1. God Loves it!
Simply put, you should excel because God loves those who excel! If God loves you, then you are among the best of the best in His sight. Is there any better or bigger success than that?
What would motivate someone to excel no matter how much people praise him/her for it, no matter how much money he/she earns in return, no matter how effort intensive, time consuming, cost demanding, or intellectually challenging it is, no matter how often he/she is inspected by his/her boss or parents? The love by God would.
The Mother of the Believers, ‘Ā’icha, may God be pleased with her, narrates that Prophet Muhammad, may God bless him and grant him peace, said, “Verily God loves that if someone performs a work, he perfects it.” People do different things for various reasons, legitimate or not: Money, fame, power, praise, joy, hobby, or fear of punishment. Numerous ways are tried to motivate people to do just their minimum required work, not to mention improving it. The love by God is a motive that guarantees your full and sincere dedication to achieving the best.
You want to be in constant connection with your Lord as if you see Him, if not, at least you act upon the fact that He sees you. Thus, you make sure that each action is done well. This connection serves as an incessant self-motivation as well as a self-inspection for excelling. Any inspection by someone else is not needed except for training or improvement purposes. Your supervisor will then not have to worry whether or not you have done your best to do your job well or you have done just the bare minimum to pass the inspection and earn the highest salary.
You want to excel primarily for the sake of seeking God’s love.
2. You Will Serve the Purpose of your Existence
One of the main reasons you should excel is to serve one of the purposes of your existence, which is to test the quality of your performance.
Everything God creates has a purpose. “Not without purpose did We create heaven and earth and all between! That is the opinion of Unbelievers! And woe to the Unbelievers, from the Fire!” “I have not created the jinn and humankind to any end other than that they may worship Me.” “He who has created death and life that He may test who amongst you is best in deeds.” Since we are returning to God to account for our work in this life, He has informed us in advance of the purpose of our existence so that we stay focused on it and serve it.
We will be judged on the quality of our attitudes and behaviors, and everything we do, say, or write. We will also be judged on what we fail to do when we can in fact do it.
You should see your life as a testing center where you are the student and the quality of your actions is being monitored, tested, and recorded. Your patience is tested every time you face a hardship. Your expertise is tested every time you do a job. Your veracity, fluency, and knowledge are tested every time you speak. Your character and attitude are tested every time you interact with your parents, spouse, children, friends, colleagues, supporters, and opponents. Your wisdom and strength are tested every time you are expected to defy what is unjust. Your faith is tested every time you are expected to perform an act of worship or abstain from a sin.
Your whole life is a non-stop test for quality until you return to your Lord. It is a test that is designed for you to grow and reach higher, not suffer and live a miserable life. If you believe in it and understand its benefits, you will enjoy life here and Hereafter. You may have two students taking the same test, one is enjoying it and the other is suffering from it. It all depends on how well prepared each one is.
3. You Will Fulfill an Aspect of the Highest Level of Faith
Another reason to excel is that it is one of the aspects of iḥsān that God enjoins. “Verily God enjoins justice and iḥsān.” One of the core tenets of the Prophetic Method is that Ihsan is the third and highest level of the Islamic Faith, the second level is īmān, and the first and basic level is islām (Yassine, 1998).
Islām is outward; it is the practice of the five pillars of the Islamic Faith: (1) profession of faith, (2) performance of ritual prayer, (3) giving of zakāt, (4) fasting during Ramadan, and, only if able financially and physically, (5) pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in one’s lifetime.
Īmān is inward; it builds on and empowers islām. Īmān is belief in God, His angels, His books, His messengers, the Last Day, and destiny both its good and bad. Practically, īmān is a comprehensive set of over seventy moral qualities, the highest of which is the declaration that there is no true god worthy of being worshipped but God the creator of the universe, and the lowest is the removal of a harmful object from the road.
Iḥsān builds on īmān and islām; given that it is quite challenging, it requires the company of those who have acquired it in order to be acquired. Its achiever joins the rank of the best people, true men and women of God. It consists of three aspects, the third of which is “to excel” (Yassine, 1998):
1- To reach the level where you “worship God as though you see Him, and if you cannot see Him, then indeed He sees you.” As narrated by Imām Abū Hurayra from Prophet Muhammad, may God bless him and grant him peace.
2- To serve God’s creation especially parents, family, friends, and the needy.
3- To excel in all aspects of life: personal, spiritual, professional, and communal.
4. You Will Achieve Better Results in this Life and the Next
One more reason to excel is that it produces the best results both in this life and in the next. You’ll enjoy life better while helping others do so too. In the next life, you will be given a premier-class paradise, called the Firdaws. On top of that, God will grant you the priceless and matchless reward: His contentment and the contemplation of His Face.
It is noteworthy that you don’t have to live a miserable life in order to earn a high degree in the next life. As long as your pursuit for excellence is in God’s way, it is surely possible to enjoy a fine life [ḥayāt ṭayyiba] while your rank in the afterlife is being elevated. God says: “For those who righteously excel, there is fine reward in this world, and indeed the abode of the Hereafter is better. And truly pleasant is the abode of the pious.”
Enhanced Enjoyment on Earth:
The better you perform, the better quality of life you and others enjoy. Excelling is all about striving for achieving more with less in this life, while reaching higher in the next. When you excel, you achieve what is more useful, beautiful, enjoyable, safe, secure, affordable, reliable, and durable, with less time, money, and effort.
The pursuit of excellence from an incessant desire produces new and better ideas, skills, tools, techniques, technologies, solutions, methods, strategies, plans, and processes, which all result in better behaviors, products, and services. The developing technologies, if used for a righteous cause, lead to a more enjoyable life and a greater bliss in the next.
Someone built the airplane to come up with a better means of transportation and military missions. Another invented the internet to come up with a better means of communication. Someone else discovered the DNA to better understand the hereditary material in life.
Excelling is rewarding in all spheres of life:
People enjoy well-cooked food, more stylish clothing, a more reliable car, a faster internet connection, a better protected computer, a more durable home, a more efficient appliance, a better education, and more freedom and security.
Most importantly, health conditions are improved and lives are saved. Excelling in medicine results in safer and more effective drugs and devices administrated by well educated and highly trained doctors and nurses. Natural medicine, when sufficiently funded, widely used, and well advanced, will be even better than traditional medicine, less costly, and above all, safer and more effective. Excelling by itself generates an enjoyable and indescribable feeling of doing something outstanding, a feeling that is by itself good for one’s health.
Premier Paradise in Heaven:
The reward of a premier-class in paradise is the ultimate result of your lifetime pursuit of righteous excellence, and it is the optimum return on your wise investments on earth.
It is a reward that is far better than anything in life, and it is permanent. “So whatever you have been given is but the enjoyment of the life of this world. But what is with God is better and more lasting for those who believe and put their trust in their Lord.” “Say: ‘Is that [Hellfire] better, or the Garden of Immortality which has been promised to the pious, which will be their reward and destination?’”
It is a reward that is gained according to the best of what one has achieved. So, good news, only the best counts towards your Hereafter account! “Whoever does righteous deeds, man or woman, and is a Believer, him [or her] verily We shall revive with a goodly life [spent in contentment here in the worldly life AND/OR spent in Paradise]. And We shall surely pay them their reward according to the best of what they used to do.”
It is a reward that surpasses what the doer mathematically merits. “If any does good, the reward to him is better than his deed; but if any does evil, the doers of evil are only punished to the extent of their deeds.”
But is it the same level of reward for all saved people? Imām Aḥmad narrates that Prophet Muhammad, may God bless him and grant him peace, said, “Let people work. Paradise is one hundred grades, and the distance between each of two grades is like the distance between the heaven and the earth. The highest and best of these grades is the Firdaws above which the Throne of the All-Merciful is located, and from which the rivers of paradise burst forth. So, when you ask God for something, ask for the Firdaws.”
The Priceless and Matchless Plus: Is paradise the only and best reward one can get in the Hereafter? God answers: “For those who righteously excel is paradise and more” “There in paradise they have all that they desire, and there is more with Us.” The “more” is far better than paradise and not even comparable to the Firdaws, its highest grade.
The contentment of God and seeing Him are the priceless and matchless plus on top of dwelling forever in the Firdaws!
God says: “Fair in the eyes of men is the love of things they covet: Women and sons; Heaped-up hoards of gold and silver; horses branded for blood and excellence; and wealth of cattle and well-tilled land. Such are the possessions of this world’s life; but with God is a more excellent abode. Say: Shall I give you glad tidings of things better than those? For the righteous are Gardens in nearness to their Lord, with rivers flowing beneath; therein is their eternal home; with companions pure; and the contentment of God. And God is watchful over His servants.”
Imām Abū Sa’īd al-Khudrī narrates that Prophet Muhammad, may God bless him and grant him peace, said, “God will tell the people of paradise: ‘O people of paradise!’ They will reply: At your service our Lord and for your pleasure, and good is in Your Hands. God will say: ‘Are you satisfied?’ they will reply, why wouldn’t we be satisfied, O our Lord? Truly, You have given us that which you haven’t given anyone of your creation ever. God will say: ‘Shall I give you better than that?’ They will reply: O our Lord, is there anything better than that? God will say: ‘I bestow My contentment upon you and will never be displeased with you.’”
How often you will enjoy the seeing of God in the Hereafter depends on how best you did in this life. So, aim with faith for the priceless and matchless plus, God will grant it if you truly try your best, achieve and sustain your highest possible level of excellence, then work on advancing it.