This guest post comes to us from Makkah Ali, mediator by training and peace and justice advocate by nature. Each year she writes a Ramadan reflection (I know it’s no longer Ramadan, bear with me I’m late ya’ll but these things are always relevant) and she has graciously agreed to share her thoughts on the act of intention, niyyah, and sincerity, ikhlas.
This year, as Ramadan was rapidly approaching, the one thing that was on my mind was the concept of intentionality. Why do we do what we do? What is our motivation? What do we hope to get out of it? Are we transparent about those intentions?
In Islam, making intentions (niyyah) is the top requirement before you do anything—including in one’s work, pursuit of knowledge, speech, silence, prayer, and of course—fasting. In Islam, those who complete all of their daily actions as a form of worship are highly regarded. This way of living, with sincerity and purity of intention, is known in Arabic as Ikhlas.
Before every fast, I make intentions to complete that very act and I give some thought to what I hope to get and give from that day and why I hope to complete the fast. A person’s intentions are meant to give importance to his/her motives and objectives, so being aware of them from the get go serves as a warning to ensure that one’s intentions are pure and not for the sake of one’s own ego. Intentions are so important in Islam, that it is said that each person will be rewarded according to their intention. In other words, if you honestly from the bottom of your heart 100% mean to do something for reasons beyond your own selfish gain (like to help others because you know that will please God), but for some reason you forget to or are unable to complete the task, you will still be granted the blessings of having completed the task because of the sincerity of your intentions. Pretty crazy, huh?
Why do we do what we do? What is our motivation? What do we hope to get out of it? Are we transparent about those intentions?
Being aware of my intentions has also made it very difficult for me to passively live my life. If I’m only doing something because someone told me to do it (not because I believe it is a good thing to do or because I understand its importance), then the process of making my intentions brings that to the front of my mind and causes me to question whether I need to do a bit more digging before completing the task. The act of making intentions has allowed me to know myself a bit better, has given me a better understanding of what motivates me and what turns me off, and has helped me to go through life as a slightly more authentic version of myself.
During these long summer Ramadan days, when it takes a little extra effort to complete even the simplest of tasks because of my limited intake of food and beverage, I am forced to come to terms with my intentions many times throughout the day. It’s a nice reminder that sincerity is an important motivating factor in work, relationships, worship, and just about anything else you can think of. This may seem obvious to you, but as a generally sarcastic, occasionally cynical, optimistically pessimistic lady such as myself, sincerity is usually the last thing on my mind.
So this Ramadan, in addition to the standard “be better at life” goal that I have, I’m working on being a little more intentional about the way I live my life, what I put in my body, the company I keep, and the words I speak. If I can’t incorporate sincerity into my own life, how can I expect sincerity from others? If any of you have any experience trying to be a bit more sincere, I’d love to hear about your experiences.
If you were celebrating Ramadan, how would you incorporate intentionality and sincerity into your day to day life? Do you think the act of making intentions could enhance any aspects of your work/life planning/friendships? If you were to make intentions for how you would like to live your life as a whole, what would you hope to give to others and what would you hope to get from your time here on this earth?