The Power of Motivation
Published: February 26, 2018 • Updated: December 12, 2022
Author: Dr. Zohair Abdul-Rahman
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
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Section I: Fundamentals of Motivation
Pleasure and Pain
Experiential Dimensions of Pleasure and Pain
There is nothing more pleasurable, pure and blessed to the heart and soul than love for Allah, turning to Him, connecting to Him, experiencing tranquility in His presence and longing to gaze upon Him.
Those who have believed and whose hearts become serene through the remembrance of Allah. Certainly, through the remembrance of Allah, hearts become tranquil.
Whoever turns away from My remembrance will have a miserable life.
And whoever betrays their relationship with Allah, it is as though he has fallen from the sky and was either snatched by birds or thrown to a distant place by a strong wind.
Eschatological Functions of Pleasure and Pain
Indeed, those who disbelieve in Our verses, We will drive them into a Fire. Every time their skins are roasted through We will replace them with other skins so they may taste the punishment. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted in Might and Wise.
So leave them in their confusion for a time. Or do they think that we extend for them wealth and children seeking goodness for them? On the contrary, they don’t have the right perception.
Whoever turns away from My remembrance will have a miserable life.
And We had gripped them with suffering [as a warning], but they did not yield to their Lord, nor did they humbly supplicate, [and will continue thus]. Until when We have opened before them a door of severe punishment, immediately they will be therein in despair.
And We sent to no city a prophet [who was denied] except that We seized its people with poverty and hardship that they might humble themselves [to Allah ].
And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient.
The Prophet ﷺ said, “There is nothing (in the form of trouble) that comes to a believer even if it is the pricking of a thorn that there is decreed for him by Allah good or his sins are obliterated.”
That is because they are not afflicted by thirst or fatigue or hunger in the cause of Allah, nor do they tread on any ground that enrages the rejectors of truth, nor do they inflict upon an enemy any infliction but that is registered for them as a righteous deed. Indeed, Allah does not allow to be lost the reward of the doers of good.
Epistemic Functions of Pleasure and Pain
Allah intends to make clear to you and guide you to the ways of those before you (i.e. the Truth) and to grant you redemption (for your sins). And Allah is Knowing and Wise.
The Moral Dimension of Pleasure and Pain
Any pleasure that leads to pain or averts a pleasure worthier than it cannot really be called pleasure, even if the nafs (self) mistakes it for pleasure. Can you really say there was pleasure in a poisoned meal that may have initially felt good, but led to immense pain shortly thereafter?
Regulating Pleasure and Pain
Wealth and children are from the allurement of this world, but the enduring (bāqiyāt) and virtuous (saliḥāt) are better according to your Lord and the better (path) to aspire toward.
Section II: The Motivational State
Cognitive Components of Motivation
Say: Do you worship besides Allah that which has no capacity to harm or benefit you? And Allah is the All-Hearing and the All-Knowing.
And they worship other than Allah that which neither harms them nor brings them benefit.
He calls upon other than Allah, what will not bring him harm or benefit, that is extreme misguidance.
Say: My prayers, my sacrifice, my life and my death are all for Allah, the Master of all the realms.
Allah presents an example: a slave owned by quarreling partners and another belonging exclusively to one man—are they equal in comparison? Praise be to Allah! But most of them do not know.
The Emotional Component of Motivation
Whoever is constantly engaged in lustful gazes will be persistently affected by frustration and regret. The most harmful thing for the heart are the images it is exposed to by the eyes. The heart craves what the eye sees and develops a strong desire to (sexually) interact with it (through perception of touch, voice and fragrance). This desire to move beyond mere visual stimulus perturbs the heart deeply until it loses all senses of self-restraint, determined to reach it. This gap between what the heart craves and what it possesses is what results in pain.
Spiritual Foundations of Motivation
Motivation and Doubt
And when it was said, “Indeed, the promise of Allah is Truth (Ḥaqq) and the Hour [is coming]—no doubt about it,” you said, “We know (‘ilm) not what is the Hour. We assume only conjecture (ẓann), and we are not convinced (yaqeen).”
And the record [of deeds] will be placed [open], and you will see the criminals fearful of what is within it, and they will say, "Oh, woe to us! What is this book that leaves nothing small or great except that it has enumerated it?" And they will find what they did present [before them]. And your Lord does injustice to no one.
And they say, "There is not but our worldly life; we die and live, and nothing destroys us except time." And they have of that no knowledge (‘ilm); they are only assuming (ẓann).
And whoever turns away from My remembrance—indeed, he will have a depressed life, and We will gather him on the Day of Resurrection blind."
Section III: Motivational Fuel
Ṣabr & Self-Regulation
Strengthening Ṣabr & Self-Regulation
O young men, whoever among you can afford to get married, let him do so, and whoever cannot afford it, let him fast, for that will be a shield for him.
- Beholding the glory of Allah in the heart and His greatness. The thought of disobeying Him should result in shame and embarrassment.
- Beholding the love of Allah in the heart, so you avoid disobeying Him out of love for Him.
- Witnessing the blessings of Allah and His favors toward you.
- Recognizing the Anger and Avenging of Allah.
- Recognizing the loss incurred by engaging in disobedience. Your sustenance and worldly possessions are decreased, as are your faith and certainty.
- Experiencing the pleasure that comes with conquering the nafs ammāra bis-sū’ and pelting Shaytān.
- Understanding that Allah has promised to replace what has been given up for His sake for something better.
- Experiencing the special Divine presence that is accompanied by His Mercy and Love.
- Recognizing that time waits for no one and that it passes swiftly.
- The inevitable outcome of disobedience is hardship and pain.
- Struggle against one’s desires, when they emerge.
- Reject the first thought that will eventually lead to a temptation for evil.
- Strive to cut off the means to fulfilling your desire. This principle is found in the story of Yusuf where he rushed to leave the room where the sin could only take place.
- Contemplate the signs of Allah in nature and in His book.
- Contemplate the temporality of this life and its essence. This life is merely a test and its forbidden pleasures are a delusion.
- Recognize that your heart is between the fingers of the Most Merciful, so rely on Him and ask Him for help.
- Appreciate that there are only two trajectories you can be on in life. The first is to the highest companionship (rafīq al-a‘lā), Allah, and the second is to the lowest of the low (asfala sāfilīn).
- Avoid environments where Allah’s Mercy does not descend. How can one thrive in such an environment? Plants and trees don’t grow except in places where rain descend.
- Recognize that Allah created you for life, not death, for honor, not humiliation, for security, not fear, and for wealth, not poverty.
- Do not be deluded by your knowledge of good and evil. Knowledge comes with responsibility to strive and struggle for its actualization into reality.
Dear beloved slave of the King of kings,
What ails you that you contemplate transgression against the One Who Created you?
Has your heart forgotten its Master? His Greatness and His Glory? That He Knows of your innermost secrets. Sees your every action and Hears your every word?
Surely, wealth and faith are victims of your transgression. Do you desire to erect barriers between yourself and His blessings?
O impoverished supplicant, would you use His countless blessings against yourself in disobedience to Him, or would you use them for yourself in gratefulness to Him?
Think of the blessed bargain, O meandering traveller! That you leave sin and He, the Most Generous, has guaranteed to replace it with that which is better!
Reflect! What compels your Master to offer you such? Nothing in existence can compel The Compeller. Yet, He loves you, and He wants happiness for you.
O despondent soul, you must believe that He loves you! He created you for wealth, not poverty, for life, not death, for honor, not humiliation, and for peace, not fear. What will make you realize that it is sin that brings you nearer to the latter in every respect?O slave, will you not respond to the Most Loving with your love? For if you love, you would diligently evade all which would distance you from the object of your love. And surely to Allah, the Everlasting, alone belongs the highest example.
So be cautious, and let not linger any corrupt thoughts or wayward feelings lest they turn into destructive fantasies and elaborate plans.
And remember, dear slave, that the strength to overcome your desires, your determination and your will, are between the Fingers of the Most Merciful. Will you not ask Him for relief? O slave, ask and persevere, and know that the One who responds will surely respond.
1 Rosenbaum, S. E. (1990). Epicurus on pleasure and the complete life. Hellenistic Ethics, 73(1), 21-41.
2 Woolf, R. (2004). What kind of hedonist was Epicurus? A Journal for Ancient Philosophy, 49(4), 303-322.
4 Rawḍat al-Muḥibbīn, p. 245
5 Ibn al-Qayyim also comments on an ontological discussion surrounding the existence of pleasure. Is pleasure merely the absence of pain or an independent existent? Some have argued that the pleasure associated with eating and drinking is due to the dissipation of hunger and thirst. This is the famous position held by Epicurus, although his name is not invoked in Ibn al-Qayyim’s discussion. Ibn al-Qayyim’s position is that pleasure is an independent existent that necessarily protects against pain. Thus, it is associated with pain in its opposing nature, but is not ontologically independent from it.
6 Ibn Qayyim. Shifā’ al-‘Alīl. Cairo: Dar at-Turaat; p. 526.
7 Rawḍat al-Muḥibbīn, p. 245
8 Hirsh, J.B., Walberg, M. D., & Peterson, J. B. (2013). Spiritual Liberals and Religious Conservatives. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 4(1), 14-20.
9 Rawḍat al-Muḥibbīn, p. 246
10 Ibid, pp. 246-247
11 Qur'an, 13:28
12 Qur'an, 20:124
13 Qur'an, 22:31
15 The interested reader can refer to this Yaqeen article for a more detailed discussion: https://yaqeeninstitute.org/en/mohammad-elshinawy/the-infinitely-merciful-and-the-question-of-hellfire/
16 Qur'an, 16:97
18 Qur'an, 23:54-56
19 Qur'an, 20:124
20 Qur'an, 23:76-77
21 Qur'an, 7:94
22 Qur'an, 2:155
24 Qur'an, 9:120
25 Ibn al-Qayyim. Ighāthat ul-Lahfān. Jeddah: Dār Alam al-Fawā’id; p. 39.
26 Ibn al-Qayyim. Rawḍat al-Muḥibbīn. Jeddah: Dar Alam al-Fawa’id; 2010. p. 233.
27 Qur’an, 4:26
28 Phenomenology refers to the study of the conscious experience of a phenomenon rather than its specific nature of being. In this context, Truth can be studied as a separate concept, but phenomenology here refers to how a person subjectively experiences Truth in their lives in terms of thoughts, emotions, feelings, and behaviors.
29 Generally, the Will of Allah is categorized into Executive and Legislative. Executive Will encompasses everything that actually occurs and Legislative Will consists of things that Allah Wants to come into being (such as beauty, goodness, repentance etc.), but gives the human being the choice to follow. The intention of Allah in this paragraph refers to the Legislative Will. For a more detailed discussion please refer to https://yaqeeninstitute.org/en/justin-parrott/reconciling-the-divine-decree-and-free-will-in-islam/#ftnt8
30 Ibn Taymiyya. Qā’idatun Fī al-Maḥabba. Cairo: Dar at-Turāth; p. 17.
33 Ibid, p. 235
35 Ibid, p. 245
37 Qur'an, 7:31
38 Qur'an, 83:26
39 Rawḍat al-Muḥibbīn, p. 235
40 Ibid, p. 240
41 Ibid, p. 164
42 Qur'an, 3:4
43 These concepts will be dealt with in greater depth in Section III (Motivational Fuel).
44 Qur'an, 18:46
45 Igāthat al-Lahfān, p. 39
46 Ibid, p. 236
47 Oishi, S., & Diener, E. (2013). Residents of poor nations have a greater sense of meaning in life than residents of wealthy nations. Psychological Science, 25, 422-430.
48 Addington, D. E., & Addington, J. M. (1992). Attempted suicide and depression in schizophrenia. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 85(4), 288-291.
49 Hilton Jr, D. L. (2013). Pornography addiction – a supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology. 3:1, 207s7, DOI: 10.3402/snp.v3i0.20767
50 Kleitz-Nelson, H. K., Dominguez, J. M., & Ball, G. F.(2010). Dopamine release in the medial preoptic area is related to hormonal action and sexual motivation. Behavioral Neuroscience, 124(6), 773-779.
51 Peterson, J. B. (2008). The meaning of meaning. 2nd ed. Vancouver: Routledge. pp. 11-32.
52 Ighāthat al-Lahfān, p. 39
54 Ibid, p. 439
55 Qur'an, 5:76
56 Qur'an, 10:18
57 Qur'an, 22:12
58 Ighāthat al-Lahfān, p. 67
59 Ibid, p. 68
61 Qur'an, 6:162
62 Qur'an, 25:43
63 Qur'an, 92:4
64 Qur'an, 39:29
65Peterson, J. B. (2008). The meaning of meaning. 2nd ed. Vancouver: Routledge. pp. 11-32.
67 Rawḍat al-Muḥibbīn, p. 153
68 Ibn al-Qayyim. Kitāb ar-Rūḥ. 5th edition. Cairo: Al-Maktabah at-Tawfīqiyyah; 2012, p. 328.
69 The concepts of ṣabr and self-regulation are discussed in more detail later in this article.
70 Kitāb ar-Rūḥ, p. 369
71 Qur'an, 45:32
72 Qur'an, 18:49
73 Qur'an, 45:32
74 The interested reader should refer to: http://spiritualperception.org/the-real-battle-meaningful-vs-meaningless/
75 Qur'an, 45:32
76 We will be using the terms sabr and self-regulation interchangeably. Generally, we will use self-regulation when speaking about the psychological perspective and sabr when speaking about Ibn al-Qayyim’s or the Islamic perspective.
77 Baumeister, R. F., & Vohs, K. D. (2007). Self-regulation, ego depletion and motivation. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 1, 115-128.
78 Ibn al-Qayyim. ‘Uddat aṣ-Ṣābirīn. Damam: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi; 2012. p. 41.
79 Ibid, p. 40
80 Ibid, p. 41
85 Muraven, M., Tice, D. M., & Baumeister, R. F.(1998). Self-control as a limited resource: Regulatory depletion patterns. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(3), 774-789.
86 Sahih Bukhari, #39
87 Tice, D. M., Baumeister, R. F., Shmueli, D., & Muraven, M. (2007). Restoring the self: Positive affect helps improve self-regulation following ego depletion. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 43(3), 379-384.
88 Lambird, K. F., & Mann, T. (2006). When do ego threats lead to self-regulation failure? Negative consequences of defensive high self-esteem. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32, 1177–1187.
89 Baumeister, R. F., & Vohs, K. D. (2007). Self-regulation, ego depletion and motivation. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 1, 115-128.
90 Muraven, M., & Baumeister, R. F. (2000). Self-regulation and depletion of limited resources: Does self-control resemble a muscle? Psychological Bulletin, 126(2), 247-259.
91 ‘Uddat aṣ-Ṣābirīn, p. 89
96 Ibid, p. 90
97 Sahih Bukhari, #5066
98 ‘Uddat aṣ-Ṣābirīn, p. 90
99 Ibid, pp. 91-92
100 Ibid, p. 92
101 Ibid, p. 91
102 Ibid, pp. 93-101
103 The author wishes to acknowledge C. Zarak Aslam’s significant contribution in producing this abridged letter.