The Righteous Action - Part 1
What Benefits the DeadAbû Hurayrah narrated that the Prophet (sal-Allâhu ‘alayhe wa sallam) said:
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:
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.
The Acceptable ActionTherefore, 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:
Two Important ConditionsThe 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 action’s 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:
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:
It must be remembered that Bid’ah (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:
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:
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.
Consequently, if the action is righteous but not sincere for the sake of Allâh’s Face, it is rejected. Moreover, if the action is purely for the sake of Allâh’s Face, but not in accordance with the Sunnah, it is likewise not accepted.
The Worthless and Sinful ActionSo 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 rak’ât 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:
But this is not the case, for this person’s action has changed into a sin. The two rak’ât 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 rak’ât because he associated others along with Allâh - the Exalted and Sublime - in his action.
Footnotes Ibn Katheer says in Tafsîr Qur’ân ul-’Adhîm (3/114):
 Imâm ash-Shâtibî relates in al-‘ltisâm (l/49):
 Ash-Shâtibî says in al-‘ltisâm (1/37) about the Sharî’ah definition of Bid’ah: