Q: What is the meaning of Ikhlas? And what if the worshipper desired to worship something else, what is the ruling?
A: Ikhlas towards Allah means that by his worship, a person intends to draw closer to Allah, the Most Glorified, the Most High, and to gain access to the Abode of His Generosity (i.e. Paradise). If someone desired something other than this by his worship, then that requires elaboration in accordance with the following categories:
1. That he desires to draw closer to other than Allah by this worship, and to be praised for it by his fellow-creatures, this renders the deed in vain and it is a form of Shirk. It is reported in an authentic Hadith on the authority of Abu Hurairah, may Allah be pleased with him, that the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wasallam said that Allah the Most High said:
“I am the One Who does not stand in need of any partners. If anyone performs a deed in which he associates anyone else with Me, I shall abandon him and his Shirk.” (1)
2. That he intends to achieve some worldly gain, such as leadership, rank or wealth, without intending to get closer to Allah, the Most High, this action of his is in vain and it does not bring him closer to Allah, the Most High, according to the Words of Him, Most High:
Whosoever desires the life of the world and its glitter; to them We shall pay in full (the wages of) their deeds therein, and they will have no diminution therein. They are those for whom there is nothing in the Hereafter but Fire; and vain are the deeds they did therein. And no effect is that which they used to do.
(Al Hud 11: 15-16)
The difference between this and the one before him is that the first intends to be praised for worshipping Allah, the Most High, while the second does not intend to be praised for worshipping, and it is not important to him that the people praise him for it.
3. That he intends to draw closer to Allah, the Most High and he also intends to achieve some worldly motive thereby. Such intending to worship Allah, the Most High by performing ablution while also intending to invigorate his body or to clean it. Or, he intends to exercise his body by praying, and to stimulate movement in it, and he intends to lose weight by fasting and to remove impurities, and he intends by Hajj to participate in its events and see all the pilgrims. This decreases the reward of Ikhlas, but if he mainly intends to worship Allah by it, he will have missed the completeness of the reward for it, although he is not guilty of committing a sin or falsehood, according to the Words of Allah, the Most Hight regarding the Hajj pilgrims:
“There is no sin on you if you seek the bounty of your Lord.”
(Al Baqarah 2:198)
But if his intention is mainly something other than worship, then he has no reward in the Hereafter, and his reward is only what he achieves in this life. I fear that such a person is a sinner due to this, because he has made worship, which is the highest goal, a means to attain some wretched worldly goal, so he is like those of whom Allah says:
And of them are some who accuse you (O Muhammad salAllahu alayhi wa sallam) in the matter of (the distribution of) the alms. If they are given part thereof, they are pleased, but if they are not given thereof, behold! They are enraged!
In Sunan Abu Dawud, it is reported on the authority of Abu Hurairah, may Allah be pleased with him, that a man said: “Oh, Messenger of Allah! (What is your opinion of) a man who wishes to fight Jihad and he also wishes to gain some worldly goods? The Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:
“There is no reward for him.”
The man repeated his question three times and the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:
“There is no reward for him.” (2)
In the Two Sahihs, it is reported on the authority of ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, that the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wasallam said:
“Whoever emigrated for some worldly benefit or to marry a woman, then his emigration will be for that to which he migrated.” (3)
If the two objectives are equal to him, and the intention to worship is not greater, nor is the intention not to worship, then the matter requires further investigation. Here, the closest to the truth is that there is no reward for him, like one who acts for Allah and for other than Him. The difference between this category and the aforementioned one is that the purpose in the last category must necessarily be other than worship, so it is as if he wanted what that deed includes from the life of this world.
If it was said: What is the measure by which we may determine whether his intention for the worship is greater, or his intention for something other than worship? We say:
The measure is that if he cares nothing for things other than worship, and it is the same to him whether he achieves them or not, then that proves that the greater intention is to worship and vice versa. In any case, the intention which is the saying of the heart is a very important matter, for it could raise the worshipper to the level of the righteous people, or it could reduce him to the lowest of the low. One of the Salaf said: I have not struggled with myself over any matter more than over the matter of Ikhlas. So we ask Allah, for us and for you, to grant us Ikhlas in our intention and righteousness in our deeds.
- Transcribed from: Fatawa Arkan-ul-Islam, Islamic Verdicts on the Pillars of Islam, Volume 1 – Creed and Prayer – Shaykh ‘Uthaymeen
(1) Reported by Muslim in the Book of Asceticism and Softening of the Hearts, in the Chapter: Whomever Associated Partners With Allah in His Deeds (2985).
(2) Reported by Abu Dawud in the Book of Jihad, in the Chapter on One Who Fights Seeking Some Worldly Gain (2516) and by An-Nasa’i in the Book of Jihad, in the Chapter on One Who Fights Seeking Some Worldly Gain and Fame (3140)
(3) Reported by Al-Bukhari in the Book of the Beginning of the Revelation, in the Chapter: How the Revelation to the Messenger of Allah salAllahu ‘alayhi wasallam Began (1) and by Muslim in the Book of Government (1907).