Asaalaamu alaykum, and thank you for sending your question to Ask About Islam.
Sheikh Faraz Rabbani of SeekersHub answers this question quite well in the following video:
Sh. Faraz Rabbani:
“So does seeking reward affect the intention?
Allah, subhannahu wa ta’ala, is Arrham Ul-Raheemeen. He is unimaginably merciful.
He is more merciful than any imaginable reality of mercy that you can imagine.
So Allah… does not reward us according to what we deserve, because… if you consider what is due to Allah then we don’t deserve anything.
You owe your existence to Allah, you owe every breath to Allah, you’re absolutely indebted to Allah.
Even if you gave everything to Allah, you would fall short.
So Allah does not demand from you perfection, not in your actions and not in your intentions, and he knows that we are weak.
… Allah has created us weak, He has created us short-sighted, He has created us hasty; that’s how we are, and he’ll accept us in that reality.
So, when it comes to intention, we see from the Qur’an and the Sunnah that there are three levels of intent. All of them are considered sincere.
If we begin from the top, pure sincerity […] is that you act purely for Allah, Subhanahu wa ta’ala, without any consideration of any other meaning whatsoever.
As one of the poets said,…”Were it not for yearning for you deep within us, we would not have even moved.” That is highest sincerity.
That’s the Abrahamic way…: “Say: my prayer and my devotion, my living and my dying, are all absolutely for the sake of Allah, Lord of the worlds.”
That is absolute sincerity, that’s high sincerity, and that sincerity has subtle degrees of purity, of intensity, and of perfection. And that’s what we should aspire towards.
However, lower than that, but still a high degree of sincerity because you are seeking from Allah, is to act seeking reward for it, whether it be… you want the palace in Paradise or this or that.
Why? Because it’s from Allah. It’s His garden and… that, too, is sincerity. It falls short of the pure standard of sincerity, but if you are asking from Allah, it is sincerity.
Now, lower than that is if you ask from Allah for purely personal gain, even worldly!
You really need to go to the washroom, and there’s a lineup. So you say, “Oh Allah, I need to go to the washroom!”
Now, there you aren’t thinking about Allah, you aren’t thinking about some reward in Paradise; you’re just thinking about getting to the toilet!
That, too, is sincere. Why? Because you asked Allah, and He loves to be asked.
So, don’t complicate sincerity. If you are asking from Allah, it’s good.
[…] Don’t don’t try to do philosophy with the Shaitaan [Satan], because he’s a great philosopher and he’ll out-philosophize you. Smarter people than you have stumbled!
If you have a motive to do something, ask Allah and do it. And if you are confused about your intent, do the best you can and ask Allah for increase in sincerity.”
Watch the video to learn more!
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