Ramadan – Getting Back To What’s Real

In Surah al-Zumar Allah uses a word: ibādi, referring not only to Muslims to everyone. Allah shows care and concern us all.  However, He also doesn’t say “you’ll never experience unhappiness in life” or that “your mom won’t die”. Rather, He says, if you do what I say you will live forever after death/after Judgment in tranquility and have whatever you want.

In other words, salvation.

قُل يا عِبادِيَ الَّذينَ أَسرَفوا عَلىٰ أَنفُسِهِم لا تَقنَطوا مِن رَحمَةِ اللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَغفِرُ الذُّنوبَ جَميعًا ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الغَفورُ الرَّحيمُ

وَأَنيبوا إِلىٰ رَبِّكُم وَأَسلِموا لَهُ مِن قَبلِ أَن يَأتِيَكُمُ العَذابُ ثُمَّ لا تُنصَرونَ

وَاتَّبِعوا أَحسَنَ ما أُنزِلَ إِلَيكُم مِن رَبِّكُم مِن قَبلِ أَن يَأتِيَكُمُ العَذابُ بَغتَةً وَأَنتُم لا تَشعُرونَ

أَن تَقولَ نَفسٌ يا حَسرَتا عَلىٰ ما فَرَّطتُ في جَنبِ اللَّهِ وَإِن كُنتُ لَمِنَ السّاخِرينَ

“[Muhammad – Tell the people that I, Myself, have said, ‘All My servants who have acted excessively against their own souls! Don’t lose hope of God’s mercy, for God can forgive all sins. He truly is the Forgiving and the Merciful!’

‘Turn towards your Lord and surrender to Him before the punishment overwhelms you, for then you’ll have no one to help you.’

‘Follow the best of what’s being revealed to you from your Lord before the punishment overwhelms you all of a sudden without your even realizing what’s happening.’

‘For then your soul will cry out, “I’m doomed! I neglected my duty to God, and I scoffed!”Qur’an, 39: 53-56

There is no “guess work” in religion:

عن وابصة بن معبد رضي الله عنه قال‏‏ أتيت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم فقال ‏جئتَ تسألُ عن البرِّ والإثمِ قلتُ نعم فجمع أصابعَه الثَّلاثَ فجعل ينكُتُ بها في صدري ويقولُ يا وابصةُ استفْتِ قلبَك والبرُّ ما اطمأنَّت إليه النَّفسُ واطمأنَّ إليه القلبُ والإثمُ ما حاك في القلبِ وتردَّدُ في الصَّدرِ وإن أفتاك النَّاسُ وأفتَوْك

Wabisah bin Ma’bad, a Companion of the Prophet ﷺ reported that he went to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ and he asked me, “Have you come to inquire about piety and sin?” I replied, “yes”. He ﷺ then gather his three fingers together and poked me in my chest, saying “Wabisah … ask your heart regarding it. Piety is that which contents the soul and comforts the heart, and sin is that which knots up the heart and causes one’s chest to be hesitant even if people pronounce it permissible and give you verdicts on such matters again and again.” — al-Mundhiri relates this in al-Targhib wa’l Tarhib with a sound chain

What you’re missing out on the other 11 months of the year:

تُفتَحُ أبوابُ الجنَّةِ يومَ الاثنينِ ، ويومَ الخميسِ ، فيُغفَرُ لِكُلِّ عبدٍ لا يشرِكُ باللَّهِ شيئًا ، إلَّا رجلًا كانت بينَهُ وبينَ أخيهِ شحناءُ

“The doors of Paradise are opened every Monday and Thursday. Thus, every worshiper of God is forgiven except for the person where there exists rancor between him or her and his or her brother or sister.”Related by Abu Hurayrah, recorded in Sahih Muslim, #2565

A Return To Meaning

In this episode, Imam Marc speaks about how ritual and meaning are increasingly seen as things not only trivial or perhaps juvenile, but also something scornful, a reminder of a not-so-distant past many would like to pretend never existed, when life was not able to be safely and comfortably quantified.

The loss of meaning’s appreciation can also be linked to western educational institutions:

“Its emphasis on specialization meant that most professors considered the question of meaning beyond their purview … The question of how to live, after all, requires a discussion of abstract, personal, and moral values. It does not belong, these professors argued, in colleges and universities devoted to the accumulation of objective knowledge … An increasing consensus in the academy is that faculty members should not help students discern a meaningful philosophy of life or develop character, but should instead help them master the content and methodology of a given discipline and learn critical thinking.”1

This can be seen manifesting in the Muslim community in a number of ways, such as how Muslims (especially western Muslims) approach the month long ritual of fasting in the month of Ramadan. Social media will shortly be a flurry with posts recommending this or that suhur (or pre-dawn) smoothie which promises to reduce or even eliminate fatigue and hunger. How odd that the practitioners of a faith would want to minimize the experience of one of its most important rituals: but that is precisely what we see happening with Islam in the West. Increasingly we seem to be saying, “ritual and religious experience, particularly those that ask us to give up something or daresay, even experience something uncomfortable, we don’t want any part of it. Either it changes to accommodate our desires or it gets jettisoned!”.

For me, this is why I think so many are trying to find way to validate what would otherwise been seen – according to post-religious secular norms – as ridiculous, by legitimizing and substantiating fasting for one month as something healthy. According to this new logic, to the extent that Islamic rituals can be confirmed by empirical/scientific observations, they may be tolerated. But to the extent to which they can’t (wearing hijab or growing a beard, for example), then they condemned as backwards and even potentially subhuman (hijab again).
One of the fundamental on the long differences is the pursuit of emotions versus the crafting with meaning. is the pursuit of emotions versus the crafting of meaning. The pursuit of emotion attempts to extract, for example, happiness, either from objects or activities like superfoods or yoga, alcohol or sex. But those who seek to craft meaning transcend objects and experience and see meaning in them; they see God. This should not be mistaken as a form of shamanism, in the Muslim sense, for Muslims do not believe God is inside their superfood smoothie or tantric sex, but rather see any such objects or activities as the result of God. The former tends to be rooted in an idolatrous materialism which places conditional value on things (things here being objects, activities/experiences). To the extent that an object, activity, or experience makes that individual happy it is deemed to be good regardless of what Revelation may have to say about it. Whereas the latter sees beyond this triumvirate and knows the source from which, for example, blueberry smoothies and alcohol, come from, thus allowing them to apply wisdom.

Notes

1. Smith, Emily Esfahani. The Power of Meaning: Crafting A Life That Matters. Kindle ed., Crown, New York, 2017.

Tears of the Yearners For the Meeting with God – A Discussion with Shaykh Abdullah Bin Hamid Ali

“…in contradistinction to materialism, spirituality is, to me, about finding what is essential about everything that Allah created, and seeing the similarities between them and myself.” — Shaykh Abdullah Bin Hamid Ali

This is an interview with Dr. Abdullah Bin Hamid Ali of Zaytuna College on his book, Tears of the Yearners For the Meeting with God, as well as on spirituality.

screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-10-50-24-amDr. Abdullah bin Hamid Ali is a faculty member at Zaytuna College who teaches courses in Islamic law and prophetic tradition. He also coordinates Zaytuna’s Islamic Law program and serves as an integral part of its Living Links Honors Program, for which he teaches Jurisprudential Principles and Introduction to Islamic Virtue Ethics. A lifelong student of the Islamic tradition, he was born to Muslim parents and began a serious study of Islam in his early teens. He attended Temple University for two years (1995-1997) prior to pursuing studies that culminated in a four-year collegiate license (ijaza ‘ulya) from the prestigious Al-Qarawiyin University of Fes, Morocco (1997-2001). He holds a BA from the Al-Qarawiyin University’s Faculty of Islamic Law (Shariah) and an MA in Ethics & Social Theory from the Graduate Theological Union (2009-2012) in Berkeley, California. He recently completed a PhD in Cultural & Historical Studies at GTU.

Dr. Abdullah’s book, Tears of the Yearners For the Meeting with God, is available here.

A Muslim Reads The Hagakure – Part I

Hagakure/葉隱 (lit., Hidden by the Leaves or Hidden Leaves), is a spiritual guide for a warrior, as well as a lament, taken from a collection of commentaries by Yamamoto Tsunetomo—former retainer to Nabeshima Mitsushige, the third ruler of Saga prefecture in Japan—by Tsuramoto Tashiro. While initially compiled in the early 1700’s it was not made publicly available until many years after.

僕は日本語を話す育ちまった。

笑わないでください。

“When pressed with the choice of life or death, it is not necessary to gain one’s aim.” — Hagakure.

إنْ قامَتِ السَّاعةُ وفي يدِ أحدِكُم فَسيلةً فإنِ استَطاعَ أن لا تَقومَ حتَّى يغرِسَها فلْيغرِسْها
الراوي : أنس بن مالك | المحدث : الألباني | المصدر : صحيح الأدب المفرد

Anas ibn Malik reported that the Prophet ﷺ said:

“If the Final Hour comes while you have a palm-cutting in your hands and it is possible to plant it before the Hour comes, you should plant it.” — al-Albani’s Sahih al-Jami’.

“If by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he pains freedom in the Way. His whole life will be without blame, and he will succeed in his calling.” — Hagakure.

سمعتُ النبيَّ صلَّى اللهُ عليهِ وسلَّمَ ، قبل وفاتِه بثلاثٍ ، يقول ” لا يموتنَّ أحدكم إلا وهو يحسنُ باللهِ الظنَّ ” .
الراوي : جابر بن عبدالله | المحدث : مسلم | المصدر : صحيح مسلم
الصفحة أو الرقم: 2877

Jabir reported:

“I heard the Messenger of Allah ﷺ as saying three days before his death: ‘None of you should court death but only hoping good from Allah’.” — Sahih Muslim.

“A man is a good retainer to the extent that he earnestly places importance in his master … But even a person who is good for nothing and exceedingly clumsy will be a reliable retainer if only he has the determination to think earnestly of his master.” — Hagakure.

The beginning of “earnestly [placing] importance on [your] Master” is having a good opinion of Him:

إنَّ حُسنَ الظنِّ باللَّهِ عزَّ وجلَّ مِن حُسنِ عبادةِ اللَّهِ
الراوي : أبو هريرة | المحدث : أحمد شاكر | المصدر : مسند أحمد
الصفحة أو الرقم: 16/289 | خلاصة حكم المحدث : إسناده حسن

Narrated by Abu Hurayrah:

“Having a good opinion of God is from the goodness of worship.” Imam Ahmad’s Musnad.

Yamamoto’s “good for nothing and exceedingly clumsy” is reminiscent of the hadith in which the Prophet ﷺ gives advice to a man who feels overwhelmed with the requirements and obligations of the Dīn:

أنَّ رجلًا قال يا رسولَ اللهِ إنَّ شرائعَ الإسلامِ قد كثُرت عليَّ فأخبِرني بشيءٍ أتشبَّثُ به قال: لا يزالُ لسانُك رطبًا من ذكرِ اللهِ
الراوي : عبدالله بن بسر | المحدث : الألباني | المصدر : صحيح الترمذي
الصفحة أو الرقم: 3375 | خلاصة حكم المحدث: صحيح

`Abdullah bin Busr narrated:

“A man said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, the legislated acts of Islam have become too much for me, so inform me of a thing that I should stick to.’ He ﷺ said, ‘Do not let your tongue cease to be moist with the remembrance of Allah’.” Jami’ al-Tirmidhi.

As for “one is able to live as though his body were already dead”, one is reminded of a passage from al-Ghazzālī’s Ihyā’ Ulūm al-Dīn:

ولن يتسير الاستعداد للشيء إلا عند تجدد ذكره على القلب

“Preparation for a thing will never be easy unless it comes with a renewing of its mention in the heart.” — al-Ghazzālī, Kitāb Dhikr al-Mawt (The Book on Remembering Death)