The previous lesson from Maria Popova was about being ready to change our minds. The second lesson she offers from her life experiences is:
 Do nothing for prestige or status or money or approval alone. As Paul Graham observed, “prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.” Those extrinsic motivators are fine and can feel life-affirming in the moment, but they ultimately don’t make it thrilling to get up in the morning and gratifying to go to sleep at night — and, in fact, they can often distract and detract from the things that do offer those deeper rewards.
Clearly, this is well-aligned with Islamic teachings. The first three people to be judged on on the Day of Judgment will be a scholar, a martyr, and a generous wealthy man. All three will have the greatest of deeds, but none will be acceptable because of the lack of sincerity of their intentions. So to deepen the lesson, and make it more profound, the only intention which is acceptable is to do all things purely for the sake of the love of Allah. Note how the Quran (76:8) says that: “And they feed, for the love of Allah, the indigent, the orphan, and the captive”. It is very important to understand that it is not enough to feed the hungry. One should not do this to achieve popularity, to be called a generous person, in order to receive thanks and gratitude, to feel inner pride at wealth, to feel superior, to give in an insulting and humiliating manner, and many other such wrong manners and intentions. Imam Ghazali writes that when we give to others, we should feel that we are the beneficiaries, the one who accepts our money is doing us a great favor, by allowing us to do a good deed. Removing the bad intentions is only one part, the other part is to purify the intentions and make all our deeds directed towards God alone, so that they are done for the sake of the love of Allah.
In fact, Islam places great emphasis on intentions. The first hadeeth of Sahih Bokhari is that the worth of all actions depends on intentions. For a discussion of how making the right intentions for acquiring knowledge is essential, see: PP1: The First Principle of Pedagogy. So Maria Popova has discovered a fragment of the deep truth about the importance of intentions from her life experiences.
To see how this links with the previous teaching, about being ready to change our minds, reflect on the story of Ibraheem AS in his dialog with his nation (Q26:69). Even though he explains that why it is illogical for them to worship idols, and they accept his logic, they continue to do worship idols and make plans to kill Ibraheem AS for insulting their gods. Why? People are attached to their customs, to their ancients, to their society, to popularity. In fact, Azar, father of Ibraheem AS was a seller of idols. So if the nation stopped worshiping them, he would be out of the job. Similarly, the powerful priests would lose their jobs. So we see that Prestige, Status, Money, Approval of society – these are all FALSE GODS which ask for worship. When we seek these things, we are distracted from the purity of worship of Allah. For the sake of these things, we can reject the truth, and cling to falsehood.
To take it a bit further, note that we would like to appear to know things – so the state of uncertainty – saying “I don’t know” – an admission of ignorance – seems to LOWER our status. This is “surrender” requires us to do – to realize and recognize that Allah T’aala is the only source of all knowledge, and He gives some small portions of this knowledge to whoever He wants to. So to seek knowledge from the treasures of Allah, we must learn complete humility, and become seekers from Allah. Humility is required for Unlearning, while Pride prevents us from Unlearning.
The second barrier to unlearning comes from the discomfort of not knowing things. If I dont know which path is better, how do I know which action to take? I can be paralyzed by lack of knowledge into not doing anything. This is another reason why people prefer to believe that they KNOW things, even when they don’t. At least they can take actions on their (false) knowledge. The solution the Islam offers us to this dilemma is TAWAKKUL – trust in Allah to guide us. When we do not know which action to take, we take our problem to Allah, and we ask Him for guidance, and we trust Him to guide us in the best direction, even though we do not KNOW. The Dua of Istikhara makes this crystal clear. O Allah You Know and I do not Know what is best for me. So our path to guidance, without knowledge, is istikhara and mashwera. Those who follow these recommended actions will be guided to decisions for which they will have no regrets. Those who put their trust in their own false knowledge will often be led to wrong decisions and major regrets.
To conclude, note how people who do not have the light of Islam arrive at truths from their life experiences, but these are only partial and incomplete fragments of the complete and perfect guidance given to us by Allah, Creator of the Heavens and Earth,