Muslims Should Strive For Excellence: Part 1
Imam W. Deen Muhammad
(Editors note: This article is adapted from an address delivered at the First National United Ta'alim held in Los Angeles, Ca. March 8, 1987)
With Allah's Name, the Gracious, the Compassionate. We pray that the peace and blessing of Allah be upon the last Messenger, Muhammad, and we ask His blessings upon this gathering.
First of all, let me say the support that has been given to this United Ta'alim by the many Muslim communities, is very impressive. I was not aware of the extent of support that you have given to this United Ta'alim. This makes us feel very good about the future for Muslims in the California/West Coast area, and also for Muslims throughout the United States. Your support here will eventually reach us and encourage us in other locations, to respond better and more to this need to come together as one community for the good of the dawah in the United States, and for the good of our separate communities as well.
Sacred Life Connections
Let me begin by explaining the term or the expression, "sacred life connections." Really, we are referring to the precious life that Allah, our Creator has given us, and the blessings of our religion, the Qur'an, and the Sunnah of the Universal Prophet, Muhammad, peace and blessing be on him. We are also referring to the present day concerns for excellence in the performance of one's work, profession, or private life. As Muslims, we see sufficient help, in the teachings of Islam for us, and also for other people if they will believe.
I used to feel that I had to rely upon my thoughts, my own knowledge from reading general kinds of materials on human problems and behavior when I wanted to present a speech or an address on human behavior.
The Best Help
I used to work hard because the environment that I was formed in as a boy and a young man encouraged that kind of curiosity and study. J would spend a lot of time studying and questioning behavior, trying to come up with a presentation on the problems of the individual, and matters of his behavior. After giving more time and study to the Qur'an and to the Sunnah of the Prophet, I've came to realize that the best help for all needs comes directly from Qur'an and to the Sunnah of the Prophet.
Really, I sometimes feel that I am not yet where I want to go, in terms of being prepared to talk about the subject that I have been grappling with for about 40 years. I still feel that there is a need to respect the general audience of the American people. By that, I mean the need for me to be aware of their understanding of their knowledge, and the fact that most of them are not acquainted with Qur'anic teachings, and the life of our Prophet, peace and blessings be on him. So I hope that I won't be too ambiguous in my talk, or appear to be above what I am, or a philosopher of some kind. However I feel that it's very necessary to deal with some problems and to use some terminology, that you might think is the language of philosophers, but is not necessarily so.
American Society Today
In the American society today — and not only here, but America is a good focus for what is happening good and bad everywhere — the quality of life is a matter of concern, while at the same time we know that this is perhaps still the richest country; its institutions attract people from around the world. The quality of life is threatened in America despite its money and knowledge. Excellence is a real problem, people want to do things hurriedly and without discipline. So that tells us we have to look elsewhere. Sometimes things develop in society that puts hope in another place, whereas prior to the time of deterioration in the quality of life for Americans, it was in the fine institutions and leaders of the American people. But now, hope must be found somewhere else.
Muslims know the rescue is in Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Prophet. But for the general community of American people, if we are to feel a part of them, share our identity with them — if we are to feel that responsibility to make our contribution to the solution of this problem, of lost values, and weakened performance on the part of the citizens of this country — I'm speaking now mainly to native American Muslims — then we have to also try to translate what is good for Muslims so it can be imparted also to non-Muslims.
We can come straight from Qur'an and Sunnah. But when we do that, we miss a big audience, because there are only a few American Christians and others who will have patience with us coming straight from Qur'an and Sunnah., unless they are doing it as researchers or students. They are afraid that we will try to convert them, when some of us may not have that at all in our hearts as a goal. We might simply be trying to share with our fellow believers in God, the blessings of our religion that is needed in their lives in this time of decadence.
Getting back to a knowledge of the self, and questions of human behavior, and how td develop a speech, and the problem of relying too much on myself, and the books of scholarly authors and not going, as I should have been, to Qur'an and Sunnah.
I came to see that really, Qur'an gives us (in the best way) teachings on the problems of self, the nature of self, and the tendencies of self and the behavior in circumstances that make trouble for us and unseat the government of self, and deprives us of a good life.
In the Qur'an, Allah Most High says that He has created the human being in the most excellent mold. And Allah says, he is blessed and successful who spends on his own soul. And he is lost who discredits, and debases his own soul.
Muslim Leaders Must Use Qur'an, Sunnah
So I can reason from that, that Allah intends for us to be aware of ourselves, how we are constituted, and what is possible for us, in the way of excellence and deterioration, trouble, etc. And in this day and time — given the problems of personal performance and human behavior in this environment, of America, Muslim communities must have leaders who will turn to Qur'an and the Sunnah for solutions.
We know what the philosophers said, but it's more important what Allah said. And Allah says everyone acts according to his own dispositions. You may say, "Well, I know a philosopher who says that." Well, that's okay about your philosopher who said that but his word does not go as far with me and with millions and billions of people, than the word of God.
Allah, Most High, also says, that His throne was established upon the water, to test you as to who is best in conduct. And He also says, that He created, as a debt in the life also, to test you, regarding who among you is the best in conduct. This tells us very clearly that certain circumstances for the human being represent a test or challenge to human behavior.
Certain environmental situations that you find yourself in are going to challenge your ability to perform in a civilized, excellent way. And if you don't have help coming from somewhere, you will be in a world of trouble. The best help, I repeat, comes from Allah, the Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Prophet.
Also in these modern times, we find a tendency, especially in the American society, to imitate others. And no matter how much they sing and tell us not to walk in any man's shadow, this problem of imitating others keeps growing. So they need help from Qur'an and Sunnah. You just can't imitate anybody that impresses you; or you will be in a world of trouble. But God has given us the universal model of perfect human conduct, character, image, behavior, etc., that's the Sunnah of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him.
The Sunnah's Protection
So we should be protected by the Sunnah of the Prophet. When some of us think (of the Sunnah of the Prophet); it is only about how he ate and whether he ate with his right hand and what he said before he went to bed, and upon rising. That's only one aspect.
You have to look at the kind of spirit he had. In the reports of his life, you can clearly see a unique spirit in Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings bee upon him. You can see also his behavioral nature in the study of his life. So you should pattern yourself after his spirit, and the universal character of his behavior.
Study The Prophet's Sunnah
But to know that, you have to be intelligent and look for more than rituals and outer show.
You have to look for more than just the simple things of his life; you have to look into the depths of the essence of Muhammad to see what kind of spirit protected him and why God made this man a model for all of us. Did he do it just because he spoke nice words, and didn't tell lies? No, it was more than that. Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, had the spirit that Allah wants in us. And not only that, he had the behavioral tendencies, motivation, and aim that Allah wants in us.
He had the idea of reality and where he is in it and what he should do in it that Allah wants in us.
So you must go to the life of Prophet Muhammad for more than just rituals and simple traditions.
Muhammad Was Inspired By God
Muhammad was chosen and inspired by God. And like the other prophets, his life reflects an appreciation for excellence. This world now needs a passion for excellence to save it. This country was put on the map industrially because of a passion for excellence in its early history. No people can go far without a passion for excellence.
Our Prophet said, "the believer, when he does the work, he seeks to perfect it." Since the Prophet tells us that, we should feel obligated to seek excellence in everything we do. This is Qur'an also. The Prophet has obligated us by his own teachings to seek excellence in everything we do.
Motivated By Excellence
A well known hadith by the Prophet says, "when you slaughter the animal, slaughter it with excellence." And see that your knife is sharp so that you cause the least suffering to the animal.
If the Prophet, peace be upon him, has given us that principle in that situation, then we should know that it is to be applied in every situation. The Prophet wouldn't say be neat here and be sloppy there. So Muslim artists, scientists and politicians — all of us — should strive to perfect their work. In fact, all of us should look for excellence in our work. That should be our motivation.
We Muslims must be fired up with a passion for excellence, and it should start with the way you treat yourself.
Don't brush your teeth as if you don't care about them. Do the best job and be proud of it. When you finish brushing your teeth, you should feel good.
Now if we apply the same principle to the demand for respect for each other in our homes; husband for wife, wife for husband, parents for children, children for parents, children for each other, our lives would be beautiful.
Struggling In The Dark
Some of us have been struggling in the dark, for the way to live the Muslim life. We say, "oh, I don't know enough. I wish I knew more about my religion so I could live it better." Allah has made it very easy for us. Allah says, "and take as much of it as you can." He told us to do our best and take the best of the religion. So the principle for our behavior and coming up with a good life for it is excellence.
The message of excellence is even in the first words we hear when we wake up in the morning: Allahu-Akbar! Allahu-Akbar! Allahu-Akbar is relative. There is that that is less and there is that that is better. Allahu-Akbar: there is that that is great, and there is that that is greater. Allahu-Akbar! Allah is the better, so you should be the better. Allah is the more important.