I understand the intention for the obligation of wudu must start as soon as the water touches the face as washing the face is the first obligatory integral, however what does one intend when one starts off by washing the hands, mouth, and nose? And how does one intend? What if you do not intend anything when washing the hands, mouth, and nose? As well what if one has wudu but would like to renew it? In that case what should one intend when the water touches the face, should one just intend the following: “I intend to renew my wudu” or does one intend to do the obligation of wudu?
What one should understand firstly is that the niyyah is not a prescribed formula to be recited. Rather, it is a consciousness of purpose that occurs in the mind. In this sense, the niyyah is—
· firstly, the identification of the act one is undertaking: “I am making wudu;”
· and secondly, the reason for undertaking it: “I am making wudu in order to be able to perform salah.”
The niyyah, which is understood as this specific consciousness of purpose, ought in principle to exist in the mind for the entire duration of the wudu. However, the human mind can be a very fickle thing, with ideas constantly flitting in and out, with the result that one loses acute focus on your niyyah. In consideration hereof the fuqaha of our madhhab stipulate that the niyyah must be present in the mind (and not necessarily on the tongue), at the very least, at the moment of undertaking the first fard, which is washing the face. Should it recede from the mind thereafter, its recession would overlooked. (Rawdat al-Talibin 1:158)
Having the niyyah at the very beginning of the wudu, when the hands are washed, is fine too. It is, in fact, the better option—since one would then be rewarded for all the sunnahs preceding the face—provided that one then does not lose acute consciousness of it before washing the face. If this happens, and acute consciousness of the act and purpose recede from the mind somewhere between washing the hands and the face, the niyyah would have to be reformed in the mind when washing the face. (Rawdat al-Talibin 1:158)
As stated, the niyyah is not a formula but a consciousness of purpose in the mind. As such, it does not take the form of specific words. Where it becomes difficult to form it the mind, our fuqaha have allowed it to be verbally expressed. This is where we find formulas like “nawaytu farda l-wudu” (I intend the fard of wudu). Do note that the usage of verbal formulas like this is not in itself part of the Sunnah. The verbal expression of the niyyah, where recommended, is meant only to assist in fulfilling the Sunnah expressed in the hadith “Innama l-a’malu bi l-niyyat” (Deeds are considered by their intentions).
Making the niyyah verbally is thus more of a “crutch” to the mind than an independent sunnah. Accordingly, just as a healthy person would not need a crutch, a person who is able to maintain his mental focus on his purpose should not bother with pronouncing any sort of formula. The locus of the niyyah is the mind, and as long as the mind remains acutely conscious of the niyyah, verbal pronouncement is redundant.
If the niyyah has been properly understood as consciousness of purpose, it ought to become clear that there is really no real need for a variety of different formulations of the niyyah. The same type of niyyah that suffices for a fard wudu (i.e. the consciousness of making wudu in order to make salah, for example) would suffice for a renewal of wudu.
The same goes for the niyyah which is formed at the beginning of the wudu as opposed to the niyyah upon washing the face: there is no need to change from nawaytu farda l-wudu to nawaytu sunnata l-wudu. In the matter of formulating the niyyah—for those who need to formulate one—one would be better advised to stick to a simple “one size fits all” formula. Using a variety of formulations, and an overemphasis on using the verbal “crutch” tends, ironically, to exacerbate the very problem which the aid of verbal pronouncement sought to alleviate. That problem is confusion in the mind and the lack of mental focus and composure.
And Allah Knows Best
Answered by Shaykh Taha Karaan