Believers naturally have a competitive drive and are usually dissatisfied with what is low and never rest in this life, for they always aspire to perfection. The believer always feels that he is in a competition and therefore makes his preparations and puts his shoulder to the wheel to attain his goals and to become one of the forerunners. Allaah The Almighty Says (what means):

“And the forerunners, the forerunners – Those are the ones brought near [to Allaah]”
(Quran 56:10-11)

Islam raises its followers according to this meaning with regards to matters of the Hereafter, to the extent that Muslims aspire to be an example for the righteous. Allaah The Almighty Says about such believers (what means):

“And those who say, “Our Lord, grant us from among our wives and offspring comfort to our eyes and make us an example for the righteous.”
(Quran 74:25)

When considering the Sharee’ah texts in this regard, we find that when they refer to matters of the Hereafter they explicitly urge Muslims to compete, to hasten and to vie with one another. On the other hand, when they refer to matters of this world they explicitly instruct Muslims to deliberate, to disperse calmly throughout the land and not to rush against one another or to compete to attain worldly pleasures. Allaah The Almighty Says (what means):

“And hasten to forgiveness from your Lord and a garden as wide as the heavens and earth, prepared for the righteous.”
(Quran 3:133)

After describing the bliss of Paradise, Allaah Says (what means):
“So for this let the competitors compete.”
(Quran 83:26)

“O you who have believed, when [the Athaan] is called for the prayer on the day of Jumu‘ah [Friday], then proceed to the remembrance of Allaah and leave trade. That is better for you, if you only knew. And when the prayer has been concluded, disperse within the land and seek from the bounty of Allah, and remember Allah often that you may succeed.”
(Quran 62:9)

Many other verses also refer to this. There are also many texts of the Sunnah in this regard. These include:

The Hadeeth where the Prophet, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, said:

“There should be no envy except in two [cases]: [towards] a person whom Allaah has given [knowledge of] the Quran and he recites it throughout the night and day, and thus a neighbor of his hears him and says, ‘I wish I was given like so-and-so, and could do what he is doing.’ The second is [towards] a person whom Allaah has given wealth and he spends it for the sake of Allaah. A man says, ‘I wish I was given like so-and-so to do what he is doing.’”

Commenting on this Hadeeth, Ibn Hajar, RA, said, “The ‘envy’ that is mentioned in the Hadeeth refers to Ghibtah [envy that is free from malice]. It is merely figuratively named as such. Ghibtah means desiring someone else’s blessings without wishing him to be deprived of them. Keenness for this is called competition, and it is praiseworthy in acts of obedience.”

Other examples of praiseworthy competition are racing in acts of worship that only the forerunners can maintain the performance of, such as calling the Athaan (call to prayer), being in the first row in prayer and going early to congregational prayers. The Prophet, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, said:

“If people knew what virtue lies in the Athaan and [praying] in the first row, and they could not [obtain these opportunities] except by drawing lots, they would definitely do so. If they knew what virtue lies in going early to prayer, they would have vied with one another [to do so]. If they knew what virtue lies in the evening and morning prayers, they would definitely go to them, even if crawling on their knees.”

Moreover the Prophet, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, taught Muslims to hasten in matters of the Hereafter when he said:

“Hasten to do good acts before you are overtaken by temptation, which will be [gloomy] like parts of a dark night.”

In another Hadeeth he, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, said:

“Deliberation should be in everything except in one’s work for the Hereafter.”

The Companions of the Prophet, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, comprehended this lesson and they would thus vie with one another to win the pleasure of Allaah. Once the Prophet, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, asked them to give in charity, ‘Umar, RadiyAllahu Anhu, remarked, ‘At that time I had some money. I said, ‘Today I shall surpass Abu Bakr, if I am to ever surpass him on any day.’

I therefore brought half of my wealth. The Messenger of Allaah, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, asked:
“What have you left for your family?’

I replied, ‘The same amount.’

Abu Bakr, RadiyAllaahu Anhu, brought all that he had with him. The Messenger of Allaah, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, asked him:
“What have you left for your family?”

He replied:
‘I have left Allaah and His Messenger for them.’

Thereupon I said, ‘I shall never surpass him in anything.’”

On another occasion, Abu Bakr and ‘Umar heard the Messenger of Allaah, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, praising the way Ibn Mas‘ood recited the Quran, saying: “A person who wants to recite the Quran as tenderly as it was revealed should recite it in the same way as Ibn Umm ‘Abd does.” ‘Umar, RadiyAllaahu Anhu, hurried at night to convey these glad tidings to Ibn Mas‘ood, RadiyAllaahu Anhu. Ibn Mas‘ood, RadiyAllaahu Anhu, asked:
“Why have you come at this time?”

‘Umar, RadiyAllaahu Anhu, replied, “I bring you glad tidings of what the Messenger of Allaah has said about you.”

Ibn Mas‘ood, RadiyAllaahu Anhu, said to him:
“Abu Bakr has already preceded you.”

‘Umar, RadiyAllaahu Anhu, said:
“If he really did, then he usually does precede us in everything that is good. Whenever we compete against each other in goodness, Abu Bakr always wins!”

Such were the noble and sublime morals of these dignified people. They vied with one another but with love, respect and happiness, because the person whom Allaah has granted goodness and precedence is far above grudges, disdain or envy.

There is a great difference between such praiseworthy competition in matters of the Hereafter and competition in worldly matters or for perishable pleasures. The Prophet, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, warned Muslims against this latter type of competition when he said:

“Be happy and hope for what gives you delight. By Allaah, it is not poverty that I fear for you; rather, I am afraid that the pleasures of this life will be given to you in abundance as they were given in abundance to those who came before you, and you will begin to vie with one another for the sake of such pleasures as they did, and this will destroy you just as it destroyed them.”

Vying with others to attain worldly pleasures is what leads to envy. The Prophet, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, was afraid for his Ummah (nation) in this regard when Persia and Rome would be conquered by the Muslims. He said: “You will vie with one another, then you will shun one another and then you will hate one another…”

The righteous predecessors comprehended this meaning and they vied with one another in matters of the Hereafter. Such worldly pleasures were worthless in their eyes. Al-Hasan, RadiyAllaahu Anhu, said:
“By Allaah, I have witnessed people who consider life more trifling than the dust on which you walk. They did not care whether it gave anything to them or not.”
He also said, “If someone vies with you in your religion, you must vie with him; and if someone vies with you in this worldly life, then leave it to him.”

The Prophet, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, directed his Ummah to what is better when he said:

“Look at those who are below you and do not look at those who are above you, for this will not make the favors [conferred on you by Allaah] insignificant [in your eyes].”

However, competition in worldly life that aims at scoring great success or to make Muslims self-sufficient by inventing something or by achieving progress in the economic field, so as to free Muslims from their dependence on their enemies, with the intention of seeking the pleasure of Allaah and winning His Paradise, is good and praiseworthy competition as it is in fact related to the Hereafter.

We ask Allaah The Almighty to enable us to do every good and make all of us among the forerunners.