In the name of Allāh, Most Merciful, the Bestower of Mercy.
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Ḥadīth 1: Intentions, Sincere Worship and Actions
ʿUmar ibn al-Khattāb (radiyallāhu ʿanhu) narrated that Allāh’s Messenger (salallāhu ʿalaihi wasallam) said:
إِنَّمَا الأَعْمَالُ بِالنِّيَّاتِ وَإِنَّمَا لِكُلِّ امْرِئٍ مَا نَوَى فَمَنْ كَانَتْ هِجْرَتُهُ إِلَى اللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ فَهِجْرَتُهُ إِلَى اللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ وَمَنْ كَانَتْ هِجْرَتُهُ لِدُنْيَا يُصِيبُهَا أَوِ امْرَأَةٍ يَتَزَوَّجُهَا فَهِجْرَتُهُ إِلَى مَا هَاجَرَ إِلَيْهِ
“Actions are only by intentions, and for each person there is only that which he intended. So, whoever’s migration was to Allāh and His Messenger, then his migration is considered to be to Allāh and His Messenger. But whoever’s migration was to attain a worldly possession, or for a woman he wanted to marry, then his emigration is for that for which he migrated.”1This wording is reported by Abu Dawūd, no. 2201, see al-Bukhārī, nos. 1 and 6689, Muslim, no. 1907.
A person, in every affair, is required to make his intention pure and sincere for Allah, otherwise, the action is not accepted. If a legislated act of worship is done to show off and impress others, then this is lesser polytheism (al-shirk al-aṣghar). The Prophet (salallāhu ʿalaihi wasallam) stated:
إِنَّ أَخْوَفَ مَا أَخَافُ عَلَيْكُمْ اَلشِّرْكُ اَلْأَصْغَرُ: اَلرِّيَاءُ
“The affair that I fear most for you is the lesser polytheism: it is showing off [your good deeds].”2Reported by Ahmad with a good chain of narration, 5/428-429. This can enter into any one of our deeds that should truly be performed for Allah, such as Prayer, Sadaqah, da’wah, etc. Allah rejects any deed wherein partners are associated with Him, where a person seeks fame, praise and recognition from the creation. The Prophet (salallāhu ʿalaihi wasallam) stated:
قَالَ اللَّهُ تَبَارَكَ وَتَعَالَى أَنَا أَغْنَى الشُّرَكَاءِ عَنِ الشِّرْكِ مَنْ عَمِلَ عَمَلاً أَشْرَكَ فِيهِ مَعِي غَيْرِي تَرَكْتُهُ وَشِرْكَهُ
Allah, the Blessed and the Most High, says: “I am One who does not have any need of a partner. If anyone does anything in which he associates anyone else with Me, I shall abandon him along with the one whom he associates with Me.”3Muslim, no. 2985.
The Religion is solely for Allah, and our deeds must be directed toward Him, seeking His pleasure and His reward. Allah (the Most High) said:
فَٱعْبُدِ ٱللَّهَ مُخْلِصًۭا لَّهُ ٱلدِّينَ ٢
أَلَا لِلَّهِ ٱلدِّينُ ٱلْخَالِصُ ۚ
“So worship Allah alone by doing religious deeds sincerely for Allah’s sake only. Surely the religion is purely for Allah.”4Al-Zumar: 2-3.
The intention as it relates to one’s deeds comes under two headings. Firstly: To distinguish between individual acts of worship such as whether one is praying Dhuhr or ʿAsr, whether one is fasting an obligatory fast or a recommended fast, whether one is taking a shower to cool down from the heat of the day or a ghusl from sexual relations, etc. Secondly: To distinguish the intent behind the deed. Is it solely for Allah, or is it shared with others along with Him, i.e., to impress those watching or listening? If it was done to impress others, then that particular deed is not accepted by Allah.
Allah’s Messenger (salallāhu ʿalaihi wasallam) said:
إِنَّ أَوَّلَ النَّاسِ يُقْضَى يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ عَلَيْهِ رَجُلٌ اسْتُشْهِدَ فَأُتِيَ بِهِ فَعَرَّفَهُ نِعَمَهُ فَعَرَفَهَا قَالَ فَمَا عَمِلْتَ فِيهَا قَالَ قَاتَلْتُ فِيكَ حَتَّى اسْتُشْهِدْتُ . قَالَ كَذَبْتَ وَلَكِنَّكَ قَاتَلْتَ لأَنْ يُقَالَ جَرِيءٌ . فَقَدْ قِيلَ . ثُمَّ أُمِرَ بِهِ فَسُحِبَ عَلَى وَجْهِهِ حَتَّى أُلْقِيَ فِي النَّارِ وَرَجُلٌ تَعَلَّمَ الْعِلْمَ وَعَلَّمَهُ وَقَرَأَ الْقُرْآنَ فَأُتِيَ بِهِ فَعَرَّفَهُ نِعَمَهُ فَعَرَفَهَا قَالَ فَمَا عَمِلْتَ فِيهَا قَالَ تَعَلَّمْتُ الْعِلْمَ وَعَلَّمْتُهُ وَقَرَأْتُ فِيكَ الْقُرْآنَ . قَالَ كَذَبْتَ وَلَكِنَّكَ تَعَلَّمْتَ الْعِلْمَ لِيُقَالَ عَالِمٌ . وَقَرَأْتَ الْقُرْآنَ لِيُقَالَ هُوَ قَارِئٌ . فَقَدْ قِيلَ ثُمَّ أُمِرَ بِهِ فَسُحِبَ عَلَى وَجْهِهِ حَتَّى أُلْقِيَ فِي النَّارِ . وَرَجُلٌ وَسَّعَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَأَعْطَاهُ مِنْ أَصْنَافِ الْمَالِ كُلِّهِ فَأُتِيَ بِهِ فَعَرَّفَهُ نِعَمَهُ فَعَرَفَهَا قَالَ فَمَا عَمِلْتَ فِيهَا قَالَ مَا تَرَكْتُ مِنْ سَبِيلٍ تُحِبُّ أَنْ يُنْفَقَ فِيهَا إِلاَّ أَنْفَقْتُ فِيهَا لَكَ قَالَ كَذَبْتَ وَلَكِنَّكَ فَعَلْتَ لِيُقَالَ هُوَ جَوَادٌ . فَقَدْ قِيلَ ثُمَّ أُمِرَ بِهِ فَسُحِبَ عَلَى وَجْهِهِ ثُمَّ أُلْقِيَ فِي النَّارِ
“The first of men who will be judged on the Day of Resurrection will be a man who died as a martyr. He shall be brought forth. Allah will make him recount His blessings which He had bestowed upon him and he will recount them and admit them. Then Allah will say, ‘What did you do with these blessings?’ He will say, ‘I fought for Your cause until I died as a martyr.’ Allah will say, ‘You have lied. You fought that you might be called a brave warrior. And you were called so.’ Then orders will be passed against him and he will be dragged on his face and cast into Hell.
Then a man will be brought forth who acquired knowledge and imparted it to others and recited the Qur’ān. Allah will make him recount His blessings and he will recount them and admit them. Then Allah will say, ‘What did you do with these blessings?’ He will respond, ‘I acquired knowledge and disseminated it and recited the Qur’an seeking Your pleasure.’ Allah will say, ‘You have lied. You acquired knowledge so that you might be called a scholar, and you recited the Qur’an so that it may be said, ‘He is a qarī’ and it was said.’ Then orders will be passed against him and he shall be dragged on his face and cast into the Fire.
Then a man will be brought whom Allah had made abundantly rich and had granted every kind of wealth. He will be brought and Allah will make him recount His blessings and he will recount them and admit to them. Then Allah will ask him, ‘What have you done with these blessings?’ He will say, ‘I spent money in every cause in which You wished that it should be spent.’ Allah will say to him, ‘You are lying. You did it so that it could be said about you, ‘He is generous and giving’ and it was said.’ Then will Allah pass orders and he will be dragged on his face and thrown into Hell.”5Muslim, no. 1905. When Muʿāwiyah (radiyallāhu ʿanhu) heard this narration, he wept.
So the deeds of a person are not accepted unless they are sincere for Allah and in accordance with the Sunnah of Allah’s Messenger (salallāhu ʿalaihi wasallam). Ibn al-Qayyim (rahimahullāh) stated that there are four types of people with respect to following the Sunnah (al-ittibāʿ) and being sincere to Allāh (al-ikhlāṣ), three of whom are destroyed:
- The one who follows the Sunnah but without ikhlāṣ. This one is destroyed.
- The one who has ikhlāṣ but does not follow the Sunnah. This one is destroyed.
- The one who has no ikhlāṣ and does not follow the Sunnah. This is the worst and is destroyed.
- The one who has ikhlāṣ and follows the Sunnah. This one is successful and his deeds are accepted.
Allāh (the Most High) said:
قُلْ إِن كُنتُمْ تُحِبُّونَ ٱللَّهَ فَٱتَّبِعُونِى يُحْبِبْكُمُ ٱللَّهُ وَيَغْفِرْ لَكُمْ ذُنُوبَكُمْ ۗ وَٱللَّهُ غَفُورٌۭ رَّحِيمٌۭ ٣١
“Say O Prophet, ‘If you should love Allāh, then follow me, then Allāh will love you and forgive you your sins. And Allāh is Forgiving and Merciful.'”6Āli-ʿImran: 31.
Abu ʿUbaid (rahimahullāh) said regarding the ḥadīth of actions are only by intentions, “There is no narration of the Prophet (salallāhu ʿalaihi wasallam) more comprehensive, rich and plentiful in benefit than this ḥadīth.”7Muntahā al-Āmāl of al-Suyūtī, p. 42.
ʿAbd al-Rahmān ibn Mahdī said about this hadīth, “Whoever wishes to author a book, let him begin with this ḥadīth.”8Ibid, p. 43.
It is a must that the caller to Allah is sincere in his daʿwah, seeking only the reward from Allah. He does not shy away from speaking the truth with politeness, wisdom and good admonition seeking the rectification of the people so that they may turn to Allah in worship and obedience. It is not flattery and glory that he seeks, nor wealth, adoration, followers and fame. This is what has broken the back of so many throughout the ages. We ask Allah for safety and well-being.
- 1This wording is reported by Abu Dawūd, no. 2201, see al-Bukhārī, nos. 1 and 6689, Muslim, no. 1907.
- 2Reported by Ahmad with a good chain of narration, 5/428-429.
- 3Muslim, no. 2985.
- 4Al-Zumar: 2-3.
- 5Muslim, no. 1905.
- 6Āli-ʿImran: 31.
- 7Muntahā al-Āmāl of al-Suyūtī, p. 42.
- 8Ibid, p. 43.