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The growth mindset in Islam – “Champions are made from something they have deep inside them…”

In life we experience successes and failures in life, its important to remember that most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed no hope at all, and the Prophet(SAW) is one of the greatest examples of that. Whether facing plague, rejection of his people, anxiety and worry about the fate of everyone who didn’t get to know Allah(SWT), the loneliness of growing up an orphan, the grief of losing his beloved family members and burying his most ardent companions, he(SAW) laid an inspiring model for us all.

At the heart of that was a belief that strength and power doesn’t come from within us, rather its Allah(SWT) who guides us and provides opportunity for each and every one of us. This mindset is a true growth mindset – recognising that with Allah(SWT) we have everything and without Him(SWT), we are alone.

If we reflect, we all realise that great works are performed, not by strength, but by perseverance. The late heavyweight champion of the world, Muhammad Ali (rh) would say “Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them-a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.” He would say “’I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion’.”

The reason I bring this up is because all of us have experienced or heard things like:

  • Running late and missing an appointment
  • Snoozing the alarm at fajr time until the last moments or sometimes missing it
  • A boss, teacher or parent criticising your work
  • Perhaps someone in the masjid who told you to wear a longer shirt as you were exposed when in sajdah or perhaps your arms were tucked into your body which goes against the sunnah

For someone with a fixed mindset, this scenario might just ruin their whole day. They may feel angry with themselves or look for someone or something else to blame.

On the other hand, someone with a growth mindset is more likely to think about the root cause of the situation they’re in and consider how to avoid it next time. They may conclude that they need to go to bed earlier tonight, or set their alarm a little bit louder. The point is, the person with a growth mindset will think about ways to fix the problem because they believe it is fixable.

Similarly on hearing criticism, don’t have a glass jaw when somebody says something you disagree with or which hurts you. It was Umar ibn ul Khattab (RA) who was reported as saying “Whosoever shows you your faults is your friend. Those that pay you lip service in praise are your executioners.”

Control your anger

Allamah Aloosi (RA) has narrated an incident about Ali (RA)’s grandson, Ali bin Husain (RA). His slave girl was once helping him to make wudhu when the water jar slipped from her hand, fell on his head and wounded him.

Ali bin Husain (RA) looked at her angrily. The slave girl, being a Hafizah of the Quran, immediately started reciting the verse from the Quran which says: “Allah(SWT)’s special servants are those who swallow their anger.”

Ali bin Husain (RA) immediately replied: “I have swallowed my anger.”

His immediate action was because of his acceptance of the word of Allah(SWT). It was not important to him who had recited it.

The slave girl then proceeded to recite the verse which says: “And those who forgive people.”

Ali bin Husain RA said: “I forgive your mistake. She then continued, And Allah(SWT) loves those who are kind.” Hadhrat Ali replied: “Go, I free you for the sake of Allah(SWT).”

“Who restrain anger and who pardon the people out of love- and Allah(SWT) loves the doers of good”. (Surah Ale Imran 134)

Musa’s(AS) encounter with Khidr

In fact, we are all encouraged to read Surah Al Kahf on Fridays and one of the main stories in this Surah is a humbling and insightful lesson for all of us about the growth mindset.

Imam Ibn Kathir relates in his Tafsir(explanation) that Musa (AS) delivered an impressive sermon to Bani Isra’eel (the children of Prophet Yaqub (AS)) and all who heard it were deeply moved. Someone in the congregation asked: “0 Messenger of Allah(SWT), is there another man on earth more learned than you?” Musa(AS) replied: “No!” believing so, as Allah(SWT) had given him the power of miracles and honoured him with the Torah.

However, Allah(SWT) revealed to Musa(AS) that there was a person who had greater knowledge than even Musa(AS) at that time. Rather than feel upset, Musa(AS) humbly asked Allah(SWT): “O Allah, where is this man? I would like to meet him and learn from him.” He also asked for a sign to this person’s identity.

Allah(SWT) instructed him to take a live fish in a water-filled vessel. Where the fish disappeared, he would find the man he sought. Musa(AS) set out on his journey, accompanied by a young man who carried the vessel with the fish, who the Prophet(SAW) stated was Yusha bin Nun(AS).

Musa (AS) requests Khidr to follow him so as to accompany and learn from him, but Khidr asserts that he would not be able to have patience with him. Musa (AS) is insistent that if Allah(SWT) willing, he would be patient. Thus, the journey commences.

At first, they board a ship whose people are generous as they let Musa and Khidr ride the boat free of charge. Khidr then ends up damaging the boat and this action angers Musa AS and he denounces it. Khidr reiterates the fact that he told Musa AS that he wouldn’t be able to have patience with him to which Musa AS promised that from now on he wouldn’t protest his action because he was insistent on learning, saying: “Do not blame me for what I have forgotten, and do not be hard upon me for my fault.” So the first excuse of Musa(AS) was that he had forgotten.

On continuing the trip they come across a boy playing with other boys and Khidr killed him. This is another tipping point for Musa (AS) as he is unable to resolve this action and he protests again. Khidr reminds him of his impatience for which he apologies and says if I repeat this again, you are within rights to part company.

Eventually, they reach a town whose people were miserly and they refused to provide them with any hospitality or food despite their travel. Here, Khidr found a dilapidated wall and repaired it without any charge to which Musa AS said “If you had wished, surely you could have taken wages for it!”

In this, Khidr says “This is the parting between me and you. I will tell you the interpretation of (those) things over which you were unable to hold patience.

‘As for the ship, it belonged to poor people working in the sea. So I wished to make a defective damage in it, as there was a king after them who seized every ship by force.

“And as for the boy, his parents were believers, and we feared lest he should oppress them by rebellion and disbelief. So we intended that their Lord should change him for them for one better in righteousness and near to mercy.

“And as for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the town; and there was under it a treasure belonging to them; and their father was a righteous man, and your Lord intended that they should attain their age of full strength and take out their treasure as a mercy from your Lord. And I did it not of my own accord. That is the interpretation of those (things) over which you could not hold patience. [Surah Al Kahf 18: 60-82]

The Prophet (SAW) added: “We wish that Musa(AS) could have remained patient by virtue of which Allah(SWT) might have told us more about their story.”

There are many lessons from this including:

  • Thank Allah for the Knowledge you Have and know that some say that half of wisdom is the ability to say “I don’t know”.
  • When Musa(AS) found out there was someone more learned than himself he was determined to find him and wouldn’t stop travelling until he got to the place where he would meet al-Khidr. Similarly, Abu Hurayrah (RA) was so determined to get knowledge, he would live in them masjid.
  • The good manners and respect between students and teachers.
  • One of the conditions for you as a seeker of knowledge is patience, and the other is obedience to the way your teacher set out for you.
  • If knowledge brings you closer to Allah then this is a blessing from Allah. Knowledge can also be a trial; you can use it in the wrong way or not practice what you learn at all!
  • Most importantly, look at the growth mindset of Musa(AS) – humble and keen on learning.

There are eight general approaches for developing the foundation for such a mindset:

  1. Believe in yourself, in your own skills and abilities, and in your capacity for positive change, with the tawfique of Allah(SWT).
  2. See failure as an opportunity to learn from your experiences and apply what you have learned next time around.
  3. Cultivate your self-awareness so you know what your talents, strengths, and weaknesses are; gather feedback from those who know you best and put it together for a comprehensive view of yourself.
  4. Commit to lifelong learning – take lessons from every circumstance
  5. Get friendly with challenges – to accomplish anything worthwhile, you will face many challenges on your journey
  6. Do what you love and love what you do
  7. Keep a firm hold on your dream and cling to, weathering obstacles and getting back up after each time you fall.
  8. Inspire and be inspired by others

Nothing is impossible. The word itself says ‘I’m possible!’

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