… As I pulled out one of the books, my eyes fell on a chapter which I had bookmarked a couple of years ago. Unlike most normal people who bookmark chapters which they’re currently reading or are about to read, I guess I’m from the elite-but-lunatic few who only bookmark chapters which they’ve already read and passed by… (there’s a logic somewhere there, I promise!).
It was a chapter on ‘Keeping one’s deeds a secret’. Ah, it took me down memory lane… Years ago, in fact a decade ago, I remember being in the company of sisters who were (and still are) very dear to my heart; sisters who had taken me in when I was young, carefree and zealously passionate about everything which spelt ‘Islam’. We had gathered together for a halaqah at the beginning of Ramadan. The older sisters amongst us had prepared something for us youngsters, and it wasn’t food…
“Right, so here’s a chart we’ve put together so we can gain the maximum benefit from this month,” she started.
“You can personalise it as much as you like, but as you can see it’s a daily tick-chart which lists all the good deeds we should try and do on a daily basis…” She went on to explain how to use the chart while I rushed ahead and looked at all the good deeds they prepared for us to do, ‘Hmm, pretty impressive,’ I thought. It was like a mini-Hisn al-Muslim except more practical and more focused.
“… And if you look right to the bottom, you’ll see a special addition and I’ll leave you girls to ponder on that.” My eyes zapped straight to the bottom of the page…
After the list of good deeds such as Salah, Sadaqah, Dhikr, keeping ties, good character etc, there came one sentence which embodied a specific yet non-specific deed:
‘A secret deed between you and Allah.’
A shiver ran down my spine. Wow, did that sentence throw me off or what. It was amazing, not because I was unaware of such a concept as ikhlaas (sincerity), but because no-one had ever put it quite as bluntly or as straight forward as this. ‘I gotta do a secret deed?’ I thought to myself. Hmm, I was excited. (Or perhaps my wild dreams of being an acrobatic top-secret agent, working underground and virtually invisible to the world, kinda ran away with me at that point…!).
Still, there was something about it which appealed to me.
Many years later, I find that it still amazes me.
In an authentic narration, the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) said, “Whoever among you can afford to have good deeds stored in secret, let him do it.” [Sahih al-Jami’]
Doing righteous good deeds in your own private moment and space without interference is actually a Sunnah. Worship performed in this way often boosts one’s love, sincerity and proficiency of that act of worship. Although each serves its purpose, doing good deeds on your own and away from the eyes of onlookers is starkly different and on a completely different level to when you do these deeds as part of a jama’ah (group). It tastes different, it often is different and you know, the outcome is also different.
Abu Umamah (radhiallahu `anhu) recognised this and urged it when he saw a man praying in the masjid, crying profusely and making du’a in prostration. He went to him afterwards and said,
“You… if only you did this in your own home.”
Muhammad ibn Wasi’ said,
“I have seen men, and amongst them would be a man whose head would be next to his wife’s head on the same pillow, and his tears would soak all that’s underneath his cheek yet his own wife wouldn’t even know it. I have seen men lining up in a row (for prayer), and amongst them a man would stand, his tears flowing down his cheeks, yet the person next to him wouldn’t even know it.”
Al-Hasan al-Basri also said,
“A man would be sitting in a gathering and a drop of tear comes to his eyes, he tries to keep it back until when he fears that it will overpower him, he gets up and leaves.”
Meaning that they didn’t wish to come off as being any more pious or any more soft-hearted then those around them. And if something did affect them or draw them closer to Allah `azza wa jall, they kept it between Him and them. An act of worship is between you and the One you worship, so it has little to do with others and hence there’s no reason for others to know about it or be caused to be know all about it.
One of the Salaf once said,
“Don’t do deeds so that you can be mentioned, rather hide your deeds just as you hide your sins.”
One of the special things about doing good deeds secretly is that the outcome is often great. Just as the Salaf used to say,
“The one who humbles himself for Allah, will be raised by Allah,”
they also recognised that doing good deeds away from the eyes of others often brought greatness.
Ibn al-Mubarak once mentioned Imam Malik (who was his contemporary) saying,
“I haven’t seen anyone become raised in rank like Malik has been. He doesn’t have much in the way of prayer or fasting, but I only see this to be due to some secret deed which he does.”
Once he was asked about Ibrahim ibn Adham and his credibility in relaying hadith and he said,
“Indeed, he has witnessed narrations from people, and he has great virtue within himself. He is someone who has secret righteous deeds, and I have never seen him even utter tasbih (words of remembrance) or do anything of good deeds openly.”
… And we all know of Ibrahim ibn Adham.
The examples are numerous amongst that sincere generation. But what can we do to increase our portion of a’mal al-sirr?
- Contemplate over the meaning of Ikhlaas. What does it really mean to you?
- We need to reach the state where people’s praise and criticism is one and the same to us. The stage where praise doesn’t do anything to raise us, and rebuttal does nothing to lower us.
- Have a high opinion of your Lord. He should be your greatest concern.
- Have a high opinion of yourself. You’re more valuable than being the chit-chat of others.
- Start now. And a good way to begin is to pray, or recite Qur’an in a corner far away from people at least once a day. Special ‘me’ time perhaps, except this is completely purposeful. It would also be just as good to give away something in secret charity, and this is actually the Qur’anic example…
“If you disclose your charitable expenditures, they are good; but if you conceal them and give them to the poor, it is better for you…” [al-Baqarah: 271]