Answered by Shaykh Hamza Karamali, SunniPath Academy Teacher
I read in al-Maqasid that one of the integrals of wudu is the intention. It says, “to have the intention (R: when one starts to was the face).”
If one, for example, goes into the bathroom with the intention of making wudu and then after starting the wudu, one’s mind begins to wander and one does not constantly remember the intention, would this make one’s wudu invalid?
In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate
The Intention: An Integral of Wudu
According to the Shafiis, the intention is one of the integrals of wudu. There are a number of proofs for their position, among them the famous hadith of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), “Actions are only [omitted word] by intentions, and every man shall have what he intends.” (Bukhari, Muslim) Students of Arabic grammar will understand that, grammatically speaking, there is an omitted word in the statement of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), since the genitive prepositional phrase (al-jârr wa’l-majrur) needs something to be grammatically connected with (mutaallaq). The Shafiis hold that this omitted word is valid (sahîh), i.e., the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) meant to say, “Actions are only valid by intentions.”
When does one intend?
As a general rule, the intention must coincide with the first of the action. When praying, for example, the intention needs to coincide with the first action of the prayer, i.e. the opening Allahu Akbar. It is not sufficient to intend just before saying the Allahu Akbar. When performing an obligatory ghusl, the intention to lift major ritual impurity must coincide with the first of the ghusl, i.e. the first part that one washes of one’s body.
Similarly, when performing wudu, one’s intention must accompany the first action of wudu, i.e. the first washing of the face (since washing the face is the first obligatory element of the wudu). It is not sufficient to go into the bathroom with the intention of making wudu.’ Rather, in order for one’s wudu to be valid, one must be conscious that one is lifting minor ritual impurity (one could also bring to mind any other valid intention for wudu, such as to make it permissible for one to pray) at the point when one first starts washing the face. (cf. Reliance of the Traveller, e5.2, e5.4)
Do I have to maintain my intention throughout my wudu?
No. Once you bring the intention to mind when you begin washing your face, it is no longer obligatory to remain conscious of your intention as long as you don’t negate your intention. If you negate your intention (by, for example, intending that you are no longer making wudu), you must renew your intention before continuing with the rest of your wudu (Fath al-Allam, 1.199).
It is, however, recommended to maintain your intention until the completion of your wudu (ibid.). Scholars mention that if one has presence of mind during one’s wudu, it increases one’s presence of mind during one’s prayer.
And Allah knows best.