January the 1st was always an important day. For most of the world, it was the New Year’s celebration that warranted such significance. However, for the students of a particular sixth-grade class, the day marked something else – doomsday. In other words, the result day.
Umar Khan, like his classmates, was anxious when he set out for the school that day. New Year’s Day was a national holiday but Umar’s school, as usual, had to go against tradition. It was the last day of their winter vacation, but the school had still decided to ask the students and their parents to come to the school for an hour or so to collect the result and meet with the teachers.
As he dressed, Umar kept thinking about what was awaiting him. An A+ student, Umar was used to being at the top of the class. Well, almost the top. There was one other student who always seemed to be a mark or two above Umar. Abu Bakr. It was ironic then, that the two were best friends, inseparable really. Abu Bakr never went where Umar didn’t, and vice versa. Both were devoted football fans, both avid sci-fi readers and both were always competing for first place in academics. Of the past three tests that year, Abu Bakr had surpassed Umar in two. Now, Umar was adamant that he take the lead.
As Umar brought up his hand to button his sweater, he felt his fingers shaking.
What is wrong with you? he thought. It’s just the result of a mid-term exam. You take these every year, why are you so nervous today?
But Umar knew exactly why he was nervous; his competitive streak was showing and if he didn’t get higher marks than Abu Bakr today, ‘disappointed’ would be a mild term for what he would feel then.
“Umaaaar!” a voice called out. “Come down already, we’ll be late!” Umar’s mother, Sumaiya was a woman who, unlike other people in her community, believed in being punctual, always. Umar, on the other hand…
He hurried into the car, his parents already waiting for him. As his parents began discussing what they thought Umar’s result would be like this year, Umar tuned out their voices and instead began to silently pray to Allah. The nearer they got to the school, the faster his heart seemed to beat. He knew that the only one who could help him now was God Almighty. He began to frantically pray, Allah Ta’ala, please please please make it so that I am first and Abu Bakr is second. Please! Ya Allah, I worked really hard for this, please!
As they got to the school, he saw Abu Bakr too, exiting his own car with his parents. He waved Umar over as he located him, “Umar! Over here!”
“Asalaamualaikum!” Umar greeted.
“Wa Alaikum as salaam” his friend replied. “What’s wrong, you look incredibly pale?”
“Nothing”, Umar said in a faint voice, “just a little nervous…about the result.”
Abu Bakr patted him comfortingly on the back, “It’ll be fine, I’m sure you did well, you always do!”
“Not better than you, though”, Umar muttered under his breath.
If Abu Bakr heard his remark, he chose to ignore it as they both arrived at their classroom, where the report cards were now being handed out.
The teacher in charge, Miss Farah’s face lit up into a huge smile as she spotted the boys and their parents entering the classroom.
“Abu Bakr, Umar!” she called out. “Congratulations boys! You’re in first and second place, as usual! I’m so proud of you!” she smiled sweetly.
His heart now pounding against his chest, Umar accepted his report card and quickly scanned over the details before his gaze landed on the bottom of the page where the aggregate percentage of the term was written – 94%.
His heart swelled up with the same joy it did every time he received his results. He looked up at his parents and saw them beaming at him with pride. He moved to tell Abu Bakr the news, but then…his entire world came crashing down when he saw his friend’s glowing face. He peeked into Abu Bakr’s report and there it was…a whopping 96%…
All the joy he had felt a mere moment ago seemed to have dispersed within a second. He had lost, yet again.
Umar knew it was petty, he knew he was acting irrationally, but he just couldn’t help himself. Why did Abu Bakr always win? Why was it that after all the hard work, all the revision, all the practice, he was still second best? Why?
Suddenly, he wanted to go home. He couldn’t stay in the stuffy classroom any longer, where teachers and students alike were singing hymns in Abu Bakr’s praise. Tugging on his parents, he urged them to go. They followed, aiming questioning glances at him.
They had made it to the parking lot when a voice called out.
“Umar, stop!” Abu Bakr came running after his friend, panting as he struggled to catch his breath.
“Where are you going in such a hurry? I didn’t even get the chance to congratulate you!”
Inadvertently, tears had crept into Umar’s eyes. What was wrong with him? Abu Bakr was his best friend, he should have been happy for him; Umar should have been the one congratulating him.
“I’m sorry” Umar stammered, “I just wanted to leave early”.
Abu Bakr, being the friend he was, smiled knowingly at Umar.
“You’re upset about the result, aren’t you?” he asked. “That you weren’t first?”
Umar didn’t reply at first. Then, “No matter what I do, you’re always one step ahead of me,” he said at last, “I am happy at your successes, but I’m also upset that I wasn’t as good as you”.
Umar’s mother began to say something, but his father motioned at her to remain silent.
“Let them sort this out themselves” he whispered to her.
Abu Bakr seemed to think about what Umar had said to him for a moment, and then replied quietly, “You do know that a mark or two doesn’t really make a difference, right?”
“To students like us, who have been gifted with intelligence Alhamdulillah, scoring marks is not a very big deal. I think we need to busy ourselves in something else. Some other kind of challenge, something that will make us work up to our potential, something in which every mark will count.”
Umar, now thoroughly confused by his friend’s words asked, “What do you mean? What are you talking about?”
Abu Bakr explained with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, “What I mean is, let us compete in good deeds. By now, we both know we are good at studies Alhamdulillah. I am not suggesting we should stop studying for school, rather, I just think we should look further. There are habits in both of us that are far from perfect. I say – let’s compete in becoming better Muslims; let’s see who wins this game? What do you say?”
A small smile began to form on Umar’s face. All hard feelings for his friend began to fade away as he said, “I say, the game is on!”
As the months dragged by, families of both the boys began to wonder time and time again what miracle had brought such a change in Umar and Abu Bakr. Winter blossomed into spring; spring became summer, the two boys still hard at work to become the more pious Muslim in front of Allah (SWT).
When Abu Bakr decided he was going to start memorizing portions of the Holy Quran, Umar followed suit. In the two months since their mid-term result, Abu Bakr had memorized over half of the 30th Juz’, while Umar was just a few Surahs behind him.
When Umar came up with the brilliant idea of donating a portion of his pocket money to their school’s charity fund, Abu Bakr surprised him by giving away all of his allowances. At times like these, Umar’s frustration with Abu Bakr would often resurface. But then, he would calm himself down as he would remind himself what he was doing and that the only way to really be a winner was for him to work even harder.
One day, at school, the principal decided to pay a surprise visit to the sixth grade. Mr. Imad Nadeem – the principal, was known for being kind-hearted and fair, and though he was never stern with the students, he always seemed to hold a sway over the room in which he was present. Perhaps it was this very quality that made him the principal, Umar wondered.
“Asalaamualaikum students! I am here today on very important business. As you all know, our school will soon be holding an educational conference; we will be inviting speakers from around the country and will be working to improve the standard of education in our school and other schools throughout the city. Now, along with your teachers, I have handpicked a student from every class who will be representing our school at the conference and will be assisting the teachers in the program. The student we have chosen from each class was based not on academic achievements but on that student’s discipline, character, and manners.”
Sir Imad paused for a moment before he continued, “I am proud to announce that the student chosen from sixth grade is….Abu Bakr!”
The class erupted into applause and Abu Bakr sat glued to his chair, his eyes wide as if he couldn’t believe his luck.
Umar could. The same that happened every time was happening again. Whether it was academics, or sports or righteousness, Abu Bakr always won.
That evening, as Umar sat in his room, bent over his homework, a knock sounded on his bedroom door. A moment later his father entered the room and plopped down on Umar’s bed.
After a moment of silence, Shaukat Khan, Umar’s father spoke, his voice low and gentle, “Your mother told me about what happened today, at school.”
Umar looked up at his father, and suddenly, it all came pouring out; what he felt like when Abu Bakr surpassed him in studies, how he had agreed to compete with his friend in becoming better Muslims, how Abu Bakr had nagged the position of most ‘well mannered’ as well and had been chosen by the principal.
By the time he had finished, Umar had become teary eyed again and his father beckoned towards him, to join him on the bed. Umar got up from his chair at his desk and sat down next to his father, laying his head on his Baba’s shoulder like he would do when he was younger.
“Let me tell you a story, Umar”, Baba said as he stroked Umar’s head. “You know, of course about the man you were named after – Umar ibn al-Khattab (RA), companion of the Prophet (SAW), Ameer ul Momineen, father of Hafsa (RA), he was one of the greatest leaders of all times. All my life I was inspired by this great personality; his physical strength, his strength of faith and his humbleness, there truly was no other man like him.The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said once: “If there were to be a prophet after me, indeed he would be Umar, son of Khattab.” [Sunan Tirmidhi, Hadith 3686]
I think that is more than enough to explain how extraordinary a man Umar (RA) was. However, the story I am about to tell you is of Umar (RA) and Abu Bakr (RA).
In the ninth year after migration to Madinah, the Prophet (SAW) led an expedition to Tabuk. The season was extremely hot and dry. It was also time for the harvesting of dates which were an important staple in the Arab diet. Overall, it was a very unfavorable time for the expedition to take place. But as the Prophet of Allah (SAW) asked the companions to pitch in some money and supplies, they all jumped at the opportunity to be able to please their Prophet (SAW) and their God. Uthman (RA) donated a thousand dinars, three hundred camels with goods on them and fifty horses to support the Muslim army. Muslim women contributed by giving away their ornaments of gold and silver. Umar (RA), staunch in faith, was foremost in spending in the way of Allah; he gathered all the belongings of his house and gave half of them to the Prophet (SAW) to be used to support the expedition.”
Umar looked up at his father in awe, “Literally half of his belongings?!”
His father laughed, “Yes! Literally! It says in a Sahih narration that:
Umar (RA) said to himself, “I will surpass Abu Bakr today.” He brought half of his property to the Prophet.
The Messenger of God (SAW) asked, “O Umar! What did you leave to your family?”
He said, “As much as I brought to you.” (Tirmidhi, Sunan, Vol. 5, p. 615.)
Abu Bakr (RA) brought all of his property, which amounted to four thousand dirhams of silver to the Prophet.
Umar (RA) wanted to find out what he brought.
The Prophet (SAW) said, “O Abu Bakr! What did you leave to your family?”
He said, “I left God and His Messenger to them.” (Tirmidhi, ibid, Vol. 5, p. 615.)
Upon this sacrifice, Umar (RA) started to cry and said, “May my mother and father be sacrificed for you, O Abu Bakr! You always surpass me in all of the races of goodness. I have now realized that I will never be able to surpass you.” (Tirmidhi, ibid, Vol. 5, p. 615; Ibn Athir, Usdu’l Ghaba, Vol. 3, p. 327.)
The point of telling you this story was to make you understand what the closest of the Prophet’s (SAW) companions were like. They would compete with each other in good deeds, striving to be better than one another, but there was something important that they would never forget during this game of virtues – their intention. Umar (RA) would often compete with Abu Bakr (RA), eventually realizing that he could never outdo Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq, the closest friend of the Prophet (SAW). However, this realization did not in any way make Umar (RA) hold back on his desire to please Allah and His Messenger. That was because his intentions were pure. Every good deed he did, he did for Allah (SWT).
That is what I want you to understand too Umar. This game you and Abu Bakr are playing, it is something very good; competing with each other in good deeds. But I’m afraid this entire thing means absolutely nothing if you’re not doing it for the right reasons. Good deeds aren’t meant to be done simply to win a game, they are meant to be done with sincerity and faith, solely for the pleasure of Allah (SWT). If you do that, then Allah will surely reward you accordingly.”
As Baba finished speaking, Umar suddenly wrapped his arms around his father. “Thank you! Baba. I understand what you’re trying to tell me.” He laughed shakily. “I’ve been acting like such a child, I guess I really did need an eye opener.”
Baba patted Umar on the back and added, “One more thing, Umar, even if Abu Bakr does manage to surpass you, never lose heart. Your good deeds are for Allah and only Allah can judge what deed weighs heavier.”
Umar smiled up at his father and nodded. It seemed as if an incredible burden had been lifted from his chest.
The day of the education conference arrived; the students would be given the day off early since the conference had been organized for the benefit of the teachers, parents, and administration. As Umar waited for his ride in the courtyard of the school, he spotted Abu Bakr standing near the entrance to the building, ready to welcome any guests that may arrive. Abu Bakr was dressed in a black suit, his boots polished and usual unruly hair lying flat. He looked like the perfect student he was supposed to be, and for the first time ever, Umar’s heart did not clench at the sight of that picture perfect sight. He heaved a sigh and walked over to his best friend.
“Abu Bakr”, he said.
Abu Bakr looked at Umar with a start, his face breaking into the casual smile he had reserved especially for his best friend.
“You look…” Umar trailed off, failing to find a suitable word.
Abu Bakr sighed in mock disappointment, “I know, this hair is just… not me” he ran his hand through his hair messing it up to look like it usually did. “That’s better!”
The boys looked at each other for a second and then burst into laughter.
When the last of the amusement had faded away, Umar grew solemn and started towards his friend.
“Abu Bakr” he began, “I wanted to congratulate you, for being selected. I am so proud of you.”
With that, he stepped forward and embraced his best friend and for the first time in a very long while he did not feel envious of Abu Bakr. Rather, he was content that his matter was with Allah (SWT) and that his deeds would never go unrewarded. For Umar, that was more than enough.