Purifying Intention

Purifying Intention
By Sajad Ahmad Mir
Many a great deed is dwarfed by ill-intention and many a lowly deed is extolled by sincere intention
—(Abdullah Ibn Mubarak RA)
Of all the faculties a man is blessed with, intention [Niyyat] occupies a significant place. If the parable of Islam with reference to intention is to be understood as that of living organism, its legal corpus is ‘body’ and intention is ‘soul’. If the soul is absent, the entire body is lifeless and motionless, similarly if a person fails to accumulate sincere and purified intention behind every action, all his devotions and adorations amount to nothing (though apparent, even ill-intentioned, actions may relieve one from demands of shariah in worldly life but cease to get any reward in the hereafter). Scholars of Islam unanimously opine a Hadith, “actions are known by intentions”, reported by Imam al-Bukhari as a prolegomena to his book ‘Sahih Al-Bukhari’, is undoubtedly one of the four fundamental Hadiths upon which the entire structure of Islam rests. It is for this importance that scholars of Islam have dealt with this issue with utmost care and numerous works have been devoted to it.
Islam requires a man to host a feeling of accountability before Allah [SWT] within. It is the beauty of Islam that rules even the remotest and hidden corridors of human thought, and makes one conscious enough to realise at every passing moment of his life that all his thoughts and deeds are open to his Supreme Master, and the slightest impurity or illness in intention can never remain clandestine to Him. This scheme of thought enables him to have a balanced extra-introvert character which removes the duality in nature coupled with selfishness.
Intention is possessed by one of two forces i.e either Ikhlas [sincerity] or Riya [show-off, or dissimulation]. These two opposite forces are always in the arena, fighting one another to conquer the Niyyat. Whichever of the two takes over, the entire scheme of actions takes the same course, culminating in either good or profane action. Sufiyan Al-Thauri, one of the great Muhadith, spells out, “I never took care of anything so strongly than my intention as it is in flux”. However, when Ikhlas succeeds in overthrowing the evil impressions of Riya, it infuses a new life into intention. It makes actions brisk, alive and blissful, and works as a tranquiliser which comforts the soul, enriches thoughts, strengthens indomitable will and consoles the inner self. Ikhlas assumes the place of a cornerstone in the personality development of a Muslim [believer]. The building blocks of intention i.e the intentional chain, involves the linkage of a desire to satisfaction of a goal through intermediatory intention. Astington maintains that desire causes intention, which stimulates action and which further causes outcome. Thus, the entire chain, if purified and embellished with sincerity at the very onset, harbours a saga of inner peace and tranquility. If one exerts efforts to purify intentions, gives up his greedy tendencies and sets out to benefit humanity, the entire globe will be transformed into a heavenly abode as much of human behavior is characterised by intentions.
At times, when a person feels the warmth of a high degree of Imaan [faith], he aspires to discharge even such things which he is not able to undertake; but no wonder, if one has a sincerity of intention, he will get the reward for the same, though he may not have translated it into practice. Rasool-ul-Allah [SAW] is reported to have said to his Companions while marching towards a battlefield: “Indeed, there are men in Madina who did not set out on a trip or crossed a vale, but they enjoy equal reward as that of yours [despite being at Madina] because they were held back by illness” [Muslim]. Though they had an ardent desire to join the expedition but their virtual absence from the battlefield could not deprive them of the rewards because of their sincere and sublime intention.
Sincerity of intention is the building block in the making of a sound human society. The basic unit of a society comprises of humans and their sincere commitment culminates at a modest and righteous society.  Purity in intention restricts selfish tendencies in human nature, such as jealousy, enmity and hatred. This positive trait makes a person abandon his lowly interests for the welfare of others. Purity in intention is the soul of Ibaadah [worship] and a beacon for Marifah [cognisance of Allah SWT]. Therefore, any action studded with pure and sincere intention makes it virtuous and confers due reward upon the doer. Imam Al-Ghazali [RA] has aptly enunciated, “If the mind of any person becomes soft on seeing an orphan, kindness in his mind is more enkindled if his hand passes over his head. For this reason, action without pure intention is essentially not fruitful or beneficial, because if a man’s hand touches the head of an orphan unmindfully, softness of his mind does not increase…Therefore, worship of Allah [SWT] without pure Niyyat or without application of mind brings no reward whileas pure Niyyat followed by action brings reward.”
However, one must be cautious enough to know that mere pure intentions do not suffice. If a person has good intentions, a profane or sinful act can never be transformed into a virtuous act. If you backbite against a man to please another, if you make a gift of illegal property to build a Masjid, you will not absolve yourself of the sinful act. Rumi [RA] necessitates the existence of Ikhlas in Ibadah and says, “Worship requires to be replete with the light of Ikhlas in order to harvest the fruit the same way as a seed requires the potential to grow into a tree.”
—The writer has a MA in Arabic and sociology