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Think you’re a “good” Muslim?

“Then We gave the Book (the Qur’ān) for an inheritance to those whom We chose from amongst Our servants; and among them is he who wrongs himself, and among them is he who is moderate, and among them is he who is foremost in good deeds by the permission of Allāh. That is the great favour!”[1]

I recall attending a course recently where the sheikh mentioned the above verse of the Qur’ān from Sūrah Fātir.

Admittedly, I was not familiar with this verse – but even if I had been, I would not have thought much about what these words meant for me personally. Sitting in a room with a group of people who would ordinarily be described as practicing Muslims (bearded and all), we each of us likely thought we were doing ok; perhaps from the middle category at worst.

It was explained that a common understanding is that all three of these groups are from the believers. We have all been granted this great favour, and now it is up to us to make the most of it in order to succeed. Those three categories of believers, briefly, are:

  1. Those who wrong themselves; those who leave the obligations or indulge in sin
  2. Those who are moderate; i.e., those who are doing just about enough to be granted Jannah, borderline in some cases
  3. Those who are foremost in good deeds; those racing ahead of us and attaining Allāh’s pleasure

Most of us in the room could happily tick off some of these boxes; fulfilling the obligatory acts was almost a given, and we would not normally knowingly indulge in sin, alḥamdulillāh. So worst case: moderate. Beyond that, many in the class could be called “active” brothers, involved in beneficial projects or charities, or teaching, etc., and hence we start to internally convince ourselves (our nafs) that we may actually be from the last category – at least in some aspects.

However, as our teacher explained the verse further, we all began looking down, avoiding eye contact with anyone else, and not out of humbleness!

Firstly, let us look at those who are moderate (in the context of this verse); those who pray, pay zakāh, fast in Ramaḍān and, if able, perform Hajj; and stay away from sins as much as possible. Perhaps many readers on this website can relate to this. But, if we look at the most important of these, the prayer – how many of us can say that our prayers are sound? Is our concentration in salāh anywhere near good enough for us to feel confident that our prayers are going to be accepted? Is the quality of our worship of Allāh even close to being befitting?

Or are we, in fact, despite “fulfilling the obligation” of salāh, wronging ourselves with large deficiencies in our prayers? Suddenly, the comfort of being moderate (at worst!) starts to uneasily drift towards the first category – those who wrong themselves.

The concern is, when we break it down, this extends to many other areas. Reading Qur’ān for example; do we give it its right? I have to ask myself, do I reflect upon its verses as the Qur’ān instructs me to? Or am I wronging myself on this front as well?

What is it to be from the moderate group in any case? Do I want to face my Creator in the hope that I have successfully been moderate in submission to Him? Whilst I would sign up for entrance into Jannah in a second, scraping through is not really the aim. Scraping through, when we consider the volume of deficiencies, is a very risky approach indeed!

Of course we know that Allāh is Ar-Raḥmān, and He is all-forgiving – and therefore we pray for His incredible mercy and forgiveness for our shortcomings. But assessing ourselves realistically is important and essential in pursuit of the highest success.

Having shaken our confidence already, we then looked at the “active” nature of many of the brothers in the group; the ones we would consider foremost in good deeds. Amongst the students, there were humanitarian aid workers, volunteers with multiple charities, brothers running projects to assist the blind, and so on. There were some truly inspiring people there involved in some amazing work and I pray that I will be amongst them in their noble projects.

Certainly, all of this good work should continue and we should all try to be part of it, but going back to the verse – how can such work not elevate one to the final coveted category?

The answer was that this work may well take us there; these noble acts of helping those in need, teaching, spending time benefitting the community, and so on, are what each and every one of us should be involved in as practicing Muslims. But these are public acts, in the main, that are seen and noticed by others. And we know Shayṭān and the nafs love to ruin these good deeds, by spoiling our intentions.

Think about it. You make a sincere effort to do something good, for the sake of Allāh alone. Afterwards, someone comes to you and says “thank you, that was kind of you”. It only takes a fleeting moment for the nafs to latch on to that comment and, at best, make you feel pleased with yourself or, at worst, be pleased to receive the praise of others. This is something we are all susceptible to.

Once the intention is corrupted, we may go from losing out on reward to even incurring sin if we fail to reign it back in.

This was not a lecture filled with doom and gloom though. We were provided with a solution that everyone can work towards, which is what I hope to share here.

In short, the work we carry out in public is essential and must continue, and even be expanded upon. We want to be from those who believe and carry out righteous actions, as Allāh describes in Sūrah al-ʿAsr:

“By time. Indeed mankind is in loss. Except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds, and advised each other to truth and advised each other to patience.”

The key with public work is to always check our intentions, before, during and afterwards. Try our best to keep these acts for the sake of Allāh alone and, if praise is received, try our best to get over it and stay focused. And thus, we hope for Allāh’s reward for these acts and we hope and pray that these are a means of attaining the status of “those who are foremost in good deeds”.

Yet, knowing how easily these can be tarnished, we cannot rely on them to make us those who are foremost in good deeds, even if we may place some hope in them.

Rather, the key is to strive to improve in our private worship, which is far less prone to corruption of intention, given that it is between us as individuals (or families), and Allāh alone. The sheikh mentioned some areas to regularly check ourselves against, and grade each as to whether we are wronging ourselves, whether we are moderate, or whether we are indeed foremost in good deeds.

And when we look at who we know were foremost in good deeds from the companions and pious predecessors, we know this is an elite group that can only be joined through hard work.

Let us regularly measure our state with each of the following acts, and ask Allāh to help us to succeed in all:

Wronging myself Moderate Foremost in good
Salāh at its earliest time
Focus & concentration in salāh
Praying the 12 sunan rakʿāt daily
Waking up for night prayer (qiyām)
Regular congregational prayer in the masjid
Voluntary fasting
Daily reading of the Qur’ān
Pondering over the meanings of the Qur’ān
Memorisation of the Qur’ān
Voluntary charity (saqadah)
Morning and evening remembrance
Regular remembrance of Allāh (adhkār)
Regular supplication (duʿā’)

It is worth making our own lists, and regularly assessing ourselves in each of these (and others). If we can gradually become regular in these acts of worship, step by step, and work to continue to build upon them then, by the will of Allāh, we could attain that highest level – and these, unlike public deeds, are ones we can safely rely upon to get us there, inshāAllāh.

A final point that I took away from the sheikh was that public actions need to happen, regardless of whether we rely on them for success in the Ākhirah or not. We, as practicing Muslims, need to be engaged in goodness wherever it is, and work hard to be involved in it. That may well mean that we put ourselves at risk of our intention being corrupted, as it becomes easy to be noticed, but the way to tackle this is to increase in the private actions and continue with the public ones.

The fear of being known for good, or the fear of the nafs or Shayṭān ruining our intentions should not mean not engaging in good work, for then Shayṭān has prevented goodness. Rather, we should strive to maintain a sound intention, and know that we need do more privately than we do in public.

I pray that this reminder to myself is a means for improvement in the worship of our Creator, and that it benefits and pushes other brothers and sisters to improve too, so that we are all able to attain the status of the final category mentioned in the verse.



[1] Al-Qur’ān, 35:32

About Abdullah Izzadin

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