By Dr. Jasser Auda
Sincerity is more important than relying on God as it has to do with one’s faith and creed. By mentioning relying on God and hope before sincerity in this spiritual journey, Ibn `Ata’illah wanted to emphasize the importance of hoping in God’s grace to grant us sincerity and the importance of relying on God to achieve sincerity.
Sincerity is one of God’s secrets that He plants in the heart of whomsoever He loves of His servants, as the divine hadith says. Ibn `Ata’illah says:
(Deeds are like statues that only come to life with the spirit of sincerity.)
He wants to say that deeds are like the body. If the deeds are devoid of sincerity, they are like a body without a soul and a soulless body is of no value. Likewise, our deeds are of no value if they lack sincerity.
Then, what is sincerity?
It means directing your intention when you do something to God. The Prophet (peace be upon him) says:
“Deeds are but by intention and every man shall have but that which he intended. Thus, he whose migration was for God and His messenger, his migration was for God and His messenger, and he whose migration was to achieve some worldly benefit or to take some woman in marriage, his migration was for that for which he migrated.” (Al-Bukhari & Muslim)
The hadith talks about two examples of migration from Mecca to Medina, i.e. some people migrated for God and His messenger and their reward is Paradise. Other people migrated only to get married and they will be rewarded only for their intention to get married and not for migration. This is because deeds are but by intention and according to Islamic law, matters are to be considered in light of their objectives.
Sincerity VS. Hypocrisy
Having a pure intention is very important because without this intention the work you will be doing is considered a kind of showing off. By this I mean that you will be doing good deeds just to show off and to please people and you will not be doing it to seek God’s pleasure. In so doing, you are practicing polytheism. When God describes the hypocrites, He said:
Behold, the hypocrites seek to deceive God – while it is He who causes them to be deceived (by themselves). And when they rise to pray, they rise reluctantly, only to be seen and praised by men, remembering God but seldom. (An-Nisaa’ 4:142)
Of the characteristics of those who deserve owe in the Hereafter, God mentions “Those who want only to be seen and praised, and, deny all assistance (to their fellow-men)!” (Al-Ma`un 107:6-7) Every action should be done with a pure intention to please God the Almighty.
I have to ask myself. Why am I doing this action? Why am I giving this charity? Why am I making Hajj (pilgrimage)? Why am I helping this man? Why am I offering this Prayer? Why am I reading this book?, etc.
By sincerity you can turn your daily habits to acts of worship. You eat, drink, work, get married, go, come, buy, sell, etc. All these are habits. If you show sincerity in doing them, they become acts of worship and you will be rewarded for each action.
For example, you eat in order not to fell hungry. But you can eat and have an intention to become stronger in order to do the acts of worship. For example, you eat well so that you can offer the Prayer. If you have this intention while eating, you will be rewarded abundantly. You dress well in order to look good. But you can have an intention to cover your privacy. This is a good intention for which there is a good reward from God. You can dress well so that you look good in front of your non-Muslim neighbors or in front of people who see you frequenting the mosque, etc.
You work not only for the salary, but you work to spend on your family, to give out in charity, to perform Hajj, etc. All these are intentions that turn the habits to acts of worship. Even worldly work is in itself a service for others in one way or another. Therefore, you will be rewarded for it because of your intention.
If we show sincerity and direct our intention to God, we will be rewarded greatly for our daily activities. This will give us a momentum in our spiritual journey to God. Some people journey to God only through Prayers at their fixed times or through Zakah when it is due or through other acts of worship. On the contrary, other people hurry to God by turning habits to acts or worship.
One of the righteous people heard someone knocking on his door while he had some students at his place. Before opening the door for the man, he mentioned to his students ten intentions only for opening the door. For example, If I open the door and find a poor man, I will give him some food. If I find a person in need, I will help him. If I find a blind man, I will show him the way. If I find a child, I will be kind to him. If I find an old man, I will show him respect, etc. Opening the door is a habit, but the man with his pure intention he turned it to an act of worship for which he will be rewarded.
Ask God for Sincerity
Ibn `Ata’ilah says: (Deeds are like statues that only come to life with the spirit of sincerity.) The word “secret” here is taken from the hadith which the Prophet reported from God: “Sincerity is one of My secrets that I plant in the heart of whomsoever I love of My servants.”
If God loves you, He will plant sincerity in your heart. Once it is planted in the heart, it gives much weight to the good deed even it is very small. Sincerity also helps the Muslim to attain a higher degree of faith. This is the difference between a deed done with a pure intention and another deed done without sincerity. Good deeds done for the sake of God will bring about great benefits and their reward will be multiplied by virtue of being done with apparent sincerity.
We ask God to grant us sincerity and we ask Him to help us turn our habits to acts of worship and make our life devoted for Him alone.
Say: “Behold, my prayer, and (all) my acts of worship, and my living and my dying are for God (alone), the Sustainer of all the worlds. (Al-An`am 6:162)
The article is excerpted from “Some of Al-Hikam Al-Ataiyyah” (The Path to God: A Journey with Ibn `Ata’illah’s Words of Wisdom In the Light of the Quran, the Prophetic Tradition, and Universal Laws of God- By Dr. Jasser Auda