Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala says:

Whoever desires the life of this world and its adornments – We fully repay them for their deeds therein, and they therein will not be deprived. 
They are those for whom there is nothing in the Hereafter but Fire;  And lost is what they did therein, and worthless is what they used to do.
[Surat Hud: Aayah 15]

The Salaf-us-Saalih have commented on this verse:

Al-`Awfi reported that Ibn `Abbas RadhiAllahu ‘Anhu said concerning this verse, “Verily those who show off, will be given their reward for their good deeds in this life. This will be so that they are not wronged, even the amount equivalent to the size of the speck on a date-stone.” Ibn `Abbas Radhi Allahu ‘Anhu continued saying, “Therefore, whoever does a good deed seeking to acquire worldly gain – like fasting, prayer, or standing for prayer at night – and he does so in order to acquire worldly benefit, then Allah says, `Give him the reward of that which he sought in the worldly life,’ and his deed that he did is wasted because he was only seeking the life of this world. In the Hereafter he will be of the losers.”

Mujahid and others said, “This verse was revealed concerning the people who perform deeds to be seen.”

Qatadah said, “Whoever’s concern, intention and goal is this worldly life, then Allah will reward him for his good deeds in this life. Then, when he reaches the next life, he will not have any good deeds that will be rewarded. However, concerning the believer, he will be rewarded for his good deeds in this life and in the Hereafter as well.”

[The commentary above was taken from Tafseer Ibn Kathir]

Let’s focus on those golden words above once again to understand that Qatadah Rahimahullah is talking about two people, who are doing absolutely the SAME deed, but one wins only in this world and the other wins both here and in the hereafter:

Person 1:

“Whoever’s concern, intention and goal is this worldly life, then Allah will reward him for his good deeds in this life. Then, when he reaches the next life, he will not have any good deeds that will be rewarded.”

Person 2:

“Concerning the believer, he will be rewarded for his good deeds in this life and in the Hereafter as well.”

Take the example from Part 1 of this topic where the wealthy man spent his provision in the path of Allah, and yet he will be thrown into the hell fire. The other man whose provision was half a date that he spent in charity, is likely to be saved from the fire. Both men are doing the SAME deed of spending and yet one excels only in this world while the other excels both in this world and in the hereafter. Half a date of charity outweighed a lifetime of accumulated wealth. The intention made the difference.

Your intention is such an important aspect of your deed that you can use to invest EVERYTHING that you do here in this world and gain reward in the hereafter, even acts that you may not consider to be worship towards Allah such as: sleeping, eating, playing football, going to the gym, cooking, painting. How, you ask? Where is the proof from the Qur’an and Sunnah you ask? Let us explore the topic of intention (sincerity towards Allah) a bit more and truly realize how broad it is and what we are missing out on.

The famous hadeeth on niyyah

The Commander of the Faithful, Umar ibn al-Khattab, relates that he heard Allah’s Messenger (Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam) say:

“Actions are but by intentions and every man will have only what he intended. So whoever emigrated for Allah and His Messenger, then his emigration was for Allah and His Messenger. And whoever emigrated to attain something of this world or to marry a woman, then his emigration was for whatever reason he emigrated.”

[Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim]

This hadeeth is so important that Imam Al-Bukhari chose to record this as the very first hadeeth in the famous Sahih Al-Bukhari.
Imam As-Shafi`i said: “This hadeeth contains a third of knowledge. It applies to seventy distinct branches of Islamic Law.”
Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal said that this hadeeth is one of three that covers the principles of Islam.

The background of the hadeeth is as follows: 

When the believers were migrating from Makkah to Madinah, some Muslims immigrated for the love and pleasure of Allah. But others migrated for worldly gain.

It is related that a man sought the hand of a woman called Umm Qays. She refused to marry him unless he undertook the emigration to Madinah. So he made the emigration and married her in Madinah. He became known as “the emigrant to Umm Qays”.

Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, in his commentary on Sahih al-Bukhari entitled Fath al-Bari, asserts that the story of the “emigrant to Umm Qays” is authentic. In fact, its chain of transmission fulfills all of the conditions of authenticity set forth by al-Bukhari and Muslim. However, Ibn Hajar also points out that there is no evidence to indicate that the Prophet (Sallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam) was referring to this incident when he said “Actions are but by intentions…”

In any case, this hadeeth is general in its meaning relating in some way to every action that has or should have an intention behind it.

So we see two men, both migrating to the city of Madinah. Both undertaking the tedious, weary task of giving up their nice comfortable homes that they lived in for so long, leaving behind wealth and possession, a fantastic secure job, then taking the trouble of travelling for many hundreds of miles to get to a destination that was completely new to them and could possibly be the beginning of a tough time to settle in. Both these men are going through the SAME thing. But one gains the reward of Allah and the other doesn’t. One wins and the other loses. Isn’t that astonishing? What makes the difference? The intention. One did it for the pleasure of Allah. The other for a woman.

The winner converted his action to worship by a simple intention in the heart to please Allah.

So the lesson here is that: the famous hadeeth on niyyah is not just for established acts of worship in our shariah, like fasting or praying. Rather this hadeeth is for any permissible deed that we do. This is what Ahmad ibn Hanbal understood from the hadeeth, because he said: “I prefer that when anyone does any deed – whether it be prayer, fasting, or charity, or whether it be any other kind of virtuous deed – he should have his intentions always precede his actions, for the Prophet (Sallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam) said: ‘Actions are but by intentions…’.”

The important lesson above is stressed in the following quote by Sheikh Salih Al-Munajjid:

It should be noted that intentions are of two types [1]:

1 – Obligatory intention, without which an act of worship is not valid, such as the intention in doing wudoo’, praying, paying zakah (obligatory alms), fasting and doing Hajj (Pilgrimage). This intention is something that no one can do without. When you pray, you already have an intention in your heart. It is difficult for a person to forget to form the intention in such cases.

2 – The second type of intention is that which is mustahabb (preferable) in order to attain reward. This is what some people forget, which is to keep the intention in mind when doing permissible things, so that they will be acts of worship, such as eating, drinking and sleeping with the intention of strengthening oneself to do acts of worship, as the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:

“You will never spend anything that you spend for the sake of Allah, but you will be rewarded for it, even the morsel of food that you put in your wife’s mouth.”

Narrated by al-Bukhari (56)

And similarly, the Messenger of Allah Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam said to Sa`d bin Abi Waqqas Radhi Allahu ‘Anhu:

“You will not spend charity with which you seek Allah’s Face, but you will ascend a higher degree and status because of it, including what you put in your wife’s mouth.”

Saheeh Al-Bukhari and Muslim, as noted in Tafsir Ibn Kathir under Aayah 2:274

It should also be noted that:

1) Your niyyah needs to precede your action.

2) The niyyah is in the heart.

Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah said “The intention of purifying oneself by doing wudoo’ ghusl or tayammum, of praying, fasting, paying zakaah, offering kaffarah (expiation) and other acts of worship does not need to be uttered verbally, according to the consensus of the imaams of Islam. Rather the place of intention is the heart, according to the consensus among them. If a person utters something by mistake that goes against what is in his heart, then what counts is what he intended, not what he said.” [2]

3) A person’s intention should be comprised of:

A– That he is performing the specific act of worship, like wudoo’, salah, zakah etc. (This is important because you cannot make the intention after the act of worship. For e.g. you take a shower and then after you finish you cannot make the intention that you performed ghusl and expect reward from it).
B– That he’s performing it for the sake of Allah
C– That he’s performing the act of worship so as to fulfill the command of Allah

This is the complete intention (Allah knows best).

[Sharh Riyadh Us Saliheen by Shaikh ibn ‘Uthaymeen (1/14)]

How doing the same deed made one a winner and the other a loser

Now let us see some more examples of how the same deed made people winners and others losers because one intended by the deed to seek the pleasure of Allah and the other didn’t.

Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala says:

“There is no good in most of their secret talks save (in) him who orders Sadaqah (charity in Allah’s Cause), or Ma’ruf (Islamic Monotheism and all the good and righteous deeds which Allah has ordained), or conciliation between mankind, and he who does this, seeking the good Pleasure of Allah, We shall give him a great reward.”
[Surat An-Nisaa’: 114]

Ibn Rajab comments on this verse:

Allah describes enjoining alms giving, goodness, and reconciliation as good deeds in and of themselves. This is because such deeds benefit the people. However, Allah only promises a reward to those who carry out these deeds “seeking the good pleasure of Allah”. Therefore, if a person performs these good and beneficial deeds for the sake of Allah, then the deeds will be good for him as well as for those who benefit from his deeds. If he had other ulterior motives, then these deeds will be of no good for him. [Jami` al-`Ulum wa al-Hikam]

Similarly,  using Ibn Rajab’s words again, the deed such as going to the gym may be a good deed in and of itself because you may do it to improve your health and stay fit. However, Allah only promises a reward to those who carry out this deed “seeking the good pleasure of Allah”.

You can just about place any good deed in the underlined part above and it will still hold true. Lets try again.

A deed such as sleeping may be a good deed in and of itself because you may do it to  relieve yourself from the hardships of the day. However, Allah only promises a reward to those who carry out this deed “seeking the good pleasure of Allah”.

See? It is that simple. It requires you to be attentive of Allah in your actions all the time, whether you’re sitting, moving, at your work place, with your family, with your friends, whatever and wherever. As Allah says:

Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding. Those who remember Allah (always, and in prayers) standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and think deeply about the creation of the heavens and the earth, (saying): “Our Lord! You have not created (all) this without purpose, glory to You! (Exalted be You above all that they associate with You as partners).
Then protect us from the punishment of the Fire.

[Surat Aal ‘Imran: Aayahs 190-191]

Mu’adh (may Allah be pleased with him) said:

I sleep and I get up (to pray at night), and I seek reward for my sleep as I seek reward for my getting up.

Narrated by al-Bukhari (4088)

He (may Allah be pleased with him) sought reward for his sleep just as he sought reward for his getting up to pray at night, because he intended by sleeping to gain strength to do acts of worship.

Al-Hafiz Ibn Hajar said in al-Fath: What this means is that he sought reward by resting just as he sought reward by striving, because if the intention in resting is to enable one to do acts of worship, one attains reward.[1]

So why can’t we make the same intention when we work, play football, cook food, wash ourselves or whatever, to be sincere to Allah and seek reward through it? Take each of the deeds just mentioned and relate it to the hereafter:

Work: Hasn’t the Prophet Sallalahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam commanded us numerous times to work for our provision, one being in the following hadeeth :

It was narrated that ‘Aishah RadhiAllahu ‘Anha said:
“The Messenger of Allah said:
“The best (most Pure) food that a man eats is that which he has earned himself.”
Sunan an-Nasa’i 4449
In-book reference : Book 44, Hadith 1
English translation : Vol. 5, Book 44, Hadith 4454

In another hadeeth:

Ka`b ibn `Ujarah رضي الله عنه said: “A man passed by the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم and his Companions were impressed by the man’s strength and energy. They said: ‘O Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم, if only this was for the sake of Allah!’
The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم said:

❝If he goes out to work for the sake of his young children, he is striving for the sake of Allah;
if he goes out to work for the sake of his aged parents, he is striving for the sake of Allah;
if he goes out to work to keep himself from having to beg, he is striving for the sake of Allah;
but if he goes out to work for the purposes of showing off and boasting, then he is striving in the way of the Shaytaan.❞

[Al-Tabaraanee in al-Kabeer (282) and in al-Sagheer (940) and graded as “Saheeh li-ghairihi” by Shaikh al-Albaanee in Saheeh al-Targheeb (1692 & 1959) and in as-Saheehah (2232) from the Hadeeth of Abu Hurairah]

Most of us have a Monday to Friday fixed hours job that we get up for about 70% of the times in a week. We get up to go to work, why can’t we go to work to worship Allah? A simple sincere conscious intention towards seeking the pleasure of Allah is all that is required.

Say you are a doctor. Abu ‘Aisha Amjad writes [3],

“The Muslim doctor should hope for Allah’s reward and good recompense.  He (or she) should be sincere to Allah in his (or her) profession and should not practice medicine only for his (or her) status to be acknowledged. Rather he (or she) should be sincere and hope for Allah’s reward.* Alqamah Ibn Waqqaas Al-Laythiy said: I heard Umar Ibn Al-khattaab (radiyallaahu-‘anhu) saying whilst on the minbar: I heard the Messenger of Allah (sallal-laahu-‘alayhi-wasallam ) saying:

إنما الأعمال بالنيات وإنما لكل امرئ ما نوى فمن كانت هجرته إلى الله ورسوله فهجرته إلى الله ورسوله ومن كانت هجرته لدنيا يصيبها أو امرأة ينكحها فهجرته إلى ما هاجر إليه

“Actions are (judged) by intentions and every person will have what he intended. So he whose migration was to Allah and His Messenger, his migration is to Allah and His Messenger. And he whose migration was for some worldly (gain) or for a woman to marry, then his migration is to that for which he migrated.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]

Why don’t we think about the above before we go to work? All it requires is a sincere intention and then Allah will reward us even whilst we are typing away on a computer or performing a heart surgery or whatever our job is, because our intention was to please Him alone.

Play football: Hasn’t the Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam commanded us in numerous places to stay fit, healthy and strong, one of which is:

“A strong believer is better and is more lovable to Allah than a weak believer.”

In-book reference : Sahih Muslim, Book 46, Hadith 52
USC-MSA web (English) reference : Book 33, Hadith 6441

Why don’t we think about this before we start exercising or going to the gym or playing for physical fitness. All we have to do is form a sincere intention towards Allah to please Him abiding by the commandments He gave us to follow Himself for taking care of our-selves. And then we can enjoy both this time of keeping ourselves healthy in this world and also reap reward in the hereafter because we converted our action into worship for the sake of Allah.

Cook Food: Hasn’t Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’la said:

O you who have believed, eat from the good things which We have provided for you and be grateful to Allah if it is [indeed] Him that you worship.

[Surat Al-Baqarah: Aayah 172]

Why don’t we think about this before we start cooking or eating, why don’t we think about wanting to please Allah, forming an intention and then proceeding with the action and gaining numerous reward at the same time in this world and hereafter as opposed to the one who starts the deed without being conscious of Allah and thus not benefiting from the time and effort that he/she spends cooking and eating?

Washing ourselves: Hasn’t the Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam taught us by his actions to clean ourselves, one incident being:

“The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) used to relieve himself, then another boy and I would bring a vessel of water and a short spear [to use as a sutrah for the prayer he was going to do after doing wudoo’] and he would cleanse himself with the water.”

Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 149; Muslim, 271

Why don’t we think about this action of cleansing that the Prophet Sallallahu ‘alayhi wa Sallam did before entering the bathroom, reciting the du’aas that he Sallallahu ‘alayhi wa Sallam has taught us to say before entering the bathroom, forming an intention to please Allah to clean ourselves for His sake and His pleasure because the Prophet Sallallahu ‘alayhi wa Sallam used to clean himself and thus gain the reward of Allah and His Blessings, Mercy and Victory in this world and the hereafter?

These are just some deeds that we do everyday. We do many more and by Allah! we will find something in the Qur’an or Sunnah guiding us and telling us how to go about doing it.

Do you see how Allah has guided us in every single matter of our lives from prayer to professional work to how to clean ourselves in the bathroom to physical fitness? Allah has showed us how His religion is comprehensively part of everything that we do here in this world and how we can relate everything to Him and seek His pleasure and gain great reward.

And why else would Allah tell us to say and remind ourselves that:

Say (O Muhammad Sallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam): “Verily, my Salat (prayer), my sacrifice, my living, and my dying are for Allah, the Lord of the ‘Alamin (mankind, jinns and all that exists).

[Surat Al-An’am: Aayah 162]

Allah has guided us in every aspect of our lives and has taught us how to relate everything that we do with seeking His pleasure and the Hereafter. And the one who doesn’t do so, is not mindful of Allah in all his activities and therefore has no sincerity or intention behind what he does and he just aimlessly does the deed, is surely in loss. This also goes for the people who don’t make an effort to know Allah and don’t invest the time to build a relationship with Allah that would have helped them to remember and want to please Allah all the time in whatever they do. Such people will surely be in loss in the hereafter. Which is why the great scholar Imaam lbn al-Qayyim Rahimahullah said:

“The lifespan of a person is the period of his life, and there is no life for the one who has turned away from the (worship) of Allah, and is occupied with other than Him, rather the life of the animals is better than his life. For indeed, a person’s life is by way of his heart and soul, and there is no life for a person’s heart except by having knowledge of its Creator, having love for Him, and worship of Him alone, turning to Him in repentance, having tranquility and comfort in His remembrance, and having delight in drawing closer to Him. So whoever is deprived of this life has indeed been deprived of goodness in its entirety. Rather there is nothing in this world with all that it has that could compensate for this life (of having knowledge of Allah, worshiping Him, and having delight in drawing closer to Him etc).

[Ad-Daa’ wad-Dawaa’ (pg. 201), Daar’Aalim al-Fawaaid print, 2nd edition]

Some practical steps in order for us to be mindful of Allah and seek reward from our deed with a sincere intention:

Sheikh Saalih Al-Munajjid writes:

“What helps to keep this intention in mind is:

Deliberating, thinking and not being hasty.

So you should think about what you are intending to do, take stock of yourself before acting, think about whether it is halaal or haraam (permissible or impermissible), then look at your intention:

What do you want from this?

Every time you take stock of yourself and think before acting, this will remind you about forming the intention, until it becomes second nature and a habit that you adopt, so that you will not enter or exit, eat or drink, give or withhold, without having an intention in doing so; thus most of your time will become times of worship.”[1]

To Conclude:

Allah says:

And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.
I do not want from them any provision, nor do I want them to feed Me.
Verily, Allah is the All-Provider, Owner of Power, the Most Strong.

[Surat Adh-Dhariyaat: Aayahs 56-58]

It is possible for you to worship Allah 24 hours a day. You are not worshiping Allah only when you are in the mosque. Your entire life can revolve around worship. You are here for the hereafter. You were given life because of worship. And your sincerity, your intention towards Allah will make the difference.

Please read part 1 of this topic here: Your Intention Makes the Difference Part 1

The Intention Makes the Difference Part 2

Resources used:

[1] https://islamqa.info/en/answers/95095/forgetting-intention

[2] https://islamqa.info/en/answers/13337/ruling-on-uttering-the-intention-niyyah-in-acts-of-worship

[3] https://salaficentre.com/2015/05/3-the-muslim-doctor-and-the-goal-behind-medicine/