We know that the only good deeds that will have any weight on the Day of Judgment are those which were done purely for winning the good pleasure of God. Yet, it seems that there is a multiplicity of motives to do good deeds. For example, I may do a good deed:
To win God’s pleasure; to do the deed in the service of God, who is the Highest Good
To do that which I know to be the right (morally commendable) things to do
To increase my chances of being granted entry into God’s Kingdom
To cancel the effect of sins previously committed; that is, remove ‘stains’ of evil (a phrase the Qur’an employs when discussing the effects of charity)
To feel happy
For me at least, there is a multiplicity of motives (of the kind depicted above) when it comes to performing deeds of piety. I understand, of course, that the primary motive is to earn God’s good pleasure, but motives (2), (3), (4), and (5) do not seem to negate the primary motive and, therefore, there seems to me no moral or spiritual harm in their existence and fulfillment.
(2) is intricately connected to (1) because I believe that God Himself has instilled in me the sense that doing good deed X is the right thing to do. (3) is the logical consequence of virtue — specifically, the reward thereof. If it is required of us to seek to please God when doing good deeds, it does not seem unreasonable or reprehensible to seek the reward for pleasing Him at the same time. (4) is an accurate portrayal of a positive shift in the balance of the eschatological scale of deeds on the Day of Judgment. It, too, therefore, does not seem to negate (1), since God Himself has set up this scale. (5) seems natural and acceptable on the condition that (1) is not ancillary to it; on the contrary, (5) must remain ancillary to (1).
Is such a multiplicity permissible for a Muslim or condemnable?
In principle, there can indeed be any number of additional subsidiary motives for one’s doing a good deed. Nevertheless, it is important that the overriding and the major motive should remain that of earning the pleasure of the Almighty.
The motives that you have mentioned in Nos. 3 and 4 are, in fact, only the extensions of what you have mentioned as motive no. 1. As for No. 2, it is, in fact, not a motive for doing right: ‘Doing right’ cannot be termed as the ‘motive’ for ‘doing right’. Finally, as for the last mentioned motive, when you say that it is only presented as ancillary to the first motive, then I would consider it as an extension of the first motive.
June 22, 2002