A motive lies behind every deed, decision, and act of worship. Our motives are the engines behind our actions. They stem from our most fundamental feelings: love, hate, fear and desire. To get ourselves to do something, we have to be motivated.
When we love, we will do anything to please our loved one and guard them from harm, even at great inconvenience to ourselves. Every day, we do things that are difficult or seemingly inefficient, because we are motivated by something greater than the action itself. Parents stay up at night when their children are sick out of love and fear for their well-being. We undergo uncomfortable medical procedures, and many of us exercise to the point of soreness. This is because we are motivated by our love for health and hate of sickness.
Our actions as worshipers of God are much the same. When our worship arises from feelings of love and need, it takes on an entirely new spirit. Following our religion and observing worship is easier when our actions are motivated by the essential emotions of love and fear. God says in the Quran:
وَلَٰكِنَّ ٱللَّهَ حَبَّبَ إِلَيۡكُمُ ٱلۡإِيمَٰنَ وَزَيَّنَهُۥ فِي قُلُوبِكُمۡ وَكَرَّهَ إِلَيۡكُمُ ٱلۡكُفۡرَ وَٱلۡفُسُوقَ وَٱلۡعِصۡيَانَۚ أُوْلَٰٓئِكَ هُمُ ٱلرَّٰشِدُونَ فَضۡلٗا مِّنَ ٱللَّهِ وَنِعۡمَةٗۚ وَٱللَّهُ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٞ
God has endeared faith to you and made it beautiful to your hearts; He has made disbelief, mischief, and disobedience hateful to you. It is people like this who are rightly guided through God’s favor and blessing: God is all knowing and all wise.(49:7-8)
When our feelings of love and fear of God are undeveloped, worship and obeying Him can feel difficult. Faith is complete when we are motivated by our love for Him and our hate of displeasing Him. Our life becomes a living expression of what is pleasing to God, and the self-serving ego is suppressed. Abu Umamah related that the Prophetﷺsaid, “WHOEVER LOVES for God’s sake, hates for God’s sake, gives for God’s sake and withholds for God’s sake, has completed faith.”
Whenever we are faced with two conflicting choices, we will choose the path that is motivated by a greater love. In order to become closer to God, we should work to develop in our hearts a love and need for God, so that we choose what is pleasing to Him:
وَٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓاْ أَشَدُّ حُبّٗا لِّلَّهِۗ
Believers have greater love for God. (2:165)
Love for God will serve as the motivation we need to drive us toward better actions.
This love can also be understood as a need for God. To understand the relationship between faith, love, and need, take the example of a college student who thrives on competition and recognition. The satisfaction of coming out on top keeps her motivated. She is willing to sacrifice her sleep and forgo all kinds of enjoyment because her love for achievement outweighs life’s pleasures. She is motivated to succeed, but is it because she loves success or because she needs it? The line between need and love is blurred; we love what we need, and often convince ourselves that we need what we love.
Deep need and love ignites determination. The teasings of desire fade away in light of our greatest loves and deepest needs, whatever they may be. The more convinced we are that we need something, the more determined we are in its pursuit.
The Relationship between Faith and Need ¶
Let’s return now to the questions we asked earlier. Why do so many people fall short in fulfilling the duties of worship to God? Why do we feel a distance from God? Why can good deeds be so burdensome, while sin seems effortless? Now we have the beginnings of an answer.
It is because we do not feel a deep need for Allah.
كَلَّآ إِنَّ ٱلۡإِنسَٰنَ لَيَطۡغَىٰ
أَن رَّءَاهُ ٱسۡتَغۡنَىٰٓ
But man exceeds all bounds, when he thinks he is self-sufficient.(96: 6-7)
Daily life deceives us. Unless we are mindful, we slip into the illusion of self-sufficiency. We think we have strength, independence, and control over our lives. But when life constricts with hardship, perspectives change dramatically: our deep need for God is realized in those moments. We raise our hands and faces to the sky, calling upon God as we should have all along. Humble, broken and devoted, we return to God willingly.
هُوَ ٱلَّذِي يُسَيِّرُكُمۡ فِي ٱلۡبَرِّ وَٱلۡبَحۡرِۖ حَتَّىٰٓ إِذَا كُنتُمۡ فِي ٱلۡفُلۡكِ وَجَرَيۡنَ بِهِم بِرِيحٖ طَيِّبَةٖ وَفَرِحُواْ بِهَا جَآءَتۡهَا رِيحٌ عَاصِفٞ وَجَآءَهُمُ ٱلۡمَوۡجُ مِن كُلِّ مَكَانٖ وَظَنُّوٓاْ أَنَّهُمۡ أُحِيطَ بِهِمۡ دَعَوُاْ ٱللَّهَ مُخۡلِصِينَ لَهُ ٱلدِّينَ لَئِنۡ أَنجَيۡتَنَا مِنۡ هَٰذِهِۦ لَنَكُونَنَّ مِنَ ٱلشَّٰكِرِينَ
It is He who enables you to travel on land and sea until, when you are sailing on ships and rejoicing in the favouring wind, a storm arrives: waves come at those on board from all sides and they feel there is no escape. Then they pray to God, professing sincere devotion to Him, ‘If You save us from this we shall be truly thankful.’ (10:22)
All of the Prophets, in their practice of calling people to God (dawah),emphasized our profound need for Allah. The prophetic message reminded people of their dependence on God’s blessings, and their miserable condition when they deny His presence. Prophet Hud said to his people,
وَٱتَّقُواْ ٱلَّذِيٓ أَمَدَّكُم بِمَا تَعۡلَمُونَ
أَمَدَّكُم بِأَنۡعَٰمٖ وَبَنِين
إِنِّيٓ أَخَافُ عَلَيۡكُمۡ عَذَابَ يَوۡمٍ عَظِيمٖ
Be mindful of Him who has provided you with everything you know--He has given you livestock, sons, gardens, springs--for I truly fear that the torment of a grievous day will overtake you.(26:132-13
Any warning will fall on deaf ears unless the listener feels a need for that advice.
فَإِنَّكَ لَا تُسۡمِعُ ٱلۡمَوۡتَىٰ وَلَا تُسۡمِعُ ٱلصُّمَّ ٱلدُّعَآءَ إِذَا وَلَّوۡاْ مُدۡبِرِينَ
You [Prophet] cannot make the dead hear and you cannot make the deaf hear your call when they turn their backs and leave (30:52)
How to Create Motivation ¶
Good, sincere deeds are motivated by love and a sense of need for Allah’s forgiveness and reward. When we learn the value of specific good deeds, we understand our need to carry them out and seek their rewards. For example, we are motivated to give more donations when we are reminded of the status of charity in the sight of Allah and when we can visualize a need for our generosity.
This process of guiding people to realize their need is a powerful method of tarbiyah-the holistic development of Islamic character. Think about the sheer number of hadiths explaining the merits and incentives of actions. The Prophet ﷺ connected good deeds with concrete rewards in order to evoke our need for those deeds.
But forgetfulness is our second nature. God says,
وَلَقَدۡ عَهِدۡنَآ إِلَىٰٓ ءَادَمَ مِن قَبۡلُ فَنَسِيَ وَلَمۡ نَجِدۡ لَهُۥ عَزۡمٗا
We also commanded Adam before you, but he forgot and We found him lacking in constancy.(Taha 20:115)
It is a mistake to think when we hear or learn something once, we have no need of it again. We can be convinced of our need for something today, but that perception weakens over time; that is why the practice of reminding is so central to our faith. We should continuously remind ourselves and others of the significance behind our actions, choices, motivations, and commitments. Remembrance and renewal should be the constant rhythm of our lives:
وَذَكِّرۡ فَإِنَّ ٱلذِّكۡرَىٰ تَنفَعُ ٱلۡمُؤۡمِنِينَ
And go on reminding people, it is good for those who believe to be reminded.(51:55)
Along with ongoing remembrance and mutual reminding, we must develop a clear vision of our highest desire. This is the overarching goal, what you should be striving for in every aspect of your life: winning God’s pleasure and avoiding His anger, admission to Paradise and evading Hell. This should be the impetus behind all of your actions-in fact, we should organize our entire life around this purpose. We pursue every action that is a means to this ambitious aim. Your lifestyle choices, when you are motivated by faith-based goals, will be very different from a life lacking clear purpose and motivation. When your sense of need is centered on God, everything that crosses your path in life should be given a litmus test: does this align with my goal of God’s pleasure? If it does, embrace it, and if it doesn’t, cast it aside.
The Quran repeatedly encourages us to develop our love for Paradise and longing for it, to help motivate ourselves to work hard and encourage others to aspire to the hereafter:
وَسَارِعُوٓاْ إِلَىٰ مَغۡفِرَةٖ مِّن رَّبِّكُمۡ وَجَنَّةٍ عَرۡضُهَا ٱلسَّمَٰوَٰتُ وَٱلۡأَرۡضُ أُعِدَّتۡ لِلۡمُتَّقِينَ
Hurry towards your Lord’s forgiveness and a Garden as wide as the heavens and earth prepared for the righteous. (3:133)
فَمَن زُحۡزِحَ عَنِ ٱلنَّارِ وَأُدۡخِلَ ٱلۡجَنَّةَ فَقَدۡ فَازَۗ
Whoever is pushed away from the Fire and admitted to the Garden will have triumphed. (3:185)
Along with encouragement to love and seek Paradise, the Quran also frightens us with scenes from hell to motivate our flight from sin.
إِنَّ جَهَنَّمَ كَانَتۡ مِرۡصَادٗا
لَّٰبِثِينَ فِيهَآ أَحۡقَابٗا
لَّا يَذُوقُونَ فِيهَا بَرۡدٗا وَلَا شَرَابًا
إِلَّا حَمِيمٗا وَغَسَّاقٗا
Hell lies in ambush, a home for oppressors to stay in for a long, long time, where they will taste no coolness nor drink, except one that is scalding and dark--a fitting requital. (78:21-26)
إِنَّ لَدَيۡنَآ أَنكَالٗا وَجَحِيمٗا
وَطَعَامٗا ذَا غُصَّةٖ وَعَذَابًا أَلِيمٗا
We have fetters, a blazing fire, food that chokes and an agonizing torment in store for them. (73:12-13)
Reading the Quran regularly ensures that we are constantly reminded with a remembrance that kindles our source of motivation. It sets alight our love for pleasing God and our dread of displeasing Him; our anticipation for heaven and fear of hell.
Authenticated by Abu Dawud 8/69 no. 4681 and Al-Albani in Saheeh Al-Jami’ no. 5965 “من أحب لله وأبغض لله وأعطى لله ومنع لله فقد استكمل الإيمان”