Success or failure in our lives, whether personal or professional, is determined by the actions we take as a result of our decisions. The average person makes 750,000 decisions in their lifetime which contains a mix of both right and wrong decisions. While it is very natural to make bad decisions in life, the ability to be decisive is the most vital skill to have in order to discover life more efficiently.
What does it mean to be decisive? It is to be able to use the right tools for the decision-making process with clarity. When you are decisive, you don’t struggle every morning to decide which shirt to wear for work. When you are decisive, you don’t constantly fear to take the next step. Decisiveness is the key to effectively measuring, executing and achieving your goals.
While decision-making involves efforts from our end, our faith (Imaan) also plays a big role in the process. Faith teaches us the humility of our human state, equips us to deal with reality and do our part, and enables us to leave the rest to Allah. All things relating to us - whether they are our own doing or are beyond our control - have already been decreed, registered in the Preserved Slate, and registered again by the Angel of Wombs prior to our birth. Ibn Masu’d (رضى الله عنه) reported that the Prophet (ﷺ) said:
" إِنَّ خَلْقَ أَحَدِكُمْ يُجْمَعُ فِي بَطْنِ أُمِّهِ أَرْبَعِينَ يَوْمًا وَأَرْبَعِينَ لَيْلَةً، ثُمَّ يَكُونُ عَلَقَةً مِثْلَهُ، ثُمَّ يَكُونُ مُضْغَةً مِثْلَهُ، ثُمَّ يُبْعَثُ إِلَيْهِ الْمَلَكُ فَيُؤْذَنُ بِأَرْبَعِ كَلِمَاتٍ، فَيَكْتُبُ رِزْقَهُ وَأَجَلَهُ وَعَمَلَهُ وَشَقِيٌّ أَمْ سَعِيدٌ…"
"The creation of each of you is brought together in his mother’s womb for forty days as a seed, then as a clot for as long, then as lump (of flesh) for as long. Allah then sends an angel who is commanded to blow the soul into him and write down four things: his sustenance, life-span deeds, and whether he will be miserable or happily (in the hereafter).” [Bukhari, 7454]
The decision that we make takes us to what Allah has decreed for us. One decision may have multiple outcomes decreed and we may end up reaching to any one of them as per what Allah decrees.
The presence of faith in the decision making process is what differentiates Islamic decision making from the secular and mainstream one. To compare both of these, how did President Truman decide to drop the nuclear bomb in Hiroshima instead of a million roses? How did the Prophets (peace be upon them all) always decide to forgive those who had wronged them? This comparison between the two provides the important concepts that Muslims need to consider when making a decision. So, let’s break this down.
This Life Vs Afterlife
Everything that Islam teaches provides benefit for the believer through it both in this world and the Hereafter. It always looks at the two sides of the coin and ensures balance. For a simple act of worship like smiling in the face of a fellow Muslim, it aims to preserve one of the strongest bonds that exist; the bond of brotherhood and integrity in this world, and elevates the ranks of the believer for that one smile in the Hereafter.
When making a decision, Islam urges us to consider both sides of the coin. We are advised to consider the implications of our decision from both perspectives. This is not found in the secular and mainstream decision making methods because they tend to focus on the worldly aspect while ignoring the Hereafter. As Muslims, we understand that the Hereafter is our ultimate destination and that the consequences of our actions affect it, which is why it is critical that we take steps and make decisions that will benefit us in the Hereafter as well as in this world.
“And this worldly life is not but diversion and amusement. And indeed, the home of the Hereafter - that is the [eternal] life, if only they knew.” [29:64]
What We Want Vs What Allah Wants
This is based on a concept known as The Future Framework, which is used to define the present and future selves based on self-interest, as well as our short-term and long-term perspectives. This framework entails looking at things through a broader lens and leaving space for other people, our future selves, and Allah, rather than focusing solely on the “right this second” approach where you take a hasty decision based on what you feel is right without considering any other factors.
The Now Us is about what we, along with family and friends and other people collectively, want at the present moment. The Now Me is about what I want at the present moment alone. The Future Me is about what my future self would want. The Future Us, which is the most important one, is about what Allah wants. Let's take an example to understand and put this framework into action.
Let's say that you are deciding between staying in your career or to start a new venture. What does the Now Us want? It wishes to postpone the venture for a while and continue working in order to save more money. Next, what does the Now Me want? It wishes to end the career now and start the venture in order to be more financially independent. What does the Future Me want? It believes that more skills and experience are required before embarking on the venture. And lastly, what does the Future Us want? It may want us to start the venture, but only at the right time and in the right state.
Seeing many green lights indicating that you should not stop working right now, you do Istikhara and continue to work until you are financially stable enough to start your own venture. This simple and easy decision-making framework assists one in making more effective decisions in life while keeping Allah at the forefront and top priority. It examines all four sides of the quadrilateral rather than just one or two, which is important because the decisions we make affect ourselves as well as everything around us.
The Prophets (peace be upon them all) used to make wise decisions that adhered to the commands of Allah and were beneficial to both themselves and the people around them. This can be seen when the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) used to hold numerous councils prior to a battle to ensure that whatever he decides is beneficial not only to himself, but also to those around him.
Destiny & Decisions is an online decision-making course by Towards Faith (ex-Ramadan Legacy) that provides a framework to help Muslims courageously navigate difficult life decisions and resolve internal conflict between their head, heart and gut. The course takes a student-centred approach and dives into key discussion areas that Muslims naturally encounter in any major life decision such as: Am I doing what Allah wants me to do? Am I understanding myself correctly? Is this choice what I want or what I need in life? How do I know if I am making the right decision? Am I in the right state to make a major life decision? The course is intended to be highly practical as opposed to theoretical and provides a guided framework to help students go from complexity to clarity.