What Benefits the Dead
Abû Hurayrah narrated that the Prophet (sal-Allâhu alayhe wa sallam) said:
| The likeness of wealth, family and the actions of the son of Adam is of a man who has three companions. One of the mans companions says: I am with you as long as you live; when you die, you have taken your share of yourself and you have taken your share of me – this is his wealth. The second companion says: I am with you until you reach that tree; you have had your share of yourself and your share of me – this is his family. The third companion says: I am with you in life and in death. [Sahîh: Related by al-Bazzâr and al-Albânee authenticated it]
The above authentic hadîth is in fact like the following hadîth in meaning and in subject matter. Anas said that the Prophet (sal-Allâhu alayhe wa sallam) said:
| The dead person is followed (to his grave) by three: His family, his wealth and his actions. Two of them return and only one remains. His family and wealth return, but his actions remain. [Related by al-Bukhârî and Muslim]
These two ahâdîth show that actions alone endure and enter the grave with their doers. Both these ahâdîth also affirm the fact that anything other than actions – such as wealth, servants or relatives – are of no benefit at all. Rather, they all return (to this world). His wealth becomes the property of his inheritor, whilst his relatives and family do not grant him anything from Allâh.
These ahâdîth intend to direct Muslims to be concerned with actions which will stay with them forever; and not to strive for wealth and position for the sake of relatives, family and servants. Apparently, the Prophet (sal-Allâhu alayhe wa sallam) wanted to show us the value of good actions when he related these ahâdîth to us, (which can be found) in the books of Zuhd (renouncement of the world). He pointed out to us that because actions will last rather than wealth, you have to make your actions righteous. Part of making ones actions righteous is through good wealth that is earned lawfully and spent in a good manner. Then one gains the rewards of amalus-sâlih (a righteous action).
The Acceptable Action
Therefore, in these ahâdîth, the Prophet (sal-Allâhu alayhe wa sallam) encouraged us to make our actions righteous, whether gaining wealth or other things. However, we must remember a certain fact about this action, a fact that many people neglect. The explanation of this fact should actually be a complete lesson in itself; and it is that only a righteous action is beneficial, not just any action.
So what are the conditions that a Muslim must fulfil in order for the action to be righteous? This is shown in the statement of Allâh – the Exalted and Sublime:
|Say (O Muhammad sal-Allâhu alayhe wa sallam): Verily I am only a man like yourselves, but revelation has been revealed to me that the One whom you should worship is only One Deity. And whoever hopes to meet his Lord, let him do righteous actions; and in the worship of your Lord, do not associate anyone along with Him. [Sûrah Kahf 18:110]
Two Important Conditions
The Scholars of Tafsîr have said that the end of this verse is an indication that there are two conditions for an action to be righteous and acceptable: 
Firstly: That the action must be in accordance with the Sunnah. Therefore, if the action is done as an act of worship, but is not in accordance with the Sunnah, it is not a righteous action. The reason is that compliance with the Sunnah is one of the conditions for the actions righteousness. The proofs of this are many, but it is enough to state one: The hadîth of the Prophet (sal-Allâhu alayhe wa sallam) in which he said:
| Whoever innovates in this matter of ours what is not upon it, it shall be rejected. [Related by al-Bukhârî (5/301) and Muslim (no.1718) from Aishah (radi-Allâhu anhâ)]
Therefore, any action that was not part of Islâm when Allâh revealed it upon the heart of the Prophet Muhammad (sal-Allâhu alayhe wa sallam) is not a righteous action. About this, Allâh – the Most High – says:
|This day I have perfected your Deen for you and completed My favour upon you and I have chosen Islâm as your Deen. [Sûratul-Mâidah 5:3] 
It must be remembered that Bidah (innovation) is not divided into five categories, as some Scholars say. A proof for this is that the Prophet (sal-Allâhu alayhe wa sallam) said:
| Every innovation is misguidance, and every misguidance is in the Hellfire. [Sahîh: Related by Muslim (6/153) from Jâbir Ibn Abdullâh]
Secondly: That after being in accordance with the Sunnah, the action has to be sincere, purely seeking the Face of Allâh – the Most High – because Allâh says at the end of the aforementioned verse:
|And in the worship of your Lord, do not associate anyone along with Him.
This means that the person seeks, by his righteous action, only the Face of Allâh – the Exalted and Sublime. However, if he seeks other than Allâh, then he has setup partners with Allâh (made shirk with Allâh), therefore his action is rejected.
This is confirmed by Allâh in an authentic hadîth Qudsî:
|I am so self-sufficient that I am in no need of having any partners. Thus, whosoever does an action for the sake of someone else as well as Me, will have that action rejected by Me, to him whom he associated with Me. [Related by Muslim (no.2985) and Ibn Mâjah (no.4202) – from Abû Hurayrah (radi-Allâhu anhu)]
Consequently, if the action is righteous but not sincere for the sake of Allâhs Face, it is rejected. Moreover, if the action is purely for the sake of Allâhs Face, but not in accordance with the Sunnah, it is likewise not accepted.
The Worthless and Sinful Action
So these are the two conditions for every action to be a righteous action. If one of these conditions is not present, the action does not become a righteous action, rather, it becomes an evil one. Had the person not done this action, it would have been better for him.
If a man prays two rakât of prayer at night, while others sleep, then even if he prays them according to the Sunnah – without addition or deletion – but he does this so that people may talk about him and say: This Person is a righteous man. He prays at night when the people are asleep, then his action becomes bâtil (null and void), since he did not sincerely seek the Face of Allâh alone, but rather he sought the praises of people, thus becoming sinful by associating partners with Allâh in his action.
However, if his action only became null and void, then the following hadîth would apply to him; and he would not be punished for this action:
| How many fasting people obtain nothing from their fasting except hunger and thirst. And how many people who stay up at night (praying), obtain nothing from their being awake except sleeplessness and tiredness. [Sahîh: Related by Ibn Mâjah (1/539) and Ahmad (2/441) from Ibn Umar (radi-Allâhu anhu).]
But this is not the case, for this persons action has changed into a sin. The two rakât that this person performed without intending to seek only the Face of Allâh – the Exalted and Sublime – are the same as if he had disobeyed Him, that is to say: He will be punished for these two rakât because he associated others along with Allâh – the Exalted and Sublime – in his action.
If a man prays eleven rakât at night with the intention, in this worship, that his brothers would say about him: This man is correctly following the Prophet; he does not add to the Sunnah, his action becomes null and void; and his action changes to a sin against him. Rather, he must pray according to the Sunnah but sincerely seeking only the Face of Allâh – the Most High. He must be absolutely free of seeking the pleasure of others along with Him in this worship.
This has been but a summary about the action that does not leave the person but enters the grave with him – whether the action was good or bad – and that what is of benefit is the persons righteous action. What is a righteous action and what are its conditions?
The two conditions are: Muwwâfaqah (compliance) with the Sunnah; and Ikhlâs (sincerity and purity of intention) to Allâh. Therefore, one must remember these two conditions and act upon them so that one may become righteous and pious.
 Ibn Katheer says in Tafsîr Qurân ul-Adhîm (3/114):
|Thus, for an action to be acceptable it has to fulfil two conditions. Firstly: It must be sincere for Allâh alone. Second: It must be correct and in accordance with the sharîah. So if the action is sincere, but not correct, it will not be accepted.
 Imâm ash-Shâtibî relates in al-ltisâm (l/49):
|Imâm Mâlik – rahimahullâh – said: Whosoever introduces into Islâm an innovation has lied against the message of Muhammad (sal-Allâhu alayhe wa sallam). Since Allâh has said: This day have I completed your Deen for you. So whatever was not Deen that day, cannot be considered as part of the Deen today.
 Ash-Shâtibî says in al-ltisâm (1/37) about the Sharîah definition of Bidah:
|A newly invented way in the Deen, in imitation of, or corresponding to the sharîah, through which nearness to Allâh is sought. This action not being supported by any authentic proof – neither the action itself, nor the way in which it is performed.
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