The Meaning of Success and Failure
in Relation to Islam, Iman and Ihsan (Living in the Divine Presence)
By Abu Faydan Faridi
The Arabic word for success, which is also used in the Generous Qur’an, is ‘falāh’, a word we are all familiar with as we hear it five times a day “…hayya ‘ala_l falāh!” in every adhan. Interestingly enough, the same root fa-lam-ha is also used in the Arabic word for farmer – fallāh, the literal meaning of which is something like ‘a person, who is successful by habit or profession’. Here lies one key to the real meaning of success: The farmer of all professions is perhaps the one, who is least in control over the outcome of his efforts and labor; he tills the soil and throws the seed grains, and then he trusts in God. He leaves it to HIM to send lightening and rain and sun in the required measure to make the seeds germinate and grow, and he depends on HIS qudrah and rahmah to withhold hailstorms, droughts and pests while the plants are tender and vulnerable, and then again to provide dry weather to bring in the harvest – at least that is how it used to be.
“Tie your camel and trust in Allah”, that is what the Noble Prophet – salla_llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam – told the Bedouin, meaning: do what is in your power to do, and what your knowledge and understanding of the situation prompts you to do, and what your conscience bids you to do, and then leave the affair to Allah!
In one of the battles the people who had no iman – or rather who were blinded by self-importance, thinking they could influence the outcome – asked the Noble Prophet whether they had any say in the matter, and it was revealed: “No you don’t; the affair is entirely Allah’s!” And then they said: if we had had the say so-and-so would not have been killed in the battle, and again the revelation gave the lie to them: “Say: ’If you had been in your houses, those for whom death was destined, would have come out to meet their destiny.’”
The ego of man is by its nature opposed to surrender, and it is also the ego, which is Shaytan’s main access to us, and his most reliable client, and so he keeps nudging it with suggestions like: You are in charge. Who can stop you? You are the greatest. Although these are lies and only a ruse of Shaytan to bring us to fall, our lower self is too pleased with this message as to question it, and so we go for it. This lie then becomes an illusion for us, and one of the offshoots of that illusion is the totally inhumane obsession with result-oriented performance that has infested the value system and mindset of modern society. As a result of this we find on a large scale that man, who was honored by God to be the crown and pride of creation, has mutated into a stressed-out, worrying and enslaved creature that neither finds the time nor the peace of mind to remember, communicate with and worship his Creator, which was the purpose for which he was sent into this life in the first place, and which is the only means that he has for passing through it unharmed and sound. To sabotage this safe passage of course is the primary target of Shaytan.
Here lies the root cause – the root potential – or rather the very essence of failure, because the refusal to ‘surrender’ the outcome of our affairs, and the persistence in the illusion that we own the means and power to effect anything outside ourselves, means that we have altogether failed to understand the reality of our position vis-à-vis the creation and the Creator.
This does not mean that we should not make efforts; quite to the contrary we must always be eager to offer and tap our full potential in the fulfillment of the need of every moment, but our attention must be directed at the performance, not at results, then we have attained excellence in worship, which is known as ihsan. This in itself constitutes the highest degree of success, irrespective of the manifestation of results. If the results of our endeavors are good (and there is no reason to doubt that they will be) it is an extra bonus, if they are not what we had aspired for, it cannot lessen the value of our devotion, efforts and intentions, and that is what we will be judged by and rewarded for, in this world and in the next. For the mumin/-ah, whose first priority in whatever he/she does is to find the pleasure and acceptance of Allah, a result that does not match his/her expectations means that the expectation was not appropriate; the time or the place may not have been right, or sometimes we also aspire for things that might be harmful for us or useless in the long run, and Allah wants to protect us and remind us of our shortsightedness, then we can even give thanks to HIM (and score a further success).
The outcome of actions is usually in accordance with generally known patterns or laws of cause and effect, and therefore we mostly find that people, who do not submit are also ‘successful’ if they act intelligently, in terms of the manifestation of desired results – but is more like that of a skillful gambler, and is just as limited as the jackpot they are looting, i.e. it ends there and then, and so it gives birth to greed for more and leads to compulsion and addiction. There is a huge difference between the encumbrances of their ‘success’ and the serenity of someone who knows that his efforts can never go waste, and who thus does not have to worry about their outcome.
Say: “surely my worship and my offerings and my living and my dying, are for Allah, the Cherisher of the Worlds – no partner has He – and this am I commanded, and I am the first of those who submit to His Will.”
 Surah 3:154 – Āli Imran