" إِنَّمَا الْأَعْمَالُ بِالنِّيَّاتِ وَإِنَّمَا لِكُلِّ امْرِئٍ مَا نَوَى"
"Deeds gain value according to the intention behind them. Everyone will get his recompense according to his intention."
(Bukhari, Faith 41)
"Intention" and "recompense" are the key concepts in this hadith. Intention means "an internal urge, factor, motivation or purpose that compels people to act and directs them to action." Intention is the answer to the questions, "Why did I do this? Why am I doing this? And why will I do this?"
When intention is particularly taken into consideration, it means planning and considering in your heart the objective and purpose of the action to be taken and the reason for turning to action. When generally considered, it is the mental event that expresses the purpose and goal of one's life philosophy and the spirit that gives meaning to life and actions. For this reason, intentions are the factors that give direction to life and the values that are placed in the center of the purpose of life.
Having intention is programming life and living every moment consciously and purposefully. Having intention does not mean living haphazardly or randomly; it is living with awareness.
Having intention means calculating the correctness of a step before you take it. Most negative things we encounter stem from our living without intention and leaving life to chance. Living with intention means congruence and compatibility overlap with the intention of events; living without intention is ripe with chance. For those who live like this, events dominate their lives, not their own will.
There is an irrevocable connection between intention and living. While the purpose of life and philosophy determine the color of intention, intention determines the color, direction and course of life. For example, a Muslim's purpose in life is obvious in a general sense. A Muslim who lives consciously shapes every action according to his purpose in life and intention. In every action there is a voluntary choice to take into consideration Allah and the hereafter. If one does not or can not do this, he will have strayed from his intention and purpose.
Whether in Allah's presence or according to the evaluations of others, every action takes on value according to its intention and finds recompense according to its intention. While the results of two actions look the same on the physical plane, they can lead to different results, different values, and different recompense when looked at from farther away. Obviously, a visit made by someone who "stopped by while I was in the neighborhood" and a visit made by someone who "came especially to see you" do not have the same value in the eyes of the person visited.
Just as values determining action aimed at Allah's approval and values determining action by someone who only aims for worldly happiness from life are not the same, they do not lead to the same result either. While the first bases every step on principles compatible with Allah's will and approval, the other tries to obtain only more happiness, without being too careful about the path he follows.
Since in reality turning to any action is not without a purpose, tying it to a higher purpose is an expression of a virtuous life. In this hadith, by indicating that actions will find value and recompense according to intention, the Prophet teaches our sub-consciousness not to live purposelessly and, by purifying our intentions, to tie our goals to lofty purposes.
Which goals are lofty? Since our lives and deaths are for Allah's sake (Al-An'am 6:162), every intention and action aimed at Allah's approval is high. And its reward is great. The objective of value and recompense being given to deeds according to intention is to direct people towards lofty purposes.
Even eating, drinking and sleeping are worship for those who have programmed their lives with their intentions and tied their purposes to lofty values. For life and death are for Allah's sake.
A life dedicated to Allah can not be lived without being contemplated, intended and programmed. Consciously haram is avoided, injustice is not made, and the purpose of creation is not deviated from. For haram is not done "for Allah's sake." Allah's approval is sought in every action taken.
Two people taking the same action can receive opposite recompense due to the difference in intention. "Regardless of whether you reveal or hide your intentions, Allah knows it and will take you to account for it. (Later according to the action and its intention) He will forgive as He wishes and punish as He wishes. Allah's power suffices for everything." (Al-Baqara, 2:284)
Everyone getting reward according to his intention emphasizes that worship made or a service performed that is commended by everyone might be faultless in appearance, but if the worship and good service are not made with a sincere intention and for the purpose of gaining Allah's approval, they have no value before Allah even if they were beneficial to others. He is in the center of everything. There is no value of any action the face and purpose of which are not directed towards Allah and which does not flow towards Him. All actions find existence with Him, and gain meaning with Him.
"Whoever wants profit in the hereafter, We will increase his profit. Whoever wants profit in this world, We will give worldly profit, but he will not have a share in the hereafter." (Al-Shura, 42:20)
In summary, it can be said that no action is without a purpose. In that case, actions should be tied to lofty, transcendent purposes and values. When done so, every moment that does not contradict the Creator's will shall be recorded as a plus and a merit in the believer's account and will appear as a reward on Doomsday.