The Humble "I"

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Archive for the category “ramadan & fasting”

Laylat al-Qadr: Standing at the Surge of Serenity

Serenity - (HDR Levanto, Italy)As the last ten days of Ramadan greet us, Muslims the world over shift into a higher gear of spiritual ambition and striving. What is the reason behind this intensification? In one of the odd nights of these last ten days (21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th or 29th) lies laylat al-qadr – the illustrious Night of Power, Influence and Decree – which, as the Qur’an tells us, is the greatest night of the year: We have sent it [the Qur’an] down on the Night of Power. And how will you know what the Night of Power is? The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. In it the angels and the Spirit descend by their Lord’s leave, with all His decrees. Peace it is, until the rising of the dawn. [97:1-5]

This is the Night, over 1400 years ago in the Cave of Hira, the Prophet, peace be upon him, encountered his destiny and stepped into history. It was the Night in which the descent of the Qur’an took place, from the Preserved Tablet (al-lawh al-mahfuz) to the lowest of the seven heavens, from whence it was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him: and it continued to be revealed to him, piecemeal, over the next twenty-three years, as occasion demanded. This was the night in which the divine will unfolded itself. It is a Night hallowed by the angels in heaven and believers on earth.

It is a Night about which authentic hadiths inform us: altamisuha fi’l-ashr al-awakhir fi ramadan – ‘Seek it out in the last ten [nights] of Ramadan.’ So that’s what believers do; and hence the intensification.

It is a Night where the Muslim marvels, the believer beseeches and the seeker seeks. This is the Night in which any righteous deed performed during it, is better than one performed for a thousand months outside of it. This is the Night in which the angelic presence floods this earthly realm, sending greeting and prayers of peace upon all the believing men and women they come across: Peace it is, until the rising of the dawn. It is the Night wherein the cosmos is ablaze with Allah’s munificence; repentant sinners cleansed by Allah’s mercy; devout worshippers honoured with Allah’s gifts and graces; and ardent lovers brought into Allah’s Majestic Presence.

It is a Night which, for believers, is the gift of gifts from the Lord of lords, the King of kings, the Most Merciful of those who show mercy, the Most generous of those who show generosity.

For those wanting to know a little more about this auspicious and blessed of nights, and how to make the best of it, I’ve attached a link to a short presentation I gave a few years back on the subject. It can be downloaded here: Laylat al-Qadr

O Allah! Grant us the grace to seek this Night, make us not
bereft of its blessings and make us of the fortunate
and favoured. Indeed, You are the
One to hear, the One
to respond.
Amin.

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Reality Check with Ramadan

480429_327412390693834_763234927_nBelow are three short blog pieces I wrote last year on the theme of Ramadan and the spiritual technology called siyam/sawm, or fasting. Indeed, the very point of fasting in Ramadan, the fourth pillar of Islam, is to foster a state of detachment from the world, as also from our ego and desires. This creates, as it were, a space in our selves for the remembrance of God and for awareness of His presence: O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may become mindful of God. [Qur’an 2:183]

The first is called: Ramadan: Time to Slide Out of the Rat Race. It was written to be a wake-up call; a reminder of how we should be easing-off the accelerator of dunya and consumerism in this blessed month, and try and responsibly step out of the frenzy of things.

Ramadan: Becoming What We Were Born to Be is the second piece. It speaks about how the month of fasting helps sharpen our awareness of Allah, calling on each of us to be what we were created to be.

Written for the latter part of Ramadan; and to spur us on to the finishing line, so to speak, is: Believing in the Ramadan Hope & Healing. For Ramadan is about hope, and about anticipating healing and an immense reward from a Generous Lord.

If you find these articles to be of benefit, please do share; and please do also follow the blog (top right hand corner of the page). Ramadan greetings and blessings to you all.

Allahumma taqabbal minna siyamana
wa qiyamana wa
tilawatana.
Amin.

Moon Sighting: Unity or Lunacy?

WEREWOLVES IN BLUEDown the centuries, people have associated full moon nights with weird happenings and strange behaviour. An increase in crime, in mayhem and madness, lunatics on the loose – werewolves, even, have all been linked to the eerie effects of the full moon. ‘It is the very error of the moon. She comes more near the earth than she was wont. And makes men mad,’ wrote Shakespeare in Othello. In fact, the very notion of lunacy and of calling someone a lunatic; a madman or insane person, comes from luna, the Latin word for “moon” (lunaticus, “moon-struck”).

Full moon phases aside, bouts of lunacy and madness may be seen during another of its phases: the new [crescent] moon. For it is here you’ll see that even the otherwise mild-mannered Muslim, usually not one to argue or to get involved in the “politics” of things, become “moon-struck” with madness and frenzy. Yes, determining when the new moon for Ramadan has been observed or not brings out the werewolf in many of us!

The story’s familiar. Muslims wait in pious anticipation for Ramadan, wondering who will sight the moon and where? News comes that it’s been spotted. Where? In Ye Olde Middle-East (usually, it seems, in Saudi Arabia). Voices dissent. Objectors insist that astronomical calculations make the so-called sighting impossible. But we are assured that just and reliable witnesses have sworn to seeing the crescent moon. Who now to believe? What now to do? Meanwhile: Egos warm up. Confusion kicks off. The game begins. Some scholars try to keep the peace; trying desperately to referee the match. Other scholars take entrenched positions, yelling from the sidelines. The lay folk feel to wade in and egg on their team. Shouting starts. Arguments intensify. Unity wavers. Lunacy attacks. Lunacy slyfully dribbles the ball past Unity’s fragile defence, whacking the ball straight into the back of the net. Final whistle goes. Game over. Lunacy wins. Unity looses … yet again!

Bickering on the terraces, rivalry in the hearts, and bitter words on the tongues linger long after the whistle is blown. As the unsettled and frustrated crowds make their way home, murmurs are mumbled beneath edgy breaths: Will Unity ever have its day?

I

I’m not the first person to suggest the following, and I’ll certainly not be the last: But good intentions are not going to be enough to resolve the problem. What is needed is to understand why there is such a difference in the first place, and what is the Islamic ruling on moon sighting. Only then can we begin to know what collective options are lawfully open to us and what, if anything, can we do to unify our ranks. As it happens, the fiqh aspect of it (if we omit the practical details and focus on the basic theory) isn’t that difficult to grasp.

No doubt, the arrival of Ramadan is confirmed by sighting the new crescent moon, or by the passing of thirty days in the month immediately before Ramadan; the month of Sha‘ban. The Prophet, peace be upon him, decreed: ‘Fast when you see it [the new moon] and end the fast when you see it. If it is hidden from you, then wait until thirty days of Sha‘ban have passed.’1

Based upon the above hadith, most jurists hold that if there is a confirmed sighting of the new moon in any given country or region, fasting becomes obligatory for all those living there and for those living in other countries and regions too – whether they are nearby or distant. This is provided news of the sighting reaches them in a reliable and binding manner. Distance is not an issue: reliable sighting and reliable conveyance of the sighting is. This is the opinion of the Hanafis, Maliks and Hanbalis. According to these jurists, ‘Fast when you see it (sumu li ru’yatihi),’ refers to all Muslims being bound to wherever a sighting of the new moon takes place globally.2

In contrast, another group of jurists (mainly the Shafi‘is) believes that the you refers to the sighting of the moon for a particular region. People resident in that region and in “nearby” regions of the confirmed sighting must fast. Those in “distant” regions aren’t required to follow the sighting. Rather, they are to follow their own regional sighting. The terms “nearby” is, however, disputed. Some judge it in terms of a specific number of miles, some in terms of same sighting-zone (ittihad al-matla‘), while others in terms of nearby countries.3

Those who advocate that each region should take its own sighting into consideration, and need not follow the sighting of others, base their view on the following narration: Kurayb who, having been sent by Umm al-Fadl to Syria on an errand, recollects: ‘I reached Syria and completed the errand. Whilst in Syria, the new moon for Ramadan appeared. I saw the new moon on Thursday night. I then returned to Madinah at the end of the month where ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Abbas inquired about the new moon, asking me: “When did you observe the new moon?” I replied: I saw it on Thursday night. He said: ‘Did you actually see it?” I replied: Yes, as did the people; so they fasted and so did Mu‘awiyah. He said: ‘We spotted it on Friday night, so we shall not stop fasting till we complete thirty days or we sight it [the new moon].” I said: Doesn’t Mu‘awiyah’s sighting and fasting suffice? He said: “No! This is how we were instructed by Allah’s Messenger, peace be upon him.”‘4

Thus the classical manuals of fiqh, or Islamic law, essentially convey to us two views concerning how the month of Ramadan should commence: which is, either by global sighting or by local sighting. In order to unify our ranks in Ramadan, we will have to first unify our word by agreeing to one of the two valid ways of moonlighting. Here, opinionated egos will need to be reigned in (as will sectarianism, braderi-clan bigotry, party politics and geo-political agendas), in order to reach a common accord. Saudi-sponsered mosques will have to learn to ignore their paymasters and put the welfare of the Muslims of this country first – considering the issue on its own merits and not driven by external motives. There simply isn’t a view in the shari‘ah that states we are duty bound or exhorted to follow the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in its moonsighting, even more so given its highly-controversial track record. Ironically, the kingdom’s two most respected religious authorities, the late Shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Aziz b. Baz and the late Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymin, were both committed advocates of local sighting – repeatedly giving fatwas that people should follow their own country’s sighting.5

Unquestionably, each view has its textual support and historical validity, as well as its practicality and its pros and cons. Perhaps we should stick with the majority view and opt for global sighting, trying to keep in line with the ummah at large? Or perhaps we should opt for local sighting, and so shield ourselves from the divisive hullabaloo that usually accompanies global moonlighting?

British Muslims need to see a growing voice of unity emerge from their scholars and religious leaders on this issue. We need to see some sort of consensus forming, even if slowly. Although some scholars have been trying to bring the relevant players around the table for this very purpose – but given that Britain, this sceptred isle, this little world, this precious stone set in the silver sea, is but a small island – it seems they’ve not quite done enough.

II

If for some bizarre reason we cannot manage to unite on one of the above two ways of commencing Ramadan, then all is not lost. For it seems that the shari‘ah has given us another lifeline. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘Fast when they fast and stop fasting when they stop, and sacrifice they day they sacrifice.’6 Imam al-Tirmidhi says after relating this hadith: ‘Some of the scholars explain that this hadith means: to fast and break fast along with the congregation and the majority of people (anna’l-sawma wa’l-fitra ma‘a’l-jama‘ah wa ‘izam al-nas).’7

The London-based jurist and legalist, Sh. Haitham al-Haddad, argued, unsuccessfully, for adopting the majoritarian view several years back in a live TV debate (see here and also here). Some of his fellow panelists, as well as some in the audience, seemed to thoroughly miss his point. They were under the impression that he was insisting we should all follow Makkah – when in fact he was insisting we should all follow Makkah only if that is what the majority are already doing. If the majority are doing something else, then that is what should be followed; he kept on stressing. It seems that all some people were hearing was a Saudi-schooled scholar telling British Muslims to follow Saudi moon sightings. Yet that wasn’t the case at all. The shaykh was simply insisting on applying the fiqh understanding from the above hadith. Regrettably, the TV debate was a serious lost opportunity.

So how could this hadith be practically employed? Well, it could be used only if one of the other two moonsighting methods cannot be decidedly agreed to. So whether the country follows the Hanafi view on moonsighting – as they constitute the majority of Muslims in the UK; or follows the majority of mosques – which seem to be Deobandi in persuasion; or follows Makkah – not because of Saudi, but because that’s what the masses are perhaps now doing: regardless of whether they do it through convenience, confusion or ignorance. If a majoritarian practice by British Muslims can be discerned and accepted, then perhaps our collective hand has been forced and the decision been made. Whatever be the case, and in the absence of a national unified British Muslim moonsighting body, this majoritarian option should not be so easily dismissed. ‘Ulema and mosque committees could have their work cut out for them.

Where can we go from here? We do urgently need to ignite a more fruitful national scholarly discussion concerning the fiqh of moonsighting; the sooner, the better. And if not national, then we should certainly think of how we can unite our word in more and more cities and regions of Britain? What we ask is for our ‘ulema and our religious leaders to step up to the mark and steer this ship, as only they can. This is a religious burden far too great for anyone but them to bear. The rest of us – we can certainly make suggestions; but beyond that we need to reign in our individualistic tendencies and align ourselves with the larger collective and the greater good.

III

Of course, there are other problems related to moon sighting which need to be ironed out. The main one, it seems, concerns the use of astronomical (falaki) calculations to determine the new moon and its sighting. I’ll suffice here by saying that the majority of jurists have, and still continue to rule out the use of calculations. The hadiths, they protest, stipulate actual “eye-witnessing” or “seeing” the crescent after sunset on the 29th day. If it is seen, the new month begins; if not, the month has thirty days and the next month automatically starts after the sunset of the 30th day. What could be more simpler, they argue, for any society in any time or place! For them, using calculation is conjectural (zanni) in the knowledge it yields. Moreover, astronomical calculation and computational algorithms are beyond the grasp of the general masses to master: and the Lawgiver only obligates people with what their masses can reasonably know.

Some modern voices argue that since pre-modern Muslims just did not have access to the precise moon sighting calculations we have today, we shouldn’t be held hostage to their scientific limitations, upon which their medieval fatwas rested? This, I suggest, is to be wholly ignorant of the facts. While it is true they didn’t have the algorithmic computations we have today, the Muslim world of old was certainly not “backward” or scientifically-stunted in terms of moon calculations. On the contrary, astronomers (and scholars who were learned in astronomy) held public offices throughout Muslim lands, producing highly complex and impressive computations, charts and almanacs for lunar sightings and visibilities. This is attested to by both modern Muslim as well as non-Muslim specialists in the field. Yet despite this, the near totally of jurists still insisted on sighting the moon as a textually-stipulated duty. Why? Because sighting is the actual legal rational, or ‘illah, for commencing the month.8 In fact, the Hanbali scholar Ibn Hubayrah, and another of the school’s masters, Ibn Taymiyyah, as well as the Maliki legalist al-Qarafi, all cite a unanimous agreement of the Salaf and the Four Schools on not using calculations – regardless of how accurate they may be.9

Another mistaken notion embedded in the above voices is the claim that we moderns have now got moon visibility calculations down to a tee; and that is simply not true. It appears that two distinct lunar events are being conflated here: the moon’s birth or conjunction (where the earth, moon and sun, in that order, are in roughly the same line), and the moon’s visibility from the earth. The first can be calculated as a matter of fact; the second, only as a matter of prediction – even if such predictions are highly accurate. That is to say, astronomers can calculate the positions of the sun, moon and earth, relative to one another, down to a dot, and can hence determine with pinpoint accuracy the new moon’s birth. Such unquestionable precision is not the case when it comes to calculating the new moon’s actual visibility from here on earth. To put it in Islamic legal jargon, calculating the new moon’s conjunction is qat‘i, certain, beyond doubt; calculating its visibility from the earth, zanni: [highly] probable. For there is no one specific formula for determining the visibility of the new young moon. Instead, it rests on several factors: the moon’s path across the sky (angle of ecliptic), how much dust or pollution there is in the sky, and even the sharpness of the observer’s eyesight. In cases where the moon’s path doesn’t run parallel to the horizon, but rather at right angels to it, the young moon may be spotted as little as 24 hours after it was new. If it does, then at least 36 hours.

Since new moon [conjunction] calculations are incredibly accurate, some argue that they can and should be used to aid and narrow the scope of visibility forecasts, as well as rule out any negative moon sightings. Which means that any claims of spotting the young [crescent] moon from earth before conjunction occurs, or before it is physically possible to see (such as when the moon sets before the sun does), will be ruled out and considered invalid. Only those sighting will be accepted that fall within the scope of astronomical calculations.

On the face of it, this sounds very reasonable. The conditions for a valid testimony of moon sighting must be physically and rationally possible. Decisive astronomical data can be used to rule out dubious or questionable testimonies or sightings, but not to establish the actual crescent. That has to be done through actual valid sighting. This is the opinion of the jurist-astronomer, and research lecturer at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, Sh. Afifi, and other jurists for the last several centuries. (Incidentally, and given his credentials, Shaykh Afifi’s fatwa on moonsighting is possibly the most definitive word on the subject in the English language: it can be read here).

Now while this view combines the best of both worlds, it seems to have one gremlin under its bonnet; one niggling glitch. A growing size of groups and individuals, over the last decade or so, have testified to seeing the young moon before the astronomical data said it was possible! And it’s not just a matter of one or two individual in Saudi Arabia that are doing so. The Indian scholar, Shaykh Yahya Numani informed me last year that he has been an advocate of the above, negative moonsighting view for some time now. Yet recently, some of his seniors, and those whose knowledge, integrity and moonsighting abilities he firmly trusts, have testified to seeing the moon before the astronomically possible times too. He said that it has been seen by groups consisting of many individuals across various parts of India, across the past few years! It’s a bit of a pickle. Then again, maybe they’re events for which one can invoke the legal maxim: al-nadiru ka’l-ma‘dum – ‘the rare occurrence is like something that has not happened’? Or a case of: al-zannu la yu‘aridu’l-qat‘a – ‘the probable cannot override the definite’? But what is definite here, the negative moonsighting or the several/tens of witnesses? Is one shari‘ah bound to accept the calculation, or accept the large body of witnesses? Further juristic clarification is needed here.

IV

Just before concluding, I’d like to throw into the discussion two points to consider: the first concerns the idea of a ‘universal’ start day for Ramadan, or a ‘universal’ ‘Id day. Has there ever been such a thing? Yes, there’s the juristic view that the sighting of one place is binding on all other places that come to reliably know of it. Yet the actual practice of the ummah, for many ages now, has been for every place to follow its own Imam or head of state, or its own regional sighting. This has been the agreed upon practice for long ages now. In fact, historically, we do not see any one of the caliphs or rulers of the Islamic caliphate ever sending out royal decrees or letters to the various provinces to follow their moon sighting. Even in the hadith of Kurayb, we just don’t find Mu‘awiyah (who was the caliph of the time) sending out a state decree or edict to make his moon sighting binding on all other provinces. Hence Ibn ‘Abbas did what he did. The idea of a universal day of fasting, or ‘Id, where Muslims all around the globe unitedly fast and celebrate, is a very touching and sentimental thought; but contrary to the ummah’s historical practice. Indeed, some hold that this newfangled notion of calling for a universal day is actually a bid‘ah: an innovation having no basis in Islam, at odds with the historically agreed upon practice of the ummah.10

The second issue concerns what we Muslims in Britain should do. Given the above, and given also that Shaykh Afifi and others up and down Britain consistently moon sight every month  – and have been religiously doing so for many years, we should all seriously consider following local moon sighting. The benefits of doing so will not be hidden from the readers: Firstly, we have Greenwich observatory to give us excellent visibility predictions for the moon (as do websites like: moonsighting.com). Secondly, local moonsighting has been successfully practiced by Muslims in Britain for decades (along with Morrocco, which falls in our local moon sighting zone). Thirdly, British Muslims can take charge of their own affairs in this highly erratic issue, rather than waiting on global news and the complications, controversies and confusion it so often brings. Fourthly, local moon sighting would also allow for the various religious groups up and down Britain to more easily unite on a common word, God willing. Fifthly, by doing so we could return to a more normative, pragmatic and historically-rooted way of moon sighting, prior to the 1972 Arabian fiasco and prior to the 1986 geo-political jostling in Britain. The Afifian method would be employed: use calculations so as to rule out negative sightings; be guided by data for visibility predictions to aid actual sighting; and then actually go out and try and sight that sought after slither of silver. Wa’Llahu’l-musta‘an.

Conclusion: for now, for this Ramadan, rather than everyone doing their own thing and further fragmenting unity, it is best to delegate authority to our local mosques and follow their desicion. It is important to give up one’s personal opinion in favour of the local mosque, simply for the sake of greater unity. Since we have got no single agreed-upon national hilal committee here in the UK, that could act as our “Imam” as it were, we should devolve responsibility to the next authoritative level: which is that of mosques. The burden is then upon them to get it right. If one feels that their local mosque is out of sync with other mosques in the city or area; if one is convinced that their mosque is truly out of step with the majority, then they should quietly differ from their local mosque – without making a fuss of furore about it. But if the local mosque is in sync with others in the area or city, then even if one disagrees with them personally, one should fast with the majority of people.

Until we don’t have a clear, decided national majority, local or regional majorities are going to have to suffice. As has been written elsewhere, let’s not make this Ramadan an issue of moonsighting vs. moonfighting! Let’s keep our egos, tempers, tongues and personal opinions in check. Or else, what would that be saying or portraying about ourselves as Muslims?

Before the mid-eighties, when we used to all follow Morocco’s moon sighting here in Britain, urban legend has it that the man in Morocco who was tasked with the job of telexing or faxing us the good news that Morocco had just spotted the moon, forgot or fell asleep. We had to collectively (and inconveniently) make up a missed day of Ramadan later. That one unintended foul was a game changer; it was to bring other less benign things into play. Players who’d, up until then, performed pretty well were substituted. Egos, envy and geo-politics jogged on to the pitch. Instead of that magic, unified 4-3-3 formation, came division and disarray. The game’s never been quite the same since. The game’s never been quite that beautiful.

Whether the urban legend is true or not, I’d like it to think it is. I’d like to believe that we British Muslims were, not too long ago, more unified; only so it can give us hope for a more unified future. Hope is incredibly important.

And Allah knows best.

1. Al-Bukhari, no.1776; Muslim, no.1080.

2. The Hanafi position is typified in Ibn Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 2003), 3:363-4; the Maliki in Khalil b. Ishaq, al-Tawdih Sharh Mukhtasar Ibn al-Hajib (Beirut: Dar Ibn Hazm, 2012), 2:203; the Hanbali in al-Bahuti, Sharh Muntaha al-Iradat (Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 2000), 2:341.

3. The Shafi‘i positioned is summarised in al-Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1995), 7:172.

4. Muslim, no.1087; al-Tirmidhi, no.693, where he said: ‘The people of knowledge act by this hadith that every region has its own moonlighting.’ A thorough discussion of both views is presented in al-Kandahlawi, Awjaz al-Masalik (Damascus: Dar al-Qalam, 2003), 5:22-31.

5. Ibn Baz, Majmu‘ Fatawa wa Maqalat Mutanawwi‘ah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1997), 15:85, 99, 102; Ibn ‘Uthaymin, Sharh al-Mumti‘ (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2005), 6:310-11.

6. Al-Tirmidhi, no.697.

7. Jami‘ al-Tirmidhi (Riyadh: Dar al-Salam, 1999), 178; n.697.

8. Consult: H. Yusuf, Cesarean Moon Births (USA: Zaytuna Institute, 2007), 52-58. The shaykh also discussed (pp.36-52) the view of the five scholars who apparently allowed calculations to begin the month – based on the hadith: ‘… if it is cloudy, then estimate it (fa in ghumma ‘alaykum faqduru lahu).’ [Al-Bukhari, no.1900; Muslim, no.1080]. He shows how, firstly, they permitted this only if the sky is overcast on the 29th night (as per the hadith); that is, obscurity is a condition for calculation. Secondly, even if one were to argue that obscurity wasn’t essential, there is nothing decisive in their words to suggest they advocated calculations in lieu of moonsighting.

9. See: al-Ijma‘ ‘inda A’immat Ahl al-Sunnah al-Arba‘ah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-‘Ubaykan, 2003), 77; Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 25:207; al-Furuq (Beirut: Maktabah al-‘Asriyyah, 2002), 2:177, resepctively.

10. Al-Tayyar, Wablu’l-Ghamamh fi Sharh ‘Umdat al-Fiqh li Ibn Qudamah (Saudi Arabia, Madar al-Watn, 2012), 2:141; Zawman, Ghayat al-Muqtasidin Sharh Manhaj al-Salikin (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2013), 2:86; and the aforementioned fatwa of Afifi.

* This piece was originally written for www.islamicate.co.uk and is posted here with kind permission.

Bidding Farewell to Ramadan

379646_641837895829736_821105402_nAs the month of great mercies draws to a close, as the faithful engage in final acts of Ramadan devotions, as believers anticipate divine acceptance and as Muslims across the world prepare for the coming Eid celebrations, let us close our series of Ramadan exhortations from Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali with the following:

‘Servants of God! The month of Ramadan has resolved to leave, and only a little of it now remains. Those among you who have done well in it, let them see it through till its end. Those who have fallen short, let them finish it with goodly actions. Enjoy the remaining few days and nights that are left of it. Bid it farewell with righteous deeds that will testify in your favour before the All-Knowing King. See it off by parting with it with the purist greeting of peace …

O month of Ramadan, be gentle! The tears of the lovers are streaming down at your departure and their hearts torn asunder at the pain of separation. Perhaps standing to bid you farewell may quench the flames of yearning that burn within. Perhaps a few moments of repentance and abstinence may mend of the fast all that has pierced it. Perhaps one cut-off from the caravan [of fasters] may find divine acceptance along with them. Perhaps one who was deserving of the Fire will be set free. Perhaps one shackled by sins will be liberated. Perhaps the sinner shall be shown mercy to by the Protecting Master.’1

Salamun ‘alayka ya shahr al-siyam wa’l-qiyam. Salamun ‘alayka ya shahr al-tilawati
wa’l-qur’an. Salamun ‘alayka ya shahr al-barakah wa’l-ihsan. Salamun
‘alayka ya shahr al-ghufran wa’l-ridwan. Salamun
‘alayka ya shahr al-Ramadan.
Salamun ‘alayka.
Salam.

1. Lata’if al-Ma‘arif (Riyadh: Dar Ibn Khuzaymah, 2007), 486-7.

Believing in the Ramadan Hope & Healing

beliefinramadanAs we approach the latter part of Ramadan, here are some reflections from the words of Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali, to spur us on to the fruits of Ramadan with renewed vigour. (Previous visits to Ramadan with Ibn Rajab can be read here and here):

1. Let us recall how the path to goodness has been facilitated for us in Ramadan. Ibn Rajab reminds us that: ‘The Devil has been shackled in Ramadan, the fires of passions quelled by fasting, the ego’s desires isolated, and authority has been turned over to the restraining intellect which rules justly. So the sinner, now, has no excuse. O clouds of heedlessness, disperse from over the heart! O rays of piety and faith, arise for this new dawn! O pages wherein righteous deeds are recorded, rise up! O hearts of those who fast, have reverent fear [of God]! O feet of the devoted strivers, prostrate to your Lord and bow down to Him! O eyes of those who spend their nights in prayer, sleep not! O sins of the repenters, return not!’1

2. While we do indeed worship a Generous Lord, we should not become complacent about the acceptance of our deeds. We must not take for granted that our fasts will be accepted. Instead, we should seek to eliminate the defects in our fasts, by seeking to improve our intention, sincerity, quality of our fasting and depth of devotion in them. ‘The pious predecessors (al-salaf al-salih),’ wrote Ibn Rajab, ‘would strive tenaciously to complete an action well and to perfect it. They would then be concerned if the act would be accepted, fearing it may be rejected. They were of those who give what they give while their hearts tremble. [23:60] It is related that ‘Ali said: “Be more concerned with your action’s acceptance than with the action itself. Have you not heard God, majestic is He, saying: God accepts only from those who fear Him. [5:27]” … One of the salaf declared: “They used to call upon God for six months that He allow them to reach Ramadan, then they would beseech Him for the next six months for Him to accept their deeds from them.”‘2

3. More than anything else, Ramadan is about hope and anticipating good. Ibn Rajab again: “The month, all of it, is a month of mercy, forgiveness and freedom [from the Fire]. This is why it says in an authentic hadith that the gates of mercy are flung open during it; and in a hadith in al-Tirmidhi and others: “Indeed, God frees [people] from the Hellfire every night [of Ramadan].”3 Be that as it may, the first part of [the month] is dominated by mercy – particularly to the God-fearing who act with excellence (li’l-muhsinin al-muttaqin). God, exalted is He, says: Surely, the mercy of God is near to those who act with excellence. [7:56] And: My mercy embraces all things, therefore I shall ordain it for those who fear [God] and pay the zakat. [7:156] At the month’s commencement there is an unbounded outpouring of mercy and good pleasure upon the God-fearing, whilst the people of excellence are treated with grace and eminence.

As for the middle of the month, forgiveness dominates it. During it, those who fast are forgiven, even if they are guiltily of committing some minor sins – for even that shall not bar them from being forgiven. In this respect, God, exalted is He, said: Truly your Lord is forgiving to people despite their evil-doing. [13:6]

As for the latter part of the month, those whose evil deeds and major sins would have necessitated residing in the Hellfire, are freed and liberated.’4

4. Those sinners who continue to lead wayward lives and neglect their duties to God, even in the blessed month of Ramadan, even they needn’t despair: ‘Just because God’s mercy has been specified for the doers of excellence, it doesn’t mean sinners should despair of receiving it. Just because forgiveness is ordained for the God-fearing, those who wrong themselves [through sinning] are not veiled from it … Say: “O my servants who have transgressed against their own souls! Do not despair of God’s mercy! For God forgives all sins.” [39:53] So, O sinner – and we are all sinners – let not your evil deeds make you despair of God’s mercy. How many like you have been liberated from the Fire during these days. So entertain a good opinion of your Protecting Lord and turn in repentance to Him. For no one is damned with God, save he who damns himself:

If sins pain you then take your medicine;
By raising your hands in the depth of the night.
Despair not of the Divine Mercy; for surely
Despair of it is worse than the sin itself.
His mercy to the doers of excellence is generosity;
While His mercy to the sinners is pure benevolence.’5

1. Lata’if al-Ma‘arif (Riyadh: Dar Ibn Khuzaymah, 2007), 380.

2. ibid., 474-5.

3. Al-Tirmidhi, Sunan, no.682.

4. Lata’if al-Ma‘arif, 479.

5. ibid., 481.

* This article was written for: www.islamicate.co.uk and is reposted here with kind permission.

Reality of the Ramadan Heat

Instatnt-dubai-1024_219050kIt’s been a scorcher! Having completed the first week of fasting in Ramadan, British Muslims have been enduring searing temperatures they never anticipated. No doubt, in some countries summer temperatures in excess of 30 degrees is regarded as mild or moderate. But here, given that we are a pretty much sun-starved nation, it’s a veritable heat wave! Along with the eighteen or so hours of fasting (or twenty hours, depending on what timetable is being utilised), the heat has made Ramadan quite a challenge this year. Yet amidst the suffocating heat, the heightened thirst and the increased fatigue, there are subtle blessing which come along with the Ramadan heat.

In our second visit to Ibn Rajab’s Lata’if al-Ma‘arif (the first may be read here), we find our pietist and hadith master discussing this very issues: fasting in the heat of summer and its attendant virtues. He writes:

‘Among those [deeds] whose rewards are multiplied during extreme heat is fasting, due to the thirst felt during the midday heat. Which is why Mu‘adh b. Jabal expressed regret on his deathbed that he would no longer be able to experience such thirst again at midday. Such was the case for others among the pious predecessors (salaf) too.

It has been reported that Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, may God be pleased with him, would fast during the summer, but not fast during winters.

Whilst on his deathbed, ‘Umar, may God be pleased with him, advised his son ‘Abd Allah, may God be pleased with him: “Cleave to the qualities of faith,” and the first of them he mentioned was fasting in the intense summer heat.

Al-Qasim b. Muhammad relates that ‘A’ishah, may God be pleased with her, would fast in the searing heat. It was asked of him: What made her do that: He said: “She would take advantage of [the days before] death.” … And one of the pious women [of the past] would choose the hottest days to fast. On being asked why, she replied: “If the price is cheap, then everyone would purchase it.” What she meant was that she wanted to do those deeds that very few people would be able to do, because of the huge difficulty involved. And this was from her lofty resolve (‘uluw al-himmah). 

Rawh b. Zinba‘ was travelling between Makkah and Madinah during an extremely hot day. A shepherd from the mountain approached him, so Rawh said: “O shepherd! Join me for some food.” He said that he was fasting. Rawh said: “Do you fast in such severe heat?” The shepherd replied: Should I let my days pass by in vein? So Rawh said: “You have utilised your days responsibly, O shepherd, whilst Rawh b. Zinba‘ has not.”

‘Ibn ‘Umar would fast optional fasts until he would almost faint. Yet still he would not break his fast. And Imam Ahmad would fast until he [too] would almost pass out; so he would wipe water over his face. He was asked about fasting in the extreme heat, so he responded: “There is no problem with wetting a towel and then squeeze water upon himself to cool himself. The Prophet, peace be upon him, was at al-‘Arj and he poured water over himself whilst fasting.”1

Abu’l-Darda would say: “Fast on the days that are very hot, in preparation for the heat of the Day of Resurrection. Pray two rak‘ahs in the darkness of night, in anticipation of the darkness in the grave.”

It is recorded in the Sahih; from Abu’l-Darda, who said: “You have seen us along with God’s Messenger, peace be upon him, on some of his travels in extremely hot weather, and a man would have to press his hand against his head due to the severe heat. And none of them would be fasting, save the Messenger of God and ‘Abd Allah b. Rawaha.” In the narration of Muslim, it states that this was during the month of Ramadan.2

When those who fast for God’s sake, in the heat, patiently endure the dehydration and intense thirst, God will single-out for them one of the gates of Paradise called Rayyan. Whoever enters through it, shall be given to drink; and whoever drinks, shall never again be thirsty. When they have entered through it, the gate shall be closed and none will enter through it except them.’3

In closing, I’d like to stress that the point of citing such reports is not to encourage irresponsibility or to suggest that we should burden ourselves with more than we can bear: the strong in body and health are not like the elderly, infirm or the chronically ill. Rather, the point was that since temperatures have soared, and we are fasting, that our resolves may be strengthened by recalling the immense reward which comes with the increased hardships of fasting on days of intense heat. As for the saintly men and women of the past who were mentioned above, then their resolves, calibre and quality of faith was something entirely different. They knew their levels, as we should know ours: Those are a people who have passed away. Theirs was what they did, and yours is what you do. And you will not be questioned about their actions. [2:134]

1. As per Malik, al-Muwatta, 1:194.

2. Al-Bukhari, no.1945; Muslim, no.1122.

3. Lata’if al-Ma‘arif (Riyadh: Dar Ibn Khuzaymah, 2007), 694-8, slightly abridged.

Ramadan: Becoming What We Were Born to Be

970952_378342775600795_2038395910_nToday sees the first day of Ramadan: the Muslim month of fasting (sawm). Observing the fasts of Ramadan unites Muslims the world over in common purpose and creates great social cohesion. But more than its social benefits, or benefits to the body (which is always a welcome side effect), Ramadan is principally designed to be spiritually and mentally transformative.

The whole point of fasting in Ramadan, the fourth pillar of Islam, is to foster a state of detachment from the world, as also from our ego and desires. This creates, as it were, a space in our souls for the remembrance of God and for awareness of His presence: O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may become mindful of God. [2:183]

Thus, that we become of those who are mindful of God and profoundly aware of Him (in Arabic, muttaqi) is, according to the Qur’an, what we were all created to be. And it is in accordance with such mindfulness that we have been called upon to mould our lives, actions and aspirations.

Ramadan, therefore, is that time of the year when our awareness of God sharpens and diligence to acts of devotion strengthen. Along with the five daily prayers and actually fasting, the main acts of devotion a believer engages in are: reading the Qur’an daily, aiming to complete it by the month’s end; becoming more charitable; seeking God’s forgiveness (istighfar) profusely; praying tarawih and night prayers; working to cleanse the heart from diseases like pride, vanity, ostentation, jealousy, greed and harbouring malice or ill will against others; empathising with the poor and learning to live for the poor; remembering God frequently; entreating God abundantly; guarding the tongue from lying, backbiting, slandering and gossiping; strengthening ties of relations; and being of greater service to others. It is through commitment to such acts that we start to become what we were born to be: muttaqi.

Ramadan: Time to Slide Out of the Rat Race

rat-race-meetingSome lovers of this fleeting life live their lives in the fast line; ever eager to keep their motor of materialism in top gear. Some are content to cruise the consumerist dream in third or fourth gear. Others only manage to dawdle through dunya’s distractions in second. But all such lovers are bitterly averse, to moseying along in first gear, let alone reverse.

For believers, Ramadan is that time of the year where we are reminded to ease off the accelerator and to responsibly slide out of the rat race – if not in body, then at least in mind and in spirit. Only by stepping outside of the frenzy can we realign our centres and reassess our true goals. Ramadan has all the social and spiritual technology built into it to allow us to do precisely that. (Even as I write, I have just received a text from a well-known business company asking me to remember just how amazing the world is and how I need to “Jump in” and “Embrace life”).

In Ramadan, I hope to post a few spiritual reminders touching on different facets of Ramadan, from the acclaimed jurist, hadith master and worldly renunciant (zahid), Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali. But for now, let us kick-off this series with the following words from him, which seek to arouse sleepers from their sins and slumber and energise and alert us to what we can do and become in the blessed month of Ramadan. Thus, in concluding his advice concerning the duties and spiritual attainments in the month of Sha‘ban, Ibn Rajab writes (in verse form):

‘O you who were not content to sin just in Rajab;
But disobeyed your Lord, even in Sha‘ban.
The fasting month has come now to shade you,
Turn it not into a month of sinfulness too.
Recite the Qur’an and glorify God, diligently;
For it is the month of glorification and Qur’an.
Deny bodily appetites, seeking salvation through it;
For soon bodies shall be consumed by the Fire.
How many you knew who fasted previously:
From among family, neighbours and brothers.
Death obliterated them, leaving you to live on;
How close are the the living to those who are dead.
You take pride in your Id clothes, cut to fit;
Yet the morrow they will be your burial shrouds!
Until when will man dwell in his place of dwelling?
Knowing his ultimate abode is the grave.’1

1. Lata’if al-Ma‘arif (Riyadh: Dar Ibn Khuzaymah, 2007), 351-2.

Ramadan: Reverence, Restraint & Responsibility

tarawih-understanding-the-words‘There’s only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self,’ said Aldous Huxley, the English novelist best known for his dystopian novel, Brave New World. In his exploration of the dilemmas confronting modern man (the rise of capitalism, the dehumanising demands of technological progress, and the cult of self-worship and instant gratification), Huxley hits on many truisms in his chilling forecasts to the modern world.

This month will see Muslims the world over observe the fasts of Ramadan. Ramadan is a month in which believers are required to buckle down more consciously so as to improve their own ‘corner of the universe.’

The month is marked by heightened religious observance and also a keener sense of social cohesion, and provides a powerful energy for self-transformation. As the month progresses, many Muslims, repentant for the ills and misdeeds of their past, resolving never to return to such ways again. Indeed, men, women and whole societies actively purify themselves during this month. This experience becomes, for many, the turning point of the year and, for some, their whole lives. Furthermore, Ramadan yields to the believer an array of timely lessons to help steer them through what is fast becoming a chaotic and volatile world. Let’s touch upon three such lessons:

1. Undoubtedly, Ramadan’s core lesson is learning to be more mindful and conscious of God, which relates to the sense of ta‘zim (“reverence” and “awe”) of Him. Ramadan is a call to renew our reverence of God by revering the Divine orders and respecting their limits (hudud). The regime of fasting sets certain limits which, though designed to facilitate our detachment from the dunya; the lower world, and from the nafs; the ego, it is ultimately about offering believers an opportunity to revere and remember God more fully and faithfully.

2. Another of Ramadan’s recurring lessons is that of restraint. By temporarily denying themselves instant gratification while fasting, Muslims are taught self-restraint. Here we confront Islam as counter-culture. For what could be more unmodern than to keep the cravings of the nafs in check. Modernity is about pandering to the nafs. “Free yourself”, “Be yourself”, “Indulge yourself”, is modernity’s holy trinity.

Our current climate is one where Muslims find themselves under constant scrutiny, criticism or attack. Hardly a day goes by, in the media or the world at large, without Islam being fair game. Yet for believers, the self-restraint exercised in Ramadan is the same restraint we must demonstrate in the face of all such provocations. The Qur’an asserts: You shall certainly hear much that is hurtful from those who were given the Book before you, and from the idolaters. But if you are patient and God-conscious, these are weighty factors in all affairs.[3:186]

3. Ramadan also teaches us responsibility, particularly to the world’s poor and hungry. For by the end of a day’s fast, Muslims usually experience some sensation of hunger. Thus we are awakened, in a most direct manner, to the plight of hundreds of millions of our fellow human beings who suffer hunger and starvation every day. This should compel us to extend to them our help and support. In a world filled with grotesque human inequalities, and soaked in the unholiness of poverty, we must each commit ourselves to eliminating this global injustice.

This year, as schools up and down the country wind-up the task of grounding pupils in the Three R’s (reading, writing and arithmetic), Ramadan offers its own Three R’s: reverence, restraint & responsibility. Internalising such lessons best prepares believers to engage the brave new world of the turbo-consumerist Monoculture and help bring about its much needed healing.

Wa bi’Llahi’l-tawfiq.

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