Many of us would be surprised to discover how much of our thinking is based in existentialism and post-modern philosophy. We see Sartre’s gloom and despair everywhere. He tells us that what meaning there is in life, we must create. He leaves us feeling both responsible for our boredom and anxious about our inability to create meaning in the sink of dishes. In the Postmodern influence on our lives, we are presented with a situational ethic – a feeling that there is no real Truth. Hence all actions are subject to the litmus test of ‘it seems right’ as opposed to it is right.
Philosophy is not dangerous, but not realizing that philosophical notions affect us, is.
Islam gives us meaning just by being alive. In our very worship of God is the meaning of our life and therefore joy and happiness emanate from the life led in obedience to Him. We are not burdened with the creation of meaning, but rather with the fulfillment of our purpose – that of worshipper of God and His representative on the earth. We do not live a situational ethic, but rather an ethic that has survived for centuries, wherein upright moral character is right, and depraved, immoral character is wrong. We do not look to those who are behaving as criminals in the vacuum of this world, but rather in the larger picture of this world and the next.
As Muslims it is important to spend time teasing out our thinking. We must deeply examine our attitudes and deeds.
We find evidence of our deepest attitudes in our intentions, and they are manifested every day in our deeds.
The Prophet ﷺ said, “Actions are according to intentions, and everyone will get what was intended. Whoever migrates with an intention for Allah and His messenger, the migration will be for the sake of Allah and his Messenger. And whoever migrates for worldly gain or to marry a woman, then his migration will be for the sake of whatever he migrated for.” (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī)
My granddaughter is crawling. Put her on the floor and in two minutes she will be eating a bathroom slipper, picking up a tiny crumb from a floor that I thought was pristine, or climbing up a pile of books. She is exactly like an intention.
When we intend to do a good deed, attend a ḥalaqa for example, we place our intention ‘on the floor’. Soon it will crawl over to “”I’m going to ḥalaqa to meet my friends.” Or “I’m going to ḥalaqa so people will see how religious I am.” Or “I’m going to ḥalaqa so someone can see me and send me their brother/son/husband’s friend as a suitor.” Just like my granddaughter, our intention needs constant supervision.
Intention is the foundation of Islamic culture, life, and thought. Upon intention we have built great nations and glorious history. Upon intention that has ‘crawled away’ we have built oppressive nations and embarrassing histories. Our individual lives depend on intention as well.
Our worship life is what connects us to our ultimate purpose and every prayer must begin with a conscious intention in order for it to be valid. When particularly exhausted, I sometimes find myself intending to pray Fajr in the middle of the day, or ʿAṣr first thing in the morning. I usually get a little chuckle out of it, and then redo my intention and pray the appropriate prayer.
The Shawwāl fasts are always the time when women ask me if they can combine their intention for farḍ fasts with their intention for sunna fasts. Here the answer is no – because the obligation is different than that which is extra and therefore is a separate entity. (In matters of fiqh, one can benefit from the blessing of Shawwāl by fasting her farḍ /qaḍāʾ fasts in it in deference to the Prophet’s hadith ﷺ, “Whoever fasts Ramadan and follows it with six days of Shawwāl, it will be as if he fasted for a lifetime.” (Muslim and others) but it is not a majority view that one can combine intentions. There is a difference between benefitting from the blessings of the month, and combining our intentions. Each school deals with how to fast these days and when in slightly different ways.)
In upholding our khilāfāt, we must stand for what is right no matter who is doing it, and against what is wrong no matter who is doing it. We must find ourselves deeply rooted in Islamic attitudes of a yes and no and a right and wrong. This does not negate the difference of opinions within the fold of Islam, which is a mercy and a blessing. But there is a limit even to this. When actions go against the very base of ethical action and moral living – there is no room for disagreement. Intention is important here as well. Our intention must be firmly rooted in the pleasure of God, and as we struggle to hold it here, we must have awareness about the effects of our deeds. It is not acceptable to say, “My intention was good,” when you are hurting or oppressing another human being. Herein lies the essence of khilāfa. Intentionality that is rooted in God and belief, and consciousness that is aware of the effects of our actions to the extent that our senses allow.
In these difficult times, we must be very clear about the difference between our beliefs and the generally accepted attitudes of the larger culture. We must speak joyfully and confidently about the truth of God, hold tightly and vigilantly to our intentions, and act mindfully and selflessly at all times.
May Allah guide us to His Truth and our purpose.