Only after sitting down to write this article did it dawn upon me how difficult a challenge I was faced with. A good article is one which combines both clarity and simplicity with an appropriate choice of words, whilst ensuring the reader remains interested and is able to grasp the point being presented. Striking the correct balance between all these key points is arduous and somewhat daunting. However, what outweighs the importance of any tangible criteria of success by far is the need for sincerity.
The Messenger of Allah (may peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Actions are only according to intentions, and a person only receives that which he intended,” a hadīth classed by the scholars as one of the foundations of Islam. Sincerity, as defined by Imam Abu ’l-Qasim Qushayri (may Allah have mercy on him), is to seek proximity to Allah through His obedience and not seek anything else. Others have said that sincerity is to seek neither any witness upon one’s actions besides Allah nor anyone besides Him to grant reward.
Without a doubt, sincerity is the true hallmark of success and is also the most exacting task in life. Ayyub (may Allah have mercy on him) said, “It is much harder for the people of action to purify their intentions than it is to execute any of their actions.” Another great saint, Yusuf ibn Husayn (may Allah have mercy on him) says that for forty years he tried to remove all signs of ostentation (riya) from his action, but it always seemed to reappear in a different form. Ibn al-Mubarak (may Allah have mercy on him) said, “Sometimes a great deed diminishes due to (ill) intention, and sometimes a small deed, due to a sincere intention, becomes great.”
Lack of sincerity is caused by love for the dunya. Thus, a heart diseased with intense love for the temporary life of this world aspires after praise and commendation, whilst a heart saturated with the love of Allah does not allow any motive to blemish the relationship between itself and Allah. Thus, it is narrated in a hadīth that Allah says, “Sincerity is a secret from amongst my secrets, which I place in the heart of the person I love.”
The indispensability of sincerity in all actions is quite evident from the sayings of the pious predecessors we have just read, rather for a person who reads these words with a clear intent, even one statement is sufficient. And this is what takes us to our next point – sincerity in seeking knowledge.
Nobody will argue against the fact that dissemination of Islamic knowledge has reached an unprecedented level. From hundreds of Islamic books all on one CD-ROM to the whole Qur’an on the mobile phone, Islamic knowledge is literally at one’s fingertips. Naturally, one would expect this upsurge of knowledge to be the cause of a marked change in the Muslims, imbuing them with the spirit to act upon the Qur’an and Sunnah and bringing every aspect of their daily lives in tune with Islam. However, in reality this is not the case.
You must be asking yourself why it is so. The simple answer is lack of sincerity. We often disregard topics such as iman, salah, need for good character and a whole list of the “usual” subjects, on the basis of “I’ve heard that before,” or “I already know about that.” If on the other hand, we chance upon a controversial subject, a topic we can use our knowledge of to boast amongst our friends or maybe even something we can use to censure and belittle another Muslim, we become all ears and listen attentively. Sincerity in knowledge demands that one is receptive to all matters of the Deen and after having digested the content of any speech, book or article, seriously contemplate whether one’s actions conform to the teachings of Islam or not.
Knowledge is only of substance when it is sought for the pleasure of Allah and consequently translates into action. Without action, it is merely information which has been stored away and is of no avail. Sayyiduna Mu’adh ibn Jabal (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “Learn whatever you wish to learn, but you will never be rewarded until you act upon your knowledge.” Sufyan al-Thawri (may Allah have mercy on him) said, “Knowledge knocks on the door of action. If it receives a reply, it stays, otherwise it departs.”
Sayyiduna Ibn Mas’ud (may Allah be pleased with him) would advise his students, “If your intention is one of the following three, do not seek knowledge: to shame the ignorant, to argue with the people of knowledge, or to cause people to turn their faces in your direction. Intend with your actions and words that which is with Allah, for indeed that which is with Allah shall remain and everything else shall perish.”
Read the Northampton Minaret solely with the intention of acting upon whatever you learn for the pleasure of Allah, the pinnacle of all goals. Any motive besides His pleasure is transitory and is sure to perish. “Those who listen to what is said, then, follow the best of it. Those are the ones whom Allah has guided and those are the ones who possess understanding.” (Al-Zumar 39:18)