Good actions: Must they be based on faith?

Q237 :You have emphasized time and again the great importance of good actions. You have also pointed out that good actions must be based on faith, otherwise they are worthless. As you are well aware, the majority of people in the world are non-Muslims. The overwhelming majority of people follow the religions of their parents. Even the Qur'an refers to this fact. At the same time, all religions teach good moral values and good manners. Should it not be that such teachings, irrespective of their source, be sufficient to ensure salvation in the hereafter?

A237 : It is true that Islam puts greater emphasis on the concept common to all divine religions which states that in order to have any value at all in Allah's scales, good actions must be based on faith. If we examine this concept carefully, we find that it ensures two very important qualities. First, it assigns a very high value only to action which are free from any ulterior motives, sincere, and undertaken with the aim of earning reward from Allah. Hypocrisy and personal prestige are thus given no value at all. Some people may be willing to do good actions if such actions ensure good returns for them either materially or morally. But if they feel that their actions will go unnoticed by their community, they will think twice before doing them. In this respect, we find that faith provides the right motive for the good actions any person undertakes. The second advantage is that it provides people with the motivation to do good all the time. When a person is faced with a choice between two actions, he or she will always choose the better one in order to gain a greater reward. Even when the other action may give the person himself a more immediate or personal benefit, he chooses the better one because it serves his ultimate purpose more fully. A further advantage is that faith makes a man's actions more consistent and coherent. They all have the same ultimate aim and seek the same final purpose. Therefore, they tend to strengthen one another. That is bound to impart a particular color to the personality of man himself. His way of thinking will move in a certain direction. As a result, he is a better person because he always tries to determine what is better for him and for his community and do it. There is another relationship between faith and action. When the Prophet was asked to define faith, he said: "It is a belief that is deeply entrenched in one's heart and to which credence is given by action." From this definition we learn that it is not sufficient for a person to say that he believes in a particular religion or that he is totally committed to a particular religion or that he is totally committed to a particular faith, unless he follows that statement by actions which confirm his claims. Thus, faith does not come about merely by an intellectual acceptance of a certain creed. It must translate itself into a practical example. Once this relationship is established, actions require an additional value. They have one unifying motivation and have a superior aim. It is true that the overwhelming majority of people tend to follow the religions of their parents. But Allah wants something extra from us. It is not sufficient for any one of us to say to Allah on the day of judgment that he has lived as a Muslim only because his parents brought him up as one. He is required to make a conscious choice, whether to follow Islam or not. At one point or another in the life of every single one of us, he finds himself facing a clear choice, brought about by his personal circumstances. He or she will not fail to realize that the choice in front of him or her is whether to be a believer or not. Once I was mentioning this to a friend of mine who was brought up by parents who did not care much for religion. He told me: I go further than that. It is not merely the choice that is presented to him, but the great advantage that he is about to have when he follows the proper faith is also made clear. When he makes this choice, he is conscious that if he turns his back on faith, he is making the wrong choice in the long run. He then told me about his life and how he was brought up. He also explained how he faced the choice when the issues presented themselves clearly to him. He said: I cannot praise Allah enough for enabling me to make the right decision. When we remember that Allah holds us to account individually, we are bound to realize that divine justice requires that individual accountability should be based on individual choice. It is for this reason that Islam considers that a person who goes through his life following the teachings of Islam only because he was brought up as a Muslim fails in his duty to make the choice consciously. Everyone is required to make use of the great gift Allah has given every single one of us, namely, the ability to reason and examine. When we do, we alleviate ourselves to the exalted human standard Allah wants us to achieve. We believe in Him as a result of an intellectual choice. Whether good actions done by unbelievers are of any great value or not is something with which we should not concern ourselves over much. As human beings, we are not in a position to judge others. We accept the criterion Allah has told us, through His last Messenger, that applies to us. Actions acquire their value through faith. What He does with His servants on the day of judgement is His own concern. What we know is that He does not deal unjustly with anyone. In the Qur'an we read: "And the record (of every one's deeds) will be laid open; and you will behold the guilty filled with dread at what is in it; and they will exclaim: Woe to us! What a record is this! It leaves out nothing, be it small or great, but takes everything into account. And they will find all that they ever did facing them now, and will know that your Lord does not wrong anyone." (18:49)

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )