Saturday, 8 January 2011

Selfless Productivity

A while back I received the following e-mail from an old friend of mine who just discovered In his e-mail he said something interesting which I want to share with you:

“...although many of us are very productive, I feel the main issue muslims lack today is selflessness. That is our limiting step and limit to our ummah being the leading one...Ponder over this thought inshaAllah”

I can see what my friend meant; it seems that most of us are ‘productive’ when the outcome of our productivity relates to ourselves. Yet we’re not so productive when the output has nothing to do with us and is related more to others.

We’re productive with our studies, we’re productive in our careers, we’re productive in our own ‘pet’ projects and hobbies, but when it comes to the Ummah, to our community, to our relatives, to those around us, we’re least productive, we let ‘others’ deal with it. We’re selfish in that sense as we do not feel the need to be productive for others.

The above is especially true in the post-modern world that constantly promotes “Me, Myself and I”. So how can we make our productivity relate more to others than to ourselves? How can we truly be selfless-ly productive?

There are 3 dimensions to this answer:

1.Understand Your Circles
All of us live within what I call “responsibility circles” these are circles that determine our spheres of influence or spheres of responsibility. Each of these circles have a right upon us, however, some circles have more right than others.

The first circle of responsibility and the closest to us is the ‘Me’ circle, it relates to our personal life, personal development and personal well-being. Then comes our family circle. These include our spouse, children, parents, siblings, relatives. Then comes our community circle; local mosque, local town, city, and country. Finally comes our Ummah circle, which includes this great brotherhood and sisterhood that connects Muslims around the world.

The natural way of dealing with these circles is that we work with the most inward circle first (Me circle) then branch out. However, there are 2 extremes to this:
1. We take care too much about our inward circles (me, family) that we forget the outer circles (community, Ummah)
2. We go the other way and worry about the entire Ummah and community projects, when we ourselves and our families are not taken care of.

One of the common mistakes of extremely productive people, especially those involved in community work, is that they’ll go out of their way to take care of their community, but somehow they’d forget their families and sometimes even themselves.

We need balance. Start with yourself, then move to your family, then your community, then Ummah at large in a balanced sustainable way.

2. Align your interest to those around you
One of the ways to ensure that you live a balanced life and are taking care of each of the circles mentioned above, is to align your interest of a productive pursuit to the interest of those around you.

For example, let’s say you’re deeply interested in online ventures and setting up online businesses. But your family and friends are completely web-illiterate. If you ignore them, you may be productive online, however those around you would see you wasting your time and think that you’re “selfish” because you’re not spending enough time with them and instead spend time infront of a box talking to strangers! They don’t understand the importance of what you do. So how do you resolve this? Simple. Get them involved! Align the interest of those around you to yours, and watch them realising how productive you are and that you’re really not being selfish.

Similarly, if you want to grow big and align your productivity to the Ummah’s. The way to do this, is see where the Ummah is hurting, where’s it’s bleeding, what’s missing in the Ummah and match it to what interests you then resolve to be the person who fills that gap. For example, if you’re into education, you may focus on a particular area of the Ummah that desperately needs education and resolve to be the person who fills that gap. If each of us think this way and work on this, we can truly heal the Ummah inshaAllah!

3. ‘Ethaar’
The third dimension of self-less productivity is of course the spiritual dimension. Our religion is full of examples and instructions on loving for others what you love for yourself and being selfless. Here are a sample of verses in the Quran and Hadeeth of the Prophet:

لَن تَنَالُوا الْبِرَّ حَتَّىٰ تُنفِقُوا مِمَّا تُحِبُّونَ ۚ وَمَا تُنفِقُوا مِن شَيْءٍ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ بِهِ عَلِيمٌ
“By no means shall you attain Al-Birr (piety, righteousness - here it means Allah's Reward, i.e. Paradise), unless you spend (in Allah's Cause) of that which you love; and whatever of good you spend, Allah knows it well”
( سورة آل عمران , Aal-e-Imran, Chapter #3, Verse #92)

وَالَّذِينَ تَبَوَّءُوا الدَّارَ وَالْإِيمَانَ مِن قَبْلِهِمْ يُحِبُّونَ مَنْ هَاجَرَ إِلَيْهِمْ وَلَا يَجِدُونَ فِي صُدُورِهِمْ حَاجَةً مِّمَّا أُوتُوا وَيُؤْثِرُونَ عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِهِمْ وَلَوْ كَانَ بِهِمْ خَصَاصَةٌ ۚ وَمَن يُوقَ شُحَّ نَفْسِهِ فَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ
“And (it is also for) those who, before them, had homes (in Al-Madinah) and had adopted the Faith, love those who emigrate to them, and have no jealousy in their breasts for that which they have been given (from the booty of Banu An-Nadir), and give them (emigrants) preference over themselves even though they were in need of that. And whosoever is saved from his own covetousness, such are they who will be the successful”
سورة الحشر , Al-Hashr, Chapter #59, Verse #9

Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said: “None of you has faith unless you love for your brother what you love for yourself.” (Hadith 13 of Forty Hadith by An-Nawawis)

The question is: how can one practically apply the above guidance in their day to day life? There’s a 3 step thinking process that I’ve found extremely to implement the above:
1. Constantly evaluate yourself and evaluate all your actions. When you catch yourself not bothered to help others, ask yourself why, and figure out if you’re being selfish.
2. Remind yourself with some of the Divine guidance above and the rewards you’ll get by truly giving up what’s rightfully yours to help others.
3. Force (literally force) yourself to act and help others.

Sometimes our selfish nafs needs this constant assessment and push, if it knows that you’re ‘watching’ it and won’t just let it have all that it wants, it’ll learn and adapt the Islamic principles above.

I pray that Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta'ala) makes us all of those who live a balanced productive selfless lifestyle. Ameen.