SHAFAQNA- Islam teaches us that any righteous goal can be achieved with the blessings of Allah. No matter how hard the circumstances are, there is always a way. But sometimes, life presents a fork in which we have to make a choice. Often times, one choice will lead us to achieving our goals, and the other to put the pursuing of our goals on hold indefinitely, if not once and for all.
Consider how a doctor running a rural clinic would feel about leaving to go work for a leading and reputable hospital, at the same time knowing that the village seeks him for their medical inquiries? How would it feel if that doctor was a recent graduate and given the choice to serve his community or to work in a renowned hospital? Examples are numerous, and the choices are not simple.
So, how do we deal with it? How and when do we face the choice of sacrificing our lifetime goals?
The Balance of Actions
Imam Hasan (peace be upon him) says, “In regard to the world, act as if you were going to live forever. With respect to the hereafter, act as if you were going to die tomorrow.” (Bihar Al Anwar)
This narration sets our actions and choices on a balance with this life on one hand and the Hereafter on the other. At first glance, it may seem paradoxical. It may also seem like a lot of work. However, upon examining the religion of Islam, most of the actions recommended will fit both criteria: working for this life and the hereafter. Taking care of orphans, teaching, trade, and so on are all examples in which Islam have shed light on how to make them beneficial for both sides of the balance. As an example, consider honesty. Surely a person who does not lie and tells the truth will have the good deeds help him in hereafter. And in this life, people will trust him. This can further his business and/or career.
When the balance is established in one’s life, then all the choices and decisions made will emanate from it. The person will no longer engage in monasticism and forgetting about this life and the daily interactions with humans and the society. Also, the person will be free from the control of lower instincts that will only pull him/her towards the attractions of this world.
When a choice is to be made between two goals, the one that matters more is logically chosen. That is, the goal that has a higher priority than the rest is addressed and pursued first. Sacrifices usually are not part of our life plans, but when faced with them, careful consideration needs to be taken.
The first thing to be noted is the value of the cause which the sacrifice serves. The sacrifice can serve the religion or the desires of another person. It can serve living things or non-living things. The causes will vary, and it is up the person to decide what matters to him/her.
Going back to the doctor’s example earlier, working in the renowned hospital may be better for him as an individual. It will further his career and help him gain valuable experience in the profession. But is his own career growth more important for him than helping and serving a community which desperately needs him? We can argue differently, but in the end, it is his priority that should push him towards a choice.
All causes and all goals should be examined with the measuring stick that is Islam Islam and the balance it demands in our choices. Sometimes pursuing our goals will tip the balance greatly towards this life, and a sacrifice is essential in restoring the balance we require.
Islam teaches us that seeking the pleasure of Allah should be our foremost priority. Serving the religion and giving it our all is another important priority. Such causes will maintain the balance in our actions. After all, no matter what our lifetime dreams and goals are, when the sacrifice is for the sake of Allah (and Islam, the better choice is obvious.
The Higher Level
Examining the cause for a sacrifice versus the goal one worked hard to achieve is a great thing and is a step in the direction of correct decision-making. But there is a higher level. This level is reached when sacrificing itself becomes the person’s highest priority goal in life. Of course, the sacrifice should serve a supreme cause, and what better cause exists than God and Islam.
With such people, the balance of their actions is perfect. They did not face the dilemma of putting away their lifetime goals. By sacrificing for God, they are actually fulfilling exactly what they intended to in this life.
Lessons from Karbala
Our history is filled with stories of people who faced such a harsh dilemma of personal goals versus a sacrifice. The tragedy of Karbala offers numerous accounts of such choices. Consider Wahab (peace be upon him), who was recently married, and his wife asked him not to go to war. On one hand, he had the choice of listening to his wife, nurturing a family, and living a blissful life. On the other hand, there was sacrificing his life for Imam Hussain (peace be upon him). The Imam was his priority, and that was the choice he made. One can argue that deep down, Wahab’s true goal was to sacrifice himself for Imam Hussain. The choice was clear to him, and he had no dilemma.
When this dilemma of “goals versus sacrifices” is considered, one needs to reflect upon two more heroes of Karbala, whose birthdays we are celebrating this week: Qasim ibn al-Hasan and Ali al-Akbar (peace be upon them). They were both teenagers. Every teenager has dreams, wishes, plans, goals, and ambitions. Here we have two teenagers who surely had the same. They could have stayed in Medina. They could have chosen to pursue their dreams and live their lives.
But instead, they were there on the plains of Karbala. Thirsty and exhausted, they fought and gave their lives for the sake of Islam. They were not distracted by whatever “goals” they could have had in life. Their decision was clear. Their choice was firm: sacrifice the dreams of youth, and pursue the path towards triumph in this life and the next.
We need to stop and reevaluate our goals in this life. We need to make sure we include Islam in our plans for this life. We should not worry about temporary pleasures or interests. It should not matter how old we are. The warriors of Karbala included teenagers and even children. Whatever sacrifice we can make for this religion, we should for it. Sacrifice does not necessarily mean getting killed. Sacrificing time and money for the sake of God are also extremely important. Learning about the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) and spreading their teachings is a great sacrifice in its own right. We all can contribute. It should not matter much if our goals get delayed or put aside. Our religion deserves these sacrifices from us.
With that said, what are your goals in life?