Consistency is Key
We often hear of people doing little acts of goodness here and there; inspirational acts of kindness that are commended and acknowledged by friends, foes and strangers alike. Sometimes, these ‘small’ acts of good are in and of themselves major, but are not viewed in that light.
The Coronavirus pandemic has arguably shone a brighter light at this phenomenon, in the hope of inspiring people to go out of their way to do that little bit extra for others, helping those in need and generally just providing a good news story, as well as adding a feel-good factor through grim times.
No Deed is Insignificant
Islam encourages us to do as much good as we can. It also teaches us to stay away from evil as much as we can. Allah says:
‘So whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it. And whoever does an atom’s weight of evil will see it.’ (99:7-8)
Both these actions have their numerous different ways. Doing good is not confined or restricted to any one avenue, nor is staying away from evil. Yes, there are actions and deeds that are universally accepted as ‘good’ or ‘evil’ actions, and they are seen as such through the lens of Islam too. But apart from those, there are many others that are subjective.
A common argument is often floated in many scenarios when someone is seen to be doing some good: ‘Oh but what’s the point of that when he/she isn’t doing xyz?’ Quite often, this xyz is considered to be more fundamentally important than the deed that they gain popularity through.
The answer to this argument is two-fold. Firstly, whether this good deed itself is a priority and fundamental or not, needs to be gauged in light of context. It could be that the deed itself is generally an optional deed, but in the case of that individual, obligatory. As a rule of thumb, obligatory deeds take priority over optional ones, and so this person was fulfilling an obligation, and so was fulfilling a responsibility. In that case, there is no argument that he/she be commended for it. For example, giving in charity is optional. However, when your family members are going through straitened circumstances while you have the resources to help them out, spending in charity on them becomes obligatory.
Secondly, let’s suppose the person is imperfect and is indeed guilty of not doing all or some of the basics. For example, he/she is not punctual in the 5 daily Ṣalāhs (prayers), but is well-known for their generosity and charitable giving. No one can be under any illusions that this individual is not fulfilling a fundamental religious obligation, but that should not lead to their generosity being dismissed or downplayed. After all, none of us are perfect, and in many cases these comments are made out of jealousy and envy: to hide one’s own shame at not being able to do what the other has managed. The most important thing to keep in mind though, is that this good deed, like every other, is recorded and acknowledged by Allah, and will be fruitful and rewarded.
‘Surely the ends you strive for are diverse: as for the one who is charitable, mindful [of Allah], and [firmly] believes in the finest reward, We will facilitate for them the Way of Ease.’ (92:4-7)
He also says:
‘…And each person will only have what they endeavoured towards, and their endeavours will be seen, then they will be fully rewarded.’ (53:39-41)
Rewards for good deeds come in many forms. As well as the most obvious being the reward in the Hereafter, there is an element of reward that is commonly overlooked. This reward manifests in the individual being given the ability by Allah to do more good, and hence the argument of ‘what’s the point’ is dismantled.
A well-known principle is that the sign of a good deed being accepted by Allah is being given the ability to follow it up with another good deed.
The ‘What’s the point?’ argument quoted above however, does have an element of truth to it. Islam categorises deeds and responsibilities relative to importance. Some deeds are obligatory while others are optional or bonuses. The obligations do take precedence over the optional, and the latter cannot be done at the expense of the former. This is a concept that every Muslim would do well living by. In fact, this concept is not exclusive to religion: even in life, things take priority over others, and likewise in almost every field of work.
An intelligent person is one who understands these priorities and lives by them, in any walk of life. It is one of the very reasons why Fiqh (jurisprudence) is taught and studied in Islam. The unfortunate truth however, is that many fall short of this education, and so to expect them to always prioritise correctly is setting the bar too high. Together with encouraging people to learn about priorities, we should also cut them some slack and not criticise them too harshly when they get them wrong, especially when they have done some good. It can demoralise someone and dissuade them from doing any good in the future, and that creates more problems than it solves.
Consistency is Key
Everyone hates inconsistency. Right from inconsistency in governance (i.e. the guidance and rules surrounding social distancing etc.), inconsistency in work ethic and quality, to even the football pitch. How many times is a player criticised for having great potential and talent, but not showing it on a regular basis?
Even in Islam, consistency is paramount. The Prophet ﷺ said:
‘…The most beloved deeds to Allah are the most consistent, even if little.’
The one who gives a little in charity regularly, is more beloved to Allah than the one who gives a one-off large amount. The same can be said of reciting the Qur’an: a person who recites a little but often, does better than one who recites a significant portion and then does not touch it for a month. And likewise many other good deeds.
It’s funny though, that while everyone hates inconsistency, consistency is the most difficult thing to master. It’s easy to be early once, but to be punctual is much more difficult (just ask me!). Going back to the footballing example, what distinguishes a good player or a great talented one from a world class one? It’s consistency. The likes of Ronaldo and Messi put in great performances regularly, while others less so. That’s what sets them apart. A great employee is one who consistently produces good quality work. A good spouse is one who consistently cares and supports. A good parent is one who consistently attends to the ever-changing needs of the children. A great friend is one who you can consistently rely on for laughs and chats, through the happy and the sad.
A good Muslim is one who consistently practices their faith, constantly understanding and getting their priorities right.