Over the years, one of the spiritual concepts that has fascinated me the most is Barakah. As profound and powerful as it is abstract and elusive, it's a notion that I have contemplated, discussed, and tried to apply in both a professional and personal context, and one that continues to inspire me whenever I see it in action for myself or others.
Those who have joined my online program, The Heart of Design, will know how central the concept is to me and my work, and why I believe it's important for us all to consider — not just as designers or creative professionals, but as human beings who hope to illuminate our lives and the lives of those around us.
One of my greatest sources of understanding and application when it comes to Barakah is my dear friend Mohammed Faris — founder of The Productive Muslim Company, and a long-term pillar support and companionship for me personally.
Through The Productive Muslim, Mohammed’s life work is to combine spirituality with productivity science, and — in his own words — “showcase the relevance of Islam in helping human beings live productive, meaningful lives”.
Since launching some 15 years ago, the organisation has grown from a personal blog to a global professional training company, welcoming more than 30,000 people to its programs, winning numerous awards, and enjoying close to 1.5 million social media followers.
Across his courses, his book The Productive Muslim, on his retreats, and through his Barakah Journal, one of the things Mohammed does expertly is distil the meaning and mechanics of Barakah, which can often be difficult to understand clearly.
“After years of doing research on this topic, this is actually the number one question I’ve asked other people,” he told me when I asked him to explain what he means by the word Barakah.
“It’s fascinating how it’s answered differently between different people. The best answer I’ve got is that there’s a web of meanings. And because it’s related to the Divine, it’s hard to grasp, or put together a specific definition.
“Most definitions come down to things like ‘abundant, flowing, positive, divine energy that enters a thing’ — a tangible intangible that works in mysterious ways beyond logic to create an effect.
“Some scholars describe it as a hidden soldier of the soul. Meaning Allah sends Barakah into something like one of his soldiers. So it might enter your time, or your family, or your laptop, or your sleep, or your food. And it does some kind of spiritual chemical reaction there that leads to a benefit of abundance or goodness that’s hard to describe.
“Some scholars describe it as a hidden soldier of the soul. Meaning Allah sends Barakah into something like one of his soldiers.”
“One example that many of us have experienced is when you invite friends over for dinner and you’ve prepared food for 10 people. But then one of your friends brings his whole family, and you look at the food and think it’s not going to be enough. But the Barakah is that it’s always enough. Sometimes there’s even leftovers as well. That’s a manifestation of Barakah as a result of your good intention to bring people over and feed them.
“There is the scholarly definition, which is ‘the attachment of divine goodness to a thing’, but it’s really a web of meaning, and for us right now we’re trying to figure out what’s in that web — figure out the different meanings and how we can tap into them.”
I love and resonate with Mohammed’s examples and explanations. He articulates what I’ve seen in countless settings and situations. Something arrives at just the right time, or an opening suddenly appears that cannot be a coincidence. Sometimes it’s a new person, relationship or connection that brings welcome life, energy, blessings and barakah into a project, event, program or concept – feeling like a sign of encouragement from the Divine.
The invisible hand
Having a theoretical understanding of Barakah and how it works is one thing, but being able to notice it and appreciate it when it’s actually taking place is quite another.
It’s not unusual, for example, for good things to happen with our work and for us to consider it as either luck, coincidence, or the results of our own hard work. But as Mohammed says, if we were to really take the time to look at how events have led to that ‘good thing’ happening, we would surely see something bigger at play.
“This is Barakah,” he says. “It’s Allah aligning things so perfectly that you look back and think ‘I could not have planned this’. Things had to align so perfectly to get to this exact point — you can’t just see it as cause and effect any more; it’s beyond that.
“And the danger — especially for entrepreneurs and start-ups — is that we tend to say it’s from our hard work. Because we do experience all of the hard work. We show up early every day, go into the office, do all this stuff, and we want to attribute that success to ourselves. You almost don’t want to recognise that there’s a spiritual invisible hand at work. But it’s the Barakah effect that moves things and arranges things for you.”
“We show up early every day, go into the office, do all this stuff, and we want to attribute that success to ourselves. You almost don’t want to recognise that there’s a spiritual invisible hand at work.”
This ‘invisible hand’ is something our design team has experienced first-hand. In the early months of 2022 we were working on a project concept that was in development for some time, with no certainty of success. We felt committed to the vision and aligned with its intention and message, so kept going despite that lack of certainty. There were several times it was near to launch, but something held us back, and we strived and struggled through hundreds of additional hours in pursuit of making it better. When we finally launched, the timing was ideal for the market, and the product sold many multiples more than we could have imagined (alhamdulillah). There was an unseen Barakah at work that was completely out of our hands.
As somebody who aspires to walk the spiritual path, and has seen these things in action, I can accept that there is this unseen Barakah at work that is totally outside of our command. Julia Cameron put it beautifully when she said, “creativity is a process of surrender, not control”. . But as someone on the entrepreneurial path, living and working in fast-paced industries, where time is of the essence and results are demanded quicker than ever, this surrender is a struggle to navigate. I wondered whether Mohammed had any suggestions for accelerating or amplifying the Barakah process? Or ensuring we get it as quickly and easily as possible?
“The paradox of Barakah is that you can’t seek Barakah for the sake of Barakah,” laughs Mohammed.
“An example that a lot of us do as Muslims is that we’ll say ‘I’m going to fast so that I can get some Barakah’, or ‘I’m going to pray to get some Barakah’. Almost like it’s a transactional relationship with Allah. But it doesn’t work like that. We all want Barakah in our lives, but we can’t seek it out in that way.
“You need to focus on what you’re doing with the right mindset and values, not expecting anything in return, and then Allah — if he wants to — will gift you that Barakah. But it can’t be the prime objective of your life. The objective should be doing what you’re doing in the best possible way, with the best possible approach.
“You need to focus on what you’re doing with the right mindset and values, not expecting anything in return, and then Allah — if he wants to — will gift you that Barakah.”
“Having said all of that, there are certain natural laws — cosmic, universal, Allah-centric laws that he put into the universe that we can tap into. Prophet Muhammed (SAW) said that there’s Barakah in the early hours. So there’s something about the morning hours that’s special and we can easily make use of. There’s also Barakah in sheep, for example; so if you’re a farmer, then that’s a good livestock to keep.
“There’s Barakah in giving charity, Barakah in parents, and in so many other things, and we can tap into those. But the intention should be to please God — not about us wanting something in return. That kind of sincerity is the key to Barakah.”
Barakah in the business world
Across my career as a designer, I’ve seen countless creative professionals and their teams work with this kind of sincerity; striving to do something good through their work, their projects or their relationships. Our mutual friend Chris, and his founding team at LaunchGood, come to mind.
Which leads me to wonder whether Barakah can be put into projects, products, strategies, or any number of other business-related outcomes. Can we – and how can we – add Barakah to what we do professionally?
“In the Quran, Allah attributes Barakah to places, to people, to things, and all sorts of things,” says Mohammed. “There can be Barakah in anything – especially if that thing brings you back closer to the divine in some way. If it puts you into a spiritual mode, there’s Barakah there.
“There can be Barakah in anything – especially if that thing brings you back closer to the divine in some way. If it puts you into a spiritual mode, there’s Barakah there.”
“When you’re developing a product or running a business, that’s where things like your mindset, or the values you bring into it matter. You can infuse Barakah in the things you produce, so there’s a powerful case for entrepreneurs, product designers and think about how they might do that. A first step might be setting your intentions before starting a project. Just like we physically prepare ourselves, we can spiritually prepare ourselves, so that when our product comes out, we know we’ve done everything we can on a spiritual level to make this project beneficial to people, and then hope that Allah will put Barakah into it.
“Just like we make wudu (ritual cleansing of the body) in preparation for prayers, we can prepare for our work by establishing the right mindset, intention, and values, and ask Allah to accept it. It’s like Imam Al Bukhari. Before writing a single Hadith (recorded sayings of Prophet Muhammad), he would make wudu, pray istikhara (prayer for seeking guidance), and only then write a Hadith. By doing so, he opened the door for Allah to put Barakah into that book. And now that book is regarded the second most credible source in Islam.”
Another aspect of Barakah that Mohammed and I have discussed – in a business context – over the years is that it’s not limited to just one idea or project. Barakah doesn’t pick one product to succeed at the expense of all other similar products. It is grounded in abundance rather than scarcity; co-opetition rather than competition.
It reminds me of the book Abundance by Peter Diamandis, who talks about abundance from the perspective of the earth and the universe. We have abundant materials, abundant life, abundant inspiration and abundant opportunities, he posits. So we shouldn’t feel threatened by ‘competitors’, or approach our work from a position of fear.
I ask Mohammed about the idea of abundance from a spiritual perspective. How, for example, does it relate to me if I want to build an app, but there are 50 other similar apps on the market, and we all want to be the one that ‘wins’?
“Barakah and abundance go hand in hand,” he says. “And I’ll give you a real life example to show what I mean.
“I was talking to a lady who was running a business, and one of her competitors released a product that was directly competing with hers. She was really upset and had a scarcity mindset about the whole thing. I asked her how she might approach it from a Barakah perspective, and after a while she realised she needed to deal with the jealousy and envy that was in her heart, because that was a big part of the issue.
“She actually made a promise that she would go and promote her competitor’s product, looking at it from an abundance perspective. So she did just that - telling people to go and check it out, it’s an amazing product, and so on. Not passive aggressive, not with an ulterior motive, just a really pure display of support for her work.
“She emailed me a few days later and said that not only did she feel much better about the situation, and within herself, but also that she was blessed with other ideas that she’d never thought of before that were actually 10 times better than the products she was already creating.
“This is a really amazing example of Barakah in action, and it came about from having a positive approach - an abundance perspective. And this is actually a challenge in both the Muslim community and the start-up community. There’s an idea that there’s not enough for everybody, and so we end up competing and hurting each other, rather than the mindset that there’s enough for everybody, allowing us to support and promote each other.
“I feel like if we approach life with that perspective, that there is enough for all, and that Allah can provide, then He can open doors we don’t even expect.”
“There’s an idea that there’s not enough for everybody, and so we end up competing and hurting each other, rather than the mindset that there’s enough for everybody, allowing us to support and promote each other.”
Working with one another
I’m really fascinated by this idea of abundance, and how Barakah can dissolve the sometimes ruthless competition and one-upmanship of the business world.
I’ve heard from numerous sources how this plays out in the traditional Islamic marketplace, where vendors would direct potential customers to other similar stalls to help traders who have not had much business that day.
During a recent edition of his First Command Book Club, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf spoke about this exact thing, remembering an occasion when he went to the market in Fez, Morocco, to buy ‘balgha’.
“All of the people that sell these sandals are in the same place in Fez,” he said.
“And I went, and I asked a man for a size 42 … and he said ‘see that man there?’ I said ‘yeah’. He said ‘go buy it from him’. I said ‘don’t you have it?’ He said ‘No, no, I have it, but go buy it from him’. I said ‘Why can’t I buy it from you?’ He said ‘he’s hardly had any business today’.
“That’s Islam. That’s not competition. That’s ta'awun alal birri wattaqwa – work with one another. There’s no greed … Islam gets rid of these things in people’s hearts.”
Mohammed adds his own experience and perspective.
“If you go to any traditional souq in Cairo, Istanbul, Malaysia or Media, those Barakah concepts are there; things like honesty, like Amanah (sacred trust), like ‘don’t buy from me, buy from my brother’. These things are still there. There was a language of the souq, a culture of the souq, and there are still remnants of that today. People look after each other – that’s the mindset.”
“If you go to any traditional souq in Cairo, Istanbul, Malaysia or Media, those Barakah concepts are there; things like honesty, like Amanah, like ‘don’t buy from me, buy from my brother’.”
Through this example of the marketplace, we start to link Barakah to the concept of Rizq, which can be translated on a simple level as ‘sustenance’ or ‘provision’ – given by God, and including not just income or financial wealth, but also health, shelter, food, or anything else that brings us benefit or goodness.
“Sheikh Khalil Abdur-Rashid had a good definition of it,” says Mohammed. “He said there are three types of Rizq. The first is one that’s destined for you no matter what, and nobody can take that away from you. The second is one that you get if you work hard for it. And then the third is one that he gives you if you align yourself with Barakah culture. Meaning, coming with the right mindset, values and rituals.
“A lot of us focus on the second one, especially in business, and even more so with hustle culture. But some sustenance is preordained, and no matter what you do, it will find its way to you. That third variety is like the ‘extra’. Allah will open extra doors for you because of your sincerity, because of your attention on Ihsan, and other Barakah concepts.”
Our discussion is painting a clear picture of how Barakah can work in a professional context, and the difference it can make to those who receive it. But aside from some remaining traces of it in Islamic marketplaces, I struggle to see it in play on a wide scale – where practitioners’ spirituality and business are melded so closely together that Barakah is almost inevitably infused into their work.
Mohammed reaches back into history again in order for us to understand how we could bring this into a modern framework, and touches on a subject close to my heart: Guilds.
“It was a lived experience,” he says. “In history there were professional guilds of artisans, and these guilds were normally connected to Sufi orders. They were intertwined – the spiritual practice and the craftsmanship were very closely linked. It wasn’t like today, where there is so much separation of faith and work.
“These guilds represented a prime example of how to bring Barakah into work. As you’re trying to do your craft, you’ve got your Sheikh there who is trying to nurture you and remove worldly greed from you, and all the things that come from that.”
I remember hearing anecdotally that today’s Sufi lodges continue this approach, helping artisans develop both their craft and their spirituality under the guidance of a Sheikh. One example I was given was in stone carving. The craftsmen would be taught to sculpt to the rhythm of a heart beat, where rather than hammering at the stone once here, once there, or in a series of repetitive ‘thunks’ in order to carve out a design, they were advised to be present with their materials, make their intention, plan their approach, and then hammer carefully with a ‘tap-tap, tap-tap, tap-tap’ rhythm instead.
While studying in his room, the Sheikh would be able to hear if somebody had lost that rhythm – lost their presence – that Divine connection. He would then work with that student to establish the source of their distraction or disconnection before guiding and advising them both materially and spiritually.
“One of the sad realities of colonisation is that this was lost – these guilds were largely broken,” continues Mohammed. “So you had, and still have, a lot of professional merchants who feel lost. Bringing them back could be very powerful.”
The modern application of the guilds model is something I have contemplated for some years now – especially in conversation with one of my teachers, Dr Samir Mahmoud.
“Traditional craftspeople learned by experience through practice, and trial and error, and in a master apprentice relationship within a guild environment,” he told me during one of our discussions.
“In today’s design culture, I would call it a ‘community of practices’ – peer communities that do certain things in a certain way, where learning happens and is diffused and transferred in very intangible ways among the community.”
Dr Samir has a vision for contemporary guilds that incorporate spiritual practices, scholarship, crafts, design, martial arts, calligraphy and more, and it’s something we have discussed bringing to life in Australia, whether in a physical or virtual space.
I truly believe that this is where the heart of design is going to be; reviving a system and ethos for artisans, business people and communities that has been largely relegated to history.
It’s also a set-up that I believe could ‘pay Barakah forward’ in a way; leaving a positive and beneficial legacy for those who come after us, whether that’s months, years, decades, or beyond.
“There’s definitely an inter-generational aspect of Barakah,” says Mohammed, who refers to Surah Al Kahf – the 18th chapter of the Qur’an.
“In part of this Surah we read the story of two boys who had their wealth protected by Allah because of the Barakah of their father. Their father was a righteous man, and their grandfather was a righteous man, and Allah sent two Prophets on a mission just to make sure their wealth was protected for them.
“This tells us a lot about a long-term approach. If you move away from short-termism – which the start-up world is often focused on – then the idea of setting up guilds is so powerful. Thinking about the Barakah that could be passed down for the next 10, 15, 20 years, or the next two or three generations is really amazing, and a way that we should all be thinking about Barakah.”
That we think about Barakah at all in a professional context is a win in my book. To consider the potential blessings, beauty and abundance that could come to us and others through our work can have a profound effect on our approach, our mindset and our intentions; aligning us with something much more important than the day-to-day business metrics that might otherwise dominate – and derail – our thinking.
Keep an eye out for Mohammed’s new book on Barakah, coming out in summer 2023 inshaAllah. Sign up for his newsletter to learn more at ProductiveMuslim.com/Newsletter.