Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Question: Is it valid to intend make two separate intentions for one two rakat prayer? For example, I would pray 2 rakats, but I would intend both salat al-tawba and tahajjud in that one 2 rakat prayer.
Answer: In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said,
“Actions are by their intentions, and each person shall only have what they intended.”
[Bukhari & Muslim]
Walaikum assalam wa rahmatullah,
Multiple intentions are valid for voluntary prayers; they have greater reward then a single intention, but less reward than performing each prayer separately.
Imam Abu Sa`id al-Khadimi quotes one of the commentators on the Tariqa al-Muhammadiyya of Imam Barkawi as saying,
“The benefit and reward of actions is multiplied through multiple intentions. An example of this is when one performs ritual ablution (wudu’) with the intention of performing prayer, reciting the Qur’an, maintaining one’s ritual ablution, and also a prostration of recital that is due on him.”
Then Imam Khadimi commented,
The detail of this is as follows:
If the multiple intentions are in means [wasa’il; f: those actions, such as ritual ablution, which are not sought in themselves but, rather, as a way to fulfil actions considered ends], then they are always permitted. An example of this is someone who performs a ritual bath (ghusl) on Friday intending to lift major ritual impurity as well as to fulfill the sunna of the Friday ritual bath (ghusl), they will have the reward of [both intending to lift the ritual impurity and] the sunna of the Friday ritual bath.
If the multiple intentions are in ends [maqasid; f: those actions outwardly sought in of themselves in the Shariah], then:
If it is between two supererogatory (nafl) actions, such as the sunna of Fajr and the mosque-greeting prayer (tahiyyat al-masjid), then it is valid.
If it is between two obligatory actions, or between an obligatory act and a supererogatory act (nafl or sunna), then there is detail regarding this. [Khadimi, al-Bariqa 2.113]
The detail is basically that one cannot lift two specific duties (such as the obligatory Zuhr prayer and the post-Zuhr sunna) by combining intentions. However, one can combine intentions between a specific duty and a general recommendation (such as joining between the intention of the obligatory Maghrib prayer, and to also intend the sunnas of wudu, greeting the mosque, istikhara, repentance prayer, and thankfulness prayer).
And Allah alone gives success.