The question is often raised about giving up on a good act because we’re afraid that we’re doing it for the wrong intention. I think it’s easy to get caught up in the whole internal debate about whether or not I’m sincere enough, or am I doing this for show, or am I doing it because I enjoy the high opinion others would have of me, etc. But isn’t that exactly the kind of doubt that Shaytaan has vowed to sow in our hearts?
I think that giving up on an optional act out of fear of having the incorrect intention is one thing, but giving up a compulsory act cannot be as easily dismissed.
The first thought that came to mind when I read a post earlier about this issue was that sometimes a good thing needs to be legislated for people to be compelled to practice it before they will willingly adopt the practice. After practising it out of compulsion, they realise the value of it and then adopt it willingly as their own choice. Strangely enough, I drew this analogy from apartheid and the steps taken to root out racism in South Africa. But I think the same principle applies here.
However, like anything new, if we’re constantly reminding ourselves about why we shouldn’t be changing the way we’re doing something, it will be that much more difficult to adopt new ways to get rid of bad ones. Unless we truly believe in the good of the new act that we need to adopt, we’ll keep resisting it and will probably only ever do it if we have no choice in the matter. But when we do something out of compulsion, the force that compels us to do it is usually what we’re trying to appease, right?
So in my mind, if the compulsion we feel to do something is driven by social pressure, or peer pressure, then our focus will be on conforming to the expectations of society or our peers. But if the compulsion we feel is based on our fear of disappointing Allah, or better still, our desire to please Allah, then the yardstick by which we measure the sincerity of our intentions will be very different.
The challenge is that our pleasing or disappointing Allah almost never yields an immediate repercussion, whereas disappointing people almost always results in an immediate reprisal of some sort. So the fear of being abandoned or excluded is usually a much stronger motivator to do things, than the reality of the consequences of displeasing Allah. That’s when faith and piety come into play, hence the exponentially greater reward for pleasing Allah compared to pleasing people. When we please people, we will reap rewards in this world. But that will be the end of that reward. When we please Allah, we will often not feel any tangible benefit in this world, but what awaits us in the hereafter extends beyond anything you could possibly imagine.
So the question really is not about intention, but about instant gratification. We’re either slaves to our desires, which demands instant gratification, or we’re slaves of Allah. And this will hold true in every single moment of our lives, because in a single breath we can go from focusing on this world to focusing on Allah and back again. Hence the need to constantly strive, and hence Allah being the Most Forebearing and the Most Merciful, because Allah is fully aware of these weaknesses that He created in us. Allah loves it when we turn to Him for forgiveness or mercy, that’s why the evil deed that brings us closer to Allah is infinitely greater than the good deed that causes us to focus on winning the praise of others.