Allah SWT has granted us the beautiful and unique opportunity to perform deeds in order to please Him, to advance ourselves, and to gain a reward in the Hereafter. The deeds that we perform, they have two components to them: the first, and the foundational, is the niyyah; and the second is the actual deed itself. Both components are essential for the success of the believer. You can have a deed with a bad niyyah and the deed becomes worthless; and you can have a niyyah with no deed, and the niyyah becomes worthless. Both extremes can exist.
For example, a person becomes a scholar of the deen. The deed is excellent. But the person becomes a scholar of deen because they desire to argue with people; they desire that people talk about how great they are; they desire that people are subjugated under their watch. Then, because the niyyah is corrupted, the great deed becomes an excuse for the person to be thrown in the Hellfire. And we know from hadith that, despite the greatness of such a deed, that type of niyyah will place a person in the Hellfire. So, what example do we have there? In this example, we have a great deed with a corrupted niyyah, which renders the whole act worthless.
You can also have the opposite extreme. You can have a great niyyah, which is not followed up by a deed; and that also renders the niyyah worthless. I mean, you might wonder, “Well, how can I have a niyyah with no deed?” I’ll give you an example. You make the intention in your heart—there’s somebody whose raising funds in order to take care of orphans in Syria. You’re listening to the person talk; and the person is explaining the greatness of taking care of orphans; and the rewards associated with doing so; the benefits of giving sadaqah; the benefits of sharing one’s wealth; the responsibilities of zakaah upon the wealthy. And you listen to all this and you say to yourself, “I don’t have the wealth. I’m a student. I don’t have the wealth. But, if Allah SWT gave me the wealth, then I would certainly donate it in His name”. So now, the person makes the niyyah. They make a niyyah for a very big deed—to give sadaqah to support orphans; to share from that which Allah SWT has given them; but they’re not able to perform the deed because they don’t have any wealth. So, what happens? A few years later, Allah SWT blesses them with wealth. And then, the next time, they’re sitting in a gathering, and a person says to them, “You know, there is a difficulty that is befalling a subset of the community. And this is an opportunity to give sadaqah. This is an opportunity to share your wealth. This is an opportunity to earn for yourself freedom from Allah’s anger and to free oneself from the shackles of jahannam; and then the person says, “I don’t think I want to give.” They make excuses: “I don’t trust this person”. Or, “I don’t think that this is a worthwhile cause”. These are excuses that come to a person’s mind.
So, what happens? They had a great niyyah. But when Allah SWT gave them the opportunity to perform the deed, they failed. That renders the niyyah completely worthless because it is now shown that the individual—although they made the niyyah—the individual’s niyyah was not of any value.
Just to highlight this tug of war: you’ve heard the famous story that there was an individual who had killed ninety-nine people. Just imagine, he’s murdered ninety-nine people. Now, what happens? He’s looking for repentance. He starts feeling bad in his heart; and he wants to make amends with his Lord. But, he’s thinking that, “I killed ninety-nine people. If I killed ninety-nine people, there’s no chance for me”. So, what does he do? He goes to the most pious person that he can find and he says to this person that, “I’d like to confide in you that I killed ninety-nine people. Is there any way that Allah SWT will forgive me?” So, that pious person says, “No. You killed ninety-nine people. You’re not going to be forgiven”. So, he become so angry, he kills the pious person, too. He kills that hundredth person. And, just imagine, not only did he kill ninety-nine people, but he killed the most pious person in the community, as well, subhan’Allah. Then, what happens? He starts feeling bad again. I killed ninety-nine people, plus one pious person. Now, I killed a hundred people. So he goes and he seeks out a knowledgeable person within the community; and he says to this individual, “Look, this is what happened with me. Is there any hope for me?” So, the person says, “Yes, of course. Allah SWT can forgive at any time; at any place; there’s no sin that cannot be forgiven by Allah, so long as you accept Allah. So, you should go to this particular village; and in this particular village, you will find that there is a group of people that are good. And you should stay in the company of those people that are good”. So, this individual, who killed a hundred people, he immediately begins to head towards that village of goodness. Now, as he’s walking towards the village of goodness, he passes away. Just imagine: as he’s headed towards that place where he’s going to make a change in his life, he passes away. So, what happens—when he passes away, the angels come. Now, the angels, they begin to fight with one another. One group of angels says, “Give me him. He has to go to jahannam”. Why? Because he killed one hundred people; straightforward; no discussion. This person has to go to jahannam. So ,the other group of angels says, “No. He was making tawbah. If he makes tawbah, his slate is clean and he goes to jannah”.
So, they’re fighting with one another; and in the end, what happens is, they come to the conclusion that the way by which they will settle the debate is to measure the distance that the individual had traveled. If his footsteps were more towards the village of goodness, then he would have completed his deed because more than fifty percent is like a whole; and he would be treated as if he had reached the village and sought forgiveness. And if his footsteps were more towards the place where he came from—his old home; where he was killing people; and he had sought forgiveness—then, he would be thrown in jahannam.
Now, think about this for a minute. What was the differentiating factor between jannah and jahannam? Not his intention. He made the intention the moment he left his city that, “I am seeking forgiveness from my Lord and that is why I am going to that city”. His intention was there from the beginning. The distinguishing factor did not play out on his intention; it played out on his deed. They measured the deed. The said to themselves, “Did he complete fifty percent of the deed or not? If he completed fifty percent of the deed, we’ll give him credit for the whole. And if he completed less than fifty percent, we give him no credit, and he goes to jahannam”. Of course, Allah SWT, from His infinite Mercy, He had caused this person to die when he had made more than fifty percent of the journey; so he went to jannah. Some people say, based on narration, that actually, Allah SWT caused the ground to shrink in the direction of the place where had had come from so that he was closer to the place where he was going to seek forgiveness. Whatever it might be, there’s no debate or discussion upon the contingency—which is that, did he complete the deed or not? So, what does this highlight for us? This highlights for us that niyyah alone is not sufficient when the opportunity exists to fulfill that niyyah. And that, if a person is dependent on their niyyah without fulfilling the deed, then the niyyah, in essence, becomes rendered worthless, because had he not completed the fiftieth step; had he not completed the step that marked fifty percent, then he would not have been forgiven.
Now, in this day and age, we’ve become very complacent. This is why I’m discussing this topic. We have become very complacent. We have come to this conclusion that, if I make the intention, I’m done. And that that suffices for my reward. But, that intention only receives its full attention when a person completes the deed; and that part is missing from us. The fervor with which we make intention—that fervor is not matched when we perform our deeds. We’re very big on intention. We say, you know, fundraising dinner comes up; we say, “I intend in my heart to give a million dollars. If Allah gave me this, I would give that”. But that’s not the discussion. The discussion is not how big can you make your intention. The discussion is, based on what you’re able to do, how much does a person do? Maybe, for a person, it’s a thousand dollars. Maybe, for a person, it’s a million dollars. That number is irrelevant. The point is, what is the deed that the person’s performing relative to the ability.
So, people make very big intentions, but then, when the opportunities come, they don’t fulfill that intention. There’s so many deceptions on this path. One deception is, make a big intention and then only act when I can fulfill that intention. I know an individual; he’s a millionaire; multi-millionaire; and he piles all the money in the bank account. So, one time, somebody asked him, “What are you collecting all this money for?” He said, “I’m collecting all this money for sadaqah. I want to donate this money to create schools in another country. And I’m going to educate a generation with this money”. So, then somebody said, “Well, what are you waiting for?” He said, “I’m waiting until I get fifty million. When I get fifty million, then I’m gonna donate it.” Why does he have to wait till he gets fifty million? That’s a deception of shaytan. The longer the person waits—first of all, the less likely they are to give; and second of all, the more likely they are to pass away because life is limited; you never know when you’ll go; and when you go, then your children aren’t going to say, “Oh, he wanted to give this forty million dollars in the bank account for sadaqah”. They’re going to say, “This much is mine. And this much is mine”. They’re not gonna be interested in fulfilling the father’s niyyah at that point—if that, indeed, was his niyyah.
So, we are not people who, you know, wait for the opportunity to make big. We are the people who consistently take advantage of whatever was given to us. If a small opportunity comes, we take advantage of the small opportunity, if we can. And if a big opportunity comes, we take advantage of a big opportunity, if we can. When the time for niyyah comes, he make big niyyahs; but, we recognize that those niyyahs are contingent upon action. And if the opportunity arises, then we have to act upon it.
Similarly, another mistake that people make is that they don’t leave space for their niyyah. They make a big niyyah. They say, you know, “If I had this much, I would donate”. Or, “If I had this much free time, I would do this”. Or, “If I have this many children, I would put them in this pursuit; or that pursuit”; or, whatever it might be; and then they leave no space.
I know an individual—there’s a brother; he said; you know, he came to me and he said, “I want my son to be a hafiz”. He said, “I want my son, very badly, to be hafiz. More than anything, I want my son to be hafiz”. So, I looked at him and I said, “So, do it. You have a son. You should go ahead and make him hafiz”. He said, “I can’t make him hafiz right now because he is in a magnet school. And if pull him from the magnet school, then he’s not gonna be able to get back into the magnet school”. So, what happens? Now, the person gets caught up, caught up, caught up. And then that’s it; it’s over. The eventual window closes. Now, whether that person did so or not, that’s between them. I don’t even know what the final outcome was. But, the point is, this is one way by which we get derailed from our intentions. We start thinking that, “If I take my kid out now, what will happen to them? You know, two years, three years down the line”. When we know that five, seven years down the line, everything will work out anyway. Yeah, when you take a child out for hifz, they fall behind. There’s no doubt that they fall behind. You can’t compare a child who’s consistently in school every day, versus a child that missed two or three years of school. But that’s not the question. We know that they’ll be behind, you know, a year into their returning to school. But, three years down the line, they’ll be fine. Children are very resilient; and they’ll be fine; and they’ll catch up; and they’ll have hifz in their back pocket; and they’ll pursue their academics. But, when you make an intention, you know—and the intentions—the big intentions, they tend to come when a person has nothing. The big intentions, they tend to come when a person has nothing.
I can tell you; I’m just in the medical field, okay? I can tell you, every person in my field has to take exams. And the exams are extremely stressful. And without fail, everybody makes the same intention at the time of the exam. It even happens outside of medicine. “Oh Allah, if I pass this test, I’ll donate everything for the rest of my life. Ya Allah, please, please let me pass this test; let me get this job; and let me get this one particular thing; I’ll donate everything, Ya Allah; I promise I’ll donate everything”. So, what happens—there’s an example in the Qur’an of the person in the boat that’s about to sink. When the wind is blowing and the boat’s about to sink, everybody’s screaming, “Make du’aa. Make du’aa. Make du’aa”. The moment the boat docks on land and everybody’s safe, they forget Allah. It’s the exact same thing. A person is trying to establish their first business; or trying to get their next job; or trying to get that pass that special exam; or trying to get admission to that special school. And what happens is they make big intentions. “Ya Allah, if you do this for me, then I’ll serve the deen day and night”; big, big intentions. And the moment it happens, everything’s forgotten.
Now, I also recognize this trick, you know. So, I tell people upfront. I say, “You want something?” People come to me, they say, “You know, I really want this job. Make du’aa”. I say, “No, no. I’m not making du’aa. You want this job? You make nadhar right now that if Allah SWT gives me this job, I’ll give ten percent of my wealth to orphans. Or, I’ll give five percent. You make a number and you say it right now and you make a nadhar. You’ll get the job, insha’Allah”. And I’ve tried it; it works, without fail, most of the time. But, the point is that, you know, this is human nature. And this is the way shaytan plays the game. Now what happens? We hang ourselves because what happens, then we get the job; then life becomes complicated; now I need this car, I need this house; I need this lifestyle; I need to buy these clothes for these events; the shoes have to match; every single shoe has to match a different outfit. And what happens, boom, all the money goes down the toilet. Everything gets flushed down the drain. The niyyah was big and all the deeds become petty and worthless. And don’t think that we won’t be hung by those on the Day of Judgment. You think that Allah SWT doesn’t recognize? When we make an intention, it should always be that our deeds outshine that intention. It should not be the other way around. When we make an intention, it should be that we make an intention; and when the opportunity comes, we shine greater than that intention. Why? Because then Allah SWT gives the next opportunity. And the next opportunity; and the next opportunity.
We are a people of purpose, who are passing through a temporary place. That’s the simple summary of who we are. Our focus is on a whole nother realm. And we recognize that everything in this world has to be leveraged for the next. And it’s all a test. So, yes, intention is a valuable way by which you can leverage because you could say, “Ya Allah, I intend to do ‘X’, ‘Y’, and Z’”. And then you can earn a huge reward, despite the fact that you don’t have it. For example, I’m a person that doesn’t have any wealth, but I look, you know, at the next intention to donate and I’m dying to do so; then Allah SWT may reward me for my intention. But don’t think that Allah won’t test that. Intentions are tested all the time. Allah SWT will provide opportunities and to test that intention to see what the person’s really about. That’s part of our deen; and we should be cognizant of that; and we should live up to those opportunities by maintaining space when things become better; and by making sure that we remember the intentions that we make.
So, this is a very, very important thing for the people who are striving. And that is to recognize that it doesn’t end with the intention; it begins with the intention. Yes, we make as many intentions as we can; and we recognize that the future is our opportunity because of those intentions. But, then, when Allah SWT gives the opportunity, we run with it. Now, the beauty of this is that you don’t even have to necessarily do every single thing that you intend—well, why don’t we put it this way: the beauty of this is that when a person tries to act upon what they intend, if they do so with sincerity, Allah SWT multiplies their ability.
For example, if a person comes walking to Allah, Allah comes running to them. If a person takes a step towards Allah, Allah takes ten towards them. What does that mean? That’s an indicator of activity; it’s an indicator of deed; it’s a characteristic of deed—that, if a person makes one deed towards Allah, Allah makes ten towards them—or, makes it easy for them to perform ten like it, for example. Or, if a person makes ten percent effort towards Allah, Allah will fulfill the remaining ninety percent. Or if a person makes a mere footstep towards Allah, Allah will come running towards them; et cetera, et cetera.
So, Allah SWT has given us a great blessing in that we have knowledge and we are cognizant of what important deeds are; and it begins there; without an intention, everything is over. So, it really does begin with the intention; and that’s the beauty of knowledge; and that’s the beauty of sincerity. However, as people of piety, who are striving, we should recognize that when the opportunity comes, we should not fail ourselves. We should not fail ourselves. We have to take advantage of it, despite the fact that it may not appear to be, quote unquote, the best time for us. But the point is that it’s all a test, anyway.
So, we ask that Allah SWT make us among those who are able to recognize great opportunities when they arise. We ask that He allow us to be among those who make an intention that is sincere for Him. And we ask that He make us among those who are able to effectuate those intentions through good deeds that match what we have intended.
wa akhiru da’waana ‘anil humdulillahi rabbil ‘aalameen.