wafī dhālika falyatanāfasil-mutanāfisūn
So for that let the aspirants aspire (for the bliss)
(Sūratul Mutaffifīn, No.83, Āyat 26)
In Sūratul Mutaffifīn Allah ‘azza wa-jall describes the bounties of Heaven. He mentions the pure drink that will be given to the people in Heaven and then says that is what people should aspire towards and compete with each other in. Tafsīr-e Namūne says such competition should be for the Heavenly rewards in general and specifically for the unique pure drink.
The word tanāfus refers to the desire and efforts of two people who each wish to also possess a prized possession of the other. It is healthy competition not based on jealousy but on an understanding of the value of the desired object. It includes a hope to reach the same status as the other without anything being diminished for that person. Healthy competition inspires people to aspire more and do their best. It enhances motivation and gets people engaged and enthusiastic. When done nobly and sincerely it brings about excellence in the attempted goal.
One of the aims of the Quran is to create a humane and virtuous society. Its teachings emphasize social virtues and guide the believers to form a society in which good flourishes. Through that the well-being of each member is achieved. In encouraging its followers towards good, verses of Quran talk about rushing towards good as well as competing with each other to attain good. Apart from the above verse this concept can be seen in Sūratul Hadīd: Take the lead (sābiqū) towards forgiveness from your Lord and a paradise as vast as the heavens and the earth, prepared for those who have faith in Allah and His apostles (Q 57:21) and in Sūratul Baqarah: And everyone has a direction to which he should turn so take the lead in all good works (Q 2:148).
Amīrul Mu’minīn Imam Ali (a) also mentions this type of competition in Du‘ā Kumayl. He says: So that I may lead myself towards You in the field with those who are in the foremost ranks and rush towards You among those who hasten towards You.
Some specific cases in which competition for good things has been emphasized include:
1) Islamic Greetings – Imam Husayn (a) says: Saying salām has seventy rewards, sixty nine for the one who begins and one for the one who answers (Bihārul Anwar, v.75, p. 160). the Prophet (s) would hasten to say salām to whoever met him (Syd. Tabātabā’ī, Sunan an-Nabī, p. 41, Eng. tr).
2) Going to masjid – The Holy Prophet (s) told Abu Dharr: O Abu Dharr how fortunate are the bearers of the flag of the Day of Judgment who will lead others into Heaven. Know that these are the foremost in going to the mosques in the early morning hours and at other times (Sh. Tūsī, Al-Āmālī, p.529, H. 1162
A result of competing to attain good has two results in society. One is the swift spreading of good in society as members try to outdo each other and attempt to be the first to perform a good deed. The second result is that good will be done quickly rather than slowly. Rapid good actions would become a norm and ensure progress in the path of virtue. When people sincerely enter the race to do good deeds, without wanting to hinder each other, there would be a constant search towards higher levels of virtue.
Let this verse remind you of the benefits of healthy competition in the path towards Heaven. Motivate yourself to lead in this race through an understanding of what He expects from you and a determination to achieve it.
Sources: Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh