Quranic Reflection No. 348 Āyat 53:39 – Effort and movement

وَأَنْ لَيْسَ لِلْإِنْسَانِ إِلَّا مَا سَعَىٰ
wa-an laysa lil-insāni illā mā sa‘ā
And that man shall have nothing but what he strives for.
(Sūratun Najm, No.53, Āyat 39)

One of the Divine principles as taught by all the Prophets is that human beings would only get what they work for. The sum of what they will become and the levels they will reach depends entirely on the outcome of their efforts, both in good and bad.

In the verse above the word sa’ā literally means to walk fast, almost run. It is used to denote hard work and effort as this means moving ahead fast on the path. It is interesting to note that Allah does not say man will have nothing but in accordance to his actions, rather in accordance to the efforts behind his actions. This shows that it is the striving that is important as it shows intention and struggle. Sometimes the goal may not be achieved, but the hard work behind it will pay off. Allah looks at the intention behind the action and not just the action itself.

According to Allāmah Tabātabā’ī in Tafsīr al-Mīzān, the lām in li-linsāni shows actual possession like the eye and ear and other organs of the human being. It is not incidental possession like the house or car of the human being which he uses for a time. Thus his actions belong to him and are with him wherever he goes, even when he leaves this world. It creates an imaginal body in this world which will be his form and immaterial body in the afterlife. Sh. Muhammad Saeed Bahmanpour writes in his book Towards Eternal Life that the immaterial body with which we will traverse the Hereafter depends entirely on our actions in this world.   He says, “The soul carries an imprint of every atom’s weight of good and evil that an individual has done, and in Barzakh it is embodied as well; so whoever does an atom’s weight of good shall see it and whoever does an atom’s weight of evil shall see it (Q 99:7-8)”.

Efforts and hard work must be channeled in the right direction to maximize productivity. It is a loss to put in a lot of efforts in works that are trivial and don’t matter much in the long run. A wise person plans his/her life and prioritizes his actions. The advice of Amīrul Mu’minīn Imam Ali (a) is pertinent: I enjoin you towards action; towards action indeed. Then to take it to its completion! To its completion, indeed! Then maintain it regularly; and be steadfast. Then persevere and endure in its performance. (Throughout) practice piety and God-wariness. Verily you have been destined for an objective, so betake yourselves to your destined end [Nahjul Balāgha, Sermon 176].

The beginning of the New Year is a great time to plan for goals that are worth working hard for. Many resolutions are made during this time of the year and we need to think of what we should put our energies into. The following are some areas of life that are worthy of much thought and effort;
a) Connection with Allah – spiritual growth is the best way to achieve peace of mind and fulfillment. Think of how best to enhance your relationship with Allah. It could be small increases in daily worship and dhikr, reading or listening to spiritual material regularly, joining a circle of people that have spiritual habits, or setting time aside for quiet reflection.
b) Relationships – your relationships with people are the threads that bind the fabric of your life. It is worth investing in relationships. Fresh investments in relationships could mean showing more appreciation, communicating better, conversing deeper, enjoying things together, and supporting each other in the journey towards Allah as we have been advised in Sūratul ‘Asr (Q 103:3).
c) Self-improvement – Life is an opportunity to grow towards perfection. The process of self-development means to become a more mature, self-disciplined person who has a healthy sense of self. Work on this process in the upcoming year. Identify what habits need to be changed. Motivate yourself by reading or listening to relevant material, keeping a regular check on yourself, joining a group of like-minded people, and reminding yourself often of your vision for yourself.

Remind yourself of this verse as you make your resolutions and review them over the year. You will not get anything except that which you work hard for. Enhance your output in life through this guiding principle.

Sources: ‘Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh; Shaykh Muhammad Saeed Bahmanpour, Towards Eternal Life.