Intention for fasting
The Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said: “Whoever does not make the intention before dawn (Fajr), there is no fast for him.”
[Sunan Abu Dawood, Al-Tirmidhi, Al-Nasaa’i - Classed as Sahih by Sh al-Albaani]
What is meant by the above Hadith is that whoever does not intend to fast and resolve to do so from the night before, his fast is not valid.
Intention is required for all obligatory fasts as the above Hadith proves; this is also due to the general statement of the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam): “Deeds (actions) are judged by their intentions.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
The scholars (may Allah have mercy upon them) have said that if the fast is an obligatory fast or a specific voluntary fasts, then the intention must be made during the (previous) night, before the time of Fajr (dawn) due to the above Hadith. As for general voluntary fasting, an intention may be made after the time of Fajr as the Sunnah of the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) indicates.
Some of the scholars (may Allah have mercy upon them) have also said, that it is sufficient for the fasting of the month of Ramadan to make one intention at the beginning of it, because even if the fasting person did not make an intention for every day the night before, that was his intention at the start of the month. But if the fasting is broken during the month due to a journey, or illness or the like, he must make a fresh intention, because he has broken it by abandoning the fast due to travel, illness or the like.
The intention (niyyah) is an action of the heart. The Muslim should resolve in his heart that he is going to fast tomorrow. It is not prescribed for him to utter it out loud and say, “I intend to fast” or “I will fast tomorrow” or other phrases that have been innovated by some people. The correct intention is when a person resolves in his heart that he is going to fast tomorrow.
Hence Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allah have mercy upon him) said in al-‘Ikhtiyaaraat’:
“If it crosses a person’s mind that he is going to fast tomorrow, then he has made the intention.”
The place of the intention is in the heart and it is not to be verbally uttered, Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allah have mercy upon him) was also asked about the intention when starting to do an act of worship such as praying etc., do we need to utter it verbally, such as saying, “I intend to pray, I intend to fast”?
He replied: “Praise be to Allah, The intention of purifying oneself by doing wudoo’ ghusl or tayammum, of praying, fasting, paying zakaah, offering kafaarah (expiation) and other acts of worship does not need to be uttered verbally, according to the consensus of the imams 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.
No one has mentioned any difference of opinion concerning this matter, except that some of the later followers of al-Shaafa’i expressed approval of that, but some of the leaders of this madhhab said that this was wrong. But in the dispute among the scholars as to whether it is mustahabb (recommended) to utter one’s intention, there are two points of view. Some of the companions of Abu Haneefah, al-Shaafa’i and Ahmad said that it is mustahabb to utter the intention so as to make it stronger.
Some of the companions of Maalik, Ahmad and others said that it is not mustahabb to utter it, because that is a bid’ah (innovation). It was not narrated that the Messenger of Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wasallam) or his Sahaabah (companions) did it or that he commanded anyone among his ummah to utter the intention. That is not known from any of the Muslims. If that had been prescribed then the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) and his companions would not have neglected it, as it has to do with worship which the ummah does every day and night.
This is the more correct view. Indeed, uttering the intention is of irrational thinking and falling short in religious commitment. In terms of falling short in religious commitment, that is because it is bid’ah (an innovation). In terms of irrational thinking, that is because it is like a person who wants to eat some food saying, “I intend to put my hand in this vessel, take out a morsel of food, put it in my mouth and chew it, then swallow it, and eat until I have had my fill.” This is sheer foolishness and ignorance.
Intention is connected to knowledge. If a person knows what he is doing then he has obviously made an intention. It cannot be imagined, if he knows what he wants to do, that he has not formed an intention.
The imams (may Allah have mercy upon them) are agreed that speaking the intention out loud and repeating it is not prescribed in Islam, rather the person who has made this a habit should be disciplined and told not to worship Allah by following bid’ah and not to disturb others by raising his voice.
In conclusion, the intention for fasting during Ramadan should be made from the night before. The place of the intention is the heart, and it means wanting to do that action and resolving to do it. Thus the intention is achieved. There is no need to utter any words; the intention should be in the heart. The intention should be to do that deed for the sake of Allah, so that the action will be sincere.
And Allah knows best!