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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Actions Are Only According To Intentions - Bukhari

The Prophet (upon him be peace) said:

"Actions are only according to intentions, and a person receives only what he has intended. Therefore, whoever’s emigration is for Allah and His Messenger, his emigration is [truly] for Allah and His Messenger. And whoever’s emigration is for any worldly gain or a woman he is to wed, then his emigration is for what he emigrated."
(Bukhari, Muslim)

This hadith addresses one of the most important aspects of Islam—sincere intention in one's worship. The general meaning of the hadith is that a person should set aright his intention at the beginning of every action. The entitlement of reward for an action depends on a person's intention for performing that action. If an action is carried out with sincerity, it is rewarded by Allah, otherwise it is done in vain. Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal said that the fundamentals of Islam are based on three hadiths: this hadith, the hadith of 'A'isha (may Allah be pleased with her), "Whoever innovates something reprehensible in this religion of ours which does not belong to it, is rejected" (hadith 213), and the hadith of Nu'man ibn Bashir (may Allah be pleased with him) transmitted by Imam Muslim in his Sahih, "The lawful is clear and the unlawful is clear..."

It has been mentioned that the hadith of intention was narrated regarding a person who emigrated from Makka to marry a woman by the name of Umm Qays, who had stipulated his emigration. Hence, he became known as Muhajir Umm Qays, or "The Emigrator for Umm Qays." However, hadith scholars consider this to be an unsubstantiated opinion and say that the hadith was said as a general exhortation for those who were emigrating, and the incident with Umm Qays took place much later.

Niyya, which means to intend, desire, or will something, is a function of the heart, not the tongue. Through niyya, a person distinguishes the nature of the action he is to perform (i.e., an obligatory or supererogatory prayer; an optional or make-up fast, etc.), as well as its purpose (i.e., spending to show off to others or spending to please Allah and spread His religion). Scholars have explained the first segment of the hadith, "Actions are only according to intentions," as referring to how an action can only be considered religiously valid if done with a sound intention. For instance, a person's fast, which includes abstaining from food, drink, and sexual intercourse from dawn to sunset, will only be considered valid if he had intended to fast for the sake of fasting and not, for instance, because he did not have the time to eat during a busy work day. The second portion of the hadith, "a person receives only what he has intended," refers to the reward a person will gain for a soundly intended action. Another explanation of the two statements is that the first portion refers to the entitlement of reward and the second serves to emphasize and further clarify the first.

With regard to intention, an action done purely for Allah's sake is undoubtedly superior to one that is coupled with a desire to gain something worldly (e.g., a pilgrim who makes the pilgrimage for Allah's sake but also intends to trade while in Makka [a permissible action]). However, if the motive for performing an act of worship is mixed with ostentation, even to the slightest degree, then the action will not be accepted by Allah (see also hadith 80 and 191). Noble scholars such as the Companion Abu 'l-Darda' (may Allah be pleased with him) and Hasan al-Basri and Sa'id ibn al-Musayyib (may Allah be pleased with them) are of the opinion that actions mixed with ostentation will not be accepted by Allah the Exalted.

What happens if an action is started with a pure intention, but the notion of ostentation occurs afterwards? If it is a fleeting notion and does not persist in one's heart then it will not cause any harm. However, if it is entertained and allowed to rest in one's heart, then there are two opinions about this. Imam Ahmad and Hasan al-Basri (may Allah have mercy on them) have expressed hope that the person will still be rewarded based on his initial intention in spite of the entry of ostentation while performing the action. However, Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, the renown exegete of the early fourth century ah, explains that it depends on the type of action.

For example, if it is a comprehensive action, such as salat, fasting, or pilgrimage, which requires an initial intention, and if its prerequisites and integrals are met, then the action is considered complete, then ostentation creeping in the middle of this action will not harm it. If, however, the action is not of this type but rather a separate action not consisting of prerequisites and integrals, such as recitation of the Qur'an, remembrance of Allah, or teaching, then the intention will have to remain pure and free from ostentation throughout the action in order to be valid. Hence, actions of this second category require a renewal of the intention in order for them to yield reward.

As for unsought praise a person receives (on some accomplishment), it is not blameworthy, even if one feels happiness about it. The Messenger of Allah (may Allah be pleased with him) described this praise and honor as "Advanced glad tidings [from Allah] for the believer" (Muslim).

The scholars have stated that it is recommended that authors begin their works with this hadith (on intention), as have Imam Bukhari and many others. By doing this, the author reminds himself and the reader to correct their intentions for writing, reading, and studying the book (Jami' al-'ulum wa 'l-hikam, Mirqat al-Mafatih).

[A] From this narration, it is also understood that any permissible action, however mundane, can be a source of reward for a person if soundly intended. For instance, if a person eats, drinks, sleeps, or exercises, and intends that he is undertaking these essential activities to remain healthy and active to worship Allah each one of these activities will be a source of reward for him and thus blessed.

Source: Provisions for the Seekers

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