The key to our actions being accepted is sincerity. Correct intention and sincerity play a role in everything we do and say, so it is worth highlighting a few things as it relates to intention and sincerity.
First, the intention is in the heart and not something you verbalise or say on the tongue. Some people have been taught that just before you pray you should say the name of the prayer you are about to perform and the amount of raka’at, for example: “ I’m about to pray zuhr prayer four raka’at for Allah ”. Announcing the intention is wrong and does not have a basis in Islam. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ prayed and gave Sadaqah and fasted the month of Ramadan. He did all of these actions without verbalising the intention. Thus Muslim scholars declare that verbalising the intention is an innovation in Islam. Allah’s knowledge encompasses everything, public and private, outward and inward, including the intentions behind our actions. Allah knows what we show and what we conceal in our hearts.
قُلْ إِن تُخْفُوا۟ مَا فِى صُدُورِكُمْ أَوْ تُبْدُوهُ يَعْلَمْهُ ٱللَّهُ ۗ وَيَعْلَمُ مَا فِى ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٰتِ وَمَا فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ ۗ وَٱللَّهُ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَىْءٍ قَدِيرٌ
Say, ˹O Prophet,˺ “Whether you conceal what is in your hearts or reveal it, it is known to Allah. For He knows whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And Allah is Most Capable of everything.” 3:29
It is obligatory on every Muslim to have a sincere intention in every act of worship. What is a sincere intention? It means that every action that is worship is done purely for Allah and correctly, meaning how it is commanded. When you pray, your intention is for Allah and the afterlife, not because somebody is watching. When you give charity, your intention is Allah and the afterlife and not because you expect the other person to reciprocate! When you fast, your intention is Allah and the afterlife and not to get the health benefits of fasting. Devotion to Allah in all actions of worship is the command of Allah for all the prophets in all the divine religions so it is an obligation to have a pure intention in all actions of worship.
وَمَآ أُمِرُوٓا۟ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ مُخْلِصِينَ لَهُ ٱلدِّينَ حُنَفَآءَ وَيُقِيمُوا۟ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ وَيُؤْتُوا۟ ٱلزَّكَوٰةَ ۚ وَذَٰلِكَ دِينُ ٱلْقَيِّمَةِ
They were only commanded to worship Allah with sincere devotion to Him in all uprightness, establish prayer, and pay Zakat. That is the upright Way. 98:5
When a person wants to do an action that is considered worship, there are three things that must be in place:
- He must intend worship,
- That it is for Allah alone, and
- It must be in accordance with the shari’ah.
A final point and reminder, intentions are hidden from people but they are not hidden from Allah. It’s possible for somebody to do an act of worship in front of people and they think he is righteous but in reality, the action is corrupt because of a corrupt intention. Allah knows what the hearts conceal and on judgment day a person will only be rewarded based on the intentions of the heart. In this worldly life people are judged on what they show apparently and in the afterlife they are judged according to what to intentions
۞ أَفَلَا يَعْلَمُ إِذَا بُعْثِرَ مَا فِى ٱلْقُبُورِ
Do they not know that when the contents of the graves will be spilled out,
وَحُصِّلَ مَا فِى ٱلصُّدُورِ
and the secrets of the hearts will be laid bare 100: 9 – 10