In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
When I think of failure, I am reminded of when I was in SS2 (grade 11). Right from Primary (Elementary) school, I was always the top of the class. I was groomed by a woman who wouldn’t tolerate having 99%. In Short, if you had a perfect score (100%), my mother would push you to get a 101%. So, I would say I basically lived a life of success. All my teachers knew who I was and I was always celebrated.
In SS2, however, I failed for the first time; I dropped from the top position. I can still remember the pain I felt when I saw my first term report sheet. I was disappointed in myself. I dreaded resuming back for second term because in my school, the top 3 students were always called out on the assembly ground to be praised for their hard work.
“What would people think when they don’t see me on stage? What would my mother say?”
I was scared. I hid my report sheet from my mum till resumption day; at least, I wasn’t scolded all through the holiday. As much as I was a bit dejected, I vowed to work harder the next term. I couldn’t bear not being successful. For some reason, I believed I was born to succeed, like it was some entitlement. I forgot that success was a blessing from Allah and He could take it whenever He willed.
The next term, I worked harder. I would study until late at night and sleep around 12am to wake up at 4am. But in spite my effort, at the end of the term, I failed again.
At that point, I was in great despair. Did you notice how I went from being disappointed to being in despair? I felt as though I had hit rock bottom. I was convinced that Allah was punishing me for all my sins. I was angry, bitter and sad. And with time, these emotions transformed to hopelessness. I spent nights crying myself to sleep. Can you imagine a 15 year old girl staying up till 12am – 1am because she was crying? My morale was broken. So, I became comfortable with being at the bottom. I ate at the bottom, I slept at the bottom, and I enjoyed the bottom. I didn’t care much about becoming the top anymore. Instead of studying, I spent my days reading novels. And that was the first time I had ever read novels willingly, not just any novels but Islamic Fiction. To explain how unserious I was, I read novels while my teachers were in class and If I wasn’t reading, I was sleeping.
After I was done reading all the interesting novels, I started reading a non-fiction book that piqued my interest, “Enjoy Your Life by Dr. Muhammad Abd Al-Rahama Al-Arifi”
When I first saw the book title, I thought to myself, “Hmmmm. This is just what I need; to enjoy my life.”
Contrary to what I thought, the book was about developing interpersonal skills, an art of interaction with people. The author quoted a lot of Hadiths and Seerahs of the Rasul sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, and that made me think for a bit. The Rasul was a man that went through many difficulties that would have defeated him if he did not have faith in Allah. And anytime he failed, he would try again. So, I decided to try again, but again, I failed.
I tried three good times and each time I failed to succeed. I remained at the same bottom position for three terms, something I hadn’t experienced before… Even though it was a puzzle at the time, I finally see why I kept failing no matter how hard I tried.
It wasn’t because I wasn’t good enough, or because I didn’t work hard enough. It was because I had failed to embrace failure.
The word failure was derived from the Latin word Fallere which means to stumble. And what does stumble mean? To momentarily lose one’s balance – momentarily.
When you stumble, you almost fall and almost falling isn’t the same as falling. Therefore, failure is almost falling and not falling completely.
“Failure is a stepping stone to Success.”– Brendon Burchard.
It’s okay for you to feel disappointed after failing but this feeling should last for a short period of time – probably an hour or a day at most because you temporarily lost your balance.
In a TED show I watched recently, a speaker said, “The faster I fail, the faster I learn and the faster I learn, the faster I succeed.”
This means that failure is a part of success not the opposite of success. What do you think happened after I failed three times? It was simple; I learned the Tafsir of an Ayah that changed my whole mindset.
Say: “Nothing will happen to us except what Allah has decreed for us: He is our protector”: and on Allah let the Believers put their trust. (Q9:V51)
With this verse, I relearned the meaning of believe in Qadr, not just believing in it but also accepting it. It might be that we subconsciously believe in Qadr. But do we consciously accept it? Do we realize that whatever happens to us has been written by the Most Merciful? Didn’t the Rasul say,
“Amazing is the affair of the believer, verily all of his affair is good and this is not for any except the believer. If something of good/happiness befalls him he is grateful and that is good for him. If something of harm befalls him he is patient and that is good for him” (Saheeh Muslim #2999)
From this, we understand that whenever we fail, as Muslims, we should exercise patience and in turn this becomes good for us. Perhaps that failure is a trial from Allah. It might be the test you need to move closer to Allah – the greater success.
Have you ever heard the story of the Battle of Uhud? It was the second battle recorded in Islamic History. After the conquest of Badr, the Muslim army was confident that they would win the Battle of Uhud. However, they failed due to their disobedience. They didn’t just sit down and sulk. Instead, they learned from their mistake. The Battle of Uhud became a significant lesson for Muslims even though it was a hard lesson to learn. But this lesson made them wiser leading to the success in other battles afterwards.
So, after learning the hard way, at the end of the session, I was the best graduating student. I finally realized what the true failure is as a verse describes… “And he has failed who instills it (the soul) with corruption.” (Q91: V10)
Hence, my mindset changed. The ultimate failure for me wasn’t failing an exam anymore, It was corrupting my soul. So when I don’t succeed in something, I would check my soul first. As long as it is free from corruption, then I haven’t failed. So, I would gladly embrace failure, pick the lesson from it, pray to Allah and bounce back from my stumble. I hope you can do same. BarakAllahu feekum!
Author: Salimah Bakare
Editor: Umm Naml