Archive for September, 2009
By Khalid Baig
We observe Ramadan every year. Do we also listen to it?
Ramadan is the most important month of our calendar. It is a tremendous gift from Allah in so many ways. In our current state of being down and out, it can uplift us, empower us, and turn around our situation individually and collectively. It is the spring season for the garden of Islam when dry grass can come back to life and flowers bloom. But these benefits are not promised for lifeless and thoughtless rituals alone. They will be ours if our actions are informed by the message of Ramadan.
Today the message of Ramadan tends to get drowned out by much louder voices of the pop culture that have an opposite message. We have become so accustomed to them that many of us remain enslaved to them even during Ramadan.
The most important message of Ramadan is that we are not just body. We are body and soul. And that what makes us human beings and that determines our value as human beings is the soul and not the body. During Ramadan we deprive the body to uplift the soul. This is all simple and familiar. But we can understand its significance if we remember that the message of the materialistic hedonistic global pop culture that has engulfed every Muslim land today — just like the rest of the world— is exactly the opposite. It says that body is everything. That the materialistic world is all that counts. That the greatest happiness — if not virtue– is in filling the appetites of the body. This message produces endless appetites and consequently endless wars to fill those endless appetites through endless exploitation. It produces endless frustrations since the gap between desires and achievements can never be filled. It produces endless chaos and endless oppression. Yet this trash comes in such beautiful and enticing packages that we can hardly resist it. We equate this slavery with freedom. We consider this march to disaster as progress. And with every movement, we get further and deeper into the mire.
Ramadan is here to liberate us from all this. Here is a powerful message that it is soul over body. Take a break from the pop culture. Turn off the music and TV. Say goodbye to the endless and futile pursuit of happiness in sensory pleasures. Rediscover your inner self that has been buried deep under it. Reorient yourself. Devote your time to the reading of the Qur’an, to voluntary worship, to prayers and conversations with Allah. Reflect on the direction of your life and your priorities. Reflect on and strengthen your relationship with your Creator.
On the last day of one Sha’ban, Prophet MuhammadSall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, gave a Khutbah about the upcoming month of Ramadan. It is a very important Khutbah that we should carefully read before every Ramadan to prepare ourselves mentally for the sacred month. It begins: “Oh people! A great month is coming to you. A blessed month. A month in which there is one night that is better than a thousand months. A month in which Allah has made it compulsory upon you to fast by day, and voluntary to pray by night. Whoever draws nearer to Allah by performing any of the voluntary good deeds in this month shall receive the same reward as is there for performing an obligatory deed at any other time. And whoever discharges an obligatory deed in this month shall receive the reward of performing seventy obligations at any other time. It is the month of Sabr (patience), and the reward for sabr is Heaven. It is the month of kindness and charity. It is a month in which a believer’s sustenance is increased. Whoever gives food to a fasting person to break his fast, shall have his sins forgiven, and he will be saved from the Fire of Hell, and he shall have the same reward as the fasting person, without the latter’s reward being diminished at all.”
The hadith continues and contains many other very important messages. However let us take the time to highlight two of the statements contained above. First, that Ramadan is the month of sabr. The English translation is patience but that word has a very narrow meaning compared to sabr. Sabr means not only patience and perseverance in the face of difficulties, it also means being steadfast in avoiding sin in the face of temptations and being persistent in performing virtues when that is not easy. Overcoming hunger and thirst during fasting is part of it. But protecting our eyes, ears, minds, tongues, and hands, etc. from all sins is also part of it. So is being persistent in doing good deeds as much as possible despite external or internal obstacles. Ramadan requires sabr in its fullest sense and provides a training ground for that very important quality to be developed and nurtured. Here is a recipe for the complete overhaul of our life, not just a small adjustment in meal times.
The highest point of Ramadan is itikaf, an act of worship in which a person secludes himself in a masjid to devote his time entirely to worshipping and remembering Allah. Some in every Muslim community must take a break and go to the masjid for the entire last ten days of Ramadan. Others should imbibe the spirit and do whatever they can.
But we must differentiate between worldly pleasures and worldly responsibilities. We take a break from the former and not the latter. Syedna Abdullah ibn Abbas, Radi-Allahu unhu, was performing itikaf, when a person came and sat down silently. Sensing his distressed condition Ibn Abbas enquired about his situation, learnt that he needed help, and proceeded to leave the masjid to go out and help him. Now this action does nullify the itikaf, making a makeup obligatory. So the person, though grateful, was curious. Explaining his action, Ibn Abbas related a hadith that when a person makes efforts to help his brother, he earns the reward for performing itikaf for ten years.
This brings us to the second statement to consider: that Ramadan is the month of kindness and charity. With those in distress in the millions in the world today, the need for remembering this message of Ramadan cannot be overstated.
Unfortunately, today another scene seems to be dominant in some parts of the Muslim world. Here Ramadan is the month of celebrations, shopping, fancy iftars at posh restaurants, entertainment and gossip. People stay up at night but not for worship; they while away that time watching TV or wandering in the bazaar. Ramadan here is more a month of feasting than fasting.
No one can take away our Ramadan from us; we just give it away ourselves. And if we realize the utter blunder we have made, we can take it back.
By Khalid Baig
Fasting during Ramadan was ordained during the second year of Hijrah. Why not earlier? In Makkah the economic conditions of the Muslims were bad. They were being persecuted. Often days would go by before they had anything to eat. It is easy to skip meals if you don’t have any. Obviously fasting would have been easier under the circumstances. So why not then?
The answer may be that Ramadan is not only about skipping meals. While fasting is an integral and paramount part of it, Ramadan offers a comprehensive program for our spiritual overhaul. The entire program required the peace and security that was offered by Madinah.
Yes, Ramadan is the most important month of the year. It is the month that the believers await with eagerness. At the beginning of Rajab — two full months before Ramadan — the Prophet Muhammad, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, used to supplicate thus: “O Allah! Bless us during Rajab and Sha’ban, and let us reach Ramadan (in good health).”
During Ramadan the believers get busy seeking Allah’s mercy, forgiveness, and protection from Hellfire. This is the month for renewing our commitment and re-establishing our relationship with our Creator. It is the spring season for goodness and virtues when righteousness blossoms throughout the Muslim communities. “If we combine all the blessings of the other eleven months, they would not add up to the blessings of Ramadan,” said the great scholar and reformer Shaikh Ahmed Farooqi (Mujaddad Alif Thani). It offers every Muslim an opportunity to strengthen his Iman, purify his heart and soul, and to remove the evil effects of the sins committed by him.
“Anyone who fasts during this month with purity of belief and with expectation of a good reward (from his Creator), will have his previous sins forgiven,” said Prophet Muhammad, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam. “Anyone who stands in prayers during its nights with purity of belief and expectation of a reward, will have his previous sins forgiven.” As other ahadith tell us, the rewards for good deeds are multiplied manifold during Ramadan.
Along with the possibility of a great reward, there is the risk of a terrible loss. If we let any other month pass by carelessly, we just lost a month. If we do the same during Ramadan, we have lost everything. The person who misses just one day’s fast without a legitimate reason, cannot really make up for it even if he were to fast everyday for the rest of his life. And of the three persons that Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam cursed, one is the unfortunate Muslim who finds Ramadan in good health but does not use the opportunity to seek Allah’s mercy.
One who does not fast is obviously in this category, but so also is the person who fasts and prays but makes no effort to stay away from sins or attain purity of the heart through the numerous opportunities offered by Ramadan. The Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, warned us: “There are those who get nothing from their fast but hunger and thirst. There are those who get nothing from their nightly prayers but loss of sleep.”
Those who understood this, for them Ramadan was indeed a very special month. In addition to fasting, mandatory Salat, and extra Travih Salat, they spent the whole month in acts of worship like voluntary Salat, Tilawa (recitation of Qur’an), Dhikr etc. After mentioning that this has been the tradition of the pious people of this Ummah throughout the centuries, Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi notes: ” I have seen with my own eyes such ulema and mashaikh who used to finish recitation of the entire Qur’an everyday during Ramadan. They spent almost the entire night in prayers. They used to eat so little that one wondered how they could endure all this. These greats valued every moment of Ramadan and would not waste any of it in any other pursuit…Watching them made one believe the astounding stories of Ibada and devotion of our elders recorded by history.”
This emphasis on these acts of worship may sound strange — even misplaced — to some. It requires some explanation. We know that the term Ibada (worship and obedience) in Islam applies not only to the formal acts of worship and devotion like Salat , Tilawa, and Dhikr, but it also applies to worldly acts when performed in obedience to Shariah and with the intention of pleasing Allah. Thus a believer going to work is performing Ibada when he seeks Halal income to discharge his responsibility as a bread-winner for the family. However a distinction must be made between the two. The first category consists of direct Ibada, acts that are required for their own sake. The second category consists of indirect Ibada — worldly acts that become Ibada through proper intention and observation of Shariah. While the second category is important for it extends the idea of Ibada to our entire life, there is also a danger because by their very nature these acts can camouflage other motives. (Is my going to work really Ibada or am I actually in the rat race?). Here the direct Ibada comes to the rescue. Through them we can purify our motives, and re-establish our relationship with Allah.
Islam does not approve of monasticism. It does not ask us to permanently isolate ourselves from this world, since our test is in living here according to the Commands of our Creator. But it does ask us to take periodic breaks from it. The mandatory Salat (five daily prayers) is one example. For a few minutes every so many hours throughout the day, we leave the affairs of this world and appear before Allah to remind ourselves that none but He is worthy of worship and of our unfaltering obedience. Ramadan takes this to the next higher plane, providing intense training for a whole month.
This spirit is captured in I’tikaf, a unique Ibada associated with Ramadan, in which a person gives up all his normal activities and enters a mosque for a specific period. There is great merit in it and every Muslim community is encouraged to provide at least one person who will perform I’tikaf for the last ten days of Ramadan. But even those who cannot spare ten days are encouraged to spend as much time in the mosque as possible.
Through direct Ibada we “charge our batteries”; the indirect ones allow us to use the power so accumulated in driving the vehicle of our life. Ramadan is the month for rebuilding our spiritual strength. How much we benefit from it is up to us.