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The Sealed Nectar

 The Sealed Nectar by Shaykh Safi ur-Rahman

Allah stated in the Qur'an that to worship Him is the purpose of human existence[1] and He stated that He gave man life on earth in order to test him as to who is best in deeds,[2] meaning the deeds one does while intending worship of Him. For any deed that is done or avoided while seeking the acceptance of Allah automatically becomes an act of worship. However, the Prophet affirmed that Allah does not benefit from the worship of His creations, nor does their refusal harm Him in the least. In reality, it is His servants who benefit from their worship and obedience, both in this life and the next, and this is another aspect of the Creator's unlimited mercy. Every effort in His path brings a beneficial result. To cite but a few examples of cause and effect given by the Prophet on the subject of worship:

No people sits mentioning Allah except that the angels surround them, mercy covers them, tranquility descends upon them and Allah mentions them to those near Him.[3]

Recite the Qur'an, for it will come on the Day of Resurrection as an intercessor for those who recited it.[4] Whoever is skillful in recitation of the Qur'an will be with the noble messenger angels, and whoever recites the Qur'an faltering while it is difficult for him will have two rewards.[5]

The five [obligatory] prayers, Friday [prayer] to the next Friday and Ramadhan [fasting] to the next Ramadhan are expiation for what occurred between them when the major sins are avoided.[6] Extract the poor-due from your wealth, for it will purify you.[7] For the fasting person at the time of breaking his fast is a supplication that is not refused.[8] From one Umrah to the next is expiation [for sins], and the reward of a sinless Hajj is none but Paradise.[9]

The best prayer after the obligatory one is prayer during the night.[10] Our Lord, blessed and exalted is He, descends to the nearest heaven when the last third of the night remains and He says, "Who will supplicate to Me so I will answer him? Who will ask Me so I will give him? Who will seek My forgiveness so I will forgive him?"[11]

Each of the preceding narrations illustrates that acts of worship motivated by conscientious obedience are causes of beneficial results. Prophet Muhammad mentioned this relationship between the cause and its effect as an encouragement for believers to make good use of the time, abilities, means and opportunities they possess for obtaining something desirable or advantageous.

Other hadiths disclose that the best and most beloved deeds to Allah are the religious obligations which He has ordained, so they must always be given priority by a believer. It is fulfillment of these obligations that earns the greatest benefits, and none of them can ever be replaced by voluntary worship of any kind. When a Muslim carries out his religious obligations, carefully observing their requirements and conditions, he has cleared himself of the sin of negligence and earned the generous reward due to him from Allah.

After completing his obligatory acts of worship, one may go on to obtain further benefit and become even closer to Allah. The Prophet reported that Allah, the Mighty and Majestic, said, "My servant does not draw near to Me with anything more loved by Me than what [duties] I have imposed on him. And My servant continues to draw near to Me with additional works until I love him; and when I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his sight with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes, and his foot with which he walks. If he asks [something] of Me, I will surely give it to him; and if he seeks refuge with Me, I will surely grant it to him."[12]

But worship is not limited to the formal rites of prayer, fasting, pilgrimage and the like. It includes everything that is pleasing to Allah of words, deeds, attitudes and intentions. And it includes compliance in the upright conduct ordered by Allah: honesty, opposing injustice, respect and good treatment of people, teaching knowledge, counseling, preventing harm and giving benefit; all these become forms of worship as long as they are intended by a believer for his Creator's acceptance. Many of the Prophet's hadiths demonstrate that the concept of worship is extensive and comprehensive. For example, he said:

One who strives for [assistance of] the widow and the needy is like a fighter for the cause of Allah or like someone who prays by night and fasts by day.[13]

Every good deed is a charity, and the one who directs to good is like one who does it.[14] There is no Muslim who plants a sprout or a seed from which a person, animal or bird will eat but that it will be counted for him as a charity.[15] Among the best of deeds is making a believer happy; paying for him a debt; satisfying for him a need; relieving him of a problem.[16]

Thus, it may be understood that nearness to Allah is attained primarily by behavior which is pleasing to Him. The methods to be employed toward this end have been outlined in the Qur'an and elaborated upon in greater detail within the Sunnah. But the Prophet pointed out that the righteous act alone is insufficient. It must be accompanied by the correct intention, meaning that it is done solely for the acceptance of Allah and no one else, and for no other reason. That is how one's deeds become acts of worship and are distinguished from those of habit, custom or hypocrisy. The Prophet cautioned: "Deeds are only by intentions, and every man shall have only what he intended."[17] Thus, if he intended something for the approval of his Creator he will have that approval and its reward, and if he intended it for a worldly purpose, such as praise and recognition, he will have in this life what he sought, but without Allah's approval and reward, for His justice is precise and perfect.

This aspect of the Sunnah encompasses everything in a believer's life. In the Qur'an, Allah instructed His Messenger: And say, "Work, for Allah will see your deeds, and [so will] His Messenger and the believers. And you will be returned to the Knower of what is concealed and what is witnessed, and He will inform you of what you used to do."[18]

So the Prophet advised his followers to make good use of their abilities and of any excess time they find to increase their positive and constructive endeavors, saying, "There are two blessings of which many people are deprived: health and free time."[19] And he told them:

Fear Allah wherever you are, and follow up a bad deed with a good one; it will erase it. And treat people with good manners.[20] The best of people is one whose life is long and deeds are good, and the worst of people is one whose life is long and deeds are bad.[21]

It was his duty to convey to people what kind of deeds are pleasing to Allah and to inform them that they must exert effort to prove their faith. That he did in the most complete manner. It remains for those who claim belief to confirm it, as Allah clearly stated that there is responsibility on both sides: Upon him [the Messenger] is only that with which he has been charged, and upon you is that with which you have been charged.[22]

In order to do something in the most efficient and effective way, adequate knowledge of it is required. In particular, one must know the correct ways of securing Allah's approval and reward, as was confirmed and emphasized by His Messenger:

Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim.[23] Whoever follows a path seeking knowledge, Allah will facilitate for him a path to Paradise.[24]

He who follows a path in pursuit of knowledge, Allah will make easy for him a path to Paradise. The angels lower their wings for the seeker of knowledge, being pleased with what he does. The inhabitants of the heavens and the earth, even the fish in the depths of the oceans ask forgiveness for him. The superiority of the learned person over the ritual worshipper is like that of the moon over other planets. The learned are heirs of the prophets; prophets leave neither dinars nor dirhams but only knowledge, and he who acquires it has in fact acquired an abundant share.[25]

May Allah make radiant the face of a person who hears from me a statement and conveys it as he heard it. It might be that one who hears it understands better than the one who conveys it.[26] Whoever invites to right guidance will have reward equal to the rewards of all those who follow it without it lessening anything from their own rewards.[27]

The Prophet always encouraged the pursuit and teaching of knowledge. This included insight into history, an understanding of the natural laws governing occurrences, development of the earth for the benefit of humanity, the need to refer to specialists in every field, regulation of public and private conduct, techniques of dialogue with discipline and diplomacy, awareness of actual realities, consideration of existing situations, perception of the aims behind legal rulings and application of necessary conditions for acceptability of deeds.

According to the Qur'an and Sunnah, there are two requirements for Allah's acceptance of any deed:
1) correctness, meaning that it is something lawful and done according to the way prescribed by Allah and His Messenger, and 2) sincerity, meaning that it is done for the approval of Allah alone. That is why the Prophet warned, "Perhaps a fasting person gains nothing from his fast but hunger, and perhaps one who stands in night prayers gains nothing from his prayer but wakefulness."[28] And, "Anyone who innovates something in this religion of ours that is not a part of it - it will be rejected."[29]

And some of the most significant and essential information regarding work and worship left by the Messenger is the following:

The most beloved deeds to Allah are the most regular, even if they are few.[30] Take on from deeds whatever you are able, for Allah does not lose interest until you do. And indeed, the most beloved deeds to Allah are those that continue, even if they are few.[31]

Indeed, Allah has ordained conscientiousness in every matter.[32] Allah likes when one of you does something that he does it well.[33] Allah likes when one of you does something that he does it with precision.[34]

Allah, the Exalted, has said, "I am the most self-sufficient, needing no partner. So whoever does a deed for Me and another [simultaneously], I abandon him and his partnership."[35]

There must be no obedience to a created being in disobedience of the Creator.[36] Whoever seeks the acceptance of Allah but angering people - Allah will free him from dependence on people, and whoever seeks the acceptance of people by angering Allah - Allah will leave him to the people. [37]

When a servant becomes ill or travels, Allah, the Exalted, registers for him the same as he used to earn when he was well and at home.[38]

One who asks Allah for martyrdom truthfully will reach the position of the martyrs even though he should die on his bed.[39]

When a man dies his deeds are ended except for three: a continuing charity, beneficial knowledge [left by him] and a righteous child who supplicates for him.[40]

Some of his companions asked the Prophet about the issue of predestination - whether there was any use in performing good deeds since Allah had already decreed who was destined for Hell and who was destined for Paradise. He answered, "Work, for everyone is eased toward that for which he was created." Then he recited to them: As for he who gives and fears Allah and believes in the best [reward], We will ease him toward ease. But as for he who withholds and considers himself free of need and denies the best [reward], We will ease him toward difficulty.[41]

He meant that Allah decrees each person's destiny due to a cause, and that cause is his intent and action throughout his life on earth. Divine knowledge of what every individual will do during his life cannot affect his freedom to decide and act for himself, because he himself does not know what his Lord has decreed, and hence, he is entirely responsible for his own choice. When a person intends to do evil in spite of his Creator's guidance and warnings, Allah is displeased and leaves him to himself unless he repents and seeks forgiveness. And when someone intends to do what is right and good, Allah helps him to accomplish it and to earn its reward.

The Prophet encouraged people to think and to seek knowledge. He demonstrated how the unique characteristics of each individual should be capitalized upon and channeled in the right direction, alluding to this fact when he said: "Everyone is eased toward that for which he was created." He was speaking not only about Paradise and Hell, but about the individual distinctions that need to be developed, refined and directed away from evil and toward the service of mankind.

He also established the principles and systematic methodology for obtaining knowledge, imparting it and acting upon it.[42] Tendencies toward excess among his companions were checked and corrected. Both fundamental and secondary issues were given due attention, as all are part of the religion, but fundamentals always took priority, for they are the base for all other reforms. Muslims were never allowed to become preoccupied with means and procedures to the point of forgetting their major objectives.

The Sunnah, when understood and applied in an intelligent and balanced manner, puts all affairs in order, from personal and social etiquette to the politics of government and international relations. It is the key to everything good and desirable, the foundation of a superior civilization and the path to success in the present life and the life to come.

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[1] See Qur'an - 51:56.

[2] See Qur'an - 18:7 and 67:2

[3] Narrated by Muslim.

[4] Narrated by Ahmad and Muslim.

[5] Narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim.

[6] Narrated by Muslim. Major sins are removed only through sincere repentance.

[7] Narrated by Ahmad - hasan.

[8] Narrated by Ibn Majah.

[9] Narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim.

[10] Narrated by Muslim.

[11] Narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim. Allah's descent is not a physical one like that of His creation; rather it indicates extra attentiveness.

[12] Narrated by al-Bukhari. Allah does not "become" part of His creation in the physical sense. Rather, the servant's perception and actions are guided by what Allah has ordained.

[13] Narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim.

[14] Narrated by al-Bayhaqi - saheeh

[15] That is, he will earn the reward of a charity every time any creature eats from it. Narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim.

[16] Narrated by al-Bayhaqi - saheeh

[17] Narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim.

[18] Qur'an - 9:105.

[19] Narrated by al-Bukhari and at-Tirmidhi.

[20] Narrated by Ahmad, Abu Dawud and at-Tirmidhi - hasan

[21]Narrated by Ahmad and at-Tirmidhi - saheeh

[22] Qur'an - 24:54.

[23] Narrated by al-Bayhaqi and at-Tabarani - saheeh.

[24] Narrated by Muslim.

[25] Narrated by Ahmad - saheeh. The dinar and dirham were the units of currency in use at the time.

[26] Ahmad and at-Tirmidhi - saheeh.

[27] Narrated by Ahmad and Muslim.

[28] Narrated by Ibn Majah - saheeh.

[29] Meaning that it will not be accepted by Allah. Narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim.

[30] Narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim.

[31] Narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim.

[32] Narrated by Muslim.

[33] Narrated by at-Tabarani - hasan.

[34] Narrated by al-Bayhaqi - hasan.

[35] Narrated by Muslim.

[36] Narrated by Ahmad and at-Tirmidhi - saheeh.

[37] Narrated by at-Tirmidhi - saheeh

[38] Narrated by Ahmad and al-Bukhari.

[39] Narrated by Muslim.

[40] Narrated by Muslim

[41] Narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim. The Qur'anic verses are 92:5-10.

[42] This principle is evident in the Qur'an's revelation. Early verses dealt with the establishment of faith and motivation before introducing and imposing legislation. Obviously, a rational person will only accept a restriction or ruling when trusting in its benefit or in the wisdom of the lawmaker.

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