Distance Between Words and Deeds
By Shaykh Salman al-`Awdah
Or you could say, the distance between claims and deeds. For speaking true words is a facet of action, referred to as the action of the tongue. It is the first tangible deed that someone performs when he announces his entry into Islam: “I bear witness that none has the right to be worshipped except Allah and Muhammad is His messenger”.
The title of this article is taken from the famous poem of At-Taghraee, “Lamiyatul-'Ajm”, wherein he says:
“Faithfulness has diminished while treachery is thriving,
And the gap has widened between word and deed.”
But what I mean here more specifically is the importance of action as a fundamental value in Islam, in terms of maintaining one's religion and in terms of developing the world around us. The indispensability of action, by itself, is a major principle that is supported by hundreds of texts from the Koran and Sunnah.
The success or failure of the individual; the strength or weakness of a society; and the happiness of this world with salvation in the next all depend on action. Or in the cant of the jurist, good deeds are the recognized value upon which hinge propitious results in the short and long term.
These actions that are deeds of righteousness must fulfill two important conditions:
- A proper intention or you could say sincerity.
- It must be in accordance with the Sunnah and the Sharia, also referred to as correctness.
Both of these conditions are dealt with in the verse:
(That He may test you: which of you is best in deed) Koran 67:2
So goodness of action revolves around two issues: more sincerity for Allah and more closely in line with the Sharia. For this reason no verse in the Qur'an came with the expression, which of you is best in deed.
The commentary of Fudail ibn `Iyyad on this verse in the chapter Al-Mulk is well known. He said concerning, “best in deed”, the most sincere and the most correct. If a deed is done sincerely but is not correct, it is not accepted. And if it is correct but not done sincerely, it is also not accepted. It is only accepted when it is done sincerely and correctly. (Refer to Al-Ubudiyah by Ibn Taymiyyah.)
I tried to enumerate the number of times that “righteous deeds” was mentioned in the Koran. These two words were mentioned together about ninety times.
The word action or deed when juxtaposed with another adjective other than righteous appears much more often. According to a quick count, approximately three hundred times. It is a clear indication of the importance of actions in life. Even in dying, the deed of making an intention is required. This is why Allah ta`ala says:
(Then die not except in the faith of Islam) Koran 2:132
In western schools of thought generally, and in America more specifically, a new way of thinking (“pragmatism”) has sprung into existence that focuses mainly on work and production. This philosophy holds that real and palpable benefits are the yardstick of knowledge. Meaning that real knowledge is that which can be practically applied and not merely theoretical knowledge that is cut off from everyday life.
The divine praise for action implies disdain for two ways that are off the path of truth.
The firstis the worker who is not upon true guidance and who has no knowledge of the divine laws. They are those, whose deeds are described as being bad or evil. If the deed is a worldly one, it will not bear the desired fruit because it was not based on the proper vision or on true experience.
This is why Allah ta`ala says:
(Some faces, that Day, will be humiliated (in the Hell-Fire, i.e. the faces of all disbelievers, Jews and Christians, etc). Laboring (hard in the worldly life by worshipping others besides Allah), weary (in the hereafter with humility and disgrace). They will enter in the hot blazing Fire. They will be given to drink from a boiling spring). Koran 88:2-5
(Say (O Muhammad, sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam): “Shall We tell you the greatest losers in respect of (their) deeds?) (Koran 18:103)
Every group that is off Allah's path falls under this category. Their worship of Allah ta`ala is mixed with ignorance and falsehood. Like the worshipers and workers from the people of innovation, regardless whether they are the Khawarij (ed. an early sect that erroneously considered Muslims who commit great sins as disbelievers rather than sinners), the Sufiyah (ed. those mystics who believe that the knowledge of their shaykhs is a source of knowledge that is either at an equal footing with the Revelation, or even above it.) or others.
Similarly, revolutionary schools of thought that do not form their ideas from divine guidance also fall under this category. They base their efforts and actions on false premises. Their situation is as Allah ta`ala described it:
(Those before them indeed plotted, but Allah struck at the foundation of their building, and then the roof fell down upon them, from above them, and the torment overtook them from directions they did not perceive). Koran 16:26
The most illustrative example in our times of this category is communism; its philosophical, political and societal roots. Most of its proponents never expected such disastrous results. All of their efforts resulted in harm and they became preoccupied in finding ways to support such a backward system.
The second group is those who prefer inactivity and comfort. It is the philosophy that is blind to Allah's ways. In it, one desires all wishes to come true without effort or toil.
The nature of man in terms of being active and doing things makes the existence of such a group to seem dubious at best. But the fundamental qualities of this group become manifest in different ways. For example, those who persist in following their lusts and desires, or the ones who think that it is sufficient for them to fall under a particular slogan or name.
The Jews would say, “The fire will only touch us for a brief number of days.” Then came the Christians with similar words and they claimed that they were the children of Allah and His beloved ones.
After them came Muslims, from whom, were those who followed the earlier nations by saying, “We will be forgiven.”
Yes, the verse containing the earlier mentioned quote of the Jews is primarily for the Jews and Christians. Yet, it is also for the Muslims too…
This second category also includes those who have no goal or aim that they work for. They are merely prisoners of their circumstances and their daily routines. Their behavior is not steered by an ideology and their work is not linked to an important mission. They are drowned in work that has no meaning. One of them goes to work to pay off the mortgage on his house. And he comes home to sleep, eat and drink only to be able to find the energy to perform his tasks at work! A machine without a spirit is what he has become. The one who is in these circumstances does not even realize the precarious situation that he is in.
Further down in the pit, is the Philosophical School that gives no value to the intellect. To them, what is considered by man to be existing is in fact nonexistent. They disbelieve in values. Their aim is to destroy, without offering an alternative way. The Russian party propagated this ideology in 1870. Their goal was to destroy the social structure without having any intention of replacing it with another system.
Many are those who complain about the reality that they live in. They strive to destroy the structure of their society without caring for the fact that the supplanting system will be chaos. The words of one of them were “Destruction for me and for my enemy.” An Arab poet said, “Many days did I cry in, and when another day came I cried over the previous one”.