Two young men wanted to marry the daughter of a king. She was very intelligent, well educated, young and beautiful. The princess was the king’s only child, he loved her dearly and was concern about the intention of the two men.
One of them was the son of the king’s minister. He was noble, rich and powerful. The other one was a distant cousin of the princess. He had been educated to live a simple life of studies and work.
The king asked his daughter what he should do. Should he accept the minister’s son or the humble man? Or perhaps reject both of them. The princess told her father to summon both of them to the palace.
The following day they were all in the throne’s room, and the court was present. The princess stood up. She had a beautiful and exotic bird in a cage which sang beautifully. She asked the two men:
“What should I do with this bird? It is a gift from my father. Should I set it free or should I keep it?”
The son of the minister said: “It is a beautiful and very rare bird that your father has given you. You should honour this gift and share it with everyone in the kingdom. Perhaps put in a place that everyone can see it and listen to it”
The humble man said: “My friend is right, it is a beautiful bird, but perhaps, princess, you should set it free. In that way, the bird would be able to freely sing to everyone no matter who or where they are. It would be free to fly and rest when it wants, as God has intended for birds”
In this way, the princess understood what the intention of each man was.
The Importance of Sincere Intention in Islam
In a very famous hadith, the Prophet, peace be upon him said:
Verily, deeds are only by intentions. Verily, every person will have only what they intended.Bukhari
Many of the early and great scholars, such as Al-Shafi, Ahmad Ibn Hanbal and Al-Tirmidhi agreed that this saying of the Prophet, peace be upon him, encompasses a third of slam. That is because the right intention with sincerity is the foundation of everything else.
Sincerity –ikhlas- in recognising the unity of God and worshipping Him alone, it is the pillar of belief. And the fruit of ikhlas is Ihsan, the excellence of character and worship, which, in the famous Hadith of Jeebril, the Prophet told us that is a third of Islam.
Hence, having the right sincere intention before performing any deed is the key to success in this life and the next and we could say that amounts to one third of Islam.
Philosophy and Intention
The importance given to intention and intentionality is not only an Islamic value. For Plato, Aristotle or Thomas Aquinas, intentionality becomes a central concept for the conception of the human being.
Thomas Aquinas got the concept of intentionality from the work of Muslims philosophers, such as Al-Farabi or Avicenna. These Muslim philosophers translated and studied the works of the Greek philosophers and adapted this term to an Islamic worldview. As we have seen, intention and intentionality are essential to Islamic belief and practice.
But what is intentionality? For the philosopher and psychologist Franz Brentano, it is the property which directs an act or a phenomenon to the attaining of an objective or goal in the external world. In other words, the thing that we want to achieve when we perform any deed.
A Sincere Intention Makes Matters Easy
I was travelling once in Morocco by bus. The bus stopped for everyone to take a rest. It was close to Maghrib time and I had not prayed Dhuhur and Asr. I wanted to pray, but I did not have wudu and I could not see anywhere I could pray. It was also really cold.
I was debating with myself whether I should come out of the bus and try to make wudu and pray before the end of the time or wait until we arrived back at the hotel and pray there. I decided to give it a try.
The moment I walked out and I was looking for a place to make wudu and pray, a man came to me. I looked like a lost tourist. He asked me what was I looking for. I said I wanted to make wudu and pray. The man seemed a bit perplexed at first, but then he smiled and told me to follow him.
I accompanied the man and he gave me hot water from a pot that was in the coals, a pair of slippers and a clean towel. Then he pointed me to a small musallah were I could pray. Not only was I able to pray, but also those travelling with me.
I had put the intention to pray, and God made it possible.
Why We Do What We Do
Sincerity and right intention are the building blocks of Islam. We always have to ask ourselves: why am I doing this? What do I expect to achieve? Because what we intend is what we will gain.
This is especially important when considering a life-changing decision. And there isn’t a decision that could change your life more than becoming Muslim.
The Hadith that we have mentioned earlier continues:
Verily, deeds are only by intentions. Verily, every person will have only what they intended. Whoever emigrated to get something in the world or to marry a woman, then his emigration is for whatever he emigrated for.Bukhari
The question then is do we want something of this world, which is ephemeral and perishes, or do we want the pleasure of God, which is eternal and everlasting?