Seven Habits of Highly Successful Muslim Youth -Altaf Husain
You cannot escape it. The discussion about habits is all around you: Mom and Dad are constantly telling you to break your bad habits; your teachers are telling you to develop good habits; your friends are pressuring you to adopt their habits; and the television and media are influencing you to explore new and supposedly cool habits. “You will never be successful,” the constant refrain goes, “unless you drop your bad habits and develop some good habits.” In the end, it’s all up to you. You have to decide what your habits are going to be. Have you given this matter some thought?
If you are alive and breathing, you should constantly be engaged in an inner struggle to develop habits which draw you closer to Allah Most High. Success in this world is directly related to the strength of your relationship with Allah. The farther one is from Allah and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), the less likely one is to achieve success in this world and, for sure, even less likely to achieve success in the hereafter. Is it not time for us to reflect upon Islamic teachings to discern the necessary habits of highly successful Muslim youth?
Here are at least seven habits indispensable for highly successful Muslim youth, derived entirely from the Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).
Being truthful is not always easy, especially when we make a mistake. We fret over whether or not to disclose exactly what happened. We sweat, we are afraid, we feel nervous and anxious. We are often afraid that if we tell the truth about what we have done or said, we will be in trouble with our parents or friends. What we forget is that whether we tell the truth or not, Allah Most High knows exactly what took place, even those things that were never manifest or visible to people around us. Despite how burdensome telling the truth might seem, all of us are aware of the feeling of relief we experience when we tell the truth, even if the consequence of telling the truth is punishment. Casting the telling of truth and the fate of the truthful in terms of profit and loss, Allah Most High tells us in the Qur’an
[This is a day on which the truthful will profit from their truth: theirs are gardens, with rivers flowing beneath — their eternal Home: Allah well-pleased with them, and they with Allah. That is the great salvation, (the fulfillment of all desires).] (Al-Ma’idah 5:119)
So much is to be gained from being truthful as opposed to escaping punishment or blame because of not being truthful. Not being truthful, in fact, leads us down a slippery slope, guaranteeing that with one lie, more lies must be told. Being truthful is not an option for Muslims, but rather an obligation, because our goal in being truthful is Paradise. The beloved of Allah, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), said, as narrated by `Abdullah (may Allah be pleased with him),
Truthfulness leads to righteousness, and righteousness leads to Paradise. And a man keeps on telling the truth until he becomes a truthful person. Falsehood leads to al-fujur [wickedness, evil-doing], and al-fujurleads to the (Hell) Fire, and a man may keep on telling lies till he is witten before Allah, a liar.” (Sahih Bukhari, Book #73, Hadith #116)
Ultimate success is therefore achieved by living one’s entire life — the youthful years, the adult years, and the elderly years — being truthful.
Who do you rely on? Of course, Allah. He is indeed the Most Trustworthy. But among humans, who do you rely on? Who can you trust to come through for you all the time? Do people rely on you? Are you considered trustworthy?Moving ahead in life, achieving ultimate success, requires that people consider you trustworthy and reliable. Being trustworthy should not be an arbitrary activity but rather a habit so that you can be relied upon in all instances, big or small, convenient or inconvenient, easy or difficult.
In colloquial terms, we often hear “I’ve got your back,” implying, in the most literal sense, that people cannot see what is behind them so they need to rely on their friends to cover that angle, just in case a threat occurs from the back. Just imagine what it would be like if a friend were climbing a tree and was heading out onto a very thin branch to get a kite that got stuck there. She asks you if you “have her back.” In this instance, she is relying on you entirely to hold on to her in case the branch breaks. There is no room for joking around or for being distracted: your friend is trusting you with her life.
When we say Allah is the Most Trustworthy, we are coming to terms with the fact that Allah Most High will never let us down, will never leave our side. He, Most High, says about someone who willingly accepts Islam,
[Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah Heareth and Knoweth all things.] (Al-Baqarah 2:256)
Indeed, the prophets of Allah were all trustworthy people and Allah attested to the trustworthiness of those who were doubted by their communities. Prophet Hud, appealing to his community, declared to them,
[I but fulfill towards you the duties of my Lord’s mission: I am to you a sincere and trustworthy adviser.] (Al-A`raf 7:68)
Practice daily developing the habit of being trustworthy. Accept responsibility and then fulfill it. When others trust you, do not betray their trust.
You can read in the beautiful biography of our Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) how people used to entrust him with their valuables, knowing that upon their return they would find their valuables safe and unharmed. His personal and business practices were commendable to the degree that he was known for it in his community, even before he became aware that he was the Prophet of Allah, literally one who is most truthful and trustworthy.
Have Self-Restraint and Be God-Conscious
Perhaps the most difficult challenge while navigating adolescence is to restrain oneself from falling victim to one’s desires — especially one’s lower desires.
Our success in life depends to a great extent on how well we are able to restrain ourselves and to be moderate in what is permissible, as well as how capable we are of distancing ourselves from what is impermissible.
Why is self-restraint so critical? Satan’s goal is to make you a slave of your desires to the extent that you eat until you are actually uncomfortable; that you consume without restraint beverages made of caffeine, sugar, and artificial flavors; that you find yourself longing for sleep more than prayer; and that you yearn to satisfy your sexual desires. Developing self-restraint as a habit entails making self-restraint your second nature — something which is done almost without thought, without too much effort. We are reminded by Allah Most High,
[And no one will be granted such goodness except those who exercise patience and self-restraint, — none but persons of the greatest good fortune.] (Fussilat 41:5)
In seeking to be highly successful Muslim youth, that is, youth deserving of the greatest fortune, it is imperative that you develop self-restraint.
An interesting parallel is that, throughout his Qur’an translation, the late Abdullah Yusuf Ali translates taqwa as self-restraint. While taqwa is most commonly translated as “God-consciousness,” one realizes without much effort that the height of self-restraint is full and complete understanding that one is indeed conscious of one’s duty to one’s Lord. How awesome will it be if you can look back at your life and say to yourself, all praise is due to Allah that I did not succumb to my lower desires and instead exercised self-restraint consistently!
Look around your room. How many unfinished projects do you have? When you work on homework, are you likely to rush through the assignment just so you can be done with it or are you more likely to take your time, to check your work, and most importantly, to be thorough?
Often teachers will grade a report based on how well and to what extent the student covered the topic at hand. Being thorough is not a habit that is developed overnight. The opposite of being thorough is being incomplete, being rushed, and working in haste without any regard for accuracy or quality. The most perfect is Allah Most High, Who perfected creation, Who perfected our religion, and Who guided His Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) to be the most perfect among humans in behavior and in character.
We read in the Muwatta of Imam Malik “Yahya related to me from Malik that he had heard that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, ‘I was sent to perfect good character'” (Book #47, Hadith #47.1.8).
To be thorough stems from a desire to be perfect to the extent that this is humanly possible. Seeking perfection in our actions and speech from an early age helps us to develop a keen eye, not only for thoroughness in our own life, but also for thoroughness in the lives of those around us. Being thorough in prayer, for example, teaches us to be patient and to concentrate upon the words we are reciting and the different positions of the prayer.
One thousand ideas go through your head the moment you stand up for prayer. Is that you? Really? What do you make of those ideas? Do you process them? What about when you are sitting in class? Do you find your mind wandering, daydreaming, and unable to focus on the lecture at hand? Are you likely to use any excuse whatsoever to leave what you are doing?
Developing the habit of being focused ensures that you are awake, alert, and totally motivated to work on and complete the task at hand, whatever it may be. Being distracted early on in childhood by video games, fast-paced imagery, and constantly changing scenes on television shows contributes to an inability to concentrate, to focus. Among the best ways to develop focus is to practice praying with deep concentration to the extent that you are almost unaware of your surroundings. Allah Most High tells us in the Qur’an that the believers are [those who humble themselves in their prayers] (Al-Mu’minun 23:2)
The humility referred to here results from total focus and concentration on the fact that one is in the presence of Allah, standing before Him, Most High. Do your best to develop focus, no matter what activity you are engaged in — whether in prayer, in academics, in athletics, or some other pastime.
Stop saying over and over again that you are late because of “Muslim standard time,” or the “standard time” of your particular ethnicity. The last thing we should attribute to Islam is the notion that its teachings somehow make us late, slow, slugging, and anything but punctual. What a sad state of affairs, indeed, that we attribute our own weaknesses to our religion or ethnicity!
Highly successful individuals, be they Muslim or not, understand and appreciate the value of not only their time but the time of everyone else with whom they interact. Keeping people waiting for hours on end is neither something to be proud of nor a habit that has a place in the mindset of a person who tries to be successful.
One of the central pillars of Islam is prayer, and Allah and the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) have given us clear reminders that we are to establish prayers at their due times.
When `Abdullah (may Allah be pleased with him) asked “which deed is the dearest to Allah?” the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) replied, “To offer the prayers at their early stated fixed times” (Sahih Bukhari, Book #10, Hadith #505).
If indeed your day is to be considered successful, you must have prayed all the obligatory prayers at their established times and as many voluntary prayers as possible. If your day is planned around the times of prayer, you should not pray exactly at the time when you are to pray but then come late to all other appointments. Being punctual is a habit which, when perfected, demonstrates to others the tremendous value that Islam places on time — not only ours but that of everyone else with whom we interact.
Apart from all the habits listed above, perhaps the one that is sure to help you become a highly successful Muslim youth is that of being consistent. One cannot be truthful one day and a liar the next; one cannot be trustworthy in one instance and totally unreliable in the next; and so on for each of the other habits. A Muslim understands from an early age that it is easier to do something once or whenever we feel like it but much harder to do something regularly and consistently.
Indeed, the Mother of the Believers `A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) narrates that “the most beloved action to Allah’s Apostle was that which is done continuously and regularly” (Sahih Bukhari, Book #76, Hadith #469).
Regular and consist actions show that a person has thought about it, has intended to do it, has planned to do it, and therefore does it.
We urge you to be as consistent as possible, especially in those areas of your life which need constant improvement, such as your prayers, your fasting, your manners, your studying habits, etc. Do not say, I am going to pray all day every day, or fast voluntarily all of the days of every month, or study all night every night, because such actions cannot be humanly sustained over a long period of time. Say on the other hand, I am going to be sure to read at least one part of the Qur’an every day, or I will strive to help my parents with at least one household chore every day, or I will try to study at least one new item every week so that I can be ahead of the lesson plan.
Finally, Muslims aspire to develop all of these habits because, in doing so, we draw nearer to Allah Most High. If you are intent on being a highly successful Muslim youth, then you owe it to yourself to reflect upon your own life and see how many of these habits are already a part of who you are and how many you need to further develop or acquire.
We end with a reminder that developing these habits will help you to emulate the life of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). His message and his life are summarized well in a narration of `Abdullah ibn `Abbas:
Abu Sufyan told me that Heraclius said to him, “When I enquired of you what he (Muhammad) ordered you, you replied that he ordered you to establish the prayer, to speak the truth, to be chaste, to keep promises, and to pay back trusts.” Then Heraclius added, “These are really the qualities of a prophet.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Book #48, Hadith #846)
Strive to develop the seven habits listed above and many others from the Islamic teachings so that you will be among the highly successful Muslim youth.