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Sincerity: The Path

By Mohammad Bibi | Third Year Seminary Student

Muslims notably reiterate the importance of sincerity towards God in their intentions as the essential quality of what qualifies one to be a complete devotee to their Master following their submission to Him. A brief survey of the first twelve Prophetic narrations that Imam Nawawi compiled in his “Gardens of the Righteous” concisely demonstrates the necessity and reality of correcting one’s intentions, namely for God’s pleasure, as a fundamental aspect of Islam’s teachings. It is key to mention that Muslims constantly highlight the importance of sincerity because, essentially, Islam is an active and comprehensive way of life, inwardly and outwardly. Just as every intended movement of a person’s limbs have reasons that directed them, the Muslim recognizes that, upon his return and being held to account before God, all of his deeds will be rewarded according to those reasons. Upon these points, what isn’t usually mentioned in these reminders is how the principle of sincerity is entirely qualified in reality, always the best recourse and means of blessings.

Human interactions are fundamentally made up of two things: give and take. Yet, when we observe the ‘giving’ aspect of those interactions, we find that that even those are usually a means of receiving something in return. For example, although a person who feeds a hungry child on the street may be giving something for apparently nothing in return, we find that it may have been that they were giving the food as a means of alleviating their own feeling of distress from what they were witnessing. In brief, it is simply impossible to characterize a human with total selflessness—and that is not to say that this is something entirely bad. What matters is ‘why?’ Human actions are thus governed by the reasons that propel them, namely, the need to seek some benefit or repel some harm, and the firm intentions that initiate them. For the Muslim who has internalized the core principles of Islam, he becomes deeply aware of these aspects of his being because Islam’s teachings calls upon them to become upright—thus beginning his journey to try and rectify himself for the correct reason.

While giving advice to the young Abdullah ibn Abbas, the Messenger of God said, “Know that if the community gathered on the intent of trying to benefit you with something, they would not benefit you with anything other than that which God had already written for you; and if they gathered on the intent of trying to harm you with something, they would not harm you with anything other than that which God had already written would befall you.”[1] Knowing this, the Muslim internalizes that the intentions behind his actions should be directed towards God alone for the acquirement of a benefit or refuge, because God is the reason behind everything, while everything other than Him is simply the means which God has placed in his path.

Additionally, because the Muslim is cognizant of God being “well aware of His servants and watchful over them”[2], the manner in which he carries out those actions are completed in the best of ways. This is because he also recognizes that “God commands justice, doing good (ihsan)”[3], “loves those who do good (al-muhsinin)”[4] and “will reward such people according to the best of their actions.”[5] When the angel Gabriel came to the Prophet and his Companions disguised as a man to teach them aspects of the religion, he asked the Prophet about Ihsan[6] and the Prophet replied, “It is that you serve God as though you could see Him, and although you cannot see Him; He sees you.” If the person has internalized all of these, it allows us to begin to step into the hall of the Muslim’s cognitive framework. Resembling a glass vessel that is polished “like a glittering star,”[7] illuminated and directed by the light of revelation, the Muslim has a very unique lens through which he sees reality. It all comes down to the question of ‘why?’ and the Muslim is taught all the reasons he needs to know for his existence and purpose in that regard, which is: he is created by God, should live to the best of his ability for the sake of God and will ultimately return to God for reckoning. All of which compels him to dedicate all of his undertakings to the only True Benefactor, which also directs his limbs towards doing things in the manner that is pleasing to God.

In this way, the Muslim embodies taqwa: the characteristic that is likened to the behavior one manifests while walking through a path that has thorny bushes on either side. It is also said that the one who manifests taqwa is given the name ‘muttaqi’ because they leave off all of those things which are irrelevant or threatening to their commitment and devotion to God so much so that they become relatively free of anything but their focus on getting to God safely, “with a heart devoted to Him.”[8] This is why God prescribed fasting for the Muslim community. It is so that they learn through practice what it means to leave off what humans normally have in order to focus on God alone; which is also a means for a heightened spiritual experience because the self becomes humbled when it’s appetites are denied, allowing the soul to connect to what was hidden beneath the sludge of the self’s mass consumption. This clarification within the individual allows him to see reality clearly, ready to let go of the excesses that hold him back, and primarily direct himself towards a single objective.

It should also be clarified that intentions are actions of the heart and not of, say, the tongue. God’s Messenger stated that, “Actions are [considered] according to intentions; and surely, every person is rewarded for what they’ve intended. So whoever’s migration was towards God and His Messenger, then his migration was for God and His Messenger; and whoever’s migration was towards acquiring some worldly matter or a woman to marry, then his migration was for what he migrated towards.”[9] This hadith sets the foundation for how intentions are categorized and how they will be rewarded accordingly. In clarifying how God takes those intentions to account, the Messenger said, “God has written out the good deeds and the bad deeds and then made that clear: so whoever seriously intends a good deed and does not do it, God—blessed and high is He—records it with Himself as a full good deed. If the person seriously intends it and does it, God records it as ten good deeds, up to seven hundred times more or much more. Now, if the person seriously intends a bad deed and does not do it, God records it with Himself as a full good deed. If the person seriously intends it and does it, God records it as one bad deed.”[10] Here the Muslim also learns of the vast grace and bounty of God and His total ability. God not only rewards the actions that are completed, but even the ones intended; and since He is the only one who knows all the secrets of a person’s heart, the ones that were seriously intended but never done, He records “with Himself.” God Himself says, “Whatever good you store up for yourselves, you will find it with God: He sees everything you do.”[11] The significance here is that “everyone on earth perishes; all that remains is the Face of your Lord, full of majesty, bestowing honour.” God is everlasting and infinite while everything other than Him is finite and will perish by His will. As the Muslim comprehends all of these principles and embodies them, he becomes a master of the world to which he is it’s successor because he is liberated from all of that which will all be reduced to “barren dust”[12]. He then turns in reliance to The Living, The Self-Existing who disposes the affairs of His creation. This allows man to rake in plenty of reward by simply intending—and the outcome of everything is with God.

Big or small, now the Muslim is ready to take on any task in the best of ways. He may begin with or in the name of God, knowing that it is in and of itself “blessed”[13], seeking His blessings, assistance and protection through it for whatever it is that he will embark. If he wants to put some fragrance on to smell pleasant in the presence of others—following the tradition of the Prophet—but forgets, he gets the reward for that regardless and will find it with God. The Muslim will also approach greater life choices with responsibility and caution, placing his trust in God. For example, if he intends on considering marriage—a relatively relatable example—he does so intelligently knowing that God is fully aware of him before he approaches it, while he is engaged in the relationship, and how he carries it out. This is because he is conscious of the fact that he will return to God to answer about how he had behaved in such a delicate responsibility and if he fulfilled the rights of those involved to the best of his ability. The contrast of this would be the deficient relationships that are built with the intention of simply filling a void, conforming to society or such; the foundations of which are built upon collecting common interests like music, movies and hobbies in this portfolio of what “makes up a relationship.” Although these are some aspects of a healthy relationship, they quickly wither away; and so within a short time, when all of those interests dissipate, just as quickly as new trends come and go, and the going gets tough between the couple, the couple is left wondering: why did they get involved with each other in the first place? When they find that the reason and pillar that they founded the relationship upon was flimsy in and of itself, they leave each other broken and abused. Yet, if things ever get rough for the Muslim, who began with God in mind and established his relationship on that, and everything around him seems to fall apart, he recognizes that he can always rely on God who never falls apart—He is far above any such description! This would be far more enhanced if both sides are well aware of their Lord: because in between the ebb and flow of their good and rough times, they will always have “God’s rope”[14] to hold onto. Even if the Muslim’s relationship resulted in a divorce, he recognizes that he must do so honorably and respectfully because his relationship with God is still there. In this way, wherever the Muslim turns or is directed: “there is His (God’s) Face.”[15] God Almighty says, “Whoever directs himself (literally ‘his face’) wholly to God and does good work has grasped the surest handhold, for the outcome of everything is with God.”[16]

This world is a bridge, a means to cross over to the Next World. It would be ridiculous for a person to stop half-way and become so infatuated with it that he would take residency on it and begin to build upon it as though he would live on it forever. Death is right around the corner for every person—what a short time it is that we will spend above this soil! How long a time it is that we will spend underneath it! A person who passes by a plot of dead land wouldn’t imagine that the land had any potential for plant life or that there are even seeds in the soil. Yet, when it rains over the land, plants begin to bud. What of man when he is planted into the earth (i.e. his grave)? “This is how the dead will emerge [from their graves].”[17] God is surely able to bring “the dead back to life”[18]. Taking Abdullah ibn Umar by the shoulder, the Prophet told him, “Be in this world as though you were a stranger or a person traversing a path.”[19] The Muslim above all recognizes that whatever happens in this world, it is not the end. So long as he has belief, places his trust in his Lord, expects His reward and grace on the Last Day, he never has anything to lose: “Gardens graced with flowing streams, there to remain for ever”[20].

Meditating on these points will bring to light why the Muslim has true, wholesome reason for his faith and sincerity towards his Creator. His entire being is completed and nothing of his journey in this life is without direction. His Islam is completed and not contradicted by the external or internal world. No matter where the Muslim turns, his direction is one: God. All that matters is God’s pleasure and acceptance, because everything else is in accordance to what He wills and allows to be. Furthermore, the Muslim is also pleased with God and content with whatever He decrees. The Prophet said, “How interesting is the affair of the believer! All of his affairs are good for him—and this applies only to the believer. If prosperity reaches him, he expresses gratitude [to God] which is good for him. If adversity befalls him, he endures it patiently which is good for him.”[21] God also gives and takes in life, and the believer, out the completion of his faith, has two responses and one principle that are beneficial to him either way and will be rewarded by God if he responds accordingly: he is either grateful or patient and is always optimistic. God is perfectly wise, just, and compassionate; while anyone who relies on other than Him is truly the loser in this world and the next. When a person aligns themselves with reality, everything is good; while those who try their utmost to deny or fight against their nature will always find misery and must either turn back, submitting to The Truth, or eventually become the source of their own peril. The Muslim who works to align himself on every level of his being to God is indeed traversing on the Straight Path; by which, God becomes his ally and source of blessings. Suitably, that person who does their utmost to follow in the blessed footsteps of God’s Messenger, who was commanded to say, “My worship and sacrifice, my life and death, are all for God, Lord of all the Worlds;”[22] knows what it means to say, “[Our life] takes its colour from God, and who gives a better colour than God? It is Him we serve.”[23]

  1. Tirmidhi
  2. Qur’an 42:27
  3. Qur’an 16:90
  4. Qur’an 3:134 
  5. Qur’an 24:38
  6. Ihsan is loosely translated as excellence 
  7. Qur’an 24:35
  8. Qur’an 26:89
  9. Sahih Bukhari 
  10. Sahih Bukhari
  11. Qur’an 2:110 
  12. Qur’an 18:8 
  13. Qur’an 55:78
  14. Qur’an 3:103
  15. Qur’an 2:115
  16. Qur’an 31:22
  17. Qur’an 50:11
  18. Qur’an 22:6
  19. Sahih Bukhari 
  20. Qur’an 4:122
  21. Muslim 
  22. Qur’an 6:162
  23. Qur’an 2:138
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