The Principles of Success and Qualities of High Achievers in the Quran



This article explains the Quranic meaning of real success as all the achievements that are underpinned by ‘seeking the divine pleasure’, whilst all other successes are partial. The four principles of success:

  1. Setting the right goal
  2. Preparation for it
  3. Striving for it
  4. Putting one’s trust in Allah

What are the qualities of the successful? What are their moral virtues, spiritual ideals and social behaviour? This is discussed in light of the following verse, where Allah says: “An announcement from Allah and His Messenger, to the people (assembled) on the day of the Great Pilgrimage that Allah and His Messenger dissolve (treaty) obligations with the Pagans. If then, you repent, it were best for you; but if you turn away, know that you cannot frustrate Allah. And proclaim a grievous penalty to those who reject Faith” (At-Tawba: 3).

Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, David Cameron, Ronald Reagan, Prince William and Michael Jackson the list is endless. All of them share one common feature; fame and we mistakenly equate this with success. It is true they are successful people since they have achieved what they set out to accomplish whether in politics, business, sport, entertainment or acting. In the case of Reagan who got the best part to play that any actor can ever dream of is the president of the United States of America.

But is this real success? Falaha that the Quran mentions, is not complete and real success, however it is a partial success. It tells us “he is successful who has purified himself and remembers his Lord and prays” (Al-Ala: 17). In other words whoever cleanses his heart and mind of wrong beliefs, purges himself of evil, is obedient to the benevolent Lord and is a true devotee then he is the successful one. Why is this real success and the former partial?

The Arabic verb Falaha means to cultivate and till the land, the farmer is successful because he reaps the harvest, he planted a seed and gets a crop that is hundred times multiplied so he has achieved his goal. The second verb for success is Faza which means to be victorious and triumphant giving a sense of winning, the Quran has used an agricultural and a military metaphor for success. Success, therefore is the accomplishment of one’s aims, achieving a favourable outcome. Now the aim of human life according to the Quran is Ibtigha-Wajhillah (seeking the pleasure of the Lord almighty). So by our definition if a person fails to achieve the pleasure of his Lord he has failed in his aim and is therefore unsuccessful and he is amongst the khaisirun (the losers, the failures).

Those who spend their childhood in play and amusement, youth wasted in seeking sensual pleasures, middle age chasing after wealth and latter years in pursuit of fame. The one who was entangled and embroiled in the worldly attractions. This is the proverbial traveller who falls in love with the inn where he was supposed to rest overnight, but the beauty and the comforts of the inn enticed him to stay there so he forgot that he is a traveller. He becomes oblivious of his journey and his destination. Can we call him successful even if he becomes the inn keeper?

The rule is that when something no longer performs its role we discard it as a failure and we dump it. When your car cannot take you from A to B you scrap it, when your clothes no longer fit you and adorn you, you throw them away. So this is the position of the man who fails to perform his duty to his Lord.

The four principles of success

Success is achieved by following certain principles, the following four are often cited by successful people as their principles:

1. Setting of right goals and aims

The glorious book tells us “O believers! Fear God and seek means to him, strive in his way so that you may achieve success” (Al-Maida: 35). The galore of people mentioned in the opening sentence all had goals. These may have been amassing wealth, becoming famous and powerful. Herein lies their real problems. Seeking world not the owner of the world, seeking sustenance but not the sustained, seeking the creation but not the creator! Their understanding of success was only partial. I hope you will see how it is partial. They neglected their benevolent Lord and the purpose of their creation. They changed their purpose of life from that which the creator had designed for them. “The people of paradise are the winners” (Al-Hasher: 20),  proclaims the Quran.

The Arabic noun is Muflihun for the successful. “And whoever is saved from Hell fire and enters paradise has won” (Ale-Imran: 185). Here the noun is Faz ‘the winner’. So by declaring that the purpose of your life is seeking the Lord’s pleasure you have taken the first step towards real success. “Say! There is no one worthy of worship except Allah and you will be successful” remarked the Prophet (peace be upon him).

On the other hand the worldly man seeks happiness by two means vanity and desire for status and money with which they can buy material things. However what they fail to see is that happiness is not a material thing therefore neither vanity nor money can buy it. The thrill of satisfaction from these things is only temporary. Real and lasting satisfaction and happiness comes only from the spiritual fountain of all Goodness that is God! “Beware only through the remembrance of Allah do hearts find satisfaction” (Ar-Ra’ad: 28).

2. Preparation

To acquire knowledge about his goal and how to achieve it. Again the problem with our famous personalities is that they have first class education about the world but not an inkling of their real goal. They were absolutely ignorant of their creator and their Lord. They learnt little about him and less so about how to achieve his nearness, they made no preparation for their real goal, nor did they know their Lord or how to worship Him. They didn’t learn moral and spiritual values or the selfless virtue “whoever saves himself from Greed he is the successful” (Al-Hasher: 9).

Principles of a successful life described in Hadith

Abu Huraira narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said “Ruined is the lover of the world, the lover of wealth and the lover of good clothes. When he receives he is happy and when he is not given he becomes angry. May he be ruined, fall on his face and if he gets a thorn in his feet may he find no one to take it out, and glad tidings are for a man who holds the reins of his horse waiting in the path of Allah, his hair disheveled, feet duty bound, when he guards he does so with his heart and if he is following the army he does so properly. If he seeks permission to see someone he is refused and if he tries to mediate he is not listened to” (Bukhari). This Hadith tells us about the successful and unsuccessful man, the worldly man and the man of God! In the first part the beloved Messenger (peace be upon him) condemns the lover of the world and its wealth. The love of good clothes is symbolic of vanity and pomp. For many people acquiring these two things is the goal of their entire life, they foolishly believe that these things will be with them forever.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) strongly condemns them as they have fallen for the glitter of the ‘Dirham’ (gold coin) and have forgotten ‘their Generous Lord’. This selfishness and greed has diverted them from the real purpose of their lives, the worship of Allah Ta’ala. This love of the wealth has made them blind to such an extent that their judgement about others is based purely on their wealth, status, clothes or career. This excessive materialism is crass and is being condemned. The beloved prophet (peace be upon him) hopes that when such a selfish person falls ill there will be no one to visit him. He then describes a poor self-denying but a caring and obedient servant of Allah the one who works for the welfare of others, obeys his superiors, is diligent and hardworking. This is a simple man to whom no one pays any attention, the worldly man does not want to see him nor accept his mediation. He is described as riding on horseback, on duty, ever ready to help and serve others, but not for reward, he seeks no worldly recompense but works for a much higher reward – the pleasure of his Beneficent Lord. Despite his sincerity and love of others no one pays attention to him, however this does not bother him. Since he knows that ‘the Master’ for whom he is doing all this, is ‘Shakoor’, very appreciative, very thankful. He is certain that nothing he does goes unnoticed by his ever observant Generous Master. This is the most successful man. This description of a successful man is not so familiar a figure in our materialistic society.

Today, everything has to be paid for, a price is put on every human action. Caring for the needy, helping the distressed, looking after parents and children, all these have become ‘professions’ thus we have professional ‘counsellors’, ‘child carers’ and ‘social workers’. Jobs that were done once out of love of humanity are now done for pounds and pennies. The Prophet (peace be upon him) is praising the voluntary worker who works for people without receiving any worldly reward or recompense. The greatness of work lies in total commitment to it out of love of humanity and for the sake of the Creator of the Universe.

3. Jihad – To strive and to make effort

To have the drive, energy resourcefulness to keep on the straight path. “And those who strive and struggle towards us we shall certainly show them our way and Allah is with the righteous” (Al-Ankabut: 69).

Jihad means being energetic and enthusiastic and full of drive. The ambition to get things done. The desire of achieving goals at any costs. But one faces many obstacles on the way, the selfish desires, the whispers of Shaitan and the worldly temptations. Fixing the right goal, preparing to achieve it by acquiring the knowledge, doing Jihad are not enough to achieve success. There has to be complete trust and reliance on the almighty our fourth principle of success.

4. Sincere dependence of the heart on Allah

After utilising all of the worldly means available to him, the successful person leaves the results in the hands of the Almighty. “And whoever fears Allah, He prepares a way forward for him and He provides for him from where he does not expect. And whoever relies on Allah then He is enough for him” (At-Talaq: 2-3).

The qualities of the high achievers

How to obtain success and supreme triumph is the central theme of the Quran, so we now turn to explore the qualities of these high achievers, the following two verses vividly describe their qualities and features:

“Allah has purchased from the Faithful their lives and their wealth in return for Paradise. They will fight for his cause, slay and be slain. Such is indeed the pledge which He has made with them in the Torah, the Gospel and the Quran. And who is more true to his promise than Allah? Rejoice in the bargain you have made. That is the supreme triumph”.

“Those who repent and those who worship Allah and praise him; those who fast and those who bow and prostrate themselves; those who enjoin the good and forbid evil and observe the commandments of Allah, shall be richly rewarded. Proclaim the good news to the Faithful” (At-Tawba: 111-112).

Qurtabi the commentator of Quran explains this in this way:

When a group of seventy people from Medina swore the oath of obedience in Makkah in the darkness of the night. Abdullah Ibn Rawaha stood up and addressing the Messenger of Allah 9peace be upon him) said: “Go ahead with whatever conditions you want to impose on us for Allah and for yourself”. The blessed Messenger (peace be upon him) replied: “For Allah the condition is this you worship him above and do not make partners with him and the condition for myself is that you protect me as you would protect yourself”. Then they asked “what will we get if we fulfill our part of the contract?” He (peace be upon him) replied “Paradise”. They were overjoyed with this reply and proclaimed “this bargain is very profitable we will neither break it nor will we want you to break it”. This verse was then revealed to confirm this pledge.

Now read again ‘Allah has purchased of the faithful their lives and wealth…’ how gracious and magnanimous is the Lord. One purchases something in order to become its owner since he didn’t previously possess it. But isn’t man and his wealth already his? Surely he created man and gave him all that he has? So what is the meaning of ‘Allah has purchased of the faithful their lives and wealth?’ This is graciousness and kindness of our lord that he is honouring us by making us have ‘the sense of ownership’ and further enhancing the value of ourselves and our possessions by becoming its purchaser. What is demanded from us is ‘fighting in his cause’ this is both the inner and the outer Jihad, both physical and spiritual struggle. Whoever engages his Lord on the terms will achieve the supreme victory. Man offers himself; his talents, time and treasure to Allah and in return Allah will give him Paradise. This is submission, this is the true redemption as taught by all the Prophets of God from Adam to Jesus (peace be upon them all). The books of the Old Testament as well as the Gospels confirm this belief. We are told to be delighted with the bargain mentioned in the verse since it is the highest achievement. The next verse further praises these achievers by their enumerating nine of characteristics.

Nine characteristics of high achievers:

1) Repentance; those who turn away from Kufr and sin. Repentance consists of four stages:

  • To be exasperated at the occurrence of that sin.
  • Embarrassment and sense of shame.
  • Determination to avoid the sin in future.
  • The motive for the above three is seeking the pleasure of Allah. If the motive is to avoid being scorned by people, or to get praise from the people then he is not amongst the repenting.

2) Worshiping; entails obedience and love of Allah, this is demonstrated through performing certain rituals which express these feelings. Any act that is done with love of Allah is worship.

3) Praising; these people thank Allah for the gifts that he has bestowed on them.

4) The fasting; they abstain from food, drink and sexual pleasures for sake of Allah.

5) The bowing; an expression of humility and servitude physically in prayer but metaphorically always bowing.

6) The Prostration; another even more intense expression of humility and devotion. The state in which man is closest to Allah.

7) Enjoying Good; they are not only concerned with their personal devotion and desire of getting closer to their Lord but also concerned about the welfare of others. Advising, guiding, goading, encouraging and spurring others to do good.

8) Forbidden Evil; anything which harms moral and physical wellbeing is evil and the man of God, the high achievers avoid it themselves as well as warning of others to avoid it.

9) Observing Divine Commandments; The final characteristic of these people is keeping within the limits prescribed by the divine law.

So the successful people the Quran tells us are those who have the correct attitude towards their Lord, who they worship and adore, they are people of strong character and ever obedient. May Allah make us amongst them! Ameen.