I left my secular academic studies completely at the age of 11 and I didn’t resume them until the age of 18 by completing my GED, also known as: good. enough. diploma. When I restarted my studies, I married myself to a question that I continued to ask every single teacher in every single class at every stage of my academic career and continue to ask today: ‘what is the formula for success?’
This question in my mind serves as the key to gain understanding over what needs to be done so that I may succeed, directly from the person that is responsible for evaluating my performance.
After studying Biology for 3 years as an honor student, completing around 90 credit hours, serving as a Teacher’s Assistant in the subject for most of my studies, I found myself achieving success in my academic career but not in my spiritual reality. I had incorrectly made the assumption that studying the Quran and engaging in my study of Islam was a divergence from my true purpose, which I thought was to be a scientist or a doctor. I realized then that if I left after all that I had achieved, people would think I was crazy, most importantly, I would think I failed because I had invested so much of my time rebuilding myself to achieve the objective I thought I was born to achieve. One of the last classes I studied in the field of biology was micro biology, in which we studied the systems of the body as a whole and learned how the body over came pathogenic attacks through those systems. In that class, I realized that if God had created such sophisticated systems in the body to allow it to function, there had to be a system within His religion that allowed me to become the best version of myself in all aspects of my reality and I just had not found it yet. I then realized that studying bio, the pursuit of becoming a scientist or a doctor, was not my objective but a necessary tangent in my life to lead me to my true objective, the studying of Islam with the intention of elevating myself and those around me.
This realization led me to drop out once again and restart my education and my life from scratch at Zaytuna College, pursuing a pedagogy that was not only completely foreign to me but was also a pedagogy that I did not have the tools to succeed in, other than my drive that constantly reminded me that failure is never achieved until the moment I give up.
I arrived with only $100 in my pocket, a single handbag of clothes, and a laptop to one of the most prestigious institutions in the country. I remember like it was yesterday, I did not have the funds to pay for my classes nor did I have any real way of doing so; I showed up to the admissions office, dropped my bags and just went to class. After my class, I went back to the admissions office and explained my situation, I was told not to worry about it and that we will figure it out, and was shown my room. Indeed we would eventually figure it out, Alhumdulillah. A memory etched in to my brain, that my teacher later reminded me of, I showed up to the first office hours of the class with a shopping bag full of books, laid them on the table and asked him: ‘what is the formula for success?’
I was blessed to graduate at the top of my class, not because I did everything that my teachers told me would suffice the formula, but because I realized that success has a singular and universal formula and it is not the absence of failure but it is ‘to tackle all objectives through, with, and for God.’ This experience cemented this question in my heart and mind but with a very different perspective. The answer to this question simply offers a list of objectives and it is God’s majesty that allows us to achieve them or at times, does not, and this too is a blessing, even if we don’t perceive it to be.
By Imam Ahmad Khan