Ilm Notes

What is a Good Deed?

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We go about our lives performing good and charitable acts whether they are listening to our parents, getting homework done on time, giving donations, or helping our friends.

Some people do good deeds because they have a good-natured soul, some for reputation, and others for the reward and pleasure of Allah. As Muslims, we must be able to classify what a good deed entails and understand what makes our good deeds different from those of others.

If a believer does a “good deed,” it cannot Islamically be classified as a “good deed” (ie. rewardable by God) unless it is done for the sake of Allah. Why? Because it depends on whose classification by which you are labeling that deed as “good.” If it is by your own interpretation or society’s that this deed is “good,” then by those standards, the deed is good. However, the reward for that deed is with them and not Allah.

You cannot expect a reward from someone if you are playing by someone else’s rules. For example, winning the 2nd Football Division will not get you any reward for winning the Football World Cup, as you are in a different competition and playing against different opponents. Similarly, you cannot receive reward from Allah for any deed unless the basis of this deed being “good” stems from what Allah has told you. Your intention should be that you are doing it because He commanded it for His sake.

Therefore, every deed is worthless for the next world and will not benefit us after we die until it is given value by purifying our intentions for the sake of Allah, as our sole purpose in life is His worship.

But what does it mean to do something for the sake of Allah? This is a question that I had difficulty answering, but after reading and researching, I came to the understanding that it must be doing that which He has commanded or encouraged in accordance with Islamic laws, remembering Him and His blessings in that deed, while being grateful for His mercy. The term ‘ibadah’ is often incorrectly translated as ‘worship’ when in fact it means submission, obedience, love and devotion to Allah.

Note that our sole purpose of worshipping Allah does not mean we take away our desires and wants from the equation. It is not wrong to want something for yourself as long as it fits the criteria above. Therefore, every act can become a form of worship and be considered a “good deed,” from sleeping and eating to enjoying the company of friends and family. Such is the beauty of our deen that we can be rewarded at all times of the day for doing what we love.

The next question would be: why should everything be for His sake? The answer is simple. Everything in this dunya belongs to Him, even our own flesh and body. We do not own or have power over anything, so how can we go against the rules of the One who gave us this life and in Whose control is all that exists? It is remarkable how we are even forgiven for our many transgressions. SubhanAllah.

Furthermore, just as we thank those who have helped us, how can we not do the same for the One Who created us, Who continues to sustain us and make everything possible, from our breathing to our accomplishments?

If our deeds are not for His sake, not only are they useless, as explained above, but they are potentially punishable as they may be a sign of selfishness and arrogance.

Some may argue that we should not be doing good deeds for our own benefit of Allah’s reward. However, another beauty of Islam is that we cannot separate doing good deeds and wanting to gain reward, as they are one and the same. By abiding by His laws and doing everything for His pleasure with the correct intentions, we will automatically be rewarded, inshaAllah.

Just as there are three different levels of faith: Islam (submission to Allah), Iman (belief in Allah) and Ihsan (perfection in worship), we can split good deeds into different levels accordingly. At the lowest level, one would be doing it because we are commanded to do so, and at the highest level, one would be doing it to please Allah. The more good deeds we do, the closer we become to Allah. So the natural progression is that we move from obeying Allah out of subservience and wanting to gain reward to intrinsically believing Allah’s laws to be correct to finally doing it out of love for Allah. Each step builds on the previous: from selfish to selfless. That is the purest form of ibadah, and that is our goal, inshaAllah.

Doing good deeds for the intention of getting reward is not necessarily a bad thing because we sometimes need an incentive or encouragement to do good. The benefit is not worldly so the mindset is seeking a good akhirah, which is a component of our purpose and acts as a stepping stone to the next level of faith. However, to attain even the most basic of these levels of faith, our deeds have to be for the sake of Allah.

And the best way to achieve this is to constantly re-check and re-evaluate our intentions. It may be a long and arduous process but it is one that will either make you or break you.

Muhammad Aamir Shamsi is currently an Emergency Medicine Doctor in London. He joined MYM in the summer of 2010 to develop his writing skills, to provide an insight into the incidents that have occurred in his life, and to explore his thoughts that have arisen from such occurrences. He hopes he can develop as a Muslim and become a better person in the process insha'Allah.


  1. A very nice reminder, I must say. This sentence reminded me of a lecture I heard by Sh. Yasir Qadhi about atheism: “Some may argue that we should not be doing good deeds for our own benefit of Allah’s reward.” Many atheists do a lot of charitable work and they claim that their work is better or purer than that of religious people and they take pride in it by saying that they do good “because of the purity or generosity of their heart” whereas religious people do it as an obligation or to please God, which is an inferior motive for good work. There is a problem though, that Sh. Yasir pointed out-atheists do good to fill the spiritual void in their lives that occurs as a result of denying God. They do good deeds simply to make themselves feel better about themselves. The major drawback in that mindset is that if good deeds don’t make you feel good anymore, you will simply stop doing them. Muslims, on the other hand, have a superior motive to do good, which is to please Allah and that is of course, the best motivator, as you also pointed out.

    • I stumbled upon this article out of curiosity what people consider good deeds and felt compelled to respond to this.

      Atheists said that their good deeds “mean more”. Yes, that showed a poor attitude, as no one should abuse their good deeds to prove themselves.
      But both you and the atheist in your example are generalizing and that is exactly what’s been causing breaches and rifts between different people for centuries now: the desire to see yourself as the better one.
      I might be an atheist, but acknowledge that there is an element in Islam I really admire and that’s modesty and humility. Stating that “all muslims have superior motives over all atheists” is, sadly, far from humble. Words like “superior” don’t have a place in humility.

      I do regular voluntary work, mostly taking care for wounded animals and the elderly. Being an atheist, I must surely do this to fill an empty void and to feel better about myself according to you. You’re missing a very different alternative here, and it seems as if the author of this article does as well.

      My motives for helping is simply that it helps. The cuts made by our government are leaving society’s weakest helpless and paid carers are scarcer each day.
      I work alongside other atheists, as well as Christians and Muslims and as far as I know, we all share that same motive. We don’t prove to one another who “does it for better reasons”. We don’t argue, we don’t question each others genuinity, and we don’t compete. Though each of us choose seperate spiritual paths, we are happy that we’re in this together and therefore able to help more.
      We are just glad that these beings are now doing better. Not because we made that happen, but simply because they feel better now.

      Being an atheist, a muslim or a christian is in itself nothing more than a label. It’s HOW we are atheist, muslim or christian that defines if we really are good people. In every group, there are those who do things for right and those for bad reasons.

      All of us are given one, round world. I wish all of us could see how senseless it is to push each other away.

  2. Silent_Observer Reply

    A very good article. Reminded me that I too as a kid used to ponder how can acts other than Salah be considered as worship?? Then was explained and given examples by elders like,when you eat you are taking care of the body which is a gift from Allah swt,when you sleep you give rest to your body so that you wake up and perform prayers and other duties in a better way…
    Thus,for a Muslim, eating,sleeping, waking up,having a bath, studying,playing and even shopping!! can be termed as good deeds and an act of worship, given that we follow the rules set by our Lord.

  3. “…but it is one that will either make you or break you.”
    B’ithnillah, this will be the making of us all. Good article, keep it up!

  4. Why not just do good deeds for the sake of it, with no expectation for the outcome of yourself ? Others are,why can’t you ?

  5. I take exception to your contention that we do good deeds only for the sake of Allah. It is true that Surah Ad-Dhariyat (Chapter 51) verse 56 وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ as “I created the jinn and humankind only that they might worship/serve me”. But things become clear if we read further the next verse i.e. Surah Ad-Dhariyat (51) 57 مَا أُرِيدُ مِنْهُم مِّن رِّزْقٍ وَمَا أُرِيدُ أَن يُطْعِمُونِ translated as “I do not want from them any provision, nor do I want them to feed Me.” We will understand then that God does want anything (provision) from us, instead what He wants is for us to live this life according to his deen as described in the Al Quran. Indeed we do good deeds for the benefit of others including our family, our neighbours, our community and our own selves. The term “sake of Allah” is valid only if we take it as obeying the guidance of Allah in the way we lead our life. This is true as well for prayer, fasting, zakah and the Hajj.

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