Performing Righteous Deeds

In numerous places in the Quran, Allah makes it clear that the key to salvation is not a mere declaration of one’s faith or a false faith that has no righteous deeds as its fruits. Instead, the key is a true faith that combines with and is the driving force behind performing righteous deeds. In fact, the scholars note that faith is actually comprised of the belief in the heart, the statement of the tongue and the deeds of the physical body. Hence, a person’s faith cannot be complete without performing the proper deeds.

Allah clearly relates the performance of good deeds with having faith. For example, He says, “Whoever works any act of righteousness and has faith, his endeavor will not be rejected: We shall record it in his favor” (21:94). Indeed, the only way to be saved from perdition is through faith and good deeds, as Allah says, “By (the token of) Time (through the ages), verily man is in loss, except those who have faith, do righteous deeds, (join together) in the mutual teaching of truth, and of patience and constancy” (103:1-3). In another verse, Allah clearly shows that it is faith and deeds that lead one to Paradise or the Hell-fire. Allah says, “Nay, whoever earns evil and his sin has surrounded him, they are Companions of the Fire: therein shall they abide (forever). But those who have faith and work righteousness, they are companions of the garden: therein shall they abide (forever)” (2:81-82).368

Hence, the second obligatory step in purifying the soul and becoming beloved to Allah is the performance of the deeds that Allah has made obligatory upon the believers. (This goes hand in hand with the increase in imaan and tauheed and there is a very important dynamic relationship between the two that is difficult sometimes to fathom but which is very clear to the person who experiences it.) Again, this point is made very clearly in the hadith just quoted above. In that hadith, Allah has said, “My servant does not draw near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have imposed upon him.”

Note that the stress here has been on the obligatory deeds. This is due to their extreme importance. Indeed, everyone should dedicate himself to performing those deeds first. In other words, one has to tend to the obligatory deeds before preoccupying oneself with voluntary deeds. As al-Toofi stated,

The order to perform the obligatory duties is a strict one. The one who does not perform them falls into punishment. On both of these matters, the case of the voluntary deeds is different. They are similar to the obligatory deeds in that in both of them one earns a reward. However, the obligatory deeds are more complete. For that reason, they are more beloved to Allah and take one closer to Him. The obligatory deeds are like the foundation while the voluntary deeds are like the branches and the building. If a person fulfills the obligatory deeds in the way that they are commanded to be fulfilled, with proper respect and esteem by submitting to Him and demonstrating the greatness of His Lordship and submission of His worship, one gets closer to Him in the greatest way.369

The obligatory deeds are like the foundation or roots while the voluntary deeds are like the branches. If a person first fulfills those foundations, he is demonstrating his foundation of being willing to submit to Allah. Hence, that is the best way that he earns his Lord’s approval.370 However, if one does not first fulfill those deeds that Allah has made obligatory, one does not demonstrate his willingness to submit and obey whatever Allah has ordered. In other words, he fails to fulfill one of the greatest steps in the process of purification. Therefore, the first step must be the fulfillment of the obligatory duties.

368 This does not mean to imply that it is by deeds alone that one is entered into Paradise. Indeed, the greatest deeds that one can perform are not such that they would deserve Paradise in return. However, via the performance of good deeds, Allah showers the person with His grace and mercy.
It is this grace and mercy that allows the person to be entered into Paradise. If a person does not have faith followed up with righteous deeds, he is not deserving of Allah’s mercy and, hence, he will not receive this great reward from Allah. This is the meaning of the Prophet’s words, “One’s deeds will not enter anyone into Paradise.” They said, “Not even you, O Messenger of Allah?” he replied, “No, not even me unless Allah covers me with His grace and mercy.” (Recorded by al- Bukhari with this wording.)

369 Quoted in Ahmad Fareed, Al-Tazkiah baina Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Soofiyah (no publication informa on given), p. 22.

370 Cf., Ahmad ibn Hajar, Fath al-Baari bi-Sharh Saheeh al-Bukhaari (Makkah: al-Maktaba al- Tijaariyyah, 1993), vol. 13, p. 145.