The Most Valuable Thing To Allah

The Most Valuable Thing To Allah by Nouman Ali khan


What we're going to talk about first of all is the American Dream, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I'm going to start with the pursuit of happiness and I'm going to tell you that even though that's an incredible notion, and the founding fathers of this nation had something really genuine in mind, I was really peculiar, really estranged actually to find that The Quran does not talk about the pursuit of happiness. It's pretty shocking, I'm trying to figure this thing out for fifteen years now, trying to find where is the pursuit of happiness in the Quran. Allah doesn't talk about it. He doesn't. And it made me wonder why is this such a fundamental crux of modern society people just want to be happy and Allah is not talking about it. The Quran does not explicitly talk about the pursuit of happiness. It's interesting that The Quran and the highest thing It talks about is contentment. Contentment, just being at peace, that's the ultimate goal in Islam, it's not happiness, these are two different things, being at peace and being happy are two different things.

You know some studies in psychology that are really interesting and they really shed light on how we are to understand one of the statements in The Quran that this entire talk is about. The statement comes from Suratul Najm: "A human being will have nothing for his own benefit except whatever efforts he made". Now I want you to stay with me as best you can.

The first and the lowest pursuit any of you will have and I'm particularly picking on the young people in the audience, I know they're they that are young at hearts in the audience too, but this is for the young physically. So those of you understand that the lowest...I need you to understand that the lowest of all pursuits, in your life, is going to be happiness. The lowest of all of them and let me demonstrate why that is. You don't feel like getting up and doing your homework on Saturday morning so you sleep in until 12:00 and you are what?, happy. It doesn't take much to be happy. Some kids play video games the entire night and he's got a huge migraine but since he beat the game he's somehow happy. Somebody gets a call at work 'Listen it's a snow day, you don't have to come in', guess what, they are what?, they're happy. In other words happiness is easy, in small things happiness is easy, of course happiness in relationships is very difficult, making your parents happy or getting your parents to be happy with you is very hard, but anyway for yourself attaining happiness it could be as simple as you watched a movie and you felt happy, or you went to meet some friends and you felt happier, you went to your favorite restaurant and you felt happy, it doesn't take much. But you know what, it comes and what happens to it?, it goes, it goes away and you get bored again, you get frustrated again, and you want to be happy again, so you keep going after this drug of happiness which keeps leaving you, it never stays with you, that's the lowest of all pursuits. So when people say 'I just want to be happy', I don't understand what that means because nobody always happy. Allah gave us a huge score of emotions to experience in life and they're all part of a healthy life, happiness is just one of them, so if your pursuit is just happiness, let me tell you, you're in for a lot of disappointment, that's never going to happen, you're never going to be constantly living in the state of happiness, that's not how it works, I'm not saying you're going to be depressed but I am saying life is about struggle too, isn't it? When you're studying for your finals you're not happy, when you're in the middle of a three hours final you're not happy, when guys you want to workout and when you see the results you'll be happy but when you're working out and you're sweating and you're dying you're not happy.

So the lowest of all pursuits is what?, happiness. Lets go a step further. the second pursuit it's a step further which means it requires more effort, and every time I take a step, you have to go through more pain to get it. So the next step is the pursuit of 'Cool'. It's not the pursuit of happiness it's a pursuit of 'Cool'. 'Cool' just means nobody's gonna pick on me, I'm gonna blend in with everybody else, nobody's gonna point at me and say: 'Why are you dressed like that', 'Why do you talk like that', 'Why do you look like that', 'Why are you walking like that', Why are you hanging out with those people', Why do you buy that', 'Why are you driving that car', people will point at you and criticize you and you just don't want that to happen, you wanna fit in and not be the object of anybody's criticism, you just like to blend in and almost be invisible, you're cool like everybody else and that takes work. So for example, those of you that are in high school or even before that in middle school, how you dressed to school is a really big deal, and actually before you pick a shirt out of the closet and before you pick the shoes that you're going to wear the thought goes through your mind of who's going to be making fun of you for wearing it, it actually runs through your mind. When you go shopping with your parents: 'Okay lets get you some clothes' or whatever, they give you money, the decision to buy whatever clothes you buy or the shoes you buy actually a lot of it is driven by what people are going to think of you when you wear this, this is your pursuit of 'Cool' and it takes more work to blend in, it's easy to be the weirdo that everybody else finds strange, but it takes work to be like everybody else, and a lot of people, a lot of young people unfortunately have to give themselves up, they have to pretend they're someone they're not just to fit in. I've met kids that are maybe 14 or 15 years old, I met this kid one time he had a baseball hat on sideways, it used to be a thing, and he got pants hanging down and he came up to me he started crying and I sat him down, we started talking and he tells me 'You know, I hate dressing like this, I hate it, but if I don't kids make fun of me, I can even get beat up, I have to dress like this, I don't like cursing but I do a lot when I go to school because I have to fit in'.

There's the lowest pursuit and that is that of happiness, one above that is the pursuit of what?, 'Cool', then there's a pursuit above that, it's the pursuit of popularity, 'I don't just want to blend in, I want to be the coolest person there is', I want to be the one everybody else wants to be friends with, I want to be the loudest one on the lunch table, before anybody makes fun of me, I want to be the one that makes fun of everybody else. And that's a lot of times the kids that are popular in school, they're actually popular because they make fun of other kids and everybody's scared that they'll be the next target so they kind of, come under their wing so that they're not the next target. This by the way, I'm not just talking even though I'm focusing on young people, this happens with adults, this happens with adults absolutely, this happens with our uncles and aunties absolutely. The pursuit of popularity means I just wants to be talked about, I want to be the center of attention, I need people to be commenting on me so I'm going to post a picture, I'm gonna tweet something, I'm gonna make a video or whatever I'm gonna do, so that people are talking about me, and every time that commentary starts going down I need to do something new so the conversations starts anew again, and the pursuit of popularity is a strange thing because it makes people humiliate themselves. Like for example, in the music industry or the entertainment industry, when an artist their album went platinum or whatever and everybody's downloading their songs and it's no longer popular, then they have to humiliate themselves and make disgusting videos or getting involved in a controversy so that the tabloids writes about them, at least those are popular because they couldn't get popular of their own talent anymore, they couldn't sell their next music, next video or whatever as they could the last one. So this is the pursuit of popularity and in order to become popular it takes work, you got to spend money, you got to spend time, you got to work on yourself, work on your image, and it becomes really important for you to maintain your image, and to maintain that status among people, this is the next pursuit.

But above that is another pursuit and that is the pursuit of prestige. for college students this more important than elementary and high school but for college students becomes a big deal. I'm going to go in order, at the bottom there's happiness, then what's there, 'Cool',  then popularity, and now we're in prestige. Prestige 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 pickup your friend but you like to use your name in the same sentence as Harvard, as a matter of fact even if you're a freshmen at Harvard what have you accomplished?, nothing, you're at that school what have you done in the world?, nothing, but you would like to have your name associated with a prestigious institution, you would like to have your name associated with a prestigious brand, so you like to wear clothes of a certain brand and if the brand label is not mentioned  you wanna have a conversation with people forcing them to ask 'Where did you get that?', and then you say 'Well it's Armani' or something, because you want yourself to be associated with that brand, that is when a car comes in, 'What kind of car are you driving?', "What kind of clothes are you wearing?', 'What kind of people are you associated with?, you don't want to take a selfie with someone because you would like to remember them, you want to take a selfie so you can post it so other people can feel like you're more important because you're standing next to this person. It becomes a matter of prestige. If it's just for you it's great, but this is actually more about letting other people know how awesome you are by association, not by accomplishment. And by the way, in our religious community, in the Muslim community another kind of prestige sometime our parents have gone through is they want to make their kids a Hafidz (Memorize Quran) and a doctor, those two things, but they love telling people this 'You know my son is a Hafidz (The one who memorize Quran) and they turned him into a trophy, unfortunately that's not why you memorize Quran but it happened. So it's gonna be a really big deal to you for example when you get your first job, maybe you get your at, I don't know Microsoft or something but who cares, but whatever you get a job at a big company, or you get a job at Google, they give you your badge, you wear the badge into the Masjid (Mosque), 'You use a lot of Google they give you special badge?'...'No, no, no, I got a job there'. So you want to let people know what you've accomplished, The Quran calls it a desires to show others what prestige you have.

Anyway I'm going to start at the topic at the bottom again, first thing happiness, second thing 'Cool', third popularity, fourth prestige, above that there's the pursuit of money. There are some people who don't care about happiness, they don't care about 'Cool', they don't care about popularity, they don't care about prestige, all they care about what?, money, and they know how to make a lot of money, these are people that are wearing a dirty t-shirt and old ripped up jeans, they're driving an 88 Mazda Miata and they don't care because they're making a million dollars a month, they're making ten million dollars a month, I met these people, I've met people that are worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year and you would not know the homeboy is that kind of money, cause his hairs all over the place, he just doesn't care, he just know how to do business and he's amazing at business and that's all he ever thinks about, all he ever thinks about is how am I gonna increase sales, how am I going to expand, how am I gonna open up the next warehouse, I'm gonna do this, I'm gonna do that, SubhanaAllah, these people are incredible human beings. And by the way as we move up this ladder, does it take more work?, it does doesn't it, it takes no work to be happy, it takes some work to fit in, it takes some more work to become popular, it takes even more work to have prestige or association with prestige, and it takes a lot of work to make a lot of what?, to make a lot of money, it needs an incredible amounts of work ethics, these people don't take a break.

Then there's above that, there's even higher levels, and by the way when I say it takes more effort I need you to understand something. every time I describe a higher level you have to go through more pain to get there, you have to tolerate pain, grit, in order to get there, so we're going to go above money now. And above money there's somebody who just wants to be number one, they want to have excellence, I don't want to be a programmer in my company, I want to be the top programmer in my company, I don't want to be a student in class, I want to be the number one student in class, I don't want to get high score on the SAT, I want to get a perfect score on the SAT, I don't just want to be a basketball player, I want to be in the NBA, and they're never happy with themselves until they keep pushing themselves harder and harder and harder, they're never satisfied, these are the kind of people that pursue excellence in whatever they do, whether it's study or athletic, or their work field, their research, whatever it is, they need to be on top, they need to be number one and you know who they're never satisfied?. who they compare themselves to?, this is important, you know who they compare themselves to?, themselves from yesterday, they don't care about anybody else, they don't look at anybody else, they know that they could have done better, so they never never satisfied, they never sit back, they always say 'Man I need to do more', I could have done better, and everybody else might say well you're amazing, that's an amazing thing you did and they're like 'Who cares, I know could do better', so they didn't care about the praise and the acronym , you know the accolades from people who think they've done an incredible things, they just keep pushing themselves harder and harder and harder.

So we're up to what now? Let's start at the bottom again, happiness, 'Cool', popularity, prestige, money, excellence. What could be above excellence? There is something above excellence and that is impact. I don't care what I get, I don't care if I make more money than everybody else, I don't care if I'm number one that's not what I care about, I want to do something for others, I want to leave a legacy, I know I have a limited time on this planet and 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 a better place for other people, I want to be a person of impact, on others, on other things, and others on the environment around me. You know there are people, we're talking about non-muslims right now, we're not talking about believers yet, there are people who get an MBA, top schools, they could be making six figures salaries coming out of school and they're dropping those salaries and they're going to companies that are doing socially responsible work, and they're taking a major pay cut because instead of believing in money, they believe more in impact, so they rather work with an organizations that's helping reform the education system or somebody who's a doctor who could be making a huge amount of money, so they just finished residency, just finished everything and he's now ready to get into the workforce decides he's going to spend three years in Doctors Without Borders, you ever heard of this? You don't make money when you go to Doctors Without Borders, you risk you life to go to Doctors Without Borders, but why is this young man going, why is this young woman going, because instead of worrying about what kind of car am I going to get when the money starts rolling in, he or she is more worried about the impact that I have on the world, they want to help, they want to do something good, and I tell you that kind of selflessness is very very few people. The more, the higher up we go this ladder the fewer people you'll find, and those people are incredible human beings, these are actually the human beings that have made changes on the planet. Think about people like Nelson Mandela or something, people that have spent time in jail because they believe in something, because they believe in impact, they want to do something more than themselves, they sacrifice themselves for the greater good, they don't even think about themselves, they are servants of a cause. And so these people, these people are the people of impact, they're way even above the people of excellence. By the way, excellence, is automatic for these people, excellence is not a goal it's a byproduct, you know why?, because if you want to have that kind of impact you have to have what in yourself?, actually you have to push yourself harder and harder.

You might wonder maybe this is the highest goal somebody could reach, his impact, but no there's something higher, there's the ultimate truth. Somebody pursues justice, somebody pursues the truth, somebody pursues an ideal, they believe in justice and justice is something you can never fully see in the world, can you?, it's never going to be fully be there, but they don't care they're going to work towards it anyway. And by the way when you work towards something you can't even see it's the hardest thing to do in the world. If you're working towards impact, even if you see a little bit of impact you get encouraged, isn't it?, you get encouraged and it pushes you further, but when you work towards an idea, the cause of justice, you may not see justice ever, ever. How are these people able to push themselves even if they're working toward something they've never even seen?, these are the most incredible, resilient kinds of people. Once they believed in an idea and everybody else think they're crazy, they don't care they keep going.

So I'm going to start at the top now which is the pursuit of truth and the pursuit of justice, and tell you that the legacy of our Prophets, all of them, was actually the pursuit of truth. They care about sharing the truth with people, and a lot of times on the Day of Judgment we learned from the Prophet SAW they're actually going to be people that show up before Allah, Messengers showing up before Allah on Judgment Day with no followers behind them, no followers, not one, not two, zero. What did they pursue?, the truth. How much impact did they have?, zero, but they're still absolutely successful in The Sight of Allah, yes or no?

So now we need to understand something, we're going to go back to the start again but I'm going to focus on the last four, the last four, maybe even the last five, let us see. First let's talk about excellence. When you pursue excellence you're never satisfied with who?, yourself, the question is why aren't you satisfied with yourself, just cause you want to be better?, no, if you're understand the Islam's point of view, you're never satisfied with yourself because every single one of you people is supposed to be in pursue of impact. You're supposed to be thinking of other than yourself and that is why you should never be satisfied with yourself. Allah has put more responsibility on you than you realize. I want you to think about this too, this is actually the most powerful statements in The Quran 'Allah will not burden you with anything except your own potential'. In other words, did you have the potential be better?, yes, could you have done more?, yes, and 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 push yourself and push yourself and show Him what you made of, that's the idea of pursuit here. We're not interested in the pursuit of happiness that is actually something Allah gives us as a side benefit, we're not interested in the pursuit of 'Cool' because 'Cool' is lame, everybody else is a loser and you want to be a loser like them, we're not interested in the pursuit of popular, you know why, because everybody else who has no idea of the purpose in their life, if you're popular in their eyes you're just the dumbest of them, we're not interested in the pursuit of prestige because we know prestige comes from Allah, Prophets were made homeless, they had prestige, these Messengers were spit on, they had prestige, we've got the wrong definition of prestige, we're associating it with the wrong things.

When it comes to the pursuit of excellence, you guys Muslims we cannot afford to be satisfied with mediocrity, we cannot afford it. You as a Believer, as a Muslim, have to push yourself to better, whatever you're doing, if you're memorizing you could memorizing better, if you're studying you could be studying better, if you're working you could have been working better, if you're volunteering you could be volunteering better, push yourself to better, push yourself especially when you're young, right now you have time, you don't have much responsibility, 'But I have homework', yes that's not too much responsibility, responsibility will come when you get married, once you have children, right now you're free, right now you have the freedom you will never ever have in your life, this is the time to push yourself, not sit back and play video games, this is not the time to watch movie after movie after movie, this is not the time to be excited about The New Avengers or whatever, this is not the time, not for you, you have much bigger things to do, the entire world is waiting for the impact that you will have, you can't sit around, everybody else can that's fine, they don't have higher pursuits, you have to be the person of excellence because you're from now thinking about impact, every single young men and women in this audience should be thinking about what did Allah give me, what talent did He give me and what impact will I have on this planet because of it, what am I going to do with it, and as you think about that impact, then you realize what you're really working towards, you're working towards 'Contentment', meeting with Allah, that is our Ultimate Truth, you wanna be able to show Allah that you did everything in your potential, that's what you want to be able to do. You guys should have the best sleeping habits, you guys should have the best dietary habits, you guys should have the best exercise schedule, you guys should be the best in your Prayers, you guys should be the best in your studies, you should be pushing yourself to excellence in everything you do in life, everything you do in life should be at the top, you should not be eating junk food, you should not be the people that are just lounging around wasting time, yes you should have a good time but even when you play, you play hard, people see you, other kids in school see you, other people in college see you and say 'I want to be like him, everything he does is awesome', everything he does he does the best, that's what you people need to be, that's what this Ummah needs, people of excellence, and then these people are going to have impact and you know what?, our parents, unfortunately, because they were never taught this business, they were never taught this ladder, so you know what?, their highest ladder was prestige, maybe above prestige money, that is where it ended, so 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, his a this, his a that and hopefully we can have a lot of money we can show it off', that's it, that's where it ended for them, and that's what they talk to you about all the time 'Where are you gonna work?, How you're gonna make money?, When are you going to buy a house?', isn't it? Everything ends at prestige and money, but there's so much more in life. What's above money? Excellence. Who's gonna push you to excellence? Who's gonna think about impact if you and I only think about money and prestige.

And now my final bit in this, Allah says "Human beings will have nothing for themselves except the effort they made", the pursuit that they had. Now let's start again, the pursuit of happiness, the pursuit of cool, the pursuit of popularity, the pursuit of prestige, the pursuit of money, the pursuit of excellence, the pursuit of impact and the pursuit of truth. You know the most valuable thing to Allah? The most valuable thing to Allah of all these, is 'Pursuit'. Not money, not impact, not excellence, all of those things will come. What Allah wants to see from you is what? Pursuit.

I told you there are Prophets that show in front of Allah on Judgment Day, how many followers? Zero. So they have zero impact but Allah still give them the highest ranks in Jannah (Heaven) why? Because Allah respects their 'Pursuit', their effort, their grit, they were tough and they went through it. If you were to have a progress report for Nuh (Noah) (AS) every year, let's see a growth chart and how many people became Muslim, 950 years, the chart isn't going up, it's just flat and maybe even goes down cause some people are coming close and then went away, there's no impact, there's no progress on the ground, but do you know what we respect about Nuh (AS), is his constant, constant, constant pursuit. We have to internalize this, you guys have to be a people of pursuit. We will have nothing in front of Allah not our pursuits.

Young people listen to what I'm saying, please carefully, please think about this. What is your life going to mean, if your life is just one video game to the next, if your life is just one episode to the next of a show, what are you pursuing? Who cares if you got trophies on that video game or you got 100% synchronization in Assassin's Creed, who cares?, who cares? What did that changed for the world? Who cares how many pushups you can do?, who cares? You have to think more than that, you have to think higher than that, and when you start doing that I will tell you one thing Allah will give you, Allah will give you happiness. When you really have pursuit, then your life means something, and when your life means something it makes you happy. When you don't have pursuit, then you'd never find meaning in your life, and that's why you're never happy, doesn't matter how much music you listen to or how much hanging out you do, how much partying you do, you just never happy, you're never satisfied, you're always bored, you're always just not happy with yourself etc, it is this pursuit that you have to internalize. You young people have to be people of incredible, incredible, incredible pursuit.

I'm ending with this Ayah (Verse), Allah says: "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 and here, I did this and this project, what do you put on your resume? The results or the pursuits? You don't put the pursuit, you put the results, the results was you graduated, you don't put 'I worked really hard for the final semester and I was dying to do this exam', you don't put that on your resume, you just put I graduated, sometimes you put a lot of effort and you don't pass, does that happen?, you put an incredible amount of effort into a project and it fails or you don't get the grade that you deserved or you wanted, you just didn't see the results. Human beings we judge each other based on what? Results. I don't care how much effort you've made you didn't get the results, you're fired. I don't care how much effort you've made you didn't pass the test, you're not graduating. But Allah on Judgment Day is not looking at your report card based on results, Allah is looking at your report card based on what? Effort! Allah says and his effort and his pursuit is that which will be shown, that is remarkable cause no other human beings in the face on this earth can see my effort, I cannot see your effort and you cannot see mine, only Allah sees effort, all we see is impact, all we see are results, we are people of results, Allah is a Judge of effort, SubhanaAllah, what an incredible Master. Nobody will appreciate your effort except Allah. So never underestimate your efforts because other people underestimate them. People didn't appreciate the kind of work you put in and you figure well I guess it wasn't worth it, it was to Allah, it was worth it to Allah.

Transcribed from: Young Muslims

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