Khabib Nurmagomedov won a famous victory a few days ago and promptly retired with a 29-0 record. He is at the peak of his powers but he retired on the request of his mother.
He revealed his secret in a tweet:
Khabib grew up in a simple village in the mountainous Dagestan but he had a wildly ambitious (some would say impossible) dream – and he delivered on that.
Khabib epitomises the indomitable, visionary and deeply spiritual tradition of our religion and our ummah. But this is a tradition we have forgotten in recent years.
Our religion demands us to push boundaries, to see the unseen, to shape the future though it may seem impossible, to go through hardship with a smile, to believe.
We have a glorious tapestry of heroes to look back to – both men and women.
This article is all about reminding us of that.
But I hope to more than just remind and inspire. I end this article by sketching out how you can really practically step up and join this tapestry.
Allah sets us example after example of people who believed. People who dreamed the impossible. People who ran through brick walls because of their belief.
Musa led his people in the dark of the night out of the city of the Pharaoh and they raced towards the Red Sea on foot. But the Pharaoh gave pursuit with his entire army on horseback and chariots.
Very soon he had them cornered on the banks of the Red Sea. This rag-tag group of unarmed slaves had reached the end of the road.
At that moment – when the Children of Israel could see the faces of the Pharaoh and his army – they lost faith:
And when the groups came face to face, the companions of Moses cried out: “We are overtaken!”
But Musa’s response is one that echoes through the centuries to this day. At that crunch moment, with impending disaster seconds away, this was Musa’s response:
Moses said: “Certainly not. My Lord is with me; He will direct me.” [26:61 – 62]
Musa dared to dream. Musa dared to believe.
The seas parted.
And what happens when you dare to dream; when you dare to believe?
Allah’s help will come.
And whoever fears Allah – He will make for him a way out.
And He will provide him from sources he never could imagine. And whosoever puts his trust in Allah, then He will suffice him. Verily, Allah will accomplish his purpose. Indeed Allah has set a measure for all things. [65:2-3]
When the pains of labour drove Maryam, alone, to the trunk of a palm tree, far away from her family, she said:
“Alas! I wish I had died before this, and was a thing long forgotten!”
This was Maryam’s breaking point. She had pushed all the way to that point – and Allah had seen that. Now see what Allah did:
So a voice (Isa, the child) reassured her from below her, “Do not grieve! Your Lord has provided a stream at your feet. And shake the trunk of this palm tree towards you, it will drop fresh, ripe dates upon you. So eat and drink, and put your heart at ease.” [19: 23-25]
Now you might say “Ibrahim, these were chosen people – they had miracles done to them – of course they believed and dreamed. We can never attain their levels.”
But have you ever paused to consider that perhaps it is the other way around? Perhaps the miracles happened to them because they believed and dreamed?
When you are old and your mental and physical capabilities are waning, it is very hard to back yourself. It is very hard to truly believe.
But that is what Yaqoob did. He had no rational reason for believing that Yusuf was still alive or for harbouring hopes of being reunited with him one day but he dreamed and believed throughout. He cried to Allah and asked him alone for His help.
He sensed things others did not or could not:
And when the caravan departed, their father said: “I do indeed feel the smell of Yusuf (Joseph), if only you think me not a dotard (a person who has weakness of mind because of old age).” They said: “By Allah! Certainly, you are in your old error.”
But Yaqoob was right.
Then when the bearer of the good news came, He cast (the shirt of Yusuf) over his face, and he forthwith regained clear sight. He said: “Did I not say to you, ‘I know from Allah that which ye know not?’” [12: 94-96]
Yaqoob dared to believe. He dared to dream.
Given the Qur’an enjoins us at every turn to believe and dream, it is no surprise our Prophet (PBUH) epitomised this same message.
Islam started in a rocky, barren, hot desert. The Arabs were nobodies, and within the Arabs, the tiny number of Muslims were complete nobodies.
But at that point, the Prophet declared:
“When Chosroes dies, there will be no Chosroes after him. And when Caesar dies, there will be no Caesar after him. And I swear by the One in whose hand is Muhammad’s soul, their treasures will be spent in the path of God.” [Bukhari]
And you know what is even more remarkable than the conviction of saying those things when few or none would believe it?
That it actually came true.
The Prophet saw things others didn’t. Yes, it helped that he was a Prophet, but he too had to learn to embrace these radical new futures when they were presented to him.
The first times he heard and saw Gabriel, he was petrified and confused. But he rose to the occasion and believed.
He believed when Islam faced destruction and Muslims were on the backfoot. No rational being without belief could have accepted these statements would come true.
The Prophet embodied this steel-like inner conviction throughout his Prophethood.
Here’s what happened during the battle of the trench:
Al-Bara said: On the Day of Al-Khandaq (the trench) there stood out a rock too immune for our spades to break up. We therefore went to see Allah’s Messenger for advice. He took the spade, and said: “In the Name of Allah” Then he struck it saying: “Allah is Most Great, I have been given the keys of Ash-Sham (Greater Syria).
By Allah, I can see its red palaces at the moment;” on the second strike he said: “Allah is Most Great, I have been given Persia. By Allah, I can now see the white palace of Madain;” and for the third time he struck the rock saying: “In the Name of Allah,” shattering the rest of the rock, and he said: “Allah is Most Great, I have been given the keys of Yemen. By Allah, I can see the gates of San’a while I am in my place.” [Ahmad & Nasai]
I can only imagine the power of seeing your leader have that level of conviction.
It drove his Companions to deliver on these visions.
And there’s perhaps the most famous prediction.
Constantinople was the most powerful city at the time, the seat of the Roman empire, and an ancient unconquered place. To even think it would fall took a fair strength of imagination. But the Prophet – this man in a desert with a handful of poor malnourished followers – dared to believe.
“Constantinople will certainly be liberated, and how excellent a leader will its leader be, and how excellent an army that army will be.” [Ahmad]
And in 1453, after multiple unsuccessful attempts, the city finally fell to Muhammad Al-Fatih. Today it is called Istanbul.
You might be thinking at this point “he’s given us examples of Prophets. The best of creation. I can’t be like that.”
You can. But there are also many examples of ordinary people who dared to believe; who dared to dream.
Our history is peppered with these examples.
Muhammad bin Qasim conquered Sindh as a teenager.
Hundreds of years before Da Vinci, 9th century polymath Abbas Ibn Firnas tried to fly with wings and broke his back in the attempt – but he did fly for a short period. He dreamed the future and dared to believe.
He failed, sure, but here we are talking about him in 2020.
In 859, a young woman called Fatima al-Firhi set up the first ever degree-granting university in the world in Fez, Morrocco. Over 1200 years on, the university still runs, and has inspired thousands of other universities we have all benefited from.
The al-Firhi sisters dared to dream, they dared to believe.
In the 13th century, Islam was almost wiped off the face of this earth at the hands of the Mongol invaders.
But we owe our thanks to a small handful of incredibly obscure individuals.
The grandson of Genghis Khan, Berke reverted to Islam because of the efforts of a dervish from Khorazm – Saifudin Dervish.
And other Mongol leaders became Muslims due to the influence of their Muslim wives.
Islam was rescued when all hope was lost due in large part to the da’wah efforts of these believing women. Many were captured slaves, separated forever from their families, wedded to barbaric and uncouth men who were responsible for all their suffering.
And yet they didn’t curl up and give up. They dared to dream. They dared to believe. They rescued Islam.
Where you fit into this glorious tapestry
Muslims and Islam are weak and suffering everywhere we look.
The mantle for innovation, progress, and research has passed over to the USA, Europe, Israel, China, Japan and South Korea.
Muslims are among the poorest people in the world today. In the UK alone, half of Muslims live in the 10% poorest areas.
In short, there are a lot of challenges.
But this is where you come in.
It will take real dreamers and believers to get us out of this mess.
It will take people who are willing to take the path untrodden, who are willing to see a future others cannot, who are willing to work for that future.
It will need efforts in economics, politics, culture, arts, research, agriculture, media, infrastructure, medicine and much more.
Khabib did it in his sphere, Abdul Sattar Edhi did it in his, we’re trying to do our tiny bit in the economic sphere and others are doing it in theirs. But there are so many more spheres and arenas out there.
Pick one and start dreaming; start believing.
We are Khabib Nurmagomedov’s people. We are a nation of dreamers.