In the first hadith in Sahih Bukhari, the messenger of Allah (صلي الله عليه وسلم) said: “The reward of deeds depends upon the intentions and every person will get the reward according to what he intended. So whoever emigrated for worldly benefits or for a woman to marry, his emigration was for what he emigrated for.”1 The majority scholarly opinion is that this hadith applies to all actions, natural or religious (read more about the distinction here).
Based on your intention, the end result of your action can be one of three things:
Reward: If your intention is to please Allah (سبحانه وتعالى), then all good actions will be rewarded (actions not in compliance with Shari’ah will be rejected). For example, if you intend to read a book of seerah because seeking knowledge is an obligation on all Muslims, inshaAllah you will be rewarded in the akhira for it.
In this case, if something sabotages your intention–like riyaa–it can undercut your reward.
Neutral: If you perform an action with the intention for other then Allah (سبحانه وتعالى)–such as if you make a business trip to some city–your action will result in neither reward nor punishment.
In this case, if you change your intention to be something good–such as to earn money so you can support your family or spend it in the way of Allah–you can be rewarded.
Punishment: If your intention is to disobey Allah, you can be punished for the action in the akhira. For example, if you decide to go to the Las Vegas (or Niagra Falls) casino to enjoy a little gambling, your journey becomes haram from day one.
An excellent two-part article on Islamtoday.com sums this up: “The greatest threat to our worship is the threat of insincerity. We can do the noblest of deeds and make the greatest of sacrifices, but if our intentions are not right, those deeds become stripped of virtue. This can leave a person without good deeds on the Day of Judgment.”2
So what happens when insincerity creeps into your intentions? What can you do to stave it off?
- Repent: Make sincere, heart-felt repentance to Allah, and inshaAllah He will forgive you. Pray two rakaahs of tawbah. Vow never to make the same sabotaged intention again.
Make Du’a: Pray to Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) to purify your intentions. If the issue is riyaa, the Prophet (صلي الله عليه وسلم) taught us a du’a for it:
“O Allah, I seek refuge in You lest I should commit shirk with You knowingly, and I seek Your forgiveness for what I do unknowingly.”3
Fight the Insincerity: Realize that an insincere action will not benefit you at all in the hereafter. You might impress this or that person temporarily–but on the day of judgement, they won’t care about you, nor will they be able to help you. Read the hadith about the first three people whose fate will be decided4 on the Day of Judgement and remind yourself that you don’t want to be like them.
Renew Your Intentions: Remind yourself of your original pure motives, and think of the tremendous reward that’s waiting for you, inshaAllah, if you stick to your motives. Always keep your intentions fresh, and know why you do what you do.
Never Despair: Remember, if you truly wish for pure intentions, Allah is watching out for you. What more do you need?
May Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) protect us all from intentions that devoid our actions of good deeds and grant us sincerity in intentions and in our actions, ameen!
And remember: if you’re not worried about your intentions, then you might be in trouble.
(1) “Translation of Sahih Bukhari, Book 1: Revelation.” USC-MSA Compendium of Muslim Texts. USC-MSA. 21 Apr. 2006 <http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/hadithsunnah/bukhari/001.sbt.html#001.001.001>.
(2) “‘Actions are But by Intentions’ (Part 2).” Islamtoday.Com. 21 Apr. 2006 <http://www.islamtoday.net/english/showme2.cfm?cat_id=31&sub_cat_id=559>.
(3) “Du’a – Supplication for Fear of Shirk.” Fortification of the Muslim Through Remembrance From the Quraan and Sunnah. 21 Apr. 2006 <http://www.makedua.com/display_dua.php?sectionid=86>.
(4) “Translation of Sahih Muslim, Book 20: The Book on Government (Kitab Al-Imara), Chapter 43: Who Fought for Ostentation and Vanity Deserved (Punishment in) Hell.” USC-MSA Compendium of Muslim Texts. USC-MSA. 21 Apr. 2006 <http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/hadithsunnah/muslim/020.smt.html#020.4688>.