It’s not me, it’s You

INsights 034, Friday 10th February 2023

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Assalamu-alaikum. Peace be upon you.

Over the last four weeks, over 16,000 people have enrolled onto the Transform My Prayer programme.

In the three years prior to this period, the number was just under 3,000.

The important message of offering consistent, high quality prayers is reaching more people.

They are benefiting from a structured approach to achieving one of life’s most important goals.

They can ask an unlimited number of questions to have their concerns addressed.

They are part of a buzzing community where progress is being made together.

I’ve been flooded with heartfelt messages of generous feedback and gratitude from people who are already experiencing significant positive changes in their prayers, and therefore in the rest of their lives too.

I feel very happy. I feel a great sense of achievement.

But that’s where it starts to get dangerous…

The danger of success

When you care about getting results and you work hard for them, when you can envision exactly what you want to achieve and when you make sacrifices to fulfil your aims, even a small amount of success can change a person for the worse.

The root cause of this negative shift is self-satisfaction.

It was me. I did it. I had a great idea. I worked hard to achieve it. I deserve all the success and credit that comes my way.

Few of those who have such thoughts and feelings ever express them out loud. In fact, their presence may even be masked by the occasional expression in praise of God: alhamdulillah.

But deep down, the ego lurks. Deep down, the pride is still there. Deep down, there are still impurities that need to be cleaned out.

What to do when things go well

One of the obvious sources of guidance for us on this topic is as follows:

When God’s help comes and He opens up your way, when you see people embracing God’s faith in crowds, celebrate the praise of your Lord and ask His forgiveness: He is always ready to accept repentance.

(Chapter 110, Help, an-Nasr, Verses 1-4)

These words were addressed directly to the Prophet Muhammad, may God grant him blessings and peace. The occasion of revelation is understood to be his victorious return to Makkah with thousands of new believers after almost a decade of being exiled from the city of his birth. 

If anyone worked hard, he did. If anyone made sacrifices for the most important cause of all, he did. If anyone deserved endless amounts of credit, he did. 

But what he is told to do when he experiences the kind of success that once seemed unimaginable is to engage in divine exaltation (tasbih), praise (hamd) and seeking forgiveness (istighfar).

Furthermore, God ends remarkably by reminding his beloved messenger that He is at-Tawwab, the one always ready to accept repentance.

It feels unusual that God chooses to mention one of His names that we invoke when we are trying to turn things around after great wrongdoing or sinfulness. 

Why does God not refer to Himself here as the one who grants openings and victories, al-Fattah, or the one who gives support, an-Nasir, or use any of the several divine names that refer to His power, might and supremacy?

Why the references to forgiveness and repentance when the chapter is about divine help and the ultimate success of the prophetic mission?

It’s hard to come to any conclusion except that God wanted to instil a profound sense of humility in His messenger and, by extension, the rest of the believers. 

The advice is clear:

- If there’s any inclination to celebrate yourself, celebrate God. 

- If you ever feel like you deserve praise, praise God. 

- If you find yourself dwelling on your good deeds, remember your errors and seek forgiveness.

Even in paradise

What’s amazing is that those who enter paradise will maintain their humility even once they’ve achieved the greatest victory of all. They won’t comment on how brilliant they were, only on how grateful they are to have been guided.

That this will be the case is sufficient indication and motivation for us to be entirely self-effacing when we are blessed with success in this life.

We shall have removed all ill feeling from their hearts; streams will flow at their feet. They will say, ‘Praise be to God, who guided us to this: had God not guided us, We would never have found the way. The messengers of our Lord brought the Truth.’ A voice will call out to them, ‘This is the Garden you have been given as your own on account of your deeds.’

(Chapter 7, The Heights, al-A’raf, Verse 43)

Notice how the verse ends. We don’t need to recognise or give weight to the good deeds we did and the correct choices that we made because God Himself will make sure that this recognition exists and is communicated to us in the end.

It’s not me, it’s You

In my last edition of INsights, I wrote on what our attitude should be when things seem to go wrong in life. I reflected on Jonah’s exclamation, ‘There is no god but You, how perfect You are, I have certainly done wrong.’

God is not to blame for our difficulties. The only way to emerge from our low points well is to adopt extreme responsibility:

It’s not You, it’s me.

When we experience success, the only way to emerge well is to adopt extreme humility. In my case, thinking about Transform My Prayer and the recent influx of thousands of new participants, what I’m trying to do is not give a moment’s thought to the decisions I’ve made and the things I’ve done that may have resulted in these recent positive outcomes.

Instead, what I’m trying to do is keep remembering my Lord and realise simply:

It’s not me, it’s You.


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