The Moral Maturity Of Two Year Olds: Reward & Punishment Mentality Among Muslims

Note: This Is A Guest Post By Pamela Taylor

The other day I got an email that ran something like this:

Subject: FW: Glad Tidings of Heaven for Pious Women!!
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

Glad tidings of Heaven for pious women in the light of hadith

1. When a husband comes home full of worries and the wife extends warm welcome to him and consoles him; she receives the reward of half a jihaad.

2. When a husband comes home to sleep and his wife gives him food to eat (not being involved in dishonesty with regard to herself and her husband belongings), Allah Taalah gives her the thawaab of 12 years of ibaadat.

3. When the wife presses the legs of her husband without him asking her to do so, she gets the sawaab of giving charity 7 ounce of gold, and if she presses his legs after he ask her to do so, she receives the sawaab of giving 7 ounce of silver in sadaqa.

4. Every night of an expectant mother (a woman who is carrying a baby in her womb) is counted as spent in ibaadat and every day as spent in fasting.

5. A woman receives the sawaab of 70 years of namaaz and roza on giving birth to one child and the pain she suffered in every vein of her body while giving birth, for that she will receive the sawaab of one hajj.

6. A woman, who is deprived of sleep owing to her child crying at night, receives the sawaab of freeing 20 slaves. Upon the child crying at night, if the mother feeds the child (gives milk to the child) without cursing, she receives the sawaab of performing namaaz for one year.

7. A breastfeeding woman gets one good deed for each drop of milk that is fed to the child.

8. A woman who is rendered restless owing to the illness of her baby and yet kept on striving to comfort the baby, Allahtalaah forgives all her sins and gives her the sawaab of 12 years accepted in ibaadat.

My first thought was “Woo-Hoo!!! I never have to pray again or fast, or for that matter do any ibadaat because I’ve got credit for 6755 years of fasting and praying, several thousand hajjs, 24,000 freed slaves, several millions of good deeds, and I’m-not-telling how many tons worth of gold and silver in charity.”

Ok, I guess my attitude towards these things is pretty clear. Saying “if I do x good deed, I’ll get y reward from God” is the moral equivalent of letting ourselves be bribed by God. It’s like a mother saying to her child, “if you’re good in the store, I’ll give you a candy.” Is that how you want to teach your children to behave? NO! Because the second you refuse to give the candy, the kids think they have the right to act up. Also, if they decide they are really not in the mood for candy today, or they have enough stockpiled home under the bed so they don’t need any more today, or they can always get more tomorrow, then there is no motivation. Any half-way decent mother or wife, according to this email I got, has so many good deeds to her credit, she has no need to do any more.

Of course, in case our thirst for rewards is not insatiable, we have a handy repertoire of the unthinkable punishments God will mete out if we are less than ideal in our behavior (to be sent in email, part two). This is, obviously, no better. If the punishments are not fearful enough, or if we think we can cash in some of our good deeds to cancel out some of the bad ones, or that we have enough time tomorrow to make up for today’s lapses, there goes the motivation again. Bribery isn’t a very effective tool.

Not to mention that it is essentially a selfish mode of thought, a what-can-I-get-out-of-this motive that rivals the worst CEO of Enron, Ted Turner, or Arab oil sheikh scenario, just differing in scale. Focusing on the rewards of each and every good thing we do (or the punishments that we will incur if we do something less than ideal) teaches us to be self-centered, to focus on our own profit, and not to view the intrinsic value of the good deed. It is relating to the world at the moral level of a two-year-old.

Not only does this “if you do x good deed you will get x reward” mentality represent a morally immature point of view, but it also threatens to destroy our relationships; in the case of this email, the mother/child relationship or the wife/husband relationship. In light of this email, your child is no longer a delightful gift from God, a treasure and a trust and a miracle, who you care for because you love him or her more than you love your own self; your husband isn’t your life partner, friend, confidante, helpmate, but rather a commodity, a means by which you can make your pile of candy grow. What a horrible thing to do to the most beautiful, the most intimate of relationships! This is not only moral immaturity, but positive harm! How can we raise healthy, moral children is we feed them this moral pap and if we treat them like paths to our own spiritual fulfillment?

The sad part is that some Muslims (Most Muslims? Please say it’s not true) seem to take these email sheets very, very, very literally. How often have we heard a young mother telling about her oft-interrupted night with her newborn son or daughter saying very smugly how “I got up three times last night and never once got angry at my baby, so it’s like I made three hajjs”?

That is so morally bankrupt, so ethically immature, it is small wonder that Muslims are in the state we are in. We should try to do what is right because it is the right thing to do, whether or not we receive rewards for it. We should try to teach our children to do what is right because it is right, because it serves the greater good of humankind in general, of the community, the family. Because doing right, makes us feel good. Because we should do for others what we would like for others to do for us. And, not only that, but it also pleases our Creator.

No wonder the ummah is in the state it is in! We keep ourselves morally at the age of two-year-olds and destroy relationships between one another with legalism, literalism, and self-centeredness. And we wonder why our rulers are so bad? We wonder why we can’t get ahead? We wonder why the world doesn’t look to Islam for guidance. It should be obvious.

(Photo by YazNotJaz)

For more on Pamela Taylor, check out her website. This article was first published on the now-defunct, MWU.


  1. I get where you’re coming from but I think you’re missing one big point here. We don’t get our candy until the Day of Judgment. I think that changes the entire scenario completely.

    Then again there’s this quote from Ali ibn Abi Talib:
    “There are those who worship Allah (SWT) out of desire for reward; this is the worship of merchants. There are others who worship Allah (SWT) out of fear; this is the worship of slaves. Yet another group worships Allah (SWT) because they found Him worthy of worship; this is the worship of a free man. “

  2. Sharif says:

    I think this article captures a point of contention between American children raised by parents who were brought up in third-world Muslim countries. The simplicity of the system is intended for impoverished and undereducated people who still want to be religious. I believe the American Muslim community is finally ready to focus on the transcendence of God.

  3. Baraka says:

    God is beautiful beyond measure, and what He offers is beyond measure. While some people of all faiths dwell on rewards literally, now that I have a newborn, I look at it in another way.

    Only God knows the difficulty, pain, and exhaustion that were part of my pregnancy, labor, and the endless nights that followed.

    He was always there with me and my child, when everyone else was asleep. He knew every sadness, and every joy. He was my friend in the darkness of postpartum depression, and the Light at the end of the tunnel.

    To read those words of reward gives me delight and makes me smile. This is the secret between the Beloved and the lover: The rewards are simply the first rung of the ladder, drawing one closer to Him. They attract and entice our human nature, but as one grows closer & closer, the rewards fade from view, because all we end up wanting & all we end up seeing is – Him.

  4. Mezba says:

    I don’t understand your criticism. If rewards don’t entice you, then do the good deed simply because it’s a good deed. Islam is for everybody and different people have different motivations and incentives.

  5. Amar says:

    @Mezba way to miss the entire point of the post. Congrats for being yet another ignorant Muslim.

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