On the authority of Muaadh ibn Jabal (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: I said, “O Messenger of Allah, inform me of an act which will place me into Paradise and keep me away from the Fire.” He said, “You have asked about a great matter but it is easy for whomever Allah, Exalted be He, makes it easy. [You should] worship Allah and not ascribe any partner to Him, establish the prayer, give the Zakat, fast Ramadan, and make the pilgrimage to the House.” He then said, “Shall I not inform you of the gates to goodness? [They are] fasting [which] is a shield, charity [which] extinguishes the sins like water extinguishes a fire and the prayer of a man in the depths of the night [which also extinguished sins].” The he recited [the verses], “Who forsakes their beds” until he reached, “they used to do”. Then he said, “Shall I inform you of the head of the matter, its pillar and its apex?” I said, “Certainly, O Prophet of Allah.” He said, “The head of the matter is submission [to Allah]. Its pillar is the prayer. And its apex is jihad.” Then he said, “Shall I not inform you of what controls all of this?” I said, “Certainly, O Prophet of Allah.” He took hold of his tongue and said, “Restrain this.” I said, “O Prophet of Allah, will we be held accountable for what we say?” He said, “May your mother be bereaved of you, O Muaadh. Is there anything that has thrown people on their faces – or he said on their noses – into the Fire except that which their tongues reap?” (Recorded in al-Tirmidhi)
“… Then he said, “Shall I inform you of the head of the matter…The head of the matter is submission [to Allah]…”
The Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, began this hadith by explaining the minimum requirements for entering into Paradise. He stated that this required implementation of the five pillars of Islam. He then went on to explain the ways in which one can enter the gates of goodness, or earn a greater reward within Paradise, that is through late-night prayer, and extra fasting and giving in charity beyond the obligatory duties.
In this part of the hadith, the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, goes onto to mention ‘the head of the matter’. ‘The matter’ being referred to here is, and Allah knows best, the issue of entering into Paradise and escaping the Hell-fire. The Prophet, peace be upon him, stated that ‘the head’, meaning the most important and essential aspect, is Islam.
The scholars have said that the meaning of the term ‘Islam’ in the context of this hadith, is submission and obedience to Allah. Another narration of this hadith states that ‘the head of the matter’ is the testimony of faith. The two can be reconciled when we understand that the person who does not accept and apply the testimony of faith both internally and externally, has no portion of Islam whatsoever.
Submission to Allah, or adherence to the testimony of faith, plays a similar role to the head of the human body. Without a head, there is no life. Without submission to Allah and His commandments, there is no Islam, and there is no hope of entering Paradise or escaping the Hell-fire.