Niyya – The Most Important
By Imam Abdullah El-Amin, TMO Contributor
Editor’s note: Imam Abdullah El-Amin is a prominent Detroit-area imam and is a TMO columnist. His opinions are his own.
A Jewish rabbi friend of mine and myself were on a program at one of the Catholic schools in the city of Detroit to explain our religions to the students. It was a very well mannered, attentive group of middle and high school aged youngsters who had very little knowledge of either Judaism or Islam.
I first want to start by stating that this week’s column is in no way a put-down of the Jewish faith. We don’t have to do that. I’m just using this incident as an example to highlight the superiority of the Islamic faith. I have also shared with the rabbi that I was going to write this article.
In my presentation, I made the statement somewhere in my talk that “matters are judged by intention.” It was received as a “given” by the students and staff and I didn’t think much more about it after that.
Well, the rabbi came up later and in his comments pointed out that, according to Jewish thought, intentions were not the most important – your deeds were more important. He qualified this by giving this analogy.
“Suppose a poor person were asking for money on the road and a person of modest means came by, saw him and, moved by compassion, gave him $10.00. Then a more affluent person, who was in a hurry and did not wish to be bothered, reached in his pocket and threw him a $100.00 bill so he could hurry on without interruption. Who has done the greater good?” A chorus came out in unison from the students and said the person who gave the $10 from his heart, had done the greater good. “Wrong,” said the rabbi. “The needy person could do much more with $100 than with $10. So your good intentions didn’t matter to the needy person. He could eat 10 times longer with the gift from the rich man than that given by the poor man.
This sounds good on the surface, but it doesn’t take into account our human desire to live good in the next life. As Muslims, we believe our first duty is to please our Lord with a pure heart. Who do you think ALLAH looks on most favorably, the person who gave arrogantly or the one who gave with the best intentions and the pleasure of ALLAH? The ideal situation is to use your means, with the best intentions. This is as ALLAH desires it and doing it this way, endures us to our Lord and makes the world a better place. Also it stands to reason that you would get more $100 bills spread around than $10 if you started with good intentions because more rich people would give.
We have to work toward coupling the material world with the spiritual world. ALLAH points out that the hereafter is the best but we are also not to neglect the material of this world. Regardless of how much money we have, we must use it with the purest heart and purest intentions to be the most beneficial to mankind.
I was happy to have been there that morning because I learned something from another faith that enhanced my own faith, which is as it should be, particularly since I am a convert (revert) to this religion. It stands to reason that it is unlikely a person would choose a religion he thought was inferior.
As Muslims we know that this world is but a fleeting moment but the next liife is for eternity. Where do you want to be the happiest?
As Salaam alaikum,
(Al Hajj) Imam Abdullah El-Amin
Author of the Forthcoming book, THE SPIRITUAL ADAM: Reflections to tap into our power as human beings