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Intentions and Sincerity in Islam [Part I]

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Sahih Al Bukhari , the compilation of ahadith by Imam Bukhari is the most revered book of Ahadith by all Muslims and is lovingly called “bukhari” by many . During my first hadith class, my teacher said, “In a house, if there is a Quran , then there will be a bukhari“, and the picture of a thick book , with a colorful cover and tiny font came to my mind.

 An excitement filled me, as I was soon to get the answer to a question that had hankered in my mind since my teenage years. What was the hadith of “intentions” doing in the beginning of the esteemed bukhari in the first chapter of Book of Revelations?!!

Narrated ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab MALE radi-allahu-anhuI heard Allah’s Messenger saying, “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 worldly benefits or for a woman to marry, his emigration was for what he emigrated for.”  1

And Imam ash Shafi has said, “This hadith is one third of all knowledge”.

And alhamdullilah, I got my answer. However, some time passed before I could fully understand the importance of that hadith and its placement in the bukhari. Let me take you down the memory lane on my journey to understand this beautiful and important qawl (saying) of our beloved Messenger of Allah SAW.

Whenever you read a book or an article, you will always find scope for improvement in terms of how its written or edited, except the Book of Allah Allah Subhanahu-wa-Taala. Every verse in the Quran is in it’s best place and serves a perfect purpose. Interestingly, even though the bukhari consists of over tens of thousands of ahadith, whenever Imam Bukhari sat down to compile the bukhari , he would perform ghusl(bath) and offer 2 rakats (units) of salat -ul-istikhara ( the prayer for guidance) before recording each and every hadith.

So in other words, our beloved bukhari had Allah swt (1) as it’s editor!

This hadith talks about “intentions”. To understand the concept of intentions let me begin by asking you a question.

 Have you ever sowed a seed?

🙂 Well, when you decided to do that, you picked the best quality seed, dug deep into the ground, placed it carefully in the soil and then covered it with layers of soil and added fertilizers to ensure that it gets good nourishment and sprouts into a healthy plant. Then, you regularly watered the seed, waiting eagerly for it to sprout. While the seed on its part, would struggle with its layers and push out roots that would hold the soil together firmly, so that no storm can easily uproot it. And then it pushed upwards with all its might and you saw a tender little stem coming out of the soil and sighed in relief and happiness at the sight of it.

Our intentions, niyah are like that seed, buried deep inside our hearts, away from everyone’s eyes.

In the dictionary, “intentions” are defined as “an anticipated outcome that is intended or that guides your planned actions.”

These “intentions” are motivations behind our actions and /or behavior. These motives determine our enthusiasm,quality and amount of effort and even our tolerance and perseverance while working. As Muslims, understanding the concept of “intentions” is of utmost importance as Allah swt (1) and His Messenger SAW attach great importance to it.

Allah swt (1) evaluates our deeds according to our intentions as He says,

It is neither their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah; It is only your piety that reaches Him” (Al Hajj, 22:37)

Dr Hazim Said says that ,“Intentions are the transformative agent in our lives”. An admirable deed can become useless without the right intentions and the smallest of deeds can become huge because of the correct intentions behind them.

So intentions alone would not help us earn Allah’s swt (1) pleasure, they have to be the “right” ones!

So as a Muslim, what does “right” intentions mean?

Ikhlaas, sincerity, is the most important element that makes intentions the right one. Just as a seed of a mango tree cannot sprout an apple tree, our actions not done with “sincerity/ikhlaas” will not be accepted by Allah swt (1).

So what is Ikhlaas?

The Arabic word, Ikhlaas is translated as “Sincerity” for us English speakers. Sincerity in Islam is “freeing of one’s intentions from all impurities in order to come nearer to Allah swt (1).”

The dictionary meaning of Sincerity says, “an honesty of mind, freedom from hypocrisy, the quality of being open and truthful, not deceitful or hypocritical.”

Sincere intentions bring peace to our hearts. Anxiety, suspicion, doubt and anger have no room in a heart that harbors sincere intentions. Approval, reward and acknowledgement are all sought only from Allah swt (1).

A peaceful heart finds it easier to connect to Allah swt (1), thereby helping us improve the quality of our relationship with Allah swt (1) and with the people as well. Allah swt (1) rewards a person by granting him/her with the ability to do more good deeds with sincere intentions as He swt (1) says in the Quran,

Indeed, Allah does not do injustice, [even] as much as an atom’s weight; while if there is a good deed, He multiplies it and gives from Himself a great reward.” (An Nisa, 4:40)

Good deeds done with conscious sincere intentions are great Imaan boosters. Sincerity act like roots that the seed of intentions sprouts to hold on tightly to the soil, so that any wind laden with emotions like pride, arrogance,anger or revenge cannot uproot it.

Sincerity act like roots that the seed of intentions sprouts to hold on tightly to the soil, so that any wind laden with emotions like pride, arrogance,anger or revenge cannot uproot it.

We now know that that all intentions behind every single act of worship and obedience to Allah swt (1) are exclusively for seeking His pleasure alone. May Allah  swt (1) make us of those who have sincere intentions, Ameen.

In sha Allah, in the next article,  we will talk about how Shaitan tricks us into turning our good intentions into bad ones, and how we can strive to keep our intentions sincere.

  1.  Bukhari, Vol. 1, Book 1, Hadith 1

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