The foundations of every action rest upon the intention behind the action. Due to it, the deed is deemed either valid or void. Depending on the intention, the deed is strengthened or weakened. The following article will use a few scenarios that we may find ourselves in to highlight how easy it is for our intentions to be affected.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions…or is it?
The sound of change rattling in a bucket becomes louder as you reach the exit of the Masjid. Your hand enters your pocket to remove your wallet. A fiver, maybe even a tenner. This surly is a cause worth supporting. You stop…You hesitate...Should I take my wallet out and remove money in front of everyone and risk voiding my action? As the crowd behind you pushes onwards you reach the outside of the masjid still clutching your wallet. The action that you had planned so sincerely and the opportunity to donate has passed.
In this scenario a good intention did not reach its ultimate goal translating into a good action. The quandary that one finds themselves in is to either carry out the action with the possibility of the intention being tainted or halt the action to save oneself from evil intentions. The sincere, pure and honest intention is something Alllah (swt) rewards. However, the individual should constantly monitor and check his intention, seek refuge with Allah (swt) in the whispers of shaytan and continue to carry out the action, which he had sincerely intended.
Al-Fudayl ibn 'Iyad, a student of Imam Abu Hanifa has summed up this predicament beautifully in the below quote-
"Abandoning action for the sake of people is to seek their admiration. To do an action for the sake of people is to commit Shirk (to associate in the worship of Allah, others along with Allah). Indeed ikhlas (purity/sincerity of intention) is when Allah saves you from both of these states."
Show it and blow it?
An Iftaar get together at a friends house. Several brothers get up and start to pray their sunnah after praying Salaat ul Maghrib. Still sitting in the saff you contemplate getting up. You stop..you hesitate. A barrage of questions crosses your mind. You have not been praying your sunnah frequently at home recently. Would you have prayed sunnah if these specific brothers were not around? In the moment you seek refuge with Allah (swt) from the Shaytaan and get up and start your sunnah prayer. As you pray, questions still riddle your mind as to basis of this prayer and why you are doing it. Your prayer ends, you fold your prayer mat and move on to enjoy the rest of your iftaar.
Ones ability and desire to do actions will go up and down depending on the company kept. This is the natural disposition of every human being. An action carried out in the company of people that would not normally do done alone, does not necessarily point to an evil intention. Ensuring our intention is pure is the real challenge and this has to be monitored to keep it in check.
Imam Sufyan ath-Thawri used to spend the nights and the days crying and the people used to ask him,
“Why do you cry, is it due to fear of Allah?”
He said, ‘No.’
They said, “Is it due to the fear of the Hellfire?”
He said, ‘No. It is not the fear of Hellfire that makes me cry, what makes me cry is that I have been worshipping Allah all these years and doing scholarly teaching and I am not certain that my intentions are purely for Allah.’
You unload your bags from your car after a long journey. Sleep has descended on your eyes like never before. The only thing on your mind is now that comfortable bed that awaits you upstairs. As you lie in your bed you look at your phone for one last time before you drown into a deep sleep. The alarm sign on the top right corner of the phone catches your eye. Its your daily fajr alarm. Only 1 hour before it starts to sound. You can’t stay up 1 hour! You can’t even keep your eyes open for another minute. But at the same time you really don’t want your deep sleep to be disturbed by the ringing of a loud alarm. You stop..you hesitate. Your turn off the alarm and go to bed pretending that you will wake up on your own accord. The next time you open your eyes it is 9am and you are late for work.
The true sincere intention can only be qualified as such when one plans to make every effort to execute the action that has been intended. In the scenario above, the Individual purposefully places an obstacle to the action. If an alarm is used every other day to wake up for fajr then that surly should be the case this time too. The intention from its inception is insincere and is used purely as a mechanism to clear the conscience of an unconvinced heart. It is in times when difficulty arises and when our nafs is being challenged that the real tests lie.
Imam Sufyan Ath-Thawri says:
“I have never dealt with anything more difficult than my intention; it keeps changing on me.”
Pure / Evil
The pure/sincere intention is something that is done for the sake of Allah (swt) alone. The individual whose intention is sincere finds no problem in gaining no appreciation from people for it. People seeing his deed results in no change in the motivation and drive to carry out the deed.
The insincere intention can manifest in many ways. It may be purely evil from its inception with the aim of solely gaining acceptance/appreciation of people. The extreme case of this is the hypocrites munafikun) in Medina at the time of the Prophet (saw). The intention can be pure at its inception but be corrupted along its path to the action. The battle for control of the heart is a constant one. Fame, fortune, position and recognition are something that is constantly sought in this world however; true sincerity is to forget about the creation by constantly looking at the Creator in terms of gaining recognition for deeds
Ali (rh) said:
"The one who shows off has three characteristics: he is lazy when by himself, he is lively and energetic when with others and he increases in his actions when he is praised and decreases in them when he is criticised."
Intention is a fundamental component and a condition for the validity of the deed. Intention is not simply the statement of the tongue, nor is it simply a thought in the mind. Instead, it is the driving force in the heart towards a deed. The sincere believer puts himself at the disposal of Allah (swt) and allows divine motives to guide all his actions and behaviour, and in doing so, he attains true honour.