Everything in life requires a certain set of guidelines to ensure that things work properly and fulfill their purpose. For our physical body and survival, there are certain things required. They include eating, drinking, sleeping, work, and exercise, all in moderation to ensure that our bodies are functioning properly and only then can a person be able to work towards success. Similarly, one of our missionaries gave the example of a how a car needs engine oil to run. If we do not put oil in a car, it will eventually seize the car’s engine, the car might run for a bit but its condition will start to deteriorate.
The same concept is applicable to the necessity of religion in our lives. There are many people who have convinced themselves that religion holds no significance but they are void of those spiritual instructions given to us by our Creator. Hence they can be compared to the car that ends up being useless because the conditions for it to function adequately were not followed.
The answer to this question about success without religion is linked to the question, ‘What is our purpose?’, or, ‘Why do we live?’. The answer is that our purpose is to recognize God, our Creator, and have a relationship with Him, and that we fulfill the rights owed to the Creation of God—our fellow human beings. In order to help us fulfill our purpose and to live our lives to the fullest, Allah sent Prophets and revealed certain commandments to them.
Another aspect we have to keep in mind is that this world is not our end goal. If we were limited to this world only and ceased to exist afterwards, there would only be one type of success that we would give significance, that is, worldly success. One may argue that there are so many people in the world that do not follow religion and are successful in terms of their worldly pursuits, where they have an abundance of wealth and materialistic amenities. But since all humans are eventually going to die and meet their Creator, we will be held accountable for our every action in this life. The Quran says:
اِنَّا جَعَلۡنَا مَا عَلَی الۡاَرۡضِ زِیۡنَۃً لَّہَا لِنَبۡلُوَہُمۡ اَیُّہُمۡ اَحۡسَنُ عَمَلًا ﴿۸﴾
That is, “Verily, We have made all that is on the earth as an ornament for it, that We may try them as to which of them is best in conduct” (18:8).
As a result, the truly successful one is the person who is successful in the eyes of God. Human beings cannot define success in their own terms. It is God who decides, and as He has laid out in the above verse, this world is a place of trials and successful is the one who goes through the trials in accordance with the Will of God, regardless of how rich, famous, or ‘successful’ they may consider themselves to be. What matters is their position in the sight of Allah, no matter how highly they think of their own selves. God says in the Quran, “Verily, the most honourable among you, in the sight of Allah, is he who is the most righteous among you” (49:14). In other words, taqwa, righteousness, piety, and virtue, of a person is a measure of success, not worldly gains.
Therefore, it is vital to understand that religion not only directs us to strive for worldly success but informs us that our journey continues from this world to the Hereafter where we also need to be successful and that success has been defined by religion. Contrasting between worldly success and the more permanent success associated with the Hereafter, the Quran says:
قُلۡ مَتَاعُ الدُّنۡیَا قَلِیۡلٌ ۚ وَ الۡاٰخِرَۃُ خَیۡرٌ لِّمَنِ اتَّقٰی
That is, “Say, ‘The benefit of this world is little and the Hereafter will be better for him who [has taqwa, or] fears God’” (4:78). No matter what a person gains in this world, it will remain “little” and true gains are ones associated with taqwa.
The purpose of religion then is not to bind us with laws and regulations just for the sake of controlling us, rather it is to guide man to attaining spiritual prosperity so that we can please our God. Yes, religion does give us rules and laws but having laws is the very hallmark of civility. Take the example of the roadways in developed countries. Having traffic rules is never criticized as “limiting” or “restrictive”. Instead, it is seen as a means to an end. The end being the safety of all those who use the roadways. The same is the case with religion. Without it, we would have no sense of direction in our lives.