These reflections were written over the 29 nights of Ramadan 1435/2014, and many were presented by myself at Masjid ul-Islam in Johannesburg, South Africa to the congregation before the taraweeh prayers. I have posted them in three parts, and they cover, generally, the 30 Juz division of the Qur’an. Read Part 1.
Qiyam Contemplation 11
Tonight many recited and reflected on “Ahsanal Qasas” (12:3) … the most beautiful of stories of the most beautiful of men – in Surah Yusuf.
This surah keeps on giving and inspiring. Today, as I recited and reflected, the different types of masculinities which the characters display really struck me.
The wise and humble Ya’cub (as), who teaches us about “sabrun jameel” –beautiful patience (12:18), that the most befitting and honourable way to grieve in the face of obvious deceit, is to display dignity with patience and to seek help from Allah.
The brothers of Yusuf (as), treacherous and jealous, but able to reform after many years, through the prayers of their brother and their witnessing his miracles; al-Aziz in whose home Yusuf (as) was raised, a man of great intuition who recognized the special nature of the boy he brought into his home; one of the men imprisoned with Yusuf (as), who also saw signs of his purity, but like many of us, became forgetful of the help of others in his time of need.
Then Yusuf (as) himself … a man of exceptional magnificence in appearance
“no mortal is this, this is none other than a noble angel” (12:31)
of high moral standing
“he was one of Our servants, sincere and purified” (12:24)
human in his capacity to desire what Allah has made attractive for men and women
“She desired him with passion and he desired her with passion but that he saw the evidence of his Lord” (12:24)
saintly in his capacity to acknowledge those desires and remove himself from the situation.
“He said, ‘My Lord, prison is more to my liking than that to which they invite me. And if You do not avert from me their plan, I might incline toward them and be of the ignorant.’ ” (12:33)
He who in prison, lost no opportunity to remind his companions of Tawhid
“O my two companions of the prison! Are many lords differing among themselves better, or Allah, the One, the Prevailing” (12:39)
I reflected a few days ago on the “garments of Taqwa” , and here we see throughout the story, the shirt of Yusuf (as), who through his taqwa, whether soaked in blood, torn or of the finest quality befitting a minister in his position, was always a witness for him, not against him … that same shirt which brought back eyesight to his beloved father, Ya’cub (as) … Yusuf (as) was truly swathed in Taqwa.
And so … there are so many ways to be men (and human really) … from the lowest of the low, like those who simply snatched Yusuf (as) and sold him for a penance without seeking to find out who he is or how he ended up in the well, simply out to make a profit … to Yusuf (as) himself, ever aware of his Creator at every step of his life … whether stranded in a well, sold as a slave, the object of temptation, imprisoned or appointed as a minister.
Most people live in between these two models, with the capacity to be both virtuous and wicked – and it is the wife of al-Aziz, who was so enchanted by the beauty of Yusuf (as) and sought to seduce him, in the end, who teaches us one of the most important lessons about our nafs … she brings to our attention the Nafs al-Ammarah bi’l su’ … the commanding self which encourages/incites to evil – that base part of the ego which calls on us to act on impulses and desires unrestrained … she reminds us that we cannot fight against this lower nafs without seeking forgiveness and mercy from Allah – and that this is the first step in moving from the lower self to higher consciousness – recognizing that only the forgiveness of Allah can save us … and then turning to Him in repentance.
“And I absolve not myself (from blame). Verily, the nafs commands to evil, except when my Lord bestows His Mercy. Indeed, my Lord is –always Forgiving, ever Merciful.” (12:53)
And it is this Nafs al-Ammarah that we attempt to master and move beyond during Ramadan, with the discipline of fasting, of abstaining from even those things usually permissible, of training ourselves in humility, in total surrender to and complete reliance on Allah.
“Allah knows what every female carries and what the wombs lose or exceed. And everything with Him is by due measure. (13:8)
My sisters … Allah is close to us – He knows about us what we cannot, from ourselves, know about ourselves (except through inspiration) … He mentions specifically in this verse, His intimate knowledge of us … whether we have children or not, is not the point … His Rahman (all encompassing Mercy) is directly linked to our Arhaam (wombs) and “everything with Him is in due measure”, including the children we have or don’t … it His measure and it is never short …
In a Hadith Qudsi it is reported that Muhammad (saw) said that Allah said: ‘I am ar-Rahman and I created the Rahim (womb) and derived a name for it from My Name.’
We are here to embody, imbibe and spread Mercy (and not only in a ‘motherly’ way but far, far beyond that) …Mercy is one of the most powerful attributes of Allah … be responsible for it … and seek comfort in the remembrance of the ever-Merciful … in the fast paced, rat race world we live in today, only a heart at rest can face the unrest out there with mercy and an intent to give …
“Those who believe and whose hearts are set at rest by the remembrance of Allah; verily in the remembrance of Allah are the hearts at rest.” (13:28)
If there is anything that can bring about inner change … alchemy of the heart, it is Dhikr … and we so much need it as we struggle (as we must!) for the change out there, in our societies, for Justice, for an end to abuse, inequalities, exploitation, oppression … slay the dragons (pride, greed,lust,ostentation etc.) of the nafs as we slay the dragons of the world … they go together, the inner purification and the outer transformation
“Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” (13:11)
“And the thunder declares His glory with His praise, and the angels too for awe of Him; (13:13)”
“He said, ‘And who despairs of the mercy of his Lord except for those astray?’ ” (15:56)
When we limit that Mercy which is infinite, when we loose hope in Divine Compassion, we become lost and thus wander astray because we cannot see clearly the path … it is indeed Mercy which is inextricably connected to Light, through which we find our way …
“Oh you who have believed, have taqwa of Allah and believe in His Messenger; He will give you a double portion of His mercy and make for you a light by which you will walk and forgive you; and Allah is Forgiving and Merciful” (57:28)
“What is with you must vanish: what is with Allah will endure” (16:96)
“Indeed Allah is with those who have Taqwa and those who are of the Muhsinun” (16:128)
Taqwa (god consciousness) and Ihsan (excellence in worshipping Allah, as if we can see Him, knowing He sees us) are those enduring qualities which make us of those “with” Him. In this ‘with-ness of Allah’ … there can be no despairing of His Mercy
May Allah’s mercy especially surround the people of Gaza, end this brutal occupation and raise the ranks of all those who have been killed to Shuhada.
“To us are known those of you who hasten forward and those who lag behind” (15:24)
“When news is brought to one of them, of the birth of a female, his face darkens, and he is filled with inward grief! He hides himself from the people because of the ill of which he has been informed. Should he keep it in contempt or bury it in the ground? Unquestionably, evil is what they decide.” (16:58-59)
“Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has Faith, verily, will We give a new Life, a life that is good and pure and We will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions.” (16:97)
In Surah al-Isra, the Quran addresses one of the most mysterious and mystical aspects of our being … the Ruh (soul/spirit). Allah tells us …
“And they ask you about the soul. Say: The soul is of the command of my Lord, and you are not given of knowledge but a little.” (17:85)
“Indeed, the hearing, the sight and the heart – about all those will be questioned.” (17:35)
Furthermore, to put into relative terms, for human understanding, how little knowledge we really have, in the next chapter, Surah Kahf we learn :
“Say: “If the ocean were ink for the words of my Lord, sooner would the ocean be exhausted than would the words of my Lord, even if we added another ocean like it, for its aid.” (18:109)
Coming to Surah Kahf, it is wonderful to be part of a faith which takes the tradition of story-telling so seriously … the beauty of a story is in connecting readers with characters and concepts in an intimate way … it appeals to our nature as “Insan“, of which one of the roots are “to be familiar, sociable, inclined to company” and the other being “forgetful”.
Surah Kahf is full of these stories and parables. Allah says that stories have been offered in order for us to extract lesson, to think about, to reflect on and to take heed. (29:27 /14:25).
I would just like to mention one reflection from the story of the youth of the cave … the importance of retreat and companionship … they found comfort with each other from a world in which they found themselves strangers … two things the youth of today (and I still consider myself one ) need so much : retreat from this world of hyperstimulation and good companionship :
[The youths said to one another], “And when you have withdrawn from them and that which they worship other than Allah , retreat to the cave. Your Lord will spread out for you of His mercy and will prepare for you from your affair facility.” (18:16)
“When the youths sought refuge in the cave, they said: Our Lord! grant us mercy from You, and facilitate for us our affair in the right way” (18:11)
In Surah Maryam and Surah Taha we learn about the twin qualities of courage and modesty. These are known, in spiritual terms as Himmah (strength, determination and aspiration in our worship/service) and Haya (an innate sense of modesty,discreetness and decency in thought and action) … and we need both to emulate the great men and women of our tradition.
From the beautiful speech of Maryam (as), we learn she was both bold and modest … when the angel Jibra’il (as) comes to her in the form of a man, immediately she cautions him, with a sense of certainty about her words and no hesitation :
“She said, ‘Indeed, I seek refuge in the Most Merciful from you, (so leave me), if you should be conscious of Allah.'” (19:18)
And when he informs her that she will have a son … she asks, to the point, but still in a way that is not at all crude, but rather exemplifies humility and virtue in speech :
“She said, ‘How can I have a boy while no man has touched me and I have not been unchaste? ‘”(19:20)
“So she conceived him, and she withdrew with him to a remote place.” (19:22)
“Then she brought him to her people, carrying him. They said, “O Mary, you have certainly done a thing unprecedented.” (19:27)
“When We revealed to your mother what We inspired, ‘Cast him into the chest and cast it into the river, and the river will throw it onto the bank; there will take him an enemy to Me and an enemy to him.’ And I cast upon you the garment of love from Me that you would be brought up under My eye.” (20:38-39)
“When your sister went and said: ‘Shall I show you one who will nurse him?’ So We restored you to your mother, that she might cool her eyes and she should not grieve.” (20:40)
We also learn from Surah Maryam, in addition to modest speech, one form of very deep fasting – fasting from speech, which both Zakariyya (as) and Maryam (as) undertook (19:10 / 19:26) … although this type of abstinence was particular to them, commanded directly from Allah, bearing in mind they were people of immensely pure speech, and one of the promises of Jannah in this surah is having to listen to no ill speech, only words of peace (19:62) … we too could benefit in this month, from fasting with our tongues, fasting from words which hurt others.
Lastly, in Surah Maryam, Allah refers to Himself by al-Rahman many many times … let us also call on Him by al-Rahman in seeking himmah and haya.
In these chapters, al-Anbiya and Hajj (and in many others throughout the Qur’an), Allah mentions many different Prophets in a concise way … the qualities that were most enduring in them as deserving Divine inspiration and some of their own invocations – the very words they used to call unto Allah. Think about this, it is very deep … when we recite these supplications, we are linking ourselves and our consciousness to an ancient tradition, to the first people who walked this earth, and to all the people of Tawhid who followed thereafter … we are literally repeating the words that the chosen Prophets (as) of Allah uttered with their own blessed lips and from their hearts and which Allah answered in totality … what more beautiful prayers can there be? The first du’a ever made to Allah by humanity (preceded only by the angelic invocation in 2:32), by Adam and Hawa (as) was a prayer for forgiveness and mercy :
“Our Lord! We have wronged our own souls: If You forgive us not and have not Mercy on us, we shall certainly be lost.” (7:23)
They were ever quick in emulation of good works; they used to call on Us with love and reverence, and humble themselves before Us. (21:90)
And We have not sent you, except as a mercy to the worlds. (21:107)
Every soul will taste death. And We test you with evil and with good as trial; and to Us you will be returned. (21:35)
Furthermore, in an exquisite metaphor, Allah describes those who associate partners with Him :
And he who associates with Allah – it is as though he had fallen from the sky and was snatched by the birds or the wind carried him down into a remote place. (22:31)
It was Nabi Ebrahim (as) who so vociferously fought against idolatry, and associating of partners to Allah. The Qur’an also recounts the story of how his people decided to burn him, and then Allahu Ta’ala said :
“Oh fire, be Bardan (coolness/comfort) and Salaman (safety/peace) for Ebrahim.” (21:69)
Nabi Ebrahim (as) was thrown into the fire of this Dunya for calling to Tawhid and Higher Consciousness, and it was made tranquil for him. May we find the coolness, comfort, safety and peace of Allah surrounding and embracing us all as we strive to slay our adulation for idols, the inner (ego) and outer (stardom) … and burn rather in the love for all that is One.
Oh Allah, send Salutations and Blessings on Muhammad (saw) and his progeny as you sent on Ebrahim (as) and his.
In Surah Nur, we find Aisha (ra) … she is there, between the lines, in the references to her innocence, in the tone of this Surah, warning believers about rumour-mongering and slander … when I read the description of the revelation of these verses (which involved the case of her being accused of betraying the Prophet (saw) ) by Aisha herself – I see all those qualities which made her who she was, She whom her maidservant said :
“By Him Who has sent you with the Truth. I have never seen anything in her (i.e. Aisha) which I would conceal, except that she is a young girl who sleeps leaving the dough of her family exposed so that the domestic goats come and eat it.”
“I never saw anyone more knowledgeable of the Qur’an, Islamic Law, poetry, Arab history and lineages than Aisha”. (Zubair bin al Awwam)
“I heard the sermons of Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Ali and the Caliphs after them and yet I never heard speech from the mouth of anyone better or more eloquent than from Aisha.” (Ahnaf ibn Qays)
“On that day I kept on weeping so much so that neither did my tears stop, nor could I sleep. In the morning my parents were with me and I had wept for two nights and a day, till I thought my liver would burst from weeping. While they were sitting with me and I was weeping, an Ansari woman asked my permission to enter, and I allowed her to come in. She sat down and started weeping with me. While we were in this state, Allah’s Messenger (saw) came and sat down and he had never sat with me since the day they forged the accusation. No revelation regarding my case came to him for a month. He recited Tashahhud and then said, ‘O `Aisha! I have been informed such-and-such about you; if you are innocent, then Allah will soon reveal your innocence, and if you have committed a sin, then repent to Allah and ask Him to forgive you, for when a person confesses his sin and asks Allah for forgiveness, Allah accepts his repentance.’ When Allah’s Messenger finished his speech my tears ceased completely and there remained not even a single drop of it.
I requested my father to reply to Allah’s Messenger on my behalf. My father said, By Allah, I do not know what to say to Allah’s Messenger.’ I said to my mother, ‘Talk to Allah’s Messenger on my behalf.’ She said, ‘By Allah, I do not know what to say to Allah’s Apostle. I was a young girl and did not have much knowledge of the Qur’an. I said. ‘I know, by Allah, that you have listened to what people are saying and that has been planted in your minds and you have taken it as a truth. Now, if I told you that I am innocent and Allah knows that I am innocent, you would not believe me and if I confessed to you falsely that I am guilty, and Allah knows that I am innocent you would believe me. By Allah, I don’t compare my situation with you except to the situation of Yusuf’s father (i.e. Yacub) who said, ‘So (for me) patience is most fitting against that which you assert and it is Allah alone whose help can be sought.’
Then I turned to the other side of my bed hoping that Allah would prove my innocence. By Allah I never thought that Allah would reveal Divine Inspiration in my case, as I considered myself too inferior to be talked of in the Holy Qur’an. I had hoped that Allah’s Messenger might have a dream in which Allah would prove my innocence. By Allah, Allah’s Apostle had not got up and nobody had left the house before the Divine Inspiration came to Allah’s Apostle. So, there overtook him the same state which used to overtake him, (when he used to have, on being inspired divinely). He was sweating so much so that the drops of the sweat were dropping like pearls though it was a (cold) wintry day. When that state of Allah’s Messenger was over, he was smiling and the first word he said, `Aisha! Thank Allah, for Allah has declared your innocence.’ My mother told me to go to Allah’s Messenger. I replied, ‘By Allah I will not go to him and will not thank anyone but Allah.’
So Allah revealed: “Verily! They who spread the slander are a gang among you . . .” (24.11)
Allah’s Messenger also asked Zainab bint Jahsh about me saying, ‘What do you know and what did you see?’ She replied, ‘O Allah’s Messenger! I refrain to claim hearing or seeing what I have not heard or seen. By Allah, I know nothing except goodness about Aisha.” Aisha further added “Zainab was competing with me (in her beauty and the Prophet’s love), yet Allah protected her (from being malicious), for she had piety.”
“Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The Parable of His Light is as if there were a Niche and within it a Lamp: the Lamp enclosed in Glass: the glass as it were a brilliant star: Lit from a blessed Tree, an Olive, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil is illuminated though fire scarce touched it: Light upon Light! Allah does guide whom He will to His Light: Allah sets forth Parables for humankind: and Allah is ever-knowing of all things.” (24:35)
May that light lend itself to enlightening humanity to navigate itself, like the brightest star … and like the blessed olive tree which gives the best oil when it is surrounded by light from all sides, neither inclining to the east nor the west – may we give of ourselves, from ourselves – that which benefits others, from all corners of the world.
May His light in our hearts be so powerful as to glow in itself without being ignited … and I pray that when the light inside us meets the light of the Qur’an, of the Sunnah, of prayer and dhikr …may we have Light upon Light.
Who are the Ibad al-Rahman – the servants of the Most-Merciful? Amongst their characteristics are :
And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth “hawnan” (gently/easily/humbly/modestly), and when the ignorant address them harshly, they say peace (25:63)
Secondly – and this is a deep lesson I am still very much in the process of learning … with many years to get where I am now, but still not completely there – It is not always necessary to respond to every single person, idea or thought we disagree with. We don’t know who the ‘ignorant’ truly are, we may be one of them ourselves … but when we do face those urges to retort and debate with people whom we perceive as ignorant, the best response is to resist and say words of peace instead … this is very much a work in progress for me, with the help of Allah. Of course this refers to petty debates and unnecessary bickering which are actually futile and produce no change – it is not applicable to speaking out against tyranny and oppression – for we have been specifically told by Allah to be witnesses of justice! Again, towards the end of the description of the “servants of the Merciful”, Allah describes them as those
“who do not testify to what is false, and when they pass near ill speech, they pass by with dignity.” (25:72)
“The Day when there will not benefit wealth or children But only one who comes to Allah with a sound heart.” (26:88-89)
“It was said to her: Enter the palace; but when she saw it she deemed it to be a great expanse of water, and bared her legs. He said: Surely it is a palace made smooth with glass. She said: My Lord! Surely I have wronged my soul and I submit with Sulaiman to Allah, the Lord of the worlds.” (27:44)
When Musa (as) prayed to Allah :
“Oh my Lord, Truly I am in desperate need of any good you send me” (28:24),
One of the sisters returns to the watering place to invite Musa (as) to her home, to meet her father … the Qur’an tells she us she approached him “modestly” (28:25), and then it recounts her words – she speaks to him graciously, and they both return to her home. After Musa (as) explains his situation, the woman interjects and asks her father to hire Musa (as), because, according to her “he is the best one to employ”, “strong” and “trustworthy” (28:26). She is known as one of the characters in the Quranic narrative who displayed immaculate intuition in her judgement of character.
In their story I see that the beauty of serving others regardless of our own situations and the confidence in speaking up when we have these inner moments of perception can truly change the course of our lives.
The father of this astute woman, obviously smelling love in the air, offers Musa (as) his daughter’s hand in marriage, only if he is able to complete eight to ten years of employment – truly a labour of love, which Allah proclaims is one of His very ayaat … one of the symbols, which if we reflect on, lead us to the realization of Him ….
“And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves spouses that you may find tranquillity in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who reflect.” (30:21)
One practical way to seek the ‘Face of Allah’ mentioned repeatedly in the Qur’an is to give assistance to those who need it most (30:28), this selflessness, in giving from our blessings actually helps us so on the day when everything else perishes but His Countenance, we will insha’allah be ready to recognize that beauty ….
How do we nurture that consciousness and awareness? How do we become those “whose hopes are in meeting Allah” (29:5)? Belief is certainly not enough – our response to trials and tribulations in this world is one way of gauging our faithfulness:
“Do people think they will be left alone on saying: ‘We believe; and that they will not be tested?” (29:2)
This is what Allah describes as being over concerned with the outward manifestations of life in this world with no care for the inner realities, that meeting with Allah, in the Hereafter :
“They know what is apparent of the worldly life, but they, of the Hereafter, are unaware.” (30:7)
“And whatever you have been given is an enjoyment of the life of this world and its adornment, and that which is with Allah is better and will remain forever. Will you not understand?” (28:60)