What is the definition of selfishness? If man does a good deed in order to approach Allah (or to gain thawabs), is it also regarded as selfishness?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

1. Selfishness is an egocentric lifestyle.

“If I am full, it does not matter if everybody dies of hunger.”

“If I am healthy, it does not matter if everybody is ill.”

“Let the snake that does not bite ME live long.”

The statements above express the concept of “SELFISHNESS” very well. A person who is squeezed by a pragmatist ego is selfish.

2. The concept of selfishness can be considered in two ways:

The first one is the real selfishness. It means not to think about anything/anyone but one’s own interest, to place one’s own life in the center of the world, to think that nothing that is not beneficial to him can be nice and to regard everything to be created for one’s own self. Selfishness in this sense is regarded as a bad trait in Islam. Bad traits like stinginess, keenness on wealth, conceit, arrogance and self-love are the products of this selfishness.   

The second one is the relative, apparent selfishness. It means to put one’s interest in the other world in the forefront. To give up a temporary happiness in order to gain an eternal happiness, to sacrifice one’s world for the hereafter, to pursue an eternal benefit by giving away what one loves to the poor are regarded among this kind of selfishness. This selfishness is praised and encouraged in Islam. In fact, it is not called selfishness in real sense. For, conceit, arrogance, stinginess and love of wealth are not in question in an understanding that keeps Allah’s consent in the center.

The purpose of “being a better beloved servant of Allah” is actually a state that is far away from the atmosphere of selfishness. For, selfishness is a pragmatist egoism, which paves the way for mean desires that want the slavery of the evil-commanding soul and blind feelings to flourish. An ambition that is based on the consent of Allah is a very different and very beautiful selfishness - unless it deviates from the route – that attains the consent of both Allah and people. For, generosity and altruism exist in this selfishness in addition to the efforts to attain the consent of Allah.


“By no means shall ye attain righteousness unless ye give (freely) of that which ye love...” (Aal-i Imran, 3/92) 

It is stated in the verse above that people cannot attain Allah’s favor, grace, grant and Paradise unless they give away to the poor what they love. (see Tabari, the interpretation of the verse in question)

According to the principle

“al-jazau min jinsil-amal = the punishment/reward is to be from the kind of deed”,

the reward of man for his giving away will be Paradise granted to him by Allah. A favor begets a favor.

As stated in item 2, every step taken on the road of attaining Allah's consent is good worship and a deed that fits man. Besides, the purpose of all religions is to save people from selfishness and to make them attain the consent of Lord. To want the worldly pleasures that the soul likes is selfishness; to abandon those worldly pleasures and to want the otherworldly pleasures means to abandon selfishness.

Besides, it is not possible to abandon both the world and the hereafter. Allah’s consent and His beauty are otherworldly.

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