Al-Salam ‘Alaykum, this is Syed Ali Imran – and you are listening to the Forties podcast, brought to you by Mizan Institute.
This is episode 5 – Sincerity: The Greatest Worship
وَ قَالَ مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ عَلِيٍّ ع أَفْضَلُ الْعِبَادَةِ الْإِخْلَاص
Hadith #4: Imam Jawad (a) has said: The best of worship is sincerity.
Given how tricky the fourth scenario had gotten in our last episode, Sayyid Zanjāni says perhaps the reason why ikhlāṣ has been considered the greatest act of worship is because it is also one of the most difficult things to perform, especially when we look at its higher degrees. This is perhaps why in another tradition from Imam Sadiq (a) he says, “the intention of a believer is better than his action.”
Some may say, well this does not make any sense because a sincere intention seems rather quite easy to maintain and that performing an act is usually more difficult. In fact, we have another tradition that tells us that the best of actions are the ones perform with most difficulty – if that is the case, we can surely say that sincerity cannot be the best of worships, since in most cases our actions are much more difficult to perform.
Consider someone who wants to go to Hajj. How difficult is it to be sincere in one’s intention and say I want to go to Hajj for the sake of Allah. But when you actually begin planning for it, you see the struggle you have to put in just to get to Hajj let alone perform it. You have to make sure you join a caravan on time, you have to get your passports renewed, apply for visas, get immunized before you travel, pay a hefty price for it, go to training sessions, mentally and physically prepare for it, and then once you get to Hajj, you’re going to have sleepless nights, the risk of stampedes, the hot scorching sun, dozens of rules you must follow so your Hajj does not become invalidated and so on.
And this is just today, where we have some ease in travelling. Just in the last century people were still travelling by ship or on foot for Hajj.
All these difficulties one has to endure – how can one’s sincerity in intention be difficult than all this?
Sayyid Zanjani says, there is no doubt that some acts of worship are indeed difficult and challenging, they require effort and dedication. But this doesn’t mean sincerity in one’s intention is also easy! This is because if Shaytan is unable to prevent someone from performing an act of worship for Allah, he will change his plans and go straight for your intentions. It will be your sincerity he will try to shake. Imagine for a moment someone who is now ready to go to Hajj, Shaytan will now try to alter their thoughts.
Someone may begin thinking, I have to go to Hajj, if I don’t go, what will people say? They will make a joke out of me if I’ve planned to go for all these years and finally signed up and something happens suddenly which ruins my plans. My younger cousin was able to go and I wasn’t, how could that be. The respect others will get from the community for going, I’ll be deprived of it.
This reminds me of the time when I was initially planning to come to study in the seminary of Qom – and this is probably true for some other students as well. Many of us were very eager to come to the seminary, there were times where we felt that this is absolutely the best decision that we’ve made and we must come to study at whatever cost.
But there would be times where it would seem like we may not be able to go, for example some countries severed diplomatic ties with Iran, making the process of getting visa very difficult. At times, the response from the seminary in Iran can take so long, perhaps they may misplace your file and you would have to apply from scratch and so on. The thought that you may not be able to go, that God may have another plan for you, to stay back and serve in the community in some other way, this was not even an option. This is how Shaytan comes and begins to play around with your sincerity – were you planning to go study for the sake of God, or were you more interested in yourself, your reputation, the respect you would attain after remaining in Qom for a number of years and so on. If your intentions were for God, then if for one reason or another one wasn’t able to go to the seminary, then they would be equally satisfied and content with Allah’s decision for them as if they had gotten an opportunity to go.
So even though practically travelling and studying in the seminary is an exhausting act, maintaining sincerity in one’s intentions is even more difficult.
This will further be emphasized in the next narration from Imam Sadiq (a) where we will see how keeping an act pure and for Allah only is more difficult than performing it.
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Sayyid Ali studied in the seminary of Qom from 2012 to 2021, while also concurrently obtaining a M.A in Islamic Studies from the Islamic College of London in 2018. In the seminary he engaged in the study of legal theory, jurisprudence and philosophy, eventually attending the advanced kharij of Usul and Fiqh in 2018. He is currently completing his Masters of Education at the University of Toronto and is the head of a private faith-based school in Toronto, as well as an instructor at the Mizan Institute and Mufid Seminary.