Ep. 2 The Forties – Sincerity (Ikhlas)

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Al-Salam ‘Alaykum, this is Syed Ali Imran – and you are listening to the Forties podcast, brought to you by Mizan Institute. In this episode, we’ll be introducing this podcast series and what we hope to cover during it.

This is episode 2 – Sincerity or Ikhlas.

Just to recap, in the previous episode we said Sayyid Ahmad Zanjani uses a single tradition as a basis for his complete work, and that this tradition speaks of our relationship with Allah and as well as other humans from different perspectives – the first of these angles is what Allah expects from us – the tradition said that Allah expects us to obey him sincerely. From today’s episode we’ll now begin looking at 40 different ahadith that will elaborate and expand on this aspect. Let’s look at Hadith #1.

عِدَّةٌ مِنْ أَصْحَابِنَا عَنْ سَهْلِ بْنِ زِيَادٍ عَنْ عَلِيِّ بْنِ أَسْبَاطٍ عَنْ أَبِي الْحَسَنِ الرِّضَا ع أَنَّ أَمِيرَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ ص كَانَ يَقُولُ‏ طُوبَى لِمَنْ أَخْلَصَ لِلَّهِ الْعِبَادَةَ وَ الدُّعَاءَ وَ لَمْ يَشْغَلْ قَلْبَهُ بِمَا تَرَى عَيْنَاهُ وَ لَمْ يَنْسَ ذِكْرَ اللَّهِ بِمَا تَسْمَعُ أُذُنَاهُ وَ لَمْ يَحْزُنْ صَدْرَهُ بِمَا أُعْطِيَ غَيْرُهُ.

Hadith #1: Amir al Mu’minin has said, ‘Paradise is for those who maintain sincerity in worshipping Allah and in their supplications. Whatever they see does not occupy their heart. Whatever they hear does not make them forget the remembrance of Allah and they do not feel depressed because of what is given to others.’”

Ikhlāṣ or sincerity in relation to Allah means to empty and cleans our acts of worship from all forms of polytheism or shirk. This is the most basic foundation a Muslim needs, in order to live a God-centric life, it is the foundation which gives validity to all of our acts of worship, it gives value to our conduct and behaviour – this is the first expectation Allah mentions in his revelation to Adam, when He said all goodness can be gathered in four words, the first word was to worship Allah without an ounce of shirk, to not associate any partners with Him.

Our acts should be done solely for Allah (swt), not for any other person, nor to show off. This is what Allah expects and also reiterates in the Quran when He says:

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

And they were not commanded except to worship Allah, [being] sincere to Him in religion, inclining to truth, and to establish prayer and to give zakah. And that is the religion most upright.

Imam ‘Alī (a) says these are the people who have been promised paradise, these are the people who because of their sincerity do not get distracted when they see or hear others, they do not feel jealous or sad when they see what others have which they may not have – because it is of no concern to them. This narration alludes to the fact that sincerity goes alongside the cutting off of one’s attachment from the lowly and abased world.

Now some have gone as far as to say that sincerity which is required for the validity of one’s actions is when you do not even desire a reward for your worship or when you perform the action out of fear of Allah’s punishment. But, the fact of the matter is there is no conflict between worshiping Allah sincerely but with the desire of reward or out of fear of his punishment. Desiring reward from Him is still an acknowledgement of his Lordship and fearing his punishment is still an opportunity to seek refuge in Him – neither of these two intentions, fear and hope removes one’s act of worship out of it being Godly and for God.

Yes, as we will see in the subsequent narrations, performing an act for Allah even without the desire for reward or not out of fear of His punishment, rather just solely for one’s love of Allah and because they see Allah as worthy of worship is a higher level of sincerity.

Sayyid Aḥmad Zanjānī quotes a story and says one of his friends was in a gathering of a certain scholar when a person entered the gathering, this person was known to be a good righteous individual. He was known to be a person who engages in worship and a person of good conduct. So the scholar prays for him, he asks Allah to increase his opportunities in doing more good.

The person realized that the people are now in the mood to praise him, so he decides to add a few compliments of his own and says, “when I do an act, I only do it for God, I don’t do it for heaven nor do I do it for fear of hell-fire”. The scholar responds to him and says you should be the last person saying such a thing.

What this scholar meant was that such a state, where one performs an action with a level of sincerity that heaven or hell are not its motivating factor is rare and something that only a very few people have the opportunity to achieve.

One’s act of worship does not reach such a degree of sincerity merely by us saying in our hearts that we are worshiping Allah not for the sake of heaven nor out of fear of hell. This is like someone who has a slice of moldy bread in front of him and then says, I am eating fresh bread – merely saying this does not change the fact that you are eating moldy bread.

In the next episode, we will look at the different types of worshipers and how they have been described in a ḥadīth from Imam Sadiq (a).

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