Someone shared with me this story yesterday that moved me deeply; I wish to record it here for posterity. It was originally told to me within an Islamic context but the gist of it, I think, applies to a wider audience. The story goes like this:

A renowned, well-respected, religious scholar died one day and was making his way towards Heaven. Just as he was about to enter Heaven, he was stopped by one of the Guardians, who said:

Guardian: Where are you going?
Scholar: Into Heaven of course!

Guardian: What makes you think you will enter Heaven?
Scholar: I’ve performed many acts of worship throughout my life.
Guardian: Those were performed so that your superiors would notice your piety and elevate you within their ranks. God has no use for them.

Scholar: I’ve written numerous books on religion.
Guardian: Those were done to show how intelligent you were to the public. God has no use for them.

Scholar: I’ve taught countless students in the ways of the religion!
Guardian: Yes, but you only did so because you wanted them to look up to you. These acts won’t be counted amongst your good deeds.

At that point, the scholar had become absolutely terrified, having realised that he was in real danger of being thrown into Hell.

Guardian: But wait, there’s one thing here that may be of use to you.
Scholar: What is it?
Guardian: One day you were walking in the market. You saw a beggar, a little girl dressed in dirty rags, crying out of hunger. You felt some pity in your heart so you gave her an apple. For this act alone, God has forgiven you all your sins because it was done purely out of good intentions, for the sake of God.

The importance of good intentions

One of the most famous hadiths (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him) is the first hadith in Imam Nawawi’s collection:

It is narrated on the authority of Amir al-Mu’minin (Leader of the Believers), Abu Hafs ‘Umar bin al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him), who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), say

“Actions are according to intentions, and everyone will get what was intended. Whoever migrates with an intention for Allah and His messenger, the migration will be for the sake of Allah and his Messenger. And whoever migrates for worldly gain or to marry a woman, then his migration will be for the sake of whatever he migrated for.”

Related by Bukhari & Muslim

For me, this is a timely reminder to reflect upon my intentions as I go through life. Today’s world has elevated narcissism and made it seem normal, acceptable, even desirable.

Watch how every good, pleasurable, act is recorded and shared on social media, in order to show the world what you have done. Gone are the large cheques and ribbon-cutting ceremonies. Those are so quaint! Instead, we have moment-by-moment commentary as the donor is about to hand some money to the recipient, together with a shot of the recipient’s grateful look, all done for the sake of garnering likes and comments on social media.

Today also marks the start of a new year in the Islamic, or Hijri, calendar. As we leave the past year behind and venture forth into the 1st of Muharram 1443, I pray that Allah will keep our hearts pure and sincere. May He forgive us all our sins, increase our faith, and accept all our good deeds.