Ikhlaaŝ means making one’s life so Allaah-centred that one’s obedience, actions and intentions become sincerely, purely and exclusively for Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala.
Like Taqwa, Ikhlaaŝ is change in attitude and a paradigm shift brought on by Eeman and the remembrance of Allaah. Thus, it is also a corollary of faith. True faith in Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala with proper understanding of our relationship to Him makes a believer dedicate one’s obedience, servitude and slavery exclusively to Allaah, our only Master and Owner. Obedience to anyone else becomes subservient to the obedience to Allaah and confined to the limits and forms allowed by Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala. This Ikhlaaŝ makes a believer Allaah-centred so that every aspect of his individual or societal life is determined by Allaah’s Deen and revolves around His commands. So much so that everything the believer does is done sincerely and purely for the sake and pleasure of Allaah and that seeking Allaah’s pleasure determines one’s activities, interests, references and priorities. Following are some examples from the Qur-aan and Hadeeth emphasizing this Ikhlaaŝ and indicating that Eeman without Ikhlaaŝ is not complete:
Say! My Lord has guided me to the straight path – rightly-focussed (Allaah-centred) Deen which was adopted by Ibraaheem as his exclusive paradigm, and he was not a Mushrik (he did not mix it or equate with any other ideologies). Say! Indeed my Ŝalaah (all formal acts of worship), my rites of sacrifice and servitude, my living and my dying are all solely for Allaah, the Lord of the worlds.
“He perfected his faith who loves only for Allaah, dislikes only for Allaah, gives only for Allaah and refuses only for Allaah.”
“No one can taste the sweetness of the faith unless and until: He loves a person just for the sake of Allaah; he prefers to be thrown in the fire rather than returning to disbelief after Allaah has rescued him from it, he loves Allaah and His Messenger more than anything/anyone else in the world.”
“None of you can be a believer until his aspirations become subservient to what I have brought.”
“None of you can be a believer until I become more beloved to him than his father, his mother and the whole mankind.”
Ikhlaaŝ is one of the liberating attitudes that Eeman brings. It liberates the believer from being impacted upon by the attitudes and reactions of people to a believer’s Islamic behaviour and lifestyle. Regardless of what people think or how they react, a believer is not influenced by their attitude or concerned about their reaction in any way because his only focus is Allaah’s pleasure and approval.
Ikhlaaŝ is the essence of Islam and, like Taqwa, it is Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala’s right on believers:
We have sent down the Book with conclusive truth to you, so serve Allaah like a slave, making Deen exclusive for Him (obeying Him exclusively). Mind it! Exclusive, sincere obedience is Allaah’s due…
Say: I have been commanded to serve Allaah like a slave, obeying Him exclusively; and I have been commanded to be first and foremost of those who submit (Muslims).
Only those can save themselves from severe punishment (for hypocrisy) who: Repent, reform themselves, hold tightly to Allaah and make their obedience exclusive to Allaah. Only then, they will be counted with the believers.
And they were commanded only to serve Allaah like slaves obeying Him exclusively, being true and sincere.
People, who do not have the proper understanding of Islam and are influenced about un-Islamic paradigms of religion, may think that Ikhlaaŝ encourages abandoning the world and concentrating on “acts of worship”. Far from it. Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala does not want Muslims to be hermits. He, in fact, does not allow them to abandon living normally in the world. He wants people to enjoy the goodness of life staying within the limits he has indicated. However, whatever a Muslim does in his personal life or collective life in the society must be done purely for Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala and strictly according to His commandment.
Even the tasks we perform for our day-to-day personal living must be done with the intention of obeying and pleasing Allaah. If done with that mindset and with that intention in mind, they are all counted as acts of obedience performed in slavery of Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala. When a person makes a conscious decision for every act one undertakes to be for Allaah, it transforms very mundane acts of daily life like eating, exercising, sleeping, earning livelihood, conjugal relations with spouses, shopping for necessities, tending to one’s children or playing with them, spending quality time with family, etc. into acts of obedience. Naturally when they are done for Allaah, they will also be done the way Allaah wants them to be done. For example, Allaah tells people to enjoy food, saying, ” …. Eat, drink but do not be excessive or wasteful” (Al A`raaf 7:31) Over-eating, consuming things that hurt one’s health or taking big portions and then throwing them in garbage will all be excessive or wasteful activities. Hence, a person enjoying food for Allaah will start with His name, eat only what is good for the health, in addition to its good taste, flavour and deliciousness. He will eat only in reasonable quantity, without over-eating and without wasting. And he will finish by thanking Allaah for making it possible and available for us to enjoy. Thus, an intention to obey Allaah and performing the action according to the teachings of Islam has transformed a mundane activity into an act of Allaah’s obedience that has its physical health benefits as well.
This is just one example to show how an ordinary act of living becomes an act of Allaah’s obedience in Islam through the purity of intention for Allaah SWT. It applies to our collective life in the same way. Whether it pertains to the matters of community, running of the country, maintaining law and order, establishing peace and justice, economic policy, international relations, etc. all these matters in all affairs of life must be performed in obedience to Allaah and for His pleasure only. This is how life becomes a life of ‘Ibaadah of Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala..
It must, however, be clearly understood that dedicating our obedience in all of our individual and collective affairs exclusively to Allaah and making all our actions purely for Allaah includes the intentions and motives behind those actions. If the motive or intention behind our actions is not purely and exclusively for Allaah, Ikhlaaŝ is not achieved. Rather, when the intention is not pure for Allaah, even a great act of worship is reduced to an exercise in futility. A person asked the Messenger of Allaah, Sall Allaahu `alayhi wa sallam: “If we donate money to earn a good name in the society, will we be rewarded for it?” The Prophet responded negatively. Then the person asked, “If we intend to gain good name as well as Allaah’s reward, then?” The Prophet, Sall Allaahu `alayhi wa sallaam replied, “Allaah does not accept unless it is purely for Him.” And he recited the first verse quoted above: Mind it! Exclusive, sincere obedience is Allaah’s due.
The following famous Ĥadeeth explains this point very well:
“The value of actions is determined by the intentions behind them. If a person migrated only for Allaah and His Messenger, his Hijrah (migration) will be rewarded as being for Allaah and His Messenger. But, if a person migrated for a task he wanted to accomplish or a woman he wanted to marry, then his Hijrah (migration) will be considered only for the intended purpose.”
Hijrah was an extremely difficult act that required a huge sacrifice from the believers, where people would leave their home, wealth, kith and kin, friends and everything else behind them and move to Madeenah to be with the Prophet, Sall Allaahu `alayhi wa sallam and the Muslim community in a strange land among strangers. Considering the tribal nature of the society it was the ultimate act of sacrifice that could be performed short of giving one’s life. Hence it was the most rewarding act in Islam. This Hadeeth explains that even such a wonderful act of worship is valueless, if it was not done purely for Allaah and His Messenger.
The other examples are:
A person asked the Prophet, Sall Allaahu `alayhi wa sallam and sought his opinion about someone who participates in a battle to seek Allaah’s reward as well as recognition in the world, what will be his reward? The Prophet replied, “There will be nothing for him.” He repeated the question three times and the Prophet gave the same response. Then the Prophet said, “Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala does not accept an action unless it is purely for Him and for seeking His pleasure.”
‘Abdullaah Ibn ‘Amr Ibn ‘Aaŝ asked the Prophet, Sall Allaahu `alayhi wa sallam about Jihaad and battle. He responded: “O ‘Abdullaah, if you fought steadfastly, only for Allaah’s rewards, Allaah will raise you exactly as steadfast fighter who only expected Allaah’s reward; however, if you fought to show off and to brag, Allaah will raise you as such. O ‘Abdullaah whatever your attitude was while fighting or being killed, in that condition Allaah will raise you.”
Once people were talking about Dajjaal, the false Christ, in the Masjid when the Messenger of Allaah, Sall Allaahu `alayhi wa sallam came out of his quarters. He asked, “Should I tell you something more dangerous than Dajjaal?” Then he explained: “It is the hidden Shirk, such as when a person who is praying increases the duration of his prayer because someone is watching him.”
Also consider this narration in which the Prophet, Sall Allaahu `alayhi wa sallaam gave examples of three people:
“The first person to be decreed upon on the Day of Judgment will be a martyr. When he will be brought, Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala will recount his blessings, which he will acknowledge. Allaah will ask him, “So how did you react to them?” He will say, “I fought for you until I was martyred.” Allaah will say, “You have lied. You fought so that you are called a brave man, which you were called.” His matter will be decreed and he will be dragged away on his face into the fire.
The second will be a person who learnt and taught the knowledge and the Qur-aan. When he will be brought, Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala will recount his blessings, which he will acknowledge. Allaah will ask him, “So how did you react to them?” He will say, “I learnt and taught the knowledge and read the Qur-aan for your sake.” Allaah will say, “You have lied. You learnt the knowledge so that you are known as a scholar and you recited the Qur-aan so that you are known as Qaari, which you were called.” Then his matter will be decreed and he will be dragged away on his face into the fire.
The third will be a person who was bestowed generously by Allaah and was granted all kind of wealth. When he will be brought, Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala will recount his blessings, which he will acknowledge. Allaah will ask him, “So how did you react to them?” He will say, “I did spend for your sake on every cause for which you liked the money to be spent.” Allaah will say, “You have lied. You did so that you are known as generous, which you were called.” Then his matter will be decreed and he will be dragged away on his face into the fire.
The fact that the consequences in the hereafter will all be based on the motives and intentions behind the action is further explained by the following:
The Messenger of Allaah, Sall Allaahu `alayhi wa sallaam said, “People will be resurrected on their intentions.”
“Verily, Allaah does not look at (give any consideration to) your looks and your wealth, but your hearts (intentions) and your deeds.”
Looking at hearts indicates that He sees if your heart is in the right place or not, or in other words, if your intentions are purely for Allaah or not. Looking at both hearts and deeds indicates that none of them in itself is enough. Both have to be right. Not only does the intention have to be right but also the action. Wrong actions undertaken with the best of intentions will neither be appreciated nor useful. Similarly, the best of actions undertaken with the wrong intention will also be useless in bringing reward from Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala. Hence, actions must be those approved of by Allaah and they must be undertaken with pure intentions for the pleasure of Allaah SWT.
It is for this reason that we are taught to make a sincere intention in our heart for everything we do for Allaah. And to help people remember making a sincere intention in the heart, some words have been suggested that people should recite before performing actions. It is purity of this intention behind our actions that makes our whole life as ‘Ibaadah.
Instead of being done purely for the pleasure of Allaah, if a good act is performed to show off, it is considered Shirk:
“Who prays to show off, he commits Shirk (worshipping others in addition to Allaah); who fasts to show off, he commits Shirk; and who gives charity to show off, he commits Shirk.”
“From all that I am worried about you, the most I am worried about is the minor Shirk”. When asked what it is, he explained, “Ar-Riyaa (showing off)”.
‘Umar Ibn Khaŧŧab once found Mu’aadz crying at the grave of the Prophet, Sall Allaahu `alayhi wa sallaam. When asked for the reason for his crying, he said, “I am crying because of what the Prophet had said: ‘Even a slight Riyaa (showing off) is Shirk.‘”
The Prophet, Sall Allaahu `alayhi wa sallam related Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala’s warning, “Of all those who are joined in worship (Shurakaa), I am the most shirk-averse. So if anyone performs a deed with any other intention along with Me, I reject both him and his shirk.” In another version, it says, “I disavow it completely. It is for whatever other intention there was.”
And that is why there will be severe punishment for those who do good deeds only to show off:
Talking about Jabalul Ĥuzn, an area of Jahannam so dreadful that even Jahannam itself seeks Allaah’s refuge from it 400 times daily, the Messenger of Allaah, Sall Allaahu `alayhi wa sallaam said, that it is for those “Great and frequent reciters of the Qur-aan who perform the religious deeds just for showing off.”
The Prophet Sall Allaahu `alayhi wa sallam said, “There is a valley in Jahannam from which it itself seeks Allaah’s refuge 400 times every day. It has been prepared for those who show off from the Ummah of Muĥammad: Scholar of Allaah’s book, giver of charity to people, Haajji of House of Allaah, and one who goes out in the way of Allaah.”
However, if a person’s motive for an action is pure for Allaah but people praise his action, it remains a rewarding action for the doer on account of his purity of intention:
The Messenger of Allaah, Sall Allaahu `alayhi wa sallaam was asked, “What if someone is praised or loved by people because of his good deeds.” He responded, “That is the good news in this world for the rewards in the Hereafter.”
The purity of intention and motive for Allaah’s pleasure determines the quality of the action; and it is the quality of the actions, rather than quantity that determine one’s success as a believer:
When Mu’aadz asked the Prophet, Sall Allaahu `alayhi wa sallaam for advice, he told him, “Dedicate your Deen purely and sincerely for Allaah, then even a little action will be enough for you (your salvation).”
A person who has a good intention earns reward even if he is unable to fulfill his intention:
“If a person goes to bed with sincere intention of getting up for Salaah of Tahajjud, but was overtaken by sleep so that could not get up until Fajr, he will be credited for what he intended and the sleep will be counted as a bonus from his Lord.”
When returning from Tabook, the prophet said, “There are some people who stayed in Madeenah, but they were with us traveling through all the valleys or passes that we journeyed through, they were held back for valid reasons.”
Once a person has Ikhlaaŝ for Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala, His attitude becomes sincere, positive, loyal and well-wishing not only towards Allaah but also towards His Messenger, Sall Allaahu `alayhi wa sallaam and all Muslims:
Tameem Ad-Daari reported that the Prophet, Sall Allaahu `alayhi wa sallaam repeated three times, “Deen is Naseeĥa (sincerity, fidelity and genuine well-wishing).” We asked, “For who?” He said, “For Allaah, His Messenger, for His Book, for Muslim leadership and for common Muslims.”
 Reported by Ibn Mardooyah from Yazeed Ar-Raqqaashi, Tafheemul-Qur-aan (Urdu) by Syed Abul A’laa Maudoodi, volume 4 page 356
(Reported in Aboo Dawood and Bukhaaree from Aboo Umaama)
(Bukhaaree reported by Anas)
(Mishkaah from ‘Abdullaah Ibn ‘Umar)
(Reported in Bukhaaree and Muslim from Anas)
(Bukhaaree and Muslim from ‘Umar Ibn Khaŧŧaab)
(Aboo Dawood and Nasaai from Aboo Umaamah)
(Aboo Sa’eed Khudri in Ibn Maajah)
(Aboo Hurayrah in Muslim)
(Reported from Aboo Hurayrah in Ibn Maajah)
(Aboo Hurayrah in Muslim)
(Aĥmad from Shaddaad Ibn Ows)
(Musnad of Aĥmad from Maĥmood Ibn Labeed)
(Aboo Hurayrah in Muslim)
(Aboo Hurayrah in At-Tirmidzi)
(Ibn ‘Abbaas in Ibn Maajah)
(Aboo Dzar in Muslim)
(Nasaai and Ibn Maajah from Aboo Dardaa)
(Bukhaaree and Aboo Dawood from Anas Ibn Maalik)