Once upon a time...a man heard the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) say that for each time a person recites Subhan'Allah, Allah plants for him a tree in paradise. The man stood up and said if this were the case, then there must be many trees for us in paradise. Upon which the Prophet replied, "Yes, but you must be careful that you do not set fire from here and burn them all down." (Iddat ad-Dai)
Through His unlimited grace and mercy, Allah has promised us rewards for even the smallest of deeds. Ours is a religion that rewards us for the mere intention to do good. Yet how unfortunate it would be if, without even realizing, we ourselves were the cause for these good deeds to be rejected. Alhumdulillah, we say our prayers, give charity, strive to help those in need, perform Hajj and Ziyarat, do whatever we can to spread Islam, serve the community and what not. As honorable and fulfilling as such deeds most certainly are, it is important to bear in mind that their acceptance is not a given, and we must ensure they do not fade away and disperse like "scattered, floating dust" (Qur'an 25:23).
Having chosen Islam as the perfect way of life, we understand this means complete and absolute submission to Allah's will. We also understand that such submission means adhering to His laws 100 percent. Does it make sense therefore for one to take part in mourning for Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) whilst neglecting Hijab? Or to give charity while failing to pay Khums? Or to gather a vast degree of knowledge yet simultaneously be swamped in pride and arrogance?
The message is very simple: Our Holy Prophet has said that even if we were to stand for prayers like a peg planted on the ground and keep fasting until we resemble a dried stick and stoop like a bow, Allah will not accept any of our deeds until and unless we have the piety to guard against the evil deeds. (Iddat ad-Dai)
It is therefore clear that in order for our deeds to actually be accepted, we must have the piety to refrain from all sins. The following tradition, quoted by Ayatollah Dastghaib Shirazi in his book Greater Sins, really makes one ponder and puts the matter into context.
The Holy Prophet said, "On the Day of Judgment, there would be people whose good deeds will be as heavy as the mountains of Tahama. In spite of this it would be ordered that they be tossed into the fire of Hell."
Upon this, someone asked, "O Prophet of Allah, were these people performing Salat (prayers)?"
"Yes, they used to pray, and fast, and also spend a part of the night in worship. But whenever they chanced upon something which gave them pleasure, they used to rush to it without thinking whether it was right or wrong."
As a reminder to ourselves before anyone else, below are a few of the many barriers to the acceptance of deeds along with the relevant narrations that will, God-willing, help to prevent our good deeds from being rendered null and void:
Disobedience to Parents
Traditions narrate from the Holy Prophet the greatest of sins are Shirk (polytheism) and disobedience to one's parents. Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) further says that for the person who does as much as to stare angrily at his parents – even though they may be unjust – Allah will not accept his or her prayers. (Greater Sins)
And if one's prayer is not accepted, all other good deeds are automatically rejected, for a well-known tradition of the Prophet says, "If Salat is accepted by Allah, all good deeds will be accepted, and if Salat is rejected, all good deeds will be rejected." (Bihar al-Anwar)
Transgressing the Rights of Others
The Holy Prophet said, "I have been commanded by Allah to warn my people and say, 'Do not go from one mosque to another while someone's rights are upon you. If such a person stands up for prayers in that condition, I send my curses upon him till he restores the rights to its owner.'"
While the hadith speaks of rights in the general sense, we must especially be mindful of the right of Fatima and the children of Fatima (peace be upon them) – of our obligation to pay the due Khums. It should be noted that if Khums (that was due) had not been paid on clothes worn during prayer, such a prayer is deemed invalid and must be repeated with clothes that are permissible. In fact, if Khums that was due on other items (not used during prayer) has not been paid, prayers are not rendered invalid, but they will not be accepted until the obligatory khums has been paid. (A Code of Practice for Muslims in the West)
And as mentioned above, if prayers are not accepted, all other good deeds are not accepted.
The Holy Prophet said, "Beware of jealousy, for jealousy consumes good deeds like fire consumes wood." (Al-Kafi) This disease effectively leads to the destruction of all our good deeds. Rather than allowing it to inhibit the body and ridicule the soul, one should concentrate on attaining those noble human traits we see in others that we so desire for ourselves. Indeed Imam Ali (peace be upon him) has said, "Compete in desirable traits, great hopes, and exalted ideas, and your rewards will become greater." (Ghurar al-Hikam)
The Prophet said, "No fire is faster in consuming dry wood than backbiting in consuming a devotee's virtues." (Al-Mahajjat al-Bayda) He also said that to take a single dirham as usury is worse than committing adultery 36 times, and that the worst kind of usury is revealing the defects of a Muslim and insulting him. (Makasibul Muharima) The sin of backbiting is thus said to be graver than that of adultery and usury.
It has further been stated in numerous traditions that the good deeds of one who backbites are transferred to the scroll of deeds of the victim. Consider that – one spiteful remark against a believer, and all your good deeds are transferred into his/her account!
"Say: Shall We inform you who will be the greatest losers in their deeds? Those whose efforts are wasted away in the life of the world, while they think that they are doing something good." (18:103-4)
Self-admiration is amongst the most destructive of vices, wiping away faith and deeds whilst destroying one's spirit. It is not difficult for a virtuous person to become vain about his good deeds, glorifying and magnifying his virtues and considering himself most praiseworthy. The best way to rid oneself from this malady is to acknowledge that our abilities and all the good we do is attained only through Allah's grace and blessings – to Whom indeed belongs all praise.