Explanation of the Hadith: “Actions are but by intentions”

At other times, an action might be partially for the sake of Allah and partially to display one’s self in front of the people.? If the desire to display one’s self arose at the origin of the action, then the action is vain.? Imam Ahmad reports that the Prophet (S) said, “When Allah gathers the first [of His creation] and the last [of His creation] for that Day for which there is no doubt, a crier will call out, ‘Whosoever associated with Me another in his actions let him seek his reward from other than Allah, for Allah is the most independent of any association (fa-inna allaha aghna al-sharaka` ‘an al-shirk).”? Al-Nasa`i reported that a man asked the Prophet (S), “What is your opinion of one who fights [in the way of Allah] seeking fame [in the profane world] and reward [from Allah]?”? The Prophet (S) replied, “He receives nothing [by way of reward from Allah'."? The Prophet (S) repeated this three times and then said, "Allah accepts no deeds other than those that are performed solely for His sake and by which His face is sought."? This opinion, namely, that if an act is corrupted by any desire to display one's self (riya`) then that act is rejected, is attributed to many of the Salaf, including, 'Ubada b. al-Samit, Abu al-Darda`, al-Hasan al-Basri, Sa'id b. al-Musayyib and others.

If one's intention is corrupted with something other than the desire to display one's self, e.g., to earn profit whilst on a jihad in the path of Allah, such an intention reduces one's reward from jihad, but does not negate it entirely.? Muslim reported in his Sahih that the Prophet (S) said that "Soldiers in the path of Allah attain two-thirds of their reward immediately when they obtain booty [from the enemy], whereas they receive their reward in its entirety when they obtain nothing from the enemy.”

As for an action whose origin is for Allah, then it subsequently becomes corrupted by a desire to display one’s self, then the Salaf differed as to whether such an act is vain.? Their differences on this matter have been reported by Ahmad and al-Tabari.? Al-Hasan al-Basri is reported to have held that such a desire, in itself, does not invalidate the proper intention that was the origin of the act.

In conclusion, the saying of Sahl b. ‘Abd Allah is most beautiful in this regard: Nothing is more difficult on a person than sincerity because the person gains no share of that [act].? Ibn ‘Uyayna said that Mutarrif b. ‘Abdallah would repeat the following prayer, “O Allah! I seek Your forgiveness for that which I sought your repentance but to which I subsequently returned; I seek Your forgiveness from that which I rendered to You from my self, but then, I was not able to maintain faithfully; and, I seek Your forgiveness from that by which I claimed I desired your Face but my heart became corrupted with that which I did.”

Wa akhir da’wana an al-hamdu li-llahi rabbi al-’alamin, wa-l-salat wa-l-salam ‘ala ashraf al-mursalin wa ‘ala alihi wa sahbihi wa azwajihi.

Peace and Blessings upon the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions

© 2012 As-Sunnah Foundation of America

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