As for the conditions of ‘ibadah, that is, for it to be accepted, then they are three in number: faith (Iman), sincerity (ikhlas) and imitation (ittiba’).
So the servant’s ‘ibadah is not accepted except with the abundance and the bringing together of the three abovementioned conditions.
As for Iman then that is what has been mentioned in the hadeeth of the Angel Gabriel (Jibreel) in Saheeh Muslim:
‘ (Iman is) that you affirm your conviction in Allah, His Angels, His Books, His Messengers, the Final Day and the Divine Apportionment, both the good and the bad of it. ’
As our Salaf (Pious Predecessors) have said:
‘ Iman consists of firm and resolute belief in the heart, profession with the tongue and acting in accordance with the commands of Allah and His Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم). ’
Iman is a pillar in the acceptance of ‘ibadah. The Exalted says:
‘ Those who believe and do deeds of righteousness – never shall we diminish the reward of the one who has made excellent his action. ’ [18:30]
The Exalted also says:
‘ And whoever does an action whether male or female while being a believer, then they will enter Paradise and will be given provisions without measure. ’ [40:40]
As for those who are devoid of Iman then their worship will not be accepted. The Exalted says:
‘ And We shall turn to whatever actions they did and turn them into scattered dust. ’ [25:23]
The Exalted also says regarding their worship:
‘ Their actions are like a mirage in the desert which the thirsty man deems to be water, until when he comes to it to find nothing (there). ’ [24:39]
and the Exalted also says:
‘ Their actions are like ashes on which the wind blows hard on a stormy day. ’ [14:18]
So, brother and sister Muslim, increase your Iman by learning the specific details of the Islamic Creed, performing the prescribed actions and avoiding what displeases Allah and brings upon you His anger – and there is nothing more harmful to your Iman than sins – so that every action you perform is not wasted, turned to dust or blown away by the wind.
As for ikhlas, then that is one of the meanings of the testimony ‘none has the right to ‘ibadah except Allah’ in that your ‘ibadah should be exclusively and sincerely for Allah the Mighty and Majestic. 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, the Mighty and Majestic, 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. ’ [6:82]
Injustice here meanings shirk as was explained by the Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) to the Companions (radiAllahu anhum) and as has been recorded by al-Bukhari in Kitabut-Tafseer of his Saheeh.
Allah the Mighty and Majestic 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 says:
‘ And they were not commanded except with this: that they should worship Allah, being completely sincere in the Deen. ’ [98:5]
Ikhlas is the sanctification of one’s speech and action from every blemish of the soul’s desire. For example, desiring your beautification in the hearts of the 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 people (i.e. Abandoning certain people’s magnification of yourself, their aid and assistance, the fulfilment of your needs or desiring other people’s wealth and possessions – while being contented with all of that because your soul is deceived at amazement with itself.
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 bin 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 p. 17]
Imitation & Adherence To The Sunnah (Ittiba’)
As for ittiba’ then that is also one of the meanings of the testimony that ‘Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah’ in that one’s ‘ibadah should be in agreement with and in accordance to what the Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) came with.
Every form of worship which is introduced and invented and which the Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) did not come with is false and rejected, not being accepted from the one who acts upon it – even if he has Iman and Ikhlas.
The Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said, as is recorded by Ibn Khuzaymah in his Saheeh, about the perfection and comprehensiveness of his guidance:
‘ By Him in Whose Hand is my soul. I have not left a single thing which brings you closer to Paradise and distances you from Hellfire except that I have commanded you with it. And I have not left a single thing which brings you closer to Paradise and distances you from Hellfire except that I have prohibited you from it. ’
In Saheehul-Bukhari and Saheeh Muslim the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) says: ‘ Whoever introduces into this affair of ours something which does not belong to it will have it rejected.’ [Reported by Imam Muslim]
Muslim adds in his Saheeh from ‘Ai’ishah that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) also said:
‘ Whoever does an action which we have not commanded, will have it rejected. ’
Furthermore, one’s ‘ibadah should be performed in accordance with the manner of the Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) and that is his proven, authentic Sunnah. Abu Dawud in his Sunan reports from Ibn ‘Eesa:
‘Whoever does an action in a way different from ours, then it is rejected.’
The great Imam, Sufyan ath-Thawri (rahimahullah), said:
‘ No word is accepted without action and no word and action are accepted without intention and no word, action and intention are correct unless they are in accordance with the Sunnah. ’
So it is incumbent, O brother and sister Muslim, that you make your ‘ibadah bound and fettered with these three conditions: Iman, Ikhlas and ittiba’; and be zealous that your worship is in accordance with the Sunnah as those who abandon it are greater than those who cling to it. If not, then scattered dust…scattered dust…scattered dust!!!
[Taken from Chapter 3 of the Book of Worship]