Those Who Are Best in Deeds

He it is who created death and life so He may try you as to which of you is best in deeds. (Quran 67: 2)

The above verse says that we are here on earth to work. Our lives were given to us to see how we would conduct ourselves. The term used in Islamic discourse is “good work” (`amal salih).

I have tried to specify the number of times the phrase “good work” appears in the Quran in all of its forms while containing both words, and have found that it appears about 90 times.

The word “work” in all of its forms appears in other contexts, either by itself or with another adjective besides “righteous”, in over 360 places, according to my quick estimation. God says:

…so He may try you as to which of you is best in deeds.

We must take note that the verse does not speak about the quantity of deeds, but their quality. The Quranic expression is not “most in deeds” but “best in deeds”.

Al-Fadl ibn `Iyad’s statement on this issue is well known. In his commentary on the phrase “best of deeds” he says:

“It means to make them sincere and correct, because a sincere but incorrect deed will not be accepted, just as a correct but insincere deed will not be accepted. A deed will never be acceptable unless it is both sincere and correct.” (Ibn Taymiyah, al`Ubudiyyah)

Virtues of Good Work

In other words, for a deed to earn this attribute of virtue, it must fulfill the following necessary conditions:

Purity of intention and nobility of purpose. This is sometimes referred to as sincerity.

Agreement with the Sunnah and Islamic Law. This is sometimes expressed by the term “conformity” or the term “correctness”.

The virtue of any deed rests on these two foundations. The more sincere an act is and the more rigorously it adheres to the conformities of Islamic Law, the more virtuous it is.

Going the Wrong Way

The manner in which God extols the value of work exposes the foolishness of two tendencies that are far removed from the truth. The first of these tendencies is to perform works without guidance or insight, deeds carried out in disregard of both Islamic and natural causes.

The works of these people are to be described as evil and filth. Such works are bereft of benefit and come to naught. If such works are of a religious nature, they will not be accepted and will not bring about salvation in the Hereafter. If they are of a worldly nature, they will not provide the desired results, since they are neither based on proper consideration nor on true experience.

The same can be said for “Islamic” sects, schools of thought, or approaches that deviate from the way of God and call their adherents to worship God in falsehood and ignorance.

Their situation is described by God in the following manner:

Those before them did also plot, but Allah took their structures from their foundations, and the roof fell down upon them from above. And the punishment seized them from a way that they did not perceive. (16: 26)

The clearest contemporary example that can be given of such deviant reform is that of Communism, in both its philosophical framework and its political and cultural manifestations. It collapsed upon itself in a most unexpected manner and all its accomplishments became its bane.

The questions came. Some asked how they could free themselves of it. Others asked how its swift departure could be forestalled. Still others ask how at least some small part of it could be retained. The other of these two false tendencies is that of complacency.

It is the approach of those who are heedless of God’s way of dealing with the universe. Such a person wants all his desires fulfilled for him without any expenditure of effort on his part.

Though such an attitude is rare on account of the natural human inclination for activity, it does surface in certain ways. It appears in those who casually follow their every lust and desire, who mask themselves behind a name or slogan thinking that it will suffice them. The Quran tells us of the Jews who used to say:

The Fire will not touch us except for a few numbered days. (2: 80)

Then some Christians came along and made similar statements. They claimed to be the children of God and His beloved ones. Then:

…they were succeeded by a generation who inherited the scripture but who chose for themselves the vanities of this world, saying: ‘Allah will forgive us.’ Then, if similar vanities came their way, they would again choose them. (7: 169)

Yes, the verse is about the Jews and Christians, but its implications are equally relevant to the Muslims, since the behavior exhibited is the same.

Working with Purpose

Likewise, it applies to those who live without purpose or direction, those who are prisoners of their misfortunes, problems, and of the complications of their daily lives.

Their behavior has no method to it and their actions have no rhyme or reason. They are immersed in activities that are utterly devoid of meaning.

One of them works at his job in order to pay the installments on his house. He lives in that house in order to sleep, eat, and drink. Yet, he only sleeps, eats, and drinks so he can have the strength to work.

A person so immersed in this way of life can become so distracted by it that he becomes oblivious to how imbalanced and empty it is.

Worse than this, are those who adhere to vacuous philosophies like the sophistry of old or the nihilism of more modern times, those who claim that there is no value to human reason, that knowledge cannot be attained, and that the things people deem to exist are in reality nothing.

They reject all moral values and they seek to tear things down without possessing any decent alternative.

Source: Islam Today.

About Salman al-Ouda
Muslim scholar. Al-Ouda is a member of the International Union for Muslim Scholars and on its Board of Trustees. He is a director of the Arabic edition of the website Islam Today and appears on a number of TV shows and authors newspaper articles.