Utterance of intention before Salat


When Muslims pray they start their prayer by uttering an intention (niyah). For example they say “I intend (nawayt) to observe the Fajr prayer, 2 raka’s for Allah”. My question is: Is it necessary to utter this intention before Salat? and if we don’t say it does that make our Salat void?


As always, the starting point for any enquiry is to determine whether there is a ruling in the Quran that makes it necessary or obligatory for us to declare the intention before we observe the Salat. The answer is no, there is no such ruling anywhere in the Quran. If that is the case, then we may enquire where did this custom come from and what is the real motive behind it?

The Quran states that the Salat is prescribed for specific times of the day (4:103). Those times are defined clearly in the Quran. Once the time for any Salat lapses the Salat is gone and it cannot be observed after its time. There is no concession given anywhere in the Quran for observing any Salat after its time has gone. If we miss any Salat, all what we can do is to ask for God’s forgiveness.

In contrast, there are various hadith which violate this Quranic rule by allowing believers to observe a missed Salat after its time! The following two hadith are examples:

Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 10, Number 571:

“Narrated Anas: The Prophet said, "If anyone forgets a prayer he should pray that prayer when he remembers it.”

Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 10, Number 572:

“Narrated Jabir: Umar came cursing the disbelievers (of Quraish) on the day of Al-Khandaq (the battle of Trench) and said, "I could not offer the 'Asr prayer till the sun had set. Then we went to Buthan and he offered the ('Asr) prayer after sunset, and then he offered the Maghrib prayer.”

As a result of this non Quranic concession, many Muslims who are out working during the day miss their daily Salat and then when they are back from work in the evening they pray all the missed prayers together in a “package deal” sort of thing!

This habit of praying several Salat after their prescribed time is probably the major reason why Muslims have found it necessary to utter this intention declaration, and it then became a custom before every Salat. When they are praying 3 or 4 prayers at the same time and in succession, they find it necessary to declare to God which prayer they are observing before they actually observe each one. So for example they would say “I intend to offer the Fajr prayer” then they observe the missed Fajr prayer. Then upon the completion of the Fajr prayer they would stand up and make a new declaration of intention for the next Salat by saying “I intend to offer the Zhuhr prayer” and so on. Maybe they are making sure that God would not be confused as to which Salat they are observing at any time!

Needless to say, if Muslims follow the law of God in the Quran, and observe each Salat only at its prescribed time, they would not need to make any declarations, for they can only be observing the one prayer which is due at that specific time. If a believer is praying at dawn the Fajr prayer, he/she can only be observing the Fajr prayer and not any other prayer so it is pointless to say “I intend to pray the Fajr prayer”, and the same with the other prayers.