How Should I Go About Establishing an Intention for My Prayer?
Answered by Shaykh Umer Mian
- There are so many rulings about how the intention should be done. How should I go about it?
- How does someone even raise his hands and says “Allahu akbar” without knowing what they’re doing?
- How can I have a firm resolve to pray when there is doubt about my intention?
- Where does the Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) mention all these things about intention?
1. The rulings about intention are not very many. In fact, the matter is quite simple. Before prayer, bring to mind the following points:
1) Which prayer of the day you are praying? Is it Dhuhr or Asr, etc.?
2) Is it an obligatory prayer (fard/wajib) or non-obligatory (sunnah/nafl)?
3) Are you praying the current prayer or is it a makeup of a previous prayer? If it’s a makeup, which day’s makeup is it (e.g. yesterday’s Isha prayer, the day before yesterday’s Fajr prayer, etc.)?
4) Are you praying behind an imam or praying individually?
It is not necessary to verbalize these points—merely bringing them to mind is sufficient. However, verbalizing them may help focus the mind on what you’re about to do. For example, before Dhuhr prayer in the masjid, a person could say something to the effect of: “Oh Allah, I intend to pray the current fard of Dhuhr prayer behind this imam, so accept it from me.” This would be sufficient to achieve the “firm resolve” the scholars have spoken about. What contradicts “firm resolve” is to make a conditional intention. For example, one says, “If it’s currently Dhuhr time, I intend to pray Dhuhr prayer, but if it’s currently Asr time, I intend to pray Asr prayer.” This would be invalid. Instead, one must be sure of which prayer is being prayed. In addition, note that it is NOT required to specify the number of rakats one will be praying—specifying the points above is sufficient for the correctness of one’s prayer.
2. It could happen when someone makes a “conditional” intention which, as described above, is invalid. It could also happen when someone is teaching the performance of prayer. In this case, it’s conceivable that the person performs all the actions of the prayer without intending to actually pray, i.e. they were just demonstrating the prayer. Barring these unusual circumstances, you are correct that it is normally inconceivable for a Muslim to pray without having the minimum intention described above.
3. All you need to do is to bring to mind and/or verbalize the four points mentioned above. Do this before reciting takbiratul ihram (the initial “Allahu Akbar” that starts the prayer). If you do this as described, you have achieved firm resolve and don’t need to worry about anything else.
4. The rulings about intention derive directly from the following textual evidences:
a) “Worship at fixed times hath been enjoined on the believers” (Qur’an 4:103).
b) “Actions are only by intentions, and each person will only have that which he intended” (Bukhari and Muslim).
c) “Allah says: My servant does not draw near to me with anything more beloved to Me than the obligatory acts of worship. And my servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory acts of worship until I love him” (Bukhari).
Verse (a) above makes clear that each and every obligatory (fard and wajib) prayer is like an individual debt owed to Allah. This is more apparent in the original Arabic language of the verse, which describes each prayer like a written debt (kitaab) ascribed to a particular time (mawqut). A person who owes many different debts needs to specify which debt he’s repaying at any given time. Without specifying (intending), no particular debt can be deemed fulfilled. Therefore, based on the verse above (and many other evidences), the jurists of Islamic Sacred Law (al-fuqaha) have agreed by consensus that it is necessary to specify which obligatory prayer one is praying (source: al-Fiqh al-Islami wa Adillatuhu by Shaykh Wahba al-Zuhayli).
In addition, hadith (b) makes clear that reward from Allah is based on one’s intention. Hadith (c) above further clarifies that obligatory (fard and wajib) prayers have a degree of distinction over non-obligatory (sunnah and nafl) prayers. Hence, it follows that the obligatory prayers require an extra intention in order to attain their extra reward.
The rest of the details about intention given above are according to the Hanafi school of Sacred Law, and their evidences are clear in the books of the Hanafis. In your question, you mentioned the Shafi’i school. Is that the madhab you practice upon? If so, have you studied it with a qualified teacher? If you practice upon the Hanafi school, learn the rulings of that school from a qualified teacher and do not allow the rulings of other schools to confuse you. Islamic Sacred Law is extremely vast and mastering a single school is difficult enough, let alone trying to learn them all. For more, see the following articles:
Shaykh Murabtal Haaj’s Fatwa on Following One of the Four Accepted Madhhabs
What is a Madhhab? Why is it necessary to follow one? By Sh. Nuh Keller
Why Does One Have to Follow a Madhhab? By Sh. Nuh Keller
Why Muslims Follow Madhhabs? By Sh. Nuh Keller
Understanding The Four Madhhabs: The Problem with Anti-Madhhabism, By Sh. Abdal Hakim Murad
Finally, consider the following hadith:
“Verily wudu has a demon (assigned to it) and he is known as The Bewilderer (al-Walahaan). So beware his whisperings related to your purification” (Recorded by Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah).
Although this hadith speaks specifically about wudu (ablution), we know that wudu is one of the keys of prayer, just like intention. Therefore, it’s not unsurprising that many people have doubts and confusions regarding both wudu and intention. In order to overcome this, we should seek refuge in Allah and seek sacred knowledge from reliable, authentic sources.
Arabic source texts are below.
[Shaykh] Umer Mian
إِنَّ الصَّلَاةَ كَانَتْ عَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ كِتَابًا مَوْقُوتًا (سورة النساء، 103)
عن عُمَرَ بْنَ الْخَطَّابِ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ عَلَى الْمِنْبَرِ قَالَ: قال رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ: إِنَّمَا الْأَعْمَالُ بِالنِّيَّاتِ وَإِنَّمَا لِكُلِّ امْرِئٍ مَا نَوَى (متفق عليه)
عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ قَالَ مَا تَقَرَّبَ إِلَيَّ عَبْدِي بِشَيْءٍ أَحَبَّ إِلَيَّ مِمَّا افْتَرَضْتُ عَلَيْهِ وَمَا يَزَالُ عَبْدِي يَتَقَرَّبُ إِلَيَّ بِالنَّوَافِلِ حَتَّى أُحِبَّهُ (رواه البخاري)
تعيين المنوي: يشترط تعيين نوع الفرض الذي يصليه باتفاق الفقهاء، كالظهر أو العصر، لأن الفروض كثيرة، ولا يتأدى واحد منها بنية فرض آخر. ( الفِقْهُ الإسلاميُّ وأدلَّتُهُ للزحيلي)
وَعَنْ أُبَيِّ بْنِ كَعْبٍ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ: ” «إِنَّ لِلْوُضُوءِ شَيْطَانًا يُقَالُ لَهُ: الْوَلَهَانُ، فَاتَّقُوا وَسْوَاسَ الْمَاءِ» “. رَوَاهُ التِّرْمِذِيُّ، وَابْنُ مَاجَهْ