Righteous action is the doing of good (ihsaan, which is a causative construction meaning to make something good), i.e. the doing of righteous deeds, and righteous deeds are those which Allah has ordered us to do. That which Allah has ordered us to do is that which he has put in the law (shari'a), and that is what is in accordance with the Quran and the Sunnah of His Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam). Allah has informed us that whoever purifies his intentions for the sake of Allah, and practices ihsaan in his actions is deserving of reward and in safety from punishment.
For this reason, the imams of the salaf (the righteous first generations), used to combine these two concepts, as in the statement of Al-Fadheel ibn 'iyaadh in relation to the meaning of Allah's statement: [That He might test you, which of you are best in action.] Quran 67/2, he said:
"The most sincere and the most correct." It was said to him: "O, father of Ali, what is the meaning of the most sincere (of actions) and the most correct?" He said: "Verily, any action, though it may be correct, which is not done with sincerity, is not accepted; if it is done with sincerity, but is not correct, it is also not accepted, unless and until it is both done with sincerity, and is correct. The sincere action is the one done purely for the sake of Allah, and the correct action is the one which is in accordance with the sunnah."
It has also been narrated by Ibn Shaaheen and Al-lalkaa'iy from Sa'eed ibn Jubair that he said: "No statement is accepted without action. And no statement and action is accepted without (pure) intention. And no statement and action and intention is accepted unless it is in accordance with the sunnah. This statement has also been narrated from Al-Hassan Al-Basry who used the word "is not valid" instead of "is not accepted".
In this is a rejection of the position of the sect called the Murji'a, who hold that mere verbal statement (i.e. the profession of faith) is sufficient. Rather, he informs us that statement and action are both necessary, since faith (imaan) is: profession and action. Both are necessary, as we have explained at length elsewhere. And we have explained that mere "belief" of the heart, and the pronunciation of the tongue, along with the presence of loathing for Allah and His laws, and arrogance in front of Allah and His laws, cannot be called faith (imaan) by the consensus of the believers - not until this "belief" is joined by righteous action. The origin of action is the action of the heart, and that is its love, and its overwhelming respect and humility which eliminates loathing and arrogance.
Then, they went on to say: Statement and action is not accepted except with correct intention. This is clear: statement and action which is not undertaken purely for the sake of Allah is not accepted by Allah.
Then, they went on to say: Statement and action and intention is not accepted except with its being in accordance with the sunnah, and the sunnah here means the shari'a (law). And that is what Allah and His Prophet have ordered. Statement, action, and intention which is not enjoined by the sunnah, enjoined by the shari'a, i.e. which Allah has ordered is bid'a (innovation), and all innovation is going astray, and is not of that which Allah loves, so Allah does not accept it, and it is not valid. Examples are the actions of the associates, and the Christians and Jews.
Enjoining Right: Our Prophet And Those Before Him
This Nation Is The Best Nation For The People
What Is Maruf (right) And Munkar (wrong)?
Let Your Enjoining Of Good Be Itself Good
Benefits Must Outweigh Negative Consequences
Methodology Of Enjoining Right And Forbidding Wrong
Pitfalls Of Enjoining Right And Forbidding Wrong
Rebellion Against The Imam Of The Muslims
The General Principle Of Enjoining And Forbidding
It Is Obligatory To Measure All Things By The Criterion Of The Shariah
The Love Of Good Should Be In Harmony With What Allah Loves
The Love And Hate Of The Heart
What Exactly Is Hawaa
The Following Of Hawaa In The Previous Religions
What A Person Loves And Hates Must Be In Accordance With The Order Of Allah And His Prophet
What Are "good Works"?
Action Is Not Possible Except With Knowledge And Understanding
Compassion, Patience & Forbearance Are Required In Enjoining Right
The Difficulty Of These Requirements
Disobedience To Allah Causes Difficulty, Obedience Causes Ease
Allah's Punishment Of The Previous Nations For Their Disobedience
Punishment Of The Evil-doers In This World And The Next
Promises And Threats Of Punishment Were The First Part Of Revelation
Differences About Enjoining & Forbidding Are The Cause Of Division
Sins Are Desired By Human Nature
Greed Is The Cause Of Slipping Into Deviation
Types Of Sins
Success In Worldly Affairs Is By Justice
Human Nature: Tyranny, Envy & Oppression
Good Must Support Good As Bad Supports Bad
The Severity Of The Test Causes Elevation Of Rank
The Need For Certainty Of Belief
Human Affairs Will Not Go Straight Except With Courage And Generosity
A Return To Patience And Its Types
The Forbiddance Of Transgressing The Bounds
Fervour And Courage Which Is Praiseworthy
Fear Of Falling Into Temptation As An Excuse For Neglecting Enjoining Right
The Sons Of Adam Do Not Live Except In Societies
Pure Intention To Please Allah Is Required In All Righteous Deeds
The Meanings Of Islam
The Meaning Of Submitting One's Face To Allah
Definition Of Righteous Action
The Meaning Of The "sunnah" In The Discourses Of The Salaf