophy, the desire to show others what prestige you have. Above that is another pursuit.
- The pursuit of money. There are some people who don’t care about happiness, they don’t care about cool, popularity or prestige all they care about is money and they know how to make a lot of money. These are people who wear dirty old T-shirt, and ripped jeans and drive a beat up car and they don’t care because they are making a million dollars a month and you would not know that guy is making that amount of money. You’ll just think the scruffy hair/look is just his style or something that he’s going for, when instead he just doesn’t care, he just cares and knows how to do business. Subhannallah these people are incredible human beings. It takes no work to be happy. It takes some work to be cool, and more work to be popular, and even more work to have prestige and it takes a lot of work to make money. Then theres a pursuit above that, an even higher level.
- The pursuit of excellence. This person just wants to be number one. I don’t want to be the programmer in my company, I want to be the top programmer. I don’t want to get a high score on the SATs, I want to get a perfect score on the SATs. I just don’t want to be a basket ball player, I want to be in the MBA and I want to be the MVP. These people are never happy with themselves, they keep pushing themselves harder and harder and they are never satisfied. These people pursue excellence in everything they do, whether its studies, exercise, work field, research whatever it is, they have to be on top. You know who they compare themselves to? The person they were yesterday, they don’t care about anyone else. Everyone else may say you’re amazing, and they are like who cares? I know I could have done better; so they don’t even care about the praise and the accolades from people. By the way these people are very few in the world. There’s a guy who got a 99 and he’s beating himself up, how did I make that one mistake?! Sorry it’s usually not a guy, it’s usually a girl. A part of my work is to teach arabic. I have 30 girls and 30 guys in a class. The sisters, consistently for the past five years have completely destroyed the brothers in exam scores, but the guys consistently have been happier. The girls are always upset; Ustadh I know I got a 100 but i’m not sure i understand fully. And this guy has got a 25 and he goes I get it Ustadh, i get it, i get it. I am dealing with two different specie inside a classroom. So I have to tell these guys to wake up! You don’t understand, do some work. And I have to tell these ladies calm down! Take it easy on your self. I can never tell these guys to take it easy on themselves because they couldn’t possibly be taking it any easier. What could be above excellence?
- The pursuit of Impact. I don’t care about money or if i’m number one, I want to do something for others. I want to leave a legacy. I have a limited time on this planet when i go, I want to leave my mark on this earth. I want to be able to say that I did something that made this world a better place for people. We are talking about non muslims right now, there are people who get an MBA, top schools, they could be making six figures salaries coming right out of school and they are dropping salaries and going to companies that are doing socially responsible work. They are taking a major pay cut because instead of believing in money they believe far more on impact. They would rather work with an Organisation that is helping to reform the educational system or some other important cause. They really want to help and do something good and I tell you that kind of selflessness is very very few people. The higher up you go this ladder, the fewer people you find and those people are incredible human beings. These are actually the human beings that has made changes on the planet. Think about people like Nelson Mandela, people that has spent time in jail because they believe in something; in impact. They want to do something more than themselves. They are way above the people of excellence. You might wonder maybe this is the highest point one may reach; the pursuit of impact but there’s a level above that.
- The pursuit of truth/justice. This is something you can never fully see in the world, its never fully there but they don’t care, they are going to work towards it anyways. When you work towards something you can’t even see, its the hardest thing to do in the world. When you work towards impact, even if you see a little bit of impact you get encouraged but when you work towards an idea, the cause of justice; you may not see justice ever. These are the most incredible, resilient of people. Once they believe in an idea and everyone else thinks their crazy, they don’t care they keep going.
Now I’ll begin at the top; which is the pursuit of truth and tell you that the legacy of all our Prophets all of them alayhis salam, was actually the pursuit of truth; they cared about sharing the truth with people. We learn from the Prophet Muhammed SAW that on the day of judgement, some messengers will stand with no followers behind them. What did they pursue? The truth. How much impact did they have? Zero but they are still absolutely successful in the eyes of Allah.
As muslims, Allah has put more responsibility on you than you realise. I want you think about this carefully, its one of the most powerful statements in the Quran and because its not clearly translated, it creates a lot of problems.
Allah does not put a burden on someone (here’s the weak translation) except to their capacity (2:286).
Allah will not put a burden on you that you can’t bear. Have you heard this before? You know what the true meaning of this ayat is? Allah has not burdened you with anything, except your own potential. Take a pause and re-read that again. In other words, did you have the potential to be better? Yes? Could you have done more? Yes. Allah will hold you accountable for what you could have done, not the bare minimum, but the maximum. Allah wants you to push yourself and show Him what you are made of. That’s the idea of the pursuit here. We are not interested in the pursuit of happiness, happiness is something Allah gives us as a side benefit.
Now, when it comes to the pursuit of excellence as muslims, we cannot afford to be satisfied with mediocrity. You as a believer, have to push yourself for better in whatever you are doing. If you are memorising, you can be memorising better. If you are studying, you could be studying better. If you are working you could have been working better. If you are volunteering, you could be volunteering better. Push yourself to better especially when you’re young, you don’t have that much responsibility. Responsibility will come when you get married, once you have children. Right now you have the freedom you will never ever have in your life, this is the time to push yourself.
You should have the best sleeping habits. The best dietary habits. The best exercise schedule. You should be the best in your prayers. You should be the best in your studies. Be pushing yourself towards excellence in everything you do in life. You should not be eating junk food. You should not be the people lounging around wasting your time. You should have a good time, but even when you play, you play hard. Other people see you and say I want to be like him, everything he does is awesome. Thats what this ummah needs; people of excellence.
But you know what? Our parents unfortunately were not taught this ladder, their highest ladder was prestige and money; thats were it ended. The only concern they have for you is prestige and money. Get a job so you can have prestige, so we can say our son has a job, he’s a doctor, he is this and that and hopefully he can have a lot of money so we can show it off, and thats what they talk to you about all the time. But theres so much more in life.
Now my final bit in this, Allah said human beings will have nothing for themselves except the effort,the pursuit that they had (53:39). The pursuit of happiness, cool, popularity e.t.c. Do you know the most valuable thing to Allah of all of these? It’s pursuit. Not money, not impact, not excellence…it’s pursuit. What Allah wants to see from you is pursuit.
As mentioned before the Prophet SAW said some messengers will stand on the day of judgement with zero followers behind their back. No impact but Allah still grants them the highest levels in jannah why? Because Allah respects their pursuit; their effort. We have to be a people of pursuit, we will have nothing in front of Allah if not our pursuits.
Young people please listen and think about this, what is your life going to mean if your life is just one video game to the next? Who cares if you got 100 percent synchronisation in assassins creed? Who cares how many push ups you can do? You have to think more than that. When you stop doing that and start pursuing higher things, I’ll tell you one thing Allah will give you, Allah will give you happiness.
Allah continues to say in suratul najm (53:40) ‘and that his effort will soon be seen”.
Let me tell you something, when you show somebody your resume; I graduated from this school, I’ve worked here and here, I’ve done this and this project, what do you put on your resume? The result or the pursuit? You don’t put the pursuit, you put the result.
The result was you graduated. You don’t put I worked really hard for the final semester, I was like dying to do this exam. Sometimes you put an incredible amount of effort into a project and it fails or you don’t get the grade that you deserve, you just didn’t see the result. Human beings, we judge each other based on results. I don’t care how much effort you made, you didn’t get the result, you’re fired. I don’t care how much effort you made, you didn’t pass the test, so you’re not graduating. But Allah on judgement day is not looking at your report card based on results, Allah is looking at your report card based on effort.
That is remarkable because no other human being on the face of the earth can see my effort, I cannot see your effort. Only Allah sees effort. All we see is impact, results. Allah is a judge of effort. Subhanallah what an incredible Master, so never underestimate your effort because other people underestimate them. Start thinking about the best possible effort and I tell you the results of Allah will come pouring in, and they will come on His schedule not yours.
Two people will make the same exact amount of effort and somebody will see the fruit of their labour right away and somebody else will wait for years until they see anything, that is in the hands of Allah. You don’t get to say it isn’t fair, no it is entirely fair because that calendar belongs to Allah.
Start thinking about the quality of what you are doing, the quality of life you’re living, the quality of the day you had. What time did you wake up for fajr? What did you have for breakfast? Who did you talk to? Fix that and In Sha Allah this ummah will have a bright futute.
May Allah swt make us (the youth of this generation) the people of pursuit where next generations will come and say we want to beat them; they are the gold standard. Ameen.
One thought on “The Pursuit”
I think choosing the term happiness is confusing somehow. In Arabic we have two distinguished terms السعادة is the first, and اللذة is the second.. I suppose you mean the later one in the context of your speech on happiness.