As a principle, the Almighty has made it clear in the Qur’an that each person is responsible for his deeds. No one else can be held accountable for what a person does; nor can a person himself take responsibility of some other person’s deeds. Similarly, the Qur’an has also made it clear that on the Day of Judgement whatever a person will earn will be as a result of his own deeds:
اَلَّا تَزِرُ وَازِرَۃٌ وِّزۡرَ اُخۡرٰی.وَ اَنۡ لَّیۡسَ لِلۡاِنۡسَانِ اِلَّا مَا سَعٰی.وَ اَنَّ سَعۡیَہٗ سَوۡفَ یُرٰی.ثُمَّ یُجۡزٰىہُ الۡجَزَآءَ الۡاَوۡفٰی.(53: 38-41)
That no soul shall bear another’s burden and that [in the Hereafter] a man shall only receive that which he strove [for in this world] and that what he has earned shall soon be shown to him; he shall then be fully rewarded. (53:38-41)
It is also is a fact that it is not the form of a person’s deeds which reaches the Almighty and makes that person eligible to reward; on the contrary, it is the piety of the heart which makes him eligible to this reward. This piety obviously is not something transferable. It resides in the heart of a person. It cannot be acquired from there and transferred to some other place so that a person is able to benefit from its blessings. Animal sacrifice is a great worship ritual. While sacrificing an animal, we offer it to God by placing it in the direction of the Baytullah and by turning our own selves in its direction with the sentiment that it is in fact we who are offering ourselves to God. The Qur’an states:
لَنۡ یَّنَالَ اللّٰہَ لُحُوۡمُہَا وَ لَا دِمَآؤُہَا وَ لٰکِنۡ یَّنَالُہُ التَّقۡوٰی مِنۡکُمۡ ؕ (37:22)
The flesh and blood [of] these [sacrificed animals] does not reach God; it is only your piety that reaches Him. (22:37)
If both these verses of the Qur’an are considered, then only one option remains: viz a viz a person benefiting or being penalized for a good or evil deed done by someone else: his intention or efforts directly or indirectly affect the other person’s good or evil deeds. This can have many forms. For example, he instructed and educated someone in goodness and piety or set a practical example of some virtuous act or played a role in providing resources for the virtuous deed. On this very basis, the Prophet (sws) is reported to have said:
إذا مَاتَ الْإِنْسَانُ انْقَطَعَ عنه عَمَلُهُ إلا من ثَلَاثَةٍ إلا من صَدَقَةٍ جَارِيَةٍ أو عِلْمٍ يُنْتَفَعُ بِهِ أو وَلَدٍ صَالِحٍيَدْعُو له
When a person dies his deeds too end with his death. However, three things are an exception to this: sadaqah-i jariyah, knowledge which is beneficial and pious children who pray for their parents.
The mention of children in this narrative should not be a cause for surprise. The fact is that children are nothing but the effort of their parents. This is because if the parents are true believers, then they will be the first ones to teach and instruct their children about praying to God, keeping fasts, offering the hajj, paying zakah as well as other virtuous deeds. Thus if because of some reason they are unable to do a virtuous deed, then there is no harm if their children complete their good intention about a virtuous deed by practically carrying it out. In fact, it is evident from various sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (sws) that it is in accordance with obedience and decency that children should do so. By having an intention to do such a virtuous deed the parents will also be rewarded for its practical completion by their children. It is reported that a lady from the tribe of Kath‘am asked: “O Messenger of God! The hajj is obligatory upon my father but he is so old that he cannot even sit on an animal of conveyance; can I offer the hajj for him.” The Prophet (sws) replied: “Yes.”Similarly, a lady from the tribe of Juhaynah inquired from the Prophet (sws): “My mother had vowed to offer the hajj; now she has died; can I offer it for her.” He replied: “You should certainly offer it; would you not have paid back a loan she had borrowed? This is a loan taken from God; so pay it back and the obligation to pay back the loan to God is more [than any other].”
In the life of a person, this status of the parents can also be held by some other individual. For example, his teacher or some elderly person. Thus such individuals too must be included in the sphere of application of this issue. All narratives on this topic must be interpreted in the light of this principle. Without its existence, if a person does a deed for someone, then he alone will receive its reward because it is he who did it. It is reported about the Prophet (sws) that a lady raised her child towards him and said: “Can he also offer the hajj?” The Prophet (sws) replied: “Yes, but the reward of this hajj shall go to you.”What at best can be inferred from this narrative of the Prophet (sws) is that even if there is no possibility of transferring the reward of a virtuous deed to the individual for whom it is done, there is no harm in doing such a deed; its reward shall be reaped by its doer at all cost. However, this does not mean that this saying in any way provides a basis to allow gatherings which are so rampant among the Muslims today by the name of isal-i thawab (transfer of reward to the dead). All such gatherings indeed come under the label of religious innovation (bid‘ah). No basis can be found for them in the Qur’an and Sunnah.
However, this much should remain clear in this issue that the style adopted in لَیۡسَ لِلۡاِنۡسَانِ اِلَّا مَا سَعٰی (39:53) is meant to negate entitlement to reward and the principle stated in it relates to the occasion when the decision of Paradise or Hell is to be made for a person. This principle does not relate to the situation in which a person has already become entitled to Paradise on the basis of his faith and deeds. In such cases, a person can receive many favours and gifts of God. Thus the Qur’an has specified that if children become worthy of the lowest level of Paradise because of the extent of their faith, then the Almighty in order to complete His favour on their parents will increase the level of the children and unite them with their parents residing at a higher level. The Qur’an states:
وَ الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا وَ اتَّبَعَتۡہُمۡ ذُرِّیَّتُہُمۡ بِاِیۡمَانٍ اَلۡحَقۡنَا بِہِمۡ ذُرِّیَّتَہُمۡ وَ مَاۤ اَلَتۡنٰہُمۡ مِّنۡ عَمَلِہِمۡ مِّنۡ شَیۡءٍ ؕ (21:52)
And those who had accepted faith, and their children had followed them in their faith, We shall unite their children with them [with the status they are in] and not even slightly diminish their deeds. (52:21)
It emanates from this verse that same should be the case when parents reside at a lower level in Paradise. The reason for this is that the affection which is becoming the cause for lifting the children to the level of parents is present in this case as well.
(Translated by Dr Shehzad Saleemr)
. Muslim, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, vol. 3, 1255, (no. 1631).
. Al-Bukhari, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, vol. 2, 657, (no. 1756); Muslim, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, vol. 2, 973, (no. 3251).
. Al-Bukhari, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, vol. 2, 656, (no. 1334).
. Muslim, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, vol. 2, 974, (no. 1336). It is this principle which the Prophet (sws) explained regarding doing some virtuous deed on behalf of someone viz. the reward is for the person who does that particular deed. All narratives which discuss this subject should be understood in the light of this principle.