What are good deeds?

العمل الصالح

All the scholars of Islam – the jurists and others – have agreed that good deeds are one of the pillars of faith, and a witness to the integrity of Tawheed (monotheism), as there is no indication or sign that represents the meaning of the two Shahada’s (testimonies) in reality except for a person’s behavior, morals, commitment and adherence to orders, and abstinence from evil and prohibitions. Good deeds are a true witness to the stability of faith in the heart. Rather, it is one of the fruits of faith in Allah the Almighty, in His Messenger, and in the Last Day. That is why it is well known in a saying that is attributed to Al-Hasan Al-Basri, where he says: “Faith is not by embellishment or wishful thinking, but it is what settles in the heart and is verified through your works.” Then he added: “whoever says good but does not do good will have his words judged by his deeds. Whoever says good and does good will have his words raised by his deeds. This is because Allah says: {To Him ascends the good word, and the righteous deed raises it}[1].

This saying is famous in the books of religion related to the Islamic faith, and it symbolizes that apparent work is the reality of faith, for it is a pillar of faith, as well as a witness to it, a guide to it, rather it is considered the fruit of faith in reality.

Defining a good deed

A good deed is that which is pleasing to Allah the Almighty, and it combines two things; The first: that it be in accordance with Islamic law, the second: that it be intended to please and obey Allah, so if the deed lacks one or both of these, it is not pleasing to Allah, and therefore there is no reward for it, the Almighty said: 

{So whoever would hope for the meeting with his Lord – let him do righteous deeds and not associate in the worship of his Lord anyone.}, and ​​what is meant by righteous deeds is correct deeds, i.e., in accordance with Islamic law, and purely for the sake of Allah the Almighty.

The good deed is represented in the acts of worship, obedience and obligations that Allah commanded his servants to do, and also represents the reason for their creation and existence on the earth. The clear explanation on this matter is well addressed in “Al-Ibaanah al-Kubra” by Ibn Battah where it shows the type of relationship that exists between worship and good deeds.

Worship is good deeds

In the book of al-Ibanah al-Kubra by Ibn Battah, it was stated that the meaning of good deeds is worship that is intended to please Allah and gain His eternal paradise. This main relationship underlies as follow:

1 – The origin of faith is the pronunciation of the two testimonies, and its reality is acting upon it. Allah combined that in His Mighty Book with a verse that combined  between good saying and good deed, Allah says: {And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.} [Adh-Dhariyat: 56].

In this verse, he combined words and deeds, sincerity and obedience through worship and obey his commands, and the elements of belief which include to believe in Him, His Books, His Messengers, and follow their steps in worshiping and obeying Allah.

2 – Worship is action, and action is part of faith, [if the worship that Allah created them for was saying without action, he would not have called it worship and called it speech, and he would have said: “I created the jinn and mankind only to say.” So, because he said “except that they worship Me” indicates that action is part of faith and worship.

3 – Worship is a service, and that service is work. The worker in Allah’s course his action is to perform the obligations and avoid the forbidden acts, obey Allah in what He commanded from the laws of religion, and perform the obligations. For this Allah the Almighty said: {O you who have believed, bow and prostrate and worship your Lord and do good – that you may succeed * And strive for Allah with the striving due to Him. He has chosen you and has not placed upon you in the religion any difficulty. [It is] the religion of your father, Abraham. He [i.e., Allah] named you “Muslims” before [in former scriptures]} [Hajj: 77 – 78].

4 – The prayer, zakat (charity), fasting, pilgrimage, every means of nearness to Allah, and good deeds are all referred to as religion. Thus, religion is the righteous deed that conforms to the principles of faith that were brought by the messengers. Allah the Almighty says: {And We sent not before you any messenger except We revealed to him that, “There is no deity except Me, so worship Me.”} [Al-Anbiya: 25]. He the Most High also asked His Prophet, peace be upon him to declare that: {..”Indeed, my prayer, my rites of sacrifice, my living and my dying are for Allah, Lord of the worlds.} [Al-An’am: 162]. 

Allah also said: {and we have been commanded to submit to the Lord of the worlds. * And to establish prayer and fear Him.” And it is He to whom you will be gathered.} [Al-An’am: 71-72].

5 – Based on this principle, Ibn Taymiyyah established his choice that religion is worship, when he said: “You ask about religion, for religion is worship, for you will not find a man of the people of religion who abandons the worship of people of religion and then does not enter into another religion except that he has no religion. 

You also ask about worship, and worship is obedience, because whoever obeys Allah in what He commands and forbids he has preferred the worship of God, and whoever obeys the Shaytan in his religion and his work has worshiped the Shaytan. Do you not see that God has reproached people who neglected the law: {Did I not enjoin you, O children of Adam, not to worship Satan?} Rather, their worship of the Shaytan was that they obeyed him in their religion.”[4]

It appears from the previous explanation that good deeds wherever they are mentioned, whether in the Quran or Sunnah of the Prophet they denote acts of obedience, worship, and nearness to Allah, which include actions of the heart such as sincerity of intention, correct belief that negates disbelief and polytheism, as well as physical deeds.

Therefore, good deeds vary and include all that Allah the Almighty has commanded in terms of obligatory and desirable acts of worship. If a Muslim performs them in obedience to his Lord and submission to His law, seeking Allah’s face with it, he is from the people of righteous deeds. The utmost part of righteous deeds is worship which its main principles are covered under the hadith of Jibril (AS), which are: prayer, zakah, fasting and pilgrimage, as they are among the pillars of Islam that it is not permissible to underestimate at all, neither to underestimate their importance.

The Muslim while observing all acts of righteous deeds, should consider the following meanings:

1 – should be hasty with the acts 

This can be confirmed in the saying of Allah the Almighty: {And hasten to forgiveness from your Lord and a garden [i.e., Paradise] as wide as the heavens and earth, prepared for the righteous} [Al-Imran: 133]

And the Almighty’s saying: {Race [i.e., compete] toward forgiveness from your Lord and a Garden whose width is like the width of the heavens and earth, prepared for those who believed in Allah and His messengers.} [Al-Hadid: 21]

Allah also relates about the Prophet of Allah, Musa, peace be upon him: {and I hastened to You, my Lord, that You be pleased.} (Taha: 84).

He also commended Zakariya, peace be upon him, and his family: {they used to hasten to good deeds and supplicate Us in hope and fear, and they were to Us humbly submissive.} [Al-Anbiya’: 90].

2- Continuing the act with diligence and consistency

This is confirmed in the Almighty’s saying: {So remain on a right course as you have been commanded, [you] and those who have turned back with you [to Allah], and do not transgress. Indeed, He is Seeing of what you do.} (Hud: 112).

This diligence is exemplified in the attitudes of the close servants of Allah Almighty towards their worship in the verse: {Only those believe in Our verses who, when they are reminded by them, fall down in prostration and exalt [Allah] with praise of their Lord, and they are not arrogant. * Their sides part [i.e., they arise] from [their] beds; they supplicate their Lord in fear and aspiration, and from what We have provided them, they spend.} ([Sajdah: 15 and 16].

Allah, Glory be to Him also says: {They used to sleep but little of the night * And in the hours before dawn they would ask forgiveness * And from their properties was [given] the right of the [needy] petitioner and the deprived.} [Adh-Dhariyat 17-19]. And in His saying, Glory be to Him: {And those who spend [part of] the night to their Lord prostrating and standing [in prayer]} [Al-Furqan: 64].
3- The hope of acceptance with the fear of not being accepted: as in the Allah says: {And they who give what they give while their hearts are fearful} [Al-Mu’minun: 60]. He also says: {Indeed, Allah only accepts from the righteous [who fear Him]} (Al-Ma’idah: 27).

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