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On Ikhlaas (Sincerity)
  The Hadeeth of the Niyyah (Intention)
Author: Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali
Source: Jaami ul-Uloom wal-Hikam
Article ID : TZK010005  [17381]  
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And they differ as to the limits of his saying, 'actions are by intention'. And many of the later Muslims think that the limit is that the action is made correct, able to be considered and acceptable with the intention. And in this what is meant is that action which is legislated (Shar`i) needing an intention. And as for what is not requiring an intention like habitual actions such as eating, drinking, dressing and other things, or like returning the trust or guarantees then none of these is in need of an intention.

And others say, rather 'actions' here is to be understood in its generality, and nothing is exempt from it. And some of them relate this as the saying of the majority, meaning the majority of the early people. And this occurs in the words of ibn Jareer at-Tabaree and Abu Taalib al-Makki and others from the early Muslims. And it is clear from the words of Imaam Ahmad, he said in a narration, 'I like that for every action, from prayer or fast or charity or any action of righteousness that there be an intention preceding the action. The Prophet, sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam, said, "actions are by intentions", and this is taken for every matter.'

Fadl bin Ziyaad said, ‘I asked Abu Abdullaah (i.e. Ahmad) about the intention in action, how should it be? He said, "one should treat his self when he intends to do an action, not desiring by it the people (i.e. showing off)."’

…And it is possible that the limits of his, sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam, saying, 'actions are by intention' (is that the action is made) good, or corrupt, or acceptable, or rejected, or rewarded, or not rewarded according to the intention. Therefore this statement informs us of the Islamic ruling concerning this- and that is that the correctness or incorrectness of the action is in accordance to the correctness or incorrectness of the intention, and its acceptance and rejection is according to its conclusion.

And his saying after this, 'and for everyone is what he intended' is informing that he will not gain anything from his action except what he intended. So if he intended good, he gets good. And if he intended evil then he gets evil. And this second statement (of the hadeeth) is not merely reiterating the first, for the first statement points to the fact that the goodness or corruptness of the action is according to the intention necessary for that action to exist. The second statement points to the fact that the reward of the actor for his action is in accordance to his good intention, and that the punishment for his action is in accordance to his evil intention. And if the intention is permissible (mubah), then the action is permissible (mubah), and there is not for it any reward or punishment.

Therefore the action in itself is good, or bad, or permissible according to the intention behind it necessary for that action to exist. And the reward of the person or his punishment is according to the intention upon which the action became righteous, or bad or permissible.


Know that Niyyah (intention) in the language is a type of purpose (qasd) and desire (iraadah). And Niyyah in the speech of the scholars occurs in two meanings (or contexts):

1) To distinguish different types of worship, one from the other. Like distinguishing Dhuhr prayer from Asr prayer, or distinguishing the fast of Ramadaan from other fasts. Or distinguishing actions of worship from actions of habit, like distinguishing the bath from impurity from the baths simply to get clean. And this meaning of Niyyah you will commonly find in many of the works of the Legal Jurists.

2) To distinguish the intended object of the action - is it for Allaah only and for no other, or for Allaah and other than him? And this is the meaning of intention you will find in the works of the Gnostics (`aarifoon), in their discussions on sincerity and those things that it is dependant on. And this (meaning) you will often find in the statements of the Salaf.

And Abu Bakr ibn Abee Dunya wrote a book, calling it, "Sincerity and intention', and he meant this (second meaning) of intention. And it is the meaning of intention which is repeatedly mentioned in the speech of the Prophet , sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam,, sometimes with the word niyyah, other times with the word iraadah, and sometimes with words close in meaning to the above two. And the mention of intention occurs in the Qur'aan many times, by the use of words other then niyyah but with similar meaning.

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