Hadith 1: Actions Are Judged By Intentions
By Imam Nawawi
In the name of Allāh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful;
All the praise and thanks is due to Allāh, the Lord of al-‘ālameen. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allāh, and that Muhammad, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam is His Messenger.
It is narrated on the authority of the Amirul Mu'minin, Abu Hafs ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab, (radiyallahu’anhu), who said: I heard the Allah’s Messenger, (Sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam), say:
"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."
[Recorded by Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
According to some hadiths, the background for this Hadith is that a person sent a proposal of marriage to a woman named Umm Qais, which she turned down saying that he should have to emigrate to Al-Madinah for it. Accordingly, he did it for this specific purpose, and the two were married there. On account of this event, the man came to be known among the Companions as Muhajir Umm Qais. The Prophet, (Sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam), said at the time when a man emigrated from Makkah to Madinah should be “intended” for the sake of Allah and his Messenger.
It is considered to be one of the greatest hadiths in Islam.
Imam al-Shafi’ie (rahimahullāh) said: This Hadith encompasses one third of the knowledge of Islam; related to about 70 topics of Fiqh. And Imam Ahmad (rahimahullāh), in reference to Al-Imam Al-Shafi’ie's statement said: Islam is based on three fundamentals:
1. Intention: made in the heart
2. Bid’ah: Whosoever introduces into this affair of ours (i.e. Islam) something that does not belong to it, it is to be rejected.
3. Halal and Haram: Truly, what is lawful (halal) is evident, and what is unlawful (haram) is evident, and in between the two are matters which are doubtful which many people do not know.
These three hadiths are agreed upon by Al-Bukhari and Muslim.
These hadiths can be seen as three criteria to help Muslims evaluate and judge when they perform and say "as an ‘Ibadah" in their daily life:
1 - To evaluate and judge our internal actions: actions of the heart.(hadith 1/40 hadith of Imam Nawawi)
2 - To evaluate and judge our external actions: actions of the limbs (Hadith 5/40 hadith of Imam Nawawi)
3 - To evaluate and judge our dealings "mu'amalat": interaction between people.( Hadith 6/40 hadith of Imam Nawawi )
Niyyah (intention) has two meanings:
1. The intent before commencing an Ibadah (e.g. Solah, Zakah, etc)
2. The willingness: it is ‘the form of purpose (qasad) and desire (irādah)’ that ‘takes place in the heart’
The second meaning of (2.) is what is meant in this hadith.
Scholars held that “Intention (Niyyah)” entails in ‘the form of purpose (qasad) and desire (irādah)’ that ‘takes place in the heart’ encompassing ‘two elements’:
1 - Firstly, distinguish the different types of acts worship, one from the other (ta’rub). Like distinguishing whether it is a ghusul, tayammum, wudhu or solāh, fasting, zakah, Or distinguishing actions of worship from actions of habit, like distinguishing the bath from impurity from the baths simply to get clean;
2 - Secondly, to distinguish the intended object of the action (ta’yin) – a fardhu or nawafil;
And that it is sincerely intended for the sake of Allāh alone.
What is sincerity? It means to have your intention (Arabic: niyyah, maqsid) honest to Allāh.
The Prophet (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said: ‘Sincerity is one of Allāh's “secrets” that He plants in the heart of whomsoever He loves’, and ‘sincerity to Allāh is so essential for our manner ’
The Prophet, (Sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam), starts the hadith with the principle of “Actions are judged by intentions" and then gives three examples. This is the methodology of the Prophet, (Sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam). The examples help illustrate the principle so that it is easier for people to understand and they can apply the principle to other similar situations.
The three examples consist of one of good intention (migration for the sake of Allah and His Messenger) and two of bad intentions (migration for the sake of worldly gains or for marriage).
Al-Ikhlas (The Sincerity)
This hadith emphasizes Ikhlas (sincerity - to be truthful and honest to Allah alone, performing an act solely for Allah's sake whereby no other witness except Allah is sought).
Ikhlas is one of the conditions of accepting good deeds. The other condition is that the actions must be done in accordance with the Shari’ah as it will be explained in the fifth hadith.
This can be seen in the Shahadah:
1 - "I bear witness that there is no god but Allah" is the Ikhlas - ensuring that we do things for the sake of Allah and Allah alone.
2 - "I bear witness that Mohammed is the Messenger of Allah" - the Sunnah is the manifestation of the Qur’an - the Prophet, Sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam, is our example, our best model to follow. Following his Sunnah in our Ibadah, Akhlaq (ethics), and Mu’amalat (dealings) ensures that we are acting in accordance with the Shari’ah.
Thus, the Shahadah shows us the conditions for accepting a deed or performing an action:
(a) It should be for the sake of Allah because He is the only One we worship, and
(b) It should be in accordance with the Shari’ah.
To achieve Ikhlas, we have to avoid shirik (associating others with Allah, which causes insincerity). Al-Imam al-Harawi (rahimahullāh) said the root cause for insincerity (or shirik) is Self-Desire (Al-Hawa). Therefore no action should be done because of self-desire.
Seven Types of Self-Desires
Imam Al-Harawi (rahimahullāh) states that there are seven types of self-desires:
1. To make oneself appear good in the hearts of others
2. To seek the praises of others
3. To avoid being blamed by others
4. To seek the glorification of others
5. To seek the wealth or money of others
6. To seek the services or love of others
7. To seek the help of others for oneself
Ways to obtain Ikhlas
1 - Does righteous deeds: doing more good deeds with sincerity as to get closer to Allah.
2 - Before we do any deed we should firstly seek knowledge (ilm): our actions or deeds should be guided by knowledge so that we do them in accordance to the Shari’ah.
3 - Does not give false impressions: do not make others to believe that an action we did was good when it was not.
4 - Imam Ahmad (rahimahullāh) said: Before you do anything, check your intention (niyyah) - ask yourself before performing an action: "Is it for the sake of Allah?"
5 - Ibnu Al-Qayyim (rahimahullāh) says: Any action we do is subject to three defects:
a. Being conscious that others are observing our actions
b. Seeking a return (benefit or reward) for the action
c. Being satisfied with the action
1. If we go to the masjid for the solāh and we are early, arriving before the Imām and finding a place in the first saff, we should not be proud of ourselves and think of ourselves being better than others. We should praise Allah for enabling us to go to the masjid and for being able to perform the solāh without any difficulties.
2. After every solāh, we should tell ourselves that we could have performed it better and try to improve in our next solāh.
What happens if we were to change our niyyah while performing an action? Ibn Rajab (rahimahullāh) says according to the ulama' if the niyyah at the end of the action matches the beginning (i.e. doing the action for the sake of Allah), then any changes in the middle of the action will be forgiven or does not matter, in sha Allah. However, if the niyyah at the end does not match the beginning, i.e. we do the action for other than the sake of Allah, and then we must repent (tawbah).
There are four things that contradict Ikhlas.
1. Ma’siat - committing sins - this will weaken our ikhlas
2. Shirik - associating others with Allah
3. Riya' - performing an ‘ibadah with the intention of showing off to others
4. Nifaq – hypocrisy
Even though we must always make sure that our actions do not deviate from Ikhlas, there are actions, which are automatically considered that of good intentions; For example, seeking knowledge in Islam, helping the community, doing da'wah, etc.
Some Rulings (Ahkam) From This Hadith
The Scholars derived some rulings (ahkam) from this hadith:
1. When people 'swear by Allah' by saying "Wallahi" every now and then, their intention is not that they actually swear by Allah. They say it simply out of habit - it readily rolls off their tongue. Hence, it is harmless. However a Muslim should do his or her best to minimize it.
2. When someone is asked to give an oath, what is judged is his intention when he gives the oath.
3. There can be a combination of intentions between performing an ‘ibadah and teaching others - we perform an ‘ibadah for the sake of Allah, but we also do it with the intention of teaching others. E.g. when the Prophet, Sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam, performed the Hajj, he did it for the sake of Allah as well as for teaching the Sahabah (his companions, radiyallahu’anhum).
4. A man may go through the process of divorcing his wife, verbally or in court, but it is his intention which counts.
5. What could be seen as gheebah (backbiting - talking bad, but true, things about a person behind his back) could simply be a joke or a du’a. If someone talks bad about someone else, it is his intentions, which determines whether it is ghibah or not.
Our actions are determined by our intentions - whether they are good intentions or bad intentions. Therefore we should always check our intentions before we do or say anything. We must make sure that the action is for the sake of Allah so that it is accepted by Allah and that we will be rewarded for it, in sha Allah.
In his well-known book, Al-Hikam (Words of Wisdom Sheikh Ahmad Ibn ‘Atā’illāh As-Sakandari says: “Actions are like statues that only come to life with the spirit of sincerity” Let us always ask Allāh to grant us sincerity, to help us turn our habits into sincere acts of worship, and make our life devoted for Him alone. “Say: "Behold, my prayer, and my acts of worship, and my living and my dying are for Allāh alone, the Lord of all the worlds. In whose divinity none has a share: for thus have I been bidden - and I shall always be foremost among those who surrender themselves unto Him"”. (Al-An`am, 162- 163)
Allāh Subhānahu wata‘ala says in the Qur’an: “Say: ‘O people! I am sent unto you all, as the Messenger of Allah, to Whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth: there is no god but He: it is He that gives both life and death. So believe in Allah and His Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, who believed in Allah and His Words: follow him that (so) you may be guided.” (Al-A’raf 7: 158)
Allāh Subhānahu wata‘ala, also says: "Verily, the Abrar (pious and righteous) will be in Delight (Jannah). And verily, the Fujjar (the wicked, disbelievers, sinners and evildoers) will be in the blazing Fire (Hell)." [Al-Infitar, 82:13, 14]
‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Umar (radiyallāhu’anhu) said: We counted Messenger's saying a hundred times during one single sitting: ‘Rabb ighfir li wa tubb ‘alayya innaka antat-tawwābul-[ghafūru-]rahīm’ (O Allāh, forgive me and accept my repentance, for You are the [Oft-Forgiving] the Accepter of Repentance, Most Merciful). According to another report: ‘Rabb ighfir li wa tubb ‘alayya Innaka antat-tawābul-ghafūr” (O Allāh, forgive me and accept my repentance, for You are the Acceptor of Repentance, Oft-Forgiving). [Recorded by Abu Dawud and At-Tirmidzi].
It was narrated that the Prophet (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said to a man (one of the Sahabah): “What do you say when you prayer (Du’a after the Tashahhud)?” He said: “I recite the Tashahhud, then I say: “Allāhumma inni as alukal-Jannah wa a‘udzu bika Minan-nār” (O Allāh, I ask You for Paradise and seek refuge in You from the Fire).I cannot murmur like you and like Mu‘adz.” Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said: “It is about them that we were murmuring.” [Narrated by Abu Dawud, 792: sahih].
‘Aishah (radhiyallāhu’anha) reported that she asked Allāh’s Messenger (sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam), “O Messenger of Allāh! If I knew which night is Lailatul-Qadar, what should I say during it?” And he instructed her to say: “Allāhummainna ka ’a Fuw wun Tuhibbul ‘afwa Fa’fu’ anni(O Allāh! You are forgiving, and You love forgiveness. So forgive me)” [Recorded by Ahmad, Ibn Majah, and At-Tirmidzi: sahih]
'Abdullah bin Mas'ud (radiyallahu ‘anhu) reported that the Prophet (Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) used to say: "Allahumma inni as’alukal-huda wat-tuqa wal-‘afafa wal-ghina (O Allah! I ask You for guidance, piety, chastity and self-sufficiency)". [Recorded by Muslim].
This Hadith contains four words, the meanings and implications of which constitute its essence. These words are guidance, piety (fear of Allah), chastity and sufficiency. Guidance here means guidance at every turn of life and steadfastness on the path of truth. Fear of Allah is the greatest means of piety and strongest defense against sins. Chastity is the state of being free from what is unlawful. Self-sufficiency is the antonym of poverty and here it means the self-contentment. What it implies is that one should not care for what people possess. In view of all these qualities, the do’a of the Prophet (Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) mentioned in this Hadith is very comprehensive and valuable.
Ibn Abi Hatim and Ibn Jarir recorded that Umm Salamah (radiyallāhu`anha), said that the Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) used to supplicate: ‘Ya muqallibal-qulubi, thabbit qalbi `ala dinik (O Controller of the hearts make my heart steadfast in Your religion).” Rasulullah(Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) then recited: Rabbana la tuzia’qulubana ba’ daiz hadaitana wahab Lana min laduñ karahmah; Iñnaka an tal wahhāb. (Our Lord! Let not our hearts deviate (from the truth) after Thou have guided us, and grant us mercy from Thou. Truly, Thou are the Bestower.) (Al-’Imran, 3:8) [This is recorded by Muslim and At-Tirmidzi]
Anas Ibn Mālik (radiyallāhu’anhu) who said: “The supplication most often recited by Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam): Rabbana-ātina-fid-dunya hasanah, Wa fil-ākhirati-hasanah, Wa-qina-‘ādzabānnār (O Lord! Bestow upon us in this world that which is good and in the Hereafter that which is good, and save us from the punishment of the Fire).’” (Al-Baqārah 2:201) [This is recorded by Al-Bukhāri, Muslim, and Tarmidzi]. Tarmidzi (rahimullāh) said: “Hasanah is very comprehensive and includes in all kinds of good and benefits of this world and of the Hereafter. Good health, wealth and satisfaction of the world and good status in Jannah, forgiveness from sins and Allāh’s bounties and favours in both worlds are included in this duā’” [ Jāmi’ At-Tarmidzi]
And Allāh Almighty Knows best.
[Excerpted with minor modification from: “Hadith 1: “Actions Are Judged By Intentions”, 40 Hadiths Of Imam Nawawi", IC Truth]
See also: 'Ibadah and Bid'ah
See also: The Purification of the Heart