When you come across the aayaahs in the Qur’an that speak of the hell fire, you are left terrified, shaken, broken by the extreme nature with which Allah describes the destruction of it! Aayaahs of the Qur’an such as:

In fierce hot wind and boiling water
And a shade of black smoke,
Neither cool nor beneficial
[Surat Al-Waaqi’ah: Aayahs 42-44] 

There will be sent against you both, smokeless flames of fire and (molten) brass, and you will not be able to defend yourselves.
[Surat Ar-Rahmaan: Aayah 35]

For them there will be no food except from a poisonous, thorny plant, which neither nourishes nor avails against hunger.
[Surat Al-Ghashiyah: Aayahs 6-7]

Wherein he will neither die nor live.
[Surat Al-A’la: Aayah 13]

It is a fire about whose intense heat in comparison to that of the fire on earth has been described by the Prophet Sallalahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam when he said,

“The fire of the Children of Adam that you all kindle is one part of the seventy parts of the fire of Hell.”
They (the Companions) said, “O Messenger of Allah! Isn’t it sufficient’?’
He replied,” It is more than it by sixty-nine times.”

Al-Bukhari and Muslim

It is a fire whose severe isolation and loneliness has been described by the sahabah and many scholars of the past.
Ibn ‘Abbas RadhiAllahu Anhu said, “Its doors will be closed.” and “they will have chains on their necks, and the gates (of Hell) will be shut upon them.”
Ad-Dahhak said, ُ”It will be sealed over them and it will have no door.”
Qatadah said, ُ”It will be shut and there will be no light in it, no escape, and no way out of it forever.”
Thabit Al-Bunani said, “It will burn them all the way to their hearts while they are still alive.” Then he said, “Indeed the torment will reach them.” Then he cried.

Such horrifying reports of the fire that Allah has prepared make you wonder how evil the people who enter it must have been, so much so that they weren’t able to attain Mercy from the Most Generous of those Who grants Mercy and Forgiveness. As Allah says:

None shall enter it save the most wretched.
[Surat Al-Layl: Aayah 15]

These must have been some really reaaaaally bad people who did some reaaally bad deeds.

But do you know who are the very first amongst the people who will enter such a fire? Here are the first three:

  1. A man who studied religious knowledge and taught it and who used to recite the Qur’an.
  2. A man who spent his wealth in every way possible way that Allah likes.
  3. A man who died as a martyr in the path of Allah. 

You don’t believe it? It is what the Prophet Sallahu ‘alayhi wa Sallam said himself:

On the authority of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him), who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) say:
“The first of people against whom judgement will be pronounced on the Day of Resurrection will be a man who died a martyr.
He will be brought and Allah will make known to him His favors and he will recognize them.
[The Almighty] will say: ‘And what did you do about them?’
He will say: ‘I fought for You until I died a martyr.’
He will say: ‘You have lied – you did but fight that it might be said [of you]: ‘He is courageous.’
And so it was said. Then he will be ordered to be dragged along on his face until he is cast into Hell-fire.

[Another] will be a man who has studied [religious] knowledge and has taught it and who used to recite the Qur’an. He will be brought and Allah will make known to him His favors and he will recognize them.
[The Almighty] will say: ‘And what did you do about them?’
He will say: ‘I studied [religious] knowledge and I taught it and I recited the Qur’an for Your sake.’
He will say: ‘You have lied – you did but study [religious] knowledge that it might be said [of you]: ‘He is learned.’ And you recited the Qur’an that it might be said [of you]: ‘He is a reciter.’
And so it was said. Then he will be ordered to be dragged along on his face until he is cast into the Hell-fire.

[Another] will be a man whom Allah had made rich and to whom He had given all kinds of wealth. He will be brought and Allah will make known to him His favors and he will recognize them.
[The Almighty] will say: ‘And what did you do about them?’
He will say: ‘I left no path [un-trodden] in which You like money to be spent without spending in it for Your sake.’
He will say: ‘You have lied – you did but do so that it might be said [of you]: ‘He is open-handed.’
And so it was said. Then he will be ordered to be dragged along on his face until he is cast into Hell-fire.”

It was related by Muslim (also by at-Tirmidhi and an-Nasa’i)

While Abu Hurayrah RadhiAllahu ‘Anhu was narrating this hadeeth, he was so traumatized by it that he kept gasping until his head fell forward and he needed the support of another person beside him.

These three people, in spite of all their hard earned effort towards doing good deeds, where did they fail? The failed in their sincerity towards Allah. And only that caused them to enter the Hell fire. Their intention is what made the difference.

We learn from this that just doing a good deed is not enough. What plays an even more important role in deciding whether that deed will be accepted by Allah, is the intention behind it.

The Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said:

“Allaah does not accept any deed except that which is done only for Him and to seek His pleasure.”

Narrated by al-Nasaa’i, 3140; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in as-Silsilah as-Saheehah, 52.

The question that should be asked to yourself before doing any good deed is:

Am I doing this to please Allah?

Riya

They fell into something called Riya (showing off).

In al-Musnad (27742), it is narrated that Mahmoud ibn Labeed said that the Messenger of Allaah Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam said:

“The thing that I fear most for you is minor shirk.” They said: “O Messenger of Allah, what is minor shirk?” He said: “Showing off, for Allah will say on the Day when people are recompensed for their actions: ‘Go to those for whom you were showing off with your deeds in the world, and see what reward you find with them.’”

Classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in as-Silsilah as-Saheehah, 951.

Allah has mentioned in the Qur’an with regards to shirk:

“Verily, Allah forgives not that partners should be set up with Him (in worship).”
[Surat An-Nisa: Aayah 48] 

And although riya is regarded as minor shirk, it must be avoided just as major shirk is avoided.

Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (may Allah have mercy on him) was asked: Do the words of Allah, “Verily, Allah forgives not that partners should be set up with Him (in worship)” [an-Nisa’ 4:48] include minor shirk?

He replied: “The scholars differed concerning that. Some of them said that it includes all kinds of shirk, even minor shirk such as swearing by something other than Allah; Allah will not forgive him. But with regard to major sins, such as drinking alcohol and zina, they are subject to the will of Allah; if Allah wills He will forgive them and if He wills He will punish them. 
Shaykh al-Islam [Ibn Taymiyah] said different things. On one occasion he said: Allah does not forgive shirk even if it is minor. And on another occasion he said: That which Allah does not forgive is major shirk.  Whatever the case, we must beware of shirk altogether, because the general meaning may include minor shirk too, because He says “Verily, Allah forgives not that partners should be set up with Him” meaning any partner, therefore it suggests any kind of shirk.
End quote from Majmoo’ Fataawa as-Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (2/203).[2]

We can notice how riya ties to shirk even in the following hadeeth where we see how we may incur the anger and wrath of Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala, who is the Most Merciful, if we do our deeds to show off to others than Allah:

The Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam said:


“Allah – the Blessed and Sublime – says:  “I am in no need of partners. Whoever does a deed for the sake of others as well as me, I leave his deed for those others.'”

Sahîh Muslim

We see how it affects one of the most important principles of Tawheed (to single out Allah in all acts of worship and to abandon the worship of anything else) which is:

Tawheed Al-Uloohiyyah – to single out Allah within the actions of the servant.”

This includes all actions that draw them closer to Allah, Glorified and Exalted, like Du’aa (supplicaton).
All forms of worship must be strictly for Allah alone, and nothing can be done for other than Him. This is what is called tawheed al-‘ibaadah, or tawheed al-uloohiyyah, and it is the tawheed that is put into practice as the servant singles out Allah in everything He has requested, with an intention for Him alone, in all acts of obedience.
[Taken from Shaykh Saalih ibn ‘Abdillaah Al-Fawzaan’s book-Duroos min Al-Qur’aan Al-Kareem (p.12-14).]

This is why it is so important to learn Tawheed and we made a special article just for you on that here: The Only Way You Will Succeed 

A remedy for Riya

The Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam said:

“Shirk among you will be more subtle than the footsteps of an ant, but I will teach you something which, if you do it, both minor and major shirk will be kept away from you. Say:

اللهم إني أعوذ بك أن أشرك بك وأنا أعلم وأستغفرك لما لا أعلم

Allahumma inni a’oodhu bika an ushrika bika wa ana a’lam wa astaghfiruka lima la a’lam.
(O Allah, I seek refuge with You from associating anything with You knowingly, and I seek Your forgiveness for that of which I am unaware).”

Classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Jaami’, 3731

It is tragic to know how many times we fall into this error. When we stand up for salah, do we stand up with the sole purpose of seeking Allah’s pleasure alone or do a thousand other thoughts run in our mind because of which prayer just becomes a ritual that we do to go with the flow that everyone else is going in? Do we stand up to pray just to be seen by others to save our reputation which is at stake when people start realizing we don’t come to the mosque so often? When I invite people over for dinner am I doing it so that I receive praises of how delicious and costly the food is and make them listen to the trouble you had to go through to arrange for it?  When once in a blue moon you call your parents to check on how they are doing, do you see the deed as just a chore that you need to get out of the way so that you don’t have to listen to your parents complaining about you not keeping in touch with them so often? Where is Allah in our minds when we do all these so called ‘good deeds’? The pleasure of Allah is the last thing in our minds let alone the only thing.

We can do all the good deeds that we want, be as righteous, humble, knowledgeable, devoted to worship in the eyes of people as much as we want, but if there is no connection that we make between our deeds and the pleasure of Allah, we are doing it all for nothing.

Even the Jews and Christians do good deeds

Even the Jews and Christians do a lot of good deeds, maybe sometimes even more so than a lot of the Muslims in today’s time. But Umar ibn Al Khattab RadhiAllahu ‘Anhu would look at the righteousness of these folks and start crying, for he understood that all that hard work was going to get them nowhere except into the Hell fire.
Al-Hafiz Abu Bakr Al-Burqani narrated from Abu `Imran Al-Jawni that he said,
“Umar bin Al-Khattab passed by the monastery of a monk and he said: `O monk!’
Then the monk came out, and `Umar looked at him and began to weep.
Then it was said to him: `O Commander of the faithful! Why are you weeping?’ He replied: `I remembered the statement of Allah, the Mighty and Majestic, in His Book:

‘Working [hard] and exhausted (in doing their deeds).
They will enter in the hot blazing Fire,’
[Surat Al-Ghaashiyah: Aayahs 3-4]

So that is what has made me cry. ‘

Ibn Kathir writes for the explanation of the Aayah above, ‘they did many deeds and became weary in their performance, yet they will be cast into a blazing Fire on the Day of Judgement.’
Can we say the same for us and many of our deeds?

Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala constantly reminds us throughout the Qur’an of the importance of accompanying ‘belief in Allah’ along with our righteous deeds. The same Aayah is repeated again and again:

Except for those who have believe and do righteous deeds..
[Surat Al-Asr: Aayah 3]

Ibn Kathir writes concerning this Ayah, “Allah makes an exception, among the species of man being in loss, for those who believe in their hearts and work righteous deeds with their limbs.”

The element of having belief i.e. being mindful of Allah, while we do good deeds cannot be taken lightly. We should be afraid of becoming from the people who used to do so much work and so many good deeds whom Allah will treat as follows:

And We will regard what they have done of deeds and make them as dust dispersed.
[Surat Al-Furqan: Aayah 23]

Under the Ayah above, Ibn Kathir quotes this Ayah:

O you who believe! Do not render in vain your Sadaqah (charity) by reminders of your generosity or by injury, like him who spends his wealth to be seen of men, and he does not believe in Allah, nor in the Last Day. His likeness is the likeness of a smooth rock on which is a little dust; on it falls heavy rain which leaves it bare. They are not able to do anything with what they have earned.
[Surat Al-Baqarah: Aayah 264]

The Salaf-us-Saalih were afraid

The Salaf-us-Saalih (our righteous predecessors) were afraid of their insincerity towards Allah in their deeds, even though they were the best of mankind in their worship towards Allah. The Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam has said about them:

‘The best people are my generation then those who will come after them and then those after them…’

Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 6065, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2533

So the word ‘Salaf or more appropriately ‘Salaf-us-Saalih’ includes the first three generations from the time of the Messenger of Allah Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam:
1st generation – The Sahabah
2nd generation – The Tabi’een (Those who followed the Sahabah)
3rd generation – The Atba-ut-Tabi’een (Those who followed the Tabi’een)

The concern that the Salaf-us-Saalih had towards ensuring sincerity in their actions for the pleasure of Allah alone and the fear they had of showing off can be seen by some of their actions and statements:

A great scholar and imam by the name of Ibn al-Qayyim rightly said,

“Deeds without sincerity (to please Allah alone) are like a traveler who carries in his water jug dirt. The carrying of it burdens him and it brings no benefit.”

Imam Ibn al-Qayyim

One of them would be reading Qur’an in the masjid when someone would walk in and he would hide it in his garment so that others don’t see that he is doing a good deed.

One of them would wait for their wife to go to sleep, and then he would sneak out of his bed to pray Qiyaam al-Layl (the night prayer). His wife would never know.

One of them continued to fast voluntary fasts for 20 years. His wife would give him breakfast in the morning and he would go give it as a sadaqah. He would come home during maghrib time to eat and break his fast and his wife would think it is his dinner.

Sa’eed ibn ‘Aamir may Allah have mercy upon him said: “Ayyoob As-Sikhtiyaani may Allah have mercy upon him used to pray all night long and would conceal this from people. When it was close to the time of the Fajr prayer, he would raise his voice as if he had just woken up.”

Abu Yoosuf, may Allaah have mercy on him, said:
“Intend Allah through your (search for) knowledge, for indeed I never sat in a gathering of people in which I made it my intention to humble myself except that I didn’t leave from it until I had surpassed them. And I never sat in a gathering of people in which I made it my intention to surpass them, except that I didn’t leave from it until I was disgraced.
Knowledge is one of the many acts of worship and one of the many ways of gaining nearness to Allah. So if one purifies his intention while seeking it, his deed will be accepted and purified. And its blessing will become complete. However, if he intends other than the sake of Allah when seeking knowledge, his deed becomes nullified and wasted and his transaction is lost. Perhaps he may even miss out on these (worldly) objectives and never achieve any of them. So in this case, he will have failed in his objective and at the same time wasted his efforts.”[1]

Please see how the words above tie in to what the Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam said:

“He who does not acquire knowledge with the sole intention of seeking the Pleasure of Allah but for worldly gain, will not smell the fragrance of Jannah on the Day of Resurrection.”

Reported by Abu Hurairah: Abu Dawud, Book 13, Hadith 1391

Al-Hasan al-Basrî said:
“I swear by Him in whose hand is my soul. No one feels safe from it (insincere intention) except for a hypocrite and no one fears it except for a believer.”

Yaqub il Maqfuf used to say:
“The sincere person is the one who hides his good deeds the same way he hides his bad deeds.”

Abu Uthmaan used to say:
“Sincerity is forgetting the sight of the creation, and continually being mindful of Allah.”

Ibraheem ibn Al Adham used to say:
“He has not been truthful to Allah, the one who seeks fame and recognition.”

The famous Sheikh Al Albaani used to say:
“Fame will break ones back.”
i.e. the more famous you become in the eyes of the people, the harder it is for you to guide your actions towards sincerity.

Sa’ad ibn ‘Abdullah used to say:
“There is nothing tougher upon the person then his niyyah.”

Sufain Ath-Thawri used to say:
“I have not struggled against anything more difficult than my niyyah (intention). Verily it keeps changing upon me.”

Abdullah ibn Mubarak used to say:
“Maybe a small deed will become big because of the niyyah (intention), and a big deed may become small because of the niyyah.”

The quote above is reflected in the hadeeth where a small task of giving half a date can save someone from the fire where the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:

“Save yourself from hellfire by giving even half a date-fruit in charity.” –

Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Hadith 498

Compare this to the hadeeth of the three men who entered hell. The man who spent his wealth in every possible way that Allah likes entered hell. And in this hadeeth a man who is giving only half a date in charity is being saved from the hell fire.
The intention is what made the difference.

Please read part 2 of this article here: Your Intention Makes the Difference Part 2

The Intention Makes the Difference

Resources used:

[1] https://abdurrahman.org/2014/09/30/sincerity-in-seeking-knowledge-shaykh-muhammad-baazmool/

[2] https://islamqa.info/en/91763

[3] A lot of the quotes of the Salaf-us-Saalih were taken from this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ajdFvbq5MM