"That's right, take that ball away from her!!!"
That's me on Saturday mornings, cheerleading from the bleachers where I sit perched at the edge of my seat, flanked by my husband and two younger ones (who know better than to talk to me during game time!) The games can get pretty intense and--surprise, surprise--my daughter quite aggressive.
I was fine with that until that competitiveness started dribbling off the court and into our life in all sorts of unexpected ways. Suffice it to say, shortly into the season I knew I needed to get my daughter (as well as myself) coached on the proper role of competitiveness as outlined by God, who calls this life of ours "play and amusement." (Quran 57:20)
The spirit of mutual rivalry is essential for human struggle and progress, and it can inspire supreme achievements as long as it is channelled the correct way. That way is by competing with others to attain higher values and perform good deeds for the pleasure of God. Indeed, scoring points with God is the only way to bring lasting success in this world and the eternal Hereafter.
God says: "Compete with each other in good action," (2: 148) and "Strive (as in a race) in all virtues." (5: 48)
Ali, the husband of Fatima (one of the four perfect women of all times) called this life a "competition ground," and Hussain, their son, advised: "O People! Do compete in good deeds and haste in grabbing good chances. By delaying good deeds you reduce their value."
"When you compete in goodness then what happens?" asks scholar Muhammad Baig. "You are not trying to put down the other. You gain what you gain and he will gain what he gains. Everyone wins."
God equips us with many blessings (such as health, wealth, children, intelligence, skills) to help us achieve great things. But most of us get caught up in competing over those tools and forget our end goal: striving to please and get nearer to God.
"Rivalry for worldly gain distracts you, until you visit your graves. Indeed, you shall know. Again, you shall certainly come to know." (102:1-4)
"It's like spending your whole time on the court fighting with each other over who has more and better balls, uniforms and shoes," I told my daughter, "and forgetting to use them to score baskets."
Unfortunately, we live in an era where insatiable greed for amassing more and more material wealth for self-pleasure has reached epic proportions.
"Those who today have set a part of the world on fire, who spill blood and who kill, do this because they are competing with each other in looting the nations of the world and swallowing their wealth and the products of their labor, and in bringing the weak and underdeveloped countries under their domination and control," said Imam Khomeini, leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran.
There are, however, many burgeoning movements focused on creating a more just and peaceful world, where people compete with each other in doing good instead of collecting goods. But they have their work cut out for them.
"We have to know how the game is played," says Imam Abdul Alim Musa of Masjid Al-Islam in Washington. "We gotta get big, we gotta get better organized. We have to gain more wealth and power, not to buy a new car or fly around the world to some resort but to use the power and position to stop" oppression.
All things said, there is one competition I wouldn't mind bringing into our house: To ease the other's burdens, the late scholar Allama Tabatabai and his wife "always used to try and compete in carrying out household chores before each other," according to their daughter Najma Sadat Tabatabai.
Now losing this game wouldn't be so bad....