As for ikhlas, then that is one of the meanings of the testimony "there is nothing which has the right to ibadah except Allah" in that your ibadah should be exclusively and sincerely for Allah. Iman by itself is not sufficient for our ibadah to be accepted by Allah. Rather it is necessary that your action is out of iman in Allah and complete ikhlas to Him so that you do not make anyone a partner with Him. The Exalted said:
"Those who have iman and confuse not their iman with injustice. For them there will be security and they are the rightly guided." [Al-Qur'an 6:82]
Injustice here means shirk as was explained by the Messenger (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) to the companions (radiallahu anhum) and as has been recorded by Imam al-Bukhari in the Kitab at-Tafsir of his Sahih.
Allah has laid down a condition for the perfection of iman, which gives its possessor security, guidance and freedom from shirk and that is ikhlas; the abundance of which is necessary for ibadah to be accepted. The Exalted has said:
"And they were not commanded except with this: that they should worship Allah, being completely sincere in the Din." [Al-Qur'an 98:5]
And the Exalted also said:
"Say: Indeed I have been commanded to worship Allah making the Din sincerely for Him alone." [Al-Qur'an 39:11]
And there is also the Qudsi Hadith reported by Muslim: "I am so self-sufficient that I am in no need of having partners. Thus, whoever does an action for someone else's sake as well as Mine, will have that action rejected by Me to him whom he associated with Me." [Reported by Muslim]
Ikhlas is the sanctification of your speech and action from every blemish of the soul's desire. For example, desiring your beautification in the hearts of people, desiring their praise so that they say 'a scholar', 'what a brave man' or 'a doer of good'. Also included in this is running away from the criticism of the people (i.e. abandoning certain actions because people may criticise or become angry), seeking people's magnification of yourself, their aid and assistance, the fulfilment of your needs or desiring other peoples wealth and possessions - while being contented with all of that because your soul is deceived and your amazement with yourself.
Know also - brother and sister Muslim - that ikhlas is not correct until you are truthful in your speech, action, striving and while you desire nothing but the Face of Allah and the Home of the Hereafter.
The Exalted said:
"And whoever desires the Hereafter and strives for it as it should be strived for while being a believer then his striving will be acknowledged (rewarded)." [Al-Qur'an 17:19]
There are some other useful definitions of ikhlas:
- It is the freedom of the desire for nearness to Allah from every blemish or impurity;
- It is singling out Allah with one's intention in all acts of worship;
- It is forgetting the sight of the creation by continual observance of the Creator; and
- It is to hide your good deeds just like you would hide your evil deeds.
[Taken from the book Al-Ikhlas by Abu Muhammad ibn Sa'id al- Baylawi]
So be warned - brother and sister Muslim - that no action is acceptable to Allah if somebody else is given a share in it. Reflect carefully upon the words of Yusuf ibn al-Husayn ar-Razi: "Indeed the hardest thing (to achieve) in this world is ikhlas. How many times have I struggled to extinguish riya' (showing off) from my heart except that it only appeared again in a different colour." [Jami ul-'Ulum wal-Hikam of Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali]
Also reflect upon the words narrated by Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi in his Mukhtasir Minhaj al-Qasidin, "Indeed mankind, all of them, are destroyed except those with knowledge and all those with knowledge are destroyed except those who act upon it and all those who act are destroyed except those who are sincere in their action and all those who are sincere are in great danger (of associating other than Allah in their actions)."