Moral Teachings of Islam- Purity of Intentions

Host:’ What is the meaning of the ikhlas?

Jamal Badawi:

The literal meaning for the ikhlas is purity.’ It is used to represent a number of things.’ In the Quran it is used to describe pure and wholesome milk (not mixed with anything).’ It is also used in the Quran to refer to purity of faith and belief.’ Indeed there is one very small yet crucial chapter in the Quran which is called Al-Ikhlas (112) which means purity and translates to:

‘1. Say: He is Allah, the One and Only;

  1. Allah, the Eternal, Absolute;
  2. He begetteth not, nor is He begotten;
  3. And there is none like unto Him.’

It is called the Chapter of Purity because it refers to the purification of the belief in God from any form of polytheism or confusion by worshipping another deity instead of God, beside God or to regard objects as intercessors between man and God.’ Our focus as a part of the moral teachings of Islam is going to be on purity of intentions.

Host:’ What does Islam regards as sincere intentions?

Jamal Badawi:

First of all, behind any action or form of behavior there are certain motives.’ What Islam regards as essential is that the motives behind what we say or do should always be directed towards God.’ They should always be directed towards the purpose of perusing the pleasure, approval and satisfaction of God.’ In our daily life through people we encounter on an individual and collective level there are always motives behind actions.’ These motives are very important because they determine the extent of enthusiasm that people show, the quality and effort that they put into what they are doing.’ It also determines the degree of excellence, tolerance and perseverance that people have.’ Some motives may be easily inferred as some may reflect selfishness, love or worship of money, need for prominence and pride but others are subtle and may not be so easily discovered.’ The individual himself many sometimes be unaware of some of the inner motives that motivate him.

In Islamic terminology the use of the term ikhlas al niyah or purity of intention refer to the inner motive whether people know what it is or not, whether they can discover it or not we know that God sees us and knows what is in our hearts.

Host:’ What if a person does a good dead without the proper intention?

Jamal Badawi:

Islam does not just look at the superficial aspect of deeds irrespective of the motives behind them.’ Indeed the way that God evaluates our deeds is not from what we do but from the intention behind it.’ There is a good example of this in the Quran in (22:37) which deals with the sacrifice of animals during the pilgrimage and says ‘It is not their meat nor their blood, that reaches Allah. it is your piety that reaches Him.” It is the intention and sincerity rather than the superficial or formalistic aspect of our behavior that is important.’ We also find in the Quran a clear reference to this in (39:2-3) ‘Verily it is We Who have revealed the Book to thee in Truth: so serve Allah, offering Him sincere devotion.’ Is it not to Allah that sincere devotion is due? But those who take for protectors other than Allah (say): ‘We only serve them in order that they may bring us nearer to Allah.’ Truly Allah will judge between them in that wherein they differ. But Allah guides not such as are false and ungrateful.” The derivative of the word ikhlas is used here to refer to the purity of intention.’ The same meaning is found in the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) where he says ‘God does not look at your bodies (what you look like) or to your possessions or property but He looks at your heart and your deeds.” This Hadith ties between intentions and good deeds narrated in Bukhari and Muslim.’ Another Hadith with the same references he says ‘Deeds will be judged in accordance with intentions and unto everyone will be a reward consistent with what he intended.

In the collection of Hadith by Muslim the Prophet (PBUH) was asked about people who sacrifice their life or offer to sacrifice their life for the defense of life or the faith.’ They asked whether the person who fights because of courage or the person who fights to boast his family, clan or nation or the person who shows off was on the path of God.’ His answer was that only those who fight and sacrifice in order that the word of God becomes supreme is regarded as a struggle in the path of God.

Host:’ When you refer to good deeds are you referring to those that have to do with the pure acts of worship?

Jamal Badawi:

Using the term pure acts of worship is very relevant here because God created mankind to worship him but worship means ones entire life.’ Pure acts of worship refer to prayers and fasting which are largely acts of personal purification between man and God.’ The answer is that good deeds are not necessarily referring to pure acts of worship.’ Our day to day activities with good intentions can be transformed from a customary act to an act of worship.’ One scholar said that intention could change acts from customary actions to the honor of worship.’ For example everybody eats whether they are believers or non- believers however if when we start we feeling of thanks to God for providing for us and we have the intention of eating to strengthen our body and strengthen our health for the purpose of fulfilling our mission on earth then it is an act of worship.’ Many of us who have wives or children feel the obligation to feed them and most people regardless of faith or philosophy.’ This very same customary act was described by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as an act of worship and charity.’ In the collection of Hadith by Bukhari the Prophet says ‘Anything that you do for the pleasure of God you will get rewarded for.’ Even the morsel of bread that you put in your wife’s mouth is also rewarded.” He generalized in a collection of Hadith by Ahmad when he said that any act can be an act of charity with good intention.

In a Hadith narrated in Muslim he says that ‘If a person constructs a building or plants a seed for the benefit of others and if anybody benefits form the building or the cultivations the person who did those acts with good intentions will get the reward till the Day of Judgment.” So if people befit form it the person who did the deed will benefit from it after his death.’ In one of the Prophets sayings he says that even if a bird comes and eats from the plans one would get part of the reward.’ In other words customary actions can be transformed into some form of worship.

Host:’ What is the opposite of ikhlas?

Jamal Badawi:

The term used for the opposite of ikhlas or purity is reya’a roughly translated as show off.’ It is something that is done to please other people, or to gain their approval or admiration instead of focusing on getting the approval and satisfaction of God.’ According to Islam this attitude of reya’a or showing off makes even good deeds void and null and in fact could result in punishment.’ Even in pure acts of worship if the person has this attitude of showing off he may lose the benefit.’ For example in the Quran in (4:142) ‘The Hypocrites – they think they are over-reaching Allah, but He will over- reach them: When they stand up to prayer, they stand without earnestness, to be seen of men, but little do they hold Allah in remembrance.’

The Quran mentions in (2:264) ‘O ye who believe! cancel not your charity by reminders of your generosity or by injury,- like those who spend their substance to be seen of men, but believe neither in Allah nor in the Last Day. They are in parable like a hard, barren rock, on which is a little soil: on it falls heavy rain, which leaves it (Just) a bare stone. They will be able to do nothing with aught they have earned. And Allah guideth not those who reject faith.” The reward for charity if the intention is not sincerely to please God could just be wash away like rain washes away soil.

In fact in one situation the Prophet (PBUH) was sitting with his companions and was describing to them things that would happen on the Day of Judgment one of which was the False Messiah.’ He was warning people against the deception of the False Messiah and then he said that there was something that he fears more than the false Messiah and he said alshirk al khafi (hidden shirk, hidden polytheism).’ The action that is done for the purpose of showing off is very dangerous.’ An example of this would be people who lengthen their prayers so that people can say ‘oh look how devoted they are.’

In another saying he said that on the Day of Judgment if anyone has done good acts for the purpose of pleasing God then he will be rewarded and will go to Paradise but those who have done good deeds for the purpose of showing off ‘let them seek their reward from other than God.” Of course on the Day of Judgment no body has any authority or power but God which means that there is no reward for them.

There is a symbolic story about a guy who entered the place o worship and started praying and he was so involved in his prayer that people around him started to comment about his devotion, sincerity and all kinds of praise.’ He heard this and felt very happy and became proud of himself and in the middle of his prayer he turned his head to them and said ‘I am fasting too!’

Host:’ Is it reya’a if someone does a deed with good intentions but was seen and felt good about it?

Jamal Badawi:

If the deed was not done so that people would admire but it happened by chance that someone saw the act and one controlled their feelings as not to become overly proud then this is not considered reya’a. In fact a similar question was raised by one of the close companions of the Prophet (PBUH) Abu Hurairah.’ Abu Hurairah asked ‘Oh Prophet of Allah what happens if when I was in my own home doing my prayers somebody came and saw me which made me feel good about it?” The Prophet said as narrated in Tirmithi said ‘May God have mercy on you Abu Hurairah.’ You received two rewards, that of doing the action in secret and in public.

Similarly in the collection of Hadith by Muslim the Prophet (PBUH) was asked whether it was bad for a person who does good deeds to be loved or admired for it.’ He replied ‘No, this is a kind of early glad tidings that is given to the believer.’

Host:’ What happens in a situation where one intends to do good but for some unforeseen reason/circumstance it was not carried out?

Jamal Badawi:

If something happened that one could not control which prevented one from carrying out the deed then one is rewarded for it anyways.’ On the authority of the Prophet (PBUH) as narrated in both Muslim and Bukhari one time he was going on a campaign against the unbelievers and some people came to offer their services to defend and participate but the Prophet could not accommodate them so they went back crying and very sad (the Quran alludes to this in (9:92)).’ Later the Prophet mentioned that there were some people whom were left behind in Medina who were with them even though they were not physically present.’ He said that whatever they were doing and wherever they went the people who were left behind shared the reward because they were kept behind for a legitimate reason.

Host:’ What if someone intended to do something wrong but never got around to doing it, is the person still punished for the intention?

Jamal Badawi:

Out of the generosity of God it is not exactly the same situation as above.’ There is a beautiful saying of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) that shows the grace of God.’ It is narrated in several books of Hadith that the Prophet (PBUH) said that whomever intended to do something good but could not, would find it written in his record as one good deed; if the person had the intention to do a good deed and was able to carry it out he would get a reward of 10 to 700 times its worth.’ On the other hand if someone had the intention of doing something evil and one changes their mind this person is not punished but rewarded for not doing it as one reward.’ If one has the intention of doing something wrong and is able to carry it out it is written as one negative point.

Host:’ How can one improve on the question of purity?

Jamal Badawi:

First of all, one has to make sure that their action is legitimate and not forbidden.’ There are however no good intentions in doing bad things.’ Noble intentions should also have noble objections.’ Ends do not justify means in accordance to Islam.’ Second, one has to realize that God is present at all times and that whatever we do or think He is aware of them.’ An example is found in (3:29) ‘Say: “Whether ye hide what is in your hearts or reveal it, Allah knows it all: He knows what is in the heavens, and what is on earth. And Allah has power over all things.” Thirdly, we should develop a habit of giving thought to what we are doing before we do it.’ The Prophet (PBUH) indicated that if a person is seeking knowledge to please God or to achieve his mission on earth then he is rewarded for it.’ Whenever we do acts of cherty we have to remember that it is not people’s approval or pleasure that we are seeking but rather the pleasure of God.’ The Quran refers to this in (76:9).’ More particularly people who are engaged in religious education should remember the saying of the Prophet (PBUH) that in the latter days there will be three types of people:’ those who appear to be pious for the sake of God and people who appear to be pious in order to show off and people who appear to be pious only to get money from others.’ He said all of these will be in hell fire except for those who do it sincerely and with good intentions.

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