June 7, 2019

On your path towards Allah it is important to set priorities. If one does not set priorities, he or she will not make any progress. Some good deeds are more important than others. The importance and rank of good deeds can vary in the light of situations and the time one lives in. In the light of Islamic fiqh (jurisprudence), not all good deeds are equally important or equivalent. This principle was made clear by Allah:

And do you equate the person who gives the pilgrim to drink and the worshiper in the al_Haram mosque (Mecca and Medina): he who believes in Allah and the Last Day, and makes efforts in the way of Allah ?! They are according to Allah is not right.

At_Tawba: 19

Mohammed (peace be upon him) also clarified this principle:

Faith consists of seventy-one subdivisions: the highest (degree) is the saying of la ilaha illa Allah, and the lowest (degree) is removing a harmful object of the road.


The fact that the noble companions were aware of this becomes clear through the questions they asked the Prophet (peace be upon him) about which act, or which words were most loved by Allah Most High. Muhammad (peace be upon him) often spoke of the “best people”, “the most favored people,” “the most loved people,” “the most useful people,” “the worst people,” “the worst of my community.”

The following verse underlines the fact that even people do not share the same status and or rank. It all depends on how they act and react and behave:

And then we let those whom We chose among Our servants inherit the Book. Some of them do themselves wrong, others of them are moderate, and others strive for good through Allah’s will.

Fatir: 32

As I said at the beginning of this post, it is important to distinguish between these acts. Muhammad (peace be upon him) did not limit himself to saying that “Prayer is your best deed,” but he also demonstrated this! There is an exception to the execution of all five pillars. In extreme cases, someone has been allowed to deny that he believes. If you don’t have sufficient money then you don’t have to pay zakat nor are you obliged to perform Hajj. If one cannot fast due to old age or terminal illness and one does not have the money to pay the penance, one is exempt from it. As for prayer, if you travel you must pray; if you are sick you must pray; if you cannot stand then you pray while sitting; if you cannot sit, then while lying down. According to some scholars you should pray with your eyes, or even in your mind, when you can’t move.

When you have no clothing – in extreme situations – then you pray while sitting with your hands over your private parts; if you have no water, then you use sand; if you have no water or sand, then according to some scholars, you can pray without ritual pureness when you fear that prayer time – in extreme situations – will expire.

To summarise, don’t neglect prayer, and don’t choose anything over prayer as it is always given priority above other actions. This is true fiqh and a genuine understanding of the classification of good deeds.

About the author 

Imam Van Ael is the founder of the Ark of knowledge and the former chaplain of London School of Economics, Imperial College, and SOAS, and Professor at University for Applied Sciences Rotterdam. His main interest is connecting people to God Almighty through the Book and the Sunna, through traditional knowledge within a contemporary framework.

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