On the Importance of Single-minded Devotion

(1) It is related by Abdullah bin Umar that the Apostle of God said: “(Once), three men were going somewhere that it began to rain. They took shelter in a cave. In the meantime, a rock fell, covering completely the opening of the cave. Of the three men, one said to the others: ‘Think of the good deeds you may have done and pray to God through the propitiousness of the deed you may have done, particularly for His sake, to remove the rock (and relieve us of the distress).’

“Upon it one of them said: ‘Oh God! My parents were very old and I had many children. I used to graze goats etc., in order to provide milk for them. I would return (home) in the evening, milk the goats and give the milk, first to my parents, and, then, to the children. One day it so happened that the trees of the pasturage took me far. (I lost the sense of distance and went a long way off grazing the goats), and could not return on time till it grew dark. When I reached home, I found that both my father and mother were asleep. I milked the goats, as usual, and went to my parents with the milk vessel [in my hands], and stood at the head of their beds. I neither liked to wake them up nor to give the milk to the children before my parents had drunk it. My children were crying at my feet owing to hunger and I was standing still with the milk. It went on like that until it was morning. Oh God! If Thou knoweth that I had done it solely for Thy propitiation, move the rock a little so that we could see the sky.’ The Almighty, thereupon, moved the rock to the extent that the sky could be seen.

“The second man, then, said: ‘Oh God! My uncle had a daughter with whom I was madly in love. I asked her for sexual intercourse, but she replied that it could take place only when I paid her a hundred sovereigns. I tried and collected the sovereigns and took them to her. Then, as I sat between her legs (to commence the act), she said: ‘O bondsman of God! Fear God….’ I, at once, got up out of the fear of God, and did not perform the act. My Lord! If that act of mine was wholly for Thy propitiation, remove the rock and open the way for us.’ God, thereupon, moved the rock a little further.

“After it, the third man said: ‘I had, (once), engaged a labourer on a Faraqof rice. When he had completed the work, he came to me and demanded the wage, but as I was about to pay, he disappeared and did not return. I, then, began to do farming with the rice, i.e., paddy and went on with it for years until, with the money thus earned, 1 had collected several bullocks and men to look after them. After a long time, the man returned, and said: ‘Fear God, and do not be unjust, and give me back my due.’ I told him to take the bullocks and the labourers (as they belonged to him), upon which he remarked: ‘Oh man! Fear God, and don’t joke with me.’ ‘I am not joking,’ I replied. ‘All these are yours.’ He, thereupon, took them away. Oh God! If, in Thy sight that act of mine was wholly for Thy sake, remove the rock completely.’ The Lord, thereupon, removed the rock and opened the way (for them).

Bukhari and Muslim


The three persons mentioned in it were, perhaps, the followers of an earlier Apostle and the holy Prophet has related the parable for his own followers to draw a lesson from it. A few noteworthy features of the deeds narrated above are:

Firstly, as it is clearly stated in the report as well, all the three acts had been performed solely for the sake of God and for earning His good pleasure, and it was for that reason that the men had placed them before the Almighty and beseeched Him for mercy.

Secondly, the deeds offer a marvelous example of subordinating one’s desires to the will and command of the Lord. Just imagine, how severe is the struggle of the first man, mentioned in the parable, against the urges of the self. He has been grazing cattle, throughout the day, in the jungle, and returns home late in the evening, tired out, and fatigued. He will, naturally be wanting to go to bed soon. But since his parents have fallen asleep without taking the milk, he feels that the pleasure of the Lord lies in giving them the milk when they wake up, and spends the whole night standing by the bed-side, with the milk-vessel in his hand. His children cry due to hunger at his feet, but he gives priority to the right of the parents, and to the good pleasure of the Lord, and willingly restrains himself from giving the milk to his children before he has fed the aged parents with it, until it is daybreak.

The same quality is evident from the deed of the second man. He is passionately in love with a girl and when a large amount of money is settled between them as her charge for the sexual act, and he has also paid it and is about to fulfill the greatest desire of his life, the Name of God comes in at that very moment, and, out of the fear of God and eagerness to earn His good graces, he stands up and leaves the girl alone. Now, anyone who is not altogether dead to the cravings of the flesh can imagine what it means and what a glorious instance of subduing the carnal self for the sake of God does it offer.

The case of the third man, too, is identical. A labourer leaves behind a few seers of paddy with him. He sows it on his land, and regarding the crop it yields to be the property of the labourer, saves it back year after year and invests the money in some other business as well until he acquires a whole herd of cattle. When, however, the labourer returns after a long time, the honest and trustworthy bondsman hands over to him the entire wealth he had earned by the sweat of his brow and careful planning. What temptations would the Devil not have thrown in his path? How would he not have tried to induce him to keep the property he had, thus, acquired with himself, and of which the labourer had no knowledge? But the bondsman stood firm against all the inducements of the Devil and his own baser self, and handed over the whole property to the poor labourer out of the fear of God.

Besides, an additional peculiarity of all the three acts is that none of them belongs to the class and category of traditional worship. One is related to Mu’ashirat (Social Conduct), one to Mu’amilat (Monetary Dealings), while the special feature of another – the second deed – is that a bondsman abstained from a sin wholly for earning the countenance of the Lord although it was the ruling passion of his life and he had also made the necessary arrangement.

Riya’ is a form of Polytheism (Shirk)

As sincerity and singleness of purpose, i.e., the intention to earn the favour and good pleasure of God while performing a good deed is the pre-requisite of Faith and Monotheism, Riya or, in other words, hypocrisy, deceit, duplicity and dissimulation, i.e., the doing of a good act with an eye on popularity or renown is the reverse of it and a kind of Polytheism.

(2) It is related by Shaddad bin Aus that he heard the Apostle of God say: “Whoever offered Salah for display was guilty of Polytheism, and whoever observed fasting for display was guilty of Polytheism, and whoever practiced charity for display was guilty of Polytheism.”

–          Musnad-Ahmad


Real Polytheism lies in associating anyone with God in His Being, Attributes and Functions, and in His Special Rights, and yielding obeisance and offering worship to anyone aside of Him. This is the ‘actual,’ ‘open’ or ‘major’ Polytheism about which it is stated in the Qur’an and is an Article of Faith with us, the Muslims, that whoever is guilty of it shall never be admitted to Heaven. But there are some acts and morals which though they do not amount to Polytheism in that sense, are related to it, one way or the other. One of these is that a person offered worship or did any other virtuous act not with the intention of propitiating God and seeking His good graces, but for impressing others so that people might say that he was a godly man and become his disciples. This is what is called Riya, and despite the fact that it is not Polytheism in the true sense, it does represent a grade of it. It is a kind of Hypocrisy and a highly sinful practice. In another narrative, it has been described as ‘concealed,’ and, in yet another as ‘minor’ Polytheism.

It should, however, be noted that Salah, Sawm and charity have been mentioned in this Tradition merely as an example or else any good deed which is performed with an eye on renown or any other worldly advantage is equivalent in significance to Polytheism and will merit severe chastisement in place of reward.

(3) Abu Saeed Khudri narrates: “One day, the Apostle of God came to us, i.e. to the place where we were sitting, from his apartment. At that time, we were talking about Dajjal, the Imposter. The Prophet remarked: ‘May I tell you of something which is even more dangerous for you than Dajjal?’ ‘Do, please,’ we replied. The Prophet, thereupon, said: ‘It is concealed Polytheism, (an example of which is that) a man stood up for Salah, and, then, extended the prayer because someone was seeing him offering it.’”

–          Ibn-i-Maja


What the holy Prophet, probably, wanted to stress was that he had no great fear of the open Polytheism and Apostasy to which Dajjal will try to lead the people through various artful and ingenious expedients as he was confident that his true followers will not fall a prey to his deception, but he, indeed, was afraid that the Devil succeeded in pushing them into disguised Polytheism, an example of which was that Salah was prolonged simply to impress others.

In another Tradition quoted, again, in Sunan Ibn Maja, it is stated that, once, as the Prophet expressed his fear of the  Muslims falling into Polytheism, some Companions remarked, “Oh Apostle of God! How can it be that, after you, your followers took to Polytheism?” The holy Prophet replied, “I am confident my followers will not worship the sun, the moon, the stones and the idols, but it can and will be that they fell a prey to concealed Polytheism of the class of Riya.”

(4) Mahmood bin Labeed relates that the Apostle of God said: “The greatest fear I have concerning you is of ‘minor’ Polytheism.” “What is ‘minor’ Polytheism?” asked the Companions. “Riya,” the Prophet replied. “(The doing of a virtuous act for show or display).”

–          Musnad-i-Ahmad