إِنَّمَا يَتَقَبَّلُ اللَّهُ مِنْ الْمُتَّقِينَ.
Verily God accepts only from the God-fearing. (5:27)
One of the major factor in the rightness and perfection of actions which, in fact, is tantamount to their efficient force (in the same way as the awe and taqwa acquired from them is equivalent to the condition of their effectiveness and which, in fact, purify the receptor and remove the impediments). It is sincere intention and pure purpose on which depend the perfection and defectiveness of ‘ibadat (worships) and their validity and invalidity.
As much as the ‘ibadat are free from association with non-God and from adulteration of intention, to the same extent they are sincere and perfect. And nothing is as important in ‘ibadat as intention and its purity, for the relationship of intention to ‘ibadah is like that of the soul to the body and the spirit to the corporeal frame.
In the same way as their physical form originates in the physical aspect of the self and its body, intention and their spirit originate from the self’s inward aspect and the heart. No worship is acceptable to God Almighty without sincere intention and unless it is free from the outward mulki riya’ (a kind of riya’ which the fuqaha’ (R) have mentioned) and shirk, which invalidate and nullify the outward parts (of an ibadah).
And unless it is free from inward shirk, in whose presence although an ‘ibadah may be correct from the exoteric aspect of the Shari’ah and fiqhi ordinances, it is not valid and acceptable to God Almighty from the esoteric aspect and from the viewpoint of the reality and secrets of worship. Hence there is no necessary relation between the (legal) validity of ‘ibadah and its acceptability, a point which has often been mentioned in the traditions.
An exhaustive definition of ‘shirk in ‘ibadah’ that encompasses all its levels is the inclusion of the good pleasure and satisfaction of anyone other than God, whether it is one’s own self or someone else.’ If it is for someone else’s satisfaction and for other people, it is outward shirk and fiqhi riya’. If it is for one’s own satisfaction (rida), it is hidden and inward shirk; this also invalidates the ‘ibadah in view of the urafa and makes it unacceptable to God. Examples of it are offering the nightly prayer for increase in one’s livelihood, giving sadaqah for safety from afflictions, or giving zakat for increase in one’s wealth; that is, when one does these things for God Almighty in order to seek these things from His grace.
Although those ‘ibadat are valid, and one who performs them is considered to have performed his duty and fulfilled the requirements of the Shari’ah, they do not amount to the worship of God Almighty, nor are they characterized with sincerity of intention and purity of purpose. Rather, this kind of ‘ibadat are aimed to achieve mundane purposes and to seek the objects of carnal, mundane desires. Hence, the acts of such a person are not rightful.
Similarly, if ‘ibadah is for the sake of the fear of hell and yearning for paradise, it is not sincerely for God and is devoid of sincere intention. Rather, it may be said that such acts of worship are purely for the sake of Satan and the carnal self. The good pleasure of God does not enter the intentions of a person performing such a kind of ibadah in order to be considered even shirk.
Rather he has worshipped solely the great idol, the mother of all idols, the idol of one’s carnal desire. However, God Almighty has accepted this kind of ibadah from us out of His expansive mercy and on account of our weakness, by allowing a degree of leniency; that is, He has bestowed upon it certain effects and attached certain favors to it so that if man should fulfill the outward conditions of its acceptance, and perform it with the presence of the heart, all those effects will follow and all the related promises of reward shall be carried out.
Such is the condition of the ‘ibadat of the slaves and mercenaries. But as to the ‘ibadah of free men (ahrar), performed for the love of God Almighty and to seek the attention given by that Sacred Essence to Its worshippers, the motive of fear of hell and yearning for paradise being absent in it, it is the first station of the awliya’ and ahrar.