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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: 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.

How Our Outward States Affect Our Inner Moods; and Visa-Versa

winter village‘It was autumn, and the Indians on the reservation asked their new chief if it was going to be a cold winter. Raised in the ways of the modern world, the chief had never been taught the old secrets and had no way of knowing whether the winter would be cold or mild. To be on the safe side, he advised the tribe to collect wood and be prepared for a cold winter. A few days later, as a practical afterthought, he called the National Weather Service and asked whether they were forecasting a cold winter. The meteorologist replied that, indeed, he thought the winter would be quite cold. The chief advised the tribe to stock even more wood.

A couple of weeks later, the chief checked in again with the Weather Service. “Does it still look like a cold winter?” asked the chief. “It sure does,” replied the meteorologist. “It looks like a very cold winter.” The chief advised the tribe to gather up every scrap of wood they could find.

A couple of weeks later, the chief called the Weather Service again and asked how the winter was looking at that point. The meteorologist said, “We’re now forecasting that it will be one of the coldest winters on record!” “Really?” said the chief. “How can you be sure?” The meteorologist replied, “The Indians are collecting wood like crazy!”‘1

The chief has unwittingly fallen into a circular argument, of sorts; a vicious circle, so to speak. His evidence for needing to stock more wood turns out to be that he was stocking more wood!

Humour aside, there is another sort of circular logic in a more serious aspect of our lives: the connection between our hearts and our outward actions. The Prophet, upon whom be peace, informed us that, ‘Truly in the body there is a morsel of flesh which, if it be sound, all the body is sound and which, if it be diseased, all the body is diseased. Truly it is the heart.’2

What this hadith tells us is that when the heart is filled with piety, pious intentions and reverent submission to God, the outward acts of the limbs will reflect such piety in terms of hearing, seeing and doing righteousness. Conversely, if the heart harbours impiety, malice, spite, jealously and an inordinate love of materialism, that too will be reflected in deeds of defiance and disobedience to God; or injury and injustice to our fellow man. Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali struck this simile when he wrote: ‘This is why it has been said that the heart is the king of the limbs, and the limbs its soldiers. This being so, they are soldiers obedient to the king, in its service, ever fulfilling its commands, never opposing it in the slightest. So if the king is virtuous, the soldiers will be too; but if the king is corrupt, the soldiers will act corruptly too.’3

The above hadith confirms the link between our inward and outward state, and how the heart influences the outward behaviour of the limbs. It is worth noting that other hadiths say that the reverse is also true. The Prophet, peace be upon him, would say about the need to straighten the rows for prayer: istawwu wa la takhtalifu fa takhtalifa qulubukum – ‘Straighten your rows and do not differ, lest your hearts differ.’4 So here we see that tending to the outward act of straightening the rows for prayer is a reason for hearts to be inwardly united; and visa-versa! In other words, outward acts of piety influence the heart’s purity and soundness. ‘A servant’s faith,’ says another hadith, ‘will not be upright until his heart is upright; and his heart will not be upright until his tongue is upright.’In short: the inner (batin) influences the outer (zahir); and the outer, the inner.

As for those deeds which best rectify the heart, and are a profound cause for its inner purification, they include: performing obligations (farad, wajibat), consuming lawful food, reciting Qur’an, making dhikr, keeping company of righteous people, praying at night and seeking God’s forgiveness abundantly.6

1. Cited in Cathcart & Klein, Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar (New York: Abrams Image, 2007), 42-3.

2. Al-Bukhari, no.52; Muslim, no.1599.

3. Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 1:210.

4. Muslim, no.432.

5. Ahmad, Musnad, no.12636. It was graded hasan in al-Albani, Sahih al-Targhib wa’l-Tarhib (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma’arif, 2000), no.2554.

6. See: al-Haytami, Fath al-Mubin bi Sharh al-Arba‘in (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2008), 250.

Loving Allah & Islam is Far More Than a Bumper Sticker

LuvFaith (iman) isn’t just an empty verbal affirmation or assertion of the shahadah. One must also surrender wholeheartedly: Do people imagine that they will be left alone because they say: ‘We believe,’ and that they won’t be tried? [Q.29:1]

By the same token, it isn’t enough merely to say ‘I believe in Allah and His Prophet.’ We must also accept and conform to Allah’s commands and prohibitions, and the teachings of the Prophet ﷺ with utmost sincerity and submission. This is the hallmark of true love. A celebrated hadith records that Allah said: ‘My servant does not draw closer to Me with anything more beloved to Me than the religious duties I have enjoined on him. My servant continues to draw closer to Me with supererogatory acts until I love him.’1

Likewise, loving Allah is more than a verbal claim. It’s more than a bumper sticker on our car which says: ‘I love Allah’, or ‘I love Islam’. And obviously, it’s way more than a profile pic on a social media account. So beyond just a claim, or fluffy emotions and sentimental feelings, what does true love, in the Islamic scheme of things, entail? That’s the subject of this brief article:

In discussing the hadith: ‘None of you [truly] believes until his desires accord with what I have brought’2 Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali tells us about what loving Islam and love of Allah involves in these words:

‘As for the meaning of the hadith, it is that a person cannot be a believer whose level of necessary faith (al-iman al-wajib) is complete, until his love corresponds with what the Prophet ﷺ came with in terms of commands, prohibitions and other matters – loving what he ordered and loathing what he forbade. The Qur’an says this in more than one place, as when Allah, exalted is He, said: But no, by your Lord, they will not believe until they make you judge of what is in dispute between them, and find in themselves no dislike for what you decide, but submit to it fully. [Q.4:65]

Allah, exalted is He, also says: It is not for a believing man or believing woman to have any choice in their affairs when Allah and His Messenger have decided for them. [Q.33:36]

Allah chastises those who detest what He loves, or love what He detests: That is because they hate what Allah has revealed; so He renders their deeds fruitless. [Q.47:9] And He said: That is because they followed what makes Allah wrathful, and hated His pleasure. So, He made all their works fruitless. [Q.47:28]

Thus it is incumbent upon each believer to love whatever Allah loves, with a love that requires fulfilling whatever is obligatory upon him. If his love increases, so that he fulfils even the recommended, then this will be additional.

[Likewise], he should dislike what Allah dislikes, with a dislike that requires refraining from whatever is forbidden. If his dislike increases, such that he refrains from those things that are detested; again, this is additional.

It is confirmed in the Two Sahihs that the Prophet ﷺ said: “None of you truly believes till I am more beloved to him than his own self, children, family and all of mankind.”3 That is, a believer will not be a true believer, until he prefers love of the Messenger ﷺ over and above love for the rest of creation: for love of the Prophet follows on from love of the message with which he was sent.

Genuine love also necessitates imitation (mutaba‘ah) of, and compliance (muwafaqah) with love of the beloved matters and loathing of the detested ones. Allah says, mighty and majestic is He: Say: “If your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your wives, your tribe, the wealth you have amassed, the commerce you fear may slacken, and the homes you love are dearer to you than Allah and His Messenger and the struggle in His cause, then wait till Allah brings about His command; for Allah guides not the corrupt.” [Q.9:24]

Allah, exalted is He, also stated: Say: “If you love Allah, then follow me; for then Allah will love you and forgive you your sins.” [Q.3:31]

Al-Hasan [al-Basri] said: “The Prophet’s Companions asked: O Messenger of Allah, we love our Lord intensely. So Allah wished to make a hallmark for His love; therefore He revealed this verse.”

The Two Sahihs narrate that the Prophet ﷺ said: “There are three [qualities] which, if they are found in anyone, shall cause him to taste the sweetness of faith: that Allah and His Messenger be dearer to him than everything else; that he love a person only for Allah’s sake; and that he hate reverting to disbelief after having been rescued from it by Allah, as he would hate being cast into the fire.”4

Whosoever loves Allah and His Messenger sincerely from his heart, it will necessitate that he loves in his heart what Allah and His Messenger love; loath what they loath; be pleased with what pleases them; and be displeased with what displeases them; and the limbs will then conform to whatever this loving and loathing necessitate.

But if he does anything with his limbs which contravenes any of this; if he commits an act that Allah or His Messenger detest, or leaves an act that Allah or His Messenger love – whilst believing in its obligation and possessing the ability [to avoid or fulfil the act] – this indicates a defect in the necessary level of love. He should therefore repent from it and return to completing the necessary level of love.

Abu Ya‘qub al-Nahrujuri said: “Whosoever claims to love Allah, mighty and majestic is He, but doesn’t comply with Allah in His commands, his claim is false. For every lover that does not fear Allah, is deluded.”

Yahya b. Mu‘adh said: “That person is not truthful who claims to love Allah, yet does not safeguard His limits.”

Ruwaym was asked about divine love, to which he said: “It is to comply in all states.” …

Someone from the earlier generations versified: “You disobey Allah, but claim to love Him; This, by my life, is a foul analogy. If your love were true, you would indeed obey Him; For a lovers obeys the One that he loves.”’5

1. Al-Bukhari, Sahih, no.6502.

2. Al-Baghawi, Sharh al-Sunnah, 1:212. It was confirmed as sahih in Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari (Damascus: al-Risalah al-‘Alamiyyah, 2013), 13:289.

3. Al-Bukhari, no.15; Muslim, no.44.

4. Al-Bukhari, no.16; Muslim, no.43.

5. Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 2:395-7.

The Doors of Faith, Fear & Hope

EagleThe Qur’an says: And call on Him in fear and hope. Indeed God’s mercy is near to the doers of good. [7:56]

In depicting the believers, the Qur’an declares: They hope for His mercy yet fear His torment; the torment of your Lord is something to be avoided. [17:57]

It is said that the heart, in its worship of God, can be likened to that of a bird: love is its head, with hope and fear being its two wings. If the head and wings are sound, the bird flies gracefully. But if the head is severed, the bird dies; and if it looses one of its wings, it becomes a target for every hunter and predator.1

Like all spiritual states, it is knowledge of God that begets fear and hope. Knowledge of God’s might and majesty, and the punishment with which He threatens those who disobey Him, spawns a state of apprehension in the heart. This apprehension is called “fear”. The result is that one forsakes sin and guards against the path leading to divine wrath. For one who truly fears a thing, flees from it.

As for hope, its basis is the heart’s knowledge of God’s vast mercy and forgiveness, the magnitude of His generosity and kindness, and His gracious promise to all those who obey Him.

Ibn Juzayy, jurist and exegesist, wrote the following on the degrees of fear of God and peoples’ relationship to them:

‘Realise that fear (khawf) has three degrees: First, that it is weak. It enters the heart but has no effect, inwardly or outwardly. Its existence is as if it did not exist. Second, that it is strong, in that it awakens a person from heedlessness, helping him to be upright. Third, that it is excessive so as to cause despair or loose all hope: this is impermissible. And the best of affairs is the middle one.

People are at three stations in respect of fear: The fear of the generality is of sins. The fear of the elite is of destiny’s seal. The fear of the elect is of the pre-ordained decree; because destiny’s seal is based on it.’2

Having discussed fear of God, Ibn Juzayy then balances the equation by expounding on the reality of hope in a similar fashion:

‘Hope (raja) also has three degrees: First, to hope in God’s mercy by using the lawful means leading to it, [which are] doing acts of obedience and refraining from sins. This is praiseworthy hope. Second,  hope while infringing God’s limits and acting sinfully: this is sheer delusion. Thirdly, it is where one’s hope becomes so acute that it lulls one into a false sense of safety [from God’s anger]: which is forbidden.

People have three stations with respect to hope: For the masses, it is hoping for God’s reward (thawab). For the elite, it is hoping for God’s acceptance and pleasure (ridwan). And for the elect, it is hoping in the meeting (liqa’) with God, out of love and yearning for Him.’3

Explaining their subliminal peaks of fearing God and hoping in His forgiveness and mercy, Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali wrote:

‘The perfect state of fear or hope is when it is attached to God Himself, rather than to created things like Paradise or Hell. The sublimest degree of fear is fear of being made remote from God, or being the object of His anger, or of being veiled from Him. This is why God recounts this punishment to His enemies first, before warning them of the Fire: No! On that Day they will be veiled from their Lord; then they shall be exposed to Hell. [83:15-16] Dhu’l-Nun stated: “Fear of Hell compared to fear of separation from God, is as a droplet of water in an endless ocean.” The sublimest level of hope is also attached to God Himself: to hope for His good pleasure, to behold the beatific vision of Him, to be given to witness Him and to be drawn near to Him.’4

One of the spiritual masters said: If you wish for the doors of hope to be opened to you, look to see how God has been with you. If you wish for the doors of fear to be opened, look to see how you have behaved with God.

1. See: Ibn al-Qayyim, Ilam al-Muwaqqiin (Riyadh: Dar Taybah, 2008), 2:145.

2. At-Tashil li Ulum al-Tanzil (Beirut: al-Maktabah al-Asriyyah, 2003), 2:69.

3. ibid., 2:69.

4. Al-Takhwif min al-Nar (Beirut: Maktabah al-Mu‘ayyad, 1988), 26-7.

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