By Mohammed Faris, Abu Productive
There seems to be an age-old struggle between two forces in people’s mind that is hindering many from achieving their full potential.
This is the apparent contradiction between being ambitious versus being content. Both qualities are well respected and even encouraged to have, however when they are brought together in one person’s mind or heart, there seems to be a conflict.
More importantly, this dilemma has infected the ummah (society) with the disease of laziness; some say ”Alhamdulillah, I’m content with what I have, why should I be ambitious and strive for more?” I translate this into: “I can’t be bothered to do anything, I just want to live within my comfort zone.” As you can expect, this mind-set is dangerous for the ummah’s growth.
Let us firstly explore both concepts from a linguistic point of view.
As you can see, from a definition point of view, there isn’t much of a contradiction between the two concepts. The states of being “ambitious” and “content” seem to serve different aspects of our drive to be the best – one is driving us (ambition), the other is making us enjoy the ride (contentment)!
Where does the contradiction lie? The contradiction lies in our misunderstanding that being content means not wanting to achieve more, and that being ambitious to achieve more is a sign that you’re not content. This is definitely not the case.
So how can we resolve this idea? Let us look into the Quran and Seerah of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him) to answer this dilemma: Regarding ambition, Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta’ala) says in the Quran what means:
“And those who pray, “Our Lord! Grant unto us wives and offspring who will be the comfort of our eyes, and give us (the grace) to lead the righteous.” [Surat 25 Al-Furqan, Verse 74]
And our Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) said: “The distance between every two levels of Paradise is like the distance between the sky and the Earth, so if you ask Allah for anything, ask Him for the Firdaus, for it is the last part of Paradise and the highest part of Paradise, and at its top there is the Throne of Beneficent, and from it gush forth the rivers of Paradise.” [Bukhari, Book #93, Hadith #519]
Furthermore, in numerous places throughout the Quran, we are told that to achieve Jannah we have to:
1) Have imaan
2) Do righteous works
We can now understand that we should be ambitious; however this ambition is to serve the person’s ultimate goal and that is to gain Allah’s pleasure and entering the highest part of Jannah (Paradise).
Regarding contentment, Allah says in the Qur’an what means: “Nor strain thine eyes in longing for the things We have given for enjoyment to parties of them, the splendor of the life of this world, through which We test them: but the provision of thy Lord is better and more enduring.” [Surat 20 Taha, Verse 131]
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said what means: “Riches does not mean, having a great amount of property, but riches is self-contentment.” (Sahih Bukhari, Book #76, Hadith #453)
The above clearly demonstrates that contentment should be related to the dunya (life) matters and can be reconciled with being ambitious in this life.
The following hadith narrated from Abu Hurayrah (May Allah be pleased with him) expresses this balance between ambition and contentment succinctly:
“People say that I have narrated many Hadiths (the Prophet’s narrations). Had it not been for two verses in the Qur’an, I would not have narrated a single Hadith, and the verses are: “Verily those who conceal the clear sign and the guidance which We have sent down.. (up to) Most Merciful.” (2:159-160). And no doubt our Muhajir (emigrant) brothers used to be busy in the market with their business (bargains) and our Ansari brothers used to be busy with their property (agriculture). But I (Abu Huraira) used to stick to Allah’s Apostle, content with what will fill my stomach and I used to attend that which they used not to attend and I used to memorize that which they used not to memorize.” (Book #3, Hadith #118)
This example of Abu Huraira (may Allah be pleased with him) shows that he was ambitious enough to memorize the ahadith (sayings) of the Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him), yet he was also content with his restricted provision in this world.
So in summary, to resolve the dilemma is as follows:
Be content with your provision in this dunya (life). But be ambitious about your akhirah (after-life) and never be complacent about your good deeds done for Allah. Aim to achieve more in order to please Allah, in your own practice of Islam and in your service to the ummah (society)– strive for more sincerity, quality and quantity.