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. Read Part 2
Qiyam Contemplation 20
In this month, as we are too fast heading to the Eid al-Fitr, to a return to and celebration of our fitrah … look at how Allah describes that fitrah – as His standard upon which He created us – to be directed towards pure faith – we are thus created upon the “Fitrah of Allah”, a Divine pattern, to which we must yearn and seek return to :
“So direct your face toward the religion, inclining to truth, to the fitrah of Allah upon which He has created all people. No change should there be in the creation of Allah. That is the correct way, but most of the people do not know.” (30:30)
How do we become emblematic of this Divine pattern? We are reminded of one of the first steps by the wise Luqman (as) through his advices to his son :
“And do not turn your cheek toward people and do not walk through the earth insolently. Indeed, Allah does not love any of the arrogant and boastful.” (31:18)
If Allah does not love those who are self-deluded, then He obviously loves those who are unpretentious. Remember – pride and arrogance were the first sins which turned Iblis away from Allah … cultivating humility is thus key to moving away from all that is satanic, to return to and access that ‘fitrah’ within us. One of the best ways to cultivate humility is to be of those whom Allah describes as :
“Only those believe in Our Signs, who, when they are recited to them, fall down in prostration, and celebrate the praises of their Lord, nor are they (ever) puffed up with pride.” (32:15)
In these blessed, powerful last ten nights, in seeking harmony with our fitrah let us try to be of those who
“forsake their beds to cry unto their Lord in fear and hope, and spend of that We have bestowed on them.” (32:16)
for ultimately and eternally
“The remembrance of Allah is the greatest” (29:45)
Qiyam Contemplation 21
“Indeed, men who surrender unto Allah and women who surrender, men who believe and women who believe, devoutly committed men and devoutly committed women, truthful men and truthful women, men who patiently persevere and women who patiently persevere, men who are humble and women who are humble, charitable men and charitable women, men who fast and women who fast, men who guard their modesty and women who guard , and men who engage in remembrance of Allah much and women who engage in remembrance – Allah has prepared for them forgiveness and a vast reward.” (33:35)
This verse is less about gender and so much more about spirituality and community building.
I am fascinated by the sequence of the characteristics of the men and women who have in store for them Divine forgiveness and a vast reward.
We must first surrender ourselves to Allah, then perfect our belief in Him by knowing Him as He should be known … thereafter, to be unwaveringly devoted to Him alone, once we have come to realize the Truth – living that truth, patiently persevering and humbling ourselves flow from that surrender and belief.
Then follows the physical and ritual aspects of our commitment … spending from our wealth and fasting – these are spontaneous acts of service, love and purification. Imbibing modesty is a way of protecting our bodies, with which we worship Allah. Lastly … and the one closest to attaining that Divine Forgiveness and reward, is the copious remembrance of Allah, … we are to remember Him as much as we can … and when Allah prescribes ‘much’ remembrance, let us suspend finite understandings.
This verse is a map for our spiritual lives, whereby we can navigate our life’s journey …. herein lay our priorities as men and women, our responsibilities to ourselves and to each other, in guiding and supporting to attain these lofty states of being.
We are to be a community directed towards cultivating the highest levels of devotion and service, aimed at securing Divine Forgiveness and the ultimate reward, an Ummah in its sublime beauty, which begins at surrendering to Tawhid and projects itself towards imbibing constantly within ourselves the exceeding remembrance of Allah.
Qiyam Contemplation 22
A rather sombre message today …
There will come a day when our hands and feet will speak, either for or against us … Allah tells us this in Surah Yasin, the heart of the Qur’an :
“That Day shall We set a seal on their mouths. But their hands will speak to us, and their feet bear witness, to all that they did.” (36:65)
This, the chapter we read so often when people are approaching death or have passed away. As much as we recite for those in the throes of death or the deceased, we recite (we should recite) for ourselves as well – to remind ourselves of this ultimate certainty :
“Therefore glory be to Him in Whose hand is the kingdom of all things, and to Him you shall be brought back.” (36:83)
These surahs (36-39) contain some vivid descriptions of both the rewards of heaven and the punishments of hell … whether we are people driven by the promise of reward, fear of punishment or simply Love for Allah, seek hope now, before it is too late :
Say: “O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah: for Allah forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. And return to your Lord time after time and submit to Him before there comes to you doom, then you shall not be helped. (39:53-54)
Live between hope and fear, cling to hope, fear a life with no hope.
Qiyam Contemplation 23
The last, blessed 10 nights are with us, alhamdulillah.
Allah tells us,
“Spacious is Allah’s earth” …
Indeed, the world is wide and beautiful, it is us that need to get out of our boxes, our comfort zones, ghettos and bubbles … because “ardh Allah wasi’atun” … The earth of Allah is expansive (this exact phrase is repeated twice in the Qur’an, both times in reference to the worship of Allah).
Allah asks of us also, in these chapters – “have you not travelled through the earth?” … that wanderlust within us is Divinely encouraged … Allah asks of those reading the Qur’an to travel through the earth so that
1) we may learn wisdom (22:46), which is a result of interacting with the diversity of cultures and philosophies the world over
2) we may witness the creation of Allah and how easy it is for Him to repeat and bring forth anew (29:20)
3) as in this juz (24), a reason which appears 11 times in the Qur’an
“Do they not travel through the earth and see what was the End of those before them? They were even superior to them in strength, and in the traces they have left in the land: but Allah did call them to account for their sins, and none had they to defend them against Allah.” (40:21)
When we visit these ‘traces’, besides being in awe at their beauty and sophistication, awareness should fill our hearts, that nations have come and gone, and we too, will perish into the dust we came from. This earth functions in a cyclical way, people rise to their peak, then are reduced to ashes, and others step in. This should be a sign for us all, not too get too comfortable in this world, as it is not our final destination. Travel is so appealing precisely because of this – it is a reminder that this very life, in this dunya, is only a journey – our destination is beyond here and now, time and space, finite understandings … our destination is Him.
Qiyam Contemplation 24
I have focused a lot on “dhikr” … the remembrance of Allah (and in turn, ‘forgetting’ the self) in these posts – and here too, in juz 25, is a beautiful verse describing the effects of dhikr on the hearts of people of who revere Allah :
“Allah has revealed (from time to time) the most beautiful Message in the form of a Book, consistent with itself, (yet) repeating: the flesh of those who fear their Lord tremble there-at; then their skins and their hearts do soften to the remembrance of Allah’s praises. Such is the guidance of Allah: He guides therewith whom He pleases, but such as Allah leaves to stray, can have none to guide.” (39:23)
Dhikr is to make our hearts, and our very demeanour – soft, at ease, tranquil. Its effects are both internal and external … in our hearts and our skins, in our relationship with Allah and with the world outside us.
A believing man from the people of Musa (as) teaches us something incredibly moving about Allah :
“Allah never wishes injustice to his Servants.” (40:31)
And we are reminded time and time again, that the worst injustice we do is to ourselves – when we are away from the dhikr of Allah, heedless and neglectful (18:28) … our hearts become hard :
“Then woe to those whose hearts are hardened against the remembrance of Allah” (39:22)
Hard hearts – we see them all around us today especially – bereft of compassion, of humanity … obedient only to their own desires
Have you seen he who has taken as his god his [own] desire, and Allah has sent him astray due to knowledge and has set a seal upon his hearing and his heart and put over his vision a veil? So who will guide him after Allah ? Then will you not be reminded? (45:23)
This is a verse for our time – here and now – when gratifying and indulging the senses are the objectives of all material pursuit, where every whim is catered for, where “all resistance is meant to crumble”, and where decadence is a must. Selfishness, self-interest and self-importance … these are our struggles, our modern illnesses.
We need to be guided and healed by the Qur’an
It is a guide and a healing to those who believe” (41:44)
In the Qur’an, one of Allah’s ayaat (signs) – He calls on us to heed all His signs over 300 times. We need all the signs, the ones contained in the book, in the creation, in ourselves. Below is an old post pertaining to this verse :
“We will show them our signs in the horizons and in their own souls, until it becomes clear to them that this is the truth. Is it not sufficient concerning your Lord that He is, over all things, an ever present Witness?” (Qur’an 41:53)
The ayaat (signs) are everywhere … look to the furthermost reach of the eye, where earth meets sky and then extend inward, ever-inward, to the deepest recesses of the soul to bear witness to Truth … the Truth is One and its manifestation is both far outside yourself and far within yourself.
Qiyam Contemplation 25
This reflection starts under a blessed tree – where around 1400 companions of the Prophet Muhammad (saw) were pledging their allegiance to him, to continue their journey to Makkah for the Umrah they had set out to undertake, even if they were stopped by the Quraysh.
“Certainly was Allah pleased with the believers when they pledged allegiance to you, under the tree, and He knew what was in their hearts, so He sent down tranquillity upon them and rewarded them with an imminent victory.” (48:18)
The story is lengthy, but the subsequent events resulted in the eventual signing of the Peace Treaty of Hudaibiyah, the terms of which did not really seem like a victory for the Muslims at all. According to the treaty, the Muslims were to return back without performing their Umrah. Many were disappointed and remained unmoving, even after the Prophet asked them three times to make their sacrifices and shave their heads.
The Prophet (saw) sought advice from his wife Umm Salama (ra). Her advice prevented a major dissension in the Ummah at the time, which could have resulted in the immediate breakdown of the treaty of Hudaibiya. She advised the Prophet (saw) to simply go out, not speak to anyone, slaughter his sacrifice and have his head shaved. On seeing the Prophet (saw) do so, the sahaba immediately conformed. Umm Salama recognized that true leadership is by example, and the Prophet (saw), in heeding her advice displayed that another aspect of leadership is consultation.
That sakeenah (tranquillity) of the heart, is insha’Allah for all of us who take that pledge of allegiance to the best of leaders, Nabi Muhammad (saw) …
“It is He who sent down tranquillity into the hearts of the believers that they may add faith to their faith. And to Allah belong the forces of the heavens and the earth, and ever is Allah Knowing and Wise. That He may admit the believing men and the believing women to gardens beneath which rivers flow to abide therein eternally and expiate their sins – and ever is that, in the sight of Allah, supreme success.” (48:4-5)
This verse also reflects that Iman is not a stagnant state – it is dynamic – faith must be fortified with even more faith.
As the juz (26) continues, Allah describes the reason for the diversity of our creation – for our different genders, races, ethnicities and cultures – that reason is that so we “may come to know each other”. The entire objective of our pluralism as human beings is a learning process – a process of coming to a deep understanding of each other, as all the creation of Allah.
“Oh humankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you nations and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is all Knowing and all aware.” (49:13)
“To know each other” we must talk, communicate and take the time to appreciate our diversity. This “knowledge” of each other is not one of judgement, as we are told … “the most honourable of you in the sight of Allah are the those with Taqwa”, and since Allah is the only judge of Taqwa, we are simply here to live in a way that enhances our knowledge and understanding of each other so that we better ourselves, our “knowing each other” is a mission of dialogue, exchange and mutual learning.
Whatever knowledge we may come to in this world – it would be futile without the realization that the Knowledge of our creator is ultimate and intimate –
“And We have already created the human being and know what the nafs whispers, and We are closer to him than the jugular vein.” (50:16)
Allah is always close to us, closer than those very life-giving arteries … it is our hearts and minds which are distant from Him, unable to perceive His closeness, due to the whisperings of our Nafs and our heeding those suggestions … struggling against that lower self is the path to Qurb (nearness) to Allah.
Qiyam Contemplation 26
The challenge of reflecting on such rhythmic beauty in this juz (27) from last night’s qiyam, juxtaposed with the ugliness of what’s going on in our world is a jarring one.
I focus today on the questions asked by Allah in this Juz … as exquisite as these chapters sound when recited due to the repetition of certain refrains which create a hauntingly beautiful melody that pierces the heart, they are also serious questions which should cause us to pause, and earnestly reflect. The answers must come from deep inside us, when we assess our relationship with this world and with our Creator … these are personal questions, which no-one else can answer for us … as Allah says in one of eleven ancient aphorisms,
“That no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another” (53:38)
In Surah Qamar, Allah repeats four times
“And We have certainly made the Qur’an easy for remembrance”
And asks five times
“so is there any who will remember?”
Allah is asking, who will pay attention, take heed and reflect on His words … memory is a precious gift to us from our Creator. Allah says, “That it is He Who grants Laughter and Tears” (53:43) then asks, how will We choose to remember?
“Do you then wonder at this recital? And will you laugh and not weep?” (53:59-60)
These are the nights for tears, for asking ourselves these questions.
In Surah Rahman, al-Rahman asks 31 times
“So which of the favours of your Lord would you deny?”
This phrase in mentioned in between verses related to four aspects : Firstly – the created world, its perfection and bounties, secondly – judgement day, thirdly – the beauty of paradise, and fourthly – the horrors of hell. After mentioning a few words relating to each of these aspects, Allah keeps asking – which of His favours will we deny?
Is there any favour that we dare to deny and not attribute to Allah? Can we view qiyamah and hell as ‘favours’ even as we view the perfection of the natural world and heaven as favours? Are they not favours in the sense that the day of reckoning is a constant reminder of our accountability for what we do in this world; and hell, an agonizing suggestion of the pain of alienation and estrangement from Allah, our ever Merciful Creator, Sustainer and Nourisher?
Allah also asks,
“Is there any reward for Ihsan other than Ihsan?” (55:60)
Ihsan is spiritual excellence, it is an ethic with imbibes the very fibre of our being, of our thoughts and actions, because it is as the Prophet (as) said “to worship Allah as if you can see Him, and if not that – to know that He sees you”. The results of that excellence, meticulousness and high moral conscience, can truly only bear results and rewards, which are correspondingly excellent.
How do we ‘see’ Allah? The descriptions of Allah in this juz are evocatively beautiful in their mystery; they create a strong desire to know our Creator, to want to know Him – especially this :
“He is al-Awwal (the first), al-Akhir (the last), al-Dhahir (the evident), al-Batin (the Hidden), and He has full knowledge of all things.” (57:3)
We need faith to yield to these enigmatic attributes of Allah, and He describes the tangible results of that Iman (which is the level of faith between Islam and Ihsan),
“On the Day you see the believing men and believing women, their light proceeding before them and on their right, ‘Your good tidings today are gardens beneath which rivers flow, wherein you will abide eternally.’ That is what is the great attainment” (57:12)
Light will spring forth from the believing men and women – running ahead of them, illuminating their path to the Garden. May Allah makes us of those who will be guided by the Light of our Iman on that day.
Qiyam Contemplation 27
In this juz (28), the generosity and hospitality of the people of Madina, the illuminated city, was worthy of Divine mention. I chose one of my twins names from this verse (Eethar – to give preference to others over the self/selflessness/altruism). The recital and reflection on this verse will remain, eternally, a standard of the generosity of spirit which we should demand from ourselves, in the hope that Allah will give preference to His Mercy and Generosity for us.
“But those who before them, had homes (in Medina) and had adopted the Faith – They love those who emigrated to them and entertain no desire in their hearts for the things given to them, but give them preference over themselves, even though poverty is their lot. And whoever is protected from miserliness of soul – it is those who will be the successful.” (59:9)
And like those noble Ansar of Medina who welcomed the Meccans into their homes and hearts – Allah calls on all believers to become Ansar Allah – the helpers of Allah, in spreading justice, peace, and mercy :
“Oh you who believe! Be you helpers of Allah: As said Jesus the son of Mary to the Disciples, ‘Who will be my helpers of Allah?” Said the disciples, ‘We are Allah’s helpers!'” (61:14)
The most pre-eminent example of al-Eethar, the very embodiment of it was our beloved Muhammad (saw). Here is one of many many accounts I find particularly beautiful, of his preference for others over himself :
“I heard Sahl bin Sa`d saying, ‘A woman brought a Burda (i.e. a square piece of cloth having edging). I asked, ‘Do you know what a Burda is?’ They replied in the affirmative and said, ‘It is a cloth sheet with woven edges.’ Sahl went on, ‘She addressed the Prophet (saw) and said, ‘I have woven it with my hands for you to wear.’ The Prophet (saw) took it as he was in need of it, and came to us wearing it as a waist sheet. One of us said, ‘O Allah’s Messenger (saw)! Give it to me to wear.’ The Prophet (saw) agreed to give it to him. The Prophet (saw) sat with the people for a while and then returned home, wrapped that burdah and sent it to him. The people said to that man, ‘You haven’t done well by asking him for it when you know that he never turns down anybody’s request.’ The man replied, ‘By Allah, I have not asked him for it except to use it as my shroud when I die.” Sahl added: ‘Later it was his shroud.'” (Bukhari, 1277)
What a blessed, blessed shroud …
That companion’s (ra) love and yearning to be buried in the burdah of the Prophet (as) was part of his concern and preparation for tomorrow – the life to come of the hereafter (it is as imminent as tomorrow!) … as Allah says :
“Oh you who have believed, have Taqwa of Allah . And let every soul look to what it has put forth for tomorrow – and have Taqwa of Allah. Indeed, Allah is all-Aware with what you do.” (59:18)
Those preparations for tomorrow – whether of this world or the next – should be within the parameters of this approach – do not become obsessed, neither with what you have amassed, nor given birth to!
“Oh you who believe! Let not your riches or your children divert you from the remembrance of Allah. If any act thus, the loss is their own.” (63:9)
A most-apt way to plan for that future, is prayer – and here is one example which Allah says is for all believers – the wife of Pharaoh, who no doubt lived in a palace of immense beauty and sophistication, yet her invocation was for a house with her Rabb, and not only that – she prayed to be disassociated from her oppressive husband (who was a tyrant to his people, and furthermore, thought he was, in fact, worthy of worship!), as well as to be separated and protected from people who are oppressive, unjust and in a state of spiritual darkness (dhulm).
“And Allah sets forth an example to those who believe the wife of Pharaoh, when she said: My Lord! build for me a house with You in the garden and save me from Pharaoh and his doing, and save me from the unjust people.” (66:11)
Her prayer was for a “home with Allah”, near Him, in His Presence. Home is the place where we seek comfort and security – it is a sanctuary, where we enjoy rest and privacy. May we build homes in this world, insha’Allah that make us worthy of homes with Him – spaces of peace, of joy, of love, of Eethar in our hospitality and generosity, and of homes of dhikr : where our wealth and children do not distract us, but rather, inspire us to Allah’s remembrance.
Qiyam Contemplation 28
“And I swear by the self-reproaching soul” ( 75:2)
One of the oaths taken by Allah as to the certainty of the day of accountability is the Nafs al-Lawwamah … the soul that has begun its hijrah from fuelling and appeasing the lower ego to a state of self control and higher consciousness. The Nafs al-Lawwamah is the self which has begun to question, to criticize, to reproach itself. To move beyond the Nafs al Ammara (the commanding self, see contemplation 11) we need to start asking ourselves questions -why do we do the things we do, feel certain emotions or react in particular ways? What are our ‘nafs triggers’? This is the level of the soul that has realized and started to imbibe self-accountability, before Divine accountability is taken.
Allah says that on that day of reckoning, about some people
“That day will faces be shining” (75:22)
These faces will be radiant with the light of what they are able to perceive … because of what their gaze beholds :
“Looking at their Lord.” (75:23)
May Allah make us of those whose faces are resplendent with His Light, from looking at Him, subhanAllah … to see His face there, we must strive in this world to seek His face in everything we do …
“And have in his mind no favour from anyone for which a reward is expected in return, but only seeking the Face of his Lord, Most High.” (92:19-20)
Qiyam Contemplation 29
It is with a heavy heart that I share this last contemplation of the noble Quran on this blessed night … but the beauty of this book, which keeps on giving to us as we keep opening ourselves to its secrets, is that when we feel sad at having reached its end, we need only remember that these last surahs were actually many of the first to be revealed to Nabi Muhammad (as), they were the first words of Allahu Ta’ala to humankind after a long pause in revelation, like merciful rain following a drought. Reading these chapters feels like a wake up call, a knocking on the doors of our souls …
Allah reminds us about these souls
“Only those will prosper who purify themselves” (87:14)
I pray Ramadan was a means of spiritual cleansing for us all … that we may aspire to be souls at rest ..
“Oh you contented/tranquil soul at rest come back to your Lord well pleased and well pleasing unto Him” (89:27-28)
Remember, the soul at rest is only the one who finds itself in the dhikr of Allah … for time is against us, as Allah calls to our attention
“By the token of time, verily human beings are at loss” (103:1-2)
But we can also conquer time by our faith, our noble actions, embedding haqq within ourselves and then reflecting it to everyone around us, imbibing sabr and then encouraging it :
“Except such as have faith, and do righteous deeds and join together in the mutual teaching of Truth and Patience” (103:3)
Time is what we make of it, the ruh is from beyond time but the nafs must deal with it, and so it can be, that when we choose to suspend our understandings of time in the worship of Allah that one night of Laylat al-Qadr can be (and is) greater than a thousand months (97:3) … the power of that night is in its peace (97:5), a peace which we must succumb to … when we surrender ourselves to the Power of Allahu Ta’ala, we find peace …
Allah calls Himself by one of His most beautiful names – al-Samad in surah Ikhlas – the only place in the entire Quran this name is mentioned. Allah al-Samad, the eternal, absolute, independant, free of all need. We immediately know that we, His creation, are completely dependant on and desperately in need of Him … I ask Allah by His names, al-Samad, al-Adl, al-Rahman, to ease the suffering and injustice of our brothers and sisters the world over as He promises us twice
“With every difficulty there is ease” (94:5-6).
May Allah accept all our siyaam and qiyaam. May He make the Quran a mercy, a light, a guidance, a healing and a criterion in our lives .. may He allow us to allow the alchemy of the Divine words to transform us into better, higher, more mindful and conscious people of presence with Him.
Remember the beautiful tradition of reciting the Quran from our great scholars – when we reach the end of one reading, we immediately begin again the next, with the opening chapter, al Fatiha ….
An Eid Message – Water, Milk, Wine and Honey
In a description of Jannah for those who have Taqwa, Allah says
“a Parable of the Garden which the Muttaqun are promised: in it are rivers of water incorruptible; rivers of milk of which the taste never changes; rivers of wine, a joy to those who drink; and rivers of honey pure and clear.”
The four substances – water, milk, wine and honey are rich with spiritual symbolism.
These rivers in paradise reflect the different spiritual states in this world related to having Taqwa – which is that consciousness of God rooted in hope for His mercy, fear of His anger, knowledge of our complete dependence on Him, the very purpose of Ramadan having been to attain that Taqwa.
Water is the source of all life – and it represents the first step in spiritual awakening – pure and perfect Tawhid – embracing and imbibing the Oneness of Allah, which we drink from to sustain ourselves, without which no spiritual life is even possible. Water is also closely connected to mercy, and there is no true faith if we despair of the Mercy of Allah.
Milk is nourishment and it symbolizes the bonds of love, which nourish our spirituality and allow it to grow… we must nourish our souls with the love of Allah through devotion, worship and surrender to His will.
Wine symbolizes that intoxication with the love of Allah, through His dhikr – through constant remembrance and reflection of Him – to be intoxicated is to be in an altered state of mind, when we view the world entirely differently.
Honey is both healing and sweetness. Allah also says the Qur’an is a healing for humankind, and our deep engagement with the words of Allah bring both healing from the rigours of worldly life, and sweetness to our faith.
May we all taste the water of Tawhid, the milk of Allah’s Love, the wine of His Dhikr and the honey of His words, in this world and the next.
May the celebration of the fast be a celebration of spiritual purity, nourishment, intoxication and sweetness for you all … and my prayers are with all those who need justice in this world.