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Actions Are Judged by Intentions: How?

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The reward of deeds depends upon the intentions and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended.

Selected Hadiths from Al-Bukhari

First hadith: “Actions Are Judged by Intentions”

Text: 

Narrated `Umar ibn Al-Khattab: “I heard Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) saying, “The (reward of) deeds, depend upon the intentions and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended. So whoever emigrated for the sake of Allah and His Apostle, then his emigration will be considered to be for Allah and His Apostle, and whoever emigrated for the sake of worldly gain or for a woman to marry, then his emigration will be considered to be for what he emigrated for.”

The Narrator: 

He is `Umar ibn Al-Khattab ibn Nufayl. He was born in 584-589 CE and killed in 644 CE – 23 AH. He descended from a rich family working in trade, which was his business until he became a caliph. `Umar was a firm believer who fiercely defended the Muslim community from attack. He became the second caliph of the Prophet after the death of Abu Bakr.

As Caliph, `Umar was known for acting justly with all people. During his rule, the Islamic state extended to Iraq, Syria, and Egypt. At zenith of his power, `Umar was assassinated at the hands of Abu Lu’lu’ah (Piruz Nahavandi). `Umar’s nicknames are Al-Faruq and Abu Hafs. 

Keywords:

Niyyah (Intention): It refers to the resolve of the heart to do an obligatory or non-obligatory action. (Al-Nawawi)

Hijrah (migration): In the Islamic context, it means moving from a place of non-Muslim majority and rule to a place of Muslim majority and rule.

Explanation: 

This hadith is one of the most eloquent and significant hadiths. It talks about the importance of sincere intention in the acceptance of acts of worship. Al-Bukhari (may Allah have mercy upon him) began his book with this hadith inspiring the meaning involved, namely sincerity.

Ibn Rajab Al-Hanbali said, “Al-Bukhari prefaced his book with this hadith referring to that every action performed for the sake of other than Allah is null and void, whether in this worldly life or in the Hereafter. It is reported from Ash-Shafi`i that he said, “This hadith is one third of knowledge and it comes under seventy sections of Fiqh.” Imam Ahmed said, “The principles of Islam are based on three hadiths: First, the hadith of `Umar (i.e. this hadith)….”(1)

The hadith at hand stresses the importance of intention in the acceptance of good deeds. It tells us that actions with good and sincere intention are only accepted, while those with bad and insincere intentions are of no avail.

Abu Umamah reported that a man came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and said, “What is about a man who goes for Jihad seeking reward (from Allah) and good reputation among people?” The Prophet replied, “Nothing.” The man repeated his question thrice and received the same answer from the Prophet. Then, the Prophet said, “Allah accepts only sincere actions that are done for the sake of Allah.” (An-Nasa’i)

The first word “actions” refers to good deeds as evil or prohibited deeds are already unallowable and intention has nothing with them, even if it is good. There is a basic rule that says, “Good intention does not validate the invalid action.”

So, the hadith is dealing with the allowable actions only, for which one seeks Allah’s pleasure. In fact, the prohibited actions are means of Satan to misguide the Muslim and incur the displeasure of Allah, the Almighty, upon him.

The scholars of Islam put two prerequisite for the acceptance of actions: permissibility and good intention. They took these conditions from Allah’s saying:

So whoever would hope for the meeting with his Lord – let him do righteous work and not associate in the worship of his Lord anyone. (Al-Kahf 18:110)

The Prophet gave an example for actions whose reward differs according to the intention. The example that the Prophet gave is worthy of great consideration; it is Hijrah (migration) from Makkah to Madinah. As we know, Muslims were oppressed and tortured in Makkah. They were forced to leave their homeland to Abyssinia or Madinah where they would feel safe regarding their religion and souls.

Yet, all of these sufferings can be fruitless if they were for the sake of other than Allah. Sheikh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah said, “It is reported that a man has migrated from Mecca to Medina because of a woman called Umm Qays, whom he loved. So, he was surnamed Umm Qays migrant.”(2) The Prophet maintained that whoever migrated for a worldly affair or business, he will take nothing in the hereafter.

Therefore, we all have to review our intentions and inspect our deeds, whether they are done for Allah’s sake or for worldly purposes. When a Muslim wants to do something good, Satan spares no effort to prevent him from that. If he fails, he will do his best to corrupt the Muslim’s intention. He reminds him with such and such of the beauties of world as well as people’s appreciation. He tries to make the Muslim forget Allah and sincerity.

So, we should be wakeful of Satan’s insinuations. Yet, the best way to confront these temptations is to always remember that this life is transitory but the other life is the permanent and endless one.

Moreover, Allah is more concerned with intention than with the deed itself. Abu Hurairah narrated, “The Messenger of Allah said, “Allah does not look at your figures, nor at your attire but He looks at your hearts and accomplishments”. (Muslim)

Lessons and Rulings:
  • Intention changes allowable things into worship: There are a lot of things that one makes by nature, such as eating, drinking, sleeping, etc. of permissible actions. One can take a reward for that if one does so with the intention of being able to perform the worship of Allah (Glory be to Him).
  • The reward of actions differs according to intention: The reward of the same action, such as prayer or fasting, may increase or decrease depending on the degree of the sincerity of one’s intention.
  • Setting examples for elaboration: A caller or teacher is advised to use examples to clarify the topic while addressing people or students. This is more helpful in understanding and elaboration, following the example of the Prophet in this hadith.

_________________________

(1) Ibn Rajab, Jami` Al-`Ulum wa Al-Hikam, Beirut, Al-Risalah, 2001, p. 62.

(2) Ibn Taymiyyah, Al-Fatwa, Riyadh: King Fahd Printing Complex, 1995, vol. 18, p. 254.

Mohamed Okasha is a graduate of Al Azhar University, Faculty of Languages and Translation, Department of Islamic Studies in English. He is a former editor in the Shari`ah section at Islamonline.net. Currently, he is an editor at the EDC (E-Da`wah Committee) in Kuwait.

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