Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ramadhan, la'allakum tattaquun

Upon entering the month of Ramadhan, we can all appreciate the value of time and how quickly the months pass us by. It hardly feels as though nearly a year has passed since last Ramadan. This transient nature of time is evident in the Quran when Allah swears by his creation. He only swears by things that require contemplation which is why He swears by Time in Surah al Asr.

During Rajab, and Sha’baan, the two months directly before the month of Ramadan, our beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) would ask Allah to allow him to live until Ramadan because of the great potential for reward during this blessed month. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) never requested to live longer except in these two months. He (pbuh) used to say:

“Oh Allah, bless us in the months of Rajab and Sha’baan and let us live till Ramadan.”
Related by Ahmed and Tabarani

Fasting (sawm) is one of the 5 Pillars of Islam, but what is the reason for fasting? What is the purpose of Ramadan? Why do we go without food and water all day? Why do we read the Quran more than any other time of the year? Why do we pray at night during this blessed month?

In attempt to answer these questions we often try to explain the many benefits in different ways. Benefits such as learning to appreciate food and drink, learning self discipline, strengthening our family ties, gaining knowledge of Allah’s words through the Quran, understanding what it is like for those who are suffering from hunger and encouraging us to give charity are among the many benefits that we can derive from the month of Ramadan.

The above mentioned are only some of the many benefits of Ramadan, however Allah explicitly states why He has prescribed the month of Ramadan to us in the second chapter of the Quran:

“O Believers! Fasting has been prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, that you main attain “Taqwa” (2:183)

It is ultimately from Allah’s words that we understand Ramadan has been prescribed in order for us to achieve Taqwa. What is Taqwa?

Taqwa is a common word that is used amongst Muslims. We often tell people to: “Have Taqwa of Allah.” We also ask Allah to help us achieve Taqwa. The first verse in Soorah al Baqara after the opening of the Quran states:

“this is the book in which there is no doubt, guidance to those who have Taqwa.”(2:2). 

Thus the first command in the Quran is to Worship Allah in order to attain Taqwa.

Upon looking up the translation of “Taqwa” we find the definition includes words such ‘Piety’ or ‘God Consciousness’. We may also read the translation as “to ward off evil”, to be “mindful of Allah” or “fear of Allah”. However fear is different to Taqwa; in Classical Arabic, fear is “KHAWF” which is known as a very primitive reason to encourage obedience. For example, to fear someone or something often suggests that one will obey in order to prevent some form of affliction. This concept of fear goes against the religion of Islam which is based upon peace and mercy. Our worship of Allah should not be out of fear, rather it should be out of love. Similar to that of a child in a loving family where the child does not fear punishment from their parents, but want to make their parents happy and do not want to upset them by being disobedient.

In Arabic, every word is based on a root word which consists of two, three or sometimes four letters. Looking in to the root of the word opens up many meanings to rhetoric of the Quran and there have been many great scholars who have contributed immensely to Arabic grammar and rhetoric of the Quran. People such as Imam Ibn Manzur who wrote the famous “lisaan al-arab” ("The Arab Tongue"), Imam Al-Zamakhshari who wrote “asaas albalagha” (“foundations of rhetoric”), Imam Abd
al-Qahir al-Jurjani who wrote “Asrar alBalaghah” (“The Secrets of rhetoric”) and many others. One thing to note about each of these scholars is that none of them were Arabs and most of the scholars of the Arabic language were non-Arabs. This goes to show that we do not have to be of Arab origin in order to understand the in depth meanings of the Quran.

The root word for “Taqwa” is وقى which means Protect, shelter or guard. The letter ت (T) Which is the first letter in the word Taqwa is described by Imam Ibn Manzur as “an increasing letter” which means that when a verb starts with a ت T, this means that it is telling us to exert effort and strive to fulfil. So what does striving to attain protection have to do with Ramadan and being obedient to Allah? It would be difficult for anyone to explain in a few words as Allah’s words have no limit to what can be understood from them; scholars have written much on this one word.

Taqwa in the Islamic Tradition means to protect ourselves from displeasing Allah by doing good actions. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) advised, “Protect yourselves from Allah (Taqwa) even with a piece of a date”. Meaning give even a piece of a date in charity in order to seek Allah’s pleasure and avoid his anger.
Allah tells us in the Quran,

“Oh Believers, Protect yourselves (Taqwa) and your families from the fire" (66:6)

Imam Razi commented on this verse in his explanation of the Quran explaining that the act of protecting one’s self here is attained by “Leaving the unlawful and carrying out good deeds.”

So Allah tells us to save ourselves when we usually ask Alllah: “Oh Allah Save Us!” One may ask “how do we save ourselves?” We save ourselves by carrying out what Allah has ordered us to do and avoiding what he has prohibited for us. Allah cannot save us if we do not take heed of the message He has sent us. Allah has given each of us the means for our salvation and it is our choice to follow the message, and fulfil our obligations, or to ignore the message and follow our own desires.

For the shar’i meaning of التَّقْوَى , the following definitions have been forwarded:

(a) اتِّقَاء الْمَعَاصِيْ (ittiqaa’ al-ma’asi = warding off, avoiding sins, disobedience); this meaning seems to be very apt for the kind of Taqwa that we envisage to gain during the course of Ramadhan, since during Ramadhan we refrain from things that are normally halaal (lawful) so as to make it doubly easy for us to refrain from things that are haraam (unlawful). Ibn ‘Ashur gives an interesting reason as to how sawm teaches and trains us to ward off and refrain from sinful acts.

He says that sinful acts are of two types:

                 (i) sinful acts which require us to sufficiently reflect on its detriments in order to abandon them,            such as drinking wine, gambling, stealing, usurping other people’s property, etc., and
                (ii) sinful acts that stem from anger and natural desire which might be difficult to just
            abandon through mere reflection on its negative aspects, and for this reason sawm has been
                     legislated to help us overcome and refrain from these sinful acts.

Thus the act of sawm accomplishes or effects through regulating and controlling one’s lower desires through elevating and raising the individual from being immersed and steeped in base materialism to the lofty heights of the spiritual world. Sawm, then, is a means through which ones engages in the sublime activities of a sinless spiritual world to gain control over the sinful and base desires of an animalistic world. Sawm, then, becomes as the hadith says: a shield that safeguards and protects one from not only falling into sin and disobedience but also from falling into the depthless Fire of the Jahannam in the Hereafter. Moreover, it also serves as a shield that protects us from illnesses and sicknesses that befall people who indulge in lust and desire without the slightest restraint.

(b) Ali ibn Abi Talib’s definition: هي الخوف من الجليل، والعمل بالتنزيل، والقناعة بالقليل، والاستعداد ليوم الرحيل

Taqwa is Fearing Allah, the Majestic, acting according to Revelation, being contented with little, and making preparation for the Day of the Journey

(c) another common definition is: Taqwa is when a servant places between him and what he fears a barrier that will protect him from it

(d) Ibn Abbas says that the Muttaqun (people of Taqwa) are those who fear Allah and His Punishment

(e) Abdullahi ibn Mas’ud says concerning the meaning of Qur’anic statement: اتَّقُواْ اللَّهَ حَقَّ تُقَاتِهِ (Fear Allah as He should be feared):

أن يُطاع فلا يُعصى، ويذكر فلا ينسى، وأن يشكر فلا يكفر

(that Allah must be obeyed and not be disobeyed, that He must be remembered and not be forgotten, that He be shown gratitude and not ingratitude)

These then are some of the definitions of Taqwa, and by studying them closely one realises that Taqwa is one of those terms whose meaning whose meaning is so all-encompassing so as almost to leave nothing out. It seems to me that this all-encompassing property and trait of Taqwa stems from the fact that it creates the person who possesses Taqwa a certain type of consciousness and awareness of Allah such that it permeates his whole being and radiates his whole life and existence, with the result that everything he does is done with that consciousness and awareness of Allah. Being in that frame of mind certainly brings out the best in you, and causes you to engage only in good and refrain from evil.

The Scholars have simplified the meaning of taqwa in a very short statement which really helps in our understanding of Taqwa as being:

“ For Allah to find you where you should be, and not find you where you shouldn’t be”

Allah ordered us to pray. When the prayer times come, He should find us praying. He ordered us to pay charity, when we earn, He should find us giving in charity. He ordered us not to backbite, he
shouldn’t find us backbiting. He ordered us not to part from the unity of the community, therefore he should find us united.

Allah mentions a verse in the Quran that we usually hear in the opening of Friday Prayers. And that is:

“Oh Believers, Observe your duty to Allah (Taqwa) with right observance” (3:102)

One may say it is difficult to observe everything Allah orders us to do and stay away from everything he has ordered us not to? How do we know if we have achieved Taqwa? We can find out by weighing out our actions at the end of the day. None of us will ever be able to achieve 100% Taqwa but if we were to evaluate ourselves at the end of each day, for example question things such as did I pray today? did I hold back from any wrong that I was tempted to do? How would I weigh up my day overall?

When the companions of the Prophet (pbuh) heard this verse they became worried as they knew that it was impossible to achieve complete Taqwa, so soon after the following verse was revealed:

“So have Taqwa of Allah as best you can” (64:16)

This demonstrates the mercy and compassion that Allah has for his servants. As sons of Adam & Eve, we were not created to be perfect without making any mistakes. It is part of our nature to make mistakes, but it is also a part of our nature to acknowledge our mistakes and turn back to Allah in repentance which will help us live a happier life free of confusion and sorrow. In doing so we are fulfilling the concept of Taqwa which leads to many benefits. Allah tells us how it is within our souls to strive for Taqwa in the following verses:
"And by the Soul and He Who perfected it.
Then He inspired it to understand Immorality and Taqwa" ( 91:7-8)

The Quran prescribes fasting for believers in these words,  

"O you who believe, the fasts have been enjoined upon you as they were enjoined upon those before you, so that you may have taqwa" (2:183). 

Hence, the intent and effect of fasting as described in the ayah is to acquire taqwa. Presence of taqwa helps protect from committing sins and overcome the passions of flesh. There is no equivalent English word for taqwa. In Islamic terminology, taqwa refers to a state of consciousness where one constantly feels the presence of his Creator, obeys His commands to attain His pleasure, and avoids disobedience to Him, not only out of His fear but also for the love of Him.

Sayyidna Ubay Ibn Ka'b gave a comprehensive explanation of taqwa in response to a query from Hadrat Umar Farooq radi Allahu anhuma. Hadhrat Ka'b questioned, "O Amirul Momineen, have you ever walked on a path full of thorns?" Hadhrat Umar replied, "Yes". Hadrat Ka'b then enquired, "What did you do?" In reply, Hadhrat Umar stated, "I gathered my clothing and lifted it up to my shin, thereafter I watched my steps and took each step carefully from the fear of thorns lest they prick me". Hadrat Ka'b said, "This is taqwa".

In Hadrat Ka'b elucidation of taqwa, the world is a like a passage full of thorns (sins), a believer treads through it very carefully saving himself from the harm of sinful actions and attractions by adhering to the do's and don'ts of Islam.

Taqwa is a measure of a person's real worth. A slave with a higher level of taqwa is better than the master, and a pauper with greater conscious of Allah is more respectable than a prince. Allah judges a person's honor and esteem according to the level of his taqwa. In a hadith, Prophet Sallallahu 'alaihi wassalam tells us that some people, who are poor, weak, and have no position in society, if they take oath by Allah, Allah will fulfill it because of their purity and strength of piety (taqwa). In the sight of Allah, the honorable are not the ones with wealth and position, but with taqwa. The most honorable is the one with the most taqwa.

A belief in Allah, His Prophets, and His Books will save a person from eternal condemnation, but mere belief minus taqwa will not be enough to save him from the punishment in the hereafter, except the one on whom Allah has mercy. A conscientious Muslim strives to develop taqwa in his life for he knows, "Allah will deliver those who had taqwa to their place of salvation: no evil shall touch them, nor shall they grieve" (39:61), and, that Allah has prepared jannah for the muttaqeen, people of taqwa. (3:133) 

Human beings are weak and susceptible to fall into errors and sin; it takes a little distraction and heedlessness to slip from virtue to vice and from piety to perversity. To protect men and women straying from the path of righteousness and falling into transgression, Islam has chalked out spiritual programs on a daily and yearly basis for its adherents, if followed sincerely and faithfully it will greatly minimize the chance of straying from the right course.
so that you may have taqwa

Among the various program intended to awaken the spiritual life of a believer, Ramadan, the month of fasting, contains the most intense training to instill taqwa in the hearts of believers.

The paramount significance of Ramadan can be seen from the love and yearning the Holy Prophet showed for the month. He used to start preparing for Ramadan two months in advance in Rajab with the supplication, "O Allah, make the months of Rajab and Sha'ban blessed for us, and let us reach the month of Ramadan (allow us to live till coming Ramadan so that we may benefit from its blessings)."

so that you may have taqwa 

Ramadan is a month of fasting from dawn to sunset. It is a month of special nightly prayers (tarawih). In one of its nights, good deeds performed are better than a thousand months of virtuous deeds. 
so that you may have taqwa

Itikaf, secluding into Masjid, away from worldly distractions, in the last ten days of Ramadan with the intention of seeking closeness to Allah, gives a tremendous boost to a believer's spiritual life. 
 so that you may have taqwa

Umrah in the month of Ramadan is as one has performed hajj in the company of the Holy Prophet sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam. A voluntary good deed in Ramadan merits the same reward as an obligatory act in any other month, and an obligatory deed is rewarded seventy times over. 
so that you may have taqwa

Of all the pious exercises connected with Ramadan, fasting is the main feature and the only obligatory act of the holy month. The remaining activities are supererogatory but of immense importance and value in breathing new life into spiritual body that may have become dormant during the year.
As heart is the spiritual center of the human soul, the belly is the center of sensual appetite. When the belly is pampered, the fleshly desires are stimulated, which in turn may lead to sin and arrogance and disinvest one of taqwa. On the other hand, controlling one's appetite and eating just enough to satisfy hunger keeps a person away from lust and evil thoughts and the weakness of soul that comes with the over indulgence of food. A belly filled to brim tends to be rebellious, while a bit empty stomach remains calm and conforming.

Hence the Prophet, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam advised moderation in consuming food and drink, he said,  

"A human being does not fill any vessel worse than his stomach. Enough for the son of Adam are a few morsels to keep his back straight. If it cannot be avoided, then a third is for food, a third for drink, and a third for breath." 

He also said,  

"We are a people who do not eat until we are hungry and when we do eat, do not eat our fill." 

As it is said that the "lusts of stomach leads to the lusts of the flesh"; satiety in food is sexual stimuli and sexual stimuli triggers sexual arousal. To an unmarried person gluttony may lead him to satisfy his desires in sinful ways. To reign in sexual temptations, fasting is recommended. Prophet Sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam said, "O young men! Whoever among you can afford to get married, let him do so, for it is more effective in lowering the gaze and protecting one's chastity. Whoever cannot afford it, let him fast, for it will reduce his sexual desire".

Fasting in the ordinary sense of the word simply means depriving the flesh from the pleasure of food and drink. The Ramadan fast also means the same, however, the physical abstinence from food and drink in Ramadan, with the intent to obey and worship Allah, takes a higher and nobler dimension, it becomes the nourishment of the soul. 
so that you may have taqwa

A fasting person's soul experiences an exhilarating sense of taqwa when on a long hot summer Ramadan day his throat is dry, stomach is growling, no one is watching him, and yet he abstains from taking a few sips of water or a few morsels of food. What makes him curb his desires in seclusion, away from the eyes of people? It is the consciousness of presence of Allah that causes him to control his hankering for sustenance and submit to Allah's Will and Command. The voluntary denial of food and water to body nourishes the soul to be strong and virtuous and become a shield against the evil thoughts and acts, and a mean to protect from the hellfire. This is what the Holy Prophet meant when he eloquently said, "Fasting is a shield."
so that you may have taqwa

However, a mere voluntarily abstaining from food and drink is not enough for the fast to be accepted or effective in purifying soul and inculcating taqwa. With giving up food and drink, it is imperative that the fasting person must also faithfully heed all prohibitions and perform all duties prescribed by Allah and His Holy Prophet. The Holy Prophet Sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam made this point abundantly clear in more than one of his sayings. At one occasion he said, 

"Whoever does not give up vain speech and evil actions, Allah is not in need of his fasting", i.e. Allah will not accept his fasting.

In an another hadith, the Holy Prophet warned,  

"How many persons fast and get nothing out of their fasting except hunger and thirst and how many persons pray at night and get nothing out of it except sleeplessness." 

These and other hadith tell a fasting person that the fast from food and drink must accompany the fast of tongue for his fast to be valid and beneficial. 
so that you may have taqwa

Fast of tongue means one should completely protect his speech from vain talk and foul language including lying and slandering. Also, fasting without the five daily obligatory prayers is of little avail; it becomes devoid of spiritual benefits.
so that you may have taqwa

The fasting in the blessed month of Ramadan is of vital importance among the scheme of things that Islam has planned for a believer to secure the motivation and acquire taqwa. If done properly, fast will take a believer forward to the next eleven months to live in Allah's Will.

Ramadan is aptly called a taqwa training month.

Taken from : articles posted in Lisanul Arab, Khutbah Bank and Islam City. Jzkkk.