On the authority of Umar ibnul Khattaab – may Allah be pleased with him – he said: I heard the Messenger of Allah – peace and blessings upon him – say:
“Indeed actions are only by their intentions – in another narration by their intention – and indeed for every person is only that which they intend, so whosoever’s migration was to Allah and His Messenger then his migration is to Allah and His Messenger. And whosoever’s migration was for a worldly benefit or to marry a woman then his migration is for that which he migrated to.”
[Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
Imaam As-Saa’dee explains:
“Indeed actions are only by their intention”
Meaning an action without an intention is unimaginable and as for appearance of an action being present without an intention then this is not called an action; that is like the action of a sleeping person or a crazy person (i.e. they are not in control of their actions); whereas the “aaqil” (person of sound intellect), it is unimaginable that he performs an action without an intention.
Due to this Al-Muwaffaq – may Allah’s Mercy be upon him – said: “If Allah was to burden us with (performing) actions without an intention, indeed this would be a hardship which would be unbearable.”
“And indeed for every person is only that which they intend”
i.e. the reward a man gains is in accordance to his intention. If it was good then (his reward) is good and if it was bad then (his recompense) is bad.
And the meaning of intention is: intent and desire and its place is in the heart and it is not permissible to pronounce it for any action and this was by consensus of the scholars of the Muslims. However some of those who came later from the scholars of the Shaafi’ees held it to be recommended. And that which is correct is that pronouncing the intention is an innovation (in the religion).
There are two levels for intention: intention of the action, and intention for the one who the action is done for.
As for intention of the action then this also has two levels: firstly distinguishing worship from customs/habits, and secondly distinguishing acts of worship, one from another.
As for intention for the one the action is done for, it is that the performer of the action intends by way of his action the Face of Allah – The Most High – and the abode of the Hereafter, herein is where the creation differs a differing which none knows except Allah. (i.e. only Allah knows what is in the hearts).
Mankind is rewarded in accordance to His intention (even) if the action was impossible for him and it had been from his intention that if there was not an excuse he would have performed the action; as the Messenger – peace and blessings upon him – said
“Whoever is sick or a traveler, written for him is that which he used to do when he was well and a resident. (i.e. he still receives the reward).”
Some of the scholars said if I was to author a book on fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) I would begin every chapter from its chapters with this hadeeth of Umar – may Allah be pleased with him.
As intention enters into all of the categories of fiqh, because it is a condition for all actions, and that which is of consequence is in the heart not what is pronounced upon the tongue, (especially) if it opposes that which is in the heart regarding acts or worship, transactions and all agreements.
From: Sharh Umdatul Ahkaam pages 39-40 by Imaam As-Saa’dee – Translated by Abu Abdir Razzaaq Amjad