Tag Archives: intention

Islam is a Religion of Works

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ ,

Originally published 21/ 23/ 2013 @ 7:03 PM.
Updated 01/ 04 /2013.

The argument is as follows:

“Islam is a religion of works, rituals, you do works to gain heaven. Christians do works because they already have salvation.”

The response is as follows:

In Islam, there are two requirements for the amal (action/ work) to be valid. Iman (faith in Allaah) and Niya (intention). So if a person does a work not to please Allaah or does a work to please others, without intending it to be for the sake of God, then his action is considered to be corrupted and thus becomes rejected by God. We read this in Jami’ al-Ulum wa al-Hikam ( جامع العلوم و الحکم)by Imam Ibn Rajab Hanbali (‘alayhi rahma). The hadith his sharh is based on, is as follows:

‘Umar b. al-Khattab narrated that the Prophet (S) said: Deeds are [a result] only of the intentions [of the actor], and an individual is [rewarded] only according to that which he intends. Therefore, whosoever has emigrated for the sake of Allah and His messenger, then his emigration was for Allah and His messenger. Whosoever emigrated for the sake of worldly gain, or a woman [whom he desires] to marry, then his emigration is for the sake of that which [moved him] to emigrate.” Narrated by Bukhari and Muslim.

This hadith has only one path to ‘Umar: Yahya b. Sa’id al-Ansari on the authority of Muhammad b. Ibrahim al-Taymi, on the authority of ‘Alqama b. Abi Waqqas al-Laythi, who narrated it from ‘Umar b. al-Khattab. Large numbers of people narrated this hadith on the authority of Yahya b. Sa’id, including Imam Malik, al-Thawri, al-Awza’i, Ibn al-Mubarak, al-Layth b. Sa’d, Hammad b. Zayd, Shu’ba, Ibn ‘Uyayna and others.

Concerning this hadith, he says (translation by Br. Mohammed Fadel):

The first question regarding this hadith is whether it refers to all actions, or only those actions whose validity requires an intention (niyya)? Thus, if it refers only to the former, it would not apply to the customary areas of human life, e.g., eating, drinking, clothes, etc., as well as transactional matters, e.g., fulfilling fiduciary duties and returning misappropriated properties. The other opinion is that the hadith refers to all actions.

(Note: Ibn Rajab attributes the first position to the later scholars whereas the second position he attributes to earlier scholars.)

The first sentence of the hadith, “innama al-a’mal bi-l-niyyat,” is a declaration that the voluntary actions of a person are a consequence only of that person’s purpose to perform the act or bring it into existence (“la taqa’ illa ‘an qasd min al-‘amil huwa sabab ‘amaliha wa wujudiha.“). The second sentence, “wa innama li-kulli imri` ma nawa,”is a declaration of religion’s judgment of the act in question (“ikbar ‘an al-hukm al-shar’i“). Thus, if the intention motivating an act is good, then performance of the act is good and the person receives its reward. As for the corrupt intention, the action it motivates is corrupt, and the person receives punishment. If the intention motivating the act is permissible, then the action is permissible, and the actor receives neither reward nor punishment. Therefore, acts in themselves, their goodness, foulness or neutrality, from the perspective of religion, are judged according to the actor’s intention that caused their existence.

Niyya is used in two senses by the scholars of Islam. The first is to distinguish some acts of worship from others, e.g., salat al-zuhr from salat al-‘asr or to distinguish acts of worship (‘ibadat) from mundane matters (‘adat). This is the primary usage of the term in the books of the fuqaha. The second usage is to distinguish an action that is performed for the sake of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, from an act done for the sake of Allah and others, or just for the sake of other than Allah. This second meaning is that which is intended by the gnostics (‘arifun) in their discussions of sincerity (ikhlas) and related matters. This is the same meaning that is intended by the Pious Ancestors (al-salaf al-salih) when they use the term niyya. Thus, in the Qur`an, the speech of the Prophet (S) and the speech of the Salaf, the term niyya is synonymous, or usually so, with the term desire (irada) and related terms, e.g., ibtigha. The texts of the shar‘ testifying to this usage are too numerous to be cited in this posting, but include such verses as “Among you are those who desire (yurid) the profane world and among you are those who desire (yurid) the next,” and “You desire (turidun) the profit of the profane world but Allah desires [for you] the next,” and “Whosoever desires (yurid) the harvest of the profane world, etc.” and “Whosoever desires (yurid) the immediate [gratification of the profane world], we hasten it to him what We wish to whom We desire,” and “Do not expel those who call out to their Lord in the early morn and in the evening, who are seekers (yuridun) of His face and let not your eyes wander from them out of covetous desire (turid) of the frivolity of the profane world.”

Despite the importance of having a good niyya, and its centrality to Islam, it is among the most difficult things to achieve. Thus, Sufyan al-Thawri is reported to have said, “Nothing is more difficult for me to treat than my intention (niyya) for indeed it turns on me!” Yusuf b. Asbat said, “Purifying one’s intention from corruption is more difficult for persons than lengthy exertion (ijtihad).”

An act that is not done sincerely for the sake of Allah may be divided into parts:

The first is that which is solely for display (riya`) such that its sole motivation is to be seen by others in order to achieve a goal in the profane world, as was the case of the Hypocrites in their performance of prayer, where Allah described them as “When they join prayer, they go lazily [with the purpose] of displaying [themselves] to the people.”

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` ‘anal-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.

Therefore acts in Islam by themselves, done with Iman and the proper Niyya, are wholly rejected. If Islam was a religion of mere repetitive – robotic works, then merely doing the work would equate reward but this is clearly not the case. Therefore, the claim that Islam is a religion of works has been duly debunked.

One Muslim scholar states very succinctly:

Sahl Ibn ‘Abdillaah at-Tustaree رحمه الله said,

“The worldly life is ignorance and lifelessness except for knowledge. And all knowledge is a proof against you except for that which is acted upon. And all actions are floating particles of dust (i.e. invalid) except for those done with sincerity (i.e. for the sake of Allaah سبحانه و تعالى). So sincerity is of extreme consequence such that the action becomes complete with it.”

[al-Khateeb al-Baghdadi رحمه الله: Iqtidaa ul-‘Ilm al-‘Amal]

As for the claim that Christians do works as a consequence of their salvation, the following arguments puts this assertion to rest:

  • If works are a consequence of salvation and a person has faith but does no works, is he truly saved?
  • If the above is true (works are a consequence of salvation), then are works required to be saved?
  • If the above is false (works are not required), then why do works count as a surety of salvation?
  • If a person sins, but claims to be saved after having accepted Christ, is this a sign of not being saved?
  • If works are not needed, why are they a consequence of being saved?
  • A person does not have to be saved to do good works, i.e. Muslims do good, Hindus do good, Atheists do good, thus Christianity is not needed to do good – ergo, the premise of needing to be saved to do good is negated.

wa Allaahu ‘Alam.