In whatever one tries to do, especially when it comes to deeply religious matters, then it is sometimes very difficult to keep one’s eye on the goal and to keep one’s feet on the path. On deeply religious matters, I am referring to those religious activities which one uses in order to obtain certain darajat from one’s Lord. You might say that participation in all religious activities are supposed to have such goals, but this is not true. Many people sometimes have both Dunya and Akhirah goals in their religious activities. You may say that this is very strange but it is just like that. To some people a prayer might be for some goal but also to satisfy conditions of employment. And so, although it is true that when in prayer, they are supposed to be busy with their Lord, they are also busy satisfying conditions of employment. It is so easy to move from the one intention to the other intention of prayer. Even when one teaches sacred knowledge for a monetary return, although it might be pleaded that the teaching is for the sake of Allah Almighty, this is not true. People might say that the teaching is for Allah Almighty but in fact it is also for monetary return.
Here comes the crunch in this. When you are busy with a religious service, and this we all know, it has to be for the sake of our Lord only. If this intention is mixed with our intention for monetary return, then the intention of conducting the religious service for one’s Lord falls away. You see, when Allah Almighty says that we should not have two hearts, this is part of the meaning. What we do for Him must be solely for Him. We are not supposed to bring any other element into our intention with regard to Allah Almighty. We must think about this.
This is what I am talking about at the beginning of this letter. If one’s goal is Allah Almighty, in a sense of wanting His approval and satisfaction, then the path one travels must be solely for Him. The idea that one can associate in one’s intention for His Sake with an intention for monetary gain, for example, does not work in any aspect of Islamic worship. What is for Allah (ﷻ) must be solely for Him and everything to do with that service has to be solely for Him. This is the reason why many of the pious people, when they perform any religious service do it only for the sake of Allah (ﷻ) and not for monetary gain at all. It is always only for Allah (ﷻ); never for anything or anybody else. And when we plead with our Creator for the purification of our hearts from other than Him, this is what I am talking about. And when Allah (ﷻ) says don’t have two hearts in your body, this is what the verse means. We must understand what all of us are supposed to be busy with. We have set for ourselves certain goals and we are made to walk a path, a very difficult path at that, towards those goals. When we consider the goal and the path, what we do and what we are trying to achieve must be governed by an intention that is purely for our Lord’s sake. This is not as complicated as it appears.
Many years ago I met one of our local Imams somewhere in the Cape Peninsula and he told me that he wanted to give up his work at a certain mosque in order to further his university studies. I told him: “Do not leave the work of the Hereafter for the work of this world”. He did as I said and Allah Almighty granted him to continue to do his work at the mosque and also to further his studies. He was going to do a very dangerous thing spiritually, and this is another aspect that I want to talk about; when one is busy with a religious service one should try one’s best not to drop it for a non-religious service. So here we have two aspects of what this letter is about; the one aspect where we bring into play a worldly intention with our religious intention, and the other where we drop our religious intention for a worldly intention. Be careful. If you think that to attain the good and to walk the path only for Allah’s (ﷻ) sake is easy, you better think about this more intensely.
Perhaps one of the most important principles operating in Islam, and which is seldom mentioned, is the principle of having proper adab towards one’s Lord. If we examine very carefully what I have written so far in this letter, you will see that it has to do primarily with our behaviour towards Allah Almighty, or to put it in another way, the best available behaviour that we can show in the relationship with our Lord. In a previous letter I called this relationship the servant-Creator relationship. There are certain things that we in Tariqah are very sensitive about, because of the sensitivity of what we are doing on this path; and so the underlying attitude in our relationship with our Lord is that we should not bring anything else into this relationship. We have to aim for a pure servant-Creator relationship. So when we pray, this prayer must be solely for our Lord. And when we participate in any other religious service, whether private or congregational, then our concentration should be only on Him and our desires should be only for His Countenance. This is the reason why doing things for people’s eyes or ears or knowledge, what we call riya, is so condemned in Islam. It is through the process of riya that we bring other matters in association with our Lord; other matters, even if only a grain, cause rejection of the religious service. You see, when we talk of being only for Allah (ﷻ) or conducting our ibadat only for Him or working in His Cause only for His sake; when we say all of these things then we are busy with an intention or a process that has to do with a heart that is free of other than Him. In these words “freeing one’s heart from other than Him” lie perhaps the greatest step or Divine Reward, in spirituality. It is in fact this that we are working for, because it is only when our hearts are pure that the Grace comes. How else then? How can we expect Allah Almighty to place us at a Heavenly Station and we practice hidden shirk by bringing into play in our hearts factors and intentions other than Him? Shirk, whatever its form might be, is perhaps the greatest obstacle to spiritual development. And what I have spoken about at the beginning of this letter has to do with this, giving hidden partners to Allah Almighty.
You see, to attain a heavenly station, one puts oneself through various religious processes in order to purify one’s heart not only of satanic whisperings and other similar garbage but generally of what is other than Allah (ﷻ). What did we think then was the aim of all the things that we do? What did we think then is the kind of heart that we should have in which Allah (ﷻ) places His Presence? A heart with garbage? Allah (ﷻ) says that what is between the Heavens and the Earth cannot contain Him but the heart of the believer can. What I am saying is that we have to prepare our hearts to be receptacles not of garbage but of the Divine Presence, whatever this might mean. We do not know. We only accept what our Lord has said. We appeal to Him that He must forgive our short-comings and that He must purify our hearts of other than Him and to keep our hearts like that until we stand in Paradise witnessing His Countenance in the company of the intensely pious, amin.
[Letters to Seekers on the Spiritual Path Vol 2 – Unpublished 2012]