By Amir Mohammed
“Ready. Set. Go!” These three words marked the beginning of the most fiercely contested races taking place in the yard of our primary schools. The pain of bruises and cuts could not compare to the pain of losing – indelibly damaging our reputation in the eyes of our peers. None of us started those races – or other endeavours like them – with the aim of coming 2nd, 3rd or worst of all (and worthy of never competing again) – last. Yet somehow, as we grow older, we seem to outgrow this innate youthful spirit. We are satisfied with less. We even aim for less. We use words such as “okay”, “not bad”, “good enough” and “I guess” more so these days than we use “excellence”, “amazing” and “I did it!”. We are more and more suffering from the disease of mediocrity in today’s world.
John Stuart Mill, a British philosopher and author wrote “the general tendency of things throughout the world is to render mediocrity the ascendant power among mankind” – he suggested that mankind was suffering from mediocrity at the time of his book – in 1869. Fast forward almost 150 years, and the sentiment still rings true. We often prefer to be in the background, let someone else handle a situation, maintain a status quo rather than challenge it, and strive to do just what we need to in order to minimally satisfy a condition or circumstance. We have become a nation of general underachievers – reflected in our leaders, our athletes, our professional lives, our principles, our character and our actions.
It is high time to rise from the shadows and shine with the optimum potential of human capacity.
Allah the Most High speaks to the community of Muslims about mediocrity – in that He wants us to have nothing to do with it. He says, “You (Muslims) are the best nation ever raised for the benefit of mankind…” (Qur’an, 3:110). He SWT did not say, “You (Muslims) are better than most people…”. Allah the Most High also says, “Be quick in the race for forgiveness from your Lord…” (Qur’an, 3:133), and did not say, “Race for forgiveness from your Lord, and try to make the top 3…”. Our Messenger Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) told us when asking for Paradise, to ask for the highest level, not just to gain minimum entry.
This is what Islam teaches – our way of life is not one that encourages mediocrity. Allah never wants us to be average. Allah never tells us to do the minimum and that’s it. Allah always tells us to strive for perfection and excellence and aim for the very highest.
This attitude of ambition, having lofty aims and a drive for success was the way of our Messenger (peace be upon him) and should be the trait of every Muslim. Our history is ripe with examples of companions, scholars and others who have paved a way of excellence. The iman (faith) in our hearts demand of us an attitude of proficiency and excellence. This is our mandate as Muslims.
In order to assist in rediscovering this innate youthful passion of the primary school yards, the following are some action items to consider:
1. Set Goals – In every aspect of life we should be clear on what we want to achieve. If we have no aim or goal, then we will always be satisfied with ‘whatever’ we achieve. One scholar encourages us by saying “aim like an archer” – he points his bow higher than his target, and then hits it.
2. Live the words of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) -“Always look at those above you for the deen (religion) and those below you for the dunya (world).” [Bukhāri]. When it comes to our religion, always look up to those who are better to motivate us into action and avoid looking below to make us justify our mediocrity. When it comes to possessions and the worldly life – always look below to remind ourselves to be grateful.
3. Step Outside of Our Comfort Zone – When we are accustomed to a certain level of iman, character, career or academic achievement, we establish a comfort zone. When we become comfortable, we stop achieving. We hit a plateau and we stagnate. When complacency prevails, enlightenment dissipates. Step outside of our comfort zones and feel the droplets of possibility fall on us.
4. Think of Our Legacy – Each year, as many as 56 million people die. When we depart, would we feel contented with being another statistic? Or would we rather be known for leaving a lasting positive impact on those around us, our jamaat, our community and our nation? Remember each day of our lives shapes the legacy we leave – so our aim should be to live each day with excellence – in the sight of Allah and in the world around us.
The prescriptions above are not exhaustive. There is much more to say and do to alleviate the disease of mediocrity from our minds, hearts and our communities on the whole.
Muslims have been given the mantle to lead mankind, and this is our mandate. We are the ones who must rise above the crowd, be the trendsetters of excellence, shine from the darkness and raise the bar among our peers. Setting high standards for the 3 A’s – Aqeedah (creed), Akhlaaq (character) and ‘Amal (actions) are among the ingredients that make us the best of nations that Allah SWT has raised for mankind. We were meant to be the trendsetters of excellence amid the human race.
Let us set off from the blocks and race to the ends of our potential as Muslims and humans beings.
See you at the finish line!