Setting Aims for the Year

Summary

  • We explain when we should begin setting and realising goals, and that is in university due to the relative amount of free time we have.
  • Then we explored the importance and reason why we should set ourselves goals: that is to make them a means of achieving a greater goal i.e. the pleasure of Allah – which is the greatest reward, through which we attain Jannah.
  • And we emphasised the importance of making these goals span worlds, and not just let them end in this ephemeral life.

So the practical steps in realising all of this in terms of your aims – whether for academia, Islam, skillset, your professional lives, your character etc – should always be linked to the greatest purpose: that is of our existence, i.e. in worshipping Allah. So how we can we do that practically?

1) Renew intention: if our idea of worship is just salah, dhikr, fasting etc, then how can we live by  verse 56 of Surah Ad-Dhariyaat? That is by making our intentions, in whatever we do, to ultimately please Allah by acting through which that pleases Him. How is the latter determined? By the Qur’an and what our Prophet told us in the Sunnah.

2) Small but consistent actions: sound familiar? The Prophet ﷺ told us “Take up good deeds only as much as you are able, for the best deeds are those done regularly even if they are few.” Small but consistent actions are the building blocks of forming sustainable habits.

3) Schedule: buy a diary planner or whip out your iOS or Google calendar and begin timetabling! Write down your long term aims and small goals/action points to reach them. The mere action of having them written down or typed up helps to an unbelievable extent!

4) Duaa: after all, the ability to realise your aims is in His hands. But remember who you’re asking from, so don’t cheap out when you are asking from Al-Kareem, The Most Generous.

5) Persevere: mentioned over 90 times in the Qur’an, patience is not something to be taken lightly. It is needed not just in times of hardship, or abstaining from sin, but in pursuing good deeds. And as your aims should be manifested by plentiful good deeds, and even nobler intentions, this will require perseverance. So persevere with your goals, but importantly, persevere with your dua’a to realise them!

Full Sermon  

The Prophetﷺ said,

“If you ask of Allah, then ask Him for al-Firdaws, for it is the middle of Paradise and the highest part of Paradise.”

– Sahih Bukhari

Introduction

I’d like to welcome everyone back, and I hope that you all had a well-deserved break, and I  pray that Allah SWT blesses us all in the year to come, granting us good and protecting us from harm!

Now that we’re beginning the new year, I thought I’d briefly talk about a topic that would seem appropriate at this point in time: and that is the topic of setting aims and achieving them.

Now before we talk about the different aims that we can set ourselves, and how we can go about achieving them, we must ask ourselves the always important question: why? Why should we set ourselves aims?

The Importance of Setting Aims Now

There are many reasons, but for time’s sake, I’ve boiled it down to two simple reasons:

1) The first reason is the fact that during our time in university, we have a lot of free time (believe it or not!) It sounds crazy, but from this point onward, until we retire, it’s probably where we’ll be have the most free time to set ourselves life goals. Before we get occupied into the lifestyle of work, having a family, amongst other responsibilities. This is the time to try our best to achieve those, or at the very least, work on them which would make it easier for us to achieve them later in life

2) The second reason comes back to a critical and central point of our religion: we must set ourselves aims in light of the purpose of our creation.

  • You see, it’s very easy to live an aimless life. It may sound weird saying that, but in reality, it is the truth. That is how most of creation live. Many people just live for the moment, to have the joy that is always going to be short lived – hence why you hear the expression ‘you only live once’ to justify the most absurd things.
  • Or if people do have aims, it tends to be short sighted and very much purely material, e.g. getting amazing qualifications to get an amazing job, earning a lot of money so I can get a big house and car, and that’s it. It becomes the end goal, rather than a means to something greater.

So what should that mean to us as Muslims? You see, we know what our purpose is. We know what we should aim for. And most importantly, we know that we should have aims that transcend this life.

So we can use these few years in University, that we’ll never get back, to build ourselves in reaching the larger, ever-lasting aim, and one that goes beyond just the academic achievement. Beyond just leaving university with a degree certificate and nothing else.

But rather, one that builds our skill set. Our character. Our imaan. And yes, of course, our academic achievement!

No doubt, as Muslims, we should aim for excellence in all these domains, for indeed that is the sunnah of our religion. As it is recorded in Sahih Muslim the Prophet ﷺ says that “Allah has prescribed excellence in everything.” This reflections the concept of ihsaan: excellence.

But it’s important that we let this link into the purpose of our creation. Pleasing Allah. So that our aims transcend just this life. This will be explained practically later on, but to hit my point home, I’d like to leave you all with a few verses from the Quran.

A Quranic Perspective

Surah Shura, Verse 20:

مَنْ كَانَ يُرِيدُ حَرْثَ الْآخِرَةِ نَزِدْ لَهُ فِي حَرْثِهِ ۖ وَمَنْ كَانَ يُرِيدُ حَرْثَ الدُّنْيَا نُؤْتِهِ مِنْهَا وَمَا لَهُ فِي الْآخِرَةِ مِنْ نَصِيبٍ

“Whoever desires the harvest of the Hereafter – We increase for him in his harvest. And whoever desires the harvest of this world – We give him thereof, but there is not for him in the Hereafter any share.”

According to the Tafsir by Ibn Kathir, he states “whoever strives for the purpose of worldly gains, and never pays any heed to the Hereafter at all, Allah will deny him the Hereafter; and in this world, if He wills He will give to him and if He does not will, he will gain neither. So the one who strives with this intention in mind will have the worst deal in this world and in the Hereafter.”

In verse 134 of Surah Nisaa, Allah SWT also states:

مَنْ كَانَ يُرِيدُ ثَوَابَ الدُّنْيَا فَعِنْدَ اللَّهِ ثَوَابُ الدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةِ ۚ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ سَمِيعًا بَصِيرًا

Whoever desires the reward of this world – then with Allah is the reward of this world and the Hereafter.”

Hasan al Basri, who was from the tabi’in (from the succeeding generations of the Sahabah, the companions) said: “O youth! Seek the hereafter, for we often see people pursuing the hereafter and finding it as well as the Dunya, but we have never seen anyone pursue the Dunya and gain the hereafter as well as the Dunya.” So all of this reflects the concept of having aims that transcend beyond this life. We shouldn’t make this life the ceiling for our goals and ambitions. Because we must face the reality that one day we will be resurrected in another life.

Practical Steps in Setting and Achieving Your Aims

1) Renewing Your Intention

So my first point, & this really one that we hear time and time again, is critical. But there’s a reason why it’s drilled in. A reason why major books of ahaadith begin with the hadith that “actions are according to their intentions”, and it boils down to a simple concept. If Allah SWT says the purpose of our creation is to worship him (Surah Dhariyat, Verse 56), and our idea of worship is just Salah and dhikr, how would we be able to realise our purpose?

The answer? By making our intention reach a noble higher goal.

We explored this towards end of last year with studying and making that an act of worship, use similar elsewhere. Same with gym, leading healthy lifestyle, or for example. You can go on and on, but the main point is making the act according to what pleases Allah and the intention purely for His sake. As you can’t have good intentions if what you’re doing is not legit, the means don’t justify the ends, and vice versa. We can go into depth, but constantly renew your intention.

2) Small but Consistent Actions

“Take up good deeds only as much as you are able, for the best deeds are those done regularly even if they are few.” This is how habits are made. I’ll give you guys a simple example: an F2 was telling me he wished he just memorised a single verse of the Quran in his 5 years of medical school, perhaps he would have become a haafidh. You see, the issue is that Shaytaan wants that small action to seem insignificant. But if you just look at the second page of the Quran, there are 1620 deeds to be gained by just reciting the first few verses of Surah al Baqarah. So using this same principle, it helps breaks down your bigger goal into something more achievable, and in no time you’ll see the bigger goal realised. It’s the basis for maintaining that action too!

3) Schedule

You’ll be busy with many things in life, and you’ll get swarmed left right and centre. So one thing I was recommended is making a timetable for the week in advance. Sectioning off your day into segments, where one part you’ll be reading Quran, even if it’s just 5 minutes, another part study, another part chilling with your family, or if you live out, phoning your parents, another part chilling with friends and so on. It does require a lot of discipline but it’s really one of the ways you’ll able to realise certain aims. As they say a goal without a plan is just a wish, so having it down on a paper or on your Google/iOS calendar, will help you stick to it as best as possible iA.

4) Make dua’a and be ambitious with it

Remember The One we’re asking, use hadith if you ask for Jannah, ask for firdaus. After all, it’s not that people aim high and miss, but it’s that they aim low and hit. So use this same principle for your duaa.

So don’t just ask to pass our exams, but make duaa for the best results, and begin from now (after all, Allah SWT exists for the entire year, not just in the week before exams)!

And don’t belittle your dua’a in asking to come closer to Him! Think about it: if Allah has guided you this far, it won’t be difficult for Him to guide you further! So don’t hold back.

5) Persevere

Perhaps the most important point, is perseverance. A scholar of the past said that he had struggled with the night prayer for 20 years until he enjoined it for another 20. And so there’s a reason why patience is mentioned 100+ times in Quran. It’s not just for calamities. Ibn al Qayyim mentions “There are three types of patience: Firstly, practicing patience to fulfill the obligations and to do righteous. Secondly, abstaining from evil and prohibited acts. And thirdly, practicing patience during times of hardship without complaints.” And the first is arguable one of the most overlooked, but one of the most important.

So persevere not just with your habits, but with your dua’a.

Further Reads

I highly recommend you learn through the best example: the Prophetic example. A good place to start is Yasir Qadhi’s Seerah here, or if you prefer reading, I’ve heard The Sealed Nectar and Fiqh us-seerah do an amazing job as well. Another good book I was also recommended is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

But remember, reading these with the right mindset and intention is just as important as using them in the first place.

Ending Reminder

Umar ibn al Khattab RA said,

For your worldly affairs, construct your plans based on the assumption that you are going to live forever, and as for the work reserved for the Hereafter, create your programs based on the assumption that you are going to die tomorrow.