Our deeds – what we do externally – are judged ultimately by the states of our hearts. These are good deeds. Evil deeds are evil, but these good deeds are in reference to those that we perceive to be a part and parcel of righteousness. Allah will inspect the hearts to determine whether they are truly acts of righteousness.
The Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa sallam had informed us that the first 3 people who would be cast into the Hell Fire are people who were involved in what everybody considers great acts of righteousness. They are the scholar who taught knowledge; the wealthy person who gave from his wealth in charity and the martyr who gave his life fighting in the path of God.
The Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu ‘Alayhi Wa sallam, in an authentic narration, said that they would be among the first groups of people thrown into because the scholar, when he taught the knowledge that Allah gave him, did not do so for the sake of Allah. He taught so that people would praise him, saying what a great scholar he is and how knowledgeable he is. Allah will say to him: “You received your praise, what you sought in that world. But there will be nothing for you in the next.” So he will be drawn off on his face and thrown into Hell.
Similarly the rich individual – the philanthropist, who was generous with his wealth. He gave and people praised his generosity, but Allah will say, “You did it for the praise and you were praised. There was no sincerity there; it was not for the sake of Allah. You did it for as long as people appreciated it, but when people did not pay you mind, you were not generous anymore. Your generosity was conditional; it was not really for the sake of Allah.” So that individual will be drawn off on his face and thrown into Hell.
And the martyr – the one whom we all assumed had died fii-sabilillah. We would think that his place in Paradise is guaranteed. But Allah will say: “You fought so people would say, ‘How brave this one is! How strong and courageous he was!'” People said it; they praised him, but he did not do it for the sake of Allah, so he will be drawn off on his face and thrown into Hell.
This is all telling us that ultimately, even the highest of deeds can be of no avail if the hearts are sick; if the hearts are corrupt. So the place of the heart should, in our minds, occupy great attention. We have to spend much of our time observing, being aware of the state of our heart. When the Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa sallam described Abu Bakr As-Siddiq, explaining to the people his status over the rest of them, he said, “He does not surpass you by performing more prayers and fasts – there are among you those who pray and fast more – but by something which deeply has embedded itself in his heart… Iman in his heart.” That was where his superiority laid.
So there is no other faculty in the human body and existence that a believer should more concerned about. We have to make sure that this faculty is functioning as Allah wishes it to function. We should be greatly concerned about it. The Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa sallam used to make dua often, beginning: “I seek refuge in you, O Allah, from knowledge that does not benefit and from a heart which does not fear”.