Barakah Culture vs. Hustle Culture: How to Win More Days Without Losing Your Soul
22 August 2019| 20 Dhul Hijjah 1440| Productive Muslim
Over the last few years, a new breed of motivational/self-help experts appeared on YouTube and wrote books on what many are now calling “Hustle Culture.” The ideas expressed by those operating within this community emphasise that to be successful you should always be working hard, getting the “impossible” done, and cutting sleep to start the hustle at 4:00 am.
This culture has arisen from the pressures of living in a global knowledge economy where to succeed and stand out, you need to do more, achieve more, and get more things done than anybody else, or you just won’t make it in life—or so you are told.
Recently, there has been a backlash against this culture, led by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, who famously referred to it as “Hustle Porn” and described how this type of culture and mentality is destroying people’s lives and leading them to increased stress, depression, and anxiety.
In this article, I wanted to showcase a model of productivity, which clearly contrasts the Hustle culture so prevalent in the self-help industry today. This model of productivity, first introduced in my book “The Productive Muslim: Where Faith Meets Productivity,” is based on the Islamic concept of “Barakah.” It incorporates the idea that “increase” or “benefit” comes from Allah (SWT) and is achieved through the alignment of body, mind, and soul to how He wants us to live on earth. It’s about how to achieve more with less, through the blessings of Allah instead of more with more through sheer grit and an exhausting drive towards material gain.
If you’re new to the concept of Barakah, watch this talk I gave at World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon (USA) in July 2017 on the topic of Barakah to learn more.
I explain below eleven ways that a culture rooted in Barakah is much more rewarding and sustainable than the soul-destroying hustle culture, and I suggest thought experiments for individuals and teams to practice implementing Barakah culture in a way that leads them to real success in this life and the next.
Ways Barakah Culture Outperforms Hustle Culture
1. God-Centric vs. Ego-Centric
إِلَّا ابْتِغَاءَ وَجْهِ رَبِّهِ الْأَعْلَىٰ. وَلَسَوْفَ يَرْضَىٰ
“But only seeking the countenance of his Lord, Most High. And he is going to be satisfied.” [Qur’an 92: 20-21]
لِّلَّذِينَ يُرِيدُونَ وَجْهَ اللَّهِ ۖ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ…
“…those who desire the countenance of Allah, and it is they who will be successful.” [Qur’an 30: 38]
أَرَأَيْتَ مَنِ اتَّخَذَ إِلَٰهَهُ هَوَاهُ أَفَأَنتَ تَكُونُ عَلَيْهِ وَكِيلًا
“Have you seen the one who takes as his god his own desire? Then would you be responsible for him?” [Qur’an 25:43]
Barakah culture is centred around knowing and connecting with Allah (SWT); not only through formal acts of worship, but through every word, deed, and the daily choices one makes. It springs from the Islamic philosophy of ‘ebada (worship) that centres on the capacity that human beings have for making conscious decisions and submitting their will to that of their Creator. This entails being mindful of God by acknowledging Him and His commands and revolving one’s personal and professional life around what one’s Creator loves.
By way of contrast, Hustle culture is all about serving the self, one’s ego, or what the Islamic tradition calls the “nafs,” a subtle substance that comes into existence when the soul enters the body. The nafs grows as a child does, and over the years, if it’s not nurtured spiritually or disciplined, it remains childish. This is why all of us know at least one adult who continues to be self-centred and sulky when they are old enough to know better. In the business sector, this behaviour is often manifested in the obsessive drive for personal success, —even if it’s at the expense of serving Allah or meeting the emotional needs of their loved ones.
If you watch the “wake up at 4” YouTube videos on Hustle culture, you’ll notice that the “star of the show” is holding a camera pointing towards themselves (their nafs?) hitting the alarm at four o’clock, making coffee, exercising, showering, working on their side business, and getting to work—all before they think anyone else even wakes up.
Perhaps the hustlers are not aware that millions of Muslims also wake earlier than most (even earlier than the self-proclaimed hustlers). The difference is the Muslim community does it for an entirely different purpose: to remember Allah, to pray, and to serve Him. And yes, some of them, also fit in other things in their “miracle morning” like exercising, showering, and working on their side business, but once they are done with their prayers.
Here’s the critical question: which do you think is more sustainable in the long run? Waking up early every day so that you can serve yourself? Or waking upearly every morning to serve Allah (SWT) because you recognize, He’s my Eternal Sustainer and the fact that this is what you have been created for?
When life only revolves around you feeding your ego, you’ll find yourself spinning in circles – some days being super productive, others not so much – all depending on your mood and how your nafs feels that day. Contrasted with this self-centred way, when your life revolves around Allah, it has a ripple effect not only on how you think but how you behave around others and how you live your life, leading to increased barakah in this life and the next.
2. Purpose- & Impact-Driven vs. Personal Success-Driven
وَأَنْ لَيْسَ لِلْإِنْسَانِ إِلَّا مَا سَعَى * وَأَنَّ سَعْيَهُ سَوْفَ يُرَى
“And that there is not for man except that [good] for which he strives. And that his effort is going to be seen –” (Qur’an 53: 39-40)
Barakah culture is about having a mission that extends beyond yourself. It stems from recognizing that your ultimate purpose is to worship Allah and act as His representative (khalifah)on earth.
وَإِذْ قَالَ رَبُّكَ لِلْمَلَائِكَةِ إِنِّي جَاعِلٌ فِي الْأَرْضِ خَلِيفَةً ۖ قَالُوا أَتَجْعَلُ فِيهَا مَن يُفْسِدُ فِيهَا وَيَسْفِكُ الدِّمَاءَ وَنَحْنُ نُسَبِّحُ بِحَمْدِكَ وَنُقَدِّسُ لَكَ ۖ قَالَ إِنِّي أَعْلَمُ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ
“And [mention, O Muhammad], when your Lord said to the angels, “Indeed, I will make upon the earth [khalifah] a successive authority….” [Qur’an 2: 30]
This is a position of trust and responsibility and calls for individuals and teams to think about how their lives need to carry meaning and impact beyond their bank accounts or profit lines. It demands that we live lives, both individually and collectively, that honour our calling as God’s khalifah on earth rather than working to serve ourselves and our own desires because we know we will be held to account for the choices we made.
In contrast, Hustle culture is all about personal success, measured in terms of —money, power, and fame. Sometimes it’s sugar-coated as “financial freedom,” or “leaving a legacy.” Though, in the end, if you dig deeper, it’s about the person and serving their own ego, or nafs, as we mentioned in the previous point
One way to test if a person is a purpose/impact driven vs. personal success-driven is to ask them to remove their name or any mention of themselves from whatever project they work on, or try to take the money, power, and fame off the table, and then see how far they go with the project. In other words, would they still give their 110% if they wouldn’t get fame, wealth, or power in return?
3. Hereafter Focus vs. Worldly Focus
مَن كَانَ يُرِيدُ حَرْثَ الْآخِرَةِ نَزِدْ لَهُ فِي حَرْثِهِ ۖ وَمَن كَانَ يُرِيدُ حَرْثَ الدُّنْيَا نُؤْتِهِ مِنْهَا وَمَا لَهُ فِي الْآخِرَةِ مِن نَّصِيبٍ
“Whoever desires the harvest of the Hereafter – We increase for him in his harvest. And whoever desires the harvest of this world – We give him thereof, but there is not for him in the Hereafter any share.” [Qur’an 42: 20]
Barakah culture is about taking a (very) long-term view of life and recognising that there’s life after death, and a day will come when our words and deeds will be held to account. The result is either an eternal abode in Heaven or Hellfire. Operating with this belief makes you consciously focus your life on the three investments that Prophet Muhammad taught us would continue to exist after our death: our children and their prayers for us after we die, an ongoing charity that’s genuinely sustainable and beneficial to people, and developing and spreading a useful body of knowledge that’s timeless.
Hustle culture takes a myopic, short-term view of life. It’s about the next quarterly report, the following annual review, and the next carrot in the never-ending game of corporate snakes and ladders. It’s fed by YOLO (You Only Live Once) mentality and acts that maximize pleasure for pleasure’s sake, and it pushes you to ‘get it all’ as quickly as possible—ideally yesterday.
An author adopting Barakah culture will write his/her book to last a thousand years, so it counts as a knowledge that benefits society long after they have gone. An author adopting Hustle culture, on the other hand, will focus only on hitting the best-seller lists within the first weeks of launch and rush through his book project because he or she is trying to catch a new “trend” before it’s too late.
4. Focus on Acceptance from Allah vs. Focus on Results
وَقُلِ اعْمَلُوا فَسَيَرَى اللَّهُ عَمَلَكُمْ وَرَسُولُهُ وَالْمُؤْمِنُونَ ۖ وَسَتُرَدُّونَ إِلَىٰ عَالِمِ الْغَيْبِ وَالشَّهَادَةِ فَيُنَبِّئُكُم بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ
“And say, “Do [as you will], for Allah will see your deeds, and [so, will] His Messenger and the believers. And you will be returned to the Knower of the unseen and the witnessed, and He will inform you of what you used to do.” [Qur’an 9: 105]
عَنْ عُمَرَ، أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ إِنَّمَا الأَعْمَالُ بِالنِّيَّاتِ، وَإِنَّمَا لِكُلِّ امْرِئٍ مَا نَوَى، فَمَنْ كَانَتْ هِجْرَتُهُ إِلَى دُنْيَا يُصِيبُهَا أَوْ إِلَى امْرَأَةٍ يَنْكِحُهَا فَهِجْرَتُهُ إِلَى مَا هَاجَرَ إِلَيْهِ
Narrated ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab: Allah’s Messenger said,
“The reward of deeds depends upon the intention and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended. So whoever emigrated for Allah and His Apostle, then his emigration was for Allah and His Apostle. And whoever emigrated for worldly benefits or for a woman to marry, his emigration was for what he emigrated for.” [Sahih al Bukhari]
Barakah culture is focused on delivering work that is pleasing to Allah. It focuses on the two conditions required for our actions to be accepted:
- Sincere, good intentions; and,
- Sincere effort & action.
Hustle culture, on the other hand, is focused on material results, where the ends justify the means.
Some readers might ask, “Surely focusing on material results is better than intentions and actions? What’s the point of having good intentions and working hard, if there are no results to show for it?”
The philosophical difference stems from recognizing “Who’s in control.” Individuals operating within Hustle culture, believe that we are in control of our own lives and the material results we achieve. Barakah focused individuals, on the other hand, recognize that Allah’s ultimately in charge and that our hard work is never wasted in this world or the next as long as our intentions are pure and we sincerely put our best efforts forward, regardless of the material results we achieve.
A metaphor to help you understand the difference is the Gardener Vs. A Carpenter: The Gardener plants his seeds, waters his land, and works hard on his garden, yet if the garden doesn’t bear fruit as expected, he accepts it as Allah’s decree, renews his intentions, and works harder (and smarter) for next season. He’s not upset at the outcome of his garden because his intentions were pure and he did everything possible to help his garden grow. He also knows that the rest was not up to him.
أَفَرَأَيْتُم مَّا تَحْرُثُونَ. أَأَنتُمْ تَزْرَعُونَهُ أَمْ نَحْنُ الزَّارِعُونَ
“And have you seen that [seed] which you sow? Is it you who makes it grow, or are We the grower?” [Qur’an 56:63-64]
A Carpenter has a fixed image of what his product needs to look like to be deemed a success. He’ll set out to achieve that perfect chair or table or cupboard. If the product fails to match his imagination, he’ll get annoyed with his tools, at himself, and might even get depressed because he thinks he’s not good enough. He finds the thought of not being in control overbearing.
In other words, Barakah culture is about focusing on what you can control—your intentions and your actions—and leaving what’s not within your control to Allah (SWT). Hustle culture is living the daily stress of trying to control the uncontrollable, under the false impression that expectations always meet reality. This issue becomes more pronounced with Parenting. Parents who adopt a “gardener mindset” with their children—do their best and do not stress about how they might turn out. They tend to be more successful than those parents who adopt a “carpenter mindset” and try to turn their children into the fixed image they have in their mind. These parents will feel like failures if their children don’t meet their expectations, regardless of how hard they worked to raise them well. [See The Carpenter and The Gardener]