بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ
Many people, especially those Muslims who desire to attain higher ranks of faith, want to be sincere. However, sincerity ― of purpose, mind, soul, tongue, action, and heart ― is an elusive blessing that is not easy to acquire, simply because it comes at a price that most people are unable to pay in the long run.
So, to begin with, just what is sincerity?
The dictionary defines sincerity as, “Freedom from deceit, hypocrisy, or falseness; earnestness; probity.”
According to my limited knowledge and experience, sincerity is the purity and truth of a person, to both his or herself as well as others. It is how true and authentic a person is, inside and out.
Now that we got that simple definition out of the picture, let us look at the not-so-simple aspects of sincerity in practical life, particularly, how and what makes sincerity so difficult to acquire.
Few people are truly sincere
Suffice to say that sincerity is a very rare blessing indeed. If you have a sincere and truthful person in your life, consider yourself truly blessed.
Most people tend to make and break connections, contacts, and relationships on one sole basis: personal benefit. Even among biological family members, relationships are formed, weakened, strengthened, or outright broken off, on the basis of personal and mutual benefit.
First, the facts: it is true that we live in a world where we need other people to survive. There is no denying that. So, if we work for someone as an employee, or if we form social contacts for the sake of marriage, there is nothing wrong with this, because these are needs of life that have to be catered to.
The entire problem starts when we tacitly lie and deceive others, or hide truths that should not be hidden, or use other forms of two-facedness and hypocrisy in our relationships, in order to get what we want.
Insincere Intentions: Cherry-picking Islamic rulings to admonish
In my personal case, I am really tiring of people playing “pick-and-choose” with the commands of Islam, in order to make me do what they want me to. The lack of sincerity of such people has become obvious to me, time and again, by the simple fact that they practically ignore or undermine those rules & tenets of Islam that are much more important than the ones that they ‘choose’ to admonish me about/with.
You see, since I am an “apparently” or “outwardly” “religious person” (i.e. when someone sees me, they tend to assume that I must be religious), it has become almost second nature for those who have known me for years, to use verses of the Qur’an and ahadith to make me do what they want me to do.
Do you want examples? OK.
- A relative hosts a mixed-gender dinner party, social gathering, or wedding, and invites me to it. If I do not attend (due to genuine reasons, like many other absconding guests too, who could not come), I am given an earful about the rewards associated with silatu rahim (joining relations) and with accepting the invitation to a banquet hosted by another Muslim.
It does not matter that I, or one of my children, really was sick. Or that my husband was working late that night. All that matters is that they presumed that I deliberately snubbed the invite. And since I am “religious”, I need a “religious”-themed admonition to set me straight.
The icing on the cake? Hosting mixed-gender parties is not allowed in Islam. Talking freely and flirtatiously with non-mahrums (such as cousins who are past the age of 12) is also not allowed in Islam. Also, in most cases, one of the hosts’ own offspring hasn’t spoken to their biological sibling, aunt, or niece/nephew in months. And they’re talking to me about joining relations.
Duh. Go figure.
- Upon finding out that I went out and ate at a restaurant, or ordered in some food at home, I am indirectly admonished about the use of money in Islam. “Israaf” is the word most commonly rubbed in my face. This is followed by referencing some Geo News report (oh my, our sources of information are just as authentic as us, aren’t they?) about some little-known, far-flung, dingy Karachi eatery using the meat of dead dogs/donkeys/snakes in their BBQ food.This is followed by a monologue about the virtues of home-cooking, often with a slightly smug facial expression.
Icing on the cake? The person advising me to abstain from “israaf” in food likes to eat out themselves. They also love to attend wedding parties in which the food costs more than $20 per head. And they ate out at a similar restaurant, rather heartily, less than a week ago.
Plus, when they were younger (and ate more), they regarded eating out at a restaurant as a very special treat, reserved for very special occasions.
Double standards much?
I am all for sincerity in admonition and advice. What does not go down well with me is insincerity, viz. the deliberate cherry-picking of Islamic commands, rules, and injunctions to put another person down and undermine their worth, especially in front of others.
Because, believe me, a person’s sincerity shines through their speech, as clear as day. Not to mention, actions speak louder than words.
وَلَتَعْرِفَنَّهُمْ فِي لَحْنِ الْقَوْلِ
“You will most certainly recognize them by the tone of their voice….[47:30]
As for those readers who are thinking of advising me to harbor good thoughts about the likes of the above people, whom they think I am presuming to be insincere towards me, (because I cannot see inside their hearts, right?), I have a news flash: I have been putting up with these kinds of words for more than a few years.
When I was younger (and more naive), I used to appreciate their so-called “sincerity” towards me so much, that I would allow their false words to affect me, my choices, my lifestyle, and the way I spent my time.
So, if they told me not to use a certain brand, I wouldn’t. If they told me to cook a recipe a certain way, I would. If they told me to stay indoors and not go out to so-and-so place, I would. If they told me I was _______ (insert any negative word), I would believe them.
And if they said something about my children, I would take it as reality.
Until, one day, Allah opened my eyes to he truth. To reality. And He made me wake up and take some control of my own life. It was like, a voice inside was asking me, “Sadaf, do you want to end up like them? Living their life? Following their ways? Having their habits? Their way of thinking? Do you?”
And I instantly knew what the answer to that question was!
So I gave cultural obligations a big kick in the __________ !!
And I have not looked back since. I am perhaps the most unconventional Pakistani “aunty” you’ll ever meet! Ha!
So now, whenever someone (who has a history of their actions contradicting their words) uses the religion of Islam and its tenets to berate, advise, or remind me about something so that I will do what they want me to do, I use a simple formula that works every single time:
Poker face & silence.
Avoiding insincere people
An important word of advice:
Make it a personal habit to stay socially clear of insincere people, especially if you want to succeed as a Muslim.
Allah commands Prophet Muhammad ﷺ in the Qur’an, to “turn away” (فَأَعْرِض عَنْهُم) from the plots and shenanigans of insincere people (mainly the munafiqeen, more on them below).
Similarly, all successful people, who achieve any degree of success in both this world as well as the next, be they entrepreneurs or scholars, always give the same piece of advice: meticulously and scrupulously avoid mingling socially with toxic and insincere people.
Read this article as an example. These people drain you of your positive energy to continue doing beneficial work for mankind. They become roadblocks to good things happening around the world. They desire to see others become as useless as they are themselves.
So, avoid them. Meticulously. Do not even engage in a long conversation with them. They will try to drag you into one, to dig for dirt to use against you.
But wait, here’s a question: what to do if your own coworker, sibling, spouse, child, cousin, or parent is an insincere person? Someone who puts your faith to trial again and again? Religious Muslims have this problem all the time, when they want to become more firm in Islam. Sometimes, their close ones are their greatest opponents.
Well, for starters, have complete trust in Allah and do not get deterred by them. Remain patient in striving to come closer to Allah, no matter what they do. But if they are very stubborn (which most toxic people are), and even years of patience and beautiful preaching has zilch effect on their insincerity and toxicity, then the best solution to your problem lies in just one thing:
Keep yourself so busy, involved, and occupied in doing constructive work, that it leaves you little time to spare for their toxic company. Whether it is studies, work, or good side projects (such as da’wah), involve yourself so much in positive work & projects, that you are left with hardly any free time to give to them and their insincere banters.
Secondly, if they are relatives with whom joining relations is not obligatory: minimize contact with them. This is all the more advisable if you have been advising them for years, to absolutely no avail, and if their persistent antagonistic attitude towards you is affecting your own faith and your energy to continue doing good work.
You might be thinking, “So who will guide them?” If we turn away from them?
The answer is: “Allah”.
Because Allah is the one Who told the Prophet ﷺ to turn away from the munafiqeen. He instructed the Prophet to just ignore them and go on with his work. Why did He not, instead, command the Prophet to spend more of his time in advising the hypocrites to give up their lies, hypocrisy, promise-breaking, and people-pleasing?
Because spending your precious time with insincere people is like banging your head against a wall. You will get a bruise and a big headache, but the wall will still remain firmly in its place, as hard and un-moving as before.
As for relatives with whom joining relations is obligatory, but they are not sincere towards you, then you can once again reduce or minimize your ways of contacting/meeting/staying in touch with them, in such a manner, that you are able to continue with your own projects and occupation without getting adversely affected, but are also able to fulfill the obligation of maintaining ties with them.
As for toxic “friends” (who are actually “frenemies”) who have been pulling you down for more than a few years, I say this: your life is too short to have such tumors hanging off your body, eating away at it and growing in size.
Cut off the “friendship” cold turkey, and move on.
Never look back!
The negative behaviors meted out towards all sincere people
From the stories of the Prophets in the Qur’an, I get much solace.
I really do.
The Prophets went through so much. They endured so much hardship for the sake of Allah, that our own troubles pale in comparison.
Below, I will list some of the toxic behaviors that they encountered from their hidden and open enemies, some of whom were in their own families, so that you can get an idea of what kind of things can happen to a sincere person:
- Sincere people are often lied to, since lies are the biggest form of insincerity. Prophet Yaqoub was lied to deliberately by his own sons, when they plotted to remove Prophet Yusuf from their lives forever. [12:12]
- Being suspected of bad intentions/motives, and disbelieved. Prophet Musa was accused of teaching sorcery, and trying to oust Pharaoh from his throne and country. [7:110]
- Being told off or demeaned in public. Prophet Noah was laughed at when he was building the Ark, the first man-made sea-vessel in history. [11:38]
- Being challenged and questioned, put on the spot. Prophet Saleh was challenged to bring on the punishment from Allah, if he was truthful, by his nation, as they got rid of the she-camel that was sent as a test for them. [7:77]
- Being slandered: many Prophets were slandered, or in other words, accused of doing what they did not do. Prophet Essa (Jesus) was falsely accused and crucified for something he did not do. [4:157]
- Being back-stabbed by biological & close family members. Perhaps nothing hurts as much as your own family members deserting you once you become closer to Allah. Prophet Abraham was thrown alive into a fire, to be lynched, and his own biological father was one of the people collecting the firewood for it! [29:24] عليهم السلام اجمعين
As you can see, the Prophets endured the worst kinds of negative behaviors, perhaps all the kinds there are!
If you are a Muslim, and you have encountered such behaviors more from people (close & distant) since you came towards the religion, then you should consider it an honor to be walking upon the path of the Prophets, and enduring what they endured.
Walking upon this thorn-filled path to Jannah surely earns great rewards! If you remain sincere and true to Allah all the while.
How to gauge a person’s sincerity
This one is rather easy but I will explain it in point-form any way.
In order to judge how sincere a person is, you need to keep only a few behaviors in mind, and they are listed below. Sincere people will never exhibit any of these behaviors or traits.
(Please remember that you need to check for repetition/consistency in the below-mentioned behaviors before branding someone as insincere. Don’t jump the gun!)
- Lack of conformity between words & actions. If someone’s actions negate their opinions and words, they are not sincere. E.g. if someone has never earned any money, nor can they save any that they already have, but loves to label any spending as “extravagant” or “wasteful”, and is always dishing out advice about how to be more and more miserly, then never take any advice regarding money from them. If a lady doesn’t wear proper hijab herself, but scathingly criticizes those who wear niqab, then you can tell how sincere she is.
- Publicly bringing others down: See if a person criticizes you in front of others, or in private. If they deride you or point out your shortcomings in front of others, then they are not sincere. Same if they do that to someone else in front of you.
- Chronic backbiters. Simple rule: if they take apart the honor & character of someone else in front of you, they’ll do the same to you when your back is turned. Insincere people also have a special tendency of deriding and ridiculing those people whom they deem to be religious/morally upright/decent.
- Insincere people (especially liars) will ask you to confirm what they have said or done, by insisting, “You can ask so-and-so, or check with so-and-so, about what I am saying”.
- Suspicious: Insincere people will never take others at face value i.e. they will suspect sinister intentions or foul play, maybe even investigate people and their statements, even when there is no reason to.
- Chameleons: Insincere people have a habit of changing the way they look/dress according to the social setting.
- Scavengers: They nose around in other people’s matters, fishing for “dirt”. Since they are so useless and idle, & find pleasure in pulling others down to their level, they like seeking fuel for future toxic behavior.
- Copycats: They tend to ape others’ person’s style, occupation, personality, or possessions. They rush to copy what another person is doing, just to one-up them or to make themselves feel better about being just “as good”. Self-esteem is not their strongest point.
- Mask-Wearers: You can never clearly tell what an insincere person is truly feeling. They are really good at masking their true emotions and feelings.
- They make promises that they never keep.
- They often sport fake laughs and smiles, especially when they meet someone in “cultural” settings (i.e. social meetings convened with the motive of gleaning personal benefits, not due to genuine affection).
- News harbingers: They love to convey gossip to others, especially the ugly, “juicy” kind. Once again: idle mind, devil’s workshop. They also love to be the first one to break any bad news to everyone.
How does one acquire sincerity?
إِنَّ الْمُنَافِقِينَ فِي الدَّرْكِ الأَسْفَلِ مِنَ النَّارِ وَلَن تَجِدَ لَهُمْ نَصِيرًا
“Verily, the hypocrites shall be in the lowest depth of the fire, and you will find none who could help them.” [4:145]
إِلاَّ الَّذِينَ تَابُواْ وَأَصْلَحُواْ وَاعْتَصَمُواْ بِاللّهِ وَأَخْلَصُواْ دِينَهُمْ لِلّهِ فَأُوْلَـئِكَ مَعَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَسَوْفَ يُؤْتِ اللّهُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ أَجْرًا عَظِيمًا
“Except those who repent, and live righteously, and hold fast unto God, and grow sincere in their faith in God alone, for these shall be one with the believers ― and in time God will grant to all believers a mighty reward.” [4:146]
The above two verses of the Qur’an are quite clear and eye-opening in providing the strategy to achieve sincerity.
The first one mentions the hypocrites or munafiqeen, and their ultimate punishment. Why? Because munafiqeen ― their hearts, actions, tongues, and entire personalities ― are the absolute antithesis of sincerity. Their trademark is lying, hypocrisy, falsehood, pretense, people-pleasing, and deception. That is why they will be in the lowest depth of the Hell-fire.
Then Allah goes on to highlight how the munafiqeen can save themselves from such an ill fate, by listing the steps that they will have to follow, in order to do this:
- تَابُواْ repent (from their ways). They will have to admit their wrongs, feel regret for them, seek Allah’s forgiveness, and resolve to give up their ways (sins).
- أَصْلَحُواْ Then they will have to set themselves aright, i.e. correct their intentions, actions, habits, ways.
- اعْتَصَمُواْ بِاللّهِ after achieving the above 2 steps, they will have to hold on tightly and firmly to Allah. This is very important, because most people falter in this aspect, and hence, are unable to attain sincerity or اخلاص (the next step).
- أَخْلَصُواْ دِينَهُمْ لِلّهِ Finally, after holding on firmly to Allah, they will have to strive to purify their Deen, i.e. become truly sincere in their religion, for the sake of Allah.
The one who is able to achieve the above four steps gradually and consistently (because it will take time, it cannot happen overnight, or quickly), will be with the true believers in the Hereafter, as the above verse says, and will receive a great reward from Allah.
If sincere people have it so tough in the world, why strive for sincerity?
A thought might come to skeptics: if being sincere to Allah leads to so much pain and let-down by people in the life of this world, why strive for it? Just for great rewards in the Hereafter?
Isn’t there any worldly reward for those believers, who are extremely true & sincere in every aspect of life?
The answer is: there is.
The greatest worldly blessing that a believer enjoys as a result of their sincerity, despite the pain that people cause them again and again, is the state of their hearts.
A sincere believer’s heart is like a garden of Paradise. Even in complete solitude, he or she enjoys a closeness to, and a connection with, their Creator that renders them needless of the friendship or companionship of any human being.
The tears they cry due to the pain of being tested (time and again) pale in comparison to the tears that they cry out of love for and gratefulness to Allah, for being blessed with the priceless gift of faith.
There are also other blessings. Such as being shown true dreams, in which they are shown glimpses of blessings that no eye on earth has ever seen. Their Lord subtly communicates with them in ways that most of mankind cannot imagine, let alone understand or grasp.
And things happen to them ― small little “miracles” of sorts ― that are sure signs from Allah, that He is there for them, watching over them, protecting them, helping them, listening to them, loving them. These bring discreet smiles to their faces amidst even the greatest, most painful calamities or let-downs by Allah’s creation.
Here are a few quotes of pious predecessors that describe this worldly reward for sincerity of faith.
“If the kings and the children of the kings knew what we are in, they would fight us over it with their swords.” ― Ibn Al-Qayyim
“In this world there is a Paradise that whoever does not enter it, will not enter the Paradise in the Hereafter.” ― Ibn Taimiyyah (Ibn Al-Qayyim’s mentor & teacher)
“What can my enemies do to me? Certainly, my paradise and garden are in my chest.” ― Ibn Taimiyyah (Al-Wâbil Al-Sayyib)
To conclude: In this coming Ramadan, let us purify our intentions and resolve to strive for sincerity of faith, word, and deed.
Let us resolve to beg Allah to grant us that level of sincerity in the life of this world, which will allow us to enjoy this Paradise as well, insha’Allah.