The Place of the Intention (Niyyah)

The Place of the Intention (Niyyah)

According to ibn Taimiya, the scholars agree that the “place of the niyyah” is the heart or the conscience and it is not the tongue.[1] What this means is that making a statement is not the same thing as having an intention to do something. Therefore the innovation of saying, for example, “I have the intention to pray two rakats … ” is nonsensical. The Prophet (peace be upon him) never used to make such statements.[2]

Another example is the hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him), 

مَنْ لَمْ يُبَيِّتِ الصِّيَامَ مِنَ اللَّيْلِ فَلَا صِيَامَ لَهُ

“Whoever does not make the intention to fast during the night of Ramadhaan (for the next day) he will not be rewarded for the fast.”[3] This means that if one knows that the next day is a day of Ramadhaan and he knows that he is obliged to fast Ramadhaan and therefore his object is to fast the next day, then he has performed the “intention.” But if the same person were to state, “I intend to fast tomorrow…” yet in his heart he has no feeling or object to fast, then he has not, in fact, performed the intention. With respect to intention, what matters is what is in the heart. 

Some scholars say that it is preferred or recommended (Ar., mustahab) to actually silently pronounce the intention before beginning a particular deed. They agree that the heart is the place of the intention but they argue that silently stating the intention makes the person more aware of his own intention. To say that something is mustahab is a shareeah judgment. One may not call an act mustahab without some proof from the Quran and sunnah. Since there is no proof for silently stating the intention, it cannot be concluded that it is mustahab.[4]

A statement from al-Shafi’ee has been misinterpreted and has led some to believe that he preferred the stating of the intention before, for example, the prayers. When al-Shafi’ee stated the difference between the prayer and the inviolable state of the pilgrimage, he stated that the prayer begins with a statement; some people concluded that he meant the mentioning of the intention but this is incorrect. Actually, he was referring to the opening takbeer of the prayer.[5]

[Commentary on the Forty Hadith of al-Nawawi by Jamaal al-Din M. Zarabozo, Vol 1, p. 105]


[1] Quoted in al-Ashqar, Muqaasid, p. 1 15.

[2] The only possible exception is the case of Hajj. The scholars have discussed why that exception exists. See al-Sadlaan, al-Niyyah, vol. 2, pp. 28-29. 

[3] With that wording, this was recorded by al-Nasaai. According to al-Albaani, it is sahih. Al-Albaani, Saheeh al-Jaami, vol. 2, p. 1114. 

[4] See al-Ashqar, Muqaasid, pp. 125-126. 

[5] See Ibn Taimiya, Majmoo, vol. 18, p. 262. 

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