Saqlain Choudhary's profile image, against a background image of the Divinity Schools
Student blog article header image; Saqlain Choudhary

Student blog: Islamic Society reflections on Success

Discover Islam Week is run every Hilary term by the Oxford University Islamic Society, who host a series of events aiming to introduce Islam to students across the University. This year, the Society chose ‘Success’ as a theme for the week. In this student blog, Saqlain Choudhary, DPhil Physics at New College, reflects upon what success means to him, and how his perceptions of it have changed.

I have pondered upon the notion of success incessantly, consciously or otherwise, from a young age. Like most of the people who will read this, academic success formed my early notion of success. I remember my father telling me from a young age that ‘nothing worth having in life came easy’ as he simultaneously congratulated my 90% mark on a year 5 test and reminded me that there was 10% still to be found somewhere. That notion of success as the degree of achievement is perhaps an intuitive thing. It’s quite a nice belief to have as well. If I do the required amount of work, I will have my desired outcome. How elegant, how naïve.  

The unrelenting pursuit of the extra 10% as defined by the acquiring of things, whether material or otherwise, is ultimately ephemeral. Life is finite, desire is not. That 10% never diminishes it simply becomes a fraction of something greater. The nature of things and the success they bring is fleeting and, despite the cry of the ego, not within our control. Call it chance or decree, there is an incomprehensible disconnect between your effort and the outcome of any action.

This becomes apparent to the person who encounters their first inexplicable failure. When effort fails to equate to outcome. When a loved one dies unexpectedly or you fail an exam you prepared for wholeheartedly. It is this heartbreak that causes one to realise to futility of their actions in and of themselves, and allows them to contend with their dependency. Therefore, they are illuminated with a radically divergent idea of how to value their actions. Not by the outcome but by the intention itself.

Thus success is not seeking progress in the world, but cultivating virtue through the world. For it is only in the inner dimension of the human experience – the infinite as opposed to the finite – that true success can be acquired. That is to say that success is having used the circumstances of your life, fortunate or otherwise, to order your soul before it returns to its Lord.

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