This year the Olympics have been somewhat of a learning curve. Watching the athletes perform brilliant feats with complete composure and finesse is always a joy. Some athletes come close to perfection but still not good enough for gold because another comes along and outperforms the prior. You can literally feel the winners’ jubilation, the sorrow of the vanquished and elation of the supporters. One or two questions came to mind; what separates the very best from the rest? And what preparations did they go through to be where they are?
After reading many inspiring stories, a common theme kept repeating itself. Many athletes’ live similar lives; uphold the same rules and by sticking to the fundamentals they garner success. The following fictitious character is the embodiment of many athletes striving and dreaming for success. We’ll call him John Doe.
For young John, it all started with a dream, a dream familiar to us all, which is a dream of success. His dream was to become an Olympic champion. The difference between him and the rest of us is he tried to make this dream a reality. John had some natural talent but wasn’t the fastest nor the strongest, there were others who were physically better. But John had a dream; he had ample drive and dedication. John worked hard to overcome his limitations but still lost. He was told that he was too small, too weak and would never be able to do it. Even his family doubted him.
However he didn’t give up; he listened more, read more and slowly learnt the secrets of his art. He learnt to live a clean life, staying away from anything that could harm him or limit his abilities. While all his friends went partying he stayed home to rest and prepare for the next day. At dawn while the whole neighbourhood was still fast asleep, he was up and already doing his routines. He tore a muscle, which set him back a few weeks. He learnt to rehabilitate himself. As soon as John got better he slipped and broke a leg. The doctors’ advice was to take it easy with the training but John was as resilient as ever. The more setbacks encountered through injury and rejection the more he learnt the benefit of patience.
While others were eating and drinking what they wanted, John restricted himself to a strict diet. His taste buds were always craving for the tastes and pleasures of life but he had to stay strong and keep those urges under control. This was the hardest challenge because John loved a kebab and curry. Being surrounded by people who occupied themselves with many distractions sometimes John’s temptations would take the better of him.
However he learned very quickly that the more he got involved with these meaningless distractions the further away he was from the goal of being an Olympic champion. In his field he slowly climbed the ranks but it was still too low and his climb was too slow. He wanted more, he expected more from himself and so he did more, utilising the idea that if one wants to become a master in a field then he/she should dedicate at least 10,000 hours. He adopted this idea and became successful. He was selected for the Olympic team and finished 5th overall. This might look like a failure for some but he tried hard, worked to the best of his abilities and made it with the best.
“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” – Muhammad Ali
John’s lifestyle and that of other athletes have a remarkable resemblance to the Muslim way of life. We wake up early to pray, we limit our diet and only eat what’s halal. We fast for spiritual and physical wellbeing and we control our urges and many more things. Our aim is not to win a gold medal as we are not preparing for the Olympics. We do this not just for a few years but every day for the rest of our lives. So why do we do it? We do this only to get closer to the one true love. That is where the pleasure in this world comes from and the unimaginable pleasure waiting for us in the next world.
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” – Rumi
Our aim is to achieve a pure heart; only a pure heart can be a vessel that can hold the pure love. We cleanse this heart of ours with the best detergent in the known universe; you’ve guessed it, a good akhlaq.
In ethics there are three views:
- Teleological view: An action is only good based on its outcome. What is a good end? A good end can be any goal, for example some material gain, happiness or even gaining proximity to God. Even though at first glimpse it seems like a good viewpoint it does have its drawbacks. We can’t always claim the ends justify the means; I can’t break into someone’s house to perform my prayers; can we argue that this is for the greater good or that we are seeking closeness to God?
- Deontological view: An action is good regardless of the outcome. This seems more plausible but don’t you think it’s a little narrow-minded? I am committing a good deed, so I care not what the consequences are. A companion of Imam Sadiq(a) rushed to the Imam and said: “Oh Imam, I have heard terrible news. This person has been going around and saying this about you”. Imam Sadiq(a) became angry with his companion. He said: “The person who committed backbiting towards me shot arrows in different directions. I did not hear him so it is as if the arrow missed me; but by telling me this news, you have picked up the arrow from the ground and aimed it at my heart.” The man must have thought he was protecting the Imam by telling him this truth, in reality he was hurting him. So sometimes even if the action seems good we have to think about the consequences.
- Virtue ethics: this argues that an action is good when it come from a good quality.
We’ll continue this topic next month insha-Allah (God willing).
by Ezra Hasheme