It is narrated on the authority of Amirul Mu’minin, Abu Hafs ‘Umar bin al-Khattab (ra) who said:
I heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) say: “Actions are (judged) by motives (niyyah), so each man will have what he intended. Thus, he whose migration (hijrah) was to Allah and His Messenger, his migration is to Allah and His Messenger; but he whose migration was for some worldly thing he might gain, or for a wife he might marry, his migration is to that for which he migrated.” [Bukhari & Muslim]
This hadith was said by the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, at the time when a man emigrated from Makkah to Madinah during the Hijrah for the sake of marrying someone and not for the sake of Islam. It is considered to be one of the greatest hadiths in Islam.
Traditionally, Muslim scholars chose to begin their works by quoting this hadîth, or report, from the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad – Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him. Here is a brief commentary taken from Ibn Rajab’s Jâmi’ Al-‘Ulûm wa Al-Hikam, in which he explains the entire Forty Hadîth collection of Al-Nawawi:
Imâm Al-Bukhârî (as Al-Nawawi later did in his Forty Hadîth) begins his Sahîh collection with this hadîth, reminding us that any deed through which Allah’s pleasure is not sought is futile; it will bear no fruits in this life or the hereafter.
‘Abd Al-Rahmân b. Mahdî, the great scholar of hadîth, said, “If I were to compile a work in chapters, I would place this hadîth at the beginning of each one.” He also said, “Whoever wishes to author a book, he should begin with the hadîth about intentions.”
This hadîth forms a fundamental principle of Islâm and an axis around which this way of life revolves.
It is reported that Imâm Al-Shâfi’î said, “This hadîth constitutes a third of all knowledge, and it relates to seventy areas of fiqh (correct understanding of the religion).”
It is reported from Imâm Ahmad that he said, “The foundations of Islâm are upon three hadîth: the one reported by ‘Umar – ‘Actions are but by intentions’, the one reported by ‘Âishah – ‘Whoever does a deed that does not conform to our commands will have it rejected’ and the one reported by Al-Nu’mân b. Bashîr – ‘The halâl and harâm are clear…’”
This hadîth teaches us the principle that acceptance of our deeds and whether or not they are regarded as righteous depends primarily on what the intention behind them is. If the intention is good and pure – to receive Allah’s pleasure and reward, the deed is righteous. Otherwise the deed is futile and false. This is the first thing that needs to be dealt with.
The second condition which needs to be met for our deeds to be accepted by Allah is that they should be in conformity with Islâm’s true teachings as taught to us by the Prophet – peace and blessing be upon him – and as understood and applied by the Righteous Predecessors. Hence, the Prophet stated:
“Ikhlas (sincerity) is the servants establishing his worship sincerely towards Allah in his words, acts and in his intentions.” saheeh
Niyyah (Intention) and Ikhlas (sincerity) form the basis of every action that we do in our lives. It is based on these that your actions shall be accepted or rejected by Allah. If this is not in place, then every act we do is a waste and will not benefit us in our Akhirah.
This is precisely why one needs to learn about Niyyah (intention) and Ikhlas (sincerity) so that our good deeds are recorded properly and we get benefit out of it in Akhirah.
Niyyah (intention) has two meanings:
- The intention before an ibadah (e.g. prayer)
- The willingness
The second meaning (2) is what is meant in this hadith.
The Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, starts the hadith with the principle (“Actions are judged by intentions”) and then gives three examples. This is the methodology of the Prophet, sallallahu’alayhi wasallam. The examples help illustrate the principle so that it is easier for people to understand and they can apply the principle to other similar situations. The three examples consist of one of good intention (migration for the sake of Allah and His Messenger) and two of bad intentions (migration for the sake of worldly gains or for marriage).
This hadith emphasises ikhlas (sincerity – to be truthful and honest to Allah alone, performing an act solely for Allah’s sake whereby no other witness except Allah is sought). Ikhlas is one of the conditions of accepting good deeds. The other condition is that the actions must be done in accordance with the Shariah.
This can be seen in the shahadah :
-> “I bear witness that there is no god but Allah” is the ikhlas – ensuring that we do things for the sake of Allah and Allah alone.
“Those who have iman and confuse not their iman with injustice. For them there will be security and they are the rightly guided.” [Al-Qur’an 6:82]
Injustice here means shirk as was explained by the Messenger (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) to the companions (radiallahu anhum) and as has been recorded by Imam al-Bukhari in the Kitab at-Tafsir of his Sahih.
“I bear witness that Mohammed is the Messenger of Allah” – the Sunnah is the manifestation of the Quran – the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, is our example, our best model to follow. Following his Sunnah in our ibadah, Akhlaq (ethics), and Muamalat (dealings) ensures that we are acting in accordance with the Shariah.
Thus, the shahadah shows us the conditions for accepting a deed or performing an action: (a) it should be for the sake of Allah because He is the only One we worship, and (b) it should be in accordance with the Shariah.
Allah has laid down a condition for the perfection of iman, which gives its possessor security, guidance and freedom from shirk and that is ikhlas; the abundance of which is necessary for ibadah to be accepted. The Exalted has said:
“And they were not commanded except with this: that they should worship Allah, being completely sincere in the Din.” [Al-Qur’an 98:5]
And the Exalted also said:
“Say: Indeed I have been commanded to worship Allah making the Deen sincerely for Him alone.” [Al-Qur’an 39:11]
And there is also the Qudsi Hadith reported by Muslim: “I am so self-sufficient that I am in no need of having partners. Thus, whoever does an action for someone else’s sake as well as Mine, will have that action rejected by Me to him whom he associated with Me.” [Reported by Muslim]
To achieve ikhlas, we have to avoid shirk (associating others with Allah, which causes insincerity). Al-Imam al-Harawi said the root cause for insincerity (or shirk) is self-desire (alhawa). And this amongst many other shari reasons is why we awarn brothers to avoid the gatherings of ahlul bidati wal hawa Therefore no action should be done because of self-desire.
Imam Ibnul Qayyim states that there are 7 types of self-desires:-
- To make oneself appear good in the hearts of others
- To seek the praises of others
- To avoid being blamed by others
- To seek the glorification of others
- To seek the wealth/money of others
- To seek the services or love of others
- To seek the help of others for oneself
Ways to obtain ikhlas:
There are some other useful definitions of ikhlas:
- It is the freedom of the desire for nearness to Allah from every blemish or impurity;
- It is singling out Allah with one’s intention in all acts of worship;
- It is forgetting the sight of the creation by continual observance of the Creator; and
- It is to hide your good deeds just like you would hide your evil deeds.
So be warned – my brothers – that no action is acceptable to Allah if somebody else is given a share in it. Reflect carefully upon the words of Yusuf ibn al-Husayn ar-Razi:
In Jami ul-‘Ulum wal-Hikam Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali said: “Indeed the hardest thing (to achieve) in this world is ikhlas. How many times have I struggled to extinguish riya’ (showing off) from my heart except that it only appeared again in a different colour.”
Also reflect upon the words narrated by Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi in his Mukhtasir Minhaj al-Qasidin, “Indeed mankind, all of them, are destroyed except those with knowledge and all those with knowledge are destroyed except those who act upon it and all those who act are destroyed except those who are sincere in their action and all those who are sincere are in great danger (of associating other than Allah in their actions).”
-> Do righteous deeds – the more good deeds we do and hence get closer to Allah, the more sincere we will be.
-> Before we do any deed we should firstly seek knowledge (ilm) – our actions/deeds should be guided by knowledge so that we do them in accordance to the Shariah.
-> Do not give false impressions – do not make others believe that an action we did was good when it was not.
-> Al-Imam Ahmad said: Before you do anything, check your intention (niyyah) – ask yourself before performing an action: “Is it for the sake of Allah?”
Ibnu al-Qayyim also says: Any action we do is subject to three defects:
- Being conscious that others are observing our actions
- Seeking a return (benefit/reward) for the action
- Being satisfied with the action
1) If we go to the Masjid for the salah and we are early, arriving before the Imam and finding a place in the first saff, we should not be proud of ourselves and think of ourselves being better than others. We should praise Allah for enabling us to go to the Masjid and for being able to perform the salah without any difficulties.
2) After every salah, we should tell ourselves that we could have performed it better and try to improve in our next salah. So that every salawat performed is done like its our last ever. Insha Allah we will look at things that contradict ikhlas in the second khutbah.
There are four things that contradict ikhlas:
- Ma’siat – committing sins – this will weaken our ikhlas
- Shirk – associating others with Allah
- Riya’ – performing an ibadah with the intention of showing off to others
- Nifaq – hypocrisy
Even though we must always make sure that our actions do not deviate from ikhlas, there are actions, which are automatically considered that of good intentions. For example, seeking knowledge in Islam, helping the community, doing da’wah, etc.
Our actions are undermined by our intentions – whether they are good intentions or bad intentions. Therefore we should always check our intentions before we do or say anything. We must make sure that the action is for the sake of Allah so that it is accepted by Allah and that we will be rewarded for it, in sha Allah.
Harim b. Hayyān was one of the Successors, deputized by ‘Umar, known for his devoutness – Allāh have mercy on him – said:
Never does the servant turn wholeheartedly to Allāh except that Allāh turns the hearts of the believers to him, providing him their love. (Al-Dhahabī, Siyar A’lām Al-Nubalā` 4:49.)
It is reported that the son of Al-Fudayl b. ‘Ayyâd – Allâh have mercy on him – said to his father: “Father! How sweet (beautiful) the speech of the Companions is! [Al-Fudayl] said, “Son, do you know why it was so sweet?” He replied, “No father, I do not.” He said, “Because they sought Allâh the Exalted when they spoke.” (Al-Bayhaqî, Shu’ab Al-îmân 2:299)
Nu’aym b. ‘Abdillah, the scribe of the righteous Caliph ‘Umar b. ‘Abd Al-‘Azîz – Allah have mercy on him, narrates that ‘Umar b. ‘Abd Al-‘Azîz said: ”The fear of showing off and vying with others prevents me from saying much of what could be said.”
Know also – brothers rahimakumullaaah- that ikhlas is not correct until you are truthful in your speech, action, striving and while you desire nothing but the Face of Allah and the Home of the Hereafter. The Exalted said:
“And whoever desires the Hereafter and strives for it as it should be strived for while being a believer then his striving will be acknowledged (rewarded).” [Al-Qur’an 17:19]
The book, the Sunnah and the ijma of the Ummah necessitate being sincere (Ikhlas) in the acts and words. Allah Almighty accepts only the ibadah, which is performed with sincere niyyah (intention), in a devout manner and to aim attaining His consent.
For this reason the Salaf-us Saalih put extreme effort in to devoting their intentions. They accepted ikhlas as something which is more valuable than anything else and something which is the heaviest thing against the nafs. This was sourced from them knowing Allah Almighty, and them knowing the conditions, which are necessary, so that Allah Almighty accepts an act and them knowing the reasons which could cause an act to be destroyed.
They gave so much importance on ikhlas, due to their willing to clean their acts from doubts which may completely destroy or reduce the reward of their acts.