Let us pause a moment from our piles of tasks or from our “allegedly” busy schedule at work and ask ourselves: what is our work achievement to date and, more importantly, what are foundations that shape our achievements? These questions are highly pertinent in light of what I have observed from the past 18 years in the academia and what I succumbed to periodically. The issue is: we tend to rely on “RELATIVE”, i.e. comparing ourselves in relations to others surrounding us to justify our actions/works or our inactions. It becomes so common to hear: “Well, even if I do not meet the established KPI, many others have not achieved theirs either.” “At least I publish one scholarly article, more than half of our staff has no publication.” “Why can’t I come this time, others have come even later or even have not shown up.” While these statements pertain to the academia, I believe that similar statements are common in other organizations too.
I request all to ponder on those statements or similar statements uttered by us (and I sometimes said similar statements). Are they justifiable? If we believe that they are justifiable, then we run the risk of being trapped in mediocrity or even lower. If majority of people in an organization are sub-par and we are drawn to that, then the organization will perpetually be sub-par. We may feel good that we perform relatively better than others, but the whole organization will go nowhere. Hence, I believe that, when it comes to individual achievements and organization’s progress, we must not rely on comparing with the works of others surrounding us. Of course, the words “excellence”, “quality” and the like are relative in nature, but what should drive us in our work is whether we have done the best and whether we have pushed ourselves to be at the frontier. Foundation of our achievement is “we want to be the best” and not “we want to be better than others”. For the latter, as I noted earlier, we might put the organization in the mediocrity-trap if the rest are mediocre. But, if each of us strives to be on top without thinking of others, then the organization is flying high.
Well, there are many reasons that we should not be fall short of striving to be the best. The root of our behavior should be the assimilation and inculcation of the teachings of the religion that we embrace, i.e. Islam. Here, I can forward at least four reasons why the foundations of our works, our achievement and our work ethics must be deep-rooted in Islam and, as a consequence, manifest in our struggle and hard work to push ourselves to the frontiers and become knowledge leaders in what we do.
First, WORK IS IBADAH. Islam is filled with mercy and blessing. And when it comes to Ibadah, Islam defines it as being every action embedded with obedience to Allah. This includes our work too. The word “obedience” signifies that we must have the right intention (niat) and we must do our tasks or works right. Indeed, deeds are by intention. Then, when we perform our daily responsibilities in our workplace, performing our works right mean that they should not be based on the second-best efforts, not on low work standards and not by transgressing boundaries set by Islam. Instead, they should be driven by the best efforts and highest standard possible and they must be confined by the intention to seek to pleasure of Allah. This is a characteristic of a Muslim in that when he or she performs certain tasks, he or she will do the best. And he or she has only one intention, to seek the pleasure of Allah.
Second, WE ARE VICEGERENT OF ALLAH ON EARTH. Islam is filled with mercy and blessing, not only for the believers but for all the created. As Muslims, we have been given the responsibility to bring prosperity on earth; yet, the achievement of which is so far-fetched. If we really want to compare, compare with the best and not with the sub-standards that have besieged Muslims for so long. The reality is we are far behind. If others are ahead of us and is still running, we will not be able to overtake them if we are crawling. Instead, we have to run even faster. We must work harder. We must strive and struggle. We must sacrifice. Islam is highest and nothing is above it. This is the truth and will remain true. However, in the present situation, Muslims have made Islam to look low. It is our responsibility to place Islam back at the place it should be such that Islam manifests its blessing and mercy to all mankind.
Third, WHAT WE DO SHAPE THE FUTURE. What we do has implications for the future. The success of our generation is not judged by what we have achieved in relations to each other but on whether we build foundations for the next generation to be better. As noted early, we can easily be trapped in mediocrity and mediocrity can be perpetual across generation. We have to acknowledge that we are mediocre. We have the responsibility to break out from this trap to set a better future for our next generation such that, as mentioned above, we are truly the vicegerent of Allah on earth.
And fourth, WE STAND ALONE ACCOUNTABLE FOR OUR ACTION IN THE DAY OF JUDGEMENT. Sometimes we forget that when we stand before Allah on the day of judgement, our action will be judged not in relation to our peers. On earth, we are assessed relative to each other. But, it is not on the day of judgement. Allah says: protect yourselves and your families from the hell fire. Ask ourselves: can we use the reasons that we do not do what we are expected to do by rationalizing that others also have not done? Can we justify our times dedicated to work being less than what is expected (e.g. 40 hours per week) by stating that others have consistently shirking on their works? Do we think that Allah will accept those justifications? Are income earned and then fed to our family justifiable? We may now be able argue by giving various rationales but ask: can we do the same in front of Allah. The right advice is: protect ourselves and our families from the hell fire. The right action: have right intention and then do the best we can. It should not be merely better than others but do the best we can.
Based on these, let us embrace the work ethics deep-rooted in Islam so that once again we are leaders, InsyaAllah. And if we proclaim that we aim to be the “KNOWLEDGE LEADER” LET’S DO IT.
By Prof. Dr. Mansor Ibrahim, Deputy President Academic/Dean, School of Graduate and Professional Studies