When we experiences changes and passages in our lives, they are always an ayah, or a sign for us. We have entered a new calendar year and many people use this time to make “new starts”.
Let’s think a bit about what it means to make an “intention” to change or do something new.
It is narrated on the authority of Amir al-Mu’minin (Leader of the Believers), Abu Hafs ‘Umar bin al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him), who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), say: “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.” [Related by Bukhari & Muslim]
When we want to make a new start we often keep our “intentions” (as we understand the word in English) in the realm of wishful thinking or an item on our bucket lists. But in Islam, an “intention” or “niyyah” is the sense of purpose and direction we have when we begin an action. It isn’t just an abstract or hypothetical thought we have about the future.
In fiqh, the first required action of rituals is that we make a clear intention as we begin to perform the action (such as wudu or salah). This signals that we have started. It is also meant to be decisive. So if one makes a conditional intention, that intention is invalid. For example: If you start your salah and internally you are thinking “if the pizza delivery man rings the doorbell while I’m praying I’ll stop praying and answer the door” then that is an invalid intention and therefore and invalid salah.
We can learn from the Islamic concept of “intention” by being proactive with our intentions this year. The act of hijrah the Prophet (S) used as an example of this Hadith is wonderful- remember that we start the Islamic calendar from the year of the Hijrah. And what is a Hijrah? It is an action of moving from one place to another. It is an active walk on a literal road.
Whatever road you want to walk- education, memorizing the Qur’an, eating healthier, exercising… put your foot on that road now. Don’t worry about what happens if you can’t do everything you wanted, as fast as you wanted.
Your intention becomes your identity, a state that you enter: When you put your foot on that road you can tell yourself “I am one who walks on this road”. “I am one who is memorizing the Qur’an”, “I am one who exercises”, “I am one who is studying for my degree.” If, as you walk on that road, you get stopped, you are STILL ON THE ROAD. “
You could be standing still on that road, sitting down on that road, lying down on that road… hey, you might even be face-down in the mud on that road- But you are STILL ON THE ROAD.
The Prophet (S) made two statements in the Hadith: That your actions, the things that you do, are taken according to their intentions and ALSO that you will get the reward of what you have made the intention and effort to do. So if you are on that road and you find yourself inching forward too slowly, or temporarily stopped in the middle- your intention is still active because you are STILL ON THE ROAD.
You might start a project like memorizing the Qur’an-and you will probably set a huge goal for yourself in the beginning. “I’ll memorize a page a day” you say. It works for a while but suddenly life gets complicated and some days you memorize only half a page, sometimes only a line or two and some days none at all. As long as you keep your intention active and your feet on that road, you are still “memorizing the Qur’an”. You are STILL ON THE ROAD.
Don’t think “I WAS memorizing the Qur’an but now I’m not” or “I WAS trying to eat healthier and now I’m not”. When you make an active intention, this is your identity. You know that you can slip in any small amount of memorizing or review every day even if it is only a minute or a line and this will not be wasted because it is still a small step forward on that road. You can make better food choices at one meal or for one day even if the rest of the days you are falling short. You can take a few classes even if you can’t carry a full course load. You can always take another step forward tomorrow. You are STILL ON THE ROAD.
Who do you want to be? Where do you want to go? Those goals are who you are in your deepest heart, your best self. Make your Hijrah toward Allah and His Messenger and the person you want to be for the sake of Allah.
Identify as your best self, make an active intention and set out on that road. “Everyone will get what they intend.”