Maulana Wahiduddin Khan | Principles of Life | Al-Risala November, 1987

Ours is a world of cause and effect and yet, with the best will in the world, we cannot always ‘cause’ the desired ‘effects’ to be produced. If we are to feel at all certain about attaining our objectives, we should forget about past successes and give our attention to past failures. We can think of instances of well-thought-out plans going wrong, apparently because of human or mechanical errors, or because of other circumstances beyond our control. Sometimes we have had to stand by helplessly, unable to influence the sequence of events or their outcome, and we have not been able to pin-point the exact reason.

Sometimes we have overestimated the extent to which it is humanly possible to be instrumental in any given set of circumstances, but more often we have been baulked of the fruits of success because of a damaging inability to change or discard a brilliantly conceived plan. No matter how well facts are marshalled, or how intelligently reasoned a plan is, these virtues exist only at the time of conception, and frequently lose in value as the situation develops. Unforeseen factors are constantly cropping up, and human unpredictability can reduce the best of planning to chaos. Once this has been understood, we have to make prompt modifications-major as well as minor-and sometimes we simply have to start all over again. We have to check for errors of judgement, see if alternative interpretations of facts are possible, and take into account every new and changed element in the situation in order to check out a fresh course of action. However, many of us choose to ignore new sets of circumstances and deliberately avoid adapting to them, because we feel it smacks of weakness and indecision. But such action should never be so labelled. Rather, it should be seen as a superior kind of creative adaptability. Emile Chartier, the French philosopher, once remarked that “Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it is the only one you have.”

Prophet Mohammad’s life is a splendid example of such adaptability, especially in his battle strategy. At the time of the Badr campaign he did fight against the enemy, but at Ahzaab, he thwarted the enemy by having a trench dug which they were unable to cross. During the campaign of Uhud, he fought with his opponents, but at Hudaybiyyah, he returned from the battle ground without actually having fought a battle. At Hamra AI-Asad, he marched openly and ­publicly, whereas, when he went to conquer Mecca, the journey was made in absolute silence.

Adapting oneself to circumstances should never be thought of as weak-mindedness or a lack of resolution but should rather be seen as the intelligent tactician’s formula for keeping success within his grasp.