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Islam places great emphasis on the importance of our intentions. It is not sufficient to merely perform good deeds. This is because one’s actions will be invalid if they lack the correct intention. The right intention is to perform the action solely for Allah’s sake. Our intentions are what determine how Allah will judge our actions.

Some people may think that Islam is all about robotically performing religious rituals. They may have misconceptions about what all Allah requires from a righteous believer. Such wrongful notions give people a distorted understanding of Islam. These erroneous perceptions of Islam don’t do justice to the religion’s beautiful simplicity and sound reasoning.

A Prophetic Hadith about how deeds depend on intentions

A Sahih Hadith in Bukhari and Muslim informs us that Allah judges all deeds by their intentions. He will reward everyone for their actions based on their intentions. Hence, if one migrates to Allah and His Messenger, his migration is to Allah and His Messenger. This is perfectly in line with the person’s noble motive for migration. On the other hand, one may migrate to attain some worldly gain, or perhaps for marrying a wife. In this case, his migration is to what he migrated for and not to Allah and His Messenger.

This hadith thoroughly demonstrates the necessity for every Muslim to have the correct intention when performing an action. It is one of the most vital principles of Islam. Indeed, the acceptance of one’s faith and deeds by Allah is dependent on one’s intentions. The same applies to one’s general day to day actions.

If one wants Allah to accept any deed he carries out and reward him for it, the action must be performed solely for the sake of Allah. Hence, sincerity and pure intentions are a vital prerequisite for the acceptance of a righteous deed. When Allah instructed the believers to migrate to Madinah, the Prophet (PBUH) mentioned an example of two different approaches to this migration.

The first approach involved one who migrated solely for Allah’s sake, wanting to please and obey Him. This person would have his deed accepted and rewarded by Allah. The second approach was that of one who performed the action but didn’t intend to please Allah or obey Him. Such an individual may get whatever it was that he was seeking in the worldly life. However, Allah won’t accept his action or reward him for it.

Muslims should have pure intentions in both religious and everyday matters

There are two main aspects of life in Islam. One aspect consists of all that is religious, such as having faith in Allah as the One true God and worshipping Him alone without associating any partners. The other aspect of life includes everyday matters, such as regular daily activities involving home life, society, etc.

Since Islam is a complete way of life, which teaches us how to live and act in every aspect of our lives, we must have sincerity and pure intentions in all matters, whether they are religious or everyday activities.

Correct aims in religious matters

We should carry out the acts of worship prescribed in Islam with sincerity and the right intentions. Every act of worship, including fundamentals such as prayer, fasting, paying Zakat, and performing Hajj, should be performed for Allah’s sake alone. Allah is the One who orders the believers to perform these acts of worship without the association of any partners, and He is the One who rewards us for our worship.

Every deed that Islam prescribes should be performed purely for Allah’s sake. On the surface, one may worship Allah frequently and appear to be very pious. However, one’s piety depends wholly on what is within him, which is his intention. If he is devoid of sincerity and has impure intentions, his deeds will be in vain.

If someone performs any act of worship for the sake of a deity besides Allah, his worship will remain unacceptable. Moreover, he will have committed the worst of sins through such an act, which is that of Shirk. Shirk is the association of partners with Allah. Every prophet sent by Allah preached the message of monotheism, and Shirk is a violation of monotheism.

As a Muslim, one must not only believe that Allah is the One true God, but he must also direct every act of worship to Allah alone. Allah is the only deity worthy of worship, and we must perform all acts of worship solely for his sake. Therefore, if one appears to be worshipping Allah but is inwardly associating others in worship with him, such as prophets or pious people, his worship will not only be unacceptable to Allah, but he will also be guilty of committing the ultimate sin of polytheism.

Sincerity in religious matters

Apart from the grave sin of Shirk, one can also have his intentions corrupted by the pursuit of worldly gains. Although these gains can be things that are permissible in the worldly life, if one’s intention is to attain something in the Dunya through his Dawah (preaching) or acts of worship, these deeds will not be accepted by Allah. Hence, one who migrated for a worldly gain rather than for Allah’s sake may not have committed Shirk. However, his deed will not be accepted and rewarded by Allah.

If someone wants to gain something that is impermissible in Islam through his religious service and acts of worship, he is sinful. Islam is a religion of humility and opposes the pursuit of fame. Hence, a person who gives Dawah to become famous or worships devoutly in public to improve his image in the eyes of people and develop a reputation as a righteous person will not have these deeds accepted by Allah. Rather, such people face the prospect of being punished in the Hereafter.

In a Hadith in Sunan An-Nasai, we learn that a person who gained religious knowledge and passed it on to others, along with Quranic recitation, will be asked by Allah about how he utilized all the things with which He blessed him. The man will reply that he taught others and recited the Quran solely for the sake of Allah.

Allah will reprimand the dishonest man for lying and tell him that he gained knowledge for the purpose of being called a scholar and recited the Quran so that he would be called a reciter. The man was subsequently dragged on his face and tossed into the Hellfire. The wretched man in question is among the first people Allah sentences to Hell in the Hereafter.

Pure intentions in everyday matters

Muslims can also attain rewards for their everyday activities, provided they have the correct intention, and they are not doing something sinful. Although people may see things such as eating, sleeping, using the bathroom, etc., as being unrelated to religion, Islam contains teachings informing us of the correct way to carry out these basic activities. If believers adhere to Islam’s teachings pertaining to everyday matters, they will be rewarded.

The comprehensive nature of Islam means that one’s whole life can be an act of worship, as long as one’s sole aim in life is to please Allah. Thus, ordinary daily activities can become acts of worship if one performs them with pure intentions while seeking Allah’s pleasure through them.

In a hadith in Sahih Al-Bukhari, the Prophet (PBUH) stated that helping someone or his possessions onto his mount counts as charity. Additionally, a mere good word counts as charity. Each step one takes on the way to performing prayers is charity. Furthermore, getting rid of an obstacle from the road counts as charity. Even having intercourse with one’s spouse is an act of charity, if one has the right intention. Similarly, eating, sleeping, and working can be acts of worship, along with noble characteristics like honesty, bravery, humility, and generosity.

There are certain conditions for everyday acts to be worthy of reward from Allah. Firstly, the action should be permissible. If it’s something that is forbidden, the doer is deserving of punishment. Secondly, Islamic law must not be violated in any way. One’s action should be free of any deceit, persecution, and injustice. Finally, the action should not be something that obstructs one from fulfilling his or her religious duties.