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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Intention / Niyyah

Intention/ Niyyah

A few months ago a friend of mine was talking about the importance of intention. He quoted Imam As-Shafi’i statement on intention that it enters into seventy chapters of jurisprudence. I said yes that is in the Shafi’i school and not in the Hanafi School because there are actions that can be done without intention that are valid.

He disagreed with my point and decided to convince me of his point. You see in the Hanafi School there are actions that can be done without intention that are valid because intention is not part of the action. But if one desires reward then intention is important and that is where the following quote fits in. In Al-Shaba wa Al-Nazahir of Ibn Nujaym (may Allah show him mercy) he says, "There is no reward without intention." (p. 17) Reward is about the result of the action not whether it is valid or not.

A famous example is when a person jumps into a river and all the parts of his body are wet, his ablution is valid in the Hanafi school but not in the Shafi’i school. Also, if a man makes three pronouncements of the word Talaq/Divorce to his wife; the divorce occurs without intention. Alas he did not accept my point but I wanted to write something about intention because it is a subject which many of us neglect! Note, it is my intention to write something useful about intention and not my intention to insult!


Many books start with the prophetic narration of intention. The narration is as follows:

Umar narrates that the Prophet (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) said, “Actions are commensurate to their intentions.” (Bukhari 1/1 and Muslim 3/1907)

This is the first narration that Imam Bukhari begins his Authentic/Sahih collection with; the first narration that the Miskat Al-Masabih begins with, Imam Nawawi begins his forty Hadith collection with this narration, as he does the Garden of the Righteous. This is something that many scholars see as the starting place of an action, the intention. So if we get the intention right then whatever comes after will be sound as well.

In terms of the narration it is singular and authentic but later it was mass transmitted by Umar ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) in a sermon. The Hanafi School understand this narration as a sole/Ahad transmission. Because it started singular.

Going back to the hadith we see that the sources of actions are the intentions. And intentions are the beginning of the action.

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Actions are commensurate by intentions, to every intender is his intention. Whoever's emigration is for Allah and his Messenger then his emigration is to Allah and his Messenger. And whoever's emigration is for any worldly gain or for a woman he is to wed, then his migration is for what he migrated.” (Source as above)

There was a man who wished to marry Umm Qais who migrated so he could marry her as other companions migrated for the sake of Allah. The companions’ intentions were that they migrated for the sake of Allah and the other man’s intention was so he could marry a woman. He did become Muslim and he became known as Muhajir Umm Qais, the emigrate of the mother of Qais. This hadith clearly explains that the action depends on the intention. Or the actions are founded on the intention and this clarifies the reason that an action occurred.

The following hadith explains this further:

Abdullah ibn Umair (may Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) said, “Whoever makes an intention for the sake of the world; Allah, the exalted, brings poverty before him and leaves it desiring it. Whoever makes the afterlife his intention; Allah, the exalted, makes his heart rich and gathers him with what he lost then he leaves with more abstinence from it.” (Ibn Majah)

Definitions of Intention

In Jurisprudence/Fiqh

According to Jurisprudence intention can be defined as determination in the heart to do or not to do something. Or when someone asks you then you reply that you are about to do such and such.

In other actions

Mulla Ali Al-Qari (may Allah be pleased with him) states in his commentary of Miskat Al-Masabih on the prophetic narration of “Actions are commensurate to their intentions.” That intention is, “Islamically, it is directing the heart to action for the sake of Allah.” (Miqat Ul-Mafatiah Vol 1 P.94)

This is about the soundness of the intention. 

Imam Ghazali (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “Know that intention, wish and aim are various expression of one meaning; it is the condition and state of the heart; which include two issues; knowledge and action.” (Ihya Ulum Ud-Din Vol 4 p.485)

The last quote is something that we are going to explain. The Imam mentions knowledge which is something that is vital for sound action. If there is no knowledge then there is a chance that an action is not valid.

Dictionary definition

The definition according to the English dictionary by Geddes and Grosset is, “Determination to act in a certain way.” (p.269)

Quotes on Intention

“When a man says he approves of something in principle, it means he hasn't the slightest intention of putting it into practice.” Otto von Bismarck (1815 - 1898)

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” [1855 H. G. Bohn Hand-Book of Proverbs 514]

I do have an issue with the last quotation because this is not true. If you look at the Hadith then we have to change the saying to, “The road to paradise is paved with good intentions.” As even a good intention is rewarded for. Please read on.

Good intentions are rewarded

Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with them both) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) narrates that Allah, the Exalted and Majestic, Said, “Allah records good and bad deeds." Then he explained, “Whoever is about to do a good deed and does not perform it then Allah records one complete good deed for him. If he is going to do and performs it; Allah records ten to seven hundred good deeds for him or even more. And whoever is about to perform an evil act and does not perform it; Allah records one good deed for him but if he is about to do it and performs it then Allah record one evil deed for him.”(Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

This is something that the Muslim nation is blessed with. It is blessed because with this narration which states that if we intend a good action then it is recorded as if we have done it and if we intend to do a wrong action then it is recorded as a good action as long as we do not do it. How merciful Allah is to the Muslim nation that he has blessed us in such way. This also gives us the ability to understand this hadith.

Sohal Ibn Sa’ad narrates that the Prophet (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) said, “The intention of a believer is better than his action.” (Tabarani and Al-Daylami 3/286)

Sometimes someone action is not as good as there intention. Partly, because their action fails but the intention remains. It can also mean the action was no done but the intention was present, thus better than his action.

I remember one speaker talking about this hadith and was encouraging the audience to make as many good intentions as they could, in hope for more reward. The following narration is also something that illustrates this point further.

Narrated from the Jewish folklore is a story of man who passed by a sand dune during a famine. He said to himself, “If only this sand was food I would’ve distributed it amongst the people.” Then Allah, the Exalted, sent revelation to their Prophet to say to him that Allah, the Exalted, has accepted his truthfulness, his good intention and has given him the reward as if it had been food that was distributed as charity. (Ihya Ulum Ud-Din Vol 4 p.483)

Abu Laith As-Samaqandi (may Allah be pleased with him) states in Tanbih Al-Ghafileen (informing the heedless p.276-7) “Many sleepers attain the reward of a person praying and how many a prayers awake is recorded as a sleeper. This is when a man has a habit of getting up in the night, making ablution and then praying until Fajr comes in. He sleeps with that intention and sleep overcomes him until dawn comes then awakes. He is saddened by this (not being able to pray during the night); he is recorded as person praying and attains the reward of a person awake because of his intention. As for the man who does not get up in the night to pray and thinks that dawn has come then gets up, make ablution and goes to the masjid; then he realises it is not dawn and waits for it saying to himself, “If I knew it was not dawn then I would not have left my bed.” And this is how someone is recorded as a sleeper though he is awake.”

Different types of intentions

These are different types of praiseworthy intention:
1. For Allah - this is the intention of the Prophets (upon him peace) - the best
2. For Allah and His Messenger (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him)
3. For paradise - this is permitted but very low

Blameworthy intentions
1. For the world
2. For evil actions
3. For Satan


Something that needs careful consideration is the following hadith.

Jabir (may Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) said, “Every servant will be resurrected upon their intentions.” (Muslim)

We do not want to be resurrected with bad intentions in our hearts nor do we want to be taken by the angel of death when we are doing something evil or about to do something evil, do we? O’Allah, please take our souls whilst we are performing actions of goodness. Ameen.

Final points

We are affirming that intention is important and a good intention can raise someone’s actions to a higher level thus assisting them in increasing their reward. If intentions are good then the outcome almost does not matter. Bad intentions are only recorded as such if they are followed up with evil actions.

Your intention is something that is secret that only if you divulge it will people find out. Sometimes, we have seen people do bad things but the resulting action was something good. We must always know that Allah (Almighty and Majestic) wants good for us and correcting the intention is the first step to sincerity. We pray this has been useful in clarifying some points and that it has helped people and may Allah make our intentions solely for him.

So please note that there is a difference between a man who goes to work because he has to and a man who goes to work with the intention of earning halal wealth for his family. There is a difference between a woman who cooks for her family and a woman who makes the intention that she is cooking for the sake of Allah.

Sheikh Muhammad Al-Yaqoubi's grandmother used to read salawat upon the Prophet (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) when cooking. Then it became known that her food was a cure because of the salawat.

So the difference, in all these cases, is the intention, if the intention is for the sake of Allah (Mighty and Exalted) an action can reach great heights. You might be sat next to a person doing the same job but because of your intention, your action is much greater but to an onlooker it would appear the same yet one with Allah (Mighty and Exalted) has a lofty station.

May the praise of Allah (mighty and Majestic) ring out from every corner of creation and may salutations and peace be bestowed onto our master Muhammad (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him).

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