All in the Intention, Right?
Have we forgotten the meaning of Islam, or worse yet, the very purpose of our existence? Islam means to submit. We live to submit to the will of Allah. And not just to the degree we choose to, we are talking complete submission to His every decree in every aspect of our lives. Yet all too often, we get ahead of our religion and feel capable enough to draw the line ourselves – the line that defines sin, the one we must not cross. How often do we hear people justifying the sins they commit in the name of their “intention”? “Oh, I know I’m a good person, I don’t mean any harm.” “Islam is all about intention.” “I don’t have bad intentions, so it’s ok.”
Have we forgotten the meaning of Islam, or worse yet, the very purpose of our existence? Islam means to submit. We live to submit to the will of Allah. And not just to the degree we choose to, we are talking complete submission to His every decree in every aspect of our lives. Yet all too often, we get ahead of our religion and feel capable enough to draw the line ourselves – the line that defines sin, the one we must not cross. Time and again, this line is based entirely on whether our “intention” for a particular action is good or bad. Rather than following the laws prescribed to us by our Creator, we effectively allow our unqualified selves to decide what is acceptable and what isn’t. Escaping the laws of Islam by justifying wrongdoings in this way has almost become an art.
There are Muslims today of all ages attending gatherings of the unlawful kind, whether this consists of an atmosphere of music and dancing or simply a corporate dinner where alcohol is being served and consumed. They feel it is ok as long as they themselves do not drink or dance. Those who shake hands with the opposite gender feel they can because they have no evil intentions in doing so. Some may deem it acceptable to purchase products from companies who support Israel, as they are simply interested in the product and do not intend to “get involved in politics”. In any case, intentions are “good” or “pure”, and that is all that seems to matter.
What needs to be reinforced here is the concept of Fiqh (jurisprudence) and the absolutely critical role it plays in the religion of Islam. Take the example of a wife who donated all her husband’s property and wealth to the poor after he had died. Despite all the good she had intended in doing so, she ultimately earned hellfire because she lacked the knowledge of Fiqh – that her husband’s belongings must be distributed to his heirs according to the laws of inheritance. Lacking proper knowledge of Fiqh and/or failing to adhere to its laws can lead to terrible consequences, even when performing a good deed with the very best of intentions.
As Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (peace be upon him) said, “Learn the laws of Haram and Halal, unless you are of the ignorant ones.” Lacking knowledge of Islamic laws does not exempt us from our obligation to follow them. We learn this from the story of the man who sold fish without scales in the marketplace of Kufa. When Imam Ali (peace be upon him) was punishing him for breaking the law (since only fish that have scales are considered lawful in Islam), the man pleaded that he had no idea about this ruling and begged to be forgiven. But instead of excusing the fishmonger for his ignorance, the Imam actually doubled the punishment – the first one for breaking the law, the second one for not bothering to learn the law!
Imam Ali has also said, “Surely, the completion of religion is due to the obtaining of knowledge and acting on it (accordingly), and beware that the obtaining of knowledge is more obligatory for you than earning wealth.” (Al-Kafi) Thus, in order to ensure that we remain within the bounds of Islam, it is imperative that we improve our knowledge of Fiqh and make every effort to apply it regularly in our lives. Some may feel that such strict adherence to each and every Islamic ruling is extreme or is asking for too much. However, these laws have been laid down for us for a reason. If we have complete faith in Allah, we will soon appreciate the fact that abiding by His decree will only benefit us and disobedience will only bring us harm – in ways we may not even be aware of.
A practicing and God-fearing Muslim will consequently act in accordance with Islam’s rules, and when (s)he promises to submit to the will of Allah, (s)he will do exactly that. We see such conviction beautifully displayed by Lady Zainab (peace be upon him) on the day of Ashura. When the tents of the Ahlul Bayt were burned and the holy ladies were stripped of their Hijabs, she approached Imam Zainul Abideen (peace be upon him) and asked if the women should stay inside the tents and get burned or go outside with their heads uncovered. Even in a life-and-death situation, she made sure to be acting upon the laws of Islam rather than basing the decision on her “good intention” to save their lives. Such unreserved submission shows that we really have no excuse in violating the rules prescribed to us, not even the excuse of intending to do no bad.