Tuesday 28th of June 2022
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Intention [niyyah]

The first essential element [rukn] of prayer is the intention [niyyah].

Intention means that we have to know what we are doing, what we are reciting, and for whom and for what a certain movement is made.

The value of every deed lies in the intention and motive behind it; not merely in the deed itself. Thus, the quality of the actions of a person who stops on a red traffic light in order to maintain order and respect for the law is different from that of a person who carries out the same actions but out of fear of the traffic officer or of the fine that he might receive for violating traffic regulations. In all forms of worship, especially in prayer, intention occupies a special importance. In principle, what makes an action a form of worship is the divine intention behind it. If such an intention is not present, even if the outward appearance of a deed is good and proper, it would not have the value of worship.

In this regard, the Holy Prophet of Islam () said:


.بِالنِّيات الاَعْمالُ اِنَّما

“Verily, the action is (judged) by the intention (behind it).”[1]


Yes, the criterion for an action to be judged materialistic or spiritual lies in the intention and motives behind it.


Sincere intention

Sincere intention means that man acts for the sake of God only and in the depth of his being, God and His pleasure are his aims, without expecting reward, gratitude or admiration from others.[2]

The loaves of bread that the Ahl al-Bayt of the Messenger of Allah () gave to the orphans, captives and poor on successive nights at the time of breaking fast [ifār] did not have much material value, but since they were given sincerely, on this account God revealed a sūrah.[3]

And concerning it, ‘Aṭṭār an-Nayshābūrī says:


نانش سِه وصف جهان، زآن گذشته           سنانش وصف جهان، زين گذشته


No one in this world can describe his sword. No one in the hereafter can describe his three loaves of bread.


We read in history that a certain person was slain in the battlefield and everybody said: “He is a martyr [shāhīd].” But the Prophet () said: “He was killed in the way of a donkey [qatīl al-imār]!” The people were astonished, but the Prophet () said: “His aim in going to the battlefield was not God; rather, when he saw that the enemy was riding a good donkey, he said to himself: ‘I will kill him and take his donkey as war booty [ghanīmah].’ But he did not succeed and that infidel killed him instead. So, he was killed in the way of a donkey [qatīl al-imār]!”[4]

Making one’s intention sincere is indeed a difficult and taxing work. Sometimes, wicked thoughts penetrate the soul of man to such an extent that he himself is unaware of it. As such, it is narrated in the tradition that ostentation [riyā] in matters of worship and polytheism [shirk] are more subtle and silent than the movement of a black ant on a black rock during a dark night.[5] So many individuals imagine that their intention is nearness [qurb] to Allah, but during the ups and downs of their lives, it becomes obvious that their motive is not a hundred percent pure and sincere.

In the words of ‘Allāmah Shahīd Mutahharī, intention means self-awareness, and thus, the value of worship lies on gnosis and awareness. We read in the traditions:


عَمَلِهِ مِنْ خَيْرٌ الْمُؤْمِنِ نِيَّةُ


“The intention of the believer is more valuable than his action.”[6]


Just like the comparison between body and soul, the soul is better than the body and the humanity of man is related to his soul. In comparing intention and action, intention is better than the act itself because it is the spirit of the action.

Intention is so valuable that even if a person is unable to perform a good deed, God will reward him for he had the intention to do so.[7]

The motive for seeking nearness [qurb] to Allah

The motive for nearness [qurb] means seeking proximity to the Divine Station. When it is said, “So-and-so is near or close to a certain national official,” what is meant is not spatial, bodily and physical nearness, for if it were such, the office attendants are the closest or nearest to him. Rather, what is meant by this nearness is spiritual, emotional in status and nearness in intimacy.

Doing deeds seeking the pleasure of God does not mean that God would be influenced by our deeds and change His attitude or position toward us, and as such, He becomes the subject of events and change. Instead, “nearness to Allah” means exaltation of the spirit through the ladder of existence whose consequence is the acquisition of influence in the creation. That is, proximity to the Fountainhead of Creation and finding Him in one’s heart.

Just as there are differences in the levels of existence among inanimate objects, plants, animals, and human beings, there are also differences on the level of human beings with respect to proximity to the Fountainhead of Creation. Man could attain such nearness to God and be the nearest to Him so that he becomes the vicegerent of Allah on the earth.

Worship which is motivated by nearness [qurb] will make man more luminous and perfect and have more existential capacity [arfiyyat-e wujūdī]. All forms of worship, recommended prayers in particular, have significant roles in this affair, just as we read in the hadīth:


.بِالنَّوافِل اِلىَّ يَتَقَرَّبُ الْعَبْد يَزالُ لا


That is, man can always get nearer to God through recommended prayers.[8]

Obligatory prayer is possibly done on account of fear of hell and the divine wrath, but the optional prayer is a sign of love and the secret of love to the Worshipped Being [ma‘būd].

[1] Biār al-Anwār, vol. 70, p. 210.

[2] Sūrah al-Insān (or, ad-Dahr) 76:9: “We feed you only for the sake of Allah. We do not want any reward from you nor any thanks.”

[3] Sūrah al-Insān (or, ad-Dahr) 76.

[4] Muajjah al-Bayā, vol. 8, p. 104.

[5] Biār al-Anwār, vol. 72, p. 93.

[6] Biār al-Anwār, vol. 70, p. 210.

[7] Muajjah al-Bayā, vol. 8, p. 104.

[8] Biār al-Anwār, vol. 75, p. 155.

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