What exactly is ikhlas (sincerity)? How can one get ikhlas?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Ikhlas lexically means refining, purifying, separating and removing impurities.

Ikhlas means, for an individual, to be closed to anything except Allah Almighty’s orders, requests and grants in worshipping. It means to keep secrets in the relationship between the slave and the Creator, in other words, to fulfill his duties and responsibilities because He wants them, to aim His consent while fulfilling them and to turn toward His otherworldly courtesy. It is regarded as one of the most important qualities of the purest, loyal people.   

Ikhlas is a deed of the heart and Allah values man based of the tendencies of his heart:

"He does not look at your shapes and outward appearance; He looks at your hearts and the tendencies of your heart." (Muslim, Birr, 33)

Ikhlas is a magical credit that Allah granted to clean hearts, that makes little things big and shallow things deep and that makes limited worshipping unlimited so much so that man can demand the most expensive things in the markets of the world and the hereafter with it and is valued in the places where people crawl thanks to it. The Messenger of Allah states the following due to this mysterious power of ikhlas:

"Be sincere in your religious life; few deeds will suffice." (Munawi, Faydul-Qadir, I, 216)

"Always try to do your deeds with ikhlas because Allah accepts only sincere deeds." (Munawi, Faydul-Qadir, I, 217)

Thus, the Prophet warns us to base our deeds on ikhlas. Ikhlas is a secret between the slave and the Creator; Allah has placed this secret in the hearts of His beloved slaves. 

It is necessary for man to realize why ikhlas is so important and to demand sincerely to be able to attain that level of belief in order to practice ikhlas with its real meaning. For, the people who have not realized the importance of ikhlas may seek power in the worldly values and pursue them in order to have a position in the community. Fame, glory, wealth, beauty, academic career or prestige are the things that those people seek. However, none of them can make man gain a permanent power or prestige in the hereafter in its real sense.

Badiuzzaman Said Nursi states the following:

"You should know that all your strength lies in sincerity and truth. Yes, strength lies in truth and sincerity.” (see Lem'alar, Yirmi Birinci Lem'a)

Thus, he reminds us that a believer can gain power both in the world and the hereafter only through ikhlas.  

What is necessary in order to gain ikhlas and to preserve it:

1. Fear of Allah is the most important means that enables man to increase his ikhlas. A person who realizes the greatness of Allah, that there is no power except Him and that the one that created the universe out of nothing, that takes care of all living beings and shows mercy to them is Allah is affiliated to Allah with a deep love. He understands that his real friend in the world and the hereafter is only Allah and hence the one whose consent is necessary to seek is only Him. Along with this strong love, he fears Allah.  

"... Then fear Allah, and know that ye will surely be gathered unto Him." (al-Baqara, 2/203)

Allah tells people that they need to fear Him in the verse above.

Fearing takes place when a person avoids the attitudes that Allah rendered haram and is not pleased with and when he fulfills His orders without any laziness. A sincere person who fears Allah knows what attitudes He will not be pleased with and steps into action to correct them. For instance, if his soul has a tendency and weakness toward worldly possessions, he notices it. In that case, he uses his wealth in the way of Allah in order to overcome that weakness.  

2. One of the responsibilities of a believer is to attain a level of belief that can appreciate Allah as it is necessary by being aware of the fact reminded in the verse below:

"No just estimate have they made of Allah, such as is due to Him: On the Day of Judgment the whole of the earth will be but His handful, and the heavens will be rolled up in His right hand: Glory to Him! High is He above the Partners they attribute to Him." (az-Zumar, 39/67)

To be able to appreciate Allah can be attained by knowing Him with all of His names and to see and realize the manifestations of those names in his life all the time. For, man can fear Allah and attain a sincere belief only if he can realize Allah’s greatness.

A person who can appreciate Allah as it is necessary knows that there cannot be any power except Allah and does not fear anyone except Him. He knows that nothing will happen unless Allah wishes, which enables him to worship by turning to Allah only. When he wants to do a good deed, he does it not because of fearing the reactions of people but because he does not want to act contrarily to Allah's order. Similarly, when he decides to give up doing something, he does not give it up thinking that people will get angry with him but in order to attain Allah’s mercy and avoid His wrath.

3. A person who wants to show the most sincere attitude in everything he faces needs to seek "Allah's consent as much as possible". This order of Allah is reminded through the following verse with the phrase "strive as in a race in all virtues":

"… so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to Allah..." (al-Maida, 5/48)

The following is stated in another verse:

"Then We have given the Book for inheritance to such of Our Servants as We have chosen: but there are among them some who wrong their own souls; some who follow a middle course; and some who are, by Allah´s leave, foremost in good deeds; that is the highest Grace." (Fatir, 35/32)

As it is stated in the verse above, there are some people who ‘follow a middle course’ among believers and who are ‘foremost in good deeds’. A sincere Muslim is foremost in good deeds. He works very hard in order to display the attitudes with which Allah will be pleased and tries to be a righteous slave by using everything he has. 

4. A person who wants to gain ikhlas needs to be aware of this fact: man should expect the rewards for what he does in the world only from Allah. If a person does something for anything except Allah's consent, mercy and Paradise, his ikhlas is broken and he is led to insincerity. If a person serves in the way of Allah for years with this thought, he will not have gained ikhlas in its real sense unless he does them for Allah’s sake only. Only the deeds of worship that he does without adding anything except Allah's consent can gain him great rewards and thawabs.

Allah states in the following verse that deeds of righteousness will be given ‘a magnificent reward’:

"Verily this Qur´an doth guide to that which is most right (or stable), and giveth the Glad Tidings to the Believers who work deeds of righteousness, that they shall have a magnificent reward." (al-Isra, 17/9)

Badiuzzaman Said Nursi attracts attention to the fact that ikhlas can be obtained when man becomes happy with what Allah gives him and shows contentedness:

"… One should also take as one’s guide the quality of preferring others to oneself, the same quality of the Companions that is praised in the Quran. For example, when giving a present or performing an act of charity, one should always prefer the recipient to oneself, and without demanding or inwardly desiring any material reward for religious service, know one’s act to be purely Allah’s grace and not impose a sense of obligation on men..."

"This world is a place of service; it is not a place of rewards. The rewards, fruits and lights of righteous deeds are in the hereafter. To want those eternal fruits in this world means to make the hereafter subject to this world. The sincerity of that righteous deed is broken and its light disappears. Those fruits are not demanded and intended. If they are given, man thinks that they have been given for encouragement and thanks Allah." (see Lem'alar, Yirmi Birinci Lem'a)

5. It is necessary to base everything directly on Allah’s consent. Even if everybody is against a person and nobody is pleased with him, it is of no significance if Allah is pleased with him. For, the hearts of all of those people are under the control of Allah. If Allah wishes, He will make them pleased with that person.

On the other hand, if Allah is not pleased with a person due to an attitude of his, it is of no significance if everybody is pleased with him and is grateful to him. A believer knows that it is of no significance in the eye of Allah and that people’s being pleased with him will gain him nothing in the hereafter unless Allah is pleased with him. The group that will be pleased with him may consist of financially or politically powerful people. However, they are all weak beings that were created by Allah and that will decay in the grave one day, losing all of their power. Therefore, their number, support and appreciation will be of no use in the hereafter. The one who is eternal and whose consent needs to be attained is only Allah. What will make man gain a permanent understanding of ikhlas is ‘to ignore the consent of people and to aim to attain Allah’s consent’ by realizing this fact.  

6. Conscience is a power that Allah has created so that it will show man the true path. It warns man against the evil of the soul, provocation of Satan and all attitudes contrary to the Quran throughout man’s life. It inspires man the attitude that Allah will be pleased with and the deeds that are in compliance with the Quran. A person who obeys the voice of his conscience unconditionally in all incidents obtains ikhlas. For, ikhlas means being able to make use of one’s conscience ultimately and not making concessions related to acting in compliance with one’s conscience even if he conflicts with his soul or encounters difficulties.

Therefore, a person who wants to obtain ikhlas should check whether he uses his conscience as it is necessary first. If he sometimes stops his conscience, does not heed its voice and acts in accordance with his soul deliberately, it means he does not use his conscience in compliance with the Quran.

"Nay, man will be evidence against himself, Even though he were to put up his excuses." (al-Qiyamah, 75/14-15)

What is more, as it is stated in the verses above, everybody knows that the voice that whispers to him is conscience and knows with what excuses he suppresses it.

7. Thinking about death is one of the most important means of obtaining ikhlas. Everybody in the world, without an exception, mentions or at least thinks about something: to live long and if possible not to die. Scientists have been researching seriously and trying to find a way of making man live longer. However, no improvement haven been made in those researches up to now. 

Many people view death through a wrong perspective; they regard it as an end where all of the beauties of the worldly live finish, man bids farewell to life permanently and goes under the ground to decay. However, this belief originates from the fact that they have not been able to understand Allah's existence and the purpose of their creation. Those people are not aware that the worldly life is only a testing that will determine their real life after death. They regard this world as real life and the hereafter as a deception. Therefore, they regard death, which ends worldly life and starts life in the hereafter, as an end.

Thus, 'death' is very scary for them and 'thinking about death' is very disturbing for them. They believe that they will not take pleasure from the world as necessary if they think about death and that this thought will make all pleasures bland and meaningless. They think they will be affiliated with the worldly life more and benefit from its pleasures more if they do not think about death or if they try to forget it.

However, the result will not change whether man thinks about death or not whether he remembers or forgets it:

"Say: ‘The Death from which ye flee will truly overtake you: then will ye be sent back to the Knower of things secret and open: and He will tell you (the truth of) the things that ye did.’" (al-Jumua, 62/8)

As the verse above reminds us, man will definitely face death. Then, what is reasonable is not to try to forget and ignore a fact that will definitely happen but to make preparations to face this fact.

If man leads a life that Allah will be pleased with, death will not harm that person. On the contrary, it will be a means of starting his endless and perfect life. If he has turned toward Allah with a sincere heart, death will not give him any pain no matter under which circumstances it takes place. Allah states in the Quran that the angels of death will remove the spirits of the believers softly without giving pain. It is also stated in the verses of the Quran that death is a painful incident only for deniers.  (an-Naziat, 79/1-2) Therefore, if a person is a believer and has ikhlas, death will not be a painful end for him.

On the other hand, to think about death is not something that pulls man away from the world as those people think; on the contrary, it is something that makes man take maximum pleasure from the boons of the world. For, man takes more pleasure when he understands that boons are ephemeral and temporary not when he is attached to them fully and regards them as lust. The Prophet expresses the importance of thinking about death as follows in a hadith:  

"Mention death a lot because this pulls man from the world and sins." (Tirmidhi, Zuhd 4, Qiyamah 26; Nasai, Janaiz 3)

Besides, death is not the end of life, boons or beauties as those people think. On the contrary, it is the beginning of real life; it is man’s transition to his real world where he will lead his endless life based on the preference he made in his worldly life. If he has understood Allah's greatness and led his life in His way, he will spend his endless life in beautiful gardens. However, if he has been deceived by worldly life and forgotten the day when he will be reckoned in the presence of Allah and the hereafter, his eternal place will be Hell. Trying not to think about death in his worldly life will not save him from encountering this fact. 

A person who can think about death with all these aspects knows that he can face death anywhere and that his life can end any time. This makes him act sincerely and to use his mind, conscience and means in every moment of his life. He acts based on the clear consciousness that he can be reckoned in the presence of his Lord soon and that he can be sent to Paradise and Hell any time. He spends his worldly life as if he has been to the hereafter and returned after seeing Paradise and Hell, with a belief and ikhlas that makes him sure that they are true and close. He spends every moment with a deep fear of Allah as if he is experiencing the moment when he will meet the angel of death who comes to take his soul, when his book of deeds is shown and when he waits for the decision of being sent to Paradise or Hell. He keeps in mind the closeness and horror of hellfire and acts by feeling the fear of being punished with hellfire eternally. He is also full of the enthusiasm of being saved from Hell and living in Paradise as a slave that is Allah’s friend eternally. He acts with the consciousness that expressing excuses like the following ones will be of no use when he is taken to the presence of Allah on the Day of Reckoning: "I did not know; I did not understand, I did not notice; I was heedless with other heedless people; I acted lazily; I was deceived by Satan; I though Allah would forgive me anyway; I worshipped and thought my worshipping would be enough..."

This consciousness becomes apparent with a strong conscience, a sharp power of understanding, a superior mind and an uninterrupted understanding of sincerity. A person who has this consciousness knows that he can die any moment; therefore, he does not postpone any charitable deeds; he does not act slackly and lazily regarding any issue. He thinks that his life may not be enough "to do something that he thinks he will do an hour later or tomorrow". He knows that he will regret in the hereafter for the deeds that he postponed or did not complete.

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