Thursday, June 7, 2012

Intention (Niyyah)- A detailed commentary by Imam Nawawi

Hadith on Intention:

From the Amir al-Muminin Abu Hafs 'Umar ibn al-Khattab, radiya'llahu 'anhu, that he said, "I heard the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, saying, 'Actions are only by intentions, and every man has only that which he intended. Whoever's emigration is for Allah and His Messenger then his emigration is for Allah and His Messenger. Whoever's emigration is for some worldly gain which he can acquire or a woman he will marry then his emigration is for that for which he emigrated'." The two Imams of the hadith scholars (Imams Bukhari and Muslim) narrated it.

Commentary by Imam Nawawi (RA):

The hadith indicates that intention is the measure for rendering actions true, so that where intention is sound action is sound, and where it is corrupt then action is corrupt.

Wherever there is action accompanied by intention, then there are three states:

  • First, that one does it out of fear of Allah ta'ala, and this is the worship of slaves.

  • Second, that one does it seeking the Garden and reward, and this is the worship of traders.

  • Third, that one does it out of modesty and shame before Allah ta'ala, discharging the right of service and discharging [the duty of] gratitude, seeing oneself along with that falling short, and along with that one's heart is fearful because one does not know whether one's action is accepted or not. This is the worship of free people, and the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, indicated it when 'A'ishah, radiya'llahu 'anha, said to him, when he stood at night until his two feet swoll, "Messenger of Allah, why do you impose this upon yourself whilst Allah has forgiven you your earlier errors and any later ones? " He said, "Shall I not be a grateful slave?"
To worship with Hope or Fear?

If it is said, "Is it better to worship with fear or with hope?" It must be said, "Al-Ghazali said, may Allah show mercy to him, 'Worship with hope is better because hope causes love and fear causes despair'."

There are three divisions with respect to those who are sincere:

You must know that sincerity is exposed to the defect of conceit and whoever is conceited about his action then his action is invalid, as it is invalid if he is arrogantly proud. The second state is that one does that seeking both the world and the next life. One of the people of knowledge took the position that [in that case] his action is rejected and he sought a proof of that from his words, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, in the Lordly hadith (hadith qudsi), "Allah exalted is He says, 'I am the most independent of partners, so whoever does an action in which he makes other than Me a partner, then I am free of it'." This was the position that al-Harith al-Muhasibi took in the book ar-Ri'ayah. He said, "Sincerity is that you intend Him by obedience to Him and that you do not intend any other than Him."

Showing off is of two types:

one of the two is that one does not intend by obedience to Him anything but people. The second is that one intends people and the Lord of people, and both of these invalidate action. The Hafidh Abu Nu'aim transmitted this statement from some of the first communities in al-Hilyah.

One of them took a proof of that from His words ta'ala, "The Compeller, the Supremely Great. Glory be to Allah above all they associate with Him." For just as He is too great to have a wife and child and a partner, He is too great to accept an action in which other than Him is made a partner. He, exalted is He, is Greater and Great and Supremely Great.

As-Samarqandi said, may Allah show mercy to him, "Whatever is done for the sake of Allah is accepted, and whatever is done for the sake of people is rejected." An example of that is whoever prays Dhuhr, for example, and intends by it to discharge the duty of what Allah has made obligatory upon him, but he lengthens its parts and its recitation and makes its organisation beautiful for the sake of people; the basic part of the prayer is acceptable, but its length and its beautification for the sake of people are unacceptable because he intends people by them.

Shaykh 'Izzu'd-Din ibn 'Abd as-Salam was asked about one who prays and lengthens his prayer because of people, and he said, "I hope that his action will not be invalid." All of this is in the case where the association of partners occurs in attributes of the action. However, if it happens in the source of the action so that one prays the obligatory prayer for the sake of Allah, exalted is He, and for the sake of people, then one's prayer is not acceptable because of the association of partners in the very source of the action.

Riya in the abandonment of an action:

Just as showing off can be in an action, it can be in the abandonment of an action. Al-Fudail ibn 'Iyad said, "Leaving an action because of people is showing off, and doing an action because of people is asssociating a partner with Allah, and sincerity is that Allah should protect one from both of them." The meaning of what he said, may Allah show mercy to him, is that whoever resolves on an act of worship and leaves it for fear that people may see it, then it is a form of showing off since he gave up an action because of people. However, if he gave it up in order to pray it in solitude this is recommended and desirable unless it is an obligatory prayer or an obligatory Zakat, or he is a man of knowledge upon whom people model themselves, for being open about an act of worship in these cases is better.

Publicising one's good deeds:

Just as showing off invalidates action, so does seeking a good report, which is that one does an act for Allah in solitude and then later tells people what one did. He said, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, "Whoever makes others hear [of his actions] Allah will make others hear of him, and whoever makes a show [of his actions] Allah will make a show of him." The people of knowledge say that if he is a man of knowledge upon whom people model themselves and he mentions it in order to encourage the listeners to action so that they might act in accordance with it, then there is no harm in it. Al-Mirzabani said, may Allah show mercy to him, "The one who prays needs four qualities so that his prayer will be raised up [to Allah]: presence of the heart, witnessing of the intellect,Ýstillness in the basic elements and submission of the limbs. Whoever prays without the presence of heart then he is distracted, whoever prays without the witnessing of the intellect is forgetful, whoever prays without humility of the limbs is mistaken, whoever prays without stillness in the basic elements is uncouth, and whoever prays with all these elements has fulfilled the prayer."

Explanation of "Actions are only by intentions":

By his saying, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, "Actions are only by intentions" he meant acts of obedience aside from acts which are permissible. Al-Harith al-Muhasibi said, "Sincerity is not relevant for permitted actions because they are not acts of drawing near [to Allah] nor do they lead to drawing near, for example raising up buildings for no [higher] purpose, rather for the purpose of frivolity. However, if it is for a purpose such as mosques, aqueducts and ribats then they are desirable and recommended [acts and not merely permissible]." He said, "There is no sincerity in an act which is forbidden nor in something frowned upon, such as someone who looks at that which is not permitted for him to look at, claiming that he looks at it in order to reflect upon the workmanship of Allah ta'ala, for example, one who looks at a beardless youth. There is no sincerity in this, indeed there is no act of drawing near [to Allah] in it at all." He said, "Truthfulness in the attribute of the slave is in the matching of the secret and the public, the outward and the inward. Truthfulness is realised by realising all of the stations and states, so much so that sincerity needs truthfulness, and truthfulness does not need anything, since the reality of sincerity is intending Allah by the act of worship. One may intend Allah by the prayer but be neglectful of the presence of the heart in it. Truthfulness is intending Allah, exalted is He, by the act of worship along with the presence of the heart with Him. Every true one is sincere, but not every sincere one is true. That is the meaning of 'union and separation', since he has separated from other than Allah and united with the presence by Allah. It is the meaning of isolation from what is other than Allah and adornment with the presence before Allah glorious is He and exalted."

His saying, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, "Actions are only by intentions" carries the possibilities of "the soundness of actions are only " or "the rendering of actions sound" or "the acceptance of actions" or "the perfection of actions". This was what Imam Abu Hanifah took, may Allah be merciful to him. One excludes from actions those of the category of removal, such as removing dirt, returning property obtained through extortion and loans, conveying a present, etc., for the soundness of these actions does not depend upon the intention having been made authentic, rather the reward for them depends upon having intended them as acts of drawing near. For example, one who feeds his animal, if he does so in obedience to the command of Allah ta'ala, he will be rewarded, but if he intends by it preservation of his wealth then there is no reward for that, as al-Qarafi said. The exception to that case is the horse of a man fighting jihad, for when he ties it up in the way of Allah, if it drinks and he did not intend to give it water he will be rewarded for that, as is narrated in Sahih al-Bukhari, and similarly for one's wife. Also locking the door and extinguishing the lamp upon going to sleep, if one intends by them obedience to the command of Allah one is rewarded, and if one intends some other thing, then one will not.

You must know that 'intention' is a word for 'purpose'. It is said, "May Allah intend good for you," i.e. "May He purpose it for you." Intention in the shari'ah is to purpose a thing coupled with the doing of it. If one purposes it and then does it later it is 'resolve'.

Intention is made a part of the shari'ah in order to distinguish customary actions from acts of worship, or to distinguish one act of worship from another. An example of the former is sitting in the mosque, which is customarily intended for rest but it could also be meant as worship if the intention is for 'itikaf. That which distinguishes custom from worship is intention. Similarly one customarily intends by a complete washing of the body to clean the body, but also the intention can be as an act of worship (i.e. ghusl). That which distinguishes between these two cases is the intention, which the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, indicated when he was asked about the man who fought in order to show off, the man who fought defensively and the man who fought courageously, as to which of them is fighting in the way of Allah ta'ala? He said, "Whoever fights so that the word of Allah should be the uppermost then he is in the way of Allah ta'ala."

An example of the latter, which is distinguishing between the different degrees of worship, is one who prays four raka'at by which he could intend the midday prayer or sunnah prayers, and that which distinguishes these two is the intention. Similarly, freeing a slave can be intended as an expiation for a wrong action and for other purposes such as [expiation of] vows [which have been broken] etc., and here that which distinguishes them is the intention.

Respecting his words, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, "There is only for each man that which he intends", there is an indication that it is not permitted to deputise for someone else in acts of worship nor appoint someone as an agent from the same intention. The exceptions in this case are distribution of Zakat and sacrifice of an 'Eid animal, for appointing someone as an agent is permissible in both these cases in the intention, and to slaughter [an animal for 'Eid] and to distribute [the Zakat] along with the capability to make the intention. In the Hajj it is not permitted [to appoint one to go in one's place] along with having the capability [of doing it oneself].

Paying a debt; as for when it is for one purpose it does not need an intention. But if it is for two purposes such as someone who owes two thousands, one of which is for something he has pawned, and he pays a thousand and says "I have paid it for the pawned item," then he is right. If he did not intend anything at the time he paid he may form and declare the intention after that and make it for whatever he wishes (i.e. to pay for the pawned item or just as a payment for his debt. It assumes that both debts are to the same person.) There is no other intention which we can delay until after the action and yet it remains sound except here.

Taken with thanks from "The Complete Forty Hadith"  translated from Imam an-Nawawi's al-Arba'un an-Nawawiyyah wa sharhuha by Abdassamad Clarke


  1. 1.Ibadah done for people's appreciation= Riya
    2.Ibadah done for aakhirah=ikhlas
    3.Ibadah done for people's appreciation+aakhirah=partly Riya and is wholly rejected according to many Scholars and partly rejected according to some.
    4.Worldly works (Halal) done for dunya= Mubah (ok)
    5.[B]Worldly works (Halal) done with intention of pleasing Allah=Ibadah![/B] for details see

    So, we must try for 2 and 5 always in all acts = perfect Ikhlas and Maximum ajar. InshAllah.

  2. Jazakallahu khair. WE must be aware of our actions. May Allah swa purify our intention,and help us to cure our hearts. Amin!!