Hadith of Intentions – Explanation

This is the “summary” of the first hadith of An-Nawawi 🙂


Every conscious, intentional act that a rational person performs is driven and brought into being by his intention. Intentions can be of three types: good, pious intentions; religiously neutral ones or evil ones. (And evil intentions are evil regardless of any claim of good motive).

The actions of the heart (niyyah) can take one beyond what he/she are actually capable of doing. There is a hadith in Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim in which the Prophet sallallahu ‘alahi wa sallam was on an expedition, and he said, “In Madinah there are a people we left behind. We do not pass through any ravine or valley except that thaty are with us [in reward]. They hae been kept behind due to valid excuses.” It seems that this hadith is not referring to those types of actions, however. It is talking about the relationship between actually performed deeds and intentions.

Which Deeds are Included?

The statement applies to all deeds: statements and physical deeds, obligatory, recommended or permissible deeds.

If a deed is done with the sincere inteion of pleasing Allah, then it will be rewarded, regardless of what aspect of life it deals with: it would be business, treatment of friends and neighbors, etc. Ibn Ajlaan said:

“A deed is not useful unless accompanied by three things: awaresness of Allah (taqwa), good intentions and correctness of the deed.

What about the “non-performance” of certain acts? Is not performing or avoiding an act an act itself? The strongest opinion is that avoiding a certain deed for Allah will be rewarded. For example, looking at the opposite gender.

Same Act, Different Intentions

“A small act may be made great due to the intention behind it and a great act may be made small due to the intention behind it.” — Ali Ibn al-Madeeni

The same act may be a source of reward or a source of punishment, depending on the intention. For eample, a person may go to the masjid with good intentions which please Allah. Another person may be going o the masjid just to fool the people into thinking he is a pious person. The latter would be severely punished for this act of show (or riyaa). The Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam called this a type of shirk.

What about the actions that have mutliple intentions? In Sahih Muslim there is a hadith recorded from Abu Huraira from the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam that Allah said:

“I am so self-sufficient that I am in no need of having an associate. Thus, he who does an action for someone else’s sake as well as Mine will have that action renounced by Me to him whom he associated with Me.”

If someone intends to do a deed for the sake of Allah and then some other intention occurs to him during the course of that deed, such as being seen by the people, does that mean that his entire deed will be void? If it is just a thought that occurs to  him and he instantly repels it, it will not harm his deed. The real question is that if that feeling persists in him. Both Imam Ahmad and ibn Jareer al-Tabari stated that they hoped that in such a case the person will be rewarded due to his original intention. Al-Tabari points out that this applies to an action that cannot be broken up into parts, for example, prayer or fasting. With respect to deeds like reciting the Qur’an or making dhikr that can be broken into smaller parts, and the person’s reward will end when he changes his intention.

Finally, if someone does a deed with the intention of pleasing Allah only and then the people happen to praise him, then his reward with Allah will not be affected. The Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was asked about someone who performs a deed for Allah and then the people praise him for it. The Prophet sallallahu ‘alahi wa sallam said:

“That is a prompt part of the good tidings that the believer receives.” (Muslim)

We can make even mundane deeds a soure of reward. Muslims should think of the purpose and goal of his action no matter what the act ay be. Being intimate with your spouse can be a source of reward if you have good intentions – for example, if you intended fulfilling the right of your spouse.

Purity of Intention

A person should always try to have pure intentions. We have to have a certain lifestyle and way of living to condition ourselves to automatically have this. al-Sadlaan says:

[…] It is upon him to follow the steps and causes that will lead him to purity in his intention. That is by learning about Allah through pondering over His creation and great bounties. He should consider the great reward for the one who obeys Him and the great punishment for the disobedient. he should think about the numerous benefits that accrue to the person who obeys Him in this life and the Hereafter. When he does that, his soul will push itself to fulfill Allah’s commands by thinking about the Hereafter and his heart is filled with the love of Allah, fear of Him and hope in Him, it will be very easy for him to prepare his intention,

for the heart always leans to [what it sees as] good [for the person].”

Al-Haarith al-Muhaasabi says that there are three types of forces working on a person’s heart: the inpiratin and guidance of Allah, Satan and the soul itself. There is a hadith that illustrates all of this very beautifully.

Allah has laid down a parable of a straight path on the sides of which are walls with open doors and curtains hanging down over the open doors. At the top of the path there is a called saying, “Go straight, all of you, on the path and do not deviate.” Above that one is another called who says, whenever anyone tries to open any of those doors, “Woe to you! Do not open it, for if you hopen it you will go through it.”

The path is Islam, the open doors are the things Allah has forbidden, the curtains hanging are the limits Allah has set, the crier at the top of the path is the Qur’an, and the one above hi is [one who] admonishes for Allah’s sake [and] who is in every Muslims’ heart.”  [Ahmad]

Niyyah and Ikhlaas

Niyyah and ikhlaas are the goal and purpose of our existence. Allah says:

“And I (Allah) created not jinn and men except that they should worship Me (alone).” (Al-Dhaariyaat, 56)

Ibn al-Qayyim once wrote:

The one who studies the sources of the shareerah will know the relationship between the external actions of the limbs and the actions of the heart. The deeds are not [beneficial] without the actions of the heart. The actions of the heart are more of an obligation upon the person than the actions of the limbs. Isn’t a believer distinguished from the hypocrite simply due to the actions in their hearts that are different from each other? Can anyone enter into Islam except by the actions of his heart before the actions of his limbs? The servitude and worship of the heart is greater, more and longer lasting than the servitude of the limbs. They are obligatory in every moment. This is why faith is always obligatory upon the heart. However, the specific submission of the limbs is obligatory only at certain times.

The seat of faith is in the heart and the seat of Islam [submission] is the external limbs.”

What about reward and punishment for eternity? S0me people wonder why heaven and hell are forever. If people were not disobedient to Allah forever, then how can they be put in hell forever? The answer is that the unbelievers had the intention to disobey Allah as long as they lived – and if that were forever, they would disobey Allah forever. Similarly, the believers had the intention to obey Allah forever. Therefore, they are rewarded according to their intentions.

Migration for Allah and His Messenger

The Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam is giving an example demonstrating the important principle he just stated.

But why was  “Allah and His Messenger” repeated twice? (As opposed to saying, “Thus, he whose  migration was for Allah and His Messenger, it was for them.”) Here are some of the explanations the scholars give:

1.) Generally, in Arabic, if the khabr (predicate) and mubtada (subject) or the shart (condition) and jaza (consequence) are exactly the same, tis is done as a kind of exaggeration or emphasis, either for the purpose of exalting something or belitting something. In this case, the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam is emphasizing the importance and greatness of the purpose of the migration.

2.) Because Allah and His Messenger are the final goal, and they are a sigular goal which cannot be mixed with any other. Individual worldly reasons are many.

3.) It could have been done in order to not use the same pronoun for Allah and His Messenger.

Once a person said, “Whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger has verilyb een guided. And whoever disobeys them has strayed.” The Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam stated that he had spoken improperly and told him that he should have stated, “Whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger.” (Muslim)

The Word “Hijrah”

Hijrah means “to leave or avoid something and to move from one thing to something else.” Its apparent shareeah meaning, and the meaning implied in the hadith, is leaving the lands of the disbelievers to the land of Islam in order to implement or practice Islam.

These are the types of hijrah mentioned by the scholars:

1.) Hijrah from the land of kufr (disbelief) to the land of Islam.

2.) Hijrah from the land of bid’ah. Allah says:

And when you see those who engage in [offensive] discourse concerning Our verses, then turn away from them until they enter into another conversion. And if Satan should cause you to forget, then do not remain after the reminder with the wrongdoing people. (Al An’aam, 68)

3.) Hijrah from a land dominated by haraam to a land less dominated by it.

4.) Hijrah from a land where you feel bodily harm, as was done by Ibraheem (Abraham) and Musa (Moses).

5.) Hijrah from a land where you feel bodily harm or has become ill.

6.) Hijrah due to fear of harm to one’s property or wealth. This does not mean going to lands of the disbelievers just for economic benefit.

The Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said: “The muhaajir [one who makes hijrah] is the one who avoids what Allah has prohibited.” (Al-Bukhari)

Migration for Worldly Benefit

The Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam belittled the goal of migrating for some worldy purpose by saying “then his migration was for it” without explicitly stating what “it” was referring to. In English, this is common, but in Arabic, it is done for a purpose.

The Word “Dunya”

The word “dunya” (this worldly life) may hae the meaning of al-adna or “the closest.” It is given this name because it is the closest life as it comes before the life of the Hereafter. Anotehr possibly reason why this worldly life has been given the name dunya is that it is close to perishing.

Some even say that dunya comes from the word al dinaa`a which means something base, low, vile, contemptibly and despicable. However, the first two are the most common explanations. However, the first two are the most common explanations.

As for what it refers to, it seems that the strongest opinion is that it covers everythign on this earth and its environment that has occurred, is occurring or shall occur before the Day of Judgment.

The past century has witnessed a very big hijrah of Muslims to Western lands purely for worldly benefits, and more often than not, at the expense of their Islam and their childrens’. If we migrate – leave our family and land for dunya – then imagine how many small things we do on a day-to-day basis simply for the dunya.

Mentioning Women after Dunya

I thought this was obviously because we’re oh-so-tempting 😀 But back to serious things…

The opposite gender can have a very big effect on us and tempt us to do haraam things. The Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:

Verily, the world is sweet and alluring. Verily, Allah is going to make you successors in it. So look to see how you behave. Beware of this world and beware of women. Verily, the first trial that afflicted the Tribes of Israel was concerning women.” (Muslim)

 inshaAllah up next – short biographies on Muslim and Bukhari, from whom this hadith was narrated.

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