Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Question: The Reality and Importance of Intention
Answer: Ibn Raslan (Allah have mercy on him), author of al-Zubad, a blessed thousand-line poem in Shafi`i fiqh explained some important principles by saying,
1. So correct intentions before actions,
And make them at the beginning of actions.
2. Then, if you sustain your intention until the very last,
You will attain complete reward on the Last Day.
3. Intentions, words, and actions too, are not accepted
If they are not according to Prophetic guidance.
4. Thus, whoever does not know must ask,
And whoever cannot find a teacher must travel.”
In the first line:
So correct your intentions before your actions,
And make them at the beginning of actions.
a) The correct intention, in Hanafi fiqh, entails two matters:
i) to specify what you are doing, in your heart
– this is a condition for validity in actions where intention is a condition, such as prayer, fasting, or zakat.
– for example, to specify in your heart that you are praying the obligatory Asr prayer.
ii) to seek to draw closer to Allah by this action
– this is a condition for reward
– this is what distinguishes actions and makes them of ultimate consequence, and this is where the secret of sincerity that is in the hearts of those seeking Allah is found.
b) The place of intention is right before one initiates an action.
In the second line:
Then, if you sustain your intention until the very last,
You will attain unto complete reward on the Last Day.
a) The scholars say that it is recommended to actively sustain one’s intention till the end of one’s worship, both the minimal intention and the intention of doing it for Allah. [Ibn al-Humam, Fath al-Qadir Sharh al-Hidaya, 1.35; Ibn Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar, 1.124 (Ilmiyya ed.)]
b) This is why Sayyidi Ibn Ata’illah said, ‘Actions are but lifeless forms, and their life is the secret of sincerity within them.’ [ Hikam]
c) This is part of the definition of spiritual excellence given by the Beloved of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) when he was asked by Jibril (peace and blessings be upon him), “It is to worship Allah as though you see Him, and (to know that) if you see Him not that He sees you.” [Bukhari and Muslim]
In the third line:
Intentions, words, and actions too, are not accepted
If they aren’t according to Prophetic guidance.
a) Allah has given us an absolute criterion for the good and bad, the consequential and inconsequential, the accepted and rejected: the guidance of His Beloved Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him). That which corresponds to it is good, ultimately consequential, and accepted by Allah; that which does not, is not.
b) The guidance of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) is general and detailed. The general guidance can be known by every Muslim through their reading and interaction with the Qur’an and Sunna. This represents the general values of Islam, shared by all. The details of the Prophetic guidance, however, require that one gain it from those of deep understanding, the scholars of Islam, whom the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) himself referred to as, “The inheritors of the Prophets.” [Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi]
In the fourth line:
Thus, whoever does not know must ask,
And whoever cannot find a teacher must travel.
a) It is obligatory that one seek the knowledge that makes one’s worship, dealings, transactions, and relationships valid according to the Shariah.
b) When one does not know a ruling, Allah tells us: “Ask the people of remembrance if you know not.” (Qur’an, 16.43) The basic manners of asking about matters of religion is that one does so seeking guidance, and the means to the good pleasure of Allah Most High. Thus, one’s questioning should be relevant and respectful, and one should seek to apply it as if one was taking it from the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) himself.
c) This is why it is of tremendous importance to be careful where one takes one’s knowledge from. Imam Muslim relates that Ibn Sirin (Allah have mercy on him) said, “Verily, this matter is your religion (din), so be very careful as to whom you take your religion from.” [Sahih Muslim, introduction] Thus, one should be careful to seek the guidance of those who are clear in their following of the well-trodden Sunni path, which has been the way of the inheritors of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), and will remain their way until the Last Day. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) himself told us, “There shall always remain a group in my community manifest on the truth, unaffected by those who oppose them, until the last day.” [Bukhari and Muslim]
d) The characteristic of such scholars is that they follow one of the four schools of Sunni law; they follow traditional scholarship in matters of faith, not reformist or modernist ideologies; and they see the importance and necessity of spirituality, for the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) told us that, “Verily, Allah does not look at your faces or forms. Rather, he looks at your hearts and deeds.” [Muslim, and Ahmad] They are people of good character, noble manners, and wisdom. We see them promoting good rather than controversy, and the sunna rather than reformist innovations.
e) Finally, the legal principle is that the necessary means to fulfilling obligations are in themselves necessary, for means take the rulings of their goals. [Taqi al-Din al-Subki, Fatawa, 2.342; Buhuti, Kashshaf al-Qina`, 6.213; Khadimi, al-Bariqa Sharh al-Tariqa, 4.199] As such, if one is unable to access the religious knowledge one needs in one’s daily life and worship, it would be obligatory to take the means that enable one to do so, even travel if necessary.
And Allah alone gives success.
Walaikum assalam wa rahmatullah,