By: Aang Yulius Prihatmoko
Ikhlas (sincerity) is one of the important obligations, and even is the most important in Islam. All good deeds, if not done sincerely, are rejected by Allah. Ikhlas is commanded in the Al-Quran and is the great obligation that accompanies worship. God says:
‘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 correct religion’ (Al-Bayyinah: 5)
The command of Ikhlas in the Al-Qur’an is also referred to in Q.S. Az-Zumar; 3, An-Nisa; 146, Al-Kahfi; 110 and a number of other verses both explicitly and implicitly.
‘Unquestionably, for Allah is the pure religion’. (Az-Zumar: 3)
‘Except for those who repent, correct themselves, hold fast to Allah, and are sincere in their religion for Allah, for those will be with the believers. And Allah is going to give the believers a great reward’. (An-Nisa’: 146)
‘So whoever would hope for the meeting with his Lord – let him do righteous work and not associate in the worship of his Lord anyone’. (Al-Kahfi: 110)
In language, sincerity means purifying (amhadho). Ibn Mandhur said
“Akhlasho lillah dinahu means amhadhohu (to purify it)” (Lisan Al-‘Arob juz 7 page 26).
In the Qur’an, when milk is called kholish, it means that the milk is purely free from all other elements that pollute both blood and dirt;
‘And indeed, for you in grazing livestock is a lesson. We give you drink from what is in their bellies – between excretion and blood – pure milk, palatable to drinkers’. (An-Nahl: 66)
So, based on this language meaning, when we are commanded to be sincere, it means we are ordered to purify. We are asked to purify without any other contaminating elements which make it impure. The question is: what is asked to be purified?
By paying attention to the texts in the Al-Quran and Hadith, it appears that what is demanded to be purified is none other than intention. Al-Ghazzali said;
“There is one guardian who wrote a letter to his brother saying; ‘Akhlish an-niyyah (purify intention) in your deeds, surely your little deeds is enough for you’ ”(Ihya’ Ulumiddin, juz 4 p. 378).
“Ayyub As-Sikhtiyani said; ‘Takhlishun niyyah (purifying intentions) for people who do deeds is heavier than all deeds” (Ihya Ulumiddin, juz 4, p. 378).
Purifying intentions, in this context, means to purify intentions when you want to do good simply to get the pleasure of God. That is, when a servant does good, the motivation to do that is not because he wants to be praised, does not need to be appreciated, remembered, hailed, so that his name is fragrant, or recorded in history, or to gain power, earn money, gain a position, get a woman or other worldly motives. All the good that he did was purified purely because he wanted to please God. If he has the strings attached, then the hope is only to Allah. If he pursues praise, then only God’s praise he wants. Everything just because of God, purely because of Him, not interfered with by motives other than Him.
If he visits a sick person, then his intentions are purely due to Allah, not accompanied by a desire to later be visited when sick. If he makes writing, then his intention is purely due to Allah, not accompanied by a desire to make his writing viral so that it becomes famous. Riya is rejected because it means doing good because it targets praise and appreciation from humans. Riya is opposed to sincerity, even referred to as small shirk because it combines motivation to win the pleasure of God while expecting human praise.
Ibn Kathir in his interpretation mentioned the atsar of Ubadah bin Ash-Shomit (that people who do good because they expect the pleasure of Allah while wanting praise from humans, then it is deemed not sincere and the deeds is not accepted;
“A man came to adah Ubadah bin Ash-Shomit, then said ‘Answer the question I asked. What do you think about someone who prays because he hopes for Allah and is happy to be praised? He does fasting because he hopes for Allah’s pleasure and is glad to be praised, he gives charity because he hopes for Allah’s pleasure and is glad to be praised, and he makes hajj because he hopes for Allah’s pleasure and is glad to be praised’. Ubadah replied, ‘He didn’t get anything. Since Allah says: ‘I am the best of allies. Whoever has an ally other than Me, the deeds belongs to him fully. I don’t need it’’”.(Tafsir Ibn Kathir, juz 5, p. 2015).
From this, the urgency of sincerity and the importance of arranging the heart before performing the charity seem obvious. All good deeds will be in vain if they are not purely to please God. Even though in the eyes of man he is good, but in the eyes of Allah he is bad, and in the Hereafter there is no reward for him but hell. Muslims narrated:
“From Abu Hurairah, he said: ‘I have heard the Messenger of Allah say: ‘Verily, the man who was first judged on the Day of Judgment is someone who is martyred, then is shown to him the favors that will be given to him until he knows clearly, then Allah asks: ‘What have you done in the world, O my servant?’ He replied: ‘I fought for You, O God, so that I was martyred.’ God said: ‘You are lying. Actually you fought not for Me, but for being called a brave person instead. Now you have that title.’ Then he is dumped and thrown into hell. Then someone who learned the Qur’an and taught it is brought in and then shown to him the favors that would be given to him, so that he knows clearly, Allah asked: ‘What have you done?’ He replied, ‘I have learned ilm and taught it, I also read the Qur’an for Your sake. ‘Allah said: ‘You are lying. You studied ilm and taught it and read the Qur’an to be said that you are proficient in reading, and now you have been said like that.’ Then he is dumped and thrown into hell. Then a man who was given the breadth of fortune by Allah and was given various kinds of property is brought in. Then the favors that were given to him are shown to him so that he knows clearly. Allah asked: ‘What have you done with them?’ He replied: ‘I did not miss the slightest chance of charity on your path that you pleased but I infused that property.’ Allah said: ‘You lie, you did that so you said to be a generous person, and now you have been said like that.’ Then he is dumped and thrown into hell.’“(Sahih Muslim, juz 10, p. 9).
On the contrary, a small deeds, if done with sincerity, that is done simply to make God happy, it can be the cause of someone entering heaven, as mentioned in the hadith regarding the story of forgiven prostitute for giving a dog a drink. Bukhari narrates;
قَالَ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ بَيْنَمَا كَلْبٌ يُطِيفُ بِرَكِيَّةٍ كَادَ يَقْتُلُهُ الْعَطَشُ إِذْ رَأَتْهُ بَغِيٌّ مِنْ بَغَايَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ فَنَزَعَتْ مُوقَهَا فَسَقَتْهُ فَغُفِرَ لَهَا بِهِ
“From Abu Hurairah (said; ‘Prophet ﷺ said: ‘There was a dog circling a well and almost died of thirst. A prostitute among prostitutes of Bani Isra’il saw it, then she took off her shoes (and took water with the shoes) then gave the dog a drink, so she was forgiven for her action.” (Sahih Bukhari, juz 11, p. 286).
Ibn Taimiyyah explained that the prostitute’s deeds was accepted and caused her to be forgiven because of her sincerity;
“This prostitute gave a dog a drink with sincere faith in her heart, so she is forgiven. If not, then not all prostitutes who give drinking dogs are forgiven”(Minhaj As-Sunnah An-Nabawiyyah Fi Naqdi kalami Asy-Shia Al-Qodariyyah, juz 6, p. 221).
As for achieving the level of sincerity, the arguments show that the key is to make God the peak of love by forming a zuhud attitude towards the world. Wallahua’lam.
Translated with slight modification from: