Intention (niyat) is most important in any thing one does but it acquires a greater significance in the life of a Sufi. A Sufi I know always tells people to nurture an intention before setting out to do the deed. The belief goes that it is the intention behind the deed that matters to God and not the deed itself. For example if someone gives charity to acquire fame it is not an act of piety in the eyes of God. He will earn God’s favour only if he does so truly intending to help the poor and please his Lord.
There is a story in Sufi literature about an ant. This insignificant creature developed a great desire to visit the Kaaba, the house of God. He did not even know where the Kaaba was. What he did know was that neither did he have the means nor the physical strength for the arduous journey. Despite these heavy odds, his resolve was steadfast. His fellow ants thought that he was crazy to aspire to such an expedition.
One day as the ant was going about his chores a flock of pigeons descended near him. Ravenously, they got busy picking grain to gratify their hunger. Suddenly one of the pigeons said, “Let us hurry. The sun will set in a short time and the Kaaba is a long way from here.” The little ant realised that the flock was headed to the same place that he was longing to visit. Here was opportunity suddenly knocking at his door. He quickly crawled to the nearest pigeon and caught hold of its feet. He remained stuck to it as the pigeon flew all the way back to the house of God. His dream was realised after all.
The Sufis draw two inferences from this tale. One is that if you have good intention (nek niyat) and persist with it, it will be fulfilled. The second is that a true Master makes the divine journey easy, like the pigeon in this story.