There is this frightening narration in al-Adab al-Mufrad, a collection by Imam Al Bukhari about this woman who outwardly appeared to be very pious, but because of her bad treatment to her neighbors she was among the people of Hell. Her deeds were no good to her. She would spend her night in prayer, fast during the day and gave in charity. If we were to see this woman we would probably praise her for her vigorous worship.
Maulana Rumi said whenever you read Pharaoh in the Quran don’t think that he is some character that lived in the past, but seek him out in your own heart. I heard this story and I thought, am I this person? I am a person who people think does a good amount of worship, but maybe because of my bad character I too will be a person of the hellfire. Or maybe I lack sincerity in my actions. Its scary because people think so highly of me. By the mercy of God people have a good opinion of me. But none of them really know the worse parts of me. I am very flawed. I have many shortcomings. I’m not as pious as people think I am.
Umar ibn Al Khattab, when he was the head of state of the Muslims he used to visit Hudhaifa (May God be pleased with both of them). Hudhaifa was told the list of all the hypocrites by the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and he used to asked Hudhaifa if he was on that list. Umar ibn Al Khattab was one of the best men of faith and still feared hypocrisy, how much more fearful of hypocrisy should I feel in my heart.
How many of us outwardly appear so pious? We grow beards, wear thobes, or put on the headscarf and wear abayas and we pray and do good works, but our reality is that that person everyone looks down on and is struggling actually has a better standing before Allah than we do. Remember that one of the first people in the hell fire on the day of Judgement is the Scholar who internally only did it for the praise of people and recall that the prostitute who because she went down into the well to retrieve water for that dog was given paradise.
There’s wisdom in not seeing the acceptance or not of our deeds. It reminds us that worship is not a goal, but only a means towards becoming a better person of good character and sincerity before God. Our Goal is His pleasure, good deeds is hopefully the vehicle we take. “O God! Make my inward better than my outward, and make my outward virtuous.”