On October 20, 2010, I was 55. I released a book on that day called: 20-10-2010-55 which was 55 life lessons that I learnt in my life. I have decided to share those with you (those who read the book please forgive me) and so you will get one every day until we finish them all.
Those who feel motivated to read the book itself can get it from Amazon. Those who would like to know more about me and my life should read, “It’s my Life”, which is also on Amazon (India, US & Canada). My life is worth $7 (INR 200). I am most grateful that Allahﷻgave me the life that He gave me for $7. Ajeeb!
I turned fifty-five on October, 20, 2010. That’s the title of this book and blog; 20.10.2010-55. On that day, I reflected on the lessons that I had learnt in an unusually rich, active, exciting life lived in India, Guyana, America, Saudi Arabia, and in travels in other parts of the world. I wrote this book as a tribute of thanks to all those who added value to me, taught me formally and informally, and invested in my learning. During my childhood and teens in India through the 60’s and 70’s, I spent all my vacations walking in the jungles of the Aravallies, living with my dear friend Uncle Rama. Imagine the excitement of a fifteen-year-old with a .22 rifle or a twelve-bore shotgun, walking with one Gond companion, Shivayya, all over the jungle bordering the Kadam River.
At times Shivayya and I would walk in the night to witness a Sambar mud bath and sit behind a tree, quietly watching majestic Sambar stags roll in mud and then stand up to shake off the excess; coated in an armor of mud which, when dry, protects them from biting insects. Sometimes we would hear the call of the tiger as it set out for work. I learnt to read tracks which tell the story of all those who passed that way. I learnt the meaning of smells which tell their own stories and can mean the difference between life and death. But the biggest lesson I learnt was to take life seriously while having fun and to extract every drop of learning.
In the late 70’s and early 80’s, I spent five years in the Amazonian rain forests of Guyana bordering the Rio Berbice. I went there when I was nineteen and lived alone in Kwakwani. During weekends, my friend Peter Ramsingh and I would take our boat on a trip fifty to sixty miles upriver and camp on the bank or on a sandbank. It was our code of honor to not take any food on these trips and live off the land from our hunting and fishing. As an emergency fall back, we would take some raw chicken guts in a plastic bag. If we didn’t manage to catch any Lukanani or to shoot any Agouti or Canje Pheasant, we would trawl the chicken guts in the Berbice and sure enough, we would get a bite – Piranha. Great eating as long as you know how to keep clear of the teeth and retrieve your hook. I would see alligator eyes shining like diamonds sprinkled on the dark waters during our night patrols to check our fishing nets. During one trip, Peter and I accidentally caught a twenty-two-foot Anaconda in our fishing net. It was so heavy that both of us couldn’t lift him clear off the ground. I met people who live thirty to forty miles up the Berbice River in houses on stilts, in small forest clearings where they grow a few vegetables, hunt and fish for their meat, and don’t come to ‘town’ for months at a time; no water except the river, no light except the sun. Sometimes it is a single family of Amerindians. Sometimes it is a couple of families who live by one another. Their children play in the forest and swim naked in the river, yet I never heard of a case of Piranha bite; never figured out that one as the river is infested with Piranha and they love to bite. These families always grow the best honey which they would sell to people like me who turned up on their doorstep, or take to town and exchange for a couple of bottles of country liquor – deadly stuff in more ways than one.
I received news in May, 2011 that my dearest friend, mentor, and boss from Kwakwani, Nick Adams, entered into Islam along with his wife and sister-in-law.
I spent ten years in the 80’s and 90’s in the rain forests of the Western Ghats in Anamallais, India and further south, planting tea, coffee, cardamom, and rubber. I spent many hours tramping up and down hills and valleys, sometimes at a height of eight to nine thousand feet on the famous Grass Hills; at other times, wending my way in sweltering heat through the thick forest on the Ghats where the sun almost never reaches the earth. One day, I escaped an angry, charging bull elephant by what could only be a miraculous divine intervention. All my tea garden workers believed that I was divinely blessed from this day on; a belief that I did nothing to dispel – who would object to being divinely blessed? On another instance, I walked up to a Red Dhole kill – they moved away and sat in a circle watching me, while I ensured that the Sambar hind that they had brought down was dead. On a forest road in the Anamallais, I once had a face-off with a huge Gaur bull who eventually decided he didn’t hate me enough to eliminate me and moved away, allowing me to move on, on my Royal Enfield motorcycle. My greatest joy was to camp on a huge rock outcrop called Manja Parai in Lower Sheikalmudi Estate where I was the big boss, sitting on a platform in a tree to watch elephants come to drink in a nearby stream. When the elephants left, the Gaur would come. Finally, when everyone had gone their way, my companion Raman and I would descend and light a fire against the bitter cold, smoke a couple of beedis, and drink hot, sweet tea and wait for the sun to rise. Gradually, the sky would lighten; the orange glow would show and then the majestic ball of fire would come up over the edge of the horizon, greeting us across an expanse of forest and tea gardens. What is the value of such a sight?
I never was good at math.
Lest you think, all play and no work – I went to one of the best schools in Hyderabad, India, where I was born and spent my childhood – The Hyderabad Public School. I believe that school is the most important institution in building character and preparing the child for manhood. No university or institution of higher learning can do for character building what a good school can do. I went to one of the best, not only because of the infrastructure, which was world class, but also because of the wonderful people who taught me. Simultaneously, I acquired a formal Islamic education (twelve years) with both book learning as well as Tarbiyya, which I continued over the years. I learnt that it is always possible to do more than conventional wisdom would have you believe if you push yourself. I also learnt that pushing yourself is great fun. In school I was passionate about horse riding; I excelled in dressage and also played polo. After completing school, I went to college and graduated with degrees in History, Political Science, and Urdu literature. I also have a post-graduation in Management from the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA) and a further qualification in Applied Behavioral Science.
I specialize today in Leadership Development and Family Business consulting and have written several books on these and other subjects. I have retained my interest in the wild places and those who live there. This has developed into a passion for photography and so over the past several years, I have spent many very happy hours every year in Kruger and Hluhluwi National Parks in South Africa and in other forests of the world.
Over the course of fifty-five years, of which thirty-eight have been working years, I have met thousands of people across races, nationalities, colors, political landscapes, genders, sizes, and shapes – ranging from business and political leaders walking the corridors of power (in 2008 I met the King of Saudi Arabia, His Majesty King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz ibn Saud at a banquet in his palace in Mina; the Prime Minister of Guyana, His Excellency Mr. Samuel Hinds is a personal friend of thirty-five years standing), to religious scholars (Muslim, Christian, and Hindu), union leaders, anxious parents of children who have become strangers to them, heads of family business – billionaires who would give half their kingdom for peace of mind and real happiness, poor farmers and hunter gatherer tribesmen and women who have little, but are ever happy to share it with you. They have problems like the rest of us, maybe even more, but you don’t see that on their face or hear it in their voice.
I met tribal leaders in their villages, one of them comprised of four huts in the rain forest in the Western Ghats in India and broke bread with them and to their utter astonishment, played with their children. I drank milk straight from the udder of a buffalo and honey straight from the hive, with the blessings of the owners. I swam in forest rivers that have no names, rode horseback on the South American pampa and the English Moors and fished for Piranha and Arapaima in Rio Berbice. I have driven cars, SUVs before the term was invented (we called all of them ‘Jeep’), Caterpillar dump trucks, bull dozers, and boats. I rode a buffalo into a lake until it decided to dive and I floated away. Mercifully, I grabbed her tail and she towed me back to shore. I met teachers, parents, and students in South Africa, Malaysia, India, Guyana, U.K, and America and wondered at our similarities which far overshadow our differences. I have spoken to audiences ranging from a few people in a room to nine-thousand people in the great masjid of the International Islamic University in Malaysia and marveled at how easy it is to connect to people across every imaginable boundary. I was one of three million in Haj on more than one occasion and if I had a dollar for every smile I got from a stranger, I would be a rich man. I feel I am a rich man anyway because of all the experiences that life has afforded me. I have been in life threatening situations more than once, facing direct personal danger sometimes from both, two legged and four legged creatures, but I am still here. I studied many religions and philosophies and then came to Islam with my eyes wide open. Though I was born in a Muslim home, my Islam is by choice, not chance. Having seen the opposite spectrums of the economic scale – the rich living responsibly or irresponsibly, the poor living with self-respect and dignity or justifying all sorts of bad actions by reference to poverty – I have developed a strong sense of justice and compassion. I believe the two must go hand in hand. I also learned what I consider to be the two most important lessons in my life, after sharing which I will end this introduction.
The first relates to the fact that essentially we are all in control of our lives and selves and no matter how powerful or powerless we may believe we are, there is always something that we can do to make a difference.
‘I will not allow what is not in my control, to prevent me from doing what is in my control.’
The second relates to the fact that everything we do counts and defines us as human beings and becomes our legacy to the world. I ask for the courage to do what is in my control, fearing nobody but my Creator to Whom is my return.
‘All that we chose to do or chose not to do, defines brand value and character.’
One of the things that I have been very fond of, is trekking, especially climbing mountains. I have done a good bit of that in the Western Ghats in Southern India, climbing on one occasion through thick forest straight up the side of the mountain, 4500 feet. I went up to Singampatti from Kanyakumari. 4500 feet may not sound like much in itself, but put it on an almost vertical hillside, no clear pathway, the opportunity to descend without brakes at any time, thorn-bush, razor grass, hot, humid weather, nettles, cicadas buzzing in the heat…….all ad infinitum……and you have an entirely different perspective.
However one thing that I always looked forward to was to cross the half way, no return mark. At that point, you have not achieved the goal, you are exhausted, sweaty, irritated with yourself for having started this stupid enterprise and no way to go back, because it is even more difficult to descend a steep path than it is to ascend it. Yet when you sit for a while and take a drink of the by now tepid water that you are carrying, your second wind kicks in. Then you start up the hillside once again, looking forward to scaling the last height in due course. And then comes the moment … not too soon…but after some more hours of effort, but by now the altitude has cooled the heat, the forest is getting less thick and anticipation of success gives you the energy that you need.
Finally you reach the top. And what do you see? You see the land spread out before you as far as the eye can see. You see the glint of the ocean on the horizon. You see blue lakes and irrigation tanks, punctuating the patchwork quilt of innumerable shades of green, each a neat square that grows rice. You see the serpent eagle and his mate floating effortlessly on motionless out-spread wings riding the thermals. You can’t see the minute adjustment of their pinion feathers which guide their direction.
And on one occasion, as I stood watching all this, I looked up at the hillside behind me and I saw a leopard sitting on his haunches and watching me. We looked at each other for a while and then he decided I looked decidedly unappetizing and turned up his nose and walked away. I agreed with him and walked the 14 kilometers to habitation in the tea gardens which straddle this tail end of the Western Ghat mountain range with Madurai on one side and KanyaKumari on the other.
Why am I telling you this story?
I am telling you this story because as we work towards a great goal you will begin to become restless, irritated and impatient and inclined to take shortcuts and cut corners – all for the excellent reason that you want to see the project up and started as soon as possible. But in this urgency, there will be the tendency to accept compromises. I am writing this to warn you of the biggest danger to success. The C word. Compromise. For to compromise is to die a death without honor.
Those who have the courage to work for a great goal understand that ‘possible’ and ‘impossible’ are terms that define your own standpoint – how you see yourself – they point to who you are – not to the goal at all. Soaring at 30,000 feet is possible for an eagle or for a man with a flying machine. It is not possible or impossible in itself. All it needs is for you to ask, ‘How can I do it?’ Not, ‘Can it be done?’
Differentiation creates brand. Brand creates identity. Identity creates influence. Influence creates followers and loyalty and the opportunity to change society. Without differentiation you are a grain of rice in a sack.
Excellence is an expression of self-respect. So is mediocrity. We strive for excellence not because someone is watching or because we are playing to the gallery but because excellence is about us – how we see ourselves, what we think of ourselves, how we choose to define ourselves.
We define ourselves and the world accepts that definition and treats us accordingly. So think before you define yourself.
Excellence requires sustained heroic effort – often in the face of great discouragement. So only those excel, who revel in the effort. The adrenalin drives them. Paradoxically they are goal focused but take pleasure from the difficulty of reaching that goal. For them the journey is the destination; because the excitement is only in the chase and ends with the catch. Mount Everest is a worthy goal to strive for because its dimensions are measured in height. The same distance on level ground wouldn’t be worth talking about. It is the difficulty which adds value to the goal.
If you think success is difficult, try failure. To accept mediocrity is to accept failure at the start. Mediocrity ensures that your failure is permanent. That drug is called ‘compromise.’ I know that there are more mediocre people in the world than those who achieve excellence. But ask yourself who you would rather be – who would you like to emulate? Who do you choose as your role model? That is why Tipu Sultan said, ‘One day in the life of a tiger is worth more than a hundred years in the life of a jackal.’ Ask yourself which life you would like to live – for in the end, both die.
Compromise is to attitude what cancer is to the body. The body doesn’t fight cancer but accepts it because it doesn’t recognize the threat. It accepts cancer cells until they kill it. Only those who hate mediocrity can excel. Not dislike, not are irritated by it, not anything mild – but those who pathologically hate mediocrity. Those who can’t stomach it at any cost. Those who are repelled by it, find it disgusting, abhorrent and hateful and do anything to get out of it. Compromise, like cancer, destroys from within. But unlike cancer it is infectious.
Excellence takes effort. Few make it. Failure is painful. Nobody likes it. Mediocrity is a narcotic which makes destruction seem acceptable. So people settle for less than what they can be. They get distracted by others and their mediocre efforts – they make excuses as if they can change reality – they imagine that if they can find others who will agree with them, their mediocrity will be acceptable. It will be – to other mediocre people. But to those focused on excellence, who look not at others but at their own potential and beyond it, mediocrity is despicable, no matter what guise it comes in. And to tell you the truth, the mediocre ones also recognize this in the dead of the night, when they are alone with themselves, that their efforts don’t even begin to approach the boundaries of what could have been if only they had not compromised. Failure is not the enemy of excellence. Mediocrity is. Failure is painful and drives effort. Nobody willingly fails or remains in failure. But mediocrity is anesthetized failure. It is fatal because the victim does nothing to counter it because he can’t feel the pain.
I remind myself about a basic principle that I have always followed in my own life – It is better to fail trying to achieve an extraordinary goal, than to settle for a compromise. Why Extraordinary? Because good enough, never is.
The important thing for us to remember is never to compromise. No matter how frustrating it seems. As I always say, when weighing things in a balance, it is only the last few grains which tip the balance. Until then you don’t see any difference. And that is why in my view there are two fundamental laws:
- That the balance will not tip until the last few grains fall it.
- That the last few grains will always tip the balance.
Both laws are equally true.
Remember that if we compromise for anything less than what we dreamed of, then in the evening of our days we too will be forced to look back on our lives and say, “If only we had not sold our dream so cheaply!!”
We are all witness to what is happening in Palestine – deplorable, despicable and completely avoidable if only some good sense could prevail on all sides. Naturally we, the common people, Muslim or not, are anguished, perplexed and confused about why there is so much apathy and even active complicity with the aggressors and such a lack of sympathy for the oppressed among those that have power. People are even asking, ‘Why doesn’t AllahY do something?’
When I was asked this question, I answered, ‘He did.’
‘What did He do?’
‘He made you,’ I replied.
And that in one line is the reason. The day we understand this – at an individual and collective level, all oppression will evaporate and nobody will be able to oppress anyone else. The buck indeed stops with each one of us personally. AllahYdid something – He made you. He made me.
Before I try to analyze the Palestine story – a word about AllahY’s creation of this world in which we live.
AllahYcreated this world and created systems for it to function. For example He said:
يُدَبِّرُ الْأَمْرَ مِنَ السَّمَاء إِلَى الْأَرْضِ ثُمَّ يَعْرُجُ إِلَيْهِ فِي يَوْمٍ كَانَ مِقْدَارُهُ أَلْفَ سَنَةٍ مِّمَّا تَعُدُّونَ
Sajda 32: 5. He arranges (every) affair from the heavens to the earth, then it (affair) will go up to Him, in one Day, the space whereof is a thousand years of your reckoning (our time/space dimension). 6. That is He, the All-Knower of the unseen and the seen, the All-Mighty, the Most Merciful. 7. Who made everything He has created good, and He began the creation of man from clay. 8. Then He made his offspring from semen of worthless water (seminal fluid).
AllahYmentioned here some of the laws of functioning of creation that He created. We know these as the laws of physics, aerodynamics, gravity, displacement and so on. The key thing to remember is that if you want to float a ship you have to construct something that conforms to the law of displacement. If you do that, you will be able to float ten thousand tons of steel. Without that a paper boat will sink. Similarly if you want to fly a plane you have to construct something that conforms to the laws of aerodynamics and flight. If you do that you can fly a thousand tons of steel. If not, your paper plane won’t take off. Finally is you want to leap out of a plane at twenty thousand feet and land safely on earth, you have to take into account the law of gravity and work to counter it. Otherwise you will become its victim and have a grave experience when you meet Mother Earth traveling at 32 ft/sec/sec.
Similarly AllahYmade laws of success and failure in this life. These are as foolproof and as incontrovertible as the laws of physics and so on that I mentioned above. These laws must also be learned and taken into account if you want to succeed. For example AllahYsaid about being influential, victorious, powerful leaders;
وَأَطِيعُواْ اللّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ وَلاَ تَنَازَعُواْ فَتَفْشَلُواْ وَتَذْهَبَ رِيحُكُمْ وَاصْبِرُواْ إِنَّ اللّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ
Anfal 8: 46. And obey Allah and His Messenger, and do not dispute (with one another) lest you lose courage and your strength depart, and be patient. Surely, Allah is with those who are As-Sabireen (those with staying power).
So also in the case of the law of power and influence. Our history both ancient and present is replete with examples of both personally pious people and people with good strategies but disconnected with AllahY who both failed to create and sustain vibrant nations.
As you can see from this – influence, strength and power depends on two things which are inter-related and entwined – obedience to AllahY and His Messengerr and unity between ourselves. Either one is not sufficient in itself. Just as the law of flight is a combination of two things – wing design and takeoff speed. That is why the best designed aircraft will not take off until it reaches takeoff speed and a Ferrari will never fly. You need enough horsepower and correct wing design.
Rasoolullahr exemplified this in Madina where he created the Muslim Ummah – a Brotherhood of Faith. A term that is replete with meaning. It is a brotherhood. Not merely a collaboration, cooperation, agreement, alliance or even friendship; but a brotherhood – with all the implications of concern, compassion, sense of responsibility, shared honor, and giving up your entitlement for the benefit of the brother, seeing one’s own success in the success of the brother and doing whatever it takes to enable the brother to succeed. And that brotherhood is based not on racial, tribal or even family relations but on faith – on obedience to AllahY and His Messengerr. That in essence is the meaning of this Ayah in practice. And as they say, the rest is history.
Islam spread from Madina, not Makkah. It did not spread from the Ka’aba but from the birth of the Ummah. The Muslims understood this so well that when they had to date their calendar, they used the birth of the Ummah, not the birth even of Rasoolullahr as the starting point to begin counting. It was as if to say that time began when the meaning of this Ayah was fulfilled. History is witness that as long as they stuck to the principles of success that AllahY laid out in this Ayah they succeeded. When they broke the pact, they failed.
One big lesson therefore to learn from this is that AllahY does – but He does in His own way – not as we would like Him to do. Ideally we would like AllahY to descend to earth and sort out our problems for us. It is this need that gave rise to the many Avatar ideologies that exist which depict people who took charge of their lives and changed their own destinies and the destiny of their people by following the laws of AllahY, as human embodiments of god, who came to earth to take care of earthlings. God doesn’t come to earth to take care of earthlings because He taught earthlings how to take care of themselves and sent instruction manuals and teachers to teach them by demonstrating the method personally. What therefore can you say to those who despite all this, still insist on breaking the law and complain when they come to grief?
If someone jumps out of a plane at twenty thousand feet and refuses to pull his rip cord to open his parachute but spends all the time he has in Dhikr begging AllahY to save him from death – what do you think will happen to him? You may say that he died with the name of AllahY on his lips – but he will die as surely as someone who commits suicide. As a matter of fact his death would be considered suicide and not an accident. If someone asks at that time, ‘But why didn’t AllahY do something?’ You would tell them, ‘AllahY did. He taught him the rules of gravity. He gave him a parachute. Taught him how it works. Gave him the power to pull the rip cord and the freedom to do so if he wished.’ So did AllahY do something or not?’ Despite all of the above if he didn’t pull the cord and crashed, whose fault is it?
Now keeping this basic principle in mind – that this world runs according to the laws of AllahY and if you want something you have to follow that law. Dua alone or a strategy alone while disobeying AllahY, won’t work.
So to recollect what AllahY said:
وَأَطِيعُواْ اللّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ وَلاَ تَنَازَعُواْ فَتَفْشَلُواْ وَتَذْهَبَ رِيحُكُمْ وَاصْبِرُواْ إِنَّ اللّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ
Anfal 8: 46. And obey Allah and His Messenger, and do not dispute (with one another) lest you lose courage and your strength depart, and be patient. Surely, Allah is with those who are As-Sabireen (those with staying power).
As is mentioned in the Ayah above AllahY laid down two interacting dynamic rules – adherence to the Kitaab wal Sunnah and Unified Strategy.
Each by itself is not sufficient. They have to both exist simultaneously and work dynamically for the result to happen. The plane needs wings and an engine. Neither is sufficient by itself. The man making Dhikr and dua still needs to pull the rip cord of the parachute if he doesn’t want to die. The rule is the combination of its elements. Not either element by itself. The equation works when both sides interact. With only one side it is not an equation.
To look at an example from the Seerah which illustrates this – we have the example of the reversal of fortunes in the Battle of Uhud. Who were more pious than the Sahaba? In Uhud they had a good strategy and they were winning. But at a critical moment, some of them – disputed amongst themselves and disobeyed the instructions that Rasoolullahr gave them – and the victory turned into a rout which proved to be very expensive and tragic with the death of 70 of the best of them including Hamza bin Abdul Muttalib (RA). Remember they hadn’t become rebellious nor did they stop believing in the Messengership (Risaalat) of Rasoolullahr. They merely disputed about his instruction and its meaning and application. Some said that it was to be obeyed unquestioningly in word and spirit. Others said that it applied to a specific time and situation and was no longer applicable. And these left their appointed places on the hillock where Rasoolullahr had placed them. Khalid bin Waleed took advantage of the situation and charged with his cavalry and the Muslims were routed.
The lesson? That when they ignored one of the elements of the law, the other element couldn’t help them. When the wings fall off the plane the weight of the engine makes it fall out of the sky faster. When the engines fail, the plane will glide for a while but will surely crash in the end.
Now apply this rule – Personal Piety + Unified Strategy – to not only the Palestinian situation but to the Muslim Ummah in general. Palestine is the symptom of the major illness. It is the headache or the stomach ache, painful though it is, is only a symptom of a more serious disease that may put the life of the patient at risk. We need to put Palestine in perspective to understand what is happening and hopefully to be able to find a cure for the real ailment. Not simply a Band-Aid to cover a cut.
To diagnose what our state of personal piety is, our state of obedience to AllahY and His Messengerr , I don’t think we need to go too far. It is sufficient to look into our own lives and ask ourselves some hard questions. The same applies to our countries which talk about being Islamic but permit everything that AllahY has prohibited and prohibit what He permitted. All our pretentions about practicing Islam fool only ourselves – because the world sees our real state clearly. People listen with their eyes and so are not impressed with our protestations of piety and adherence to our religion. Without going into details which are more than clear to anyone who can read, let us suffice to say that we have to clean up our act to meet at least the first of the conditions of the law of success – become obedient to AllahY and His Messengerr. Obey AllahY, earn and eat Halaal, and follow the Sunnah. Refusing to accept reality only assures disaster. No order of AllahY and no Sunnah is too small to obey. That attitude of selective obedience is the root cause of bringing upon ourselves the anger of AllahY as He mentioned:
أَفَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِبَعْضِ الْكِتَابِ وَتَكْفُرُونَ بِبَعْضٍ فَمَا جَزَاء مَن يَفْعَلُ ذَلِكَ مِنكُمْ إِلاَّ خِزْيٌ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَيَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ يُرَدُّونَ إِلَى أَشَدِّ الْعَذَابِ وَمَا اللّهُ بِغَافِلٍ عَمَّا تَعْمَلُونَ
Baqara 2:85 Then do you believe in a part of the Scripture and reject the rest? Then what is the recompense of those who do so among you, except disgrace in the life of this world, and on the Day of Resurrection they shall be consigned to the most grievous torment. And Allah is not unaware of what you do.
AllahY clearly mentioned the danger of our policy of selective obedience and showed us that selective obedience is disobedience and will attract its own consequence. That also is a natural law in our world of cause and effect.
AllahY told us that our conditions are governed by our actions and our actions are the cause of our conditions. Let us reflect on this for a bit.
ظَهَرَ الْفَسَادُ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِي النَّاسِ لِيُذِيقَهُم بَعْضَ الَّذِي عَمِلُوا لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ
Rum 30: 41. Evil has appeared on land and sea because of what the hands of men have earned (by oppression and evil deeds) that Allah may make them taste a part of that which they have done, in order that they may return (to AllahY – Tawba).
This in fact is a sign of love that AllahYhas for us that He warns us in advance so that we may correct ourselves and repent and save ourselves from more serious punishment.
It is all very well to blame this or that country or head of state for whatever is happening in that country which amounts to the disobedience of AllahY but if we reflect on our own lives, we may well be faced with the bitter prospect of admitting to all the disobedience of AllahY that exists in our lives. But as with other laws of existence, if you want to change the effect you have to address the cause. Addressing symptoms can at best give temporary relief but can never cure the real ailment. We have to admit that we are disobeying AllahY. Repent to Him and return to the way of Rasoolullahr the Sunnah so that AllahY will forgive us and change our situation and conditions. We are all authors and write our own destiny.
AllahYreiterated that we are the writers of our own destiny and said:
Ra’ad 13: 11 Verily! Allah will not change the good condition of a people as long as they do not change their state of goodness themselves (by committing sins and by being ungrateful and disobedient to Allah).
The Sahaba understood this and used to introspect when they lost a battle or faced an adverse situation. They didn’t spend so much time on external factors but reflected on what may have been going on in their lives which could have led to the adversity that they were facing. They understood the connection of A’amaal to Ahwaal – deeds to circumstances. We understand this connection in a materialistic sense – for example the market forces in a free market economy where lending rates effect economic growth. But we don’t or refuse to understand the effect of the same lending rates in their context of being Riba on the overall wellbeing of our society. We have legitimized what we like to do by giving ourselves freedom by calling it lifestyle choice, personal freedom and so on – ignoring that all choices have consequences – some of them permanent and painful. We are free to choose but no choice is free. Every choice has a price tag.
Sometimes I am asked the very reasonable question: If this law of obeying AllahY and His Messengerr and a unified strategy is indeed a universal law then how is it that the Zionists for example – who are not obedient to AllahY or His Messengerr are so successful in their aims and goals.
To answer this question I must first explain two matters: The definition of success and the fact that the rules for insiders are not the same as those for outsiders. Insiders have to follow a stricter regime.
This is also our way in life – for example if food runs out in a party, the family go hungry but don’t allow guests to feel that anything is wrong. When you enter Islam, you are an insider and so the rules change for you – those who have access have to behave differently – more carefully as you are in the presence of the King.
Success is what AllahY defined when He said:
كُلُّ نَفْسٍ ذَآئِقَةُ الْمَوْتِ وَإِنَّمَا تُوَفَّوْنَ أُجُورَكُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ فَمَن زُحْزِحَ عَنِ النَّارِ وَأُدْخِلَ الْجَنَّةَ فَقَدْ فَازَ وَما الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلاَّ مَتَاعُ الْغُرُورِ
A’al Imraan 3: 185. Everyone shall taste death. And only on the Day of Resurrection shall you be paid your wages in full. And whoever is removed away from the Fire and admitted to Jannah, he indeed is successful. The life of this world is only the enjoyment of deception (a deceiving thing).
Success is not what happens in the world but what happens when we meet AllahY. Anyone with discretion can see that our materialistic world and its hedonistic standards have created a society that pretends to be happy and contented but is based on a system that uses discontent to fuel growth. That is the philosophy behind all materialism, marketing and advertising – convert desire to need – where a person will do anything to buy what he doesn’t need, to show people he doesn’t like and live a life of slavery for the next twenty years to pay for what he will eventually discard or leave behind. That is why our entertainment consists of ways to make us forget the reality of our lives and transport us however temporarily into a world of fantasy and make believe – a necessary release without which we ‘burn out’. Yet we pretend that this life is a dream that we need to chase – a dream the waking up from which is called death. A dream which in reality is a nightmare – but we choose to ignore its horror and forget ourselves and continue to live our lives in a self-induced trance. However ignoring reality neither makes it go away nor does it save us from its evil – so we continue to suffer even though we have the solution and can not only alleviate our own suffering but also help others – if only we face facts and take positive action. But that takes courage which AllahYreminds us.
Islam on the other hand is deeply rooted in fact and reality which we will all face, that all actions have consequences in this life and that one day there will be a reckoning before AllahY about what we chose to do or not do and a price to pay or a reward to receive for our choices. Nobody can hide from AllahY.
The second rule is to understand that when you enter Islam, the rules change for you. That is because you now know AllahY and can connect to Him and access His power and help. You are now an insider. And so a different code of conduct is expected from you. Once again going back to the Seerah for an illustration – take the example of the Battle of Hunain – where the Sahaba were united and had material resources – but fell to relying on their material more than on AllahY and once again the battle turned into a rout. It was only when they renewed their pledge so to speak and answered the call of Rasoolullahr that AllahY turned the tide of battle back in their favor. Their unity and material didn’t help them when their Tawakkul moved from AllahY and when they changed their stance, they were victorious once again.
Take the case of the letter Sayyidina Omar ibn Al Khattabt wrote to Sayyidina Sa’ad bin Abi Waqqast when the latter was commanding the Muslim army in the Battle of Qadsia which shows the understanding of the Sahaba about cause and effect.
This advice is with reference to AllahY’s mention of the incident with Bani Israeel when the Babylonian King Nebuchadnazer (in 600 BC) and then the Roman Emperor Titus (in 31 BC) sacked Jerusalem. AllahY mentioned:
وَقَضَيْنَا إِلَى بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ فِي الْكِتَابِ لَتُفْسِدُنَّ فِي الأَرْضِ مَرَّتَيْنِ وَلَتَعْلُنَّ عُلُوًّا كَبِيرًا
فَإِذَا جَاء وَعْدُ أُولاهُمَا بَعَثْنَا عَلَيْكُمْ عِبَادًا لَّنَا أُوْلِي بَأْسٍ شَدِيدٍ فَجَاسُواْ خِلاَلَ الدِّيَارِ وَكَانَ وَعْدًا مَّفْعُولاً
ثُمَّ رَدَدْنَا لَكُمُ الْكَرَّةَ عَلَيْهِمْ وَأَمْدَدْنَاكُم بِأَمْوَالٍ وَبَنِينَ وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ أَكْثَرَ نَفِيرًا
إِنْ أَحْسَنتُمْ أَحْسَنتُمْ لِأَنفُسِكُمْ وَإِنْ أَسَأْتُمْ فَلَهَا فَإِذَا جَاء وَعْدُ الآخِرَةِ لِيَسُوؤُواْ وُجُوهَكُمْ وَلِيَدْخُلُواْ الْمَسْجِدَ كَمَا دَخَلُوهُ أَوَّلَ مَرَّةٍ وَلِيُتَبِّرُواْ مَا عَلَوْاْ تَتْبِيرًا
عَسَى رَبُّكُمْ أَن يَرْحَمَكُمْ وَإِنْ عُدتُّمْ عُدْنَا وَجَعَلْنَا جَهَنَّمَ لِلْكَافِرِينَ حَصِيرًا
Isra 17: 4. And We decreed for the Children of Israel in the Scripture, that indeed you would do mischief on the earth twice and you would become tyrants and extremely arrogant! 5. So, when the promise came for the first of the two, We sent against you slaves of Ours given to terrible warfare. They entered the very innermost parts of your homes. And it was a promise (completely) fulfilled. 6. Then We gave you once again, a return of victory over them. And We helped you with wealth and children and made you more numerous in manpower. 7. (And We said): “If you do good, you do good for your ownselves, and if you do evil (you do it) against yourselves.” Then, when the second promise came to pass, (We permitted your enemies) to make your faces sorrowful and to enter the mosque (of Jerusalem) as they had entered it before, and to destroy with utter destruction all that fell in their hands. 8. [And We said in the Taurat (Torah)]: “It may be that your Rabb may show mercy unto you, but if you return (to sins), We shall return (to Our Punishment). And We have made Jahannam a prison for the disbelievers.
Interesting thing to reflect on is that AllahY didn’t say that it was the Bani Israel who lived in Jerusalem who were disobedient. The Ayaat address the Bani Israel in general wherever they lived at the time which was not only in Jerusalem. AllahY mentioned the Bani Israel many times and gave us their example as we are closest to them and we’re the Ummah who succeeded them. So it is for us to learn from their lives and examples and avoid making the same mistakes.
All these Ayaat clearly connect the issues of personal conduct and collective conduct to the external conditions that we are faced with and to the fact that the rules for Muslims are different and that they are held to a higher moral standard than those who are not Muslim yet. That is why Muslims are punished more quickly and apparently for lesser crimes than those who are not Muslim yet. This is actually a mercy from AllahY because the punishment of AllahY in the Aakhira is much worse than whatever worldly trials we may face. AllahY told us that this slap on the wrist is what He gives so that we can return to His obedience.
Sajda 32: 21. And verily, We will make them taste of the near torment (i.e. the torment in the life of this world, i.e. disasters, calamities) prior to the supreme torment (in the Hereafter), in order that they may (repent and) return (to AllahY).
And about those who continue in disobedience despite all warnings, He said:
فَلَمَّا نَسُواْ مَا ذُكِّرُواْ بِهِ فَتَحْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ أَبْوَابَ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ حَتَّى إِذَا فَرِحُواْ بِمَا أُوتُواْ أَخَذْنَاهُم بَغْتَةً فَإِذَا هُم مُّبْلِسُونَ
Al An’aam 6:44 Then, when they had forgotten all that they had been told to take to heart, We threw open to them the gates of all [good] things until – even as they were rejoicing in what they had been granted – We suddenly took them to task: and lo! They were broken in spirit.
We see (understand) with our knowledge. Islam gives us the lens to view the world and understand its reality in the light of the knowledge that it’s Creator gave us. That is why a Muslim must strive to be a diagnostician – not merely a spectator. A Muslim must diagnose the problem, derive a cure and apply it. Only then will conditions change. I ask AllahY for His Mercy for Palestine and for us all because we are all responsible for Palestine. Palestine is the meter of the health of this Ummah. Need I say more?
Ramadan comes to teach us one big lesson and to give us the opportunity to focus on the biggest priority – to please AllahY. The winner is decided only at the end of the race – not during it. So let’s make sure we win. AllahYsaid about the winner:
كُلُّ نَفْسٍ ذَآئِقَةُ الْمَوْتِ وَإِنَّمَا تُوَفَّوْنَ أُجُورَكُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ فَمَن زُحْزِحَ عَنِ النَّارِ وَأُدْخِلَ الْجَنَّةَ فَقَدْ فَازَ وَما الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلاَّ مَتَاعُ الْغُرُورِ
A’al Imraan 3: 185. Everyone shall taste death. And only on the Day of Resurrection shall you be paid your wages in full. And whoever is saved from the Fire and admitted to Jannah, he indeed is successful. The life of this world is only the enjoyment of deception (a deceiving thing).
AllahY gave us examples of many people in the Qur’an who had everything of this world but didn’t please AllahY and so they lost the race. And of those who had nothing in worldly terms but pleased AllahY and so they won the race.
In the same time and place lived Rameses IV – the Pharaoh of Musau – a man who claimed divinity – owner of the greatest kingdom on earth with unimaginable wealth. Absolute monarch with the power of life and death over his subjects – who ordered the slaughtering of thousands of infants of the Bani Israeel with nobody to dispute his decision or even to plead against it. He had everything of this life that anyone could not only want but even imagine. Yet about him AllahY said:
النَّارُ يُعْرَضُونَ عَلَيْهَا غُدُوًّا وَعَشِيًّا وَيَوْمَ تَقُومُ السَّاعَةُ أَدْخِلُوا آلَ فِرْعَوْنَ أَشَدَّ الْعَذَابِ
Ghafir 40: 46. The Fire; they are exposed to it, morning and afternoon, and on the Day when the Hour will be established (it will be said to the angels): “Cause Fir’aun’s (Pharaoh) people to enter the severest torment!”
All his wealth and power couldn’t save him from the anger of AllahY which his actions attracted and not only was he destroyed in this world but his punishment in the Aakhira is assured and made an example to deter others.
AllahY said about the wealth and power of this world and it’s real value:
فَمَا أُوتِيتُم مِّن شَيْءٍ فَمَتَاعُ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَمَا عِندَ اللَّهِ خَيْرٌ وَأَبْقَى لِلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَلَى رَبِّهِمْ يَتَوَكَّلُونَ
Ash-Shuara 42: 36. So whatever you have been given is but a passing enjoyment for this worldly life, but that which is with Allah (Jannah) is better and more lasting for those who believe (Islam) and put their trust in their Rabb (Tawakkul).
So whoever uses what AllahY gives him in this world, to earn the wealth of the Aakhira, then he is successful. But whoever chooses the wealth of this world in exchange for the Aakhira will be the loser. AllahY said:
مَن كَانَ يُرِيدُ حَرْثَ الْآخِرَةِ نَزِدْ لَهُ فِي حَرْثِهِ وَمَن كَانَ يُرِيدُ حَرْثَ الدُّنْيَا نُؤتِهِ مِنْهَا وَمَا لَهُ فِي الْآخِرَةِ مِن نَّصِيبٍ
Ash-Shuara 42: 20. Whosoever desires (with his deeds) the reward of the Hereafter, We give him increase in his reward, and whosoever desires the reward of this world (with his deeds), We give him thereof (what is written for him), and he has no portion in the Hereafter.
The key is to understand that we have been given the opportunity to write whatever we want in terms of our Aakhira whereas in this Dunya what we are destined to have has already been written. Those who understand this – play the game like Monopoly – they use their depreciating assets to buy appreciating assets which will last forever. They become good ice sellers – who convert their block of ice to money which doesn’t melt in the sun. Those who don’t understand this, use their ice to feel cool but at the cost of losing their asset and returning home empty handed.
So let us see what those who understood the reality did and what choices they made:
About Ibrahimu and his son Ismailu, AllahY told us:
فَلَمَّا بَلَغَ مَعَهُ السَّعْيَ قَالَ يَا بُنَيَّ إِنِّي أَرَى فِي الْمَنَامِ أَنِّي أَذْبَحُكَ فَانظُرْ مَاذَا تَرَى قَالَ يَا أَبَتِ افْعَلْ مَا تُؤْمَرُ سَتَجِدُنِي إِن شَاء اللَّهُ مِنَ الصَّابِرِينَ
As-Saaffat 37: 102. And, when he (his son) was old enough to walk with him, he said: “O my son! I have seen in a dream that I am slaughtering you (offer you in sacrifice to Allah), so look what do you see!” He said: “O my father! Do that which you are commanded, Insha’ Allah (if Allah will), you shall find me of As-Sabirin .” 103. Then, when they had both submitted themselves (to the Will of Allah), and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead (or on the side of his forehead for slaughtering); 104. And We called out to him: “O Ibrahim! 105. You have fulfilled the dream (vision)!” Verily! Thus do We reward the Muhsinun (people of Ihsaan). 106. Verily, that indeed was a manifest trial. 107. And We ransomed him with a great sacrifice (a ram); 108. And We left for him (a goodly remembrance) among generations (to come) in later times. 109. Salamun (peace) be upon Ibrahim!”
I ask myself what it is that allows a man to do this – to agree without question to sacrifice his only son who was born to him in his old age after years of asking AllahY? What is it even more, that allows a little boy to answer a question from his father like, “O my son! I have seen in a dream that I am slaughtering you (offer you in sacrifice to Allah), so look (in your heart) what do you see?” What did that little boy see that grown men who consider themselves to be educated and scholars today, don’t see? What was this Tawakkul based on? What was this relationship with AllahY that made this father and son so special that their Rabb revealed their story in the Qur’an and quoted them as examples for His Nabi Muhammadr and for all of mankind until the Day of Judgment?
AllahY told us the story of Musau and the incident when AllahY ordered Musau to bring the leaders of his people to Him. Musau came hurrying, leaving his people to follow behind. So AllahY asked him:
Ta-Ha 20: 83. “And what made you hasten from your people, O Musa?” 84. He said: “They are close on my footsteps, and I hastened to You, O my Rabb, that You might be pleased.”
I hastened to You, O my Rabb, that You might be pleased – What a beautiful answer! AllahY liked it so much that He repeated Musau’s words in the Qur’an.
‘Rabbee – My Rabb’, said Musau. He is also my Rabb and your Rabb. But do we relate to Him as our Rabb? Do we have a relationship with Him? And if not, why not?
Then we have the example of Rasoolullahr himself when he went to At-Ta’aif where he was attacked and was injured. His dua is a lesson in fortitude and focus on one single objective – the pleasure of AllahY. In this dua he said, ‘O my Rabb, I will continue to work to please you until you are pleased – Hatta Tardha.’ That was his attitude all his life and so His Rabb reciprocated and said:
Duha 93: 5. And verily, your Rabb will give you (all that you ask) so that you shall be well-pleased.
Ali bin Abi Talibt said, ‘People say that the Ayah of greatest hope in the Qur’an is when AllahY said:
قُلْ يَا عِبَادِيَ الَّذِينَ أَسْرَفُوا عَلَى أَنفُسِهِمْ لَا تَقْنَطُوا مِن رَّحْمَةِ اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ جَمِيعًا إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ
Az_Zumar 39: 53. Say: “O ‘Ibadi (My slaves) who have transgressed against themselves (by committing evil deeds and sins)! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah, verily Allah forgives all sins. Truly, He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
‘But we, the Ahl-ul- Bayt say that the Ayah of greatest hope is:
وَلَسَوْفَ يُعْطِيكَ رَبُّكَ فَتَرْضَى
‘Because we know that Rasoolullahr will never be pleased and will never rest until every last one of his Ummah is forgiven and granted Jannah. AllahY promised to please him – so we say that this Ayah is the Ayah of greatest hope for us.’
My brothers and sisters, we were sent into this world for a purpose – to do a job and go back home. We forgot why we came, what we were sent to do and that we have to go back home. We got lost here and started living here as if this is where we have to stay forever. But our foolishness doesn’t change reality. We still have to return home and give account of what we did about the job we were sent with. That is the reality.
This world is the world of camouflage. Camouflage is used for one of two things – to save yourself or to kill your prey. The one who gets fooled by camouflage either goes hungry or dies. That is the reality of our life. Ask yourself, ‘What are the things in my life which are in camouflage? What are the opportunities that I am losing or the danger that I am facing because I can’t see through the camouflage?’ Let us ask this question and open our eyes before our eyes are opened for us.
Ramadan comes every year to remind us of the purpose of our existence. To give us the opportunity to take time out and reflect on where our life and our ways are taking us. To enable us to take stock and make significant changes in our priorities, values and behavior so that In-sha-Allah when we return to AllahY it will be to receive His Mercy, Forgiveness and Jannah.
I remind myself and you to take full advantage of this month so that we are able to reap all the benefits that this month comes laden with. But like the clouds that come laden with moisture and life giving rain – the only farmer who benefits is the one who has tilled his fields and dug his irrigation channels. For the others the rain simply falls on the ground and flows away leaving their fields dry and barren.
Let us ensure that by making Tawba and sincere effort to correct our ways and by bringing our lives on to the Sunnah of Rasoolullahr we are able to take full advantage of the rain of mercy and forgiveness that Ramadan brings and that the promise of freedom from the fire comes true for us.
‘In every one of us there are two ruling and directing principles, whose guidance we follow, wherever they may lead; the one being an innate desire of pleasure; the other, an acquired judgment which aspires after excellence.’
~ Socrates, in Plato’s Phaedrus
First question of course is to ask if I am qualified to write about this issue. Let me tell you how I started and let you decide if you want to read beyond that account.
I have been an entrepreneur, formally (in the sense of owning my own business) since 1994. I started business however while I was still in a regular full time job (in 1983), with the full knowledge and blessing of my employer and paid for it by working on my business during my vacation and unpaid leave.
I worked at learning and building a management consulting business for 12 years. I invested every available paisa (cent) on books and train fares (3rd class – a bare wooden plank for a seat) and every available day of vacation leave, interning with one trainer or another. I did not take a single day off in 12 years. Then in 1994 I started my own company (Yawar Baig & Associates www.yawarbaig.com ) in Bangalore with all of Rs. 3000 ($ 60) in my pocket and a dream in my heart, of becoming an internationally recognized leadership trainer with a global business. That in my view is typical of being an entrepreneur – to dream of things that never were and ask, “Why not?” This is 2013, 13 years after my first international assignment. Today I have a business with clients on three continents.
It is this innate aspiration for excellence that I believe is at the root of all successful entrepreneurial activity. It is the desire to differentiate. To be different in a positive way. To stand out from the crowd; not to blend in with it. To express your identity in a unique way such that it is recognized and honored. That is the meaning of ‘Branding’. Without that you are a grain of rice in a sack. Excellence is to take responsibility not only for your own well-being but that of others. To lead others on the road which will not only help you to make your dream come true but to weave the dreams of others into the fabric so intrinsically that when they look out on the achievement of your vision, they will also see their own visions becoming reality. To leave behind a legacy by which you are remembered with affection and your passing regretted. Entrepreneurship is to always act with this consciousness about the long term effects of our actions. To be willing to give an account, because we know that we will be held accountable.
Entrepreneurship is all about spirit. It is recognizing that you did not come into this world either randomly by accident or by your own choice. Your parents did not choose for you to be born. I believe that we were sent and we were sent with a purpose. When we discover that purpose we enter a state of grace. A fish out of water is the most clumsy, awkward creature in the world. It can’t move, it flops desperately, it gasps for breath. But the same fish when you put it back into the lake disappears like a flash – the epitome of grace, speed and beauty. When we are in our appointed task we are like a fish in the water. The world conspires to help us to succeed. But first we must recognize our purpose and then we need to consciously accept it. That is the scary part. But that is the threshold that must be crossed to demonstrate that we are in and not out. Without crossing the threshold of owning responsibility for our own lives, we can’t expect anything to happen.
We are never compelled to make one choice or another. But the doors that open, the vista that unfolds before our eyes and the road that beckons ahead all depend on the choice that we make. Behind each door is a different destiny. We get to choose which one we want to open and walk through into the world that it opens for us.
Choices are not always easy. As a matter of fact all the important ones are difficult. The most difficult thing is to choose between two apparently good alternatives. But the choice must be made. Everything else depends on that. We complain about difficulty. We forget that difficulties come to test us so that the prize can be given once we surmount the difficulty. Success goes to those who can overcome difficulties. Each difficulty resets the bar and creates a new definition of excellence without which we would have been lulled into a false sense of security which hides fatal flaws. Only winners get medals, remember? Those who fail are relegated to the garbage pile of the detritus of history.
Without the challenge of Goliath, David would have remained a shepherd boy. But when he stood up against the might of Goliath and his army, Allah guided his arm which swirled the sling about his head and the stone met its mark. That was the destiny of David which opened up before him when he took the step forward. The same destiny was not written for those who did not take the step forward, when the King of the Bani Israeel, Talut (Saul) called for volunteers to fight Goliath in single combat. Taking the first step forward was the key to the door that led to David’s victory. Similarly our destiny waits for us to stand up and say, “I am ready.” Then the challenge stands forth. Faith is to remember all this and to take the first step.
Every time we stand and say, “I am ready!” a challenge will come forward. If we see the challenge and run away then we are back to square one. It is only when we take a step forward towards the challenge that we actively make the choice which will lead to victory. Notice that I use the word ‘will’ instead of ‘may, can or probably’. That is because I speak as an entrepreneur who knows that every time you take a firm step in the direction of the challenge, victory has already been written. The first step is a sign of that. When we take a step towards a challenge and we don’t succeed, the answer lies in the way we took the step. It was not a firm step with conviction. It was a step with one eye looking backwards over the shoulder looking for escape routes. We did not burn the ships upon landing on the distant shore, with the resolve that in this new land, we shall make our home. The burning of the ships is symbolic because it signifies commitment. Commitment that we will live here in our new homes or we will be buried in our new graves. But there is no going back. Commitment is the line we cross between wishing and doing. And that is what I mean by the first step. Entrepreneurs take it with conviction. They don’t look back.
I believe very passionately and firmly in the fact that in the end, it is quality that scores over everything else. I know that every entrepreneur worth the name shares this belief with me. I have met many along the way who cut corners, pretended to be what they were not and compromised quality for short term gain. Most of them no longer exist. Those who do, live with a reputation that constantly sabotages their effort. I believe that everything that we do or choose not to do defines our brand and reflects our character. Therefore all initiatives and effort must be measured against this standard to see if it stands up to the mark. Compromising standards and values for gains is a very expensive bargain and adds no value at all. Indeed the most profitable way to run a business is to work to the highest standards and become the benchmark in the industry against which others measure themselves. Then you can claim a premium where your competitors are busy competing on price.
‘Buy from me because I am cheap’, is a slogan I never liked.
So what are the questions that arise when you are thinking about becoming and entrepreneur and what are their answers?
1. But am I ready?
That depends on what you mean by ready. There are two aspects to this question: an emotional aspect and a material aspect.
a. Emotional Aspect: Please answer these questions:
a. What does it take to make you content?
b. How much faith do you have in yourself and in Allah?
c. How much support do you have from your environment?
b. Material Aspect: Please answer these questions:
a. What is the market need? What does your research tell you?
b. What is your value proposition? What is your differentiator?
c. Does your target customer agree? What’s in it for him?
2. When is it the right time?
Now is the right time simply because ‘now’ is the only time in your hands. The past is gone. The future may never come. The present is all that we have. So when should you take the first step? Right now.
3. How do I sell, especially when I may not be a technology expert?
a. Have basic overall knowledge of the product/service so you don’t seem ignorant.
b. Gain in depth knowledge of the customer and his business …the more you know, the better.
c. Know and speak the language of the customer. Speak to as many people in the industry as you can and get as much anecdotal data as possible.
d. In your meeting speak the language of the customer. Use their internal words and phrases but do it unobtrusively and seamlessly.
e. Draw attention to how your product/service can help him (benefits)…not on what the product/service does (features).
f. Don’t leave him to make the linkage. Make it for him which demonstrates to him how well you know his business and gives him peace of mind and adds to your credibility.
g. Then keep silent and let him decide.
a. Never fall into the trap of organization building for a non-existing business. Sell first. Then depending on the need build infrastructure and hire people. People start with an office. Big mistake. Your home is your office, warehouse, bedroom and kitchen all rolled into one.
b. Remember that all that you spend on infrastructure and overheads is expense. And all that you save by working without these two is income. So be very careful before you build or add anything. Keep your money.
c. Hire only salespeople and put them on a revenue sharing scheme. Don’t hire anyone who doesn’t like the idea of sharing revenue and wants a salary (I want my money whether I make any money or not! You don’t want someone like that, believe me.)
d. Outsource all other functions. That’s why experts exist. If you are honest you don’t need two account books and any good accountant can do all your accounts and file your tax returns for less than 10% of what a full time accountant will cost you. Same applies to everyone else.
e. You go out there and sell. Do it yourself simply because nobody can do it better than you can and that is experience you need like a fish needs air. It is invaluable and without it you can’t even survive, much less grow.
f. Every evening sit down with a notebook and pen and ask, ‘What happened today and what did I learn?’ And make notes. There’s nothing more valuable than this documentation. So do it religiously and every day.
g. If you take partners be sure of what billable value the partner is adding. Holding your hand is not billable value. That is a psychological placebo. Make sure the partner brings something that you can’t do. If he replicates (or wants to replicate) what you do, he is a competitor, not a partner.
h. Have the partnership strictly on a profit sharing basis. That is better for the self-respect of both partners.
i. Document the partnership clearly in terms of duties and deliverables. That is better for your friendship. Taking friends for granted is the single biggest reason for partnerships going sour. You lose the friend and the business.
j. Take someone you trust as an advisor/mentor and listen to his/her advice. Listen, not necessarily follow. Listen, don’t argue or try to convince them. Listen and take your own decisions. It is your life, after all.
For more read my book, ‘An Entrepreneur’s Diary,