|The intention gives value to the deed|
Let us assume that out of oppression and aggression, someone killed another and it became known later that the victim had been a criminal who was supposed to have been executed. In this case, what the killer had done was beneficial, however the people will not praise the murderer because his intention was killing an innocent person and not executing a corruptor on the earth [mufsid fi’l-arz].
Thus, the usefulness of a work is not enough for it to be regarded as a righteous act. In fact, it is necessary for it to be accompanied by a pure intention as well.
In all instances, the Qur’an lays stress on the intention for nearness [qurbah] (to Allah) whether in the case of khums, zakah and other financial matters, or in the case of war and jihad against the enemy. The fact that the Qur’an emphasizes such phrases as:
“In the way of Allah,”
“For the sake of Allah,”
“Seeking the pleasure of Allah”
is an indication of the importance of the intention for nearness [qurbah] to Allah.
If those who are performing beneficial acts on behalf of the people by constructing schools, hospitals, roads, and dormitories have no divine intention, they have committed an injustice to themselves because they themselves will not benefit from those deeds although others will get much benefit from them.
That the Qur’an always mentions righteous deeds along with faith, saying:
“Those who have faith and do righteous deeds,”
“Whoever acts righteously, [whether] male or female, should he (or she) be faithful”
is because of the fact that the goodness of an act alone is not enough; rather, the goodness of the doer is also required.
Two historical accounts
1. Bilal al-Habashi, who was the caller to prayer [mu‘adhdhin] of the Holy Prophet (s), would pronounce “sh” [shin] as “s” [sin] in the recital of the sentence,
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“Ashhadu an la ilaha illa’llah”
as he had a defect in pronunciation. The people criticized it, but the Prophet (s) said: “The sin of Bilal is shin for God.”
Although outwardly his work was defective, since he had the motive for nearness [qurbah] and good intentions, he received the reward.
2. ‘Abd Allah ibn Maktum was one of the sincere Companions of the Prophet (s) and a blind man. One day, this great Companion entered into an assembly where the Prophet (s) and some people were busy talking. As he could not see the other people in the assembly, he talked loudly. Being annoyed, one of those who were present in the assembly frowned at him.
In spite of the fact that frowning and smiling do not make any difference to a blind person as he cannot see, the Qur’an revealed a whole surah on account of that very frowning, and reproached the person who frowned in ten successive verses [ayat]:
“He frowned and turned away when the blind man approached him. And how do you know, maybe he would purify himself, or take admonition, and the admonition would benefit him! But as for some one who is self-complacent, you attend to him, though you are not liable if he does not purify himself. But he who comes hurrying to you, while he fears [Allah], you are neglectful of him.”
So, the criterion of a deed is not its usefulness or harmfulness with which we would evaluate it and say: “If an action gives benefit to others, it is a righteous deed and if it renders harm then it is an impious act.” Instead, we have to assess the relationship of the action with the person himself—what were his motives in doing it? Or, how is the action per se if it renders neither benefit nor harm to others?
Yes, in the school [maktab] of the prophets (‘a), morality [akhlaq] has essential [dhati] value and not merely accidental [‘arazi] value. It is not like the morality of a person which is meant to attract customers, maximize the volume of production and gather people around him.
In the episode of the ‘abasa [he who frowned], the criticism is anchored on this: Why did you frown at the blind man? Although the blind man cannot see you, frowning at a believer is in itself an abhorrent act.
In any case, the motive for nearness [qurbah] means that all actions must be done according to divine criteria and should not have dire political and social impact upon others.
The motive for nearness [qurbah] means that an act must be done for the sake of God regardless of its resultant joy or pain. In describing the true believer, the Qur’an states:
“(They) wage jihad in the way of Allah, not fearing the blame of any blamer.”
The motive for nearness [qurbah] means that one must say the truth and not be concerned about anything or anybody except Him, just as the Qur’an thus describes the divine propagators:
“Such as deliver the messages of Allah and fear Him, and fear no one except Allah, and Allah suffices as reckoner.”
One day, I was engrossed in doing supplication [du‘a’] and paying homage [ziyarah] in the holy shrine of Imam ar-Rida (‘a). One of the pilgrims [za’irin] sat beside me and as he recognized me from my TV program every Friday night, he gave me a sum of money, saying: “aqa Qara’ati! Give this money to the poor.” I said: “Like you, I have also come here for ziyarah and (here) in Mashhad I do not know of any poor people. You give it to the poor yourself.”
After sometime, he pleaded with me again and I also repeated my argument, and then I resumed supplication.
He repeated his plea for the third time. I was annoyed and said: “Today, with twenty tumans you disturbed my concentration three times. Please do not disturb me. You yourself have to give this money to the poor.” He said: “aqa Qara’ati! This is not twenty tumans; it is one thousand tumans.”
I was thinking that he wanted to give twenty tumans to the poor. I reflected for sometime and my anger faded away. I said to him: “There is an institution here for helping the orphans.” He said: “It is up to you. You spend it as you deem it appropriate.” He gave the money to me and left.
I put down the book of supplication and started reflecting. If it is for the sake of God, what is the difference between twenty tumans and one thousand tumans? I realized that this scene was a test for me, reminding me that the motive for nearness [qurbah] had not yet become alive in me.
One of the signs of sincerity is that the volume of work, the individuals involved, the places, types of work, and situations make no difference for the person. His only concern is to seek the pleasure of God regardless of whether he benefits from it or not, or the people would know or not, support it or not.
Of course, humanitarianism and doing something for the people is nobler than egotism, but in the absence of a divine motive, it has no divine value.
In the words of Shahid Mut?ahhari, the motive for nearness [qurbah] is an essential condition [shart-e dhati] and not a contractual and delegated condition; it is a creational [takwini] condition and not a ceremonial [tashrifati] one.
If we say: The condition for reaching Mecca is traversing the way to the city, this is a natural and essential condition, and not a contractual one. Similarly, the condition to attain the station of nearness to Allah is to have the motive for nearness [qurbah] and this is an essential condition.
The effects and blessings of a pure intention
Through a cursory glance at the verses of the Qur’an and the Prophetic traditions, we shall find out many effects and blessings of having a pure intention, some of which we shall mention concisely below:
1. Anyone who has a good intention shall have abundant provisions. Perhaps this hadith means that because of his good intention, his behavior and treatment of people is somehow pleasant and naturally, more people will be attracted to his business and thus he will earn more income.
2. A good intention increases man’s success and opportunity, makes his life pure and desirable, and wins him more friends.
Divine favors for individuals depend on their having a good intention. The purer and more sincere their intention is, the more divine favors they will obtain.
3. It endows long life to man.
It is narrated in the traditions: If a person who just performed Hajj pilgrimage would intend and decide when he is returning home to go to Hajj again the following year, God will prolong his life on account of that good intention.
4. A good intention compensates for one’s past (sins). ‘Ali (‘a) says: If a sinner having a good intention repents, God will return to him whatever is taken from him as a remuneration (for his sins), and set right whatever problem he might have in his work.
5. God will give the reward of a good deed to a person for intending to do a good act even if he actually fails to do so. By having a sincere intention, the unfulfilled works of a person shall be counted, as it has been narrated in the traditions: If a faithful person would say, ‘If God had given amenities to me, I would have done this and that’, and if this wish is sincere, God will grant him the reward of those deeds.
 Even if he sincerely wishes for martyrdom and prays to God for his martyrdom, God will grant him the station of a martyr though he departs from this world on his bed. It is enough of a favor that God will give reward for a decision to do a good deed, but regarding an intention to commit a sin, He will not set a punishment for it unless it is actually done.
6. A pure intention can make the most materialistic affairs of life a means for man’s nearness [qurb] to Allah. In the same manner, the most spiritual states such as prostration [sujud] and weeping, if they are motivated by ostentation [riya’], will turn into a means of drifting away from God.
We read in the traditions: Just as the body having a soul is firm, religion with a sincere intention is firm. Having a pure heart and good intention are among the divine assets and treasures, and the better the intention the more the value this treasure will have. Having a serious intention, decision and will power will multiply the physical ability of man.
Imam as-sadiq (‘a) says: “On the Day of Resurrection, God will group the people according to the intentions they have.”
For one whose aim is the performance of a duty, it is not important for him the type of work and its outcome. As the Qur’an says,
“And whoever fights in the way of Allah, and then is slain or conquers, soon We shall give him a great reward.”
What is important is to struggle in the way of God, but as to whether its outcome is defeat or victory has no effect on the divine reward. In another place, the Qur’an states:
“And whoever leaves his home migrating toward Allah and His Apostle, and is then overtaken by death, his reward shall certainly fall on Allah.”
It can also be readily inferred from this verse that if a person leaves his home for the sake of God, even though he does not reach his destination, he would be rewarded. What is important is the intention behind the act and not the act itself. What is important is to take a step along the way and not reaching the destination.
The Messenger of Allah (s) said to Abu Dharr: “Decide to do a good deed though you might not succeed in doing so; for, it is this decision that will take you out from the circle of the neglectful.”
We read in another hadith: “Any deed which is accompanied by a divine intention is great even if that work is simple and trivial.” On the contrary, the most important deeds, if they are not based on correct intentions, have no value. The Prophet (s) said: “Most of the martyrs of my ummah will depart from this world while lying on their beds while there are many who will be killed on the battlefield but God is aware of their intentions.”
During the Tabuk expedition, the Holy Prophet of Islam (s) said: “Indeed, those who are in Medina but wish to participate with us in the battlefield shall share in the spiritual reward on account of that intention.”
Also, in another tradition we read: Anyone who goes to his bed with the intention of waking up to say the night supererogatory prayers, if he remains in his bed and is not able to wake up, God will treat his sleep as charity and his breathing as glorification (of God) [tasbih] and give him the reward of saying the night supererogatory prayers.
It is not without reason that we have been admonished to have sacred aims even in eating and sleeping. And if you love a person for the sake of God and imagine him as a good person, even if he is actually a dweller of hell, you are excused.
The preeminence of intention [niyyah] over action [‘amal]
The preeminence the intention behind an action possesses over the action itself is that in the performance of action, sometimes ostentation [riya’] and showing off are at work, but in the intention—since it is an inner matter and has no outward appearance—there is no place for ostentation, showing off and the like. The other advantage of intention over action is that it is always possible in all places and requires no particular conditions, but performance of an action requires many prerequisites and contingencies.
In the traditions, there is a category known as “ãóäú ÈóáÚú” “man bala‘” traditions. This group of traditions states: If somebody hears a tradition which states that such an act has a reward and he performs it, God will grant him that reward even if that tradition is not correct. It is because one who has done so did it with a good intention.
The degrees of intention
1. Sometimes, fear of divine wrath or desire for divine favor prompts man to perform an act. As the Qur’an says in this regard,
“And supplicate Him with fear and hope.”
And in another place, the Qur’an states:
“And they would supplicate Us with eagerness and awe.”
2. A higher degree of intention is that man performs an act on account of gratitude for His favors whether he earns reward or punishment from God. As H?adrat ‘Ali (‘a) says:
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“Even if Allah had not warned of the chastisement of those disobedient to Him, it was obligatory by way of gratefulness for His favors that He should not be disobeyed.”
3. An even higher degree of intention is that without desiring paradise and being afraid of hell, man worships God as he regards Him as the only Being worthy of worship and adoration.
4. The highest degree of intention is that the love for God drives man to perform an act. In this regard, ‘Ali (‘a) considers his love for death and meeting Allah as more intense than the fondness of an infant for the breast of its mother. And H?adrat al-Qasim, son of Imam H?asan al-Mujtaba (‘a) says in Karbala’: “For me, death in the way of God is sweeter than honey.”
The role of intention on the penal issues
On the question of punishment, Islam also takes motive and intention into account.
Concerning murder, the penalty for a person who kills another intentionally is distinct from the penalty for one who kills another unintentionally. Each of these two cases has its own particular ruling.
With regard to swearing an oath, the Qur’an also says:
“Allah shall not take you to task for what is unconsidered in your oaths.”
Therefore, if someone gives an oath but he has no serious intention and motive, his oath has no value.
Gnosis [ma‘rifah] as the preliminary step toward the intention for nearness [qurbah]
The best way of acquiring the motive for nearness [qurbah] to Allah and a pure intention is gnosis [ma‘rifah] and cognition.
If we only knew, acquiring the endearment of people is in the hands of God.
If we only knew, honor and power are only through His hands.
If we only knew, benefit and harm to us are not in the hands of others.
If we only knew, work for the sake of God has sometimes double, ten times, or seventy times its reward. So, we should not work for the sake of other than Him.
If we only knew, the elevation of social status does not mean glory because black smoke also goes up!
If we only knew, the attention and opinion of the people to us have no value because if an elephant would pass by the street, everybody will also look at it!
If we only knew, we would pay attention to the perils and ignominies of our ostentations!
If we only knew, there will be a day for us when one’s call will not reach the other and only those who have sound hearts shall attain deliverance.
And if we only knew what values we shall lose by having corrupt intentions, we would prepare ourselves for the sincere performance of work based on the motive of nearness [qurbah] to Allah.
The effects of corrupt intentions
Concluding the discussion on intention, we shall also cite the adverse effects of having corrupt intentions, just as we earlier stated the blessings of a sound intention.
1. Non-acceptance of supplication [du‘a’]. Imam as-Sajjad (‘a) says: “A bad intention causes the non-acceptance of supplications.”
Having an ungodly intention not only removes the divine color and devotional nature of actions; it also entails perils.
Imam as-sadiq (‘a) says: “If somebody borrows a certain amount of money without the intention of returning it, it is equivalent to stealing.” Similarly, if in marriage the person has no intention of giving the dower [mahriyyah] to his wife, in the sight of God he is committing adultery [zina].
2. Deprivation of sustenance [rizq]. Imam as-sadiq (‘a) said: “So many believers have the intention of committing sin and God deprives them of sustenance [rizq].”
An actual example of this hadith is the story of a garden which has been narrated in the Qur’an:
In Surah al-Qalam, verses 16-30, there has been narrated the story of a people who owned a garden and who intended to harvest its yields in the dark so that the poor would remain unaware of their action and they would not have to give any of the fruits to them.
As the dawn came they went to the garden. They saw that the garden had been burned and turned into ashes. Initially, they imagined that they had lost the way, but the wisest among them said: “Did I not remind you not to have such an intention? You had the intention of depriving the poor. Now, God deprived you of it as well.”
From this Qur’anic account, it can be understood that sometimes God gives a sort of penalty on account of our motive and intention. Of course, this is not a general rule.
3. It causes wretchedness and misfortune. H?adrat ‘Ali (‘a) says:
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“A corrupt intention is a sign of wretchedness.”
4. The blessing of life and daily living is taken away. In another place, H?adrat ‘Ali (‘a) says:
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That is, God will take away the blessing from the person whose intention is not sound and he will not be able to make good use of divine favors.
It is narrated that it was said to someone: “On account of your good work, you have three acceptable supplications.” He was glad and said: “O God! Make my wife the most beautiful woman in the world.” His wife became very beautiful but his life became bitter because he realized that everyone was staring at his wife. He therefore made his second supplication: “O God! Make my wife the ugliest woman in the world.” His supplication was granted but his life became intolerable with such an ugliness.
So, he made his third and last acceptable supplication, saying: “O God! Let my wife return to her original condition.” His supplication was heard and his wife returned to her original state. He made his three accepted supplication but he earned no benefit at all. This is the meaning of taking away blessings from a person and as such, he cannot make good use of the facilities at his disposal. ?