The intention of a person is not his
utterance of the words, "I intend to do so and so." It is an overflowing from
the heart which runs like conquests inspired by Allah. At times it is made easy, at other
times, difficult. A person whose heart is overwhelmingly righteous finds it easy to summon
good intentions at most times. Such a person has a heart generally inclined to the roots
of goodness which, most of the time, blossom into the manifestation of good actions. As
for those whose hearts inclide towards and are overwhelmed by worldy matters, they find
this difficult to accomplish and even obligatory acts of worship may become difficult and
The Prophet said: "Actions are only by intention, and every man shall only have what
he intended. Thus he whose hijra was for Allah and was for Allah and His Messenger, his
hijra was for Allah and His Messenger, and he whose hijra was to achieve some worldly
benefit or to take some woman in marriage, his hijra was for that for which he made
hijra."(1) Imam ash-Shaf'i said: "This hadith is a third of all knowledge."
The words, "actions are only by intention", mean that deeds which are performed
in accordance with the sunnah are only acceptable and rewarded if the intentions behind
them were sincere. It is like the saying of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him
peace, "Actions depend upon their outcome."(2)
Likewise, the words, "every man shall only have
what he intended", mean that the reward for an action depends upon the intention
behind it. After stating this principle, the Prophet gave examples of it by saying, "thus he the Prophet gave examples of it by saying, "Thus he
whose hijra was for Allah and His Messenger, his hijra was for Allah and His Messenger,
and he whose hijra was to achieve some worldly benefit or to take some woman I nmarriage,
his hira was for that for which he made hijra." So deeds which are apparently
identitcal may differ, because the intentions behind them are different in degrees of
goodness and badness, from one person to another.
Good intentions do not change the nature of
forbidden actions. The ignorant should not misconstrue the meaning of the hadith and think
that good intentions could turn forbidden actions into acceptable ones. The above saying
of the Prophet specifically relattes to
acts of worship and permissible actions, not to forbidden ones. Worship and permissible
actions can be turned into forbidden ones because of the intentions behind them, and
permissible actions can become either good or bad deeds by intention; but wrong actions
cannot become acts of worship, even with good intentions.(3) When bad intentsions are
accompanied by flaws in the actions themselves, then their gravity and punishment are
multiplied. Any praiseworthy act must be rooted in sound intentions; only then could it be
deemed worthy of reward. The fundamental principle should be that the act is intended for
the worship of Allah alone. If our intention is to show off,then these same acts of
worship will in fact become acts of disobedience. As for permissible deeds, they all
involve intentions -- which can potenitally turn them into excellent acts which bring a
man nearer to Allah and confer on him the gift of closeness to Him.
The Excellence of Intention
Umar ibn al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him,
said: The best acts are doing what Allah has commanded, staying for away from what Allah
has forbidden, and having sincere intentions towards what-ever Allah has required of
Some of our predecessors said: "Many small
actions are made great by the intentions behind them. Many great actions, on the other
hand, are made small because the intentions behind them are lacking."
Yahya Ibn Abu Kathir said: "Learn about
intentions, for their importance is greater than the importance of actions."
Ibn Umar once heard a man who was putting on his
ihram say: "O Allah! I intend to do the Hajj and Umrah." So he said to him:
"Is it not in fact the people whom you are informing of your intention? Does not
Allah already know what is in your heart?"(5) It is because good intentions are
exclusively the concern of the heart, that they should not be voiced during worship.
The Excellence of Knowledge and Teaching
There are many proofs in the Qur'an concerning the
excellence of knowledge and its tranmission. Allah, the Mighty and Glorious, says:
"Allah will raise up to high
ranks those of you who believe and those who have been given knowledge. (58:11)"
"Are those who know equal to
those who do not know? (39:9)
Also , in the Hadith, the Prophet says, "When Allah desires good for
someone, He gives him understanding of the deen."(6) He also said, "Allah makes the way to
the Garden easy for whoever treads a path in search of knowledge."(7)
Travelling on the path to knowledge refers both to
walking along an actual pathway, such as going on foot to the assemblies of the ulama', as
well as to following a metaphysical road, such as studying and memorising.
The above saying of the Prophet probably means that Allah makes learning the
useful knowledge that is sought after easier for the seeker, clearing the way for him and
smoothing his journey. Some of our predecessors used to say: "Is there anyone
seeking knowledge, so that we can assist him in finding it?"
This hadith also alludes to the road leading to the
Garden on the Day of Judgement, which is the straight path and to what precedes it and
what comes after it.
Knowledge is also the shortest path to Allah.
Whoever travels the road of knowledge reaches Allah and the Garden by the shortest route.
Knowledge also clears the way out of darkness, ignorance, doubt and scepticism. This is
why Allah called His Book, "Light".
Al-Bukhari and Muslim have reported on the authority
of Abdullah ibn Umar that the Messenger of Allah said: "Truly, Allah will not take away knowledge by snatching it away
from people, but by taking away the lives of the people of knowledge one by one until none
of them survive. Then the people will adopt ignorant ones as their leaders. They will be
asked to deliver judgements and they will give them without knowledge, with the result
that they will go astray and lead others astray."
When 'Ubadah ibn as-Samit was asked about this
hadith he said: If you want, I will tell you what the highest knowledge is, which raises
people in rank: it is humility."
He said this because there are two types of
knowledge. The first produces its fruit in the heart. It is knowledge of Allah, the
Exalted - His Names, His Attributes, and His Acts - which commands fear, respect,
exaltation, love, supplication and reliance on Him. this is the beneficial type of
knowledge. As ibn Mas'ud said: "they will recite the Qur'an, but it will not go
beyond their throats. The Qur'an is only beneficial when it reaches the heart and is
firmly planted in it."
Al-Hasan said: "There are two kinds of
knowledge: knowledge of the tongue, which can be a case against the son of Adam, as is
mentioned in the hadith of the Prophet :
'The Qur'an is either a case for you or a case against you'(8), and knowledge of the
heart, which is beneficial knowledge. The second kind is the beneficial kind which raises
people in rank; it is the inner knowledge which is absorbed by the heart and puts it
right. The knowledge that is on the tongue is taken lightly by people: neither those who
possess it, nor anyone else, act upon it, and then it vanishes when its owners vanish on
the Day of Judgement, when creation will be brought to account."
1. Al-Bukhari and Muslim
2. Al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Qadar,
3. This is illustrated in a hadith recorded by Imam
Muslim in his Sahih, in which it is related on the authority of Abu Dharr that the Prophet
Muhammad said, "You will
receive the reward for sadaqa even when you have sexual intercourse with your wives."
The sahaba said, "Will we really be rewarded for satisfying our physical
desires?" He replied, "If you have haram intercourse, you will be committing a
sin; similarly, if you have halal intercourse, you will be rewarded." Imam an-Nawawi said,
"This hadith clearly shows that permissible actions become acts of
obedience if there is a good intentino behind them; sexual intercourse becomes
an act of worship if it is accompanied by any one of the following good
intentions: keeping company with your wife in kindness, as Allah ta'Ala has
commanded; hoping to hate, as a result of intercourse, good and righteous
offsping; guarding your chastity and that of your wife; helping to prevent haram
lustful glances or thoughts, or haram intercourse; and any other good
4. Tahdhib al'Asma' li-Nawawi,
1/173. Abu Ishaq ash-Shirazi once entered the mosque to have something to eat,
as was his custom, and then realised that he had dropped a dinar. He retraced
his steps and found it lying on the ground, but then left it where it was,
saying, "Perhaps it is not mine; perhaps it belongs to somebody else."
5. Sahih, Ja'mi 'l-'Ulum
wa'l-Hikam, p. 19.
6. Al-Bukhari and Muslim.
7. Muslim, 21/17.
8. Muslim, Kitab at-Tahara, 3/99.