Many people complain that their iman is low and the sweetness of actions that they once tasted as they did when they first started their journey upon the Deen, is no longer there. The prayer has decreased to obligatory ones only, the effort to memorise the Quran is nonexistent. The Quran is only read during the month of Ramadhan. Acts of worships reduced to mechanical actions and now falling into sins is much easier as time goes by. These are all symptoms of weak iman. So what is the solution?
One answer is to sit by yourself and think about an action that no one, not one’s spouse, family or friends know except Allah. The Prophet (Sallahu ‘alayhi wa salam) said ‘whoever among you can afford to have good deeds stored in secret, let him do it.’ In a time when it is difficult to do actions away from the sight of people, whether it be on the streets, in the masjids, with our children at home or even on social media, there is always an avenue for us to hide our actions even if people are around us and that is through the actions of our hearts. While someone may see us do an act of worship outwardly, they cannot see the internal worship we may do as a result. This is best explicated by the example given by the scholars who said that perhaps two people pray besides each other performing the very same action, however their reward is like the difference between a mountain and a molehill based on their levels of sincerity.
So in this perspective – this open act can still have a form of anonymity which is the ibadah of the heart. However, this is not what is being discussed here as this is something that we should all be doing anyway. But the hidden deed we should strive to attain is the one in which we do a physical act that is far from the sight and expectations of the people, an action that no one knows except Allah. It is this action that gives rise to sincerity. It is this action, which we are offering to Allah alone that is in no way diluted with the disease of ostentation (riyaa). It is this action that could ignite the fire of iman that is within us. It is this action that will renew our relationship with Allah. It is this action that will rejuvenate the sweetness of worship. It is this action in which there is no barrier between the slave and the Master. This is the secret worship.
The reward and special place that secret worship has is mentioned in a number of ahadith. The Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said:
“Indeed Allah loves the pious, self-contented and hidden servant.”
He also said (Sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam):
“Allah said: ‘Every deed of the son of Adam is for him except fasting; it is for Me and I shall reward him for it…’”
“There are seven whom Allah will shade with His shade on the day when there will be no shade except His… a man who gives in charity and conceals it to such an extent that his left hand does not know what his right hand gives; and a man who remembers Allah when he is alone, and his eyes fill up.”
“See to it your prayers are in your houses, for verily the best of a man’s prayers is in his house, except for the prescribed (obligatory) prayer (which should be performed in the masjid).”
“The voluntary salah of a man prayed at home is increased (in reward) compared to that prayed with the people. This is like the (reward of a) salah of a person praying in congregation to that performed alone.”
Wahb ibn Munabih:
“O my son, Purify the act of obedience for Allah with a sincere inner reality that affirms the deed you have done for Allah outwardly (or publicly). As for the action done in public, do not think that it is a means of salvation any more than the secret one. The similitude of the public deed with a secret one is like the similitude of the leaves with the roots. The public deed is like the leaf, and the secret deed is like the root. If the root becomes rotten, the whole of tree is destroyed including the leaves and the trunk. And if the root is sound, the whole tree is sound, including the fruits and the leaves. So the appearance of the tree remains good so long as its roots are hidden, with nothing to be seen of them. Likewise, the Deen of a person remains righteous so long as he has a righteous inner (hidden) reality which agrees with his public actions done for Allah. For the public deeds benefit the hidden actions in the same way the roots benefit the tree. And if the leaf’s life was there before the root, the branches are a decoration and beauty. If the hidden deed (or reality) is the foundation of the Deen, then the public deed is what beautifies the Deen if a believer performs it seeking only the pleasure of his Lord.”
Difference between the hidden and the secret worship
There is a subtle difference between a hidden and a secret worship. Every secret action is a hidden action, but not vice versa. A hidden worship is one done away from the sight of the people but they may know about it due to a particular routine. For instance, a person prays in a room alone, but others know he’s praying there. A person who fasts, and none but his wife knows. However, a secret worship is one which no one but Allah knows and the person exerts his effort to keep it that way, far from the sight and thoughts of the people. Below are a number of examples and suggestions of secret worship that some of the righteous predecessors of the past performed. We only came to know of them due to coincidence or conjecture.
It can be a prayer that is known like Duha or Qiyamul Layl, but the point is to do it when no one can see or know you do it. It was said that Ayyub Al-Sikhtiyaani used to pray the whole of the night. To hide this from the people, he would yawn in the morning to show the people he had just woken up from sleep.
Some of the scholars said: ‘Knowledge is the secret prayer and the worship of the heart.’ This is because knowledge is one of the best forms of worship which draws a person closer to Allah. Muadh ibn Jabal (RadiAllahu ‘anhu) said: Learn knowledge, for learning it is a type of khashya (fear) of Allah, seeking it is an act of worship.
Imam Ghazali said: Knowledge is a worship of the heart, a secret prayer, an inward form of drawing closer to Allah. Just as the prayer is not valid without the cleansing from ritual and physical impurity, likewise, inward worship and the establishment of the heart upon knowledge is not correct without cleansing it from the dirt of (bad) manners and the impurities of (bad) characteristics.
Imam Ash-Shafiee said: I wish that the everyone knew what I know and not attribute even a letter of it to me.
Imam Abul Hasan Al-Mawardi wrote a book (called Al-Haawi which is 18 volumes) without people seeing him or knowing that he was authoring it. When death approached him, he informed a student of his whom he trusted about the book he had written. He told his aide that he feared for his sincerity and thus did not publish it. In order to ascertain if he had the correct intention, he instructed him to hold his hand at the point of death. If he were to squeeze his hand firmly, then know that he was not sincere and his book should be thrown into the river. If he didn’t press his hand hard, then see this as an indication that his intention was pure and to make use of the book. When the time of death came, the Imam held the student’s hand loosely, and thus this book was published and spread.
Recitation of the Quran
The Prophet (Sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: The one who recites the Qur’an in a loud voice is like one who gives Sadaqah (voluntary charity) openly; and the one who recites the Qur’an quietly is like one who gives Sadaqah secretly.
When a man approached Ibrahim An-Nakahai whilst he was reciting from the Quran, he would cover it up.
Of the most amazing things in Adh-Dhahabi’s Siyar is the statement of Ibn Abi Ali who said: Dawud ibn Abi Hind fasted for 40 years without his family knowing! He used to give the food his family prepared for him to the poor on the street. So the poor and his family both thought he had been fed.
‘Amr bin Qais Al-Malaa’i fasted for 20 years without his family knowing.
Others would go to such lengths to hide their fasts that they would put grease on their lips.
Allah says: “If you give charity openly, it is good, but if you keep it secret and give to the needy in private, that is better for you, and it will atone for some of your bad deeds: Allah is well aware of all that you do.”
He also said: “Those who give, out of their own possessions, by night and by day, in private and in public, will have their reward with their Lord: no fear for them, nor will they grieve.”
In this verse, Allah mentions the secret charity before the open one. The charity given at night before the day. Al Wahidi said this verse was revealed about Ali (RadiAllahu ‘anhu) who had 4000 dirams he gave in charity secretly, openly, by night and by day.
It is reported that ‘Ali bin Husayn used to give provision to the poor people by night in Medina. This was only discovered after he died when 100 family’s provision suddenly ceased and from the marks found upon his back from carrying the sacks.
Bishr ibn Al-Harith said: Charity is better than Hajj, ‘Umrah and Jihad. This is because people see you do this. (As for the charity), it is given secretly and no one sees you except Allah.
“There are seven whom Allah will shade with His shade on the day when there will be no shade except His… a man who remembers Allah when he is alone, and his eyes fill up.”
Zaida said Mansur ibn Al-Mutamir used to pray by night, fast during the days and used to cry, for 60 years. His mother said to him: O my son, why are you killing yourself like this? He responded: I know better what I have done to myself. When the morning would approach, he would put kohl in his eyes (to hide the fact that he was crying), oil his hair, gloss his lips (to hide his fasts) and go out to the people.
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.
Some would hide their crying such that if a person would come to them unexpectedly, he would say that he had a cold or would get up and leave.
Ibn Sireen used to talk and laugh with the people by the day and by night he used to cry so much that it was as though he killed an entire village.
Muawiyah bin Qurra said: The crying of the heart is better than the crying of the eyes.
To serve people
It is not enough for ones actions to be transitive which benefits the person only, like the salah and fast, but to also help others. It is famously reported that Umar (RadiAllahu ‘anhu) would serve an old blind lady, only to find that someone would cater for her needs before he arrived despite trying to reach her earlier. In order to find out who it was, he waited, only to discover it was Abu Bakr (RadiAllahu ‘anhu) who was the Khalifah at the time. Umar (RadiAllahu ‘anhu) exclaimed, ‘I swear, it could only be you!’ A similar incident occurred when Talha (RadiAllahu ‘anhu) followed Umar (RadiAllahu ‘anhu), only to find that that the then Khalifah was at the service of an elderly lady.
This is what made Abu Bakr and Umar (RadiAllahu ‘anhuma) so special, the best students of the best of creation (Sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). The one who said about them both, ‘they are my hearing and sight’
It said that Muhammad bin Munkadir saw a man after the people had performed Salatul-Istisqa’(the prayer for rain) as a result of a severe drought. The said: ‘O my Lord, those who frequent the Haram of Your Prophet went out to ask you for rain but you did not cause it to rain! I entreat You to grant them rain.’ As the man had finished, Ibn Munkadir said that it started to rain. He then heard that man say: ‘Who am I and what am I that my prayer was accepted? But I have turned to Your praise and Your might.’ In order to better know this man, Ibn Munkadir followed this man only to discover that he was a cobbler (shoe-maker). Once he was confronted, the unknown cobbler, embarrassed that Ibn Munkadr had realised he was the one who made the dua, fled never to be seen in the city again.
Sufyan Ath-Thawri said: ‘I advise you to remain unknown, since this is the age for remaining anonymous (khumul).’ This is advice to live by. However, this statement can be misunderstood. Despite the anonymity that Imam Ath-Thawri and others mentioned here, it did not contradict them doing actions publicly, being productive and being involved in various aspects of da’wah. Perhaps their popularity after their deaths is a testimony of their sincerity. But the real emphasis is that in a time when it is very difficult not to know what others are doing, we should reserve at least one action that no one knows but Allah. As one of the Arabs said: Put your treasure in a place where you will not lose it