Islam prescribes many forms of worship that have outward expressions, prayer being the most obvious of these. Yet, the greatest, most important facets of worship are the internal ones – the devotions of the heart and of the inner self.
Allah says: “Set your face to the religion in true sincerity.” [Sûrah al-Rûm: 30]
To direct oneself to Allah, to rely on Him alone, and to seek his countenance through one’s deeds is the greatest form of worship there is. This is what purifies and beautifies the heart, and it is accomplished through the love of Allah and being constantly aware of Him. This is the distinction that pious believers have over the sinners and hypocrites.
Just as there are people who play careful attention to their appearances but are neglectful of their inner selves, there are those who keep up a good outward image of religiousness and worship by doing supposedly pious acts conspicuously. They are often most scrupulous in their religious observances, careful never to slip out of fear of public recrimination. Any slip would ruin their reputation, because their status is built upon their being good imams, scholars, or Islamic workers. For this reason they are as conscientious as anyone could be in maintaining their outwardly good conduct, but not out of any real desire to please Allah. Instead, their hearts are full of the love of this world and the love of fame.
They are so concerned about their status and their reputation that they have no time to think about the Hereafter and how they should prepare for it. They have no time to think about the problems afflicting the Muslims and how to solve them. They do not think about calling others to Islam. Their hearts are devoid of the love of Allah and the love of his devoted worshippers. They also feel no fear of Allah. They do not hope for his reward. Their hearts, which are the receptacles of love, hate, hope, anger, joy, and sorrow, are not focused on the worship of Allah at all.
Allah describes the unbelievers in the following way: “This is because they followed that which displeased Allah and they hated to please Him, so He made their deeds of no effect.” [Sûrah Muhammad: 28]
We should see how the heart is the crux of all matters. So what is the value of outwardly good works that are hated by the heart of the one who performs them? What is the state of a person who abstains from some sinful deed for the sake f reputation or honor, while loving that deed in his heart and feeling joy when someone else commits it? Such a person will almost invariably fall into the sin sooner or later.
Such a person, whose heart loves what Allah hates and hates what Allah loves, will without doubt sooner or later act upon the dictates of the heart. The love or fear this heart harbors for some created thing – the fear of other people, of sickness, of poverty, of death, or of the rulers, and the desire for worldly gain, prestige, or position – will ultimately guide the body just as a monarch guides the populace.
Outward actions will take their directions from the heart. This is why the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “In the body is a peace of flesh that if it is healthy, the whole body is healthy, and if it is corrupted, the whole body becomes corrupted. It is the heart.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (4423)]
The heart dictates and the limbs obey. This is why Allah has made salvation in the Hereafter dependent upon the sanctity of the heart. Allah says: “The Day whereon neither wealth nor sons will prevail, except for him who brings to Allah a sound heart.” [Sûrah al-Shu`arâ’: 88-89]
When we bring to Allah a sound heart, we will find benefit in our wealth, our children, and our deeds. This is because our limbs would have already availed us. As for these who come to Allah with hearts that are dead or sick, they will find no benefit in anything else.
A person whose heart is devoid of the love and fear of Allah, whose heart has no affection for pious people and no love for righteous deeds, is to Allah a person who has no heart, even if the lump of flesh can be found beating in the chest.
Allah says: “Not alike are the living and the dead.” [Sûrah Fâtir: 22]
The comparison being made in this verse is that of a believer in Allah and an unbeliever, or that of a pious person and a sinner.
Allah says: “Can he who was dead to whom We gave life and a light whereby he can walk among the people be like him who is in the depths of darkness from which he can not escape?” [Sûrah al-An`âm: 122]
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “The likeness of two people, one who remembers his Lord and one who does not, is that of the living and the dead.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (6407) and Sahîh Muslim (779)]
Allah says: “Verily in this is a message for any that has a heart.” [Sûrah Qâf: 37]
All of this confirms a great truth that we must pay attention to: that the purity of the heart and sincerity of purpose is the basis upon which all of our worship rests. If the heart becomes corrupted, good deeds are of no avail. When a person’s intention is no good, nobility of purpose is lost and the person swerves from what is right.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Actions are but by intentions”. When he said this, he was talking about all actions. The acceptability to Allah of any outward action is contingent on the intention behind it, as the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “…and every person will have only what he intended.”
Actions of the heart, however, are a different matter. The heart’s deeds such as fear, hope, and love, differ from outward actions, in that they, being unseen by others, are not subject to the risk of being for show. They either happen for the sake of Allah or they do not happen at all. One of the distinguishing features of the actions of the heart is that they can be cause for rewarded even if the person possessing them does not perform any outward act.
When the Prophet (peace be upon him) was approaching Madinah on his return from the Tabûk, he said to his Companions: “In Madinah there are some people who did not travel nor did they even cross a valley, but they were with you.”
His Companions asked him: “O Messenger of Allah! How can this be while they were in Madinah?”
He replied: “Yes, while they were in Madinah and were prevented by circumstances from going forth.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (4423)]
This idea was expressed by a poet who wrote about the pilgrimage:
O you who traveled to the Ancient House! It is thus,
That you went in body while we went in spirit.
We were prevented by hardships we had to endure,
And thus we are like the ones who went forward.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) mentioned that there will be people who will enter Paradise without performing any good works because they were prevented from doing so.
Abû Hurayrah used to ask his peers to tell him about a man who went to Paradise without ever having prayed a day in his life. When they could not answer, he would mention to them al-Usayrim from the tribe of Banû `Abd al-Ashhal. [Musnad Ahmad (23634)]
Al-Usayrim was a man who had refused to accept Islam when the rest of his people did so. On the day when the tribe of Quraysh attacked the Muslims in Madinah at Mount Uhud, al-Usayrim came to Madinah to accept Islam. Then he picked up his sword and went out to join in the defense of the Muslims along with his kinfolk who had already accepted Islam. He fought until he was mortally wounded. After the battle, when the tribe of Banû `Abd al-Ashhal began looking for their dead, they found al-Usayrim on the verge of death. They were surprised because they had left him behind.
They asked him: “What made you come out here (to Madinah), your love for your kinfolk or a desire for Islam?”
He replied: “My desire for Islam brought me here. I believe in Allah and his Messenger so I accepted Islam. Then I picked up my sword and went forward with Allah’s Messenger and fought until I came to this.” He died shortly thereafter.
They mentioned this to Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) who said: “He is among the inhabitants of Paradise.” [Al-Haythamî, Majma` al-Zawâ’id (9/362). Al-Haythamî states that all of its narrators are trustworthy (thiqât)]
"Whoever guides [another] to a good deed will get a reward similar to the one who performs it." Prophet Mohammad (PBUH)[Sahih Muslim]
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