Ibn `Atta’ Words of Wisdom 

Sincerity to God

By Jasser Auda

Intentions turn our habits into acts of worship.
In his well-known book, Al-Hikam (Words of Wisdom), sheikh Ahmad Ibn `Ataa'illah As-Sakandari says:

“Actions are like statues that only come to life with the spirit of sincerity”.

Sincerity to Allah is more fundamental than relying on Allah, since it has to do with a deeper level of faith in Him, Most High. Yet, it was important to affirm our relying on Allah and hope in His Mercy, before discussing sincerity. This is because pure sincerity to Allah is so subtle and so hard to achieve without much hope in Allah's Grace and strong reliance on Him.

‘Sincerity is one of Allah's “secrets” that He plants in the heart of whomsoever He loves’, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said. And sincerity to Allah is so essential for our journey. In Ibn `Ataa’s words: (Actions are like statues that only come to life with the spirit of sincerity). If we imagine a simile between an action and a human body, then the action devoid of sincerity is like a body without a soul; a dead body.
What is sincerity? It means to have your intention (Arabic: niyyah, maqsid) honest to Allah. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) says:

"Actions are according to intentions and every man shall have but that which he intended. Thus, he whose migration is for Allah and His messenger, his migration is for Allah and His messenger, and he whose migration is to achieve some worldly benefit or to take a woman in marriage, his migration is for that for which he migrated". (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

The hadith talks about two examples of migration (with the Prophet, from Makkah to Madinah). Some people migrated only to do business or to get married and therefore, they will be rewarded only for their intentions. However, the Companions who migrated purely for the sake of Allah and to support His Messenger, their reward is according to their intention. In fact, Allah told us specifically their reward in the Qur’an:

{And as for the first and foremost of those who have migrated [to Madinah] and of those who have supported them, as well as those who follow them in [the way of] righteousness - Allah is well-pleased with them, and well-pleased are they with Him. And for them has He readied gardens through which running waters flow, therein to abide beyond the count of time: this is the triumph supreme!}. (At-Tawbah 9: 100)

Having a pure intention is very important because without this intention, worship becomes a show-off, which means that the intention is to please people, not to please Allah. Worship with an intention to please people is an act of polytheism and hypocrisy, Allah forbid. In fact, Allah describes the hypocrites in the Qur’an as follows:

{Behold, the hypocrites seek to deceive Allah - while it is He who causes them to be deceived by themselves. And when they rise to pray, they rise reluctantly, only to be seen and praised by people, remembering Allah but seldom}. (An-Nisa’ 4:142)

And amongst those who deserve blame and punishment in the hereafter, Allah mentions:

{those who want only to be seen and praised}. (Al-Ma`un 107: 6-7)

One may work only for the salary, but you may also work to give charity.
Every action should be done with a pure intention to please Allah Almighty. I have to ask myself. Why am I doing this? Why am I giving this charity? Why am I going on Hajj (pilgrimage)? Why am I helping this person? Why am I offering this prayer? Why am I reading this book? And so on.
And via sincerity, you can turn your daily habits into rewarded acts of worship. Eating, drinking, going to work, getting married, travelling, buying, selling, and all other actions and habits, could become rewarded acts of worship.

For example, one may eat in order not to feel hungry. But one can also eat and have a sincere intention to be able to worship Allah. This intention makes eating itself a rewarded act of worship. One may dress well in order to look good. But one can also have additional intentions to thank Allah, show modesty, please others, and so on. You may work only for the salary, but you may also work to give charity, to perform hajj, to support your family, and so on.

Actions are like statues that only come to life with the spirit of sincerity (Ibn ‘Ataa)
All the above are intentions that turn our habits into acts of worship, if they were sincere and true, and give us momentum in our spiritual journey to Allah. Some people journey to Allah only through regular prayers at their fixed times, through zakah/charity when it is due, and other specified acts of worship. They could, however, journey much faster if they learn how to turn daily habits into additional acts or worship.

One of the Sufi Imams heard someone knocking on his door while he had some students at his place. Before opening the door, the Imam mentioned to his students several sincere intentions that he recalled: if he opens the door and finds a poor man, he will give him a charity; if he finds a person who needs help, he will help him; if he finds a lost person, he will show him the way; if he finds a little child, he will be kind to him; if he finds an old man, he will show him respect; if he finds a student of knowledge, he will teach him, and so on. Opening that door was turned by the man’s pure intention into a number of acts of worship!

Ibn ‘Ataa says: (Actions are like statues that only come to life with the spirit of sincerity). Let us always ask Allah to grant us sincerity, to help us turn our habits into sincere acts of worship, and make our life devoted for Him alone.

{Say: "Behold, my prayer, and my acts of worship, and my living and my dying are for Allah alone, the Lord of all the worlds. In whose divinity none has a share: for thus have I been bidden - and I shall always be foremost among those who surrender themselves unto Him"}.
(Al-An`am 162, 163)

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