April 27, 2020
The Islamic intellectual tradition places great value the concept of intention. Acts, as all Muslims will know, are judged according to their intentions — to the point that often, if intention is absent, then acts of worship are invalid, or at least bereft of reward. There’s an additional element to this, however: if an intention is sincerely and genuinely made, then even if the act cannot be carried out, the one intending it may yet receive the reward for that action.
This a valuable reminder to Muslims, particularly during this Ramadan — because many Muslims will be yearning to engage in congregational worship, and yet they know they cannot do as they might have done so under usual circumstances. But even as they yearn, the sages of Islam remind Muslims that the correct response to their yearning is not to despair or be saddened; rather, they ought to do what they can, and they should intend that had they been able to engage in such congregational practices, they would have done so. As such, by the mercy of the Divine, they might yet be exposed to the spiritual refreshment of God that would accrue as a result.
More than that: at the dawn of Ramadan, it is always advisable, according to those same sages, to begin the month with a wide and expansive intention. That intention should not be simply to leave aside those things that invalidate the practice of the fast, such as food and drink during daylight hours — but to go further. Such sages advise: intending to seek nearness to the Divine; sincerely repenting for any wrongs they might have committed, against themselves or against others; to exemplify good character and uphold virtue; and to pray they might ascend closer and closer to the Divine presence.
Many might be tempted to quietly grumble, reminding themselves of the difficulties they face as a result of the pandemic’s restrictions in so many places around the world. And over recent days and weeks, sages and scholars of the Muslim community will remind them: Do you doubt the blessings of the Lord? Do you put limits on how His bounty might come upon you? A tribulation may be upon you — but perhaps that tribulation will contribute to the raising of your rank, if you would choose it to be as such. The choice is ours.
Dr H.A. Hellyer, a noted academic, author and analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (United States) and the Royal United Services Institute (UK), is also a professorial fellow at Cambridge Muslim College (UK), and Senior Scholar at Azzavia Institute (South Africa), where he will be teaching from the traditional Islamic canon.
Source: ABC & Religion Ethics