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The Prophet (upon him be peace) said:

"Actions are only according to intentions, and a person


receives only what he has intended. Therefore,
whoever’s emigration is for Allah and His Messenger,
his emigration is [truly] for Allah and His Messenger.
And whoever’s emigration is for any worldly gain or a
woman he is to wed, then his emigration is for what he
emigrated."
(Bukhari, Muslim)

This hadith addresses one of the most important aspects of


Islam—sincere intention in one's worship. The general
meaning of the hadith is that a person should set aright his
intention at the beginning of every action. The entitlement of
reward for an action depends on a person's intention for
performing that action. If an action is carried out with
sincerity, it is rewarded by Allah, otherwise it is done in vain.
Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal said that the fundamentals of Islam
are based on three hadiths: this hadith, the hadith of 'A'isha
(may Allah be pleased with her), "Whoever innovates
something reprehensible in this religion of ours which does
not belong to it, is rejected" (hadith 213), and the hadith of
Nu'man ibn Bashir (may Allah be pleased with him)
transmitted by Imam Muslim in his Sahih, "The lawful is
clear and the unlawful is clear..."

It has been mentioned that the hadith of intention was narrated


regarding a person who emigrated from Makka to marry a
woman by the name of Umm Qays, who had stipulated his
emigration. Hence, he became known as Muhajir Umm Qays,
or "The Emigrator for Umm Qays." However, hadith scholars
consider this to be an unsubstantiated opinion and say that the
hadith was said as a general exhortation for those who were
emigrating, and the incident with Umm Qays took place much
later.

Niyya, which means to intend, desire, or will something, is a


function of the heart, not the tongue. Through niyya, a person
distinguishes the nature of the action he is to perform (i.e., an
obligatory or supererogatory prayer; an optional or make-up
fast, etc.), as well as its purpose (i.e., spending to show off to
others or spending to please Allah and spread His religion).
Scholars have explained the first segment of the hadith,
"Actions are only according to intentions," as referring to how
an action can only be considered religiously valid if done with
a sound intention. For instance, a person's fast, which includes
abstaining from food, drink, and sexual intercourse from
dawn to sunset, will only be considered valid if he had
intended to fast for the sake of fasting and not, for instance,
because he did not have the time to eat during a busy work
day. The second portion of the hadith, "a person receives only
what he has intended," refers to the reward a person will gain
for a soundly intended action. Another explanation of the two
statements is that the first portion refers to the entitlement of
reward and the second serves to emphasize and further clarify
the first.

With regard to intention, an action done purely for Allah's


sake is undoubtedly superior to one that is coupled with a
desire to gain something worldly (e.g., a pilgrim who makes
the pilgrimage for Allah's sake but also intends to trade while
in Makka [a permissible action]). However, if the motive for
performing an act of worship is mixed with ostentation, even
to the slightest degree, then the action will not be accepted by
Allah (see also hadith 80 and 191). Noble scholars such as the
Companion Abu 'l-Darda' (may Allah be pleased with him)
and Hasan al-Basri and Sa'id ibn al-Musayyib (may Allah be
pleased with them) are of the opinion that actions mixed with
ostentation will not be accepted by Allah the Exalted.

What happens if an action is started with a pure intention, but


the notion of ostentation occurs afterwards? If it is a fleeting
notion and does not persist in one's heart then it will not cause
any harm. However, if it is entertained and allowed to rest in
one's heart, then there are two opinions about this. Imam
Ahmad and Hasan al-Basri (may Allah have mercy on them)
have expressed hope that the person will still be rewarded
based on his initial intention in spite of the entry of
ostentation while performing the action. However, Ibn Jarir
al-Tabari, the renown exegete of the early fourth century ah,
explains that it depends on the type of action. For example, if
it is a comprehensive action, such as salat, fasting, or
pilgrimage, which requires an initial intention, and if its
prerequisites and integrals are met, then the action is
considered complete, then ostentation creeping in the middle
of this action will not harm it. If, however, the action is not of
this type but rather a separate action not consisting of
prerequisites and integrals, such as recitation of the Qur'an,
remembrance of Allah, or teaching, then the intention will
have to remain pure and free from ostentation throughout the
action in order to be valid. Hence, actions of this second
category require a renewal of the intention in order for them
to yield reward.

As for unsought praise a person receives (on some


accomplishment), it is not blameworthy, even if one feels
happiness about it. The Messenger of Allah (may Allah be
pleased with him) described this praise and honor as
"Advanced glad tidings [from Allah] for the believer"
(Muslim).
The scholars have stated that it is recommended that authors
begin their works with this hadith (on intention), as have
Imam Bukhari and many others. By doing this, the author
reminds himself and the reader to correct their intentions for
writing, reading, and studying the book (Jami' al-'ulum wa 'l-
hikam, Mirqat al-Mafatih).

[A] From this narration, it is also understood that any


permissible action, however mundane, can be a source of
reward for a person if soundly intended. For instance, if a
person eats, drinks, sleeps, or exercises, and intends that he is
undertaking these essential activities to remain healthy and
active to worship Allah each one of these activities will be a
source of reward for him and thus blessed.

Source: Provisions for the Seekers