A known misconception is that Quran fundamentally imposes a life style that discourages its followers to set high goals, strive to earn certain gains, or dwell on success in different aspects of life. Instead, they are expected to lose interest in good living or in pursuing their own dreams and passions. Those who work hard for personal achievements are often perceived as weak in faith or materialistic and could also be accused for being preoccupied by the vanities of this world. Such limited understanding has no Quranic basis, and it might be caused by the tendency of selectively applying certain verses while ignoring many others. That often leads to wrong conclusions. Among the many verses that have been taken out of context to support such wrong premise are:
[6:31] Losers indeed are those who disbelieve in meeting GOD, until the Hour comes to them suddenly, then say, "We deeply regret wasting our lives in this world." They will carry loads of their sins on their backs; what a miserable load!
[6:32] The life of this world is no more than illusion and vanity, while the abode of the Hereafter is far better for the righteous. Do you not understand?!
[11:15] Those who pursue this worldly life and its material vanities, we will pay them for their works in this life, without the least reduction.
[11:16] It is they who gave up their share in the Hereafter, and, consequently, Hell is their lot. All their works are in vain; everything they have done is nullified.
When we analyze Quran from cover to cover we could understand that there is no prohibition or set limitation for seeking God's bounties and planning for a better future for ourselves and our families. We could also see that God has established a certain BALANCE to achieve success and fulfillment in both this life and the Hereafter. Such BALANCE is apparently lost in the above verses where the preoccupation of this life takes over our focus on God's path. As believers, we fully appreciate and celebrate the blessing of each day in our lives as an opportunity to redeem our souls and attain higher ranks in the Hereafter. In fact, the righteous work harder everyday toward that eternal bliss and peace. Along the same lines, Quran does not teach that we must quit enjoying this life and put our God-given energy, talents, desires, or creativity on hold in order to be redeemed. This would be against our human nature and would defy the system God has established for us on earth to be tested with everything we get to have or be exposed to.
The BALANCE is achieved through maintaining righteousness. Once righteousness, as dictated by God in His scripture, is observed, we automatically use our dynamics, ambitions, and qualities to progress in this life and earn the high ranks of the Hereafter. We experience and enjoy the lawful pleasures of this world within and around us while we are steadily progressing on the straight path of God. There are no limitations. The race is on. Competition is lawful. However, righteousness is the only force to keep us on track, in perfect balance, and only the righteous are the ultimate winners.
[7:32] Say, "Who prohibited the nice things GOD has created for His creatures, and the good provisions?" Say, "Such provisions are to be enjoyed in this life by those who believe. Moreover, the good provisions will be exclusively theirs on the Day of Resurrection." We thus explain the revelations for people who know.
[39:10] Say, "O My servants who believed, you shall reverence your Lord." For those who worked righteousness in this world, a good reward. GOD's earth is spacious, and those who steadfastly persevere will receive their recompense generously, without limits.
[4:134] Anyone who seeks the materials of this world should know that GOD possesses both the materials of this world and the Hereafter. GOD is Hearer, Seer. The Winners [9:71] The believing men and women are allies of one another. They advocate righteousness and forbid evil, they observe the Contact Prayers (Salat) and give the obligatory charity (Zakat), and they obey GOD and His messenger. These will be showered by GOD's mercy. GOD is Almighty, Most Wise.
Quran consistently teaches us many examples of getting off that BALANCE so we take heed and stay enlightened. An example is to shed the light on the fine line between leading a successful life within the confines of righteousness and getting preoccupied or obsessed with our goals and dreams to the point of idolizing them. It's always God and His set standards that would define such fine line for us and would protect us from committing this form of idol worship.
[42:20] Whoever seeks the rewards of the Hereafter, we multiply the rewards for him. And whoever seeks the materials of this world, we give him therefrom, then he receives no share in the Hereafter.
[2:256] There shall be no compulsion in religion: the right way is now distinct from the wrong way. Anyone who denounces the devil and believes in GOD has grasped the strongest bond; one that never breaks. GOD is Hearer, Omniscient.
Another example would be the emphasis on lawful/righteous gains versus the unlawful ones (4:29, 2:188) . Our strife to abide by God's teachings will always lead us to pursue the righteous gains and will keep our footsteps in a perfect BALANCE on the straight path. When our priority in this life, is to live up to the standards of the Quran, He'll perfect our light(66:8), fix our works and decisions(33:71), and shower us with more blessings in this life besides the promised eternal rewards of the Hereafter.
Charity demonstrates the acknowledgment of God as the possessor and provider of all provisions. It is our mean to express our full appreciation of His bounties. It is the one righteous practice that tremendously helps keeping our BALANCE. We implore and seek God's provisions to enjoy them and we simultaneously use them to be redeemed and to earn higher ranks. Getting attached to our personal gains means that we gave in to our ego and we forgot who is the source of all blessings. The example of Qaaroon and the wisdom of the believers around him deliver a good reminder:
Appreciative vs Unappreciative [14:7] Your Lord has decreed: "The more you thank Me, the more I give you." But if you turn unappreciative, then My retribution is severe.
[28:76] Qaaroon (the slave driver) was one of Moses' people who betrayed them and oppressed them. We gave him so many treasures that the keys thereof were almost too heavy for the strongest band. His people said to him, "Do not be so arrogant; GOD does not love those who are arrogant.
[28:77] "Use the provisions bestowed upon you by GOD to seek the abode of the Hereafter, without neglecting your share in this world. Be charitable, as GOD has been charitable towards you. Do not keep on corrupting the earth. GOD does not love the corruptors."
God also teaches us that charity will set the difference between the rich believer and the poor one, while righteousness is the only criterion of preference and real win:
[16:75] GOD cites the example of a slave who is owned, and is totally powerless, compared to one whom we blessed with good provisions, from which he gives to charity secretly and publicly. Are they equal? Praise be to GOD, most of them do not know.
The Only Criterion
For Distinguishing Among The People [49:13] O people, we created you from the same male and female, and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes, that you may recognize one another. The best among you in the sight of GOD is the most righteous. GOD is Omniscient, Cognizant.
In conclusion, righteousness, as defined by God in the Quran, would be the only limitation for our goals and dreams in life. It is our guard and keeper of BALANCE to achieve success in both this life and the hereafter. Once we lose that BALANCE, we harm our souls and start to get trapped in and preoccupied by the illusion of this world. There is no prohibition in Quran of pursuing God's bounties and imploring Him for more. Strong believers are well-educated by Quran and would enjoy life based on its ethics and standards, with no fear, stinginess or greed. They would use and share all powers that God has blessed them with to have a fulfilled life, eternally. They meet the challenge just like Solomon who was one of God's obedient servants blessed with vast wealth. He once lost his BALANCE, then repented and decided to prove his true convictions by imploring God for more. He passed his test and set a precedent for us that leading a righteous life and earning higher ranks in the Hereafter could also be achievable with vast material wealth and with the strongest kingship as long as our focus and top priority is God and His commands.
Solomon's Exemplary Devotion
[38:30] To David we granted Solomon; a good and obedient servant.
[38:31] One day he became preoccupied with beautiful horses, until the night fell.
[38:32] He then said, "I enjoyed the material things more than I enjoyed worshiping my Lord, until the sun was gone.
[38:33] "Bring them back." (To bid farewell,) he rubbed their legs and necks.
[38:34] We thus put Solomon to the test; we blessed him with vast material wealth, but he steadfastly submitted.
[38:35] He said, "My Lord, forgive me, and grant me a kingship never attained by anyone else. You are the Grantor."
[38:36] We (answered his prayer and) committed the wind at his disposal, pouring rain wherever he wanted.
[38:37] And the devils, building and diving.
[38:38] Others were placed at his disposal.
[38:39] "This is our provision to you; you may give generously, or withhold, without limits."
[38:40] He has deserved an honorable position with us, and a wonderful abode.
Peaceful Friday, salaam and God bless.