Bridging Our Gaps: Thoughts on Piety and Taqwa on the Cusp of Ramadan

First Khutbah – Main Points

Ramadan is a time of joy, happiness, reflection and purification for Muslims all around the world. But if we as Muslims are to truly benefit from this sacred time then we must extrapolate an Islam that is didactic, that is instruction in a complete and harmonious way, not simply a list of harām and halāl.

So I pose the question, what is it we should be reflecting on? The term itself suggests one is peering at or into something. For us, we must peer into our own souls, examining every deed, every strain of thought, every emotion. If we are to diagnose what maligns our souls, we must look at them in the mirror.

Yet, above and beyond the mundane prose lies a spiritual reality and awareness that demands more than just religiosity. Allah says in His Book:

شهر رمضان الذي أنزل قيه القرئان هدى للناس و نينات من الهدى  و الفرقان فمن شهد منكم الشهر فليصمه و من كان مريضا أو سفر فعدة من أيام اخر يريد الله بكم اليسر و لا يريد بكم العسر و لتكملوا العدة و لتكبروا الله على ما هداكم و لعلكم تشكرون

“The month of Ramadan is that in which the Qur’an was sent down, a guidance for mankind as well as a explanation on that guidance and a criterion on which to judge. Let the one who has borne witness to this fast. For the one that is sick or traveling, then count your days therein, as Allah desires to make it easy for you, not difficult. Therefore complete your days when able and proclaim Allah’s Greatness for the guidance He has bestowed upon you all so that you may properly show gratitude.” [Q: 2:185]

Many of us today suffer from a false sense of piety, that piety is either some exceedingly difficult task or lifestyle, or a mode of dress, or something else conjured up from our own sense of piety. This is at the crux of a major spiritual crisis going on in the Muslim world today. Yet, Allah and His Messenger [s] have given us clear signs and examples of what constitutes piety. The Prophet [s] said:

الكيس من دان نفسه و عمل لما بعد الموت
و الأحمق من اتبع هواه و تمنى على الله تعالى الأماني

“The astute man passes judgment on himself and works for what comes after death –
The imbecile is the one who follows his passions yet expects God, the Exalted, to realize his wishes.” Continue reading “Bridging Our Gaps: Thoughts on Piety and Taqwa on the Cusp of Ramadan”

Scrupulousness In Islam

 

اقترب للناس حسابهم و هم في غفلة معرضون

“The Reckoning is ever drawing closer to Mankind, yet they are woefully heedless of it, turning away.” [Q: 21: 1]

The Hour is upon us all.  At least that is the way we Muslims should always be perceiving the Hour. None of us knows when it will arrive, be it the Final Hour or our own demise. The previous āyah, from suwrah al-Anbiyā’ demonstrates the sense of urgency that man should have but often doesn’t. This is mainly due to ghaflah, or heedlessness. Interesting to note as well: This āyah does not distinguish between Muslim/non-Muslim. In other words, both Muslim and non-Muslim alike can fall victim to heedlessness – we must be vigilant in watching against it.

In the English language we have a saying: “Strike while the iron is hot.” This aphorism can serve as a great reminder to us all in this day and age. We should not be wasting any time in vain pursuits but rather in perfecting our Islam, our character. For as the hadith says:

أثقل ما يوضع في الميزان يوم القيامة تقوى الله, و حسن الخلق

“The heaviest thing to be weighed on the Scale on the Day of Judgment will be taqwā of God and goodness of character.”

In relation to the above, which clearly articulates the importance of taqwā and good character, we must bring these two aspects of Muslim life and morality into being. And as for striking when opportunity knocks, this is in accordance with the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet [s], where he says this about opportunity/charity:

لأن يتصدق المرء في حياته بدرهام خير له من أن يتصدق بمائة عند موته

“It is better for a man to give a single dirhām in charity during his lifetime than to donate a hundred at his demise.”

No time to waste – strike while the iron is before the Fire is hot!

So now that we’ve heard about taqwā we have to ask, what is it? Let’s examine a couple of aspects:

The scholar, at-Tabrīzī gives us a good starting point:

ألإتقاء أن تجعل بينك و بين ما تخافه حاجزا يحفظك

Taqwā is the idea that you [A] place something [C] between yourself and that which you fear could destroy you [B].”

Taqwā, in a sense, is a type of self-defense or self-preservation system or technique to ward off destruction by placing something between yourself and that impending doom.  For us as Muslims, that pending doom is the ‘adhāb of Allah – the Divine Chastisement.

The word taqwā existed in the Jāhilī times. In the Mu’allaqah, Zuhayr boldly states:

سأقضي حاجتي ثم أتقي * عدوي بألفٍ من ورائِىَ ملجَمِ

“I will satisfy my vengeance [on my brother’s killer by taking his life!], then I will defend myself from their reprisal with a thousand horses, all bridled in support of my cause!”

This idea of guarding oneself coincides with the Qur’ān’s many uses of taqwā. One example from suwrah al-Baqarah:

و اتقوا يوما لا تجزي نفسٌ عن نفسٍ شيئا و لا يُقبَل منها شفاعة و لا يوخذ منها عدْل و لا هم ينصَرون

“Defend yourself against a day that will come where no soul shall be of assistance to another whatsoever – nor shall it put forth an intercessor in its place – no compensation will be taken from it – nor shall there be anyone to come to its aid.” [Q: 2:47]

To summarize, taqwā is a means of protecting and guarding oneself from Allah’s Divine Punishment.

Second part of the khutbah we’ll examine another aspect of the taqwā /akhlāq relationship and that’s wara’.

Taking Stock – Wara’

In order to affect change in ourselves we must first, turn to Allah and ask Him to change us, to make us better Muslims. To make sincere istigfār [asking for forgiveness] and tawbah [repentence]. The second is then to take stock of our mental, physical, and especially, spiritual selves, and seek means to rectify them. In the science of Tasawwuf, one of those means is termed wara’ [ورع].  Some helpful translations would be: scrupulousness, conscientious, critical thinking, fastidious, heedful, honest, meticulous, moral, particular, precise, rigorous, principled, and so forth. In the Arabic language, the dictionary meaning of wara’ itself means: to pause, give examination, or hesitate.

To help concretize what it means to do wara’ in our daily lives, and how it relates to taqwā, let’s look at our Intellectual Tradition:

Imam al-Ghazālī and Imam al-Haddād list several of these as steps to obtaining and practicing wara’:

In a sound hadīth, the Prophet [s] said:

من اتقى الشبهات فقد استبرأ لدينه و عرضه

“The one who guards [taqwā] himself from falling into dubious actions has protected his religion and his his honor.”

و من  وقع  في الشبهات وقع في الحرام

“And for the one who falls into dubious actions then he falls into the Harām.”

The use of the word taqwā in this hadīth shows again that taqwā is that self-defense mechanism – in this case, defending oneself from Allah’s Punishment by avoiding “grey areas”. That is the hājiz – the barrierو that at-Tabrīzī spoke of earlier, that can ward off the Chastisment of Allah. For the believer, wara’ becomes a habitual act of being scrupulous, or heedful, which negates ghaflah, or heedlessness.

So we should busy ourselves with what concerns us most – our own demises; our families; our children; our health; our wealth; our communities; our character. In one week alone, Allah showed us clear signs of the Hour, Big or Small: Michael Jackson. Ed McMahon. Farrah Fawcett. Billy Mays. Celebrity is no guard from the Hour. Big or Small. Contemplate on it – prepare for it. Do not wait to give that single dirham on your deathbed – give it now, in sha’Allah.

May Allah make us the people of ‘irfān, the people who realize and actualize Lā ilāha illa Allah in their public and private lives. Amin.

We close now with a du’ah from the Prophet Muhammad [s] regarding the condition of the world we live in, asking Allah to protect us from its fitnah, so our souls may have salvation on the Day of Judgment:

اللهم إني أعوذ بك من قلب لا يخشع
و دعاء لا يسمع
و من نفس لا يشبع
و من علم لا ينفع
اللهم  إني أعوذ بك من هؤلاء الأربع

“O’ Allah! I seek protection in you from a heart that has no humility,
And from a supplication that is not heard,
And from a soul that cannot be satiated,
And from knowledge that has no benefit.
O’ Allah!, I seek refuge in you from all four of these!

Amin.

Astuteness In Islam

Dear respected brothers and sisters in Islam, I greet you today with the greeting of Paradise, “as-Salaamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakaatuhu”.

First Khutbah – Main Points

اقترب للناس حسابهم و هم في غفلة معرضون

“The Reckoning is ever drawing closer to Mankind, yet they are woefully heedless of it, turning away.” [Q: 21: 1]

Last week, I opened the khutbah with a reading from suwrah al-Anbiyā’ in which Allah states the coming of the Hour. And while this coming of the Hour encompasses both the iterations of it: the Big Hour or the demise of the world [الساعة الكبيرة], or our individual hours: [الساعة الصغيرة].  Attached to this coming of the Hour is the account of all we have done in our live [or not done for that matter].  This is similar to what Allah says in suwrah al-Infatar:

علمت نفس ما قدمت و أخرت

“Every soul will know what it has put forward and what it held back.” [Q: 82: 5]

How do we react to advice when we’re given it from those we know?  What about advice from Allah of His Messenger [s]?  Are we as quick and eager to alter our character, our awareness as much as we think we are?  A case in point is the imagination that many Muslims have, thinking that we would have loved to have been with the Prophet [s] during his lifetime.  What we do not realize is this: we would have learned and been told a great many things about our character that we may have found hard to swallow.  And like it or not, we would have to imbibe this for there would have been no other arbiter to take one’s case to in the face of the Messenger critiquing your character.

Taking Stock

Taking stock through realizing we are all going to meet Allah on the Qiyāmah and that there’s no putting it off is one of the perennial duties of a Muslim.  Constant [though not obsessive or fatalistic] thought and reflection about our own demise will help us weigh and consider our lives in where our standing is – and with a sense of immediacy that we’re not entitled to nor promised any time.

For many people in today’s world however, people laugh at taking stock of themselves or they are presumptuous that they are entitled to something from Allah that they are not.  A hadīth, collected in at-Tirmidhī’s Qiyāmah, the Prophet [s] tells us to take stock of ourselves:

حاسبوا أنفسكم قبل أن تحاسبو,
وزنوا أعمالكم قبل أن توزن عليكم

“Take stock of yourselves before you are called to account –
weigh your deeds before they are weighed for you.”

The word hisāb is a continuing theme in the Prophetic and Qur’ānic dialog.  Studying its meaning and consequences can provide deeper insights to our lives and practices as Muslims.

Man in modernity has come to think of himself as dependent from God.  Our actions as a species on the planet reflect this. In related to the entitlement that we see so prevalent in people’s actions today, I am reminded by Imam Ali’s [rah] words:

من ظن أنه بدون الجهد يصل فهو متمن
و من ظن أنه ببذل الجهد يصل فهو مستغن

“He who thinks he can achieve his goal without spending any effort is a wishful thinker –
and he who thinks, that by the expending of effort, he deserves to achieve his goal, is presumptuous.”

Action is integral in achieve salvation of the human soul.  Islam places a high value on action [though always coupled with faith – hence the many ayāt that speaks of, “those who believe and practice sound deeds”].  But we must ask ourselves, what is it we are striving for?  The Qur’ān speaks of this in suwrah an-Najm, where Allah says:

و أن ليس للإنسان إلا ما سعى

“Surely man will have nothing less that we he strives for.” [Q: 53: 39]

Keeping an eye on what we’re striving for is a means of recalibrating our Islam – just like a machine, which needs constant recalibration to keep running smoothly and on track.  It is also the means of seeking Allah’s protection from the deception that Shaytān is always whispering to us with: that our actions will somehow justify our deeds.

Let us ask Allah to make us of those who strive for Him and for upholding the honor and the legacy of His Noble Prophet.

Second Khutbah – Main Points

We’ve talked about responsibility and being aware of the Hour and the hisāb, but how do we go about changing out character?

The Prophet [s], provides us with some advice:

الكيس من دان نفسه و عمل لما بعد الموت
و الأحمق من اتبع هواه و تمنى على الله تعالى الأماني

“The astute man passes judgment on himself and works for what comes after death –
The imbecile is the one who follows his passions yet expects God, the Exalted, to realize his wishes.”

This ties into Ali’s statement about presumption and entitlement. As the modern world has blinded itself of the true nature of Reality, it behaves like a child. Unable to cope, it holds its hands over its eyes, it refuses to see yet it does nothing to change Reality’s Truth. In light of this, many choose to pretend that death will never come.  Look at the counsel that Jabril [as] gives the Prophet [s]:

يا محمد, عش ما شئت فإنك ميت
و اعمل ما شئت فإنك مجزي به
و أحبب من شئت فإنك مفارقه

“O Muhammad! Live as long as you like, but you must die,
Do what you wish, but you will be repaid for it,
Love whoever you wish, but you will be separated from them
[in another narration is says, “whatever you wish”]

I mention this as it is indicative of how we often look at life as being entitled or promised so many things.  We ask Allah to allow all of us to take this sound advice to heart.

We also have to ask ourselves, what do we spend our time doing and with whom do we spend our time with? This is especially as it relates to children.

We live in the “Hyper Age” – not hyper as in spastic [though a clear symptom] but hyper in terms of excess. Modernity lacks the ability to take stock of itself. This is because it has put the individual as the ultimate arbiter of truth: moral truth, cosmological truth, legal/ethical issues.  Islam puts that back in its place: we can offer this to the rest of the world if we can get ourselves correct. But above all, we can never hope to affect change in the world without affecting change within ourselves.  Something all of us, in sha’Allah, can do.

We should keep in mind the kulliyāt of Islam.  In other words, what the Qur’ān, Sunnah, etc., is trying to “get at something” in relation to the human being.  While we don’t accept Darwin’s theory of evolution we do allow for the evolution of human beings in their Islam. Be tolerant with each other and when calling people do din al-Haqq.

May Allah make us the people of ‘irfān, the people who realize and actualize Lā ilāha illa Allah in their public and private lives. Amin.
We close now with a du’ah from the Prophet Muhammad [s] regarding the condition of the world we live in, asking Allah to protect us from its fitnah, so our souls may have salvation on the Day of Judgment:

اللهم إني أعوذ بك من قلب لا يخشع
و دعاء لا يسمع
و من نفس لا يشبع
و من علم لا ينفع
اللهم  إني أعوذ بك من هؤلاء الأربع

“O’ Allah! I seek protection in you from a heart that has no humility,
And from a supplication that is not heard,
And from a soul that cannot be satiated,
And from knowledge that has no benefit.
O’ Allah!, I seek refuge in you from all four of these!

Amin.

Man in the Age of Heedlessness

Dear respected brothers and sisters in Islam, I greet you today with the greeting of Paradise, “as-Salaamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakaatuhu”.

First Khutbah – Main Points

اقترب للناس حسابهم و هم في ذلك غفلة معرضون

“The Reckoning is ever drawing closer to Mankind, yet they are woefully heedless of it, turning away.” [Q: 21: 1]

The times we live in are full of doubt, confusion and heedlessness.  Many people, having capitulated to the false demands of science, have decided to bury their heads in the sand.  Many varieties of philosophies abound about the nature of reality but none of them possess even the merest ability to launch out on this endeavor.  Science is not wholly equipped to look for God, though some of God’s Signs [آيات] are detectable by science.  One of the signs of this heedlessness is over the argument about the Hour, which for some has become either a joke or an unquantifiable determinacy.

One of the flaws that science has is that while it is capable of looking out, it cannot look in.  Even when applied in microscopic terms [which may seem like looking inward but in reality it is not], it is still looking out; a “horizontal” activity.  For Islam, the phenomenon of Revelation is a top-down one.  One may even say that Allah’s relationship with the creation is “vertical”, a top-down relationship.  Thus, for man, if he is to know his Lord, he must reflect, ponder, and use his heart and brain in tandem.  While this process does involve looking out to the cosmos or up at the heavens or at the wonders in creation, ultimately the human being must turn inward if s/he is to understand their role in relation to God.

For the Muslim, the primary means of coming to know about Allah is through His Book and the life of His Prophet [s] and one of the primary avenues of attaining these two is through a sound heart, for we all know the famous hadith in which the Prophet [s] relates to us:

إن في الجسد مضغة إذا صلحت صلح بها سائر الجسد – و إذا فسدت فسد بها سائر الجسد ألا و هي القلب

“There is a morsel of flesh in the body; when it is sound then the body moves to soundness by it – and when it is corrupt, then the body moves to corruption by it – it is nothing other than the heart”.

This statement is not a medical examination – not a cardiovascular assessment of the heart.  For in Islam, the heart does not simply pump blood but it is a sensory organ.  And when it is sound then the actions that the limbs commit will be sound – likewise, if the heart is corrupt, so shall the deeds committed be vile.  It all depends on the state of the heart.

I have spoken before on the connection between responsibility and Reality – on the responsibility each soul will have on the Day of Judgment and the need to get in touch with The Reality [for one of God’s 99 Beautiful Names is al-Haqq, the root of which is a derivative for ‘reality’].  We can see the Wisdom of Allah’s early Revelation in which, through poetic metaphor, He alludes to another reality, His Reality, where the old misconceptions of the world have to be broken up and dispelled.  The world as mankind came to know it was not based on Truth or Reality.  We live in similar times today.

إذا السماء انشقت و أذنت لربها و حقت
إذا السماء انفطرت و إذا الكوكب انتثرت
إذا الشمس كورت و إذا النجوم انكدرت

“When the sky has split itself open, for it has heard its Lord and must make it so!…”
“When the sky is cleft asunder and the stars are scattered…”
“When the sun folds in on itself, and when the stars fall…”

These verses seek to show man that the world he thinks he knows is not the whole story – that there is another greater reality, one in which the life of this world will end, for Allah has ordained it.

Instead, mankind focuses on that which has little benefit for him in this life and none in the next.  Muslims are guilty of this as well, squabbling over matters that are of small importance will ignoring the bounty and opportunities that Allah has given us.  In the words of Ibn ‘Ata Allah [ra]:

اجتهادك فيما ضمن لك و تقصير فيما طلب منك دليل على انطماس البصيرة منك

“Striving for what has been provided [also read ‘not concerning you’] for you while falling short in that which is demanded of you, is proof of the incomprehensibleness of your ability to perceive.”

We spend so much of our time dedicated to things that are of little benefit to our character – that put little weight on our scales.  This is a type of ghaflah [غفلة], or heedlessness that the Qur’ān warns us about. Let us turn to some of the Qur’ān’s commentary on ghaflah:

و لقد ذرأنا لجهنم كثيرا من الجن و الانس – لهم قلوب لا يفقهون بها – و لهم أعين لا يبصرون بها – و لهم ءاذان لا يسمعون بها – ألئك كالأنعم بل هم أضل – ألئك هم الغفلون

“Leave no doubt we created many from amongst the Jinn and Mankind for the Hell-fire.  They have hearts but they use them not to comprehend with – and they have eyes but they use them not to see with – and they have ears but they use them not to listen with.  They are like cattle, no! They are even further astray than that.  They are completely heedless.” [Q: 7:179]

Dear brothers and sisters, the Paradise is real – the Fire is real – the Hour is coming, let there be no doubt about it.  And Allah will surely raise whoever is in the grave.

Let us now turn to Allah, ask His forgiveness, His protection from misguidance and from heedlessness, for He is Oft-Forgiving, the Loving.

الحمد لله, و الصلوات و السلام رسول الله و بعد

Second Khutbah – Main Points

We have to be the teachers of one another and of mankind.  We have to show that there is not simply another reality, but there is only one Reality and it is through conformity to this realization we can bring about a change that will benefit this life and the next.  Make no mistake about the next life where Allah says in suwrah Qāf:

و جاءت سكرة الموت بالحق – ذلك ما كنت منه تحيد
و نفخ في الصور – ذلك يوم الوحيد
و جاءت كل نفس معها سائق و شهيد
لقد كنت في غفلة من هذا فكشفنا عنك غطائك فبصرك اليوم حديد

“And the agony of death will descend upon you in truth – for it is that which you seek to evade!
And the Trumpet has been sounded – that is the Promised Day!
And every soul will attend – with it shall be a driver and a witness,
For surely you have been unmindful in this – therefore we have removed your blindfold – your vision today will be most keen!” [Q: 50:19-22]

Modern man strives to cheat or defeat death but there is not hope for this.  Therefore, instead, let us inform ourselves and the rest of mankind of the life to come, to use the time in this life to prepare ourselves to the journey we all must take.  For when we look at the above example, we can see there will be no excuse on the Promised Day – and all feigned excuses will fall aside, and our sight will bear true that which we wish might be concealed.

Let us play the role we were sent to do – deliver the Message and live lives in accordance with the responsibility and cognizance of “No god but God”, in accordance of “Muhammad is the Messenger of God”, in accordance with the adab and akhlaq of the Prophet [s], seeking Allah’s protection from Shaytan and from heedlessness.

We close now with a du’ah from the Prophet Muhammad [s] regarding the condition of the world we live in, asking Allah to protect us from its fitnah, so our souls may have salvation on the Day of Judgment:

اللهم إني أعوذ بك من قلب لا يخشع
و دعاء لا يسمع
و من نفس لا يشبع
و من علم لا ينفع
اللهم  إني أعوذ بك من هؤلاء الأربع

“O’ Allah! I seek protection in you from a heart that has no humility,
And from a supplication that is not heard,
And from a soul that cannot be satiated,
And from knowledge that has no benefit.
O’ Allah!, I seek refuge in you from all four of these!

Amin.

Inculcating Taqwa In Our Lives

Verily all praise belongs to God [known as Allāh in the Arabic language] – thus do we praise God, seek God’s Divine aid, seek forgiveness and repent our sins to and from God, and in God do we place our trust. We seek protection in God from the evil whisperings of our own souls as well as from blameworthy actions and deeds.

For the one God has chosen to guide, there is no misguider for him. And as for one whom God has misguided, there is no guidance. And we bear testimony that there is no god but God, Allah, One is He, with no partner, Lord of lords, Causer of all causes, the Fashioner of the Seven Heavens, Creator of all that is. We also bear witness that Muhammad, the Unlettered Prophet, is His slave and messenger, Seal of the Prophets and most noble of the Messengers. May God send peace and blessings upon him, his family, his wives, his companions, his helpers, and his progeny. Surely God and His Angels send blessings upon the Prophet therefore O’ you who believe!, send prayers and blessings upon him abundantly.

Let it be said that responsibility is one the primary charges leveled at the human being. Not a responsibility to provide for his or herself, but rather the responsibility each and every one of us has towards the Creator, so long as each one of us is a sane and capable human being. Let us take to heart the supremely wise words of the Almighty in the Qur’ān, as a guide and a warning for us to help sculpt our thoughts and actions:

إن ربهم بهم يومئذ لخبير

“Surely, on that day, their Lord shall be well-acquainted with them.” [Q: 100:11]

More importantly, reflexes should be seen as a self-defense system and it is from here, the idea of self-defense, is where we will look at and examine taqwā. Continue reading “Inculcating Taqwa In Our Lives”