The explanation of this hadith was translated by guest writer Abd-Allah:
Chapter 1 – Hadith 7: Sincerity and Significance of Intentions and all Actions, Apparent and Hidden
Abu Hurairah (radhiAllahu anhu) narrated: Messenger of Allah (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) said, “Allah does not look at your figures, nor at your attire but He looks at your hearts [and deeds].”
Shaykh Ibn Uthaymeen (may Allah have mercy on him) says in his explanation of this hadith:
This hadith points to what Allah says in the verse:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا ۚ إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ
O mankind! surely We have created you of a male and a female, and made you tribes and families that you may know each other; verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you; surely Allah is Knowing, Aware (al-Hujurat 49:13)
Allah does not look at the figures of His servants, if they are big or small, healthy or sick, nor at their looks if they are beautiful or not. He does not look at their lineage, whether it is prestigious or not, nor does He look at their wealth, or any of these factors at all. The only connection between Allah and His servants is through Taqwa (righteousness), so whoever has more Taqwa of Allah is closer and more honorable in the sight of Allah. So do not be proud of your wealth, your beauty and body, your children, your mansions or cars, or with anything of these worldly matters at all. However, if Allah has enabled you to be righteous and have Taqwa, then this is from the blessing of Allah upon you, so thank Allah and praise Him for it.
So the saying of the Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam), “but He looks at your hearts” shows that the matter is all about what is contained within the hearts. For how many people’s deeds appear correct, good and righteous, but when it was built upon what is corrupt, it became corrupt itself. The intention is the basis of everything. You may find two men praying side by side, in the same row, led by one Imam, but the difference between their prayers is like the difference between the east and west, because the hearts differ. The heart of one might be heedless, or he may even be showing off with his prayer – we seek refuge with Allah – seeking with that a worldly matter.
Where as the heart of the other is present and he seeks with his prayer the pleasure of Allah and following the sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam). So there is a big difference between the two. Hence, the deeds are based on what is in the heart, and on the Day of Judgment the recompense will be based upon that which is in the heart. Allah ta’ala says:
إِنَّهُ عَلَىٰ رَجْعِهِ لَقَادِرٌ
يَوْمَ تُبْلَى السَّرَائِرُ
Surely (Allah) is able to bring him back (to life)! The Day that (all) things secret will be tested. [al-Tariq 86:8-9] This means on the Day of Judgment, the hidden (intentions) shall be tested along with the outward (deeds).
In this life, people treat each other based on what is apparent, as the Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam): “I am only a human being, and litigants with cases of dispute come to me, and someone of you may happen to be more eloquent (in presenting his case) than the other, and I pass a judgment in his favor based on what I hear.” (Bukhari & Muslim) As for the hereafter, the emphasis shall be upon what was hidden (of the intentions). We ask Allah purify our hidden intentions.
So if the hidden (intention) is good and proper, then expect good (reward), but if it is otherwise then you have lost all good. Allah ‘azza wa jal says:
أَفَلَا يَعْلَمُ إِذَا بُعْثِرَ مَا فِي الْقُبُورِ
وَحُصِّلَ مَا فِي الصُّدُورِ
Does he not know, when that which is in the graves is scattered abroad, and that which is (hidden) in (human) breasts is made manifest. [al-‘Aadiyat 100:9-10]
If Allah has emphasized in the Quran and the Prophet has emphasized in his sunnah the importance of rectifying one’s intention, then it is a duty upon each person to rectify his intention and to rectify his heart, and to look at what doubt is contained within his heart and change that to certainty. How? By looking at the signs:
إِنَّ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلَافِ اللَّيْلِ وَالنَّهَارِ لَآيَاتٍ لِّأُولِي الْأَلْبَابَِ
Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding. [Aal-‘Imran 3:190]
And Allah says:
إِنَّ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ لَآيَاتٍ لِّلْمُؤْمِنِينَ
وَفِي خَلْقِكُمْ وَمَا يَبُثُّ مِن دَابَّةٍ آيَاتٌ لِّقَوْمٍ يُوقِنُونَ
Verily in the heavens and the earth, are Signs for those who believe. And in the creation of yourselves and the fact that animals are scattered (through the earth), are Signs for those of assured Faith [al-Jathiyah 45:3-4]
So if the shaytan puts doubt in your heart then look at the signs of Allah. Look at this universe; who arranges its matters? Look at how the conditions change, at how the days interchange between the people, so that you know that this universe has a Wise Sustainer, Glorified be He.
Purify your heart from shirk (associating partners with Allah). How does one purify his heart from shirk? He purifies it by knowing that the people can not benefit him nor save him from the punishment if he disobeys Allah, nor can they reward him if he obeys Allah. For indeed, the one who brings about the reward and prevents the punishment is Allah. With the knowledge that such is the case, then why associate anyone with Allah, and why perform acts of worship intending to get closer to the creation?
Whoever seeks closeness to the creation by acts that should be done seeking closeness to Allah, then Allah will distance Himself from him, and the creation too will only get further away from him. That is because if Allah is pleased with you, then He will also make the people pleased with you, but if He is displeased with you, He will cause the people to be displeased with you. We seek refuge with Allah from His wrath and punishment.
The most important thing: Always attend to your heart, constantly wash it until it is purified. Allah says:
Those are they for whom Allah does not desire that He should purify their hearts. [al-Ma’idah 5:41] Therefore, purification of the heart is a crucial matter. I ask Allah to purify my heart and yours and to make us sincere to Him and followers of His Messenger.