Things that harm humans both in this world and in the next are due to their personal vices; the essence of one’s spiritual loss is in his continuance of uncorrected vices. The remedy for avoiding harm in this world and the next is in one’s intentional avoidance of vices —which is called taqwa.
Taqwa is the most precious of all components of worship, because beautifying anything requires that the thing first should be cleansed from all dirt and stain. Similarly, neither will any reward be given, nor will any benefit occur for acts of worship unless the man who does those worshipful acts cleanses himself from the stain of his sin. The worst of all vices is none other than kufr, the sheer rejection of belief in Allah, His prophets, His books. The good deeds of a person who does not have belief in his Creator and Lord will not bear any fruit for him in the Hereafter. A disbeliever who is killed unjustly does not become a martyr; he will not go to Paradise.
The foundation of all virtues is taqwa. When one recognizes the ever presence of Allah, this encourages his determination to live in accordance with Allah’s guidance. One should try hard to obtain taqwa and advise others to do the same. Living in this world peacefully with others and obtaining the best of eternal blessings can only be accomplished by having taqwa.
Vices cause disease in our souls. Indeed, any uncorrected increase in this disease will cause the death of the soul. This means that vices left unchecked and unchanged will cause kufr, which is the worst of all vices and is a poison fatal to the soul. There are many deadly diseases of the heart, and indeed ostentation is one of the major diseases in that category.
Riyâ’ means to present something in a manner opposite to its true nature. In short, it means pretension or a person’s performance of deeds to impress others: to show that he is really a pious person with an earnest desire for the Hereafter, while in fact what he most wants is to attain his worldly desires (status, respect, etc.) and the wealth of this world. In other words, riyâ’ means for one to use his religion as a tool to obtain worldly riches, or to bring oneself into other people’s favor by making a show of one’s acts of worship. Ostentation (riyâ‘) is a spiritual disease and a deadly vice if not corrected.
Hypocrisy vs. Sincerity
If a person’s actions and words are disingenuously intended for possessing religious knowledge, he is called a munâfiq (a hypocrite). The opposite of hypocrisy is ikhlâṣ, which means to carry out the acts of worship strictly for the purpose of pleasing Allah —with sincerity and without spoiling the act through worldly motivations.
A person with ikhlâs never thinks of presenting his acts of worship to others. On the other hand, for others to see him doing acts of worship with ikhlâs will not necessarily detract from his own ikhlâṣ. Our Messenger (ﷺ) defines purity of intention before Allah in this way:
Narrated by Abu Hurairah (RA):
“…[Iḥsân is to] worship Allah as if you were seeing Him! Though you don’t see Him, He sees you!…” (Sunan ibn Majah, 1.1.64)
In fact, all acts done with the intention of being seen by Allah and pleasing Him are rewardable as acts of worship. Taqwa is the ongoing goal of a sincere Muslim.
The Fine Line between Hypocrisy and Sincere Intention
Pretending to help others in their worldly affairs, out of a charitable motive, but actually driven by a motive to obtain their love and praise, or other benefits, is hypocrisy —and hypocrisy which is done in acts of worship is the worst form of hypocrisy. Furthermore, religious acts which are done without thinking of the consent of Allah is the worst of all of the above types of hypocrisy.
On the other hand, performing acts of worship so that one may ask assistance from Allah for worldly affairs would not be hypocrisy. For example, performing the Prayer for Rain, or performing Istiharah Prayers for the purpose of seeking guidance from Allah, is not hypocrisy. Allah knows one’s true intentions and one’s pretensions will not succeed with Allah.
Some scholars have also said that the following actions do not constitute hypocrisy: getting paid for being a religious leader or preacher or teacher or for reciting verses of the Qur’an in order to get rid of worldly troubles like distress, sickness, or poverty. That is because these actions contain the intentions of both worship and getting worldly benefits. Going on a Pilgrimage combined with commercial or business purposes, similarly, does not necessarily constitute hypocrisy, but if these actions did not at all include the intention of true worship, then they would be hypocrisy.
Similarly, if the intention of worshipping outweighs other intentions, then one will also be rewarded for his taqwa. This is because allowing one’s acts of worship to be seen by others in order to encourage them to do the same or in order to teach them, likewise does not constitute hypocrisy. On the contrary, in the case of encouraging or teaching, it is a very good deed and one may earn much reward for doing so.
Another fine line between ikhlâs and misplaced intentions is the case of an animal slaughtered not for the sake of Allah but slaughtered for the sake of a person returning from the holy war, or from the pilgrimage, or in order to give a warm welcome to a leader. That animal will be a dead carcass, not a charitable gift pleasing to Allah. It is forbidden to slaughter an animal with mistaken intentions —since worship must be exclusively for Allah; furthermore, it is forbidden to eat the flesh of a sacrifice made with a compromised intention.
On the other hand, it is not permissible to give up performance of worshipful acts because of a fear of hypocrisy. If a person starts to perform namaz for the sake of Allah but then thinks only of worldly affairs throughout the prayer, the prayer may still be acceptable due to the taqwa present at its beginning.
Religious persons should wear clean and good quality clothes because people look at their appearances. For this reason, it is recommended for religious leaders to wear the best clothes on Fridays and during religious festivals. But for such persons to write books, to preach or give advice to others with the thought of boosting one’s status is a case of hypocrisy.
Learning and studying for the purpose of winning arguments and thus being seen superior to others, or for boasting, also constitutes hypocrisy; likewise, studying knowledge in order to gain worldly possessions or ranks, also constitutes hypocrisy and it is forbidden. By contrast, the knowledge which is gained for the sake of Allah increases one’s sense of fear in Allah; it also causes one to see one’s own defects, which in turn causes one to be protected against the deceits of the devil. Conversely, religious men who use their knowledge as a vehicle to gain worldly possessions or ranks are called wicked religious people, whose destination is Hell.
Another example of hypocrisy is to perform the acts of worship with thorough attention to detail and within the recommended times —when there are people around— and to perform them in a manner quite heedless of the recommended etiquettes for praying alone.
In order for worshipful acts to be acceptable, their intention has to be done for the sake of Allah. Intention must be made with the heart; intention made mechanically, only with an utterance of the lips, is not acceptable. According to some scholars it is permissible to intend simultaneously in the heart and voicing it through the lips. But if the intention in the heart is not up to the standard of what is said through the lips, then the intention in the heart will be considered as the valid one. The only exception to this general rule is the case of taking an oath, where the oral utterance —the word that comes out of the mouth— is what is valid, regardless of the heart’s true intention, good or bad. The real meaning of taqwa is the desire of doing that worship for the sake of Allah.
Intention is formed when one is initiating a worshipful act. And if one intends to do an act of worship on a day before the time when one actually carries out that worship, such an intention is not accepted as valid. Rather, that good intention would be called a desire or promise but not counted as an intention connected to the actual performance of the worship.
Another fine distinction: The sign that one is avoiding sin out of fear of Allah (taqwa) is that one avoids committing the same sin when one is alone and is not being seen by anyone else. The sign that one has only worldly shame as a deterrent to sinful acts—rather than taqwa— is that one is afraid of the ill-talk of people in case that his sin would become known by them. Approving of, or allowing for, others to commit a certain sin is a much graver sin than committing that sin alone, unseen by others.
Consider the meaning of “hayâ’” in the hadith, narrated by Abu Hurairah:
…‘Hayâ’ is part of belief. (Sahih Al-Bukhâri 9)
Hayâ’ means that one should be ashamed of committing wicked deeds and sins in the presence of others. Similarly, the Muslim avoids public exposure not only to his own sin, but to the sin of his brother also:
Narrated by Abu Hurairah (RA):
“If a person hides [his brother’s] sin in [this] world, Allah will also hide his [own] sins from others on the Day of judgment.” (Saḥîḥ Muslim 2590b)
On the other hand, it is not permissible to feel ashamed if others should see you performing sincere worship (in carrying out your taqwa); at the same time, shame before Allah [hayâ’] means not to expose one’s sins or faults to others—whether the faults of one’s own self or those of his brother.
For that matter, it is not permissible to be too ashamed to preach Islam, or to encourage others to perform good deeds while dissuading them from wrongdoing, or to serve as an imam or as one who calls the adhân, to recite the Holy Qur’an, and the like.
To be continued in Part 2…