In this article, Shaykh Faraz Rabbani provides commentary on Imam Haddad’s famous “Intention for Seeking Knowledge.” Text and translation of this supplication is also provided.
In the Name of Allah, the Merciful and Compassionate.
The Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, “Actions are by their intentions, and each person shall have whatsoever they intended.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
The reality of our actions is not merely what we do, but also why we do it. As Ibn Ata’illah explained, “Actions are lifeless forms, whose soul is the subtle reality of sincerity within them.” (Hikam al Ata’iyya)
Seeking Knowledge as a Spiritual Work
Seeking sacred knowledge (talab al-ilm) has been described in the Qur’an and Sunna as one of the highest of spiritual works. Thus, a sincere intention is particularly important.
Seeking knowledge can also be a source of honor and recognition in this world. This can be dangerous, as it can result in sinful inward traits such as pride, conceit, and arrogance. Only sincere intentions can protect a person, and fulfill the spiritual potential of seeking knowledge.
What is an Intention?
The scholars explain that an intention (niyya) is, “The resolve to (a) perform an act of obedience to Allah, (b) drawing closer to Allah thereby, (c) at the beginning of one’s action.” (Taftazani, quoted by Ibn Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar)
This has three components:
(a) “The resolve to perform an act of obedience” entails mindful, purposeful action. Bring to mind what are you doing, and that you are doing it as an act of obedience.
(b)“ … drawing closer to Allah…” entails bringing to mind that you are acting for the sake of Allah alone – seeking His Closeness, Love, Good Pleasure, and reward.
(c) “… at the beginning of the action,” entails pausing for a moment before you begin any action, at any time, in order to renew your resolve.
What is Sincerity?
Sincerity, or ikhlas, is the heart of Islam. It is defined by the scholars as, “Seeking to draw closer to Allah with one’s actions, without any ulterior motive.” (Qushayri)
Sahl ibn Abd Allah said, “The intelligent looked at sincerity, and the best description they found is that it is for one’s motions and rest – in private and in public – to be for Allah alone without partner, without anything being mixed into one’s motives. Not one’s ego, nor one’s whims, nor any merely worldly aspirations.” (Bayhaqi, Shu‘ab al-Iman)
Imam Haddad’s Intention for Knowledge: A Practical Means for Making High Intentions
Part of having sincere intentions (al-niyya al-saliha) is to reflect deeply on all the multiple ways one is seeking the Pleasure of Allah through one’s actions. This is called “multiplying one’s intention,” or ta’addud al-niyya.
Because such deep reflection is rare for most of us, the scholars compiled statements of intention to help us make high, transformative intentions before we act.
One such powerful statement of intention for seeking knowledge is Imam Abd Allah ibn Alawi al-Haddad’s “Intention for Seeking Sacred Knowledge.”
This intention defines both the ultimate purpose of seeking knowledge – “seeking Allah Himself, His Good Pleasure, Closeness, and Reward” – as well as the multiple ways one can make one’s knowledge sincerely for Allah.
The scholars encourage making it a deliberate, purposeful habit to make such a statement of intention – in one’s heart or uttered – every time one begins studying, teaching, reading, or listening to Islamic knowledge.
Imam Haddad’s Intention for Seeking Knowledge