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 6 – Keeping an Act Pure is More Difficult Than Performing It
عَلِيُّ بْنُ إِبْرَاهِيمَ عَنْ أَبِيهِ عَنِ الْقَاسِمِ بْنِ مُحَمَّدٍ عَنِ الْمِنْقَرِيِّ عَنْ سُفْيَانَ بْنِ عُيَيْنَةَ عَنْ أَبِي عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع فِي قَوْلِ اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ- لِيَبْلُوَكُمْ أَيُّكُمْ أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًا قَالَ لَيْسَ يَعْنِي أَكْثَرَ عَمَلًا وَ لَكِنْ أَصْوَبَكُمْ عَمَلًا وَ إِنَّمَا الْإِصَابَةُ خَشْيَةُ اللَّهِ وَ النِّيَّةُ الصَّادِقَةُ وَ الْحَسَنَةُ ثُمَّ قَالَ الْإِبْقَاءُ عَلَى الْعَمَلِ حَتَّى يَخْلُصَ أَشَدُّ مِنَ الْعَمَلِ وَ الْعَمَلُ الْخَالِصُ الَّذِي لَا تُرِيدُ أَنْ يَحْمَدَكَ عَلَيْهِ أَحَدٌ إِلَّا اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ وَ النِّيَّةُ أَفْضَلُ مِنَ الْعَمَلِ أَلَا وَ إِنَّ النِّيَّةَ هِيَ الْعَمَلُ ثُمَّ تَلَا قَوْلَهُ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ- قُلْ كُلٌّ يَعْمَلُ عَلى شاكِلَتِهِ يَعْنِي عَلَى نِيَّتِهِ.
Hadith #5: Imam Sadiq (a) says regarding the verse of the Quran: ‘So that He may test you to see who among you is best in good deeds. . . .’ (67:2), the Imam said, ‘He has not meant thereby the quantity of deeds. He thereby has meant the most correct ones in deeds. Correctness comes only from overwhelming respect for Allah, true intention and goodness.’
He then said, ‘It comes from continuity of the good deeds. In fact, maintaining continuity until deeds reach purity is more difficult than performing the deed itself. A pure act is one where one does not desire any praise for it except from Allah (azwj). The intention is greater than the deed, rather indeed the intention itself is the deed.’ The Imam then recited the words of Allah, ‘Say (O Muhammad), “Everyone acts according to his way,” (17:84) it (way) means according to his intentions.’”
This narration is explaining the meaning of the verse from Surah Mulk: So that He may try you to see who among you is best in good deeds. . . .’ (67:2). The Imam’s (a) saying that the verse is not referring to the quantity of one’s deeds and how many good deeds one performs. It is not a competition of quantity, rather it is the quality of the deed that matters.
The quality of an act is identified by seeing whose deeds are more correct, purer, and those that have the sincerest intention. We learned in the previous episode how keeping a sincere intention is more difficult than the act, and this tradition further sheds light on this as the Imam says, maintaining continuity until deeds reach purity is more difficult than performing the deed itself and in this process you aren’t looking for praise by anyone else either, rather all you are looking for is Allah’s satisfaction and happiness with you.
At the end of the hadith the Imam cites another verse of the Quran: (17:84) Everyone acts according to his way, but your Lord is most knowing of who is best guided in way.” Everyone acts according to their intentions, and it is only Allah who really knows who is sincere and who isn’t, who is on the right path and who is just wandering away.
So we see once again that the Imam says keeping one’s intentions clean is a lot more difficult than actually doing an act. One of the things highlighted in this hadith is the difficulty in keeping our intentions clean from the considerations of what others have to say to us, especially when it comes to seeking their praise and approval.
Also, at times the problem is that we corrupt our sincerity by trying to seek people’s approval when doing something, but another thing that pushes us away from maintaining our sincerity are the negative thoughts and suggestions others make for us. For example, someone who has enough money to go to Hajj may be told, you have a lot of money, you are well off, now isn’t the time to go to Hajj, you should spend and give charity to the poor instead and just postpone your Hajj, it’s not like your money is going anywhere.
Or just save up a little bit extra before you go Hajj, you’ll need to secure enough money for when you return back from Hajj, how are you going to move on with your life if you use all your money right now, how are you going to feed your children.
Factoring in these types of discouraging remarks is also a barrier to maintaining sincerity in one’s action. The poor of the world aren’t going to diminish by you paying them, they will still remain. The religion has many other means by which the poor of the society are to be assisted, whether through Zakat, Khums, the Kaffarat (penalties), endowments and many other means. Why not tell people to fulfil their obligations on those ends so that the poor are assisted, instead of telling someone to not go to Hajj.
And yeah, while you should have sufficient money to move on with your life when you return from Hajj, this doesn’t mean you fall into greed and discontent with the sufficient funds you may already have. Shaytan and the remarks of people often lead us to believe we never have sufficient money, in fact money is one of the main ways through which one’s deeds are spoiled.
As for what will happen to my children – going to Hajj doesn’t mean you are being negligent towards yourself or your family. But it also doesn’t mean you become completely hopeless and fearful of your sustenance when you’ve already done all you could as your responsibility to take care of them. The same God who’s been sustaining them from even before birth till now will continue to do so. You were just a means through which your children were being provided for and will continue to be provided for – but the real and true provider is none other than Allah (swt).
So, people can interfere with your sincerity either by causing you to believe that their praise is actually relevant, or that their discouragement is for your own well-being. We need to be very wary in this regard and not spoil our acts of worship by considering and factoring in people’s shallow opinions. Although in a later episode we’ll see how certain expectations people have can and should be taken into consideration when performing an act of worship and that these considerations are not in conflict with sincerity.
But for now, since we’ve discussed that keeping an act continuously pure with our intentions is more difficult than performing it, we want to see who are the people that can maintain such a state and condition for their intentions. In the next episode we’ll see how Imam Sadiq (a) describes those who empty their hearts from anyone other than Allah as people who possess a Sound Heart – Qalbin Salim.
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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.