“Actions are like statues that only come to life with the spirit of sincerity.”
Sincerity is the most important step on the journey. But it comes here after reliance on Allah (SWT), because relying on Allah is important for sincerity.
Sincerity is so difficult to attain, you need to do a lot of tawakkul, a lot of reliance on Allah.
It is subtle to associate other things, other people with Allah (SWT). It is difficult to achieve a purity of intention when you do things for Allah (SWT). So you need a lot of reliance on Him in order to do that.
Sincerity is one of Allah’s secrets that He gives people whom He loves. In the hadith, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said that without sincerity you are deprived of a major gift from Allah (SWT).
This is the first and most important hadith in Al-Bukhari where the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
Actions are according to intentions, and every person will have the reward according to their intentions. (Al-Bukhari)
And then the Prophet (peace be upon him) gave us the example of two people. One person made hijrah from Makkah to Madinah, to follow the Prophet (peace be upon him) and give victory to Islam. And another person made the same hijrah – the same journey from Makkah to Madinah – just to marry somebody there.
The first person has an intention that will be rewarded, and the second person has an intention that will be rewarded too. But these are two different intentions, and therefore two different rewards.
Beware of Hypocrisy
The Prophet (peace be upon him) always made sure that his companions are away from what is called hypocrisy, nifaq.
In the Quran there is a lot of talk about the munafiqoon, or the hypocrites. They are people who showed that they were sahabah, or companions, and that they were with the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) all the time. And they prayed with the real companions and they did jihad with them, but they were not companions.
They were there without the intention of being there. And because they were not sincere, Allah (SWT) warned that they will be in the lowest level of Hell.
This is because it is not enough to be there with your body or with your sayings. It is very important to be there with your heart. And Ibn Ata’ here is saying that deeds are like dead bodies, and sincerity is the spirit that will bring life to these bodies.
We can transform many things that we do in our daily life into acts of worship with sincerity. I could go to work, and I could eat and drink and I could pursue my life without any intent to please Allah (SWT).
Or I could do the same things with an intention, with something in my heart that I’m doing these to please Allah (SWT). And I recall all sorts of intentions as I’m doing these, and therefore they become rewarded.
Having these intentions is the next step in the journey, the step of sincerity, that you always remember why you are doing this. And if you are doing it to please anybody else other than Allah, you turn your heart back to please Allah (SWT). And therefore everything in my life becomes directed to Allah (SWT).
This is the meaning of the verse:
Behold, my prayer, my acts of worship, my living and my death are for Allah. (6:162)
This is the success of this step of the journey.