Wake up, brush teeth, take wudhu, pray, have breakfast, do some work, do chores, sit with the kids, cook, talk to a friend, recite Qur’an…
I could go on.
Our life is a cycle of routine actions, with things popping up out of the blue for sure, but for the most part, it is a comfortable hum that we’re used to. Maybe it’s because we’re so used to it that we don’t have to think anymore – not much brain activity goes into doing those tasks, does it? When life becomes routine, we forget the “why” of things, and so we don’t actually intend to do it, it just sort of happens.
This is not by any means a bad thing. However, intentions is the foundation of our religion.
إنَّمَا الْأَعْمَالُ بِالنِّيَّاتِ، وَإِنَّمَا لِكُلِّ امْرِئٍ مَا نَوَى، فَمَنْ كَانَتْ هِجْرَتُهُ إلَى اللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ فَهِجْرَتُهُ إلَى اللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ، وَمَنْ كَانَتْ هِجْرَتُهُ لِدُنْيَا يُصِيبُهَا أَوْ امْرَأَةٍ يَنْكِحُهَا فَهِجْرَتُهُ إلَى مَا هَاجَرَ إلَيْهِ”.
“Actions are (judged) by motives (niyyah), so each man will have what he intended. Thus, he whose migration (hijrah) was to Allah and His Messenger, his migration is to Allah and His Messenger; but he whose migration was for some worldly thing he might gain, or for a wife he might marry, his migration is to that for which he migrated.” [Bukhari & Muslim]
The first part of the hadith is familiar, because it’s something we’ve heard a number of times, however, not truly comprehended.
The word إنما that is used gives a meaning of exclusivity – there is nothing to our deeds except what we intend.
Let’s look at that first scenario again: Wake up, brush teeth, take wudhu, pray, have breakfast, do some work, do chores, sit with the kids, cook, talk to a friend, recite Qur’an… So far, all we’ve been doing is spending time. Externally we are clean, we have done our salah and just gotten some exercise out of it, but how much of it is accepted?
Even though I have spent the past two weeks learning this concept, I don’t think I have the words to justify its intensity, so May Allah make it easy and accept this from me.
What we do with our day has become habit. We spend the 24 hours in service to others mostly, and in what we think in worship to Allah. So when are we earning our Jannah? We can spend 24 hours doing that, just by changing our intention. You see, when you do something for the sake of Allah, He rewards you for it.
“Erm, I’m brushing my teeth. How can that be for the sake of Allah?”
Because you do it with the intention of keeping clean so you can be presentable when worshipping Him.
“What about going for a jog?”
Staying healthy to worship Him.
“Having a meal?”
Maintaining strength so that you can worship Him.
Resting so that you are fit enough to worship Him properly.
It is simple: Change your habits into worship.
Here is the catch: when you become more aware of doing this with your life, you will find it hard to attribute things that waste time or are not good, to good intentions and worshipping Allah. It can turn your life around, but it requires a lot of practice and effort.
Here is the good news:
Every second you spend doing something with a good intention, you are getting reward credited to your account. The little things don’t bother you anymore either – that person didn’t say thank you because you held the door open for them? No problem, Allah knows why you did it. They didn’t smile back? Allah knows your intention. It is getting exhausting to try and mend ties with that relative who has cut everyone off? Allah rewards your efforts. The house is sparkling clean and no one seems to notice? Allah knows.
The feedback from others becomes a small thing compared to what you are getting in return. It helps you become of the Muhsineen, one of the highest levels of a Muslim – those who do utmost good with no expectations, giving more than the other deserves.
Here is the bad news:
It has to be totally and sincerely for the sake of Allah. You’re probably thinking, sure, no problem! but let me tell you that it is not easy. Most people start off with pure intentions, but that can change along the way. Either it can become habit, or it is done to show off.
Started off your salah only for the sake of Allah? What happens when someone walks into the room? Focus is automatically diverted, the ruku‘ and sujood become longer and that whole salah was wasted because it had turned into something of a show.
Started doing that Islamic course because you truly wanted to learn your deen? What happens when it becomes a part of your life? Studying Islam has then becoming something to do on those days, meet with your friends, and sound knowledgable to others about what you know.
Started sending food to the neighbors because you truly wanted to give them their rights? What happens when one of them praises you? It becomes an act to please them and seek more praise.
May Allah keep us firm, it is not easy!
That is why renewing intentions is so so so very important. I cannot stress this enough. We can never think we are safe from our nafs or from Shaytan.
While the formula is Change your habits into worship, what is equally important is Do not change your worship into habits. And that is what happens when we don’t keep renewing our intentions.
Would we drink a glass of water with just a tiny drop of ink in it? It’s mostly water, *shrugs* it’s alright, yeah?
No, we still wouldn’t take it. What makes us think Allah swt will accept our deeds when we have mixed other intentions in it? That is why riyaa’ – showing off – is minor shirk, because it is done for someone other than Allah.
The key is to train ourselves. Always ask yourself the question, “Will this please Allah?” before you do something.
I cannot stress the importance of sincere intentions. The scholars of those days had the courage to ask Allah to show them a sign if they were afraid that they might be doing something not for purely His sake. They were afraid of their deeds not being accepted because of mixed intentions. Today we barely give that a second thought, and just do. But their names are known today, their work is studied today, their legacy goes on today only because their intention was completely pure.
The book this hadith was taken from is Imam Nawawi’s Forty Hadith. A lot of people wrote the forty hadith then, but we don’t know of them today.
People build monuments and and do great acts in hopes of leaving a legacy. The simplest way to do it is to fix your intentions.
“How many mountains have men climbed but the men have gone and the mountains remain”
The only names we remember are the ones that Allah chooses to remain.
Intentions is not used to justify our actions, rather to help us earn our Jannah. If, for example, you were about to move to another country to get a better job, that would be for worldly reasons. However, if your intention is to avoid being in a situation where you might earn through haram means, because your current job doesn’t provide you with enough, that is then done for the sake of Allah.
A student of knowledge is in an especially dangerous position, for this path is easy to slip on. Imam Shafi’ states four things that one must avoid:
1) Jealousy – because we need to appreciate Allah’s wisdom that He gives what He wants to who He wants, and that everyone has different tests and different abilities. A beautiful example is that of Khadijah (ra) and A’isha (ra) – one having narrated one of the highest number of ahadith and one having narrated none, but both are women of Jannah for very different reasons.
2) Showing off – for the entire creation cannot benefit or harm you on the Day when it really matters, so why bother about them?
3) Conceit – the knowledge we have is a loan from Allah, it is not from our own intelligence and so we have to appreciate this gift.
4) Arrogance – because we are no better than anyone else except in taqwa and that is not for us to judge.
We may slip and we may forget, but the most important thing is to keep at it – after all, practice makes perfect!
And keep making du’a to remain firm. We don’t want to be chasing a mirage instead of a mountain of good deeds on the Day of Judgment!
It’s never too late to start! Remember, Allah is not worried about quantity – that’s just us humans. All. He wants is progress!
Every breath we take should be in gratitude to Him. Every step we take should be to get closer to Him. Every act we undertake should be intended sincerely for Him.