Actions Are Rewarded Due to Intentions

Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Question: Does one get rewarded for an act one does out of mere habit that corresponds to the sunna?

Answer: Walaikum assalam

The first legal maxim that Ibn Nujaym mentioned in his Ashbah wa’l Nadha’ir is: “There is no reward without intention.” This is one of the most repeated and well-known of legal maxims.

It is taken from the well-known hadith in which the Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace) said, “Verily actions are by their intentions, and one shall only have that which one intended.” [Bukhari & Muslim] The scholars stated that there is something implicit in this hadith, namely: “Verily actions are [rewarded] by their intentions, and one shall only have [the reward] for that which one intended.”

Therefore, if one’s habits or whims are in conformity to the sunna of the Prophet of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), one should strive to have an intention in it for Allah. Otherwise, it remains a habit. The scholars say, “Through intentions habits become worship.” ( bi’l niyyaat tanqalibul `aadaat `ibaadaat)

Abd Allah ibn Mubarak (Allah be pleased with him), said, “How often it is that a small action becomes great by its intention. And how often it is that a great action becomes small by its intention.” [Dhahabi, Siyar A`lam al-Nubala’, 8: 400]

Faraz Rabbani.

Fasting & Intention

Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Question: Up until what time can one make an intention to fast?

The intention in fasting can be made anytime until the Islamic mid-day, which is half-way between the entry time of Fajr and Maghrib. This is roughly around an hour before Zuhr. An intention may also be made any time from Maghrib of the night before, and remains valid as long as you did not resolve not to fast.

Note, however, that an “intention” is “a firm resolve to perform an act of worship.” In relation to fasting, “it is to know in your heart that you will fast that day.” [al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya, quoting al-Khulasa] As such, it is rarely conceivable that a Muslim not have an intention in Ramadan, the scholars tell us. It is even explained that the very intention to get up for the pre-dawn meal (suhur) is an effective intention to fast. [Mentioned by Abu Bakr al-Haddadi in his Jawhara al-Nayyira, quoting Najm al-Din al-Nasafi, and in al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya; and by Ibn Abidin in Radd al-Muhtar, quoting al-Dhahiriyya via Ibn Nujaym’s al-Bahr al-Raiq]

And Allah knows best.


Niyyah and Fasting

Answered by Shaykh  Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti

Question : Taghyir al-Niyya from Fasting

I was fasting and I passed through a restaurant and as a result of looking at the succulent and luscious (yum-yum) food on offer, it resulted in me having an unstoppable craving for the food itself and I felt then that I couldn’t keep my fast any longer. I ended up making the intention to break my fast there and ordered the food but I stopped short of eating it because I felt guilty. Is my fast broken because I intended to break the fast just as it definitely would in the case of the Salah according to the Shafii school? Must I now make qada of this fast day? Have I sinned?

Al-hamdulillah alladhi farada al-sawm li-jihad al-nafs wa-s-shaytan wa-s-salat wa-s-salam ‘ala sayyidina Muhammad azka l-anam sharafan.

Allahumma hidayatan li-s-sawab!

Answer : To intend leaving the fast [siyam] or intending to break the fast wilfully and consciously, will not invalidate [mubtil] the fast. The fast is only invalidated when the person fasting [sa’im] does one of the ten acts that breaks the fast [muftirat; such as performing sexual intercourse or in your case, eating that irresistible food]. This is different from the case of prayer [Salat], for the person who is in prayer [musalli] could vitiate the prayer by merely intending to leave his or her prayer (although it is Haram to do so if there is no valid excuse [‘udhr]). This is because the act of praying is more exact and limited in its scope and form, than any other acts of ‘ibada and worship. To merely intend leaving the act of fasting or I’tikaf [spiritual retreat] or Hajj or ‘Umra, without it being followed by some other extrinsic factor that invalidates that particular act, does not invalidate it.

This is made clear by Imam al-Bajuri (may Allah be pleased with him!) in his Hashiya of the Fath al-Qarib:

“Qadi Abu Shuja’: [Among the 11 things that invalidate the prayer is] to change one’s intention (Ibn Qasim: such as to intend to leave the prayer). ((al-Bajuri: Ibn Qasim’s [exact] words, “the prayer” [indicates that this] is contrary to the case when someone intends to leave either the fast or the I’tikaf or the Hajj or the ‘Umra, for neither of them can be invalidated [by changing one’s intention]. This is because the prayer is a more restricted type [of ‘ibada] than any of them.))” [al-Bajuri, Hashiya, 1:179].

+Fa’ida for students of fiqh+ The legal distinction between the prayer and other types of ‘ibada is that the latter acts could not be invalidated by changing one’s intention [taghyir al-niyya] (for example, of performing the fast to something else), because, unlike the prayer, to not change one’s intention of the ‘ibada is not stipulated as one of the conditions [shart] of the ‘ibada itself.

My dear brother, we humans are indeed weak creatures! Although fasting has been prescribed for us and for those before us so that we may discipline our egos and fight the devil, we are certainly not infallible like the prophets. For this very reason, we must take all the precautions available to us, whether necessary or suggestive ones, in order that we may achieve Ihsan and excellence in whatever ‘ibada we are performing. Alhamdulillah, in this particular case, your changing the intention did not lead to breaking the fast itself, but this was certainly a “near miss” incident, and again we thank divine protection for this mercy. Although you have managed to keep to the minimum fiqhi limits and although your fast was not invalidated by looking ‘lustfully’ or with shahwa [the “pleasure of the senses” or our “carnal appetites” (which incidentally is not limited only to the pleasures of our sexual organs but also to our digestive ones as you yourself garishly described it: “as a result of looking at the succulent and luscious (yum-yum) food on offer”)], it nevertheless goes against the spirit and wisdom of the fast. The adab of this ‘ibada requires that we do not slobber over food and drool over the objects, sabab and causes of shahwa. The fiqhi ruling for looking at what gives rise to shahwa while fasting is Makruh [offensive], and it is more godfearing [Wara’] to avoid shahwa, even though they are Mubah [permissible] when not fasting. (That is why we learn from the science of Tasawwuf, the fast in fact makes things which are normally Halal, Haram–so how do we measure indulgence in Haram things during a fast?) Indeed, for our case, avoiding looking at the world with shahwa becomes a preventative measure for us, and by not breaking this rule (even when it is not Haram and by breaking it we are not sinning) it becomes a means for us to prevent the lower-half of our nafs getting the better of us.

For this reason, we should listen to the advice of our Prophet (may Allah’s blessings and peace be upon him!), as narrated by Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him!):

“khamsu khiSAlin yufaTTirna S-SA’ima wa-yunqiDna l-wuDU’a al-kadhibu wa l-ghIbatu wa n-namImatu wa n-naZaru bi-shahwatin wa l-yamInu l-kAdhiba” [There are five qualities which may break the fast of someone fasting [meaning, its rewards will be lost or reduced] and nullify [the reward of] wudu’: (1) lying; (2) slander; (3) defamation; (4) looking lustfully; and (5) a lying oath.] (Related by al-Daylami; note, according to some scholars of Hadith, this Hadith has defects).

As for your question: “Must I now make qada of this fast day?”

Although the answer here would obviously be no, you should have made it clear, the type of fast you were fasting (since in the event that the fast was broken (which it did not), the answer will depend on the type of fast one was fasting: if it is an obligatory one (such as the fast for Ramadan or a makeup [Qada’] or a vowed [Nadhr] or an expiation [Kaffara] fast), then one will have sinned (for it is Haram to interrupt the obligatory fast without a valid excuse) and one will have to makeup the fast (and in the case of an expiation fast, one will have to start fasting from day one again), while if it is a voluntary fast [tatawwu’] or fasts other than the obligatory ones, then if you were to go ahead and carried out what you intended (although it never happened), it is Makruh and offensive to do so because there was no excuse there, otherwise, it would be permissible (in a Makruh fast, for example)).

As for you question: “Have I sinned?”

On the contrary, and more than that, you will have been rewarded! From the science of Tawhid or theology, we know that when someone intended to disobey Allah but at the moment of executing it out, the person shies away from doing so and remembers Allah at that split second (by realizing that he or she will incur the displeasure of Allah, for instance) and reverts back to the original intention before intending disobedience and hurriedly seeks God’s forgiveness [istighfar] for having resolved to do such a thing and for carrying it out till this point, then, because he or she did not persist in this bad resolve [‘azm]* before reaching the ‘point of no return’ (in this case, the ma’siya itself or that which is Haram, namely the conclusive act that breaks the fast which will be caused by the arrival of a substance [‘ayn; in this case, the irresistible food] through an open passageway [manfadh; in this case, the mouth] to the body cavity [jawf; in this case, the stomach]), then he or she is rewarded and will not incur a sin.

* Extra notes for students of Tawhid on the difference between ‘Azm and Niyya: It became an ‘azm when the person first made the order with the waiter for that irresistible food (whether the person has or has not paid for the food); before reaching this ‘azm stage, it was only a simple niyya [intention]. There is a catch though: if the person were to die suddenly because of a heart attack, for instance, after ordering the food but before the food could reach his or her table or indeed, the stomach (in other words the death is at the ‘azm stage (and not at the mere niyya stage), thereby reaching the mukallaf’s point of ikhtiyar for this case), then, he or she would have sinned (if the fast is of the obligatory type). End of notes.

In fact, the feeling of guilt that stopped you from breaking the fast is an example of what the Prophet called, “Sarih al-Iman” or pure and unadulterated faith. Both, Imam al-Fashni, a Shafi’i jurist and Muhaddith, as well as his famous student, Imam Ibn Hajar summarised this well known belief in their commentary to the Arba’in of Imam al-Nawawi (may Allah be pleased with all of them!) in the following few lines:

“An example of that [i.e., Sarih al-Iman] is someone who planned to commit adultery, for example, and devised [to do it] in his heart, but then turned away from it owing to some sort of Taqwa [for example, having felt guilty or fear of the divine displeasure in the person’s heart]. He will then be rewarded for that because he, then, falls under the words of the Most High in a Hadith Qudsi [as narrated by Abu Hurayra (may Allah be pleased with him!)]:

“uktubUhA la-hu Hasanatan innamA tarakahA min ajlI” [[O’ angels,] record it [i.e., the bad intention] as a reward for him! Indeed, he abandoned it on account of Me.] (Related by Abu ‘Awana, Ahmad, Bukhari, Muslim and Ibn Hibban, with variants).

[al-Fashni, al-Majalis al-Saniya, 83 and Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Mubin, 215].

Subhanallah, Allah is indeed merciful and behold how easy it is for us to do good in this world!

There is a final twist to this whole saga. My hope is that you did not, at the zenith of your case by abandoning the ma’siya at its point of maturity, yielded to the sunna of Shaytan by abandoning also your irresistible food and thereby laying it to waste. To secure the reward, you will have to save the food (by taking it home or giving it away in charity to the poor). If not, it would regrettably be the nadir of your saga. And so within five minutes of your triumph against the devil you were in ignominious retreat by the same sabab, with the henchmen of Iblis laughing all the way over the altered musabbab.

O’ Lord, we seek to be close to You so we may always be divinely guided, under Your protection from sins and errors! Ya Rabb, free us from the brethren of the devil!

Allahumma rabbana taqabbal minna salatana wa-siyamana wa-qiyamana wa-takhashshu’ana wa-tadarra’ana wa-ta’abbudana wa-tammim taqsirana Ya Allah Ya Arham al-Rahimin

[O’ Allah, our Lord! Accept from us our prayer, our fast, our vigil, our awe and humility towards You, our pleading humbly to You, our worship of You, and perfect our imperfections, O’ Allah, the Most Merciful of those who are merciful! Amin!]

The one seeking divine protection,

Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti ©
On the evening of Friday Mubaraka, 24 Shawwal 1424 or Thursday, 18 XII 2003.


al-Bajuri. Hashiya ‘ala Fath al-Qarib. 2 vols. Bulaq, 1288 H.

al-Fashni. al-Majalis al-Saniya fi Kalam ‘ala al-Arba’in al-Nawawiya. Bulaq, 1318 H.

Ibn Hajar al-Haytami. Fath al-Mubin li-Sharh al-Arba’in. Bulaq, 1351 H.

The Reality and Importance of Intention

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,
Faraz Rabbani.