The Importance of Sincerity in Religion by Shaykh Luqman Ahmad

The central purpose for which we as human beings were created, is to worship Allah sub’haanahu wa ta’ala; وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ [I have only created Jinns and men, that they may worship Me.[1]] Additionally, just any type of worship is not accepted; Allah commanded that when people worship Him, they do so with sincerity; وَمَا أُمِرُوا إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ مُخْلِصِينَ لَهُ الدِّينَ حُنَفَاء وَيُقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَيُؤْتُوا الزَّكَاةَ وَذَلِكَ دِينُ الْقَيِّمَةِ [And they have been commanded no more than this: To worship Allah, offering Him sincere devotion, being true (in faith); to establish regular prayer; and to practice regular charity; and that is the Religion Right and Straight.[2] ] Without ikhlaas, worship of any kind has no spiritual benefit. Too commonly we perform deeds in Islam with the intention of showing off, pleasing others, or to receive worldly reward or praise. Then as soon as we don’t get the praise or reward that we are seeking, or when there is no one around to show off for, we abandon the deed. Any act of religious devotion, should not be for the intention of show or showing off. When showing off becomes a part of a deed, it renders it from being praiseworthy, to being blameworthy, as in the case of those who pray to be seen; [So woe to the worshippers, those who are neglectful of their prayers, those who [pray] only to be seen[3]]

The primary condition for Allah’s acceptance of a good deed is ikhlaas (absolute sincerity). And when it comes to ikhlaas in the religion of Islam, the intention is the foundation. Even before we consider whether the deed is done correctly or not, we have to take into consideration it’s intention. If the intention is sound, the deed is on its way to being sound. However, if the intention is insincere, then the deed will never be sound, no matter how it looks or feels.This is based upon the hadith of the Prophet (SAWS), “verily deeds are reckoned according to the intention, and every person shall get that which he has intended[4].

The prophet (SAWS) pointed to the importance of the intention in several ahaadeeth. In the hadith of Abu Hurraira, the Prophet (SAWS) said: “people will be resurrected (on the day of judgment) according to their intentions”.[5] It was reported about some of the salaf; “whoever would like his deeds to be complete, then let him make good his intention” (with sincerity).[6] Ibn Aj’laan[7] said: “A deed is not sound except by three things; taqwa, good intention, and correctness”, and Abdullah Ibn al-Mubaarik[8] said: “perhaps a small deed is magnified by the intention, and perhaps a great deed is minimized by the intention”. The meaning here is that a person may do what seems on the surface to be an insignificant deen, but because of his sincere intention to please Allah, the deed is magnified in Allah’s sight, and similarly, a person may do what on the surface seems to be a monumental deed, but because his intention was not sincere, that deed has little or no significance in the sight of Allah.

The word ‘ikhlaas’ comes from the Arabic word akh-la-sa, which in the terminology of deen, means to render a deed free of ostentation (ri’yaa) so that there is no other consideration except Allah. This meaning is found in the words of Allah be He Exalted and Glorified: [إِلاَّ الَّذِينَ تَابُواْ وَأَصْلَحُواْ وَاعْتَصَمُواْ بِاللّهِ وَأَخْلَصُواْ دِينَهُمْ لِلّهِ فَأُوْلَـئِكَ مَعَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَسَوْفَ يُؤْتِ اللّهُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ أَجْرًا عَظِيمًا] “Save those who repent and amend and hold fast to Allah and make their religion pure for Allah (only). Those are with the believers. And Allah will bestow on the believers an immense reward. [9]  The purpose of true Islam is that it remains the religion of Allah and that it is solely for His sake. Islam does not belong to us, we are not free to make it what we want or add to it or take away from it whatever we like. Thus, every deed in order to be khaalis (sincere) to Allah has to begin with the correct intention (niyya). A person’s intention is more profound than his action.

True sincerity can be difficult

Sincere intention can be a difficult undertaking for many of us, and it is common that a person is ignorant of what sincerity is, or that a person fools his own self into believing he is sincere, when in fact, he is not.  It was reported that Sah’l ibn Abdullah at-Tustari[10] said: “there is nothing more difficult for the self than ikhlaas (sincerity).”  Of the many reasons that people suffer spiritual dysfunction and go back and forth in their religion, there are two worth mentioning here; first is that many Muslims do not consider that they will be tested in their Islam. They want everything to be to their liking all the time without any challenges. This is unrealistic as Allah clearly states: [أَحَسِبَ النَّاسُ أَن يُتْرَكُوا أَن يَقُولُوا آمَنَّا وَهُمْ لَا يُفْتَنُونَ ] “Do men think that they will be left alone on saying, “We believe”, and that they will not be tested?[11] The reality is that faith must be tested by action, to confirm or disprove the claim of the one who declares it. وَلَقَدْ فَتَنَّا الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِهِمْ فَلَيَعْلَمَنَّ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ صَدَقُوا وَلَيَعْلَمَنَّ الْكَاذِبِينَ “We did test those before them, and Allah will certainly know those who are true from those who are false.”[12] Another cause of spiritual dysfunction when it comes to sincerity, or lack thereof is that when a person is unaware of what sincerity is, and therefore oblivious to its importance. This is seen in many people who take their Islam as a passing fad. Just like faith is learned behavior, so is sincerity. When people are not sincere in their faith, they too easily capitulate whenever things do not turn out the way they like;

وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَن يَعْبُدُ اللَّهَ عَلَى حَرْفٍ فَإِنْ أَصَابَهُ خَيْرٌ اطْمَأَنَّ بِهِ وَإِنْ أَصَابَتْهُ فِتْنَةٌ انقَلَبَ عَلَى وَجْهِهِ خَسِرَ الدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةَ ذَلِكَ هُوَ الْخُسْرَانُ الْمُبِينُ

“There are among men some who serve Allah, as it were, on the verge: if good befalls them, they are, therewith, well content; but if a trial comes to them, they turn on their faces: they lose both this world and the Hereafter: that is loss for all to see!”[13]  Another problem is that many people want to appease all sides, or to remain neutral in all matters that affect issues of faith, and when it comes to Allah ta’ala, that is not an option. In order to be a sincere servant of Allah, one must be willing to remain steadfast during hardship as well as ease.

We are quickly entering into the time of the Dajjaal (Anti-Christ). Truth is taken for falsehood and falsehood masquerades as truth.  My advice to myself, and to us all is that we remain steadfast and sincere in our religion during these times and during the times that are upon us, and that we do deeds of faith for Allah’s sake. Otherwise we will be blown back and forth according to whatever gust of wind happens to come our way. Ikhlaas can free a person from being a confused soul, a slave of men and make them an enlightened soul, a slave of Allah Only. When a person is not sincere about his or her religion and their religious actions, they will find themselves perpetually disappointed and disillusioned, because spiritual reward for righteous deeds can only come from Allah; no one else has the ability to compensate your soul for what it does. Such persons will often find themselves complaining about how they did this and they did that and that no one appreciates them. Disingenuousness and insincerity is a sure recipe for spiritual bankruptcy.

Allah only accepts sincere actions

Allah will not accept a deed that is not done for His sake and His sake alone as clarified in the hadith of the Prophet (SAWS): “Verily Allah does not accept anything except what was done exclusively (for Him) and for which His pleasure was sought”.[14] That is because Allah has no partners, and refuses to accept partnership when it comes to worship, service, or religious acts. In the hadith of Abu Hurraira, he reported about the Prophet (SAWS) that Allah said: “Of all partners, I am the most not in need of partnership. Anyone who performs a deed and associates a partner with me in it, then I have left him alone, as well as his partner[15]. Simply put, Allah does not need, nor will he accept partnership, because He is the only True God, and there is no other god besides Him.and one of the ways to ensure ikhlaas within yourself is that when you perform an action, whether it is prayer, zakat or sadaqa, feeding food, giving advice, working at the masjid, assisting someone in need, or a random act of kindness, you do the deed without expecting any reward, recompense, or even a thank you from any human being.

Know beloved that actions done for other than the sake of Allah are of three categories:

The first is an action that is done completely for show, in that it is done only to be seen of other people or for worldly gain. These types of actions have absolutely no spiritual reward whatsoever, by agreement of all the scholars of Islam.

The second is an action that is done for Allah’s sake but some showiness (ri’yaa) is added to it. According to many of the Salaf, including, from amongst the companions of the Prophet (SAWS), Ubaadah Ibn Saamit, and Abu Dar’daa, and from amongst the taabi’een , Hasan al-Basri and Sa’eed ibn al-Musayyib, the Imam of the Taabi’een, such actions are considered spiritually worthless[16]. Excluded from this are deeds that are done for Allah’s sake, but performed publicly so that others are encouraged to do so, or so that they can learn from the good example. This is based upon the hadith: “Whoever does a good deed, for him is it’s reward, and the reward of the one who does it (based upon his example).[17]” And Allah knows best.

The third is an action that a person does for the sake of Allah, but they seek other things during the course of, or as a result of that action; like the one who makes Hajj, but want to buy and sell things while they are on Hajj, or the person who fights jihad but wants to gain from the spoils of war as well. These actions are accepted by Allah sub’haanahu wa ta’ala but, their spiritual reward is depleted a little by the extent of their secondary considerations for the deed. In the hadith of Abdullah ibn Amr, the Prophet (SAWS) said: “when combatants partake in the spoils of war, they have appropriated two-thirds of their reward, but when they do not take any of the spoils of war, their reward (with Allah) is complete”.[18]

Still anytime an action is done other for the sake of Allah, one runs the risk of that action being spoiled, and its reward vanishes. The only area of deen where the Shaitaan is unable to gain mastery (sultan) over the slave is in the area of complete ikhlaas for Allah be He Exalted and Glorified. When you do something sincerely for Allah sub’haanahu wa ta’ala, you become unconcerned with receiving praise or reward from anyone. You do not care who sees you and who doesn’t see you. In areas of a’maal saalaihaat (righteous deeds), the value of a deed is in removing any secondary or tertiary consideration from the deed so that it is done exclusively for Allah sub’haanahu wa ta’ala. As Allah says; فَمَن كَانَ يَرْجُو لِقَاء رَبِّهِ فَلْيَعْمَلْ عَمَلًا صَالِحًا وَلَا يُشْرِكْ بِعِبَادَةِ رَبِّهِ أَحَدًا “whoever expects to meet his Lord, let him work righteousness, and, in the worship of his Lord, admit no one as partner.”[19]

Sincerity is a protection from Shaitaan’s dominance

Every Muslim needs to be concerned about Iblis (the Devil) entering into the practice of his or her faith. In order to protect one’s deeds from being hijacked by the devil, one must stick to being sincere in faith and action. “[Whereupon Iblis] said: “O my Sustainer! Since Thou hast thwarted me, I shall indeed make [all that is evil] on earth seem goodly to them, and shall most certainly beguile them-into grievous error. [all] save such of them as are truly Thy sincere servants” 15:39-40

We are living in a time where the images and reality of insincerity have entered full throttle into the religion of Islam. Fake sajda marks on people’s foreheads, Muslims shacking up and calling it family, people flaunting their fornication and adultery, getting tattoos with bismillah on it, and religious works like feeding the poor and community service are engineered as public relations campaigns. Being sincere in one’s faith is the only guaranteed safe haven for the true believer. We are in the midst of a moral catastrophe, and the only answer is to be truly sincere in our faith and return our practice of religion to be for who it is intended, Allah sub’haanahu wa t’ala. The beautiful thing about ikhlaas lillah (sincerity for the sake of Allah) is that it never leaves you disappointed, and it is only through sincerity that the servant of Allah will experience the true inner beauty, spiritual bliss, and reward of what it means to be a practicing Muslim. Wal Allahu al-Musta’aan.

Shaykh Luqman Ahmad

The Lotus Tree Institute, Sacramento Ca

[1] Quran 51:56.

[2] Quran 98:5.

[3] Quran 107-

[4] Collected by Bukhaari

[5] Collected by Ibn Majah

[6] Jaami’ Uloom wal Hikam

[7] Died, 148 H.

[8] Died, 181 H.

[9] Quran 4:146

[10] Abu Muhammad Sahl ibn ‘Abdullah at-Tustari, he died in the year 283 of the Hijra.

[11] Quran 29:2

[12] Quran, 29:3

[13] Quran, 22:11.

[14] Collected by an-Nisaa’i, with a good chain, in the hadith of Abu Umaamah.

[15] Collected by Muslim, in the hadith of Abu Hurraira.

[16] Jaami’ Uloom wal Hikam, p. 24

[17] Collected by Muslim.

[18] A sound hadith, collected by Muslim.

[19] Quran, 18:110

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