“Actions are but by intentions”: Ibn Rajab’s Commentary on Imam Nawawi’s Forty Hadith

The hadith of intentions is not meant to be taken in a vacuum. Nothing in the Shari`a is in a vacuum. It needs to be taken together with all the other injunctions of Allah and His Prophet which includes five hundred commands and eight hundred prohibitions. Furthermore the hadith of intention is a warning to eliminate self-display and self-delusion because they cancel  reward and have negative consequences. There are other applications as well. An important requirement is to tread the path of teachers and not to try and split hairs by philosophizing on our own.

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Ibn Rajab’s Commentary on Imam Nawawi’s Forty Hadith 
Translation and copyright: Mohammed Fadel

‘Umar b. al-Khattab RadhiAllahuanhu narrated that the Prophet () said: Deeds are [a result] only of the intentions [of the actor], and an individual is [rewarded] only according to that which he intends. Therefore, whosoever has emigrated for the sake of Allah and His messenger, then his emigration was for Allah and His messenger. Whosoever emigrated for the sake of worldly gain, or a woman [whom he desires] to marry, then his emigration is for the sake of that which [moved him] to emigrate.” Narrated by Bukhari and Muslim.

This hadith has only one path to ‘Umar: Yahya b. Sa’id al-Ansari on the authority of Muhammad b. Ibrahim al-Taymi, on the authority of ‘Alqama b. Abi Waqqas al-Laythi, who narrated it from ‘Umar b. al-Khattab. Large numbers of people narrated this hadith on the authority of Yahya b. Sa’id, including Imam Malik, al-Thawri, al-Awza’i, Ibn al-Mubarak, al-Layth b. Sa’d, Hammad b. Zayd, Shu’ba, Ibn ‘Uyayna and others.

This was the first hadith Bukhari recorded in his book, where it serves the purpose of the introduction (khutba), pointing out that all deeds that are devoid of the proper intention are vain (batil). ‘Abd al-Rahman b. Mahdi is reported to have said that “Were I to compose a book comprised of various chapters, I would place the hadith of ‘Umar regarding deeds and intentions in each chapter.” This is one of the firm hadiths which serves as an axis of Islam. Al-Shafi’i said that it comprises a third of all religious knowledge. Ahmad b. Hanbal said that the principles axes of Islam, in terms of hadith, are three: the hadith of ‘Umar that “deeds are judged only by intention,” the hadith of ‘A`isha, “Whoever introduces into our affairs that which does not belong, it is rejected,” and the hadith of al-Nu’man b. Bashir, “The licit is clear and the illicit is clear.” Ishaq b. Rahawyahi also included this hadith as one of the axises of Islam. Abu Dawud, the collector of the Sunan, is reported to have said that of the 4,800 hadiths in his book, it is sufficient if a person knows four, the hadith of ‘Umar regarding intentions and deeds, the hadith “Part of person’s virtue in Islam is to ignore that which is of no concern to him,” the hadith “The believer is not a believer unless he desires for his brother what he desires for himself,” and the hadith “the licit is clear and the illicit is clear.”

The first question regarding this hadith is whether it refers to all actions, or only those actions whose validity requires an intention (niyya)? Thus, if it refers only to the former, it would not apply to the customary areas of human life, e.g., eating, drinking, clothes, etc., as well as transactional matters, e.g., fulfilling fiduciary duties and returning misappropriated properties. The other opinion is that the hadith refers to all actions. Ibn Rajab attributes the first position to the later scholars whereas the second position he attributes to earlier scholars.

The first sentence of the hadith, innama al-a’mal bi-l-niyyat,” is a declaration that the voluntary actions of a person are a consequence only of that person’s purpose to perform the act or bring it into existence (“la taqa’ illa ‘an qasd min al-‘amil huwa sabab ‘amaliha wa wujudiha.“). The second sentence, wa innama li-kulli imri` ma nawa,” is a declaration of religion’s judgment of the act in question (“ikbar ‘an al-hukm al-shar’i“).? Thus, if the intention motivating an act is good, then performance of the act is good and the person receives its reward.? As for the corrupt intention, the action it motivates is corrupt, and the person receives punishment therefor.? If the intention motivating the act is permissible, then the action is permissible, and the actor receives neither reward nor punishment. Therefore, acts in themselves, their goodness, foulness or neutrality, from the perspective of religion are judged according to the person’s intention that caused their existence.

Niyya is used in two senses by the scholars of Islam. The first is to distinguish some acts of worship from others, e.g., salat al-zuhr from salat al-‘asr or to distinguish acts of worship (‘ibadat) from mundane matters (‘adat). This is the primary usage of the term in the books of the fuqaha`. The second usage is to distinguish an action that is performed for the sake of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, from an act done for the sake of Allah and others, or just for the sake of other than Allah. This second meaning is that which is intended by the gnostics (‘arifun) in their discussions of sincerity (ikhlas) and related matters. This is the same meaning that is intended by the Pious Ancestors (al-salaf al-salih) when they use the term niyya. Thus, in the Qur`an, the speech of the Prophet (S) and the speech of the Salaf, the term niyya is synonymous, or usually so, with the term desire (irada) and related terms, e.g., ibtigha`. The texts of the shar‘ testifying to this usage are too numerous to be cited in this posting, but include such verses as “Among you are those who desire (yurid) the profane world and among you are those who desire (yurid) the next,” and “You desire (turidun) the profit of the profane world but Allah desires [for you] the next,” and “Whosoever desires (yurid) the harvest of the profane world, etc.” and “Whosoever desires (yurid) the immediate [gratification of the profane world], we hasten it to him what We wish to whom We desire,” and “Do not expel those who call out to their Lord in the early morn and in the evening, who are seekers (yuridun) of His face and let not your eyes wander from them out of covetous desire (turid) of the frivolity of the profane world.”

Likewise, Imam Ahmad and al-Nasa`i report that the Prophet (ﷺ ) said that “Whosoever takes part in a military campaign in the cause of Allah, but sought only booty [thereby], shall gain [only] what he intended (nawa),” and on the authority of Imam Ahmad, “Most of the martyrs of my community shall die in their beds (ashab al-furush), and many a man killed in battle whose intention is known only to Allah,” and the hadith of Sa’d b. Abi Waqqas in Bukhari, where the Prophet (ﷺ ) says “Indeed, you shall never spend of your property an amount whereby you are desirous (tabtaghi) of pleasing Allah save that you shall be rewarded for it, even the morsel of food that you place in your wife’s mouth.”Similarly, it is reported that ‘Umar said “One who has no intention (niyya) has no [meritorious] deeds (“la ‘amala li-man la niyyata lahu”).

Despite the importance of having a good niyya, and its centrality to Islam, it is among the most difficult things to achieve. Thus, Sufyan al-Thawri is reported to have said, “Nothing is more difficult for me to treat than my intention (niyya) for indeed it turns on me!.”Yusuf b. Asbat said, “Purifying one’s intention from corruption is more difficult for persons than lengthy exertion (ijtihad).”?

An act that is not done sincerely for the sake of Allah may be divided into parts:

The first is that which is solely for display (riya`) such that its sole motivation is to be seen by others in order to achieve a goal in the profane world, as was the case of the Hypocrites in their performance of prayer, where Allah described them as “When they join prayer, they go lazily [with the purpose] of displaying [themselves] to the people.”

At other times, an action might be partially for the sake of Allah and partially to display one’s self in front of the people. If the desire to display one’s self arose at the origin of the action, then the action is vain. Imam Ahmad reports that the Prophet (ﷺ ) said, “When Allah gathers the first [of His creation] and the last [of His creation] for that Day for which there is no doubt, a crier will call out, ‘Whosoever associated with Me another in his actions let him seek his reward from other than Allah, for Allah is the most independent of any association (fa-inna allaha aghna al-sharaka` ‘an al-shirk).” Al-Nasa`i reported that a man asked the Prophet (ﷺ ), “What is your opinion of one who fights [in the way of Allah] seeking fame [in the profane world] and reward [from Allah]” The Prophet (ﷺ ) replied, “He receives nothing [by way of reward from Allah’.” The Prophet (ﷺ ) repeated this three times and then said, “Allah accepts no deeds other than those that are performed solely for His sake and by which His face is sought.” This opinion, namely, that if an act is corrupted by any desire to display one’s self (riya`) then that act is rejected, is attributed to many of the Salaf, including, ‘Ubada b. al-Samit, Abu al-Darda`, al-Hasan al-Basri, Sa’id b. al-Musayyib and others.

If one’s intention is corrupted with something other than the desire to display one’s self, e.g., to earn profit whilst on a jihad in the path of Allah, such an intention reduces one’s reward from jihad, but does not negate it entirely. Muslim reported in his Sahih that the Prophet (ﷺ ) said that “Soldiers in the path of Allah attain two-thirds of their reward immediately when they obtain booty [from the enemy], whereas they receive their reward in its entirety when they obtain nothing from the enemy.”

As for an action whose origin is for Allah, then it subsequently becomes corrupted by a desire to display one’s self, then the Salaf differed as to whether such an act is vain. Their differences on this matter have been reported by Ahmad and al-Tabari. Al-Hasan al-Basri is reported to have held that such a desire, in itself, does not invalidate the proper intention that was the origin of the act.

In conclusion, the saying of Sahl b. ‘Abd Allah is most beautiful in this regard: Nothing is more difficult on a person than sincerity because the person gains no share of that [act]. Ibn ‘Uyayna said that Mutarrif b. ‘Abdallah would repeat the following prayer, “O Allah! I seek Your forgiveness for that which I sought your repentance but to which I subsequently returned; I seek Your forgiveness from that which I rendered to You from my self, but then, I was not able to maintain faithfully; and, I seek Your forgiveness from that by which I claimed I desired your Face but my heart became corrupted with that which I did.”

Wa akhir da’wana an al-hamdu li-llahi rabbi al-‘alamin, wa-l-salat wa-l-salam ‘ala ashraf al-mursalin wa ‘ala alihi wa sahbihi wa azwajihi.

 

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Ayat ash-Shifa (Six Quranic Verses of Healing)

وَيَشْفِ صُدُورَ قَوْمٍ مُّؤْمِنِينَ

wa yashfi sudoora qawmin mumineena
And [God] shall heal the breast of the believers. (at-Tawba, 9:14)

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ قَدْ جَاءتْكُم مَّوْعِظَةٌ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ وَشِفَاء لِّمَا فِي الصُّدُورِ وَهُدًى وَرَحْمَةٌ لِّلْمُؤْمِنِينَ

Yaa ayyuha an-naasu qad ja’atkum maw`izhatun min rabbikum wa shifaun limaa fee as-sudoori wa hudan wa rahmatun lil-mumineen
Mankind there has come to you a guidance from your Lord and a healing for (the diseases) in your hearts, and for those who believe a guidance and a mercy. (Yunus, 10:57)

َيخْرُجُ مِن بُطُونِهَا شَرَابٌ مُّخْتَلِفٌ أَلْوَانُهُ فِيهِ شِفَاء لِلنَّاسِ

yakhruju min butooniha sharaabun mukhtalifun alwaanuhu feehi shifaun lin-naas 
There issues from within the bodies of the bee a drink of varying colors wherein is healing for mankind. (an-Nahl, 16:69)

وَنُنَزِّلُ مِنَ الْقُرْآنِ مَا هُوَ شِفَاء وَرَحْمَةٌ لِّلْمُؤْمِنِينَ

Wa nunazzilu mina al-qurani ma huwa shifaun wa rahmatun lil-mumineen
And We sent down in the Quran such things that have healing and mercy for the believers (an-Najm, 17:82)

وَإِذَا مَرِضْتُ فَهُوَ يَشْفِينِ

Wa idha maridtu fahuwa yashfeeni
And when I am ill, it is [God] who cures me.” (ash-Shu`ara, 26:80) (A supplication of Prophet Abraham [as])

قُلْ هُوَ لِلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا هُدًى وَشِفَاء

qul huwa lil-ladheena amanoo hudan wa shifaun
And declare (O Muhammad) that [the Quran] is a guidance and healing for the believers. (al-Fussilat, 41:44)

Prophet Muhammad ﷺ’s supplication after the night time prayer

Ibn-i Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, narrates:

“I once heard the Messenger of Allah ﷺ say the following supplication after the night time prayer:

“O Allah! I ask that You give me from Your Presence such mercy that with it You will guide my heart, regulate my affairs, and put order into my disorder. And that you will fill me with perfect faith, and bestow on my outer, good deeds and You will render my deeds pure and sincere, and inspire me with a suitable way to gain Your pleasure, and give us friends that will be familiar to me and protect me from all manner of evil.

O Allah! Give me such faith, such conviction that leaves no prospect for unbelief. Give me such mercy that with it I can reach a station in this world and the next, which is worthwhile in Your eyes.

O Allah! I ask you for salvation by Your grace in Your judgement of us. I implore of You a special rank worthy of the martyrs (who are close to You), I wish for the life of Your happy slaves, and I ask you for help against our enemies.

O Allah! Even though my understanding is limited and my deeds are few, I bring to your door my (worldly and otherworldly needs) and ask that You meet them. I am in need of Your Mercy, and I present my state to you.

O my Sustainer who judges all affairs and brings them about and who sees the needs of the hearts and offers the cure. As you have separated the seas, I ask that you separate me from the fire of Hell. I ask to be protected from destruction and from the torture of the grave.

O Allah! If there is any goodness in any of your slaves or any bounty that You have promised Your creatures that I have not been able to perceive or that has not been included in my intention and has thus remained outside of my petition, then O Lord of the Worlds, I ask You to bring it about and bestow it upon me out of Your mercy.

O Allah! O Possessor of the strong rope and correct path (such as the Qur’an and the religion). On the Day of Judgement on which you have promised the unbelievers hellfire , I ask you for safety against the hellfire, and on the day after which eternity begins I ask you for Paradise along with those angels that have attained to your Great Presence, together with those who made much bowing and prostration in this world, and who kept their promise. You are the Possessor of endless mercy, You are the Possessor of endless love, You do whatever You wish (however much the petitioners ask for and no matter how big You are capable of granting them all.)

O Allah! Make us of those who have not strayed nor caused others to stray and make us guides of guidance who have attained to guidance. Make us vehicles for peace amongst our friends and enemies to our enemies. We love those who love you because of their love for You. We are enemies of those who go against You because of their animosity to You.

O Allah! This is our prayer. It is up to you whether You accept it with your gracious beneficence. This is our struggle and You are our support.

O Allah! Fill my heart with light, and my grave with light; place light in front of me, and light behind me; place light on my right and light on my left; place light above me and light below me; place light in my ears and light in my eyes, and light in my hair and my skin and my flesh and my blood and my bones.

O Allah increase my light, give me such light that it is worth all of what I have said and a light that will encompass everything that I could not say. Glory be to the One Who is enveloped in dignity and Who has made Himself known by His dignity. I glorify the One who has enveloped Himself in greatness and who, for this reason, continually offers extensive bounty to His slaves. I glorify the One who is the only One worthy of glorification and holiness. I glorify the One who possesses majesty and beneficence. I glorify the One who possesses majesty and kindness. He is above all faults”. (Tirmidhi, Deavat,
30/3419)

Prayers and Supplication

One day the Messenger of Allah  ﷺ  said: “If a Muslim asks for something from Allah, Allah Most High will definitely grant his wish or He will remove evil from him in proportion to what He would have given him, as long as he does not ask for anything sinful or does not cut his relations with his relatives”

One of his Companions said: “In that case we desire many things from Allah”.

The Messenger of Allah  ﷺ  responded as such: “Allah’s grace is greater than the things you ask from Him” (Tirmidhi, Deavat, 115/3573; Ahmad, II, 18).

Almighty Allah does not reject sincere prayers. However He does not accept certain demands made that do not comply with Absolute Destiny, even though they may be asked for in complete sincerity. However, the slave should never give up and should continue to pray. This is because in those cases the response to the prayer has been deferred to the afterlife. Almighty Allah has said: “Your Lord says, “Call on Me and I will answer you” ( Mu’min, 23:60)

The Prophet Muhammad  ﷺ  said: “The prayer of the slave will be answered as long as he does not ask for something that will lead to sin or to his relations with his relatives being severed and if he is not impatient about the result”

He was asked: “O Messenger of Allah! What does it mean for him to be impatient (about the result)?”

The Messenger of Allah  ﷺ  said: “The slave says: “I keep praying but my Lord does not answer my prayer”. He gives up when his prayer is not answered immediately and he stops praying. (This is how he becomes impatient). (Muslim, Zikir, 92).

Likewise the prophet Zaccharia (Alaihi Salaam) prayed ““My Lord, do not leave me on my own…. (Anbiya, 21:89)

In saying so he asked for a son with the purpose of strengthening the religion, yet his prayer was only answered 40 years later in the form of the prophet Yahya (Alaihi Salaam).

One time the Messenger of Allah  ﷺ  saw a man in ritual prayer, who did not send blessings on the Prophet before he started supplicating. Upon this he said:

“This man was impatient (in a hurry)”. Then he called that man to him and said as a caution to his entire community: “Whenever one of you prays, let him first praise Allah Most High and then send blessings upon me. Then let him ask for whatever he so wishes” (Tirmidhi, Deavat, 64/3477).

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Lack of care and neglect while performing ablution will negatively reflect on the worship that is to follow.

One time the Messenger of Allah ﷺ led the morning prayer. Some minor mistakes were made whilst the chapter Romans was being recited. After finishing the prayer the Prophet turned to the congregation and said:

“Some people are coming to the prayer without ablution and this is the cause for Satan interfering in our recitation. When you come for prayer, take your ablution as carefully as you can”.

Thus purification and the taking of ablution with care before prayer is crucial for the soundness of our worship. It is also a great virtue to be always in a state of ablution to the best of one’s ability. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ liked to carry out all of his tasks while he had ablution.

According to Abu Juhaym , the Messenger of Allah ﷺ once came across someone as he was coming from the Well of Jamal. The man greeted him, but the Prophet ﷺ  did not return the greeting. He ﷺ  immediately went to a wall and wiped his hands and face over it to perform the tayammum (dry ablution), and then he accepted the man’s greeting of peace. (Bukhari, tayammum, 3)

With this action, the Prophet of Allah ﷺ demonstrated how it is possible for one to always be in a state of ablution. This is also an indication of how virtuous it is to take ablution before carrying out a task, even though that task is not obligatory.

In another instance, Ibn-i Abbas (RadiAllahu Anhu) narrates:

“When the Prophet of Allah ﷺ finished relieving himself he would first pour water over his hands to wash them and then he would perform tayammum with dry earth. I once asked him:

“O Messenger of Allah ﷺ, there is water available. Why did you do that?” The Prophet replied:

“How can I be sure that my spirit will not be taken back from me before I reach water?” (Ahmad, I, 288, 303; Haysami, 263).

According to another narration whenever he needed to perform the major ablution, the Prophet ﷺ would wipe his hands over the walls and do tayammum in order not to be without ablution until he could perform his major ablution. (Haysami, I, 264).

This is the scope of the material and spiritual cleanliness that the Prophet demonstrated to his community…

Sultan Bayazid II and his brother Jem Sultan

The events that took place between Sultan Bayazid II and his brother Jem Sultan openly reflect the courage of faith of our forefathers and the beauty and virtue that Islam bestowed upon them:

Becoming a sultan in the year 1481, Bayazid II (who was even known as Bayazid the Saint due to his piety) spent the first 14 years of his sultanate dealing with the problems that arose as a result of his brother Jem Sultan’s claims to the Ottoman throne. This situation hindered Bayazid II from active participation in the Christian world. Jem Sultan proposed the following to Bayazid II:

“Let us divide our country into two. You rule over half and I will rule over the other half”

Bayazid II replied, rejecting his offer:

“My brother, this country is the property of the people. If we divide it, the government will lose power. We will become a series of weak principalities. This will have grave consequences. I would divide my body but the land of my people cannot be divided”.

A short time after that Jem Sultan was invited to Rhodes by the Knights of Rhodes. He was impressed by their polite words and heedlessly accepted their invitation. However the Knights broke the promises they had made and sold him to the Papacy like a slave. The Papacy were planning to use the prince in the next crusade against the Ottomans. However, realizing that he was not going to be successful in this, Pope Innocent suggested that Jem Sultan become Christian. This offer greatly offended Jem Sultan. Deeply saddened he said to the Pope:

“Even if you give me the whole world, and not just the Ottoman Sultanate, I would never change my religion”.

The supplication that Jem Sultan made to Almighty Allah when he realized that the Crusaders wanted to use him against Islam is sufficient to show the aspiration of his efforts for his religion:

“O my Sustainer! If it is the case that the unbelievers wish to use me as a tool to bring harm to the Muslim world, then do not let this slave of yours live any longer. Take my soul to your honorable abode as soon as possible…”

His prayers must have been answered for at the age of 36 he passed away in Naples. In his last days, his last testament he made to those near him was as follows:

“Make sure to announce the news of my death all over the land. Do this for certain so that the games that the unbelievers wish to play with the Muslims, using me as a tool, can be over. After that, go to my brother Sultan Bayazid. Request that, however difficult it may be, he transports my body back to our country.

I do not wish to be buried in the land of the unbelievers. Whatever has happened until now has happened. Make sure that he does not refuse this request of mine. Ask him to pay all of my debts. I do not want to go the Divine Presence in debt. Let him forgive
my family, my children and those who served me. Let him make them content according to their states”.

His brother Bayazid II carried out his final testament.

These are the qualities that Islam bestows upon the human being. The reciprocal relationship between these two brothers displays their devotion to their faith and their love of their country. It is also a demonstration of sacrifice for the sake of the peace of
their people, and an example of tolerance, the accounting of the conscience that results after realizing one’s mistake, refraining from violating another’s rights, forgiveness and compassion amongst many other virtues.

Martyrdom of the Grandson of RasoolAllah SallAllahu Alaihi wa aalihi wa Sallam

A royal spirit escaped from a prison why should we rend our garments & how should we gnaw our hands. Since they (Hussein & the ‪#‎Ahlulbayt‬ ) are the Kings of the (true) religion, it was the hour of joy for them when they broke these physical bounds.

-Mevlana Rumi rahimahullah

 

READ MORE: Martyrdom of the Grandson of RasoolAllah SallAllahu Alaihi wa aalihi wa Sallam