Importance of Niyyah (intention) in Islam

I mentioned a little about the importance of intention in one of my previous posts. In continuation of that, today I will write about the importance of pure intention in Islam. I will also provide some examples to explain how pure intention actually works. In other words, how we can turn our daily basic routine into worship through pure intention. Without further ado, let’s begin in the name of Allah Almighty.

As always, I seek refuge in Allah Almighty from all kinds of harm and pray that He makes my work easy. I also pray that He considers this effort a means of salvation for us in this world and the hereafter. Whatever is good in my writing is entirely a blessing from Allah Almighty, and any faults are due to Satan (Devil) and my own lack of knowledge. JazakAllah. (Thank you).

 

Identification of Niyyah (Intention)

Niyyah (نية) is an Arabic term meaning intention, purpose, or determination.

Definition

“Niyyah refers to the intention in one’s heart to perform an act for the sake of Allah. It is a crucial concept in Islam, as actions are judged by intentions.”

 

Importance of Niyyah (intention) in Islam

Niyyah (intention) is one of the most important concepts in Islam. Its significance is immense, as our intentions can greatly transform the nature of our actions. Due to niyyah, many permissible actions can become prohibited or even lead to shirk (associating partners with Allah). For example, Salah (prayer) is one of the essential acts of worship in Islam. However, if you perform it for someone other than Allah, it becomes shirk. This means that even if you perform Salah correctly, but your intention includes anyone other than Allah, this good deed turns into one of the most heinous acts in Islam.

Conversely, many ordinary actions can become highly rewarding simply due to pure intentions. Below, I will present some examples to illustrate this point, so you can better understand the concept. These examples will be mentioned in the section “How Niyyah (intention) Works,” insha’Allah.

 

Now, I will share some verses from the Quran that highlight the importance of pure intention, where Allah emphasizes its significance in various places in the Holy Quran. Allah Almighty says in the Holy Quran,

 

  • “لَنْ يَّنَالَ اللّٰهَ لُحُوْمُهَا وَلَا دِمَآؤُهَا وَلٰكِنْ يَّنَالُهُ التَّقْوٰي مِنْكُمْ”  “It is neither their flesh nor their blood that reaches Allah, but what does reach Him is the taqwā (the sense of obedience) on your part.”[¹]

  • “وَمَاۤ اُمِرُوْۤا اِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُوا اللّٰهَ مُخْلِصِيْنَ لَهُ الدِّيْنَ ۙ حُنَفَآءَ وَيُقِيْمُوا الصَّلٰوةَ وَيُؤْتُوا الزَّكٰوةَ وَذٰلِكَ دِيْنُ الْقَيِّمَةِ ؕ”  “while they were not ordered but to worship Allah, making their submission exclusive for Him with no deviation, and to establish Salāh and pay Zakāh. That is the way of the straight religion.”[²]

  • “قُلْ اِنَّ صَلَاتِيْ وَنُسُكِيْ وَمَحْيَايَ وَمَمَاتِيْ لِلّٰهِ رَبِّ الْعٰلَمِيْنَ”  “Say, “My prayer, my offering, my life, and my death are for Allah, the Lord of all the worlds.”[³]

  • “قُلْ اِنِّيْۤ اُمِرْتُ اَنْ اَعْبُدَ اللّٰهَ مُخْلِصًا لَّهُ الدِّيْنَ”  Say, “I have been ordered to worship Allah, making my submission exclusive to Him.”[⁴]

If you’re looking for the word “Niyyah” in these verses you won’t find it. Try to understand the essence of these verses. Then you will understand that these verses actually emphasize the importance of pure Niyyah (intention).

Now I will mention only one Hadith about the importance of Niyyah (intention). This Hadith is from Sahih al-Bukhari, and this is the first Hadith of Sahih al-Bukhari.

 

  • ” سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ، يَقُولُ :”إِنَّمَا الْأَعْمَالُ بِالنِّيَّاتِ، وَإِنَّمَا لِكُلِّ امْرِئٍ مَا نَوَى، فَمَنْ كَانَتْ هِجْرَتُهُ إِلَى دُنْيَا يُصِيبُهَا أَوْ إِلَى امْرَأَةٍ يَنْكِحُهَا، فَهِجْرَتُهُ إِلَى مَا هَاجَرَ إِلَيْهِ”  Narrated ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab: I heard Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) 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.”[⁵]

Please note: A man migrated with other Companions at that time just to marry one woman. I will talk about this matter at the end of my post, Inshallah (if Allah wills). Before that, let me ask you a question.

If you were asked to select ten hadiths from among the thousands narrated by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that best encapsulate the essence of Islam, could you omit the first hadith from Sahih Bukhari, which discusses intention? I don’t think so. Even if I were asked to select just three hadiths from those thousands, I would certainly include this hadith in my list.

 

Please note: I am not disrespecting any hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him) here. I am merely trying to convey how significant this particular hadith is. There is no other thought beyond this.

 

Additionally, there are several statements from earlier scholars about this hadith. It is said that Imam Abu Dawud once selected only five hadiths from five hundred thousand, and he included this hadith among them. It is also said that this hadith is one of the three fundamental hadiths considered the foundation of Islamic Sharia. So, think carefully about how important this hadith is. And you know well that this hadith discusses the importance of pure intention. Now let’s move on to the next section.

 

How Niyyah (Intention) Works

Niyyah (intention) is truly a wonderful concept. We’ve already discussed the importance of pure intention. Now, I will present some practical examples of pure intention. Through these examples, you will understand how intention can make a significant difference, even in our smallest actions. The first example is one of my favorites and comes from my personal experience. I have been wanting to share it with you for a long time. Today, I have the opportunity, so let’s not delay and get started.

 

  • Imagine two individuals: one named “Spreading” and the other named “Wisdom”. First, Spreading performs ablution (wudu) normally, using one liter of water. He had no intention of conserving water; he just completed the ablution randomly. Now, Wisdom performs ablution similarly but uses two liters of water. He spent one liter more than Spreading. However, Wisdom had the pure intention of wasting as little water as possible, which Spreading did not have. Thus, despite using more water, Wisdom will, Allah Almighty willing, earn more reward from Allah Almighty for his pure intention and effort to avoid waste. Spreading will not receive this reward simply because he lacked pure intention. Isn’t it remarkably beautiful?
  • Here’s another example with these two individuals. Imagine Spreading finishes his work in the afternoon, eats lunch, and returns to work. He did this simply as part of his routine without any specific intention. On the other hand, Wisdom says “Bismillah” (in the name of Allah) before starting his lunch and recites the dua taught by the Prophet (PBUH) after finishing. He has the intention that eating will give him the strength to worship his Lord properly. Due to this intention, he will receive extra reward from Allah, which Spreading will not, because Spreading had no such intention.I hope you are beginning to understand what I’m trying to convey.
  • Let’s end with an example from a hadith. If you notice, I mentioned only one hadith in today’s discussion. Pay attention to it: a person migrated, but his intention was to marry a woman, while other companions migrated to fulfill the command of Allah. Those companions will be honored by Allah for their migration, but the person who migrated solely to marry a woman will be deprived of this honor despite his migration. The reason is intention.

I believe you now understand the importance of pure intention in every action. So, I will conclude this discussion here. However, before ending, I want to emphasize a crucial point: for any act of worship to be accepted by Allah Almighty, pure intention is essential, just as following the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH) is. The two complement each other. For example, even with pure intention, you cannot perform four or ten units of the Fajr prayer instead of two because that does not conform to the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH). So, I recommend you read this post. May Allah grant endless blessings to both you and me in this world and the hereafter. Ameen.

footnote

1. Surah Al-Hajj 22:37
2. Surah Al-Bayyinah 98:5
3. Surah Al-An’am 6:162
4. Surah Az-Zumar 39:11
5. Sahih Sahih al-Bukhari, 1 In-Book Reference: Book 1, Hadith 1 USC-MSA web (English) reference: Vol. 1, Book 1, Hadith 1 (deprecated numbering scheme)
6. Many of you might now be curious to know which three hadiths form the foundation of Islamic jurisprudence, or which five hadiths selected by Imam Abu Dawud are considered significant. However, I cannot provide you with the exact information because I do not currently have access to the books where these are written. That is why, if you pay attention to my writings, you will see that I have said “it is said,” meaning I have not specified who said it. I do not want to give you any unclear information. Nonetheless, if someone is particularly interested in knowing, they can email me at this address: welcome@spreadingwisdom.com. Jazakallah.

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