An important question
A man came to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and asked him a very important question. “How about a man who goes out to a battle aiming for both reward and fame? What would he get?” Although the question was about a very specific action, fighting in the battle field, the question can apply to any action that one does for the sake of Allah, His pleasure, and gaining His reward. I will delay the Prophet’s answer until the end of the post. Please do not jump to the answer and continue reading 🙂
Actions done with multiple intention
As we learn Islam, we have been taught by our teachers that we can gain reward by associating a good intention to our deeds irrespective of whether this action is a ritual or not. For example, a doctor, studying for years and then working of limitless hours is doing so to make good living and increase wealth. There is nothing wrong about that. In addition to the worldly gain, the doctor can gain tremendous reward by doing this for the sake of Allah as well. Helping people to get cured is absolutely rewarded by Allah (swt). The doctor will not change any of his studying/working effort. The intention he/she embraces helps gaining Allah’s reward. As a matter of fact, we can make our jobs, habits, hobbies, and even entertainment and fun a source of reward if we include this intention: doing it for the sake of Allah. These belong to multiple-intention deeds: an aim for the Dunia (this worldly life) and an aim for Allah (his pleasure and reward). This is perfectly fine and we will get rewarded according to the amount (or percentage 🙂 ) of intention that is related to Allah. If someone teaches with 80% intention to make money and 20% intention to gain Allah’s reward, he will be rewarded accordingly. The more and the purer our intentions are, the more reward we get and nothing is wrong in the concept of multiple intention. We have to be aware of the following points though:
- The action that we do (our job for example) has to be permissible. Therefore, actions forbidden by Allah cannot be performed with the intention of doing a good deed. One can’t steel money with the intention of donating part of it :p
- Actions that are of religious nature–in other words, actions that are often done to get the reward of Allah–fall under this category. For example, one can lead the congregational prayer, teach people the Qur’an, deliver religious ceremonies, etc. as a job as well as aiming for the reward of Allah.
- This latter set of actions MUST include the intention of pleasing Allah and gaining reward and MUST NOT be performed for PURELY worldly gains. One must not learn the Qur’an JUST to make money being a Qur’an teacher. The reason I am using MUST in a strong form is that the Prophet (pbuh) said that “he who learns knowledge which is learned for the sake of Allah and he does not learn it except to gain worldly gain will not smell paradise …”
How about aiming for reward and fame?
We have established the permissibility (and even the encouragement) to include the reward of Allah in all the actions that we do. We also established a fact that multiple intentions are fine. The question the prophet was asked as mentioned in the beginning of the post speaks about the very same idea: someone aiming for two things, fame and reward. In that case, the prophet (pbuh) answered with one word, “Nothing!” The questioner was surprised and he repeated the question several time and the prophet kept answering, “Nothing!” The prophet finally concluded, “Allah only accepts the deed when it is pure and is aimed at His face” [meaning for his sake].
In several other hadiths, the prophet also strongly warned us from doing deeds from that which are aimed for the sake of Allah and at the same time seek fame. Same idea was entertained in the story of the three people who are punished at the day of judgement while one was a Qur’an reciter and teacher, the second was a generous man, and the third fought in the battlefield until he was killed. They were all punished since they all aimed for the people to remember them and mention them.
Reflections on the answer
I ask you to reflect on the answer and try to find out why the prophet answered that way. Here is my own reflection about this whole story
- Intention is so important. It is decisive whether or not our deeds are rewarded. Bad intention can be the source of punishment despite how good or rewarding the deed is
- Doing things with multiple intentions are fine. As a matter of fact, worldly action can be turned into a huge source of reward if we add the intention for the sake of Allah
- One can aim to gain worldly intention from religious deeds as long as it is mainly done for the sake of Allah.
- Worldly actions (such as jobs, habits, hobbies) can be performed with sole worldly aim. We will just get no reward for them. We can only get reward if we recall a good intention even if small.
- However, rituals and religious deeds MUST have an intention for the sake of Allah and can’t be performed for ONLY worldly matter. Having a sole worldly intention for religious deeds is very dangerous and punishable by Allah (swt)
- Fame is not part of this equation. If fame becomes one of the intentions, it will nullify the reward.
- Fame is fine. Aiming for fame is NOT. Aiming for fame is like fire that eats the other intentions and remove the reward altogether.
- Aiming for fame is a very bad illness and one should be careful from it especially in the deeds that are primarily aimed for the sake of Allah.
- Aiming for fame is considered by Allah and His Messenger a form of “associating partners” with Allah
- When fame comes without aiming for it (such as people thanking you or praising you for good deeds after you do them), it is like a reward from Allah. It is also a test so be careful and make sure your heart does not change by praise and thanks.