RECEIVING RAMADAN

How should we receive the month of Ramadan? Sayyidi Habib Umar bin Hafidh (may Allah protect him and benefit us by him) points us in the right direction. This is a summary of various lectures on the topic.

We are about to receive the master of all months, the best of all months, the month in which gifts constantly pour forth from the ocean of divine generosity. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ once mentioned Ramadan and said out of veneration: “Do they realise what is coming to them and what they are receiving?” The believer should reflect upon his connection with his Lord, the One who has made this month an opportunity for him to receive His gifts and His forgiveness. We should receive this month in three ways.

Firstly, we should have joy upon its arrival.

Allah says: Say: “In the bounty of Allah and in His mercy – in that let them rejoice! That is better than the wealth they amass.”1Take a look at the manifestations of Allah’s bounty in this noble month. Sayyiduna Salman narrates that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ spoke to us on the last day of Sha`ban saying: “O people, a great and blessed month has approached, a month in which there is a night greater than one thousand months. Allah made fasting in this month a compulsory act and made praying in the night a voluntary act. Whoever seeks to draw close to Allah in it with a good deed will be rewarded like someone who performed a compulsory action at another time. Whoever performs a compulsory action in it will be rewarded like someone who performed seventy compulsory actions at another time. It is the month of steadfastness (sabr) and the reward of steadfastness is Paradise. It is the month of charity. It is the month in which a believer’s provision is increased.”2

The Prophet ﷺ said: “Allah made fasting Ramadan compulsory and made the night prayer recommended. Whoever fasts in it and prays in the night in a state of belief; seeking Allah’s reward, will be free of sins like the day on which his mother gave birth to him.”3 The Messenger of Allah ﷺ informed us that in this month gates of the heavens are opened,4 meaning that it is easy for our actions, our prayers and our repentance to find acceptance with Allah. It has also been narrated that when Ramadan enters, Allah orders the angels who carry His throne to stop praising Him and to seek forgiveness for the Ummah of Muhammad.5

The Prophet ﷺ said: “My Ummah has been given in Ramadan five things that no prophet before me was given. The first is that on the first night of the month of Ramadan Allah gazes upon them and if Allah gazes upon someone, He will never punish them. The second is the smell emanating from their mouths in the latter part of the day is sweeter in Allah’s sight than the scent of musk. The third is that the angels seek forgiveness for them every day and night. The fourth is that Allah says to Paradise: ‘Prepare yourself and beautify yourself for My slaves for they will soon find rest in My Abode in the place of My generosity after the hardship of this life. The fifth is that they will all be forgiven on the last night.”

Someone asked: “Is that Laylat al-Qadr? He replied: “No, look at workers: when they finish their work they are given their wages in full.”6

Secondly, we should be wary of things that prevent us from attaining the gifts that are bestowed.

Fasting and all acts of worship were legislated to allow us to attain true taqwa: O you who believe, fasting was prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you that you may attain taqwa.7The essential meaning of taqwa is to place a barrier between yourself and the anger of Allah by obeying His orders and avoiding that which He has prohibited. The Ummah has lost this fear of Allah and as a result its enemies have been given power over it. Acceptance of our fasting and other acts is also based on taqwa: Allah only accepts (the actions) of people who possess taqwa.8

We should avoid any false speech. The Messenger of Allah ﷺsaid: “If someone does not leave false speech and acting upon it, Allah has no need for him to leave his food and drink.”9

We should avoid rude and obscene speech and argumentation. The Messenger of Allahﷺsaid: “Fasting is a shield. If someone is fasting let him not speak obscenely or argue.” He also said ﷺ: “Fasting is a shield, as long one does not pierce it.”

He was asked: “How does one pierce it?”

“By lying or backbiting,” he replied.

There are four categories of people who are denied Allah’s forgiveness in Ramadan and at other times. They are those who sever kinship ties, those disobey their parents, those who have rancour in their hearts for other Muslims and those who are addicted to alcohol or drugs.

The believer should be extremely careful to break his fast on lawful food, for “Allah is good and only accepts that which is good and wholesome.”10 One of the early Muslims said: “When you fast, pay attention to what you break your fast on and who you break it with.”

Prepare to receive Ramadan with pure hearts, for by Allah, abundant prayer, fasting and recitation of the Qur’an will be of no benefit if your hearts are full of darkness.

Thirdly, we should strive to do good works to the best of our ability, for Ramadan is an opportunity to take provision and to gain great rewards.

It is narrated that an angel calls every night in Ramadan: “O seeker of good, approach! O seeker of evil, retreat!”11 The believer must thus constantly seek good. He must constantly seek to rectify himself and their families and those over whom they have been given authority. They should spread goodness among the Muslims and among humanity. If he has these good and broad intentions he will then be called by the angel: “O seeker of good, approach!”

During Ramadan, Imam al-Shafi`i would complete the Qur’an once during the day and once during the night so that by the end of the month he had completed the Qur’an sixty times. People used to be so absorbed in worship during Ramadan that they would hardly see their relatives or their friends. They would see each other briefly at the Friday prayer but even then everyone would be busy with prayer and reciting the Qur’an. For this reason `Id would be a joyful occasion, because on that day it would be as if people were meeting each other for the first time after having been apart from each other for a whole month.

Since the gates of the heavens are open during this month we should take advantage of this, and plead with Allah for our needs to be answered. Are you concerned with the Ummah of Muhammad? This is the Lord of the Ummah of Muhammad promising you that He will answer your prayers. So plead with Him that the Muslims are granted relief from their sufferings; that their hearts are united; that the sick are healed; that the disobedient are given the ability to repent and that the ignorant are granted knowledge. Allah says: You sought relief from your Lord, and He responded to You. He said: Call upon Me and I will answer you. Nothing is too great for Allah. “Come to know Allah in times of ease, and He will be with you in times of hardship.”

Al-Sayyidah `A’ishah asked the Messenger of Allah ﷺ what she should ask for if she knew that it was Laylat al-Qadr.

He replied: “Say: ‘O Allah, truly You are all-Pardoning, You love to pardon so pardon us.’”12

He also said ﷺ: “Do four things in abundance: two things with which you please your Lord, and two things which you cannot do without. As for the two things with which you please your Lord: your testifying that there is nothing worthy of worship other than Allah and your seeking His forgiveness. As for the two things which you cannot do without: your asking Allah for Paradise and seeking refuge in Him from the Fire.”13

So say these things in abundance, for they are the best things for which you can use your tongue. Say them in your homes, in the streets, in the mosques not just at Iftar or after Tarawih.

[On the basis of these two hadiths the scholars and people of Tarim repeat the following du`a throughout the month of Ramadan:

أشْهَدُ أن لا إلهَ إلا الله نَسْتَغْفِرُ الله نسأَلُكَ الجنَّةَ ونَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْ النَّار(3)

Ashadu alla ilaha illallah, nastaghfirullah, nas’aluk’l-jannata wa na`audhu bika min an-nar

“I testify that there is nothing worthy of worship other than Allah and we seek the forgiveness of Allah. We ask You for Paradise and take refuge in You from the Fire.” (3 times)

اللهمَّ إنَّكَ عَفُوٌ تُحِبُّ العَفْوَ فَاعْفُ عَنَّا(3) يا كَرِيم

Allahumma innaka `afuwun tuhibbu-l’`afwa f`afwa `anna

“O Allah, truly You are all-Pardoning, You love to pardon so pardon us” (3 times). On the third time say “O Most Generous” (Ya Karim).]

Allah give us the biggest portion of all goodness. Make Ramadan a cause of rectification and the removal of tribulations.

Your Prophet ﷺwould expend great efforts in worship in Ramadan, and particularly in the last ten days, so emulate your Prophet ﷺ. Beware of striving at the beginning of the month and then becoming lazy towards the end, as “actions are judged by their endings.”14

Please also benefit from the Ramadan Reader, which includes an outline of Sayyidi Habib `Umar’s schedule for students of Dar al-Mustafa throughout Ramadan.

May Allah grant us His Enabling Grace to make the most of the blessed month and aid us in doing so by giving ease in observing at least some parts of the blessed schedule.

Yunus, 10:58

2 Narrated by Ibn Khuzaymah

3 Narrated by Ahmad and al-Nasa’i

4 Narrated by al-Bayhaqi

5 Narrated by al-Daylami

6 Narrated by al-Bayhaqi

7  Al-Baqarah, 2:183

Al-Ma’idah, 5:27

9 Narrated by al-Bukhari, Abu Daud, al-Tirmidhi, al-Nasa’i and Ibn Majah

10  Narrated by Muslim

11  Narrated by Ibn Majah, al-Hakim, al-Bayhaqi and Ibn Hibban

12  Narrated by Ahmad, Ibn Majah and Tirmidhi with a sahih chain of transmission

13  Narrated by Ibn Khuzayma

14  Narrated by al-Bukhari

copied from muwasala.org

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Lessons from Surah Fatihah – Identifying the Straight Path

GUIDE US

“Guide us along the Straight Way. The way of those whom You have bestowed Your Grace. Not of those who earn Your anger, nor of those who go astray.” (Qur’an, 1:6-7)

When we examine these verses, we find that it has some very interesting qualities that make it a unique prayer. In a short examination of the above verses, especially the section we have highlighted, we will find guidance on:

  1. Having humility as a servant of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala (Glorified is He) in the community
  2. Ascribing success to Allah (swt) and not to oneself
  3. The comprehensiveness of Islam
  4. The social nature of the Islamic message

As we explore the garden of Surah Fatihah, we will pick these four fruits for today.

1. Humility

In this prayer which Allah (swt) revealed to us, it is clear that we are to ask for guidance upon the Straight Way. However, the nature of this path, its location, its signs, its characteristics, and its direction are all left out. We are given no indication as to how to get there, how to find the map for it. Instead, the path is described in one single way: “The Path of Those Whom You Have Favored”.

It is interesting that rather than pointing to concepts or ideas for the individual to discover on one’s own, Allah (swt) pointed to people. He tells us that this path is found with those whom His favor is upon. What is the point of doing this?

It has immediately turned us into students. We are seeking this path and when Allah (swt) points to the people whom He has favored, our minds become fixed on seeking out these people. Who are they? How can we be like them? How can we join their company? Rather than allowing us to feel arrogant that we are on the Straight Path, we have been directed towards others who may already be there. But again…who are they?

“All who obey Allah and the Messenger are in the company of those on whom is the Grace of Allah, – of the prophets (who teach), the sincere (lovers of Truth), the witnesses (who testify), and the Righteous (who do good): Ah! what a beautiful fellowship!” (Qur’an 4:69)

And here we have:

-How to join this company: Obey Allah and the Messenger ﷺ (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).

-Who the company consists of: the Prophets, the Siddiqeen (the truthful sincere servants of God), the Shuhadaa (those who testify to the Truth with their speech, and if needed will defend the Truth and the innocent with their lives), and the Saliheen (those who are righteous in actions).

Allah (swt), then praises this group by calling it a beautiful fellowship.

By naming these four groups of people in the Qur’an as those whom the Grace of Allah is upon, He has pointed us not to a set of concepts, but to a community and a set of examples. From the teachings of the Prophets we take knowledge and the framework of Truth for all that follows. From the Siddiqin we derive the lessons and examples of sincere worship. From the Shuhada we see examples of those who act and struggle to testify to Truth. And from the Saliheen we see examples of righteous actions. So the one aiming for the Straight Path should seek out these people, their company, their examples, and learn from what they have.

This teaches the servant that he should think himself self-reliant in his journey towards God’s grace, but should remember that there are those in the past, and those in the community that he can seek out and be in good company with.

2. Ascribing Success to Allah

In mentioning the Straight Path, Allah (swt) does not simply provide a list of actions. Rather, He makes it clear that He is the One acting.

أَنْعَمْتَ – This word means “You bestow nai’mah (favor) upon” in reference to God. A subtle reminder that we are not the one’s who “earn” Allah’s grace, but that He gives it to us out of His mercy. Though we can attract his Mercy through sincerity, Allah (swt) is reminding us that it is not our deeds alone that bring guidance or forgiveness, but it is something that He bestows upon us as a Favor, a nai’mah. This again reminds the servant to be humble before Allah (swt).

3. The Comprehensiveness of Islam

Every group, methodology, and ideology will have some method or idea which it sees as the primary driver of Islamic reform for the individual and the community. Some groups oriented around Tasawwuf (self-improvement) will focus on spiritual purification. Others focused around societal change will focus on activism in the community – both social and political. Other organizations will focus on righteous deeds and worship. Yet others will focus on knowledge.

However we see that when Allah (swt) describes the people who have His Grace, they represent ALL of these various interests and agendas. They are according to Qur’an, 4:69:

Nabiyeen/Prophets: The bearers of the Message of God, the deliverers of Knowledge from God to humanity, and the providers of the religious foundation for generation to come and all the groups that follow below.

Siddiqeen/the Sincere and Truthful: Those whose hearts are purified and are sincere in their reverence for God and in their actions amongst people. Truthfulness emanates not only in their speech but in their actions, because their intentions are pure and for God alone.

Shuhadaa/Witnesses: Those who actively strive to witness to the Truth under extraordinary circumstances, whether under threat of loss of life or wealth. They testify to Islam and call to goodness and benefit and may eventually find themselves giving all they have in order to defend innocent people and protect the lives of others.

Saliheen/the Righteous: Those who dedicate extraordinary amounts of time to the doing of good deeds. Prayer, fasting, giving charity, visiting the sick, helping the orphan, remembering the name of God, reciting the Qur’an, and doing their utmost to have their limbs always in the worship of the Creator and in the service of His Creation.

It is amazing that in describing the people of the Straight path, the Qur’an mentions all of the various goals and methods – the seeking of knowledge, the purification of the soul, activism, and the doing of good deeds. Yet another testament to the fact that Islam is comprehensive, and calls for balance in the various priorities on the Straight path.

4. The Social Nature of the Islamic Message

By highlighting a set of people, instead of a list of to-dos, the Qur’an has pointed us towards a religion that is not individualistic, but is based around being part of a community. It is asking us to seek out people from whom we can learn, and good company with whom we can be.

As the Prophet ﷺ said, “A person is upon the religion of his/her friends.” The most intimate companions of a person will often affect his/her faith and will influence the direction of his/her life.  But if we know that we should seeking the knowledge and stay within the framework provided by the Prophet ﷺ, strive to be with people who show purity and sincerity as best as we can notice, spend time in circles of activism and call to good things, and work hard to do righteous actions and be in groups that do righteous actions, the Qur’an is telling us that while in that company, we are on the Straight Path – insha’Allah (God-willing).

Sources: Ma’riful Qur’an (Shafi Uthmani), Tafhim ul Qur’an (Maududi), Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Jalalayn

 

by ABDULASATAR AHMED

http://www.virtualmosque.com

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The Overlooked Struggle

qalbIt’s happened to many of us.  We come across a friend or relative—someone we would consider fairly religious—engaging in behavior that seems shocking or out of character.  You meet them on the street one day and see them dressed in a way you never would have imagined, when they were once proud to be physically identifiable as a Muslim.  They share pictures with you showing them in places they never should have been, or open signs of relationships that are far beyond the bounds of what is acceptable in our faith.  Once regular at the mosque, they seem to have broken away from the community entirely and want no part in it.  In your latest conversations, their opinions seemed so off point from their usual perspective, so distant from what Islam teaches, that it leaves you troubled and worried.

“What’s happened?” you may wonder. “They were so different just a short while ago.”  “They were so religious,” you may think, or, “They come from such a good upbringing.” “They know a lot about Islam, and have such good friends and teachers… How could they have gone down this road?”

In our dealings with other people, the ‘shocking’ or ‘out of character’ behavior we notice may actually be the final step in a journey that had been going on for some time.  For some, they may be signs of a connection with the Divine that has been neglected, a spirituality that has been starved, or a mind that has been overwhelmed with doubts and questions that has not found the illumination it so gravely needed.  At one time in the past, such a person may have been deeply motivated, inspired and felt strong in their faith and moved to practice it; but without proper nourishment, such feelings diminished, while others—those harmful and negative—dug strong roots.

This struggle—of remaining on the path of religious practice, and being constant and steady on it—is one that is often overlooked, and that has its own unique challenges and obstacles.

When someone is new to Islam, or newly practicing, we often recognize that they are spiritually and psychologically vulnerable.  At the start of this new journey, we acknowledge that they need support, inspiration and encouragement.  However, once they have taken the initial few steps towards practicing Islam, we often begin to neglect these needs.  There is an assumption that once someone is ‘on’ the path, that he or she has no need for support and spiritual nourishment as they once did before.

We see the same with those who are already practicing—those who come from religious families, who grew up praying at the mosque, spent some time studying and practicing Islam seriously, or who should, by other means, ostensibly ‘know better’.  On an individual as well as a community level, their spiritual and intellectual vulnerability is often ignored.

One of the most beautiful and oft-repeated prayers of the Prophet ﷺ (peace and blessings of God be upon him) was,

يَا مُقلّب القٌلوب ثبِّتْ قُلُوبَنا عَلَى دِينِك

O Turner of hearts, make our hearts firm on Your faith.

Even after the initial acceptance and opening of one’s heart to Islam, one’s heart remains very vulnerable and susceptible to influence, suggestion and doubts, and to being moved and swayed in so many different directions.  Hence the Prophet ﷺ would often pray for our hearts to remain firm, constant and steadfast on the religion of Islam.

In our recitation of Surat al-Fatiha, which we are asked to say repeatedly throughout the day in our prayers, we see a similar emphasis on steadfastness. We beseech Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), every time we recite this blessed chapter from the Qur’an, to guide us to the straight path (Qur’an 1:6-7).   Though we are already Muslim, this is a supplication to remain on the right path, and for Allah’s continual and constant guidance.

In a prophetic tradition narrated in Imam Nawawi’s Forty Hadith, the Prophet ﷺ advised one of his companions, “Say ‘I believe in Allah’ and then remain steadfast.  Many scholars have described this tradition as succinct, yet comprehensive, and have further stated that it is the second part that is truly the hardest part: remaining upright, steadfast and constant in one’s faith and good deeds (having istiqama) continuously throughout one’s life.

From these and many other texts and teachings of our faith, we see that the heart and mind of a believer is in constant need of illumination and inspiration, love and support, and edification and nourishment to remain on the path of goodness.  We must acknowledge this need in our own selves as well as in those around us.

Suggestions for a Practical Application 

For Oneself

□ Supplicate constantly that Allah (swt) make you firm and constant on faith and make the same prayer for others.  Do not think that because you pray regularly or have committed yourself to Islam in other ways that you do not need “soul food”, that will keep your heart and mind in a state of spiritual health and away from weaknesses and temptations.  An oft-repeated prayer of the Prophet ﷺ was to seek thabaat (steadiness) of heart, and to seek refuge in Allah from being tested in faith.

□ Maintain a daily diet of time in which you feel a connection with Allah (swt), even if for a short time.  This can include any act that is faith increasing, such as worship, remembrance, or seeking knowledge.  A beautiful book of supplications that has been translated into English is The Accepted Whispers, translated by Khalid Baig.

□ Be humble and lower yourself.  If you see someone you consider religious slip into a sin, this is a heavy moment for introspection and self-accounting.  Realize that others who have studied more, worshipped more intensely, or were more active than you have fallen into missteps and mistakes—and these things (knowledge and action) do not necessarily guarantee anything for you or your rank, nor make you immune from wrongdoing.

When You See Others Slip…

□ Realize that their action may have deep roots, and may be the manifestation of things that have taken time to develop in their mind and heart.

□ Deal with the person from a general position of love and concern, and not a position of judgment.  Be a doctor, seeking to help them overcome their illness and become well again, and not a judge seeking to punish.

□ Avoid passive-aggressive da`wah (outreach).  Address the person directly, in the right manner, setting, tone, etc., instead of ambiguous posts or public comments that can be misconstrued or cause resentment and hard feelings.  If you are not the right person to speak to them about the issue, then find the person who is, and then keep quiet.

□ Compassion should be extended towards the person who is struggling, but should not be confused with condoning actions that are impermissible.  Such matters need to be handled sensitively and with wisdom, but we should not turn the other way simply because we fear a person’s anger towards us.

□ Step far away from any gossip or discussion of such a person or their behavior, even if coated with ‘concern’.  The more attention and focus is given to the behavior, the more damage it will cause. Real, concerted efforts to help a person change are not done in large groups with a gossipy tone.

□ Realize that it may take a long time to give up the sin (just as it took time to get there).  Don’t be hasty and don’t expect change overnight.  Be hopeful and patient, and pray for them sincerely.

In Our Communities…

□ As an activist and organizer, help cultivate a supportive, encouraging, and spiritually nourishing environment in your MSA and community for people at different levels, including those who have already taken steps towards religious practice.  We should be working towards creating an environment in which people can grow and blossom into their full potential as people of faith, no matter where they are on this path.

□ Do not neglect the regular attendees.  If your Mosque Open House is warm and welcoming, and your MSA Welcome Dinner is cheerful and comfortable, so too should it be for those who attend regularly.  It should not be assumed that since such people have already shown a level of commitment to Islam, that they no longer need support, or to be inspired or encouraged.  It is all too often this group of people whose needs are neglected and who then fall into mistakes.

□ Include heart-softening and soul-inspiring elements in your community’s activities.  Temper your political and intellectual focus with focus on the heart and spiritual purification.

□ Take knowledge to the next level. Instead of repeating the same basic-level information year after year, find ways of providing a more substantial and well-rounded education for those desiring it, or facilitating a progression in knowledge and understanding.

□ Deal with intellectual issues:  Shaytan often plies off a small doubt that is fed by misinformation or lack of understanding.

□ Remember that if one’s faith is not increasing, it is decreasing. Major events and conferences are good, but do not forget the importance of having something consistently and regularly, to help keep everyone steadily growing and developing in their connection with Allah (swt).

May Allah bless us with steadfastness and constancy on faith, and make us people who keep moving forward in this path towards Him.  Ameen.

 

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