It is the correctness of intention and sincerity that elevates a person's worldly action and makes it into prayer. But if there is perversion in the intention and corruption in the heart, people are degraded, regardless of prayers they may have offered. Many times people build high and lofty palaces, broad and spacious buildings, lay out beautiful gardens full of fruit. If in these efforts and labor of construction the purpose is to benefit humanity, then for these acts the planners will become recipients of unending reward (sawab). Many such constructors of society have been kings. Of them Allah's Messenger commended:
"Anybody who, without subjecting another person to cruelty or aggression, builds a magnificent building or plants saplings without indulging in cruelty or rancor, will be getting reward for the fullness of the time in which Allah's creatures are benefited by these things." (Ahmed)
In another tradition it is stated that "If a Muslim lays a garden or does fanning, and if bird or man eats something grown by him, then he will gain virtue in its place." Even carnal pleasures can be counted as acts of virtue, if enjoyed with righteous intention and clean purpose. Ibn Abi Waqqas narrates the following recommendation of the Prophet: "If you spend even a little to seek the pleasure of Allah, you are rewarded, so much so, that even putting a morsel of food in the mouth of your wife is a virtuous act."
Another tradition has it that: "Whatever you feed your father is charity from you. Whatever you feed your child is a means of reward for you, and whatever you feed your servant, is also charity from you." (Ahmed)
The fact is that, as long as people remain obedient to Allah and their intentions are pure and sincere, all their acts and movements, their sleep and their waking, are considered to be for the pleasure of Allah. It sometimes happens that people want to perform a righteous act but are unable to do so because of their poverty. Then Allah, who
knows the secrets of hearts, gives the person desirous of reform the honor of reform or the person desirous of striving in the cause of Allah the honor of a Mujahid (striver in the cause of Allah). In the eyes of God high courage and righteous intention are thus noble while poverty is of no fault.
Once, during the early days of Islam, when the followers were in dire scarcity and poverty, a battle was to be fought. Some people came to the Prophet to join his forces and offered themselves to be sacrificed in the cause of Allah. But Allah's Messenger did not allow them to take part in the jihad because of their incapability. They returned with heavy and sorrowful hearts. They were deeply grieved for not being allowed to participate in jihad. The following verses about them were revealed:
"(About) those who came to you to be provided with mounts- (It is acceptable that) you said 'I can find no mounts for you,' causing them to turn back, their eyes streaming with tears of grief that they had no resources wherewith to provide the expenses." (Q 9:92)
Do you think that firm and strong faith is ever wasted? Did you think the burning desire of the volunteers for battle would be lost? No, never. The Prophet profoundly appreciated their faith and said to the soldiers going with him:
"There are some people whom we have left behind in Madinah. In whatever place or valley we may camp, they will be with us. For them their intention is enough." (Bukhari)
Since their plans were earnest, these excused mujahideen became nonetheless recipients of the reward (sawab) of the jihad, because they had stayed in Madinah against the wishes of their hearts. If this is the reward for honest intention, imagine the result of dishonest intention! Horrendous punishment is reserved for bad deeds; all the more so, if the act is made to appear righteous. Hypocrisy is mightily condemned. "Woe to the worshippers who are neglectful of their prayers, those who (want but) to be seen, but refuse neighborly needs." (Q 107:4-7)
Prayer based on hypocrisy is considered a sin because, after losing sincerity, it has become dead and is, therefore, useless. Similar is the case of zakat. If it is paid merely to seek Allah's pleasure, then it can be acceptable to Allah. Otherwise it is a waste:
"Waste not your charity by reminders of your generosity like him who spends his wealth to be seen by people and believes not in Allah and the last day. His likeness is the likeness of a rock on which there is dust of earth; on it heavy rainfalls, which leaves it a bare stone. They will be able to do nothing with anything they have earned." (Q 2:264)
The heart which is bereft of sincerity is infertile, as the rock with some dust on it cannot grow any grain when rain falls on it. If the kernel is rotten, beautiful outer skin will not be of any use. However, if we are full of sincerity, then its blessing helps to make an ordinary thing as weighty as a mountain. If devoid of sincerity, what reward can mounds of chaff and husks achieve from Allah? That is why Allah's Messenger said "Make your faith pure; a little (righteous) act will be sufficient to save you from hell." (Al-Hakim)
In the hadith the reward for virtuous acts has been said to be from ten to a hundred fold, depending on the performer's intention and the sincerity hidden in his/her heart, which is known only to that Being who knows about all manifest as well as hidden things. Rewards increase according to the sincerity and honesty of intentions. The external acts of people can neither achieve the pleasure of Allah nor the true grandeur in worldly life. Allah gives His attention to His faithful and accepts only those acts that bring them nearer to Him. As regards worldly show and human trappings, they have no importance and no value. The Prophet once recounted that "Allah does not look at your bodies nor does He look at your faces, but He looks at your hearts." The following is mentioned in the hadith:
"When doomsday occurs, the deeds done in the world will be presented to Allah. From them the acts performed for Allah will be separated. And the other acts performed for other purposes will be
thrown into the fire of hell." (Baihaqi)
Those who adopt these truths in life will experience relief and comfort in this world and will also achieve eternal bliss in the hereafter. They will not be harmed by the loss of anything. Nor will they grieve for any act. As the Prophet said:
"The man who leaves his world, having performed acts sincerely for the One and Only Allah, having established prayer and paid zakat, Allah is pleased with him." (Ibn Maja) This hadith is in conformity with these words of revelation: "And they have been commanded no more than this: to worship Allah, offering Him sincere devotion, being true (in faith), establishing regular prayer, and practicing regular charity; that is religion, right and straight" (Q 98:5)
In times of scarcity and adversity, the rays of sincerity throw their light with full force. At such times many people separate themselves from their carnal desires and yearnings. They sever relations with their defects and errors. They repent before Allah and weep, wail, and pray for His blessings. They shake for fear of Allah's wrath. The Quran has drawn a very fine picture of such a person, who is surrounded by adversities, who out of fear, has forgotten all his[her] mischief and is appealing to his/her Merciful Lord, so that He may lift him out of this mire: "Say - who is it that delivers you from the dark recesses of land and sea, when you call upon Him in meekness and silent terror; if He only delivers us from these (dangers), (we vow) we shall truly show our gratitude? Say - it is Allah that delivers you from these distresses; yet you run after false gods" (Q 6:63-64)
This sincerity is temporary. Those conditions that simply befall a man, how can they be called moral conduct? Allah wants to be truly and correctly known and recognized and should be respected and honored under all conditions, as deserving of Him. People should give their due with honest and sincere intention, supported by good conduct. Their attachment to noble attributes should be strong and should not break so easily. They should not make anything but selflessness and Allah's pleasure the ideals to follow in life.
Often the heat of sincerity gradually disappears as passion for greed, wealth, self-love, egotism, hunger for position and office, hypocrisy, and desire to be famous increase. But to Allah the only desirable act is one free of impure motives. "Surely, pure religion is for Allah only." (Q 39:3) The example of superior human nature is like that of a ripe fruit that requires to be protected from disease and mishaps in order to preserve its sweetness and cleanness. For this reason Islam considers hypocrisy in righteous acts most abominable and has declared it to be shirk, associating some one else with Allah.