Repentance, Pride & Intention
May the Lord bless you and keep you, all the days of your life...
In recent weeks and months, I've been reading a lot of spiritually uplifting material (as regular corner cats will know). I wanted to offer a few thoughts of my own, as a means of working them out in my own head. Of course, before I begin, it's important to realise that whatever is right and true is from God; whatever is faulty and defective is from my own soul.
In a very famous Tradition (Hadith), Prophet Muhammad (saw) said:
"Actions are [judged] by intention, so each man will have what he intended. Thus, he whose migration was to Allah and His Messenger, his migration is to Allah and His Messenger; but he whose migration was for some worldly thing he might gain, or for a wife he might marry, his migration is to that for which he migrated."
(al-Nawawi, Forty Hadith)
Intention has inner and outer aspects. Exoterically speaking, intention relates to the performance of religious acts, such as prayer and zakat. You have to have the intention to do such acts to fulfill them. However, in the inner world, ensuring purity of intention is the task of a lifetime. An untrained ego seeks to validate itself in the eyes of humanity and thus its intention becomes perverted. This kind of pride has been categorised by the Prophet (saw) as hidden shirk; performing an action for other than Allah's sake is thus to believe that that other being can truly harm or heal you. This is a crucial topic and as with all such things, it is truly the work of a lifetime.
It's not always easy to know the difference. For myself (an untrained ego), I find this an important issue. When I speak, how can I ensure that I do so for Allah's sake alone? When I act, how can I make certain that there are no other hidden motives? Mevlana Rumi captures this point well in his poem:
'Refresh you faith, but not with talking.
You have secretly refreshed your desires.
As long as desires are fresh, faith is not.
for it is these desires that lock the gate'.
(Mathnawi I, 1078-1079)
'I beg of God forgiveness for saying and not doing,
and thus attributing offspring to one sterile'
(Quoted in Imam al-Haddad, Knowledge & Widsom)
But, and this is the central point, how do we know our repentance is sincere? How do we know that we're not 'saying and not doing', or rather 'saying and not meaning'? This thought has concerned some of Islam's most profound mystics and seekers after God. Perhaps one of the most famous examples is Rabi'a al-Adawiyya, the famous early woman mystic, who said:
'I ask forgiveness of God for my lack of sincerity when I say (those words) 'I ask forgiveness of God'
(Quoted by Margaret Smith, Rabi'a: the Life and Work of Rabi'a and Other Woman Mystics in Islam)