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Doing righteous deeds is mentioned a zillion times in the Qur'an, e.g.:

And give good tidings to those who believe and do righteous deeds that they will have gardens [in Paradise] beneath which rivers flow. ... -- Qur'an 2:25

...those [among them] who believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness - will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve. -- Qur'an 2:62

But they who believe and do righteous deeds - those are the companions of Paradise; they will abide therein eternally. -- Qur'an 2:82

Indeed, on reading the Qur'an, I considered it to among the most important take-home lessons. Instruction to do good deeds occurs with frequency comparable to that of instructions to pray (and they often come together). It seems strange to me that doing good deeds is not, as a result, listed as a pillar of Islam.

Question: Why is "doing righteous deeds" not a pillar of Islam?

I'm not sure how the pillars are determined, and there's a difference between Sunni and Shia pillars (according to Wikipedia). It could possibly be part of "enjoining what is right", although I'm not clear on this.

  • Short answer (too short to post it as an actual answer): because islam is primarily about belief and only secondarily about good deeds, as is explicit in 47:1 and as numerous ahadith with the gist "if you believe then god will forgive you" intimate. The six pillars of iman also do not include righteous deeds. – G. Bach Oct 23 '16 at 1:12
  • Maybe because the pillars are meant to specify the minimum requirements of faith rather than their higher levels. – infatuated Oct 23 '16 at 3:40
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Comment on: Why is "doing righteous deeds" not a pillar of Islam?

IMO it should definitely be considered as such. As the emphasize of Quran is in first place on good deeds while you find in the Hadith the statements of the five pillars either clearly mentioned in the Hadith of ibn 'Omar (which you'll find in about all hadith collections) or in another statement of ibn 'Omar or in the hadith of 'Omar ibn al-Khattab (about Islam, Iman and Ihsan) or explained as the basis of this religion in a hadith of Talha ibn Obaydallah. Of course the Quran also mentions all of those pillars. On the other hand we may find other definitions of Islam like the one of Jabir... which differ from those five apparently "given" and "fixed" pillars.

Some modern Muslim thinkers such as Farhan al-Maliky -who accepts ahadith that are similar to Quranic statements but is often quoted as a reference by Quranists- say the pillars should be 3 (Iqbaal or acceptance: as the opposite of rejection, tasleem or admission: as the opposite of kufr and hardened of hearts, and righteous deeds: as the opposite of wrongdoing and crime) or 8 (acceptance, admission, adherence (and unity), monotheism, justice, obedience, charity and the abidance of hearts). Righteous deeds in the 3 pillar view includes justice and obedience etc..

I'm afraid your question will end up with opinion based answers as I don't know about any clear statement answering it. What I'll try to do is to try to explain the relationship between the pillars and the righteous deeds from a Goals of Shari'a perspective.

Good and righteous deeds and the prayer

About prayer Allah says (29:45):

...and establish prayer. Indeed, prayer prohibits immorality and wrongdoing, and the remembrance of Allah is greater. And Allah knows that which you do.

This means a prayer performed in the way Allah expects from us should prohibit us from doing immorality and doing bad deeds and it should remain us of Allah as it's also said in (20:14)

... so worship Me and establish prayer for My remembrance.

And we know from (13:28)

Those who have believed and whose hearts are assured by the remembrance of Allah . Unquestionably, by the remembrance of Allah hearts are assured."

that remembrance of Allah is a comfort and rest for our hearts!

There are even a couple of ahadith which go ahead with this teaching like a statement which was narrated -in different variations- from sahaba such as ibn Mas'ud and ibn 'Abbas and tabi'yn such as al-Hassan al-Basry and al-a'Amash:

من لم تنهه صلاته عن الفحشاء والمنكر لم تزده من الله إلا بعدا
- - - (My own translation take it with care) - - -
The prayer of a person which doesn't prohibit him from immorality and wrongdoing would only take him further from Allah

This isn't considered by many scholar as a hadith however al-Hassan has stated it as a marfo' some even say it is weak or even rejected (monkar). The version of ibn Mas'ud for example is considered as not being a hadith of our Prophet by al-Albani according this fatwa (in Arabic):

Imam al-Qurtobi in his tafsir of (29:45) also quotes a hadith of Anas, about a young man who used to pray and steal, which apparently has also been narrated in a similar version by Abu Hurairah ... here a quote from tafsir ibn Kathir which also includes interpretations of the given verse:

Imam Ahmad recorded that Abu Hurayrah said: "A man came to the Prophet and said, `So-and-so prays at night, but when morning comes, he steals.' The Prophet said: (What you are saying (i.e., the Salah) will stop him from doing that.)"

Prayer also includes the remembering of Allah, which is the higher objective, Allah says: (and the remembrance of Allah is greater indeed.) more important than the former. (And Allah knows what you do.) means, He knows all that you do and say.

Abu Al-'Aliyah commented on the Ayah: (Verily, the Salah prevents from immoral sins and evil wicked deeds) "Prayer has three attributes, and any prayer that contains none of these attributes is not truly prayer: Being done purely and sincerely for Allah alone (Ikhlas), fear of Allah, and remembrance of Allah. Ikhlas makes a person do good deeds, fear prevents him from doing evil deeds, and the remembrance of Allah is the Qur'an which contains commands and prohibitions.'' Ibn 'Awn Al-Ansari said: "When you are praying, you are doing good, it is keeping you away from immoral sins and evil wicked deeds and what you are doing is part of the remembrance of Allah which is greater.''
(Source: qtafsir)

There's also a hadith quodsi compiled by al-Bazzar in his al-Bahr az-Zakhir I've tried to translate the relevant part of it-in Bold letters-):

عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُمَا ، قَالَ : قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ : قَالَ اللَّهُ تَعَالَى : إِنِّي لا أَتَقَبَّلُ الصَّلاةَ إِلا مِمَّنْ تَوَاضَعَ بِهَا لِعَظَمَتِي ، وَلَمْ يَسْتَطِلْ عَلَى خَلْقِي وَلَمْ يَبِتْ مُصِرًّا عَلَى مَعْصِيَتِي ، وَقَطَعَ نَهَارَهُ فِي ذِكْرِي ، وَرَحِمَ الْمِسْكِينَ وَابْنَ السَّبِيلِ وَالأَرْمَلَةَ ، وَرَحِمَ الْمُصَابَ ذَلِكَ نُورُهُ كَنُورِ الشَّمْسِ أَكْلَؤُهُ بِعِزَّتِي ، وَأَسْتَحْفِظُهُ مَلائِكَتِي ، وَأَجْعَلُ لَهُ فِي الظُّلْمَةِ نُورًا وَفِي الْجَهَالَةِ حِلْمًا ، وَمَثَلُهُ فِي خَلْقِي كَمَثَلِ الْفِرْدَوْسِ فِي الْجَنَّةِ .

On the authority of ibn 'Abbas (May Allah be pleased with them): The Messenger of Allah (Peace and Allah's Blessings be upon him) said: Allah the Almighty said: I don't accept prayer except from those who humbled with it in front of My Majesty, and don't humiliate my creation, and who don't go to sleep insisting on a wrongdoing (or not rejecting my orders), and who takes times of his day for My remembrance, and is kind to the poor, the traveler and the widow, and who is kind to a person who is affected by a disaster. This persons light is as the sunlight I protect him with MY Glory ...

Or a similar statement from Ihya' 'ulm ad-Dyn (The Revival of the Religious Sciences) by Imam al-Ghazaly:

It is related that Allah revealed to Moses, “O Moses, whenever you make mention of Me, mention Me while you are shaking in your members, and while mentioning Me, be humble and composed, and whenever you mention Me, keep your tongue behind your heart, and whenever you stand before Me, stand as humble slave, and commune with Me with a timorous heart and a truthful tongue.” (source)

Note that most of these narrations are considered as weak, fabricated and rejected however they -at least partly- clearly go ahead with the teachings of the Quran!

Conclusion: A well done prayer should be a guidance for good and righteous deeds and it should guide us to leave bad deeds. Beside the fact it should comfort our hearts and souls with the remembrance of Allah! So those are the concluded goals of the prayer.

Isnt't Zakat itself a righteous deed?

Zakat as defined itself is a righteous deed as one could clearly see its benefit if it was applied as it should base on verses such as (9:60), (9:103 or (70:24-25)). Here a rough quote of some of those benefits:

  • It takes us away of being grasping (64:16).
  • It is a training on spending for the sake of Allah (it is the lowest level of it).
  • It is a way to thank Allah for HIS gifts.
  • It helps the receiver out of necessity, dependence and poverty.
  • It cleans the receiver from envy and hatred towards "rich" people.
  • It has huge impact on the society and economy...

Well one could also quote a list about the benefits of fasts however most of them wouldn't directly be related to righteous deeds.

Hajj includes some righteous deeds such get together with other Muslims -> unity of the Ummah and get know one another.
Leaving all comfort, realizing how poor we are in front of the greatness of our Creator and preparing oneself for meeting our Lord.

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All Praise to Allah Subhanahu wa Taala and blessings of Him be on Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him His family and companions,

Quoting here some ahadith which would make it more clear about how are they determined

It is narrated on the authority of ('Abdullah) son of Umar (may Allah be pleased with them) that the Prophet (may peace of Allah be upon him) said: (The superstructure of) al-Islam is raised on five (pillars), i. e. the oneness of Allah, the establishment of prayer, payment of Zakat, the, fast of Ramadan, Pilgrimage (to Mecca). A person said (to 'Abdullah b. Umar the narrator): Which of the two precedes the other-Pilgrimage or the fasts of Ramadan? Upon this he (the narrator) replied: No (it is not the Pilgrimage first) but the fasts of Ramadan precede the Pilgrimage.(Muslim)

,

It is reported on the authority of Ta'us that a man said to 'Abdullah son of 'Umar (may Allah be pleased with him). Why don't you carry out a military expedition? Upon which he replied: I heard the messenger of Allah (ﷺ) say: Verily, al-Islam is founded on five (pillars): testifying the fact that there is no god but Allah, establishment of prayer, payment of Zakat, fast of Ramadan and Pilgrimage to the House.

,

It was narrated that 'Umar said: "We were sitting with the Prophet (ﷺ) when a man came to him whose clothes were intensely white and whose hair was intensely black; no signs of travel could be seen upon him, and none of us recognized him. He sat down facing the Prophet (ﷺ), with his knees touching his, and he put his hands on his thighs, and said: 'O Muhammad, what is Islam?' He said: 'To testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah, and that I am the Messenger of Allah, to establish regular prayer, to pay Zakat, to fast in Ramadan, and to perform Hajj to the House (the Ka'bah).' He said: 'You have spoken the truth.' We were amazed by him: He asked a question, then told him that he had spoken the truth. Then he said: 'O Muhammad, what is Iman faith? He said: 'To believe in Allah, His angels, His Messengers, His books, the Last day, and the Divine Decree (Qadar), both the good of it and the bad of it.' He said' You have spoken the truth.' We were amazed by him. He asked a question, then told him that he had spoken the truth. Then he said: 'O Muhammad, what is Ihsan (right action, goodness, sincerity)? He said: 'To worship Allah as if you see Him, for even though you do not see Him, He sees you.' He asked: "When will the Hour be?' He said: 'The one who is being asked about it does not know more than the one who is asking.' He asked: 'Then what are its signs?' he said: 'When the slave woman gives birth to her mistress' (Waki' said: This means when non-Arabs will give birth to Arabs") 'and when you see barefoot, naked, destitute shepherds competing in constructing tall buildings.' The Prophet (ﷺ) met me three days later and asked me: 'Do you know who that man was? I said" 'Allah and his Messenger know best.' He said: 'That was Jibril, who came to you to teach you your religion.'"Ibn Majah

So Pillars are the foundation and without pillars the structure would fail to stand so these are obligatory which no one is suppose to leave but good deeds and morals are highly demanded as mentioned in Quran and ahadith.

Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu'minin: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: By his good character a believer will attain the degree of one who prays during the night and fasts during the day.(Abi Dawud)

Abu Hurairah narrated that The Messenger of Allah said: “The most complete of the believers in faith, is the one with the best character among them. And the best of you are those who are best to your women.”*Tirmidhi

Allah swt and His Messenger knows best.

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maybe, good deads are not just pillars, but the main part of islam, which stays on that pillars.

  • The main part of Islam is belief, not deeds. – G. Bach Mar 16 '17 at 12:09

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