Niyyah in Solāt

The Subject of Intention

By Ibn Salih

In the name of Allāh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful;

All the praise and Thanks are due to Allāh, the Lord of al-ā’lamīn. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allāh, and that Muhammad, Sallallāhu alayhi wa sallam, is His Messenger.

 The subject of intention in Solāt is often being raised by some as to whether it should be articulate (lafaz) it out preceding the Takbiratul Ihram and following it formed again in the heart or just formed it in the heart while the Takbiratul Ihram?  The matter has indeed been long settled. The fuqahā’ were consensus that intention consist of ta’rub and ta’yin with sincerity for the sake of Allah; formed in the heart; parallel to the commencement of the Solāt when saying the Takbiratul Ihram, “Allāhu Akbar”. Scholars viewed it as recommended (mandub) act to articulate or lafaz it as to assist the Niyyah in heart. The kaifiyat of the Niyyah is, “I’m observing Solat fardhu Zuhur four raka`at for the sake Allah”. It is a recommended act; one either can do it or leave it according to one’s choice; without making an issue about it.

What follows is a discussion around the subject of intention in Solāt.

Actions are but by intention

According to the consensus of the fuqahā, the seat of intention of acts of worship is in the heart. If a person utters something by mistake that goes against what is in his heart, then what counts is what he intended, not what he had said.

There is no any difference of opinion concerning it, except when some of the later followers of Imāms ash-Shāfi’ie, Abu Hanīfah and Ahmad (rahimahullāh) expressed approval that it is mustahabb to utter the intention so as ‘to make it stronger’. Although they held that usage of verbal expression of the Niyyah is not in itself part of the Sunnah; the verbal expression preceding the niyyah is recommended (mandub) as a mean to assist in strengthening the intention of Solāt.

The hadith of ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab (radiallāhu`anhu) that the Messenger of Allāh, (Sallallāhu `alayhi wa sallam), stated: ‘Verily actions are by intentions, and for every person is what he intended. …”  [Al-Bukhāri and Muslim] It indicates the important of Intention.

The first statement of Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu `alayhi wa sallam), ‘verily (innamā) actions are by intention’ – indicates the condition that all actions are in need of intention.  It informs us that the correctness or incorrectness of the action is in accordance to the correctness or incorrectness of the intention, and its acceptance and rejection is according to its conclusion. The second statement of Rasulullāh (Sallallāhu `alayhi wa sallam), ‘and for everyone is what he intended’ is informing that one will not gain anything from his action except what he intended. So, if he intended good, he gets good. If he intended evil then he gets evil. Therefore the action in itself is good, or bad, or permissible is according to the intention behind it and is necessary for that action to exist. The reward of the person or his punishment is according to the intention upon which the action became righteous, or bad or permissible (mubah).

[See ‘Ihkām al-Ahkām’]

Ibn Al-Mundhir (rahimahullāh) states: “The scholars were in consensus (Ijma’) that Solāt is not accepted without niyyah (intention).” [Al-‘Ijma’, 41]

The ummah must be guarded by the reminder of Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu ‘alaihi wa sallam) in above hadith and hadiths reported by `Aaishah (radiyallāhu`anha), “Whosoever introduces into this affair of ours that which is not part of it then it is rejected” and reported by Nu’mān bin Bashīr (radiyallāhu`anhu), “The halāl is clear and the harām is clear” are indeed fundamental in the Islām. [Bukhāri, Muslim] Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu `alaihi wa sallam) also said, ‘Verily Allāh is pure, and does not accept except for which is pure. And indeed Allāh ordered the Muslims with that which He ordered the Messengers.’[Ahmad]

Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu `alayhi wa sallam) commanded the ummah about Solah: “Pray as you have seen me praying.” [Al-Bukhari] It indicates the Solāt of Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu `alayhi wa sallam) that is to be followed.

The principle of the munttaqun would always obeying Allāh and His Messenger.

The Question of Lafaz the intention

Al-Khatib Ash-Shirbini (rahimahullah) stated:

“And the niyyah is within the heart according to the consensus of the Jurists (ijma’). It does not suffice to say the intention upon the tongue while being heedless within the heart according to the Ijma’ of the Muslims, and this relates to the rest of the issues [of Solāt as well]. If one were to say the intention with the tongue and it contradicts the intention of the heart, it does not harm [the validity], such as intending the Fajar prayer while saying upon one’s tongue that one intends Dzuhur. It is recommended (mandub) to say the intention with the scheduled Solāt right before the opening Takbir for Solāt…” [Vol. 2 pg. 138 of Al-Bujayrimi ‘ala Al-Khatib, Dar Al Kutub Al-‘Ilmiyyah]

The position of the issue of articulating the intention in Solāt is two-fold: One, some Shafi`ies `ulama’ considered it as obligatory [such as the author Al-Bayan, Al Yamani]. This is regarded as a very weak view, it would be better to avoid practicing it upon the difference of opinion. Secondly, it is recommended as assistance to strengthen the heart before formulating the intention of Solāh as to be free from neurotic misgivings. [Nihayat al-Muhtaj v. 1, p. 457]

[See Al-Iqna’]

Some of the later scholars followers of Imāms Mālik, Ahmad and others (rahimahullāh), the opponent of the above view, said that it is not mustahabb to utter it, because that is a bid’ah, simply it was not reported that Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu `alayhi wa sallam) or his Sahābah did as such or that he (Sallallāhu `alayhi wa sallam) commanded anyone among his ummah to utter the intention. If that had been prescribed then the Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wa sallam) and his companions would not have neglected it, because it has to do with act of worship which the ummah does every day and night.

They also held that intention is always connected to the extent of one’s knowledge. If one knows what he is doing then he has obviously made an intention. It is unlikely that if he knows what he wants to do, that he has not formed an intention. The intention precedes action. They maintain that articulating the intention out loud and repeating it is not prescribed in Islam, rather the person raising his voice articulating the intention may disturb others, and it is incorrect action. The seat of the intention is in the heart; to be form at the commencement of the Solāt when saying the Takbir.  They uphold their view is correct as opposed to the first.

They uphold their view the Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wa sallam) never pronounces the intention by the tongue. There is not a single directive of the Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wa sallam), Sahābah or the Khalīfahs, to pronounce the Niyyah and followed in the heart while saying the Takbir as being done generally do. The intention is formed in the heart, to be done at the commencement of the Solāt when saying the Takbir.  The principle is that in all matters of worship, the Sunnah of the Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wa sallam) must be followed exactly. This is the agreement (ittifāq) of the Imāms of the Mazhabs.

Imām An-Nawawi (rahimahullāh) said: “…and the Niyyah is within the heart, and pronouncing it before the saying of the Takbir is only a recommended (mandub).” [Al-Minhaj] An-Nawawi (rahimahullah) also states: “If one makes the intention within his heart and does not pronounce it, such is valid according to the Madzhab, as it was stated by the majority … [And] ‘our companions [from the Shafi’ies] say this [referring the opinion by Abu Abdullah Az-Zubairi] that it is obligatory to do both is an error!] [Majmu’, Vol 3 page 241]

Criterions of Niyyah

In the language of the Fuqahā’, “Intention (Niyyah)” is ‘the form of purpose (qasad) and desire (irādah)’ that ‘takes place in the heart’ encompassing ‘two elements’: Firstly distinguish the different types of acts worship, one from the other (ta’rub). Like distinguishing whether it is a ghusul, tayammum, wudhu or solāh, fasting, zakah, Or distinguishing actions of worship from actions of habit, like distinguishing the bath from impurity from the baths simply to get clean. Secondly, to distinguish the intended object of the action (ta’yin) – a fardhu or nawafil; and that it is sincerely intended for the sake of Allāh alone.

Abu Bakar ibn Abi Dunyā wrote a book, calling it, “Sincerity and intention”, and he meant this (second meaning) of intention. And it is the meaning of intention which is repeatedly mentioned in the speech of the Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wa sallam), sometimes with the word niyyah, other times with the word irādah, and sometimes with words close in meaning to the above two. And the mention of intention occurs in the Qur’ān many times, by the use of words other then niyyah but with similar meaning.

Al-Qur’ān

In the Qur’ān often it describes intention with the word irādah (desire) as: “Among you are some that desire (yurīd) this world and some that desire the hereafter” [Al-Imran, 3:152];“Whosoever desires the life of this world and it’s adornment” [Hud, 11:15]; “And keep yourself patiently with those who call on their Lord, morning and evening seeking (yurīdūna) His Face, and let not your eyes overlook them, desiring the pomp and glitter of this life.” [Al-Kahf, 18:28]

Sometimes Niyyah is described with the word ibtighā (desire): “Except only the desire (ibtighā) to seek the Face of His Lord, the Most High” [Al-Layl, 92:20]; “And you spend not except seeking (ibtighā) the Face of Allāh” [Al-Baqarah, 2:272]

Ahādīth

The meaning of Niyyah in the hadith of the Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wa sallam), and the Salaf generally refers to the second sense which carries the meaning of Irādah The Sunnah and statements of the Salaf to refer with the second meaning of niyyah (i.e the desire) found is a large numbers, some of them:

The Messenger (Sallallāhu ‘alaihi wa sallam) said: ‘Verily actions are by intentions, and for every person is what he intended. …” [Al-Bukhāri and Muslim]; “People will be gathered upon their intentions” [Ibn Mājah, Sahīh al-Jāmi’ no.7898]; “Mankind will be resurrected upon their intentions” [Muslim]; “Verily those slain on the battlefield will be resurrected upon their intentions” [Ibn Abi ad-Dunya]; “For the ones whose concern is this world Allāh will scatter his affair, and place poverty between his two eyes. And he will not get from the world except what is written for him. And for the one whose intention is the hereafter Allāh will gather for him his affair and place contentment in his heart, and the world will come to him willingly” [Ibn Mājah, Sahīh al-Jāmi no.6386]

The Salaf

Yahya bin Abu Kathīr said, “Learn your intention for it is more serious than the action.” ;Zayd ash-Shāmī said, “verily I like that I have an intention for everything even if it be eating and drinking” And he also said, “Have intention for everything, desiring the good, even if it be leaving for the toilet”; Sufyaan ath-Thawrī said, “I have not treated anything more difficult than my intention, because it keeps changing.”; Yusuf bin Asbāt said, “Purifying the intention from its corruption is harder upon the workers than long striving (i.e. in their work)” ;Ibn al-Mubārak said, “Maybe a small action is made great by its intention, and maybe a great action is made small by its intention”;Ibn ‘Ijlān said, “The action is not acceptable except by three: Taqwā of Allāh, and good intention, and correctness (i.e. conformity to the Sunnah)” ; Fudhayl bin ‘Iyādh said, “Allāh wishes from you only your intentions and desires (irādah)”

[See Ibn Abī ad-Dunyā in his Al-Ikhlās wa an-Niyyah]

The Solāt of Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu `alaihi wa sallam) is commence by Takbir

Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu ‘alaihi wa sallam) would commence the Solāt by saying:  “Allāhu Akbar” (Allāh is the Greatest) [Muslim and Ibn Mājah]. The hadīth indicates clearly that Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu `alayhi wa sallam) did not use to commence it with some other words.  Infact Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu `alayhi wa sallam) ordered “the man who prayed badly” to do like he did. He (Sallallāhu `alayhi wa sallam) also said: Verily, the Solāt of a person is not complete until he has made an ablution which has included the necessary parts of the body and has then said: ‘Allāhu Akbar’. [Tabārāni with a sahīh isnād] Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu `alayhi wa sallam) would also used to say: “The key to the Solāt is purification; it is entered by takbīr and exited by taslīm.” [Abu Dāwūd, Tirmidzi and Hākim who declared it sahīh and Dhahabi agreed.]

The proper time to form attention in the heart is at the start of the Solāt when saying the Takbir. In formulating one’s intention one must specify: “that one is going to perform Solāt; specify which Solāt one is going to perform; and that intention is an obligatory part of Solāt”. [Jarhazi on al-Minhaj al-Qawim v. 1, p. 351; Tuhfat al-Muhtaj v. p. 180]

Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu ‘alaihi wa sallam) also used to raise his voice for the takbīr such that those behind him could hear. [Ahmad and Hākim, who declared it sahīh and Dhahabi agreed.]  Accordingly, “When he fell ill Abu Bakar (radiallāhu’anhu) used to raise his voice to convey the takbīr of the Messenger (Sallallāhu ‘alaihi wa sallam) to the people.” [Muslim and Nasā’ie] As for the ma’mum, Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu ‘alaihi wa sallam) said: “When the Imām says: Allāhu Akbar, then say: Allāhu Akbar.” [Ahmad and Baihaqi with sahīh isnād] The Takbir would indicate the commencement of Solāt and it is forbidden to indulge in anything not related in the Solāt.

Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu ‘alaihi wa sallam) would raise his hands sometimes with the takbīr, [Bukhāri and Nasā’ie], sometimes after the takbīr [Bukhāri and Nasā’ie], and sometimes before it [Bukhāri and Abu Dawūd]. “Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu ‘alaihi wa sallam) would raise them with fingers apart [not spaced out, nor together]” [Abu Dawūd, Ibn Khuzaimah (1/62/2, 64/1); Tammām and Hākim who declared it sahīh and Dhahabi agreed] and “he would put them level with his shoulders” [Bukhāri and Nasā’ie], although occasionally, “he would raise them until they were level with [the tops of] his ears.” [Bukhāri and Abu Dāwūd]

Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu ‘alaihi wa sallam) commanded us: “Pray as you have seen me praying.” [Narrated by Al-Bukhari, 631] This hadith indicates the Prophet’s Solāt is the one that to be followed.

A renowned scholar Ibn Qayyim (rahimahullāh) said:

When the Prophet (Sallallāhu ‘alaihi wa sallam) would stand up for the prayer, he would say: Allāhu Akbar. He (Sallallāhu ‘alaihi wa sallam) would never say anything before this nor would he ever pronounce his Niyyah, nor would he say “I am offering this particular prayer consisting of four raka‘ahs for Allāh facing the Qiblah singularly or as an imām”, nor would he say: “[I am offering this prayer] within the stipulated time or after the stipulated time or that these are the obligatory Raka‘ahs of this time.” These ten innovations have never been narrated by anyone – not a single word of them — either as a Sahih or a Da‘if or a Musnad or a Mursal narration. There is nothing in this regard that has been narrated from the Companions of the Prophet(Sallallāhu ‘alaihi wa sallam)  and no one from among the tabi‘ien or the four imams ever regarded it as desirable.

Actually, some scholars of the later period have misinterpreted these words of Imām Shāfi‘ie (rahimahullāh), who said: “It [referring to Solāt] is not like the fasts. No one can begin it unless he pronounces [some words].” They thought that this meant the pronunciation of the Niyyah, whereas Shāfi‘ie (rahimahullāh) actually meant the pronunciation of Allāhu Akbar, which are the words that commence the Solāt. For how can Imām Shāfi‘ie (rahimahullāh)would  regard something as desirable which the Prophet (Sallallāhu ‘alaihi wa sallam) never did even in one single Solāt; and which no one from anyone of his Khalifahs and Companions did either. This is the guidance [they have provided us] and this is their practice. If we had found that a single word had been narrated by them in this regard, we would have accepted it with submission and compliance, for no guidance is more complete than their guidance and there is no established practice [in religion] except that which has been received from the Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu ‘alaihi wa sallam).

[See Zaad al-Ma‘ad, Vol 1, p. 201]

Shaikh Sālih bin Fawzān al-Fawzān said:

Every action requires an intention due to the narration which you mentioned that the Messenger (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: “Indeed, the actions are only by intentions and indeed and every person will have that which he intended.” (Narrated by Imam Al-Bukhāri and Muslim) However, the meaning of this is not that you pronounce the intention, the meaning of it is: that you believe in your heart and intend with your heart the performance of the action for the sake of Allāh Subhanahu wa Ta’ala, and this is sufficient.

Since the place of the intention is the heart, its place is not the tongue. Hence uttering it is an innovation because it has not been established from the Prophet (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam), nor from his Rightly-guided successors, nor his Companions, nor the favored generations that they used to pronounce the intention. Rather its place is only the heart. And Allāh Subhanahu wa Ta’ala, the Most-High says: “Say, “Will you inform Allāh of your religion while Allāh knows all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth, and Allāh is All-Knowing of everything?” [Al-Hujarāt, 49:16] So if you intend with your heart and you resolve with your heart, then Allāh knows that. And there is no need for you to utter with your tongue.

[Majmū’ Fatāwa Fadīlatu-Shaikh Sālih bin Fawzān al-Fawzān, pg. 675]

Niyyah is a consciousness of purpose in the mind. 

Shaykh Taha Karān, a contemporary ash-Shafi‘ies scholar, said:

The niyyah is not a formula but a consciousness of purpose in the mind. As such, it does not take the form of specific words. Where it becomes difficult to form it the mind, our fuqaha have allowed it to be verbally expressed. The verbal expression of the niyyah, where recommended, is meant only to assist in fulfilling the Sunnah expressed in the hadith: “Actions are but by intention and each person will have but that which he intended.” [Al-Bukhāri and Muslim]

Making the niyyah verbally is thus more of a “crutch” the mind than an independent Sunnah. Accordingly, just as a healthy person would not need a crutch, a person who is able to maintain his mental focus on his purpose should not bother with pronouncing any sort of formula. The locus of the niyyah is the mind, and as long as the mind remains acutely conscious of the niyyah, verbal pronouncement is redundant.

If the niyyah has been properly understood as consciousness of purpose, it ought to become clear that there is really no real need for a variety of different formulations of the niyyah.  In the matter of formulating the niyyah—for those who need to formulate one—one would be better advised to stick to a simple “one size fits all” formula.

Using a variety of formulations, and an overemphasis on using the verbal “crutch” tends, ironically, to exacerbate the very problem which the aid of verbal pronouncement sought to alleviate. That problem is confusion in the mind and the lack of mental focus and composure.

[See Niyyah in Wudu by Shafi ‘ie Fiqh.com]

Summary

In the language of the scholars, “Intention (Niyyah)” is ‘the form of purpose (qasad) and desire (irādah)’ that ‘takes place in the heart’ encompassing ‘two elements’: Firstly distinguish the different types of acts worship, one from the other (ta’rub). Like distinguishing whether it is a ghusul, tayammum, wudhu or solāh, fasting, zakah, Or distinguishing actions of worship from actions of habit, like distinguishing the bath from impurity from the baths simply to get clean. Secondly, to distinguish the intended object of the action (ta’yin) – a fardhu or nawafil; and that it is sincerely intended for the sake of Allāh alone.

The same principle is applied in the Niyyah of Solāt: to distinguish the various solāt from one and another – Solāt of Dzuhur from ‘Asar; to distinguish the intended objective of the solat – a fardhu or nawafil, jama’ or qasar, mutlak, qabliyah or ba’diyah, numbers of raka’ah – sincerely for the sake of Allāh.

The intention is always attached to one’s knowledge before doing an action. If a person is aware what he is doing then he has obviously made an intention of doing the action. It is unlikely, if he knows what he wants to do, that he has not formed an intention. The intention precedes action.

The articulating of intention out loud may disturb others; anything that disturbs others is not permissible. Since actions are but by intention and each person will have but that which he intended, one may say the lafaz softly without disturbing others since its object is to assist the heart to focus in formulating the niyyah when Takbir. If one makes the intention within his heart and without the lafaz, the Solāt is valid. But the Solāt would be invalid if one lafaz the Niyyah without forming the Niyyah in the heart. Islām resolves to doing the commanded actions and all of this is perfected upon by the outwardly and inwardly actions must be done according to Sunnah.

The fuqahā’ were consensus that intention consist of ta’rub and ta’yin with sincerity for the sake of Allah; formed in the heart; parallel to the commencement of the Solāt when saying the Takbiratul Ihram, “Allāhu Akbar” and raising the hands at shoulder level. Scholars viewed it as recommended (mandub) act to articulate or lafaz it as to assist the Niyyah in heart. The kaifiyat of the Niyyah is, “I’m observing Solat fardhu Zuhur four raka`at for the sake Allah”. It is a recommended act; one either can do it or leave it according to one’s choice; without making an issue about it.

And Allāh Almighty Knows best.

 

About Md Radzi Ahmad
A retired Malaysian civil servant. Served the Malaysian government for thirty-one years. Posted to London, Rangoon, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Bangkok. Born in Kampong Hutan Kandeh, Alor Star, Kedah. Educated at Sultan Abdul Hamid College, Alor Star and University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur. Currently resides in Subang Jaya, Selangor Darul Ehsan,Malaysia.Blessed with three children, a son, two daughters, daughter in law and two grandaughters.

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