Tuesday, May 3, 2022
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The Muslim’s growth mindset

Is Allah not sufficient for His servant? Yet they threaten you with other ˹powerless˺ gods besides Him! Whoever Allah leaves to stray will be left with no guide. (Surah az-Zumar 39:36)

Muslims have a growth mindset

While managing my teams professionally, I have noticed there are two very different types of attitude to work and life in general. One in which we see something out of place and yet are either scared of changing it or apathetic to it – this is a fixed mindset – thinking your abilities are carved in stone. It’s a belief that you can’t change who you are and that you’re stuck with whatever genetics and surroundings offered you. I’m Asian, Sri Lankan or Nigerian and therefore I can’t get that opportunity. I’m young so I cant change my community. I’m middle aged so I cant be a leader. I’m old so I cant change. We just attend the masjid – we cant help and improve it – the Mowlvi or the committee will do that.  

On the other hand, a growth mindset is thinking you can improve and develop over time. It’s knowing that your genetics and surroundings don’t define who you are, and that you can always improve yourself.

I believe that Islam pushes us from its very first ayah – Iqra – to be of the growth mindset.

Failure and setbacks give you growth and learning potential.

A scientific study was undertaken into two twin brothers with an alcoholic father with very different outcomes.

Despite the twin brothers identical genes and similar environment, both brothers took a different path from one another as they grew up.

The first brother grew to be an alcoholic like their father, and was left destitute and penniless on the streets. The second brother meanwhile grew to be a successful, and sober, businessman.

Nearer the middle of their lives the scientists return to interview the brothers and try to gain insight as to why they each ended up taking such drastically different paths.

The first brother and the now alcoholic son ended up telling the scientists that because he grew up with an alcoholic father, he was always surrounded by alcohol and so it was inevitable that he would also grow up to rely heavily on drink. His reasoning was his environment, and his genes.

The second brother and the now successful businessman told the scientists something completely different. He said that because he grew up with an alcoholic father, was surrounded by alcohol, and always saw his father drinking, that he supposed it was perfectly natural that he would grow up to swear to never want to replicate his father.

The crux of the story is this: Both brothers started the same. They grew up in the environment with the same circumstances. However they both end up on wildly different paths to one another because of their mindset.

The alcoholic brother is, in this story, the example of a fixed mindset. The brother believes that his circumstances dictate his journey, that he will never escape or better them, and so he may as well conform to the narrative that life has clearly already established for him.

Meanwhile the successful brother is an example of a growth mindset. He believes that he can better his circumstances, and can use his environment as motivation. In the brothers eyes, he believes that there are no limitations, and that his circumstances should not hold him back from achieving a better life; that in fact, they should springboard it.

A person with a growth mindset believes that their background, circumstances, initial level of intelligence and levels of talent are just starting points and can be improved upon. They believe that with dedication and time, they can improve to a top performing level and eventually surpass others’ levels of talent.

Be Mindful of the Way You Speak to Yourself

The first step to fixing any problem is noticing it. The next time you catch yourself thinking negative or discouraging thoughts, use the opportunity to rewire your brain by changing your narrative and opting for something more positive. It is important to build the habit of becoming more aware of our automatic thoughts and examining them closely, so we can truly understand why we find ourselves feeling hurt or victimised.

When you happen to catch yourself complaining or playing the victim, rephrase your thoughts. For example, changing “Employers always reject me at interviews’ ‘ to “Maybe this employer doesn’t know how I fit in his organisation” will help you outgrow your fixed mindset and realign yourself towards different goals.

Changing your narrative from thoughts like: “Now, I’m I’m too old to memorise Qur’an” to “Loads of successful people started a business in their late 30s…” signals your brain to remotivate you. You are more likely to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again — while negative self-talk would only hold you down and decreases all types of motivation.

Think different – Seek out new ways to address problems

Don’t be afraid Volunteering answers in class even when unsure

“The concept of failure poses such a significant psychological threat to the human mind that our motivation to avoid failure has become even stronger than our motivation to succeed.” — Guy Winch, M.D.

The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God you fear nothing else.  The fear of God is the greatest antidote against the fear of man

Asking a question even if it might seem basic or “stupid”

Seeking out problems that will push them instead of problems that keep them safely within their comfort zone (Character Lab, n.d.)

Stop Seeking Approval

People with a fixed mindset crave approval because it’s the only way they can validate their talent. They believe talent is to be proven, not improved, and that’s where things go awry. Social media is driven by the need for approval which is what the like’s are for.

If the main reason you chase success is to obtain societal approval or to become rich, which also requires others’ approval, you are setting yourself up for major disappointment. When rejection points itself around the corner, remember that you do what you do and create what you create because you love it, and because you are compelled to do it — not because it’s required.

This is what we call intrinsic motivation, which refers to the work you produce because you’re internally motivated to do so. You do it for the love of the game, not for success. Therefore, because you’re truly motivated, failure is only a blip on your radar. You know that if this one thing doesn’t work out, it doesn’t matter, and one hardship isn’t going to be enough to stop you. Yes, approval is part of what makes failure so painful — but approval doesn’t matter when you don’t need it.

“Not Yet”

As a teacher, I remember that a school I heard of had an interesting take on failure in their grading system — when a student didn’t pass an assignment or exam, they didn’t receive an F.

Instead, they received a “Not Yet”.

Notice how the change of verbiage makes all the difference? I love how this practice can be applied to everyday life as well and with your colleagues, family or friends. The next time your work, your research or your project is rejected, don’t interpret this as a lack of skill. Interpret it as evidence that you are not skilled enough yet, but that you are truly on your way to becoming so

Grow for the sake of Allah(SWT)

Ka’b ibn ‘Ujrah reported: A man passed by the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and the companions of the Messenger of Allah saw his vigor and hard work. They said, “O Messenger of Allah, if only this were done in the way of Allah!” The Prophet said, “If he goes out striving for his small children, it is in the way of Allah. If he goes out striving for his elderly parents, it is in the way of Allah. If he is striving in order to suffice himself, it is in the way of Allah. If he goes out ostentatiously and boastfully, it is in the way of Satan.” [al-Mu’jam al-Kabīr 15640]

 إِنْ كَانَ خَرَجَ يَسْعَى عَلَى وَلَدِهِ صِغَارًا فَهُوَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ وَإِنْ كَانَ خَرَجَ يَسْعَى عَلَى أَبَوَيْنِ شَيْخَيْنِ كَبِيرَيْنِ فَهُوَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ وَإِنْ كَانَ يَسْعَى عَلَى نَفْسِهِ يُعِفُّهَا فَهُوَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ وَإِنْ كَانَ خَرَجَ رِيَاءً وَمُفَاخَرَةً فَهُوَ فِي سَبِيلِ الشَّيْطَانِ

“Failure” is just another word for learning

Even though the outcome wasn’t as you expected, you can still benefit from the process. And only those who use what the process has to offer, learn to overcome failure, and eventually succeed.

When you experience failure, remind yourself that the latter is what helps you navigate through life and point you towards impactful decisions. Failures test you, carve your work ethic, and make you a better person. If you never let yourself fail, then you’ll never help yourself breakthrough.

But when you finally do, you’ll be bringing along an arsenal of valuable life skills — including thick skin — to help you navigate your new success(es). If there’s one thing you need to remember here, it’s this: rejection is inevitable, and the way you speak to yourself matters. So choose your words and your thoughts wisely — as it is your mindset, not your skills, that will determine exactly who you are.

It is not true that if we had true faith that we would not face sadness. Every Prophet (AS) experienced a great deal of sadness – Adam(AS) sought forgiveness for 70 years after eating from the tree. Nuh(AS) is rejected by his people for 950 years and then sees his son perish before him. Musa(AS) is brought up while his entire nation is facing a genocide, enslaved and humiiliated. The list goes on and on.

The Qur’an is not here to eliminate sadness, but to navigate it. Sadness is one of the tests of life, just as happiness, temptation and anger are tests.

When difficulty hits, we start feeling like Allah(SWT) owes us something. Allah(SWT) owes us nothing – we owe Allah(SWT) everything. Could we enjoy a moment of this life except with Allahs blessing?

 Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya captures it beautifully:

From the perfection of Allah’s ihsan is that He allows His slave to taste the bitterness of the break before the sweetness of the mend. So He does not break his believing slave, except to mend him. And He does not withhold from him, except to give him. And He does not test him (with hardship), except to cure him.

There is no joy for the one who does not bear sadness,
there is no sweetness for the one who does not have patience,
there is no delight for the one who does not suffer,
and there is no relaxation for the one who does not endure fatigue.”

The Qur’an teaches us this. It teaches us that the wealthiest and most powerful man in the world can be a failure – Fir’own (Pharoah) drowned and humiliated throughout time. Whereas, a refugee who is thrown out of his house can be successful – Ibrahim(AS) is honoured throughout time and although he was homeless, he rebuilt with his son, the House of Allah(SWT) to which the whole Muslim world travels towards.

Ronaldo‘s roots were humble – born in Portugal and brought up in a small house with walls were made of blocks and the roof of zinc. At school, he was bullied because of his thick Madeiran accent and thin body. At the age of 12, he left the family home for Lisbon for football training. In his own words, he cried almost every day. It felt like he had moved to another country, with a different accent, different culture and no friends. His family could only afford to visit him every four months or so and he missed them so much that every day was painful.

In May 2016, the Catalonian newspaper Sport published the daily edition with a front cover reading “The end … of the Cristiano Ronaldo era.” He was not having a good time and failed a decisive penalty. Everyone thought he was finished. With the whole world writing him off, he had to make a choice

Faced with failure he realised that failure is not the end of life. It is the beginning of a greater success, if you will persist.

He went on to win 1 Euro 3 Champions League 1 Spanish championship 2 Supercups 1 Supercopa 2 Club World Cup 2 Fifa best player 2 Euro best player 2 Ballon d’Or

The bigger you get, the more people will look at you and rejoice if you fail. Show always who you really are. Hardships and people’s judgments are normal. They do not define you.

And he never slowed down. When he won the first Ballon d’Or and was congratulated by his friends for this lifetime achievement, he told them that he wanted at least five of them.

Ronaldo does not want a peak in his career – despite being well beyond retirement age for the average footballer, he always raises the bar. Although he doesnt classify himself a perfectionist, he talks of the endless need to learn, to improve, to evolve. There are no limits to learning, and that it can never stop, no matter what our age.

Pressure makes diamonds

Stress does not necessarily need to be bad. If handled, it helps you to stay mentally focused and awake. And he lived it – the more important and intense the competition, the better he will play.

Pressure includes criticism and haters as well. “Your love makes me strong, your hate makes me unstoppable.”

Nusaybah Bint k’ab Al Maziniyyah was one of those who embraced Islam with unbelievable strength. A member of the Banu Najjar tribe living in Medina, Nusaybah was the sister of Abdullah bin Ka’ab, and the mother of Abdullah and Habib ibn Zayd al-Ansari.

When 74 people descended on the Second pledge at al-Aqabah to swear allegiance to Islam following the teaching of Musab bin Omair, Nusaybah and Umm Munee Asma bint Amr bin ‘Adi were the only two women. 

At the beginning of the battle of Uhud, she was bringing water to the thirsty fighters and tending the wounded, as the other women were doing. 

Her son ‘Umarah also described what happened on that tremendous day: “On that day, I was wounded in my left hand. A man, who seemed to be as tall as a palm-tree struck me, then went away without pursuing me to finish me off. The blood began to flow copiously, so the Messenger of Allah told me, ‘Bind up your wound.’ My mother came to me, and she was wearing a waist-wrapper, which she had brought, for the purpose of bandaging wounds. She dressed my wound, whilst the Prophet was looking on. Then she told me, ‘Get up, my son, and fight.’ The Prophet said, ‘Who could bear what you are putting up with, Umm ‘Umarah?’ The man who had struck me came by, and Mohammed said, ‘This is the one who struck your son.’ 

I intercepted him and hit him in the thigh, and he collapsed. I saw the Messenger of Allah smiling so broadly that I could see his back teeth. He said, ‘You have taken your revenge, O Umm ‘Umarah!’ Then we struck him with our weapons until we killed him, and the Prophet said: ‘Praise be to Allah, who granted you victory over him, gave you the satisfaction of taking revenge on your enemy, and let you see the vengeance for yourself.”

When the battle was going in favour of the Muslims, the archers disobeyed the command of the Prophet (pbuh), abandoning the position he commanded them to stay in and fled to collect the war booty instead, thinking that the Muslims have won. The tide then turned against the Muslims and many sahaabas got martyred.

The Prophet ﷺ lost his teeth as most of the companions either got martyred or fled the war. When Umm ‘Ammarah saw his face bleeding, she dropped her vessel of water and snatched a sword from one of the escaping fighters and a bow and an arrow from another to defend the Prophet ﷺ,  joining the small group who were standing firm with the Prophet, acting as a human shield to protect him from the arrows of the non-believers. Every time danger approached the Prophet she hastened to protect him. Rasoolullah (SAW) noticed this, and later said, “Wherever I turned, to the left or the right, I saw her fighting for me.”

On that day, Nusaybah herself received many wounds and the Prophet saw her, and called to her son, “Your mother! Your mother! See to her wounds, may Allah bless you and your household! Your mother has fought better than so-and-so.” When Nusaybah heard what the Prophet said, she said, “Pray to Allah that we may accompany you in Paradise.” He said, “O Allah (SWT), make them my companions in Paradise.” She said, ” I do not care what befalls me in this world.” That day, she received 13 wounds and a deep neck wound that stayed with her till her death. 

Umm ‘Umarah’s jihad was not confined to the battle of Uhud. She was also present on a number at al-Hudaybiyah, Khaybar and Hunayn. Her heroic conduct at Hunayn was no less marvellous than her heroic conduct at Uhud. 

She also participated in the Battle of Yamama (war against Musaylamah – a self proclaimed prophet) where she received 11 wounds and lost her hand during the battle. One of her sonswas tortured by Musaylmah who cut his limbs piece by piece until he died. So Umm Ammarah kept looking for Musaylmah through rows of fighters during the battle and killed him with her spear after Wahshi pierced his javelin inside of him.

At the time of Abu Bakr’s Khilafah, she was present at Al-Yamamah where she fought brilliantly and received eleven wounds as well as losing her hand.

Nusaybah lived through the rule of Abu Bakr Al Siddique, and Omar Bin Al Khattab. She was revered by both who continuously praised her struggle and courage. It is said that once Omar received a gift from some foreign place. It consisted mainly of a piece of cloth made from the finest silk. Some people who were present suggested that he send it either to his daughter or to his daughter in law. Omar rejected both suggestions. He said that there is a woman who deserves that cloth more than all, and sent it to Nusaybah.

She died in the 13 Hijri year, and is buried in Al Baqi’, in Makkah Al Mokarrameh. And we learn from her resolve.


  1. Jezak Allah Khearn, these reminders are true pearls. Growth mindset is especially what is needed to get out of negative thinking sometimes installed by close ones. Allah teaches us to believe in ourselves as He SWT believes in us.
    Glad to see you back on the blog.


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