Intention in the Islamic faith is like the spark that gives life to action and determines its objective. As the well-known Hadith has stipulated it: “Actions are indeed governed by intentions.” One would not have his/her action regarded in the sight of the creed if it is not preceded by an adequate intention. Most Muslims do know about the importance of intention. However, despite being part of their daily worship practice, they do not pay attention to its holistic meaning, its wisdom and its powerful impact on a person's choices in his/her journey of life. The common understanding toward intention is just that it precedes the action and ends with its accomplishment. Such thought and practice leads one to observe every action of worship as a separate entity, as though it has a proper realm, dissociated from the rest of the actions. This leaves one not able to build a comprehensive system in which all actions articulate together, empowering each other, enhancing synergism and boosting the willpower toward achieving the ultimate of all goals in the journey of life. This ultimate goal of success lies in reaching one’s highest potential in being a true, submitted servant of Allah (swt), a free human being empowered by the light of Allah, guided by His words and striving with His help for the good. “So fear Allah as much as you are able and listen and obey and spend [in the way of Allah]; it is better for your selves. And whoever is protected from the stinginess of his soul – it is those who will be the successful.” (64:16)
You see one performing prayer, observing voluntary fasting, helping the needy, enjoining good and forbidding evil. Then, after every action, it is like he/she departs from the realm of worship to regain his/her “busy” life located elsewhere, outside of the realm of his/her creed. This busy alternate life is located, indeed, in a world in which the fundamental creed is the worship of the self.
In this way of observing the faith, the life lived outside the realm of the creed prevails upon one’s spirit and vision of existence. It instills its beliefs by imposing its version of virtues and its definition of concepts, such as the concepts of success, happiness, kindness, justice, etc. These concepts, as defined by the life lived outside the realm of the faith, become the guiding spirit of the worship. Success, for example, supplicated for in the worship wholeheartedly, becomes the one applauded in the outside world, not the one defined by the Quran. "That He may admit the men and women who believe, to Gardens beneath which rivers flow, to dwell therein eternally, and remove their ills from them. And that is, in the sight of Allah, the highest achievement (for humankind)” (48:5). Unmindfully embracing, slowly, the creed of the people with whom one hangs out, in the life lived outside the realm of the creed, he/she gradually becomes among those described in the following ayah: “There are among men some who serve Allah, as it were, on the verge. If good befalls them, they are, therewith, well content. But if a trial comes to them, they turn on their faces. They lose both this world and the Hereafter. That is the evident loss!” (22:11)
Such an “unconscious” loss of the path, emanates indeed from the absence of a holistic understanding and implementation of the true intention. The true intention does not end at being uttered before observing the worship, it extends to englobe the entire life and the complete existence. The intention is a spirit overseeing the whole system of worship, a vision encompassing the journey of life, a drive of learning the Book and the wisdom to attain the rank of a true servant of Allah: free, just and pious. Such an intention builds a system of actions interconnected and guided by one holistic resolution that runs through every action, giving it life, purpose and a drive for achievement. It bestows a sense of deep reflection and a clear perception, helping one to see and live life according to the vision and the path of the ultimate truth. In this way, an action of worship starts every time one ends, “So when you have finished [your duties], then stand up [for worship]. And to your Lord direct [your] longing” (94:7-8). Indeed with a holistic intention, every aspect of life can be observed as an action of worship. Everything is holding together, action and purpose, heart and mind. Everything is observed and thought through the perspective of Iman. No gaps will exist for an outside creed to crawl into this system. In a Hadith, the Prophet (pbuh) described for us the comprehensiveness of Iman that covers all the aspects of life. He said, pbuh: “Iman has over seventy branches, the uppermost of which is the declaration: ‘None has the right to be worshiped, but Allah,’ and the least of which is the removal of harmful object from the road. And modesty is a branch of Iman.”
Inspiring from the conduct of the righteous predecessors, there is this very insightful story of Hatem Al Asam’ with his teacher, Shaqiq Al Balkhi. It is a story that helps us grasp the concept of the holistic intention; it guides to reflection, observation and acting in the way of the ultimate truth. When Shaqiq Al Balkhi asked his student Hatem Al Asam’: “What have you learned after thirty years of studying with me?” Hatem Al Asam’ didn’t reply by enumerating the number of books read, nor the many sciences in which he attained mastery. He replied with an answer, which should open our hearts and minds to rethink the way one should live his/her purpose of life, and reevaluate the goal of learning and studying. He said: “After thirty years, I have learnt the following six virtues:
1. I have seen most people in doubt of their sustenance, causing them to be greedy and covetous. I have then put all my trust in Allah, knowing that Allah (swt) said: 'And there is no creature on earth but that upon Allah is its provision, and He knows its place of dwelling and place of storage. All is in a clear register.' (11:6)
2. I have seen most people having friends sharing with them their secrets, and opening to them their hearts to comfort their worries and grief. But, these friends often disclose the secrets and are unable to stop or to protect them from the tribulations encountered in life. I have then made my friend to be the righteous action to help me at the time of judgement and provide me firmness when crossing the Sirat (bridge over Hellfire).
3. I have seen almost everyone has an enemy. I reflected with myself and I came to the conclusion that the one who backbites me is not an enemy, nor the one who transgress me or treats me ill. Indeed, those are offering me their good deeds and discharging me from my bad deeds. I then realized that my true enemy is the one who is trying to delude me and mislead me from my worship. And those are Iblis (Satan), the ill part of my self, the luring worldly life and my whims and desires. I have then taken them as my sole enemies, not letting anyone of them getting close to me.
4. I have seen that every living being ends by being called to depart, and the caller is the angel of death. I have then prepared myself well to meet him, so when he comes I will proceed with him with no issues.
5. I have seen people loving and hating each other, and I have seen the one who loves a person does not posses any benefit to him/her. I have reflected deeply and found out that the core element that manipulates love and hate is the envy. I have then cut off any relation with envy by suppressing my desires. I then loved all people, longing for them what I long for myself.
6. I have seen everyone who has a dwelling ending by moving away for it to dwell in the last of dwelling places in this life, which is the grave. I have then put my focus to accumulate, at the best of my ability, the good deeds, which will make me happy in that particular dwelling, the one after which will not be any abode, except Paradise or Hellfire."
The teacher Shaqiq Al Balkhi then said: “Excellent learning and wisdom you have attained. Such knowledge suffices for your entire life. Act upon it until you meet death.”
Most people, if they just reflect for a moment, see that they are distracted in their worship, neglectful to their commitments, scared of the future, doubtful regarding their creed, confused with their lives, and trying to forget these fatal issues by just fleeing from themselves with more distraction, entertainment and play, until they collide with death.
But, the the sincere believer when reminded will flee to Allah (swt), strive to bring into his/her life the holistic intention to manage his/her affairs, ignite his/her plans with supplications, make his/her worship the power source of his/her action, design his/her life to be the best gift one can offer to him/herself by longing to win the pleasure of the Most Merciful. “So flee to Allah. Indeed, I am to you from Him a clear warner. And make not another an object of worship with Allah. I am from Him a Warner to you, clear and open!” (51:50-51)