INTENTION

from "Mukhtasar Minhaj al-Qasidin"

(being Ibn Qudamah's abridgement of Ibn al-Jawzi's summary of al-Ghazzali's "Ihya' `Ulum al-Din")
with some additions from the original Ihya'
NOTE: This text is copyright.
Permission is granted to include it on web sites, and to make hard copies for the SOLE PURPOSE of da`wah (propagation) or educational efforts. Due acknowledgement should be given.

In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

"And they were ordered only to worship Allah, making religion sincere for Him, and to establish salah and give zakah, and that is the true religion."[Qur'an [98:5].
"Say : Whether you hide that which is in your breasts or reveal it, Allah knows it."[Qur'an [3:30].

 

Through the perception of faith and the illumination of the Qur'an, people of insight come to the realization that felicity cannot be attained without knowledge and worship.  This is because all of mankind are ruined, save those who know, and all those who know are ruined save those who act, and all those who act are ruined save those who are sincere, and the sincere ones are in great danger.  Indeed, action without intention is [worthless] toil, while intention without sincerity is showing off, and sincerity without precision is [like floating] dust.
"And We shall turn to whatever deeds they did, and render them [like] floating dust."[Qur'an [25:23].


How then, can you reform your intention if you do not know the reality of intention?  How can an earnest person demand sincerity from himself if he has not understood the meaning of sincerity?  Thus, the first obligation on that servant [of Allah] who desires obedience to Allah, the Exalted, is that he should acquaint
himself with intention, in order to attain comprehension.  Then, he must correct his intention practically after understanding the reality of sincerity and honesty, which are the two means for the servant to attain  salvation.

 

Intention, its reality and virtues, and related matters
"And do not repel those who call upon their Lord, morning and evening, desiring His countenance."[Qur'an [6:53].


(`Umar) “Actions are only according to intentions, and every man shall have only that which he intended.  So, whoever emigrated for [the sake of] Allah and His Messenger, his migration is for Allah and His messenger.  And, whoever’s migration was to attain some worldly benefit, or to woman to marry her, his emigration is for that [purpose] for which he migrated.” [Bukhari, Muslim]
(Abu Musa) “A man who fights for bravery, ostentation, anger…” [Bukhari, Muslim]


(Jabir) “You have left behind in Madinah men who share in your reward, with valley you traverse and every path you travel.  They were detained by [legitimate] extenuations.” [Muslim, Bukhari]

 

(Abu Kabshah) : “The parable of this ummah is the parable of four persons :
1) A man to whom Allah has given wealth and knowledge, so he acts on [the knowledge] in [the matter of] his wealth, spending it in its due [channels].
2) A man to whom Allah has given knowledge but not wealth, and he says, “If I had wealth like this [man], I would do with it as he does.”

These two are equal in reward.
3) A man to whom Allah has given wealth, but not knowledge, and so he acts rashly in it, spending it in other than its due [channels].
4) A man  to whom He has given neither wealth nor knowledge, but he says, “If I had the like of that which this [man] has, I would do as he does.”
The Messenger of Allah said, “So, these two are equal in sin.” [Ibn Majah]

(`Abdullah ibn `Abbas): "Indeed, Allah has defined the good and the evil deeds, and then explained them.  So, whoever had the thought to do a good deed, but did not do it, Allah writes it for him as a complete good deed, while if he [actually] did it, Allah writes it for him as ten good deeds, [or] upto seven hundred fold, [or] upto [even] many times [more over].  And, if he had the thought to do an evil deed, but [dispelled the thought and] did not do it, Allah writes it for him as a complete good deed, while if he [entertained the thought and] acted on it, Allah writes it as a single evil deed." [Bukhari, Muslim; vide Riyad as-Saliheen #11]

The angels ascend with people's deeds, and then an angel is told, "Throw away that scroll!"  The angels say, "Our Lord! He said [something] good, and we recorded it for him!"  [Allah], the Possessor of Blessings, the Exalted, says, "He did not intend My Countenance thereby."  Another angel is told, "Write for so-and-
so such-and-such [good deed] twice over."  He says, "O my Lord! He did not do it!" [Allah], the Mighty, the Majestic, says, "He has intended it."

 

Sayings on Intention
`Umar ibn al-Khattab used to say, "The best worship is to fulfil that which Allah, the Exalted, has enjoined upon you, to abstain from that from which Allah, the Exalted has prohibited you, and keeping your intention sincere for that which is with Allah."

 

Salim ibn `Abdillah wrote to `Umar ibn `Abdil-`Azeez : Know that the support of Allah, the Exalted for His servant is in proportion to intention.  So, whoever perfects his intention, Allah support for him will be perfect, and if it is deficient, there will be a corresponding deficiency [in help].

 

A man was once going around [from one scholar to another], saying, "Direct me to a deed which I can continuously do for Allah, the Exalted."  He was told, "Intend good, for [in that way] you will always be doing [good] even if you [actually] do nothing, for intention [itself] acts, even in the absence of
[actual] action.  Thus, he who intended to pray [tahajjud] by night, but then [mistakenly] slept, for him is recorded the reward for that which he intended."
  It is reported in the hadeeth,
“There is not any man who has a time of the night [in] which he stands [in prayer], but then he oversleeps through it, except that the reward of his [habitual] time is written for him, and his sleep is a charity which has been bestowed upon him.” [Ibn Majah]


It has also been narrated that,
“The believer’s intention is better than his deed.” [Suyuti in Al-Jami` As-Saghir attributed it to Bayhaqi on the authority of Anas (which he classified as weak) and to Tabarani on the authority of Sahl ibn Sa`d (which he did not comment on).]

 

Sufyan Thawry said : They used to learn the intention like you learn the deed.

Jesus (peace be upon him) said : Blessed is that eye which sleeps without entertaining the thought of a misdemeanor, and awakens to no sin.

Al-Fudayl ibn `Iyad once recited the verse, (translated),


"And We shall surely test you, until We make known the mujahideen among you, and those who are steadfast, and [until] We test your claims."[Qur'an [47:31].
He started weeping, and continued to repeat the verse, saying, "If You test us You will expose us and tear away our covers!"

Hasan Basri said : the people of Heaven abide forever in heaven, and the people of Hell abide forever in Hell, only because of their intentions.

Abu Hurayrah said : It is written in the Torah that 'That by which My countenance is intended, [even] a little of it is much, whereas that by which [something/somebody] other than Me is intended, a lot of it is [very] little.

 

Bilal ibn Sa`d said : A servant speaks the words of a believer, and then Allah does not leave him without looking at his deeds, then if he does [good] deeds,  Allah does not leave him without looking at his abstinence [from evil], and if he is abstinent [from evil], He does not leave him without looking at what he intended, and then if his intention is good, it is likely that everything else is good.  Thus, intentions are the pillar of deeds, and deeds require intentions in order to become good.   In fact, the intention itself is good, even if the deed itself does not follow due to some hindrance.

 

Categories of Deeds
Deeds can be classified into three categories :

Firstly : sins, whose rank cannot be changed by means of intentionFor example, someone who builds a mosque with unlawful money, seeking good there by : His intention has no effect, for seeking good through evil is yet another evil.  What is good or otherwise can only be known by referring it to the shari`ah, so how then can evil be good!
Know that someone who seeks to draw near to rulers by building mosques and schools with unlawful money is just like the evil scholars who acquire knowledge in order to draw near to fools and evil and immoral
people.  These people, when they study, are like thieves on the road to Allah. The Exalted.  They are rushing after the world, following their caprice.  The evil consequences of this are the responsibility of their teacher, if he knew their corrupt intentions and goals. Similarly, some story-tellers will learn stories, but the aims of most of them are [well-] known; their aim is to acquire the world, and to take money in any way possible, so that their learning is an aid to corruption.

So, you have [now] recognized that obedience can be turned into disobedience by purpose.  As for disobedience, however, it cannot be turned into obedience at all.  Rather, if a wicked design is attached to
it, its burden is increased and its evil consequences intensified.

 

Secondly: Deeds of obedience.
These are intertwined with intentions for the basis of their correctness, as well as for multiplication of its excellence.  The basis is that you should intend worship of Allah, not anything else.  If you intend display, it becomes an act of disobedience/misdemeanor.
Multiplication of excellence is attained by making an abundance of intentions.  Thus, one can intend profuse good by a single act of obedience, for each [intention] is a good deed, and then each good deed is multiplied ten times.

For example, sitting in the mosque is an act of obedience, but it is possible to make many intentions for it, among them : to intend to wait for salah, to intend seclusion (i`tikaf) and restraint of his limbs [from evil], for i`tikaf is a restraint, to free himself of distractions which hinder him from Allah by cutting himself off from them in the mosque, to engage in remembrance of Allah therein, and so.  A person performing jihad
should intend : fulfilling a fard, helping his brothers and sisters, seeking martyrdom, emulating the practice of the Prophet and the Sahabah, establishing Islam on the earth, saving himself from punishment, etc. This, then, is the way to increase intentions.  Every good deed is potentially associated with many [good] intentions.

 

The third category [is that of] permissible deeds.  There is not any neutrally permissible deed which cannot potentially be associated with an intention which makes it into a deed of devotion, which can raise a person to the highest of ranks.  How great is the loss of someone who is unmindful of this, and engages in these acts like an animal!  It is not fitting that you underestimate your thoughts, your steps and your stray moments, for you may be asked about all of these on the Day of Judgment. We know the hadeeth of the person who will come on the day of Judgment with mountains of good deeds, but he will have wronged people, insulted them backbited them, beaten them, and so on, with the result that he will have to give up his good deeds to them.  Eventually, if no good deeds are left, he will have to carry some of their sins.  So, be always mindful, even of seemingly small things, for you do not know what sins of yours may cancel out your good deeds, or which little deed may prove sufficient to tip the scales in your favor.


"And you used to think it was insignificant, whereas it was great [in severity] before Allah."[Qur'an [24:15].
"And whoever does an atom's measure of good shall see it, and whoever does an atom's measure of evil shall see it."[Qur'an [99:7-8.]

An example of a neutral deed is using halal perfume.  You can intend, by applying this perfume, to follow the sunnah and to respect the mosque and repel evil odors from those around you.  It is also more conducive to good temperament, which assists in learning.  Imam Shafi`i said,
“Whoever smells pleasant increases in intelligence.”


Similarly, this neutral act of applying perfume can also become a sin if there is an evil motive underlying it, such as attracting people of the opposite sex.  It is reported in the hadith,
“Whoever wears perfume for the sake of Allah will come [forth] on the day of Resurrection with his fragrance more pleasant than musk.  And, whoever wears perfume for other than [the sake of] Allah will come [forth] on the Day of Resurrection with his odor more foul than a corpse.”  [Ghazzali, Al-Ihya, vol. IV, p. 364.  `Iraqi traced it to Abul-Waleed As-Sifar's "Kitab as-Salah" as a mursal narration.]

One of the salaf said, "I prefer to have an intention in everything [I do], even in eating, drinking, sleeping and going to the bathroom."  All of these things can potentially be directed towards devotion to Allah, the Exalted, for everything which is a means for preservation of the body and freeing the heart from worries. So whoever intends, buy eating, to strengthen his body for worship, by having marital relations with his wife, to keep himself chaste, to keep his wife happy, and to obtain a child who will worship Allah after him, is rewarded for all of that.  So, do not underestimate anything.  take account of yourself before you are brought to account, and correct your intention before you do whatever you are going to do.  Also, re-
examine your intention in those things which you did not do.

 

We should remind ourselves that intention is something which emanates form the heart.  Quite obviously, merely saying, before you eat, "I intend to eat for the sake of Allah," or before you read, "I intend to read for the sake of Allah," does not suffice as an intention.  No, the intention comes from the heart.  It is is sometimes easy and more difficult at other times.  In general, it is easier for those whose hearts are inclined towards religion rather than the world.

 

There are three categories of people with regard to intention :
1) Those who obey Allah out of fear of His punishment.
2) Those who obey Him out of hope for reward.
3) A higher level, which is that of those who worship Allah seeking His pleasure, and because He deserves worship (although, of course, they still desire Heaven and fear Hell.)  This is very difficult, of course, for those whose hearts are attached to the world.
"For those who do good, there is good and more."[Qur'an,10:26]

 

Sometimes, a person may be intent on one particular goal, and find it difficult to intend anything different.  Sometimes, a person may have a [good] intention for an [otherwise] neutral deed, while not having an intention for a good deed, in which case the former becomes superior to the latter.  For example, you
might intend to eat, drink and sleep in order to strengthen and rest yourself for worship, although at that particular time you do not have the specific intention for prayer or fasting.  At this time, in this case, it is better to eat and sleep.   In fact, you might become bored from excessive acts of worship, and yet know that if you proceed to do something neutrally permissible for some time, your energy will be revived, and in that case it is certainly better to do that.  `Ali (peace be upon him) used to say,
"Seek [for your souls] novelties of wisdom, for they become bored just as bodies become bored."  


This, then, is a tactical strategy in the ongoing war against Satan.  Do as much as you are capable of, and do not try to push yourself too far, or to attain a state which is still beyond your capability.

"Allah does not task a soul beyond its capability.  In its favor is that which it has earned, and against it is that which it has deserved."[Qur'an, 2:286].