Why Intention Matters

Intention was the topic of our Sunday school a couple of weeks ago and it got me thinking about how to live life with intent. How do we focus on being righteous without being swayed by people’s opinions? Riyaa’, showing off or doing good deeds for the sake of compliments, is such a big trial mentioned in the Quran and hadith traditions that even the trials of Dajjaal (Anti-Christ) fall short of it. So how do we find a balance of doing good deeds with the right intention and protecting ourselves from the fitnah (trials) of riyaa’?

1. Niyah: Focus on your intention before performing the act. Niyah is such an important concept in Islam that the phrase ‘Fi Sabillilah’, meaning ‘in the way of God’ is repeated multiple times in the Qur’an. The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Verily actions are by intentions, and for every person is what he intended. I used to always wonder why Muslims say ‘I love you for the sake of Allah’ I found that shallow and selfish in a way. Until I realized it doesn’t mean there is no humanitarian cause attached to it. It just means that I do not expect a reward/compliment back from anyone but Allah (SWT). Two very distinct things, wrapped up in unconditional love and giving, in order to sustain goodness here on earth, because only when we start having expectations back from people do we get disappointed, feel unloved, unfulfilled.

2. Ikhlaas: Focus on sincerity while performing the act. Ikhlaas helps one purify their motive. Ikhlaas is directly linked to the word Ihsan, which means perfection or worshipping Allah as if you are seeing Him. “And whether you hide what is in your breast or reveal it, Allah knows it…” (Qur’an 3:29). Once we purify our motive by realizing that it doesn’t matter if no one is watching, but God is always watching, our intentions are purified. We are no longer concerned with receiving praise or reward for our act because our intention is sincerely linked to a supreme purpose rather than an ungodly objective.

3. Shukr: Focus on gratitude after performing the act. Realize that your ability to perform the good deed or generous act is a gift to you from Allah (SWT). This will bring about feelings of humility and submission. Realize that shukr and hamd go hand in hand, for all thanks belongs to God and all praise belongs to God. “We bestowed wisdom on Luqman: ‘Show gratitude to God. Anyone who is grateful does so to profit his own soul: but whoever is ungrateful verily God is free of all wants worthy of praise.’” (Qur’an, 31:12) Being grateful and showing gratitude towards God’s favors on you is so important that the often misunderstood word ‘kafir’ is labeled on those who are ungrateful. And [remember the time] when your Sustainer made [this promise] known: “If you are grateful [to Me], I shall most certainly give you more and more; but if you are ungrateful, verily, My chastisement will be severe indeed!” (Qur’an 14:7) It is important to realize that the original meaning of the word Kafir was to be ungrateful towards God. It did not mean to disbelieve in God because obviously Iblis (Satan) knew God existed and worshipped Him. He just ignored God’s commandment “When We said to the angels, “Prostrate to Adam!”, they thereupon prostrated, except for Iblees. He disdained (to comply with the command), acted arrogantly, and became of the kafir/ignorers.” (Qur’an, 2:34)

In’sha’Allah, I hope these three points help us stay on the straight path and abstain from the evils of riyaa’, self-conceit.

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