We always talk about doing good deeds for Allah’s sake alone. We know that showing off to others can nullify the blessing we could receive for doing those act of virtue. We know that the reward for doing a good deed for worldly gain is only the worldly award, nothing more.
This is because the Prophet said: “Actions are but by intentions and everyone will have only what they intended. So whoever emigrated for Allah and His Messenger, then their emigration was for Allah and His Messenger. And whoever emigrated to attain something of this world or to marry a woman, then their emigration was for whatever reason they emigrated.” [Sahīh al-Bukhārī and Sahīh Muslim]
But there is one important question that almost never gets discussed:
What about doing good deeds just to do good?
What about helping someone because you are moved by compassion? What about giving charity because you feel generous? What about showing kindness due to your heart being full of goodwill, not seeking anything from the other person in return?
There are many people who love virtue. They love to pardon those who have wronged them. They love acquiring religious knowledge, exhibiting good manners, and behaving ethically. It is the way they are, even without formulating any conscious, deliberate intention to be that way. They love what is good in the same way that people love beauty, comfort, and camaraderie.
The caliph Al-Ma’mūn used to say: “Pardoning people has become so dear to me that I fear I will receive no blessings for it.”
He also said: “Pardoning people has become so dear to me that I fear people will court my favour by disobeying me!”
It is good for people to have such tendencies. They benefit those who possess them as well as the people around them. A natural love of virtue is something desired in Islam, even without formulating a specific intention to do something good. Such deeds are worthy of blessings in their own right.
Having such a conscious intention to do the deed for Allah’s sake just adds to the deed’s blessings.
Allah says: “There is no good in much of their private conversation, except for those who enjoin charity or that which is right or reconciliation between people. And whoever does that seeking Allah’s pleasure, We will give them a great reward.” [Sūrah al-Nisā’: 114]
This means that doing good for the sake of doing good is something Allah and His Messenger have enjoined upon us. Every virtuous deed we do voluntarily through our actions, our wealth, our influence, or our gifts is something encouraged by Islam. Allah said: “Engage in virtuous deeds. [Sūrah al-Hajj: 77]
When we do so because of our good natures, this is virtuous. This is blessed.
We might begin an act of virtue without thinking about it, but then renew our intentions so we do so consciously and deliberately for Allah’s sake, thereby increasing our reward. Some of the Pious Predecessors said: “We began seeking knowledge for other than Allah’s sake, but He refused to let it be except for His sake.”
Khadijah said to the Prophet when he first began receiving revelation: “I swear by Allah! Allah will never disgrace you, for by Allah, you keep good relations with your kith and kin, you speak the truth, you help the poor and the destitute, you entertain your guests generously and you assist those who are stricken with calamities.” [Sahīh al-Bukhārī and Sahīh Muslim]
This is how Allah safeguards His servants from shame and error.
Good deeds do not go unrewarded. True goodness is never unnoticed by Allah. This is why Allah rewards unbelievers in this world for the good deeds that they do, even though they do not have the intention to do so for Allah.