Many of us wonder at the purpose of life, and the reason for living. It is one of the most basic and existential of all questions people have wanted to answer for as long as documented philosophy goes. In the Quran, Allah tells us that, “I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me” (The Quran, Chapter 51 Verse 56). However, how does this belief apply to us in practical life? After all, our lives are taken up in large part by the activities essential to life as humans. Eating, sleeping, going to work, studying, earning a living, managing our homes, bringing up a family- all take up time and energy.
However, by simply changing one small thing, it is possible to convert all our activities of living, even the basest and mundane ones, into acts of worship. Islam lays a great emphasis on the niyah or intention behind our actions. Allah tells us to dedicate our activities to Him, and to no one else:
Say, “indeed, my prayer, my rites of sacrifice, my living and my dying are for Allah, Lord of the worlds”(The Quran, Chapter 6 Verse 162).
When the intention behind an action is to please Allah, we are rewarded for them and these rewards will be multiplied several times over at the time of judgment (The Quran, Chapter 6 Verse 160). Feeding orphans, preventing abuse of any kind, looking after family, the needy, our neighbors, selflessly giving from one’s wealth and time to a cause, practicing and perfecting our manners and etiquette- all these which improve our character as humans, become the best means for accumulating the deeds that lead to jannah.
For example, if a man goes to work and his intention is to earn an income, he is working to attain a worldly goal- that of earning, perhaps buying a home, etc. However, if he works with the intention of earning to support his family to earn the pleasure of Allah (as he is fulfilling the role Allah ordained for him as a bread-winner), then the same act of work becomes an act of worship as well. By the same token, if a woman is a home-maker and dedicates her life to the Islamic upbringing of her family and undertakes a lifetime of unpaid work, the intention behind her occupation, if it is to please Allah, becomes the reason for her to enter Jannah.
Of course, the matter of intention is so private, it a matter between a human and his creator. It is not for someone else to second-guess intention or to judge whether it is the right one or not, because Allah tells us, “….He knows the secret and what is [even] more hidden” (The Quran, Chapter 20 Verse 7).