Answered by Shaykh Gibril F Haddad
Recently, a sister said that she understands that in Islam, one must do everything for the sake of pleasing Allah, and His pleasure is our only goal in obedience and submission, yet at the same time we are doing things for OUR own benefit, so that WE will be rewarded with Jannah and other such blessings…so she felt that this is a difficult thing to reconcile, as it seems like “circular logic”, and almost contradictory. Are we doing things for Allah only? or for Him, then ourselves? If we do things for Him and ourselves simultaneously, this seems like an “ego-centric” niyyah to some, not selfless. So how should one respond to this? How can it be explained logically, thoroughly so as to bring her way of thinking back on track and avoid any doubtful inclinations?
Wa `alaykum as-Salam wa rahmatullah:
His pleasure is our only goal in obedience and submission, not only “at the same time” as we are doing things for OUR own benefit but more _because_ our greatest good is to worship Him.
The more our faith increases, the more we see (with the eyes of our head as well as those of faith) that the two are in line: to worship Him and to achieve our happiness. This is part of knowing his Oneness (Tawhid).
However, in our wayfaring into this conscious faith, it is normal to feel – most of the time – a dichotomy between faith on the one hand, and ego on the other. They wondered to the Prophet (saws), “Can it be that one gets reward even when engaged in his own pleasure with his wife?” The Prophet (saws) assured them that yes.
The reason is that all acts, even the outwardly trivial, that are in line with the Divine will are counted for us as acts of worship. Niyya is the difference between the Believer and the unbeliever, so that even eating and sleeping become worship-`ibada instead of being merely habit-`ada. Even anger and happiness. Otherwise all these are mere instincts, lusts and appetites.
The purpose of the education of the soul is to harmonize these two dimensions.
In this way every step we make in this life is actually a test: are we turning to the Divine Countenance adorned with His blessing? or with His displeasure? It can only be one or the other. The Shari`a is a guide to knowing which is which.
The best guide to these topics is Imam al-Ghazzali’s Ihya’ `Ulum al-Din.
Hajj Gibril [Haddad]