Posts Tagged ‘intentions behind actions’

WORDS OF GOLD: The Intentions Behind Actions III

In Islam, morality on March 19, 2009 at 6:31 pm

We literally pass away our lives in mundane activities. We get up sometime in the morning, go through the washroom routine, have or skip breakfast, get ready for work (at workplace, school or at home), remain busy in the work for some regular time period, get back, nap after the meal and so on…. the drudgery.
Many Muslims do not associate the concept of goodness with such actions. Those are taken for granted. The null void in the battle of good and bad. That is a mistake. Such activities in fact count in our bid to inseminate as much spiritual meaningfulness into our lives as possible. And this can be achieved merely by realigning our intentions behind these plain deeds of daily life, or let’s say, by being more conscious of the reasons and value of such deeds.
Our Prophet Mohammad (Sallallahu alaihi wa aalihi wa sallam) reminded us of this point when he said words to the effect that every morsel a man feeds to his wife and children is a benefaction (Tafseer Ibne Kathir). There are other similar ahadith connecting such taken-for-granted acts with reward. But the deeds are raised to this level only if there was a conscious intention, for instance,  of the feeding husband, that he was doing it as a moral obligation placed upon him by his God.

And so we can turn literally every moment of our lives into an act of worship, breath in, breath out. An opportunity we lose on nearly every of those moments because we are too busy making plans for the future, worrying about the past, or trying to ‘pass the time’. We don’t have the time to stop and think of the purposefulness of every small occurrence, by us or by others, in our lives. We are missing on a gold mine.

Intentions and ‘psychological needs’

I would like to do a post about ‘psychological needs’ by Murray. He took the care to explicate observable actions associated with various human motivations – ‘intentions’ in the Islamic terminology. Being aware of what little spontaneous actions ‘reveal’ about our real motivations cannot only help psychologists. It can be of immense help to all of us in being more aware and seeing through the ‘images’ we present to the world and to ourselves. Not all of our intentions are fully conscious even to our private selves.


I am indebted to the inspiration and the basic idea behind this series of short essays to Khalid Baig’s book First Things First, in particular to his column/essay On intentions and actions, pp. 166-169. The explanations and examples are all mine.

WORDS OF GOLD: The Intentions behind Actions – II

In Islam, Words of Gold: The Quran on March 13, 2009 at 6:04 am

In the first part of this post, I laid out what it means to have (or not to have) pure intentions behind good acts. These good acts are ones which our God, Allah, commands us to perform or encourages us to do. The diametric opposite of such acts are the prohibited ones. [Read here a list of the major acts or sins prohibited or condemned  in Islam.]

Unfortunately, we wrongly apply the ‘intentions behind actions‘ hadith in this case too, often distorting facts of our religion to suit our purposes. A common misapplication is when our mistakes end in wrongdoings. For e.g. forgetting to fulfill a crucial promise meaning serious harm to the other party or inconvenience at the least. Often, we attempt to save our face in such a situation by saying that our intentions had been good, ‘it was just a mistake’. The assertion serves as a quick cover for guilt feelings. Instead, the guilt should  have led to a healthy acknowledgment of our responsibility for the bad result.

Another serious misapplication  is attempting to justify the outright bad or prohibited acts by claiming good intentions, using an ‘ends-justify-the-means’ sort of logic. Sometimes we are weak and knowingly engage in a sin: Some external pressure is too great and we are just not courageous. Some internal urge is pushing and we succumb. Will we repent, ask for forgiveness from Allah, get stronger, stay away from the sin in the future? These are crucial issues. But the issues become far-fetched if we start believing  in some rationalization for the sin that apparently ‘redeems‘ its badness. This is self-deception and distorting one’s own religion for one’s sake.

Many people today cannot keep all their money-dealings totally free from interest. Does it mean interest is no longer a major sin, one upon which Allah has announced war in the Holy Quran? No! We have been unable to purge our society of interest, but this doesn’t change the facts of the case.

I have seen many people arguing intensely to the effect that no, hijab is not Islam. Okay, you don’t feel like doing hijab, have no understanding for the significance of hijab in a true muslim society. But who gave you the right to redefine our religion?

The same applies to those who have invented new rituals (bid’aat) in the name of religion propped up with elaborate arrays of explanations and justifications to prove them right. The Prophet’s warning on promoting fabricated ‘acts’ in the name of religion is very clear. No amount of flaunting the act as sacred, an act of piety, or an expression of love to the Prophet or some other religious figure can make the innovation authentic. It remains squarely beyond and outside the domain of Islam. Your proclaimed niyyat will not earn you any profit in the hereafter.

The same goes for being unnecessarily careless or innovative with the clearly described procedures of worship and social dealings such as marriage and divorce. “Good intentions do not repair a bad act” [Khalid Baig, First Things First, p. 169]. If we do not perform our Hajj the way it’s instructed to be, well, it’s no Hajj. If we do not pay zakat as per the detailed guidelines, the zakat is not paid.

The moral of this little discussion is:

Let us not use our alleged intentions as excuses or shields to commit the bad that we are weak enough to engage in!

Stay with me to read about the third part of this post. Jazakallah!

WORDS OF GOLD: The Intentions behind Actions – I

In Islam, Words of Gold: The Quran on March 9, 2009 at 7:49 am

One of the most oft-quoted hadith (Prophet Mohammad’s saying) is the following meaning that rewards of deeds depend upon the intentions.

innamal aamal-u bin-niyyaat

It is also one of the most misapplied hadith, relied upon  in the wrong places, and totally side-lined in the right ones. In order to understand the rights and wrongs in applying this hadith, we must first understand that there are three types of actions in Islamic terms.

The first type of actions is those which Allah has asked us to perform. These encompass not only the musts but also the oughts of Islam: the basic forms of worship, serving the rights of others, and contributing relief to the needy are major examples. A second type of activities are those mundane ones which are the necessary part of daily living: eating, drinking, , raising a family, earning for sustenance and so on. The final type of actions is the prohibited ones.

Now the hadith about intentions stands in a different relation with each of these. Let us begin with the first type.

All of the actions in the first category are GOOD DEEDS. Religiously, socially, morally, some-how or the other, they are good acts. Now when our Prophet (salla-Allahu alaihi wa sallam) reminds us to analyze our real INTENTIONS behind a GOOD DEED, he teaches us an important psychological distinction: There’s a difference between a genuine and a fake act, between a real kindness and an apparent one.

Allah only accepts genuine acts of goodness, not posed or contaminated ones. And why should He? If you were given a gift where you knew the giver was merely fulfilling a formality, showing off, intending to obtain some gain in return, or partronizing you in some way, would you like such a gift? I bet not!

Note, it’s very EASY to mix our intentions behind these good deeds. They are so attractive because they attract others’ attention and earn us a quick good name. A string of speedy rewards follows those who successfully engage in one good act after another. There is the name, the fame, the good talk behind the back, the praise and appreciation on the face, the attention. Temptations to ‘indulge’ in piety merely for the sake of enjoying this good name are numerous. Those who have even slightly tasted  the admiration following the public performance of a moralistic act know it can be addictive. Soon it can be a lust of its own, all the time so subtle we may succeed in deceiving ourselves we are being good for sake of pure goodness.

At first glance we may not recognize the symptoms of this subtle behind-the-facade contamination. But wait…. Do you remember the time when you were rather irritated with the gift you received on your last birthday? You thought it should have been at least at par with the one you had given to the giver on her birthday! Remember the fight you ended up having with that friend whom you realized failed to live up to your expectations after eliciting favors from you first? Remember the lady who chastised her maid on her shortcoming after all the material help the lady had given her so far? The greater the favor before the more the irritation later!

It is difficult to detect the trail of impure intention while we are attempting the goodness. But the scent can be easily picked up in the aftermath.

There’s another key issue linked to this aspect of Intentions that deserves clarifying. What about the non-Muslims who commit good acts? What about them, particularly when they are presumably free of the kind of impurities I have mentioned above? Will Allah accept their deeds? The answer depends on which perspective you are taking, this world or the one to follow.

As far as this world is concerned, the return for a good deed is a good consequence. And in that there’s no distinction among people. Sure, Allah tests everybody with unexpected setbacks and disappointments, but sooner or later the good is returned to us in some form. The point of distinction is the afterworld: No matter how pure and good the good deed, its usefulness in the afterworld rests SOLELY upon the pivotal aspect of intention: Did we do it for the sake of the ONE TRUE GOD?

Consider it like this: You are the principal  in a certain college and unbeknown to you, an unregistered person not only attends all the classes as a student but plays the role very well. He is a highly capable person with genuine talent and uses it well in assignments and presentations and projects. He reaps all the immediate and positive consequences for his efforts: he is learning at the highest rate and acquiring a geniune reputation among the faculty and the class-fellows. Both things which will be definitely be of use to him later.  At the end of the program, however, he comes up to you with a rather frivolous expectation: that you should award him the degree as a result for his untiring and spectacular performance! Absurd, isn’t it?

So Allah will return the goodnesses of the non-believers in this world. But why should He do so in the afterworld when He has made it clear from the outset for whom the Heaven is reserved? In fact this aspect too applies to all of us, Muslims or not. The terms for gaining admission into that pleasant eternal life are clearly set out in the Quran. Our Muslim name doesn’t make a difference. Fair!

As a clarification and authentication of this last point, I refer to you to that famous Hadith-e-Qudsi detailing that the first three to be entered to hell-fire on the Judgment Day will be a martyr, a Quranic scholar and a philanthropist, all three of whom had engaged in their respective noble activities for sake of wordly rewards. Read the full hadith here.

IN the second part of this post, we shall turn to the third category of actions, the prohibited ones. I wish to discuss about this one before the second class of activities (the mundane, daily life ones) because of the widespread mis-use of the concept of intention in its case.

Thanks for being with me so far.