The Salaf (pious predecessors) of this Ummah did not simply consider Ikhlâs as mere âyât which are recited, or ahâdîth which are transmitted, but they gave it much more significance, and their example is a light which is to be followed. This is because they truly realised its importance.
Al-Fudayl said, “Allâh wishes from you only your intentions and desires (irâdah).”
They encountered great difficulty required in order to attain Ikhlâs and clarified this to the people. Sahl bin `Abdillâh al-Tustarî was once asked, “What is that which is most difficult for the soul [to attain]?” He answered, “Ikhlâs, because [the self] does not get anything out of it.”
Yûsuf bin Asbât said, “Purifying one’s intention from corruption is more difficult for persons than lengthy exertion (ijtihâd).”
Here are some examples of the Salaf and how they dealt with Ikhlâs, in order that you may take lesson and follow their paths:
1) Not attributing Ikhlâs to oneself.
The Salaf realised that attaining Ikhlâs is from the most difficult things which a person faces, and requires true striving, and therefore would negate this characteristic from themselves.
Hishâm ad-Distawâ’î said, “By Allâh, I am unable to say that that I ever went a day in search of hadîth, by which I sought the Face of Allâh.”
Do you know who is Hishâm ad-Distawâ’î, the one accusing himself of being insincere in his seeking of knowledge?! Shu`bah bin ‘l-Hajjâj said about him, “I do not say that anyone sought hadîth, seeking by it the Face of Allâh, except Hishâm ad-Distawâ’î.” Shâz bin Fayâdh said about him, “Hishâm cried, until his eyes became impaired.” Hishâm would say, “If the lamp went out, I would remember the darkness of the grave.” And he said, “It amazes me how an `Ālim (scholar) can laugh.”
Sufyân ath-Thawrî would say, “Nothing is more difficult for me to treat than my intention (niyyah) for indeed it turns on me.”
Yûsuf bin ‘l-Husayn said, “How many times have I tried to remove riyâ’ from my heart except that it sprouted in a different colour (i.e. in a different form).”
These people become Imâms, and despite this they were the strictest of people when it came to accusing themselves!
2) Hiding deeds.
al-Hasan ‘l-Basrî said, speaking about the striving of the Salaf in hiding their deeds, “A man would have gathered the Qur’ân (i.e. memorised it) whilst his neighbour would be unaware. Another man would have learnt a lot of Fiqh whilst the people would be unaware. A man would be praying lengthy prayer in his house, whilst he has guests, and they would not even realise. Indeed, I came across a people, there was not a single deed on the face of this earth which could be done in secret, that they ever done it in public!”
These Muslims would strive to supplicate to Allâh, and nothing could be heard from them except a low whisper between them and their Lord. That is because Allâh says,
ادْعُوا رَبَّكُمْ تَضَرُّعًا وَخُفْيَةً ۚ إِنَّهُ لَا يُحِبُّ الْمُعْتَدِينَ
“Call upon your Lord in humility and privately; indeed, He does not like transgressors.”
3) Hiding deeds from family and wives.
Abû ‘l-`Âliyah said, “I learned writing and the Qur’ân without my family noticing, and not a drop of ink was ever seen on my garment.”
Dâwûd bin Abû Hind fasted 40 years whilst his family was unaware. He would take his lunch with him and give it away in charity, and would then return home for dinner and break his fast with them.
4) Fear of beautifying deeds and doing things for other than Allâh.
`Alî bin al-Bakkâr al-Basrî said, “That I meet the Shaytân is more beloved to me than meeting so-and-so; I fear that I may do something for him (i.e. to impress him etc), and fall in the Sight of Allâh.”
5) Not making ones knowledge apparent.
Ibn Fâris mentioned regarding Abû ‘l-Hasan al-Qattân that he said, “I was afflicted with illness in Basrah, and I think I am being punished due to speaking a lot during the journey.” He thought that this illness was a punishment resulting from him making his knowledge apparent when he was travelling!
6) Hiding ones tears.
Hammâd bin Zayd said, “Ayyûb was such that a hadîth would be narrated to him, which would soften his heart and cause his eyes to shed tears. So when a tear would come to him, he would wipe his nose saying, ‘What a severe cold!’ He would show that he had a cold in order to hide his crying.
Al-Hasan ‘l-Basrî said, “A man would be sitting in a gathering, and tears would come to his eyes. He would try to hold them in, but if he felt that he would be unable to, he would stand and leave.”
Muhamamd bin Wâsi` said, “A man would cry for 20 years, while his wife would not know.”
And he also said, “I came across men; one of them, his head would be on the same pillow as his wife’s head; and what is under his cheek would become soaked with his tears, whilst his wife would be unaware. And I came across men; one of them would stand in the first row (in prayer), his tears would be flowing down his cheeks, and the person standing next to him would be unaware.”
7) Imâm ‘l-Mâwirdî and his writing of books.
This Imâm has a very strange story regarding Ikhlâs and his writing of books. He wrote many works in Fiqh, Tafsîr etc, but did not make anything from it public during his lifetime. He hid his works in a place which no one knew. When death approached him, he said to a person who he trusted, “All the books in such-and-such place are mine, and I did not make anything public because I did not find a sincere intention. When death approaches me, place your hand in my hand, and if I grasp it then know it has not been accepted from me, so act upon that and throw all my books in river during the night. However, if I do not squeeze it, then know that it has been accepted, and I have attained what I was hoping for with Allâh.” So that person said, when death approached him and I placed my hand in his, he did not grasp it, then I knew that this was a sign of acceptance, and his books were made available to the people after that.
8- `Ali bin ‘l-Husayn and his charity during the night.
`Al bin ‘l-Husayn used to carry bread on his back in the darkness of the night and follow the poor people (to give it to them). He used to say, “Charity in the darkness of the night extinguishes the Lords anger.”
The poor people in Madînah used to live and would not know where they were getting their food from. When `Ali ibn Husayn passed away, they started missing what they used to be given at night. When he died, they found marks on his back from the sacks of provisions he used to carry at night to the houses of the widows and they found out that he used to provide for a hundred (poor) families.
This was the state of these people, they would hide their deeds, but Allâh made them apparent so that they become Imâms who are followed. Allâh says,
وَاجْعَلْنَا لِلْمُتَّقِينَ إِمَامًا
“…and make us an example for the righteous.”
وَجَعَلْنَاهُمْ أَئِمَّةً يَهْدُونَ بِأَمْرِنَا
“And We made them leaders guiding by Our command.”
 Jâmi` ‘l-`Ulûm wa ‘l-Hikam (13).
 Madârij ‘l-Sâlikîn (2/92) and Jâmi` ‘l-`Ulûm wa ‘l-Hikam (17).
 Jâmi` ‘l-`Ulûm wa ‘l-Hikam (13).
 Târîkh ‘l-Islâm (3/175), Siyar A`lâm an-Nubalâ’ (7/152).
 Târîkh ‘l-Islâm (3/176).
 Al-Ikhlâs wa ‘l-Niyyah (65).
 Madârij ‘l-Sâlikîn (2/92).
 Qur’ân – al-A`râf (7):55.
Refer to az-Zuhd by Ibn ‘l-Mubârak (35-36).
 Siyâr ‘l-A`lâm an-Nubalâ’ (6/17).
 Hilyat ‘l-Awliyâ’ (3/94).
 Hilyat ‘l-Awliyâ’ (8/270).
 Musnad Ibn ‘l-Ja`d (1246), Siyâr ‘l-A`lâm an-Nubalâ’ (6/20).
 Al-Zuhd by Imâm Ahmad (262).
 Hilyat ‘l-Awliyâ’ (2/347).
 Târîkh ‘l-Islâm (7/169), Siyâr ‘l-A`lâm an-Nubalâ’ (18/66).
 Siyâr ‘l-A`lâm an-Nubalâ’ by adh-Dhahabi.
 Qur’ân – al-Furqân (25):74.
 Qur’ân – al-Anbiyâ’ (21):73.