Essence of the intention

Intention, which is an Arabic word, means “a determination to act in a certain way; what one intends to do”.1 It also means “decision of the heart to do something and knowing without thinking why that thing is done”.2

Intention is such a thing that if an action lacks intention, this will prevent it from obtaining the expected results. For instance, if a person stays hungry from pre-dawn until evening without the intention [of fasting for Allah], he will end up suffering from hunger for nothing. So the intention is a must for religious deeds. In this respect it is narrated that our Prophet (pbuh) said that Allah accepts the word only with deed. And He accepts the word and deed only with intention.

We can explain the meaning the intention gives to the deeds by means of a standard in fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). There is a rule in fiqh: “Stipulated cannot be without stipulation, but stipulation can be without stipulated.” Stipulated is the deed, and stipulation is the intention. That is, a deed is not acceptable without an intention. However, if there is intention but no deed, Allah still gives the reward for that intention from His favour and beneficence. As for the deed, it is one of the most important indicators to determine the end of a person on the Day of Judgement. This means that the issue of intention is really important.

Yes, even a person like Imam Said Nursi – who has made his mark in this age – mentions the ‘intention’ among the four words he learned in his forty-year life and 30 years of education.3 And he says “This issue of intention is a crop of my forty-year life.

Mentioned in the first place among the collections of Hadith, Sahih al-Bukhari starts with the hadith “The reward of deeds depends upon the intentions and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended.” Considering that the scholars of Hadith have chosen the first hadith they put in their collections on purpose, it is noteworthy that Imam al-Bukhari, who is accepted as the greatest among the Hadith imams, started his Sahih [hadith book] with that hadith.

After illustrating the importance of intention to some extent, now we will explain some features of intention under four titles.

First Point: Intention changes habits into worship

Intention has such a feature that it is an elixir or a ferment which changes habits and acts into worship. Just as a bit of yogurt yeast turns milk into yogurt after a period of time, intention turns deeds into worship which bring benefit in the Hereafter.

Intention is also a spirit which revives instances of death and changes them into living worships. 4 Yes, just as one thousand lifeless corpses cannot equal one live human being, the instances which are not brought to life by means of intention are like dead bodies. For instance, every day from waking up in the morning until going to bed at night, there are thousands of instances of our life which have become our habits that are faced toward worldly life. The fact that these habits can yield eternal fruits in the Hereafter illustrates this feature of intention. That is, the same acts we do every day can become worship with the intention of ‘following the Sunnah al-Saniyya’. However, we should not forget that this spirit [intention] has also a spirit which is that of sincerity. As we know salvation is only attained through  sincerity.5 If the intention of a person is sincere, that is just for the sake of Allah, he attains the favour of the following hadith al-kudsi: “Sincerity is a secret among my secrets; I entrust it to my beloveds among my servants. Angel cannot know it that he can write it [to the book of good deeds]. And Satan cannot know it that he can spoil it.”6

Second Point: Intention changes the essence of things

Just as it changes a simple behaviour into a worship, the intention turns a worship done for conceit into a sin.7

For instance, arrogance is a bad trait. It is one of the biggest sins. However, if it is done with the intention of protecting of the honour of Islam, it will be not a conceit but a dignity; thus becoming a good deed. Obstinacy is also a bad trait. However, when it is used for opposing the bad desires and commands of the lower self and the devil, and also for continuing in obedience to the religion, dawah (cause), worship, and escape from sins, obstinacy takes the name ‘perseverance’ and becomes a worship. Thus, obstinacy turns into persistence in the truth. Although the examples of positive and negative uses of both arrogance and obstinacy are similar in appearance, one is beautiful and the other is ugly because of this feature of intention. Therefore, we see that the intention leads to different results from the same action.

Viewing something with a good intention makes an event beautiful; viewing something with a bad intention makes it ugly. Bad intention changes the face of truth. It makes something beautiful ugly. Imam Said Nursi explains this in the Eighth Word with the following example: “For instance, although he is in a beautiful garden, altogether with his friends, in summer, in an amazing banquet, a man does not content himself with the joy of this feast, instead he intoxicates himself with filthy liquors, imagines himself as hungry and naked among monsters in winter, and starts to yell and cry. In fact, the reality is beautiful. If he understands the goodness of the truth, he will show respect to the owner of the truth and deserves mercy.”8 The lower self of that man makes him taste the spiritual torment of the Hell due to his bad intention. Good intention will make him reach a great favour, happiness, a bright merit and blessing. So we see that bad intention makes the beautiful essence of things ugly.

Our Prophet (pbuh) tells how the essence of one of the biggest steps taken in the way of Allah, the Hijrah (emigration), changes with the intention: “The reward of deeds depends upon the intentions and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended. So whoever emigrated for Allah and His Messenger his emigration was for Allah and His Messenger. And whoever emigrated for worldly benefits or for a woman to marry, his emigration was for what he emigrated for.“9 Although a travel in desert and the emigration are similar to each other with regard to duration and hardship, their results and rewards are different. That is, intention changes the essence of things.

Third Point: Intention transforms sins into good deeds and good deeds into sins

There is such a feature in the intention that a sincere intention can make the sins committed in one’s entire lifetime forgiven and even make them transform into good deeds. For instance, a woman who has spent her life doing bad deeds finds a thirsty dog next to a well in the desert; she takes some water from the well and gives some to the dog to drink; thus making all of her sins forgiven and gaining reward to that extent. Another woman, on the other hand, who prays five daily prayers every day, has lost her rewards and become among the sinners for she has starved her cat and tortured it.

Let it not be misunderstood, we cannot say the following by looking at the first example: “So let’s know no limits in committing sins; one day we can somehow make them forgiven with a small good deed.” This is because the hour of death is unknown to us; maybe we go to the Hereafter without achieving what we intend. Moreover, Allah is pleased with the deeds done only for His sake. If a person spends his life with such calculations, Allah will not be pleased with any deed he does. Allah tries His servants; we cannot try Him.10

And we cannot make an inference from the second example as follows: “There is no need to do a lot of good deeds; somehow we may lose everything due to a little disobedience.” This is because the Divine pleasure of Allah is attained by sincerity. What matters is quality, not quantity.11 For this reason, a person should not see himself as having a guarantee of the Hereafter by looking at his worship; he should always be alert and say “I might slip and lose the Divine pleasure.”

Yes, the lesson we must take from these two examples is that the doors of fear and hope are always open for every servant of Allah. They give us the lesson that no matter how sinful a person is, Allah may forgive, and even transform sins into good deeds, in the amount of foam in the sea thanks to a single deed, a prayer, and repentance. On the other hand, they steer us away from bad deeds with the warning whip “Beware! You may slip any moment and lose your good deeds.”

This feature of the intention is mentioned in the Qur’an as follows: “For them Allah will replace their evil deeds with good.”12 As an explanation of this verse the Prophet (pbuh) gave the following example:

“Allah says to an angel ‘Go to this servant of Mine and make him confess these and those sins of him.’ That angel goes to that believer and asks him ‘Have you committed this sin on so and so day and in so and so place?’ That believer feels ashamed, lowers his head and says ‘Yes, I have.’ The angel asks again ‘Well, have you committed this sin on so and so day and in so and so place?’ That believer feels rather ashamed and bashfully says ‘Yes, I have.’

The angel asks again ‘Have you committed this sin on so and so day and in so and so place?’ That believer now feels crushed under his sins, says in an almost inaudible voice ‘Yes, I have.’ And the angel says ‘Your Lord replaced these sins of yours with good deeds.’ Upon hearing this, that believer raises his head at once and desperately screams ‘I have these and those sins, too.” He starts to count his sins.” Our Prophet (pbuh) starts to laugh. Madinah had a holiday atmosphere on that day.

Fourth Point: There is ‘general servanthood’ in sincere intention

By means of ‘general intention’ a person can become a constant zakir (rememberer), shakir (one who is thankful), and abid (worshipper). A general intention is like when a commander presents the services and obedience of his soldiers to their sultan.

Imam Bediuzzaman Said Nursi says the following regarding this subject:

“A man enters a sultan’s presence with a gift worth five kurush, and he sees that other gifts worth millions have arrived from acceptable people, and have been lined up there. It occurs to him ‘My present is nothing. What shall I do?’ Then he says suddenly ‘His majesty! I offer you all these valuable gifts in my name. For you are worthy of them. If I had the power, I would have given you gifts equal to them.’ Thus, the sultan, who has need of nothing and accepts his subjects’ gifts as a sign of their loyalty and respect, accepts that poor man’s general intention and wish, and the worthiness of his elevated belief as though it was the greatest gift.”13

Just like in these examples, a human being – who acts as an officer over other creatures, commands the animals and plants, has the capacity to be vicegerent over the beings of the earth, and in his own world considers himself to represent everyone – can be a ‘general servant’ with the intention of offering worship and requests on his own account to Allah for the help of all the creatures. The pronoun ‘we’ in “It is You we worship and You we ask for help” in the Fatihah and the plurality in the expression “Thousands of blessings and thousands of peace” in the tasbihat [litanies of praise to Allah] point at this secret.

Moreover, with a sincere intention a person finds the opportunity to gain reward as if he has spent a wealth which he does not have and cannot have even in a lifetime. Regarding this, there is a beautiful hadith: “There is a servant. Allah has given him knowledge, but not wealth. However, he has good intention and says ‘If I had wealth, I would spend it (for goodness) like so and so man.’ So this man gets the reward as if he has done what he has intended; both men get the same reward.”14

Result

Yes, in the ‘treasure chest of intention’ there are invaluable treasures like changing habits into worship, the transformation of  the meanings of things, turning sins into good deeds and being a general servant. Considering that the pious predecessors have not done a good deed before having an intention for it, it can be understood how this subject of intention is important. There should be intention so that it can be valuable and it makes us gain the Divine pleasure of Allah. I would like to finish with a word from Ihya’ Ulum al-Din of Imam Ghazali: “Under the sun, there are really few people who understand the truth of the intention, let alone someone who has it.

May Allah make us understand the wide meaning of the intention with our narrow minds and be among those who properly benefit from its treasury! Amin.

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  1. Kubbealtı Lügati
  2. İslam İlmihali, Mehmet Dikmen
  3. Mathnawi al-Nuri, p.58, Said Nursi
  4. Mathnawi al-Nuri, p.58, Said Nursi
  5. 17th Flash, 13th Note, 3rd Issue, Said Nursi
  6. Sharhu’l-Ashbah
  7. Mathnawi al-Nuri, p.58, Said Nursi
  8. The Words, p.21, Said Nursi
  9. Bukhari, Badu’l-Wahy, 1
  10. 17th Flash, 13th Note, 1st Issue, Said Nursi
  11. 20th Flash, 3rd Reason, Said Nursi
  12. The Qur’an, Furqan, 25:70
  13. The Words, p.151, Said Nursi
  14. Tirmidhi, Zuhd 17, 2326; Ibn Majah, Zuhd 21, 4228

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