The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said: “Actions are according to their intentions” (Bukhari, Faith, 41; Muslim, Imare, 155)
As a result the essence of all good deeds, and primarily worship is that they are carried out in order to seek the pleasure of Allah. This can only take place with sincerity. In other words, it is only through sincerity and connection to a lofty aim that it is possible to raise the status of one’s deeds to the level of worship. Consequently the real condition for the acceptance of one’s deeds in the eyes of Allah is sincerity.
Sincerity is the performance of deeds for the sole purpose of pleasing Allah and abstaining from spoiling them with carnal desires and worldly aims. The spirit is to the body what sincerity is to deeds. An insincere deed amounts to nothing more than tiring oneself in vain, and becomes devoid of essence.
Sincerity is to preserve the heart from all manner of worldly benefit with the aim of moving closer to Almighty Allah. Sincerity is to purify one’s deeds from all manner of spiritual blemishes, namely ostentation (riya) and pride (ujub), because these are diseases of the heart that destroy and contaminate one’s sincerity.
To erase from the heart all aspirations other than seeking the pleasure of almighty Allah is an essential duty incumbent upon every Muslim. However, one must be careful about the following, which is that those in possession of sincerity are in constant danger of losing this beautiful state as a result of the triumph of the nafs. Just as it is extremely difficult to remain at the top, so too it is hard to preserve one’s sincerity. The words of Zunnun Misri in regards to this matter are famous:
‘All people are dead, except for the scholars (those who know). All scholars are asleep, except for those who act on their knowledge. All those who act on their knowledge are at risk of being deceived, except those who have sincerity. And those who have sincerity are in perpetual danger in this world…’
However those servants who are able to maintain their sincerity in spite of all manner of difficulty, are subject to much divine favours.
In short, sincerity allows one to attain to the greatest good, namely divine pleasure. Because Allah’s aim for people’s deeds is that they carry them out for the sole purpose of gaining His pleasure. It is stated in the Holy Qur’an:
‘We have sent down the Book to you with truth. So worship Allah, making your religion sincerely His’(Az- Zumar, 39:2)
‘Say: “I am commanded to worship Allah, making my religion sincerely His’(Az-Zumar, 39:11)
Sincerity saves a believer from the assault of Satan, his greatest enemy, because Satan can only plague the one who is weak in his sincerity. Allah says in the Holy Qur’an:
‘He (Satan) said, “My Lord, because You misled me, I will make things on the earth seem good to them and I will mislead them all, every one of them, except Your slaves among them who are sincere.’(Al-Hijr, 15: 39-40)
Those who possess sincerity will be saved from the fire of hell.
Almighty Allah gives glad tidings of this truth in the following verse:
‘You will definitely taste the painful punishment…except for Allah’s sincere servants’ (As-Saffat, 37: 39-40)
However small it may be, a deed done with sincerity, is enough to save the one who performs it. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) has stated:
“Be sincere in your religion! If you do this, even small deeds will be enough for you”.(Hakim, IV, 341)
Sincerity attracts divine help. The Prophet (pbuh) has also stated:
“Allah helps this community due to the supplication, ritual prayers and sincerity of the weak”. (Nesa’i, 43)
One should not doubt that sincerity will bring triumph. This is because sincere efforts will always be preserved and are never in vain. Throughout history there have been many small armies consisting of sincere and forbearing individuals that have triumphed, with the permission of Allah, over other armies much greater in number and better equipped. This situation shows that sincerity is the foundation of victory.
Scenes of Virtue
The life of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) is filled with examples of the peak of sincerity. The following event that took place in the first days of his duty expresses this beautifully:
The polytheists wanted to send news to the Prophet (pbuh) through his uncle, Abu Talib, in order to make him abandon his task of preaching. The Prophet (pbuh) gave the following reply to his uncle:
“O my uncle! By Allah, even if they put the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left in order to make me abandon the religion of Allah, I would never abandon this course of mine! Either Almighty Allah will spread it throughout the world and my duty will be ended or I will die in this path”.
The polytheists, uneasy at this birth of Islam, and having their attempts through Abu Talib meet with failure, then went to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) directly with the audacity to offer the following:
“If it is riches you want, we shall give you all the wealth you desire; such that there will be no one amongst the tribes richer than you.
“If you are after leadership we shall make you our leader; and you shall be the ruler of Mecca.
“If you desire to marry honourable women, we will give you whichever of the beautiful women of Quraysh that you desire.
“We are willing to do whatever you want so long as you abandon this course”.
The Messenger of Allah (pbuh), in answer to all the lowly and sensual suggestions that those heedless people made and would further make, stated the following:
“I desire nothing from you. I want neither wealth, nor property, nor kingdom, nor leadership, nor any woman! The only thing I desire is for you to abandon your worship of pathetic idols and worship Allah alone”.
The Prophet (pbuh) lived his life struggling to spread the religion of Allah and for this reason he remained independent of people and never desired anything for his own person. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the other prophets all repeated the following words:
“I do not ask you for any wage for it. My wage is the responsibility of none other than the Lord of all the worlds”.
The followingscene from the life of Prophet Moses is another magnificent display of sincerity:
Almighty Allah said:
“When he arrived at the water of Madyan, he found a crowd of people drawing water there. Standing apart from them, he found two women, holding back their sheep. He said, “What are you two doing here?” They said, “We cannot draw water until the shepherds have driven off their sheep. You see, our father is a very old man”.(Kassas, 28: 23)
These two women were Safura and Sufayra, the daughters of Prophet Shuayb u. Despite going hungry for eight days, Moses u drew water from the well enduring great hardship, and watered their animals. The women thanked him and left.
Later Shuayb invited Moses to his house for a meal. Moses was hesitant about eating though he had been hungry for days. Shuayb asked the reason. Moses answered:
“We are such a family that if we were to be given the entire world we would never exchange it for one deed of the hereafter. I did not help you in anticipation of this meal but rather to seek the pleasure of Allah”.
Shuayb was very pleased with this answer and said:
“This offer of ours is not because you helped us but because you are our guest. Come let us eat”.
At this, the tired and hungry Moses accepted the offer to eat.
This example demonstrates the necessity of refraining from tainting the sincerity in one’s intentions with any worldly expectations in order not to lose the reward of good deeds done for the sake of Allah.
Wasila bin Aska tells of an example of sincerity that took place during the campaign for Tabuk:
When it was the time to head out for Tabuk, I had neither material wealth nor an animal to mount. I did not wish to be deprived of this blessed campaign so I cried out in Madina:
“Who will let me ride their mount in return for my share of the booty?”
An old man from the Ansar said that he would let me take turns riding his animal and thereby take me to the battle. When I immediately said: “We have a deal” he responded:
“In that case come and walk with me, by the blessings of Allah”.
Thus I had made a good friend and so I set out with him. As a result Allah favoured me with booty: some camels fell to my lot. I led these to that old man from the Ansar. He said to me:
“Take your camels with you!”
“But according to the deal we made at the start, these are yours” I told him. Alas however much I repeated these words, the Ansari replied:
“O my brother! Take your booty, it was not this that I desired. My intention was to share in the reward from Allah, that is, I wanted to be a partner in your spiritual gain”. (Abu Dawud, 113/2676)
Those blessed Companions, who generously donated all that they had in order to please Allah, complied with their utmost to the secret of sincerity, whether it was whilst setting out for battle in the name of Allah or helping a believing brother.
They showed the greatest care in ensuring that the slightest shadow of any fleeting worldly benefit should not fall over the good deeds that they did for Allah.
Whenever Aisha helped the poor she would respond to the prayers for goodness made by the poor with a prayer of her own. She was asked about this:
“You give to them and you also pray for them. What is the reason for this?”
“I fear that the prayer that they make will be the recompense for the charity I give. I make the same prayer that they make so that I can anticipate my reward only from Allah”.
What an excellent example of sincerity!…Those blessed people showed the utmost care in preserving their sincerity.
How superb is the following display of depth and sensitivity of the sincerity of Ali :
During a battle Ali had captured an enemy soldier and was about to kill him. The man suddenly spat on the blessed and radiant face of Ali, in response to the nasty inclination that had arisen within him.
It would have been mere child’s play for that brave and gallant ‘lion of Allah’ to cut off the head of that enemy with one fell swoop. However Ali stopped suddenly, anxious that at that moment his nafs had tainted his intention which was to fight for Allah and nothing else. He stopped and slowly put down his sword, which had been named Zulfikar and had been a gift to him from the Prophet, deciding not to kill his enemy.
The shocked man on the ground lay in a wretched state awaiting his death. He had thought that Ali would display an even more intense effort with greater anger and rage as a result of his spitting in his face. However, it was not as he expected. Suddenly he came face to face with a truth that he could never have imagined. The enemy, who could not make sense of this action of this hero of Islam and hero of the hearts of people, asked Ali in shock and with great curiosity:
“O Ali! Why did you stop when you were just about to kill me? What brought about this change of mind? What happened that made you go from a violent rage to a remarkable calmness… You were like a bolt of lightning about to strike before you suddenly calmed down…”
“I use this sword of the Prophet in the path of Allah only. I never let my nafs interfere… When you spat on my face you wished to anger and insult me. If I had succumbed to my anger at that point I would have killed you for the base reason of giving in to my own whims, which is something that does not befit a believer. Whereas I fight for the sake of Allah, and not for the satisfaction of my pride”.
As a result the heart of that enemy found life again in response to the lofty, praiseworthy character of the person he had come to kill. He took heed from Ali’s faith, his sincerity and his opposition to his own desires. The man subsequently became Muslim.
One time a great fire broke out in the copper markets of Baghdad. Two children were trapped in one of the burning shops. Despite their cries for help, the flames were so intense that nobody was brave enough to try and save them. Their foreman was crying out outside in desperation:
“I will give 1000 pieces of gold to whoever saves my children”.
At that point Abu’l Hussain Nuri who happened to be passing by, immediately threw himself into the fire. The fire became like a rose garden for him. With the help of almighty Allah, this saint was able to save the children from those flames, to the amazement of everyone watching.
Happily the foreman presented the gold pieces to Abu’l Hussain Nuri, who suddenly grimaced and said:
“Take your gold and be grateful to Allah Most High! If I had done what I did not for Allah but for the hope of some material reward, I would never have been able to rescue those children from that fire”.
As can be seen from this example, many fires can become rose gardens with the blessings of sincerity. But to enter the fire is possible only when one becomes like Abraham, the friend of Allah. Because the lack of fear displayed by Abraham in the face of the fire was an exceptional favour that almighty Allah bestowed upon him in response to his submission out of his love and passion for Allah.
Sincerity shows its effect in everything. As long as it is given out with a sincere intention, the one who gives charity will be rewarded to the degree of their sincerity, even if the charity goes to one who is unworthy of it. According to the degree of one’s sincerity there arise positive tendencies towards goodness in those who are given the charity. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) has indicated this truth as follows:
“One time a man said: “I am going to give charity”.
That night he left his home with his charity and placed it in the hands of a thief without realising who it was. The next day the people of the town started to talk:
“What an amazing thing! Last night someone gave charity to a thief!”
The man said:
“O Allah! Praise be to you. I am going to give charity today as well”.
Again he left his home with his money and this time without realising it, he placed it in the hands of a prostitute. The next day the people of the town began to talk once more:
“It cannot be! Last night somebody gave charity to a prostitute”. The man said again:
“O Allah! Praise be to you even if I have given charity to a prostitute. I am going to give charity again”.
Again that night, the man took what he had set aside for charity and left his house, this time placing it in the hands of a rich man. The next day the people of the town began to chatter again in amazement:
“What is this! Last night charity was given to a rich man!”.
The man said:
“O Allah! I am grateful to you for being able to give charity whether it be to a thief, a prostitute or a rich man.
As a result of the sincerity of this man, he saw someone in his dream say to him:
“Perhaps the charity you gave to the thief will embarrass him and stop him from stealing. And perchance the prostitute will regret what she had been doing and become a chaste woman. And maybe the rich man will take heed and give out to the needy from the wealth that Allah has given him”.(Bukhari, Zekat, 14)
And so these are the blessings of sincerity and true devotion… What is indicated in this hadith is the necessary sincerity and devotion that needs to be within the heart of the person who is giving charity. It also expresses the idea that intentions are better than deeds. However, let it not be assumed from this that it is a virtuous act to give out charity carelessly. On the contrary, when giving out charity and alms-giving, the believer should give it to those who are truly in need, and must search out the most worthy person if possible and give it to them.
What an admonition is the following event which is a practical demonstration of the above-mentioned hadith.
During a trip to Anatolia by Shaykh Sami Ramazanoglu, somebody stopped his car in Urgup and asked for money to buy some cigarettes. Despite the objections – not voiced, but felt in the hearts – of some of his fellow travellers, Shaykh Sami, who was an ocean of generosity, said:
“Since he is asking, [it is only right that] we should give” and to the surprised looks of those around him he gave him the money without hesitation. Being pleased at this, the poor man changed his intention and said:
“Now I am going to go and buy bread with this money” and he left to go.
This is an evident example of the manifestation of goodness that arises as a result of the degree of the purity of one’s intentions and the legitimate and pure source of one’s wealth.
During the first years in the history of Islam an unknown person used to leave a sack of provisions every morning at the door of various poor people in Madina. It so happened that one morning the poor people woke up to find that there was no sack at their door. While they were wondering the reason they heard a poignant proclamation of the death of the grandson of Ali , Zayn-al-abideen. The city of Madina was shaken up with this news and its people were deeply grieved.
The last duties began to be meticulously carried out for this heir of the Prophet. When it came time to wash his body, the person who performed the task saw some large boils on the back of the dead man. He was surprised and could not understand the reason. Somebody from the ahl’ul bayt  who knew his secret explained:
“Every morning Zayn-al-abideen would carry sacks of provisions that he had prepared and take them to the doors of the poor. He would return without anyone seeing him. Nobody ever knew who it was that kept bringing these provisions. These wounds that you see on his back are what developed as a result of carrying them”. (Ibn-i Kathir, al-Bidaya, IX, 112,133; Abu Nuaym, Hilye, III, 136)
This is the manifestation of sincerity in the heart of a believer full of compassion. This is a sensitivity observed for a lifetime that refused to tarnish the reward for goodness with the compliments of mere mortals.
The following is another beautiful example of sincerity displayed by Sultan Alparslan whose heart was ever together with his Lord.
Before entering the Battle of Malazgirt in 1071, Alparlsan donned pure white clothes and remarked: “This is my shroud”. In other words, he had prepared himself not for worldly fame but for martyrdom with the ecstasy resulting from pure faith. Before he went to battle he gave this short speech to his soldiers:
“Either I become victorious and reach my aim; or I become a martyr and go to heaven. Those of you who choose to follow me, let them do so. Those who choose to leave, let them go. There are no commanding sultans giving orders here, nor are there any soldiers needing to obey. Today I am one of you. I am a soldier going to war alongside you. Those who follow me and become martyrs having devoted their souls to almighty Allah – to heaven you go; those left alive will be war heroes. As for those who desert us, it is the fire of the hereafter and disgrace in this world that await them”.
As a result of the sincerity of Sultan Alparslan, almighty Allah made him victorious against the Roman Diyogen, whose army was five times the size of his own.
As mentioned before only those people who possess sincerity will attain to true salvation. However the possessors of sincerity are in great danger constantly and face a risky trial. Likewise the assassination attempt on the life of the great commander of Islam, Sultan Alparslan was such a trial. This is what happened:
In the year 1072 after the victory at Malazgirt, Sultan Alparslan went on an expedition towards Maveraunnehir. He had many horses with him. He besieged the Fortress of Hana which was on the River of Amuderya. The commander of the fortress was Yusuf al-Harazmi who was a member of a heretic group called Batiniyye. When he realised that the fortress was not going to be able to hold out much longer, he informed Alparslan that he had surrendered. However when this treacherous villain was brought before Alparslan he suddenly charged at him and wounded him with his dagger. He was immediately killed and Sultan Alparslan was also not to recover from his wounds. He was reunited with his Lord on the 25th of October, 1072. His last words were as follows:
“Whenever I was resolved against the enemy I would always seek refuge in Allah Most High and ask for His help. Yesterday when I climbed a mountain, it was as if the mountain beneath my feet shook due to the number of my soldiers and the greatness of my army. In my heart the following thought arose: “I am the ruler of the world, who can defeat me?” As a result of this, Almighty Allah punished me using one of His feeble servants. I ask Allah Most High for forgiveness for this thought that arose in my heart and for all of the mistakes and errors that I have committed in the past, and I turn back to Him. There is no Allah but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah…”
Undoubtedly this state is that of a sincere conscience and a pure heart taking itself to account.
One of the friends of Allah was once asked if he had ever experienced any event concerning sincerity that had left an impression on him. He replied:
“Indeed I have” and he explained:
“One time I lost my purse at Mecca and was left penniless. I was expecting money from Basra but it had somehow failed to arrive. My hair and beard had grown somewhat. I went to a barber and asked him:
“I have no money. Would you cut my hair for the sake of Allah?”
At that point the barber was shaving a man. Indicating the seat next to him he said: “Sit here” and leaving him he began to shave me. The man objected. The barber turned to him and said:
“I am sorry sir. I was shaving you for a fee but this person here asked me to shave him for the sake of Allah. Duties done for Allah always have priority and they have no fee. The servants can never know the price of those things done for Allah and never can they pay them”.
After he shaved me, the barber slipped a few pieces of gold into my pocket:
“You can attend to your immediate needs with this. This is all I have, I am sorry”.
A few days passed. The money I was waiting for from Basra arrived. I took a small pouch of gold to the barber but he objected:
“I will never take it! None of the slaves of Allah can ever have the ability to pay the price for a task done for Allah’s sake. Be on your way. May Allah give you peace”.
I made amends and parted from him but for forty years now I have been waking up in the middle of the night and praying for him”.
And so almighty Allah will reward those righteous deeds and all acts of goodness with goodness that is worthy of His glory as long as they are done in such a sincere manner, that is purely for the sake of Allah.
During the days of Ramadhan many rich people within the Ottoman community, used to wander around unfamiliar suburbs in uncharacteristic dress. Going to the markets, grocers and shops of the region they would ask them to take out their credit book. They would tell them to add up the debts of some of the pages at random from the beginning, the middle and the last pages. Having totalled them they would pay the resulting amount. They would then leave without identifying themselves saying:
“Clear these debts! And may Allah accept this deed from us”.
And so it was that the one in debt never knew who it was that had paid off his debts, and the one who wiped away the debt would never know who it was whom he had saved from debt. Those individuals knew that non-obligatory charity given in secret was more acceptable than that given out in the open and so they tried to help others as secretly as possible. Our forefathers were so sincere that their right hand was unaware of the charity that had been given out by their left hand and they would immediately forget the good that they had done.
The distinguished friends of Allah have advised people to forget two things:
The good deeds that you have done so that they do not boost your ego and make you vain and proud;
The bad things that have been done to you so that ill-will and rage do not germinate within your heart.
In short, sincerity is a jewel so hard to attain and preserve that no one other than Allah can truly evaluate its worth, because through it the windows of the heart are opened to Allah. Sincerity is a sublime quality that raises a servant to high ranks both in this world and the next and that brings one closer to Allah. Allah Most High does not accept deeds that are done devoid of sincerity. On the Day of Judgement, deeds done with self-satisfaction and for show, both of which indicate diseases of the heart, will be thrown at the faces of the ones who perform them. Sincerity on the other hand makes what is little great, through the bounty of Allah most High. It also makes one’s life long and its abundance and prosperity continual.
. The nafs is the soul of the human being that inclines towards evil. It is the carnal and animal nature of the human being (translator’s note).
. Bayhaki, ShuAbu’l- Iman, Beirut 1990 V 345
. (As-Shu’ara verses 109, 127, 145, 164, 180. Jonah verse 72, Hud verse 29)
. The ahl’ul bayt are the family of the Prophet (translator’s note).