Ikhlās (Sincerity): Its meaning and how to achieve it―and a word on avoiding the whisperings of Shaytān

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All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of all creation; may Allah extol the mention of our noble Prophet Muhammad in the highest company of Angels and give him peace and security―and his family, his Companions and all those who follow him exactly until the establishment of the Hour.

The greatest of the important principles of the Religion is the fulfilment of Al-Ikhlās (sincerity) to Allah, the Most High, in all matters of worship. Some of the Salaf have said that Ikhlās is that a person does not seek for his deeds any witness besides Allah and he does not seek acceptance from other than Him, the Mighty and Majestic. Ikhlās is the true essence of the Religion and is the key to understanding the call (da’wah) of the Messengers (‘alaihimus-salām). Allah, the Most High, said:

وَمَا أُمِرُوا إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ مُخْلِصِينَ لَهُ الدِّينَ حُنَفَاءَ وَيُقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَيُؤْتُوا الزَّكَاةَ ۚ وَذَٰلِكَ دِينُ الْقَيِّمَةِ – 98:5

“And they were not commanded except that they should worship Allah alone, to be sincere to Him in Religion, upright and steadfast―and to perform the Prayers and pay the Zakāt, and that is the true religion.” (Al-Bayyinah: 5)

And He, the Most High, said:

قُلِ اللَّهَ أَعْبُدُ مُخْلِصًا لَّهُ دِينِي – 39:14

“Say (O Prophet), ‘It is Allah whom I worship, sincere to Him in my Religion.” (Az-Zumar: 14)

And He, the Blessed and Most High, said:

الَّذِي خَلَقَ الْمَوْتَ وَالْحَيَاةَ لِيَبْلُوَكُمْ أَيُّكُمْ أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًا ۚ وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْغَفُورُ – 67:2

“He (Allah) who has created death and life that He may test which of you is best in performing deeds. And He is the All-Mighty, the Oft-Forgiving.” (Al-Mulk: 2)

It was said to Abu ‘Ali Al-Fudayl bin ‘Iyād (d. 187H):

يا أبا علي، ما معنى أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًا؟ قال: “أخلصه وأصوبه”، قيل: ما أخلصه؟ وما أصوبه؟ قال: «إنَّ العمل إذا كان خالصًا ولم يكن صوابًا لم يُقبل، وإن كان صوابًا ولم يكن خالصًا فلم يُقبل، حتى يكون خالصًا صوابًا”، قيل: يا أبا علي، ما هو الخالص الصواب؟ قال: “الخالص: أن يكون لله، والصواب: أن يكون على السنة”

“O Abu ‘Ali, what is the meaning of ‘best in deeds’? He replied: ‘To make it sincere and correct.’ He was asked: ‘What is meant by making it sincere and correct?’ He replied: ‘If a deed is done sincerely but not correctly, it will not be accepted. And if it is done correctly but not sincerely, it will not be accepted―until it is done both sincerely and correctly.’ It was said: ‘O Abu ‘Ali, what is sincerity and what is correct?’ He replied: ‘Sincerity is that the deeds is done purely for Allah and correct is that it is done according to the Sunnah.'”

Al-Imām Ibn Bāz (rahimahullāh) commented on these words of Fudayl bin ‘Iyād (rahimahullāh) said:

فالاهتمام بإحسان العمل أعظم وأوْلى من الكثرة، فكون المؤمن يهتم بإخلاص العمل وتنقيته من الرياء وغيره من أنواع الشرك، ويهتم بمُطابقته للشريعة، وألا يكون فيه ابتداعٌ؛ هذا أهم من الكثرة

“Making the deed correct (according to the Sunnah) is more important than quantity―and the servant must give importance to performing the deed sincerely for Allah and purifying it from riyā (i.e. showing off to impress the people) and other than that from the categories of Shirk. So a person is to give importance to making sure the deed complies with the Sharī’ah and that is free from innovation―that is more important that quantity.”

(Ref: binbaz.org.sa/fatwas/2746)

And Allah, the Most High, said:

شَرَعَ لَكُم مِّنَ الدِّينِ مَا وَصَّىٰ بِهِ نُوحًا وَالَّذِي أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْكَ وَمَا وَصَّيْنَا بِهِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَمُوسَىٰ وَعِيسَىٰ ۖ أَنْ أَقِيمُوا الدِّينَ وَلَا تَتَفَرَّقُوا فِيهِ ۚ كَبُرَ عَلَى الْمُشْرِكِينَ مَا تَدْعُوهُمْ إِلَيْهِ ۚ اللَّهُ يَجْتَبِي إِلَيْهِ مَن يَشَاءُ وَيَهْدِي إِلَيْهِ مَن يُنِيبُ – 42:13

“Allah has ordained for you people the same Religion which He ordained for Nooh and which We revealed to you (O Prophet), and that which We ordained for Ibrāhīm, Mūsā and ‘Eesā saying: ‘Establish the Religion and make no divisions in it.’ Intolerable for the Mushrikeen is that which you call to―yet Allah chooses for Himself whom He wills and guides unto Himself whosoever turns to Him in repentance and obedience.” (Ash-Shoorā: 13)

Abul-‘Āliyah (d. 90H, rahimahullāh) commented on this verse: “Allah enjoined upon them Ikhlās in worshipping Him.” And Ikhlās is the greatest of the deeds of the heart. Ibn Al-Qayyim (d. 752H) stated in Badā-i’ul-Fawā’id (3/330): “Whoever ponders over the Shari’ah in its foundations and its sources, he will know the link between the actions of the limbs and the actions of the hearts―that actions of the limbs bring no benefit without the actions of the hearts, and that the actions of the hearts are a greater obligation upon the servant than the actions of the limbs. How else is the believer distinguished from the hypocrite except based on what is in the heart of every person of deeds by which the two types of people can be distinguished? And the servitude and devotion of the heart are greater than the servitude of the limbs― and it is more plentiful and longer-lasting, it is obligatory in every moment [of one’s life].”

So, Ikhlās is a condition for the acceptance of a righteous deed and a deed is not accepted unless two conditions are met:

Firstly, that the deed is in accordance with the Qur’ān and Sunnah, otherwise it is rejected as ‘A’ishah (radiyallāhu ‘anhā) narrated from Allāh’s Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) that he said:

مَنْ عَمِلَ عَمَلاً لَيْسَ عَلَيْهِ أَمْرُنَا فَهُوَ رَدٌّ

“Whoever does a deed that has no sanction from us, then it is rejected.” (Muslim, no. 1718)

Secondly, that the deeds is performed sincerely for Allah. It was narrated from ‘Umar bin Al-Khattāb (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) that the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) said:

إِنَّمَا الأَعْمَالُ بِالنِّيَّاتِ، وَإِنَّمَا لِكُلِّ امْرِئٍ مَا نَوَى، فَمَنْ كَانَتْ هِجْرَتُهُ إِلَى دُنْيَا يُصِيبُهَا أَوْ إِلَى امْرَأَةٍ يَنْكِحُهَا فَهِجْرَتُهُ إِلَى مَا هَاجَرَ إِلَيْهِ

“The reward of deeds depends upon the intentions and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended. So whoever emigrated for worldly benefits or for a woman to marry, his emigration was for what he emigrated for.” (Al-Bukhāri, no. 1) And this is confirmed by the saying of Allah, the Most High:

قُلْ إِنَّمَا أَنَا بَشَرٌ مِّثْلُكُمْ يُوحَىٰ إِلَيَّ أَنَّمَا إِلَٰهُكُمْ إِلَٰهٌ وَاحِدٌ ۖ فَمَن كَانَ يَرْجُو لِقَاءَ رَبِّهِ فَلْيَعْمَلْ عَمَلًا صَالِحًا وَلَا يُشْرِكْ بِعِبَادَةِ رَبِّهِ أَحَدًا – 18:110

“Say O Prophet, “I am only a man like you, to whom has been revealed that your god is one God. So whoever would hope for the meeting with his Lord, let him do righteous deeds and not associate in the worship of his Lord anyone.” (Al-Kahf: 110)

Ikhlās is the foundation for the acceptance of supplications. Allah, the Mighty and Majestic, stated:

فَادْعُوا اللَّهَ مُخْلِصِينَ لَهُ الدِّينَ وَلَوْ كَرِهَ الْكَافِرُونَ – 40:14

“So invoke Allah, being sincere to Him in religion, even if the disbelievers dislike it.” (Ghāfir: 14)

The loss of Ikhlās in one’s deeds leads to the deeds being rejected and the doer being punished on the Day of Judgement. Muslim reported (no. 1905) from Abu Hurayrah (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) that the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) said:

“The first of men whose case will be decided on the Day of Judgment will be a man who died as a martyr. He shall be brought forth. Allah will make him recount His blessings (i. e. the blessings which He had bestowed upon him) and he will recount them (and admit having enjoyed them in his life). Then will Allah say: ‘What did you do to requite these blessings?’ He will say: ‘I fought for You until I died as a martyr.’ Allah will say: ‘You have lied. You fought that you might be called a brave warrior―and you were called so.’ Then orders will be passed against him and he will be dragged on his face and cast into Hell. Then will be brought forward a man who acquired knowledge and imparted it to others and recited the Qur’an. He will be brought forward and Allah will make him recount His blessings and he will recount them (and admit having enjoyed them in his lifetime). Then will Allah ask: ‘What did you do (to requite these blessings)?’ He will say: ‘I acquired knowledge and disseminated it and recited the Qur’an seeking Your pleasure.’ Allah will say: ‘You have lied. You acquired knowledge so that you might be called a scholar, and you recited the Qur’an so that it might be said, he is a Qari and it was said.’ Then orders will be passed against him and he shall be dragged on his face and cast into the Fire. Then there will be brought a man whom Allah had made abundantly rich and had granted every kind of wealth. He will be brought and Allah will make him recount His blessings and he will recount them and (admit having enjoyed them in his lifetime). Allah will then ask: ‘What have you done (to requite these blessings)?’ He will say: ‘I spent money in every cause in which You loved that it should be spent.’ Allah will say: ‘You are lying. You did so that it might be said about you that, ‘he is a generous man’ and so it was said.’ Then will Allah pass orders and he will be dragged on his face and thrown into Hell.” (Muslim, no. 1905)

When this narration reached Mu’āwiyah (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) he wept severely and when he stopped weeping, he said: “Allah and His Messenger were truthful.” He then recited:

مَن كَانَ يُرِيدُ الْحَيَاةَ الدُّنْيَا وَزِينَتَهَا نُوَفِّ إِلَيْهِمْ أَعْمَالَهُمْ فِيهَا وَهُمْ فِيهَا لَا يُبْخَسُونَ – 11:15
أُولَٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ لَيْسَ لَهُمْ فِي الْآخِرَةِ إِلَّا النَّارُ ۖ وَحَبِطَ مَا صَنَعُوا فِيهَا وَبَاطِلٌ مَّا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ – 11:16

“Whoever desires [by his deeds] the life of this world and its adornments, We fully repay them for their deeds therein, and they therein will not be deprived. Those are the ones for whom there is not in the Hereafter but the Fire. And lost is what they did therein, and worthless is what they used to do.” (Hood: 15-16)

Abu Moosā Al-Ash’ari (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) said that a man came to the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) and said: “O Allah’s Messenger, a man fights for the spoils of war, a man fights for mention, a man fights so that his station can be seen, so who fights in Allah’s cause?” He replied: “The one who fights so that the Word of Allah is raised high, he is the one who is in Allah’s cause.” (Bukhāri, no. 2810, Muslim, no. 1904)

Abu ‘Umāmah Al-Bāhili (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) said: A man came to the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) and said: “What do you think of a man who fights seeking reward along with fame, what will he receive?” The Messenger of Allah (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) said: “There is nothing for him.” He repeated it three times, and the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) said to him: “There is nothing for him.” Then he said: “Allah does not accept any deed, except that which is purely for Him, and seeking His Face.” (An-Nasā’i, no. 3140)

Fudayl bin ‘Iyād (rahimahullāh) said: “Avoiding to do a righteous deed because of the people is riyā’ (seeking to impress them) and the deeds done because of them is shirk (i.e. also riyā―seeking to impress them). Ikhlās is to free oneself from both of these thoughts.” He also said: “Ikhlās is that Allah saves him from these thoughts.” (Madārij As-Sālikeen, 3/95)

It was said to Sahl At-Tustari (d. 283H, rahimahullāh): “What is the hardest affair on the soul?” He replied: “Al-Ikhlās―because there is not for the soul any [worldly] gain.” (Madārij As-Sālikeen, 2/95)

Sufyān Ath-Thawri (d. 161H, rahimahullāh) said: “I have not treated anything more severe upon me than my own intention―verily, it keeps switching upon me.”

Whispering during worship and purification

One of the Salaf said: “If a servant makes himself sincere [to Allah alone], much of the whisperings and riyā’ will be cut off.” That is because whisperings are from Shaytān so as to play with the purification and worship of the servant and throw doubts at him―so a person is left feeling that he must respond to these whispering by acting upon them, and thereby he does what pleases Shaytān―thereafter Shaytān repeats his whisperings into the heart and mind of the servant knowing that he has ensnared him.

So, for example, Allah commands the Muslim to wash each limb no more than three times in wudū. Shaytān whispers to him that he needs to wash it more than three times because he did not wash a limb properly or that he missed a small area―eventually, the person is left in confusion, so he repeats the whole wudū over again―and he may repeat this several times for each prayer!

Then, Shaytān will whisper to him again when he visits the toilet, causing him to repeatedly wash his private-parts over and over again because he fears that drops of urine may have exited after he has washed his private part―through this type of behaviour, he becomes obedient to the suggestions and whisperings of Shaytān making his life a misery!

So, a person must cut this endless cycle of misery and anxiety by having Ikhlās for Allah (being sincere to Him alone in worship), seeking refuge with Him, and doing deeds only to please Him and in obedience to Him, the Blessed and Most High. A person must turn away from the whisperings of the Shaytān that he throws into his heart and mind in order to take him away from servitude to Allah. A person must ignore the whisperings and suggestions and instead turn to Book and Sunnah for purification and worship―doing no more than what is required, and no less. In this way, he will end this cycle of torment, inshā’-Allāh. You have been created to worship Allah, to follow Islam (Quran and Sunnah) and not to follow the footsteps of Shaytān:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا ادْخُلُوا فِي السِّلْمِ كَافَّةً وَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا خُطُوَاتِ الشَّيْطَانِ ۚ إِنَّهُ لَكُمْ عَدُوٌّ مُّبِينٌ – 2:208

“O you who believe! Enter perfectly into Islam (by obeying all the regulations of the Islamic religion) and follow not the footsteps of Shaytān. Verily! He is to you a plain enemy.”

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  1. Assalam alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuhu, May Allah continue to bless and reward you abundantly, ameen.
    JazakaAllahu khairan.

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