The principle of performing religious deeds only for Allah
Amongst the six collections of ahadith, popularly known as the saha sittah, the collections of Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim are accorded priority over the rest. Between these two, the collection of Imam Bukhari is considered supreme by many scholars. Imam Bukhari's collection has about 2600 unique traditions (ahadith) (9000+ if repetitions are counted).

Of these 2600 traditions, the very first hadith of the Sahih Bukhari collection is as follows:

Narrated Umar bin Al-Khattab: I heard Allah's Apostle saying, "The reward of deeds depends upon the intentions and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended. So whoever emigrated for worldly benefits or for a woman to marry, his emigration was for what he emigrated for."

It is interesting that of all the traditions collected by Imam Bukhari in his lifetime, he chose to give the first place to the above tradition. After you read this article you will realise that it is unlikely that this tradition was placed at the top by chance. Imam Bukhari must have placed this hadith at the top of his collection because of the importance it has on each and every religious activity we do. This hadith is reported in Sahih Muslim also.

From this hadith, we get the following message from the ProphetSLM:

Acceptance of deeds is dependent on intentions and not on actions. A person migrates (hijrat) and on the face of it the migration appears to be for Allah's cause. But in his heart his intention is really to get worldly benefit (e.g. migrating from a village to a city for earning). In such a case, his migration will be accounted before Allah as per his intention. And Allah knows our intentions even if we choose to hide it from the world.

This leads us to the principle that we have to perform religious deeds for the sake of Allah and not for anything else. Among Mahdavia, this principle is called Lillahiat. This is a principle which is enjoined in the Holy Quran.

Lillahiat means doing everything lillah - for Allah. It means that all religious deeds are done for Allah and for Allah alone. What does this principle mean in real life?

Many a time our religious work is corrupted by reasons other than winning the pleasure of Allah. Someone offer prayers to be known as a pious person and to get respect from others, another person goes to Hajj to get the title of Haji, another person gives donation to earn a name for himself in the society, someone participates in religious work because his rival too is doing it and he doesn't want be left behind and someone participates in religious work to gain the acceptance of or to impress another person. In all these situations, gaining the pleasure of Allah has been relegated to the background. The intention for the religious act is non-religious.

What happens if the act is religious, but the intention is not for Allah? Is such a deed accepted by Allah?

A hadith says that if a man joins the holy war (jihad) with the intention of gaining the war booty, and if he killed, he will NOT be considered a martyr. He will be considered as one who was killed in the jihad.

Ah! A man loses his life in Jihad and yet he is not considered a martyr. All because he joined the Jihad to get war booty and become rich. The act was religious, but the intention was not for Allah.

There is another hadith in Muslim reported by Hazrat Abu HurairaRZ in which the Holy ProphetSLM narrates the fate of three men who will be brought for judgement on the Day of Resurrection. The first man will be told of the favours he received in the world and he will be asked of what he did therein. The man will reply that he fought in the way of Allah and was martyred. Allah will retort that he fought so that he is called as a hero and he was called as such. The order will be passed against him and he will be dragged face down to hell. The second man will be brought forth and he will be asked what he did. He will reply that he learnt and recited the Quran for the sake of Allah. Allah will retort that he learnt the Quran so that he may be called a learned man and he recited the Quran so that he is known as a reciter and he was called so. The order will be passed against him and he too will be dragged face down to hell. The third man whom Allah had given ample wealth is brought forth and asked what he did therein. The man will reply that he spent in every cause of Allah and did not leave any cause without contributing for the sake of Allah. Allah will retort that he did charity to be known as a generous man and he was known as such. The order will be passed against him and he too will be dragged face down to hell.

Such will be the fate of people whose actions were visibly for Allah but their intentions were not for Allah. This hadith forces us to reflect upon our own religious deeds and to consciously remove all traces of considerations which are not for Allah.

Take the case of offering prayers. We have to be clear in our minds about our intention for prayers. Why are we offering prayers? Is it to ask for more wealth from Allah? Success in career? Success in business? Or is it to show off to someone that I am a regular namazee? Or is it under somebody's compulsion (I am praying because my pious business client happens to be around)? There are so many situations wherein we pray due to considerations other than the consideration of the earning the pleasure of Allah.

These extraneous considerations corrupt the purity of prayers. Prayers are supposed to be for Allah and for Allah alone. Earning Allah's pleasure must be the intention and the only objective. If any other objective is included, the purity no longer remains. If I pray to earn Allah's pleasure and also to impress some person, it means that the purity of the single objective no longer remains and it is polluted by the second objective. It can't be for Allah and also for my benefit. Non-Mahdavi Imams receive compensation for leading prayers. Their intention is two fold - one to offer prayers for Allah and the second to offer prayers for the compensation. They wouldn't be leading prayers if the compensation is withdrawn. Their prayer has two objectives - one is to gain Allah's pleasure and the second is to earn money. The second objective not only pollutes the prayer of the Imam but jeopardize the prayers of the followers in congregation behind him.

And Allah says, "And the prostrations are for Allah; wherefore call not along with Allah anyone." (72:18 - English translation by Abdul Majid Daryabadi - AMD)

Amongst non-Mahdavis we see that many religious acts are done in exchange for money. Just before Ramazan, Huffaz (plural of Hafiz - a person who has memorised the Holy Quran) move from one mosque to another looking for the highest bidder for their skills. The mosque committees pay them hefty sums to get them to lead Taravi prayers and complete the Quran. It is obvious that they are trading Holy Quranic verses in defiance of Allah's command, "...and part not with My revelations for a trifling price..." (2:41) Thus their prayers are not for Allah. Even if the prayers are for Allah, they are not for Allah alone. They are for Allah and also for the money.

If we wish to keep our prayers pure, we should remove all considerations other than obtaining the pleasure of Allah. We shouldn't expect compensation for offering prayers, nor should we do it to earn respect from people or to create an image of ourselves as a pious namazee. Similarly, we should follow in prayers a person who offers his prayers for the sake of Allah alone and not for any other consideration.

As Allah commands, "Obey those who ask no reward of you (for themselves), and who have themselves received Guidance" (36:21)

Many people perform Hajj today. But some people use the opportunity to conduct some trading. People buy gold because it is cheaper and reputed to be purer. A narrative about Bandagi Miyan Syed KhundmirRZ is an eye-opener for us: Bandagi Miyan Syed KhundmirRZ embarked on his journey for Hajj along with some of his companions. In Makkah, some of his companions started selling the provisions they had brought for their own use at the prices prevailing there. His companions told him that those items were highly priced there and that they could earn good money. But Bandagi MiyanRZ told them: "I have come here for the Hajj pilgrimage for the sake of Allah, not for trade." This is an example of the purity of worship and of the intention to keep it only for the sake of Allah.

And Allah says, "And fulfil the pilgrimage and 'Umra for Allah." (2:196 AMD). Perform Hajj and Umra lillah - for Allah. Lillahiat is again emphasised in the Holy Quran.

In another place in the Quran, Allah says, "And they feed, for the love of Allah, the indigent, the orphan, and the captive, (Saying), 'We feed you for the sake of Allah alone: no reward do we desire from you, nor thanks.'" (76:9) Allah makes it clear that feeding the indigent, the orphan and the captive should be for the sake of Allah alone.

Amongst non-Mahdavis, religion has become a profession and a business. The Imam leading the prayers get a salary, the person saying azan gets a salary, the khateeb reciting the nikah gets a salary and the person who buries the dead gets a salary. All religious acts are done for a price. While on one side the purity of worship is lost, on the other side the influence of money leads to corrupt practices, greed for more money, power struggles for control of mosques and related properties and rule of money power in the guise of religion.

It is against this exploitation of religion that Imam MahdiAS spoke against. Imam MahdiAS said, "Allah Most High has sent this servant when deen (religion) was being exploited for worldly purposes (i.e., for amassing worldly wealth). Namaz (prayers), roza (fasting), hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah), reciting of Quran, azan (prayer call), qazawat (justice) and good deeds were all exploited for worldly gains. Nobody ever did anything for the sake of Allah. After this, Allah, Most High, sent this banda (servant) into the world. Then this servant commanded the people to do their deeds for the sake of Allah. The people believed me. The mumins affirmed and confirmed me (tasdiq)."

Thus Imam MahdiAS commanded his followers to perform their deeds only for the sake of Allah. It is in adherance of this command that even today the followers of the ImamAS perform their religious deeds for the sake of Allah and do not take anything in compensation for the act performed.

The Holy Quran too commands that any kind of worship should be exclusively (khalis) for Allah. If there is any other consideration, however small or miniscule, in the worship, it is no longer considered pure. It is considered polluted.

Allah says, "Except those who shall yet repent and amend and hold fast by repent Allah and make their religion exclusive for Allah. These then shall be with the believers, and presently Allah shall give the believers a mighty hire." (4:146 AMD)

At another place in the Holy Quran Allah said, "Lo! For Allah is the religion exclusive." (39:3 AMD)

In both the above Ayats, the word ikhlas or its variation is used. It means exclusively or purely. The word lillah, meaning 'For Allah' is also used. The above Ayats make it clear that religious deeds should be done exclusively for Allah. In other words, the Holy Quran exhorts us to follow lillahiat.

Was Lillahiat followed during the time of the ProphetSLM? Or is this a Mahdavia innovation?

The ProphetSLM has been sent to us as a role-model. Allah says, "Verily in the messenger of Allah ye have a good example for him who looketh unto Allah and the Last Day." (33:21)

It is obvious that the ProphetSLM did not receive any remuneration for the religious work. Nor has any other prophet before him received it. In the Holy Quran, the words of Prophet HudAS are described wherein he said, "O my people! I do not ask of you any reward for it; my reward is only with Him Who created me; do you not then understand?" (11:51)

The ProphetSLM was not just the messenger; he was a teacher, preacher, leader, judge, and much more. He taught the Quran, preached religion, led prayers, witnessed marriages, cremated and buried dead among other things without asking or expecting a remuneration in accordance with the above command (11:51)

The companions of the ProphetSLM too followed his footsteps and performed all religious deeds for the sake of Allah. The prophet's mosque (Masjid-e-Nabawi) was inhabited by the Ashab-e-Suffa. These were the companions of the prophetSLM who had forsaken the world and had taken to Allah's way. They performed all work of religion for the sake of Allah. They taught the Quran to other Muslims, they took care of the mosque, they undertook missions to spread Islam, they participated in Jihad and many other works for Islam - they did all this only for the love of Allah and his ProphetSLM and did not receive any remuneration for their services.

Over time, this sunnah of the ProphetSLM was forgotten and religion became a profession and a means for earning a livelihood. But this sunnah of Lillahiat was resurrected by the perfect follower of the ProphetSLM, Imam Mahdi Mau'oodAS.

Today, amongst the Muslim Ummah, only the followers of Imam MahdiAS have the fortune of performing their religious acts in accordance with the above Quranic Ayats and the Sunnah of the ProphetSLM. The followers of Imam MahdiAS do not take compensation for leading prayers, burying the dead, performing nikahs and other religious acts. All these acts are done only to earn the pleasure of Allah. This is the most fundamental aspect of lillahiat which is followed by the Mahdavis. It is a favor which Imam MahdiAS bestowed on his followers that they are able to adhere to the principle of lillahiat as enjoined by the Holy Quran.

We have understood the principle of lillahiat, but what is the height of lillahiat? The height of lillahiat is that a person does not desire anything in this world in return for his worship. The height of lillahiat is that he does not desire paradise also in return for his worship. The height of lillahiat is that he does his worship not for the fear of hell. The height of lillahiat is that he worships Allah only for the sake of Allah and not for anything else. He keeps the world, the paradise and the hell away from his thoughts and performs his worship only for Allah's pleasure.

Allah says, "Say: Lo! my worship and my sacrifice and my living and my dying are for Allah, Lord of the Worlds." (6:162)

So all worship which we do (prayers, fasting, charity, etc.) should be for the sake of Allah (lillah) and only for the sake of Allah and not for anything else.

Whenever we do anything for the deen of Allah, let us pause and think over our intention. Why are we doing it? Is it to get respect from society? Is it to get name and fame? Is it to show our wealth? Is it to prove our piety to others? Or is it for Allah and only for Allah - not for anything else? If it is for a consideration other than Allah, let us consciously abandon that consideration, cleanse our hearts of it and do the deed only to get Allah's pleasure.

Even after the deed is done, let us not feel pride at having done the deed. Hazrat Mahdi Mau'oodAS said that any deed of ours which comes in our own view (which we count for ourselves as a good deed) is rejected (mardood). In other words good deeds are those that are done in secret and are not shown to others. The height of this is that it is not listed in our minds and hearts also. It is done and forgotten. This is the height of lillahiat.

One of the key things which differentiate Mahdavis from rest of the Muslims is lillahiat. Let us strive to keep lillahiat alive in our community and also educate the rest of the Muslims on this key message of the Holy Quran.

- Syed Mohammed Suhael ( - June 10, 2007

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