The value of an Action

It has been narrated on the authority of Umar ibn al-Khattab that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:

“(The value of) an action depends on the intention behind it. A man will be rewarded only for what he intended. The emigration of one who emigrates for the sake of Allah and His Messenger (may peace be upon him) is for the sake of Allah and His Messenger (may peace be upon him) ; and the emigration of one who emigrates for gaining a worldly advantage or for marrying a woman is for what he has emigrated.” [Sahih Muslim, Book #020, Hadith #4692]

This Hadith is indeed one of the greatest and most important of the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), as it sets one of the most important principles in the religion of Islam, specifically in regards to the acceptance of one’s religion and deeds by Allah, and generally to all other normal everyday activities in which a person involves himself. This principle implies that in order for any action to be accepted and thus rewarded by Allah, it must be done purely for His sake.

At one stage in the life of the Prophet, Allah ordered all the Muslims to migrate from Makkah to Madinah. In this Hadith, the Prophet gave an example of two types of people in regards to migration:

The first example was that of a person who migrated to Madinah purely for the sake of Allah, seeking His pleasure and seeking to fulfill His command. The Prophet stated that the deed of this person will be accepted by Allah and he will be rewarded in the fullest.

The second example was of a person who fulfilled this religious service, but his intention was not the pleasure of Allah nor fulfilling His command, and so such type of person, although he might achieve what he was intending in this life, will not receive reward for it from Allah, and the deed is not one which is considered acceptable.

In Islam, there are two realms to a person’s life, the religious and the mundane. Although there is a clear separation between the two in regards to religious jurisprudence, they are in fact inseparable, as Islam is a religion, which legislates in family matter, society and politics as well as the belief and worship of Allah.

As mentioned earlier, this Hadith sets the first principle for one’s deeds to be accepted by Allah, which is that they should be done purely for Allah. In regards to those deeds, which have been commanded as a form of religious devotion, known as worship, one must do them for Allah alone. These deeds include prayers, fasting, giving zakah, Hajj and all other services, which have been ordained in the religion.

Islam is a religion, which believes and practices true and strict monotheism. This monotheism not only entails that that there is only one Allah and Creator, but also that Allah has the right that all worship be done solely for His sake and nobody else. The Quran says:

“And they have been commanded no more than this: To worship Allah, offering Him sincere devotion, being true (in faith); to establish regular prayer; and to practise regular charity; and that is the Religion Right and Straight.” [Quran 98:5]

Another aspect of this purity of intention is that a person should never seek any worldly gains through religious service and acts of worship, even if that worldly gain be something permissible. In the Hadith mentioned above, the second person did not perform this religious obligation of migration for other deities besides or alongside Allah, nor did he intend something intrinsically evil. Rather his intention was something deemed permissible in the religion.

Still, however, the act was not accepted by Allah, and the person may or may not have received what he intended from this worldly life. Thus, if a person seeks any permissible worldly gain through an action, the reward of the deed diminishes.

A Hadith says:

“A person learned (religious) knowledge and taught it (to others), as well as recited the Quran, he will be brought to the presence of Allah, and Allah will mention to him all the favors He granted, and he will recognize them. Allah will ask him, ‘What did you do with them?’ He will answer, ‘I learned religious knowledge and taught it to others and I recited the Quran purely for Your sake.’ Allah will say, ‘You have lied! Rather you learned religious knowledge to be called a scholar, and you recited the Quran to be called a reciter, and it was said of you!’ Then He will command him to be punished; and so he will be dragged on his face and will be thrown into the Fire.” [An-Nasa’i]