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What Fasting Demands From Us | Mufti Taqi Uthmani

The following is an English translation of “Rozah Humsay Kia Muṭālbah Karta Hai” by Shaykh al-Islam Mufti Muhammad Taqī ‘Uthmāni, which was published by Idārat-ul-Ma‘ārif Karachi in 2012 CE/1433 AH.

Umer Ansari

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By Shaykh Al-Islam Mufti Taqi Uthmani

[After Praise and Salutations]

I seek refuge in Allah from the accursed Satan.

With the name of Allah, the All-Merciful, the Very-Merciful.

Allah says:

” The month of Ramaḍān is the one in which the Qur’ān was revealed as guidance for mankind and as clear signs that show the right way and distinguish between right and wrong. So those of you who witness the month must fast in it…” (Surah al-Baqarah, 2:185)

The blessed month of Ramaḍān is about to begin in a few days. Who among the Muslims does not know the greatness and blessedness of this month! The extent of His Mercy that descends upon His servants is unfathomable.

Allah Almighty has made it a month of worship. In this month, there are those actions that every Muslim knows and fulfills. For example, Muslims observe the fast in this month and they also know that the tarāwīḥ prayers are from the Sunnah. All praises are due to Allah that He gives Muslims the tawfīq to fast and He grants them the honor of attending the tarāwīḥ prayers. However, right now I want to shed light upon another aspect of this blessed month.

Ramaḍān is commonly viewed as only a month of fasting and tarāwīḥ, and that there is no other significance to it. Without a doubt, the fasting and the tarāwīḥ prayers are two major acts of worship in this month. However, the reality is that the blessed month of Ramaḍān demands more from us!

Allah says:

“I did not create the Jinns and the human beings except for the purpose that they should worship Me.” (Surah al-Dhāriyāt, 56)

Were Angels Not Enough To Worship God?

Some people raise an objection that if the sole purpose behind the creation of human beings is to worship Allah, then why was there a need for creating humans in the first place, as the angels were fulfilling this role quite stupendously. When Allah said to the angels, “I am going to create a deputy on earth!” They asked: “Will You create there one who will spread disorder on the earth and cause bloodshed, while we proclaim Your purity, along with Your praise, and sanctify Your name?” (Surah al-Baqarah, 2:30). Just as the angels questioned Allah regarding the humans, similarly, these people raise this objection.

The worship of Allah by the angels is of a different category than the worship of Him by humans. This is because their worship of Allah is without free-will. It is impossible for them to not worship Allah even if they do not want to. Allah has taken away from them the ability to commit a sin, feel hunger or thirst, and they have no sexual desires. So much so that they do not have the temptation to sin. Therefore, Allah has placed no reward for their worship, because if they cannot sin, then their worship without the temptation to sin is not a special feat (on their part). Thus, they receive no reward for it.

Take, for example, a blind man who has never seen the colors of this world, who never watched a movie in his life, nor did he ever glance upon a non-mahram woman. What has he done to prevent himself from these sins? Nothing, because he does not have the ability to commit these sins.

On the other hand, there is a man who has eyesight. In spite of his heart’s desire to gaze upon the non-mahram woman, he curbs his carnal desires and seeks refuge in Allah and lowers his gaze. Even though both these men are abstaining from these sins, there is a great difference between the two – the former is unable to commit those sins, whereas the latter has the ability, yet he prevents himself from committing them.

Therefore, if the angels do not eat the entire day, it is not something significant because they do not feel hunger nor do they possess the desire for food. Human beings, on the other hand, possess these desires, so much so even the noble Prophets of Allah were in need of food. Therefore, the disbelievers criticized the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) saying, “What sort of messenger is this, who eats food and walks in the markets?” (Al-Furqan, 7) It’s clear from this verse that the Prophets of Allah had the need for food as well. Since there is a desire for food and an individual curbs their desire and abstains from it because of the command of Allah, then this act is something special.

Human beings, in spite of having the desire for food, drink, and sexual relations, curb their desires when they remember Allah. Therefore, He placed special value to this abstinence from sins by granting a reward for it. Although they want to fulfill their carnal desires, due to the fear of Allah, they lower their gaze and prevent their eyes from glancing upon that which is prohibited; they prevent their ears from listening to the sinful sounds and indecent conversations; they leash their tongue from uttering words that are inappropriate; they prevent their feet from walking towards the places of sin. Human beings have been created for these acts of worship (i.e. abstaining oneself from sins out of Allah’s fear and obedience), whereas, the angels are incapable of it.

Story of Prophet Yūsuf:

The story of Prophet Yūsuf 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and that which he was tested with by Zulaykha is known to Muslims. The Noble Qur’ān states that Zulaykha offered herself to Prophet Yūsuf and invited him towards sin, and during that moment both of their hearts thought of the sin.

And when Yūsuf reached maturity, We gave him judgment and knowledge. And thus We reward the doers of good. (22) And she, in whose house he was, sought to seduce him. She closed the doors and said, “Come, you.” He said, “[I seek] the refuge of Allah. Indeed, he is my master, who has made good my residence. Indeed, wrongdoers will not succeed.” (23)

And she certainly determined [to seduce] him, and he would have inclined to her had he not seen the proof of his Lord. And thus [it was] that We should avert from him evil and immorality. Indeed, he was of Our chosen servants. (24)

(Surah Yūsuf, 12: 22-24)

Some among the laity think that to mention something like this about Prophet Yūsuf (may Allah grant him peace) is disrespectful towards him and find it objectionable. However, the Noble Qur’ān wants to explain (by mentioning this) that in spite of his heart thinking of the sin, Prophet Yūsuf chose to flee from her invitation out of his fear for Allah and reminding himself of His Grandeur, and by doing so he submitted himself to the command of Allah.

On the contrary, if there is no desire in the heart towards the sin, no ability to commit it, and there is no urge to fulfill desires, then refusing the invitation of thousands of Zulaykhas is of no significance! It is, however, important when there is the temptation, the heart desires it, and the environment encourages it, and then in submission to the command of Allah one says, “مَعَاذَ الله” “I seek refuge of Allah” (Surah Yūsuf, 12:24). This is the worship that Allah has created mankind.

Our Lives Have Been Traded:

Since the purpose behind the creation of humanity is to worship Allah, it should have been that we worshipped Him day and night without having permission to do anything else.

Allah says:
“Indeed, Allah has purchased from the believers their lives and their properties [in exchange] for that they will have Paradise.” (Surah al-Tawbah, 9:111)

Since our lives have already been traded as the verse explains, we have no claim of ownership on our life, rather it is a sold product. Had Allah commanded us to worship Him day and night, prostrate to Him long hours, and had he prohibited us from busying ourselves with any other activity besides His worship, it would have been a just command, because we have been created for the sole purpose of worshipping Him.

However, my life be sacrificed for Allah, He bought our lives and wealth, and He gave a full price of it in exchange of Jannah, and then He returned the lives and wealth to us. Moreover, He allowed us to eat, drink, and earn a livelihood. With that, He just commanded us to establish the five daily prayers (along with a few other obligations) and He commanded us to abstain from a few things. Besides these obligations and a (few) prohibitions, we were given liberty to live as we please. All of this is from His Mercy and His Grant.

Come Towards Your Purpose In This Month:

Allah knew that by allowing human beings to engage in earning livelihood their hearts would slowly be covered with heedlessness. Therefore, from time to time, Allah placed opportunities for His servants to remember Him and turn back to Him.

For eleven months, we work, trade, do labor, farmlands and grow crops, enjoy our family and friends, eat and drink, and as a result, we begin to become heedless. So Allah placed this month of Ramaḍān to remind people of their purpose of life, the purpose for which they have been created and sent to earth. So that they could engage in worship and reconnect with Him, and seek forgiveness for the sins that have accumulated in the past eleven months. So that they can uncover the curtains of heedlessness that have enveloped their hearts, and cleanse their hearts of darkness so that they can reach the potential (for which they were created).

What Does “Ramaḍān” Mean?

The correct pronunciation of Ramaḍān is with a fatḥah (zabar) on the letter meem (م), i.e. رَمَضَان (Ramaḍān). To pronounce it with sukūn on the letter meem, i.e. رَمْضَان (Ramdan) is incorrect. As for its meaning, much has been stated, however, linguistically it means scorchedness, extreme heat that burns. The very first time this month was being named, it was during a scorching summer, therefore, they called it “Ramaḍān”.

However, the scholars explain the reason for naming this month as Ramaḍān is that in this month Allah burns the sins of His servants out of His Mercy and Benevolence. Therefore, remove the curtain of heedlessness from your heart and cleanse it from the darkness of sins. Repent for the sins committed in the past eleven months and seek forgiveness in this month for the mistakes and shortfalls. Come back to Allah and begin a new chapter in your life!

The Noble Qur’ān states:

“O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous.” (Surah al-Baqarah, 2:183)

This means that the fast of Ramaḍān is made obligatory in order for us to develop taqwa and put an end to the life of heedlessness. Just as a machine needs servicing for its parts to function properly, Allah has made this month a means to “overhaul” His servants’ hearts so that they can live with renewed conviction.

Take A Break:

Therefore, this month demands from us that we make time for it. Just the fast and tarāwīḥ prayers would not be enough, rather we must free ourselves from other obligations that have kept us busy in the past eleven months. We should focus upon our life’s purpose and the purpose of our creation.

If for some reason, we are not able to free up this month solely for the worship of Allah, then we must make as much time as possible, however much our circumstances allow us, and we need to utilize it in the worship of Allah. For this, we would need to plan ahead and have a (personal) Ramaḍān program.

How to Welcome Ramaḍān?

There has been a practice of welcoming Ramaḍān that originated from Egypt and Syria and now has spread in many countries. Basically, a couple of days prior to the beginning of Ramaḍān, a community event is hosted to welcome the month. It is hosted with sincerity and noble intentions. However, it is often those very practices that begin with noble intentions that later take the form of reprehensible religious innovation, and in a few places, it has taken such a form already.

The best way to welcome the month of Ramaḍān is to reschedule your daily routine for the coming month to give you the most time for worshipping Allah. Before Ramaḍān begins, think of all those activities that can be reduced in the upcoming month that can free you up for increased worship. If someone is able to free up their entire month then Subḥān-Allah, otherwise, free yourself up as much as you can by abandoning that which can be abandoned or delaying that which can be delayed until after the Eid, so that you can spend as much of your time in the worship of Allah.

This is the best way of welcoming the month of Ramaḍān. If by the Will of Allah, someone is able to reorganize their routine for Ramaḍān then they will be able to avail the most of this month by reaching its true spirit and the abundance of blessings that come with it. Otherwise, the month will pass by and you will not be able to benefit from its true spirit and blessings.

What To Do With The Free Time

When you have made yourself a Ramaḍān routine and freed yourself up with extra time, how would you utilize this time?

The fast of Ramaḍān is obligatory, that much is certain. As for the tarāwīḥ prayers, it’s importance is also known. Whoever has an atom’s weight of imān, and honor and respect for the blessed month of Ramaḍān, they increase their acts of worship in this month. It is because of this reason that we see people who normally do not pray the five daily prayers in the mosque outside of Ramaḍān are also among those who stand in the long tarāwīḥ prayers. All thanks are due to Allah that because of the blessings of this noble month, the believers increase their ṣalāh, dhikr (remembrance) of Allah, and the recitation of the Noble Qur’ān. However, one important aspect that gets neglected, when it should be the top-most priority for this month, is abstaining from sins and trying to make Ramaḍān a sin-free month.

We should make sure that we protect our gaze by not looking at inappropriate things. We should protect our ears and tongues from listening and speaking that which darkens our hearts, and in this blessed month of Ramaḍān we should try to completely abstain from the disobedience of Allah. If you are able to spend this noble month free from sins then you are worthy of being congratulated and you have attained the blessings of this noble month, even if you did not offer a single supererogatory (nafl) prayer, nor did you increase the recitation of the Qur’ān or engaged yourself with the dhikr.

We have spent the past eleven months the way we have; Allah is offering this month to cleanse ourselves from our sins. Commit to yourself that you will not disobey Allah, that you will not lie in this month, nor would you backbite, or have an evil glance. Decide now that you will neither engage with bribery nor would you misuse your ears by listening to that which is prohibited, and that you will not consume riba (interest) for this one month alone!

Shaykh Ashraf ‘Ali Thanwi (d. 1943 CE/1362 AH)[1] once stated:
“Let me tell you something that you probably would not hear from anybody else. In this month, try to appease your nafs (inner-self) by telling it to abstain from sins and then you are free to do as you please. It is hoped from the Mercy of Allah that when this individual spends a sin-free Ramaḍān, Allah will put in their heart the urge to abandon the sins completely.”
Make a commitment to yourself that this is a month of Allah, the month of worship, the month to acquire taqwa. Every individual must self reflect on what kind of sins they are engaged in and then they must commit to themselves that they would abandon these sins in this blessed month.

What Kind of Fast Is This?

Fasting means to abstain from eating, drinking, and fulfilling sexual desires. All of these are by nature permissible in Islam – eating and drinking are permissible and for a man and a woman to fulfill their sexual desires through the institution of marriage is also permissible.

However, while fasting if you abstain from these three things, which are otherwise permissible, but you do not abstain from that which is already prohibited, e.g. lying, backbiting, evil glances, is this fasting? If someone is fasting from these three things, but they are lying or backbiting, or in order to pass the time they are watching indecent movies, would this be called a fast? They have abandoned that which was permissible but they did not abstain from that which is otherwise prohibited. It is, for this reason, the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “Whoever does not give up false speech and acting upon it, Allah has no need of his giving up his food and drink” (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 1804).

It is true that from the legal point of view their fast would be valid, and if they were to ask a mufti, they would not be obliged to make up that fast after Ramaḍān. However, even though there is no making up for such a fast, they certainly have washed away the reward and blessings that accompany it. Therefore, such an individual failed to acquire the spirit of the fast.

The Purpose of Fast Is To Kindle The Light of Taqwa:

As mentioned earlier that the Qur’ān says, “O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous” (Surah al-Baqarah, 2:183). This verse mentions the purpose of fasting is to kindle the light of taqwa.

Some scholars have said that the way fasting instills taqwa is by breaking the powerful hold of base human and animal desires. When a fasting person bears hunger, it crushes within them their base desires, which makes acting upon a sin, less attractive to them.

On the other hand, Shaykh Ashraf ‘Ali Thanwi, may Allah elevate his ranks, said that the fast, not only curbs base desires, rather it is in of itself a noble means of acquiring taqwa.

What is the Meaning of Taqwa?

Taqwa means to abstain from sinning while being conscious of the greatness of Allah. In other words, to constantly remind myself that I am a slave of Allah and He is watching me, and I will have to answer in front of Him; with this in mind, when a person abandons a sin, it is called taqwa.

As Allah says:

“But as for he who feared the position of his Lord and prevented the soul from [unlawful] inclination, then indeed, Paradise will be [his] refuge.” (Surah al-Nāzi‘āt, 79:40-41)

Hence, taqwa is when an individual out of the fear of standing in front of Allah, stops themselves from fulfilling their base and carnal desires.

My Lord Is Watching Me

Fasting is the best training for acquiring taqwa, even for a flagrant sinner, for when they fast their condition changes. In a hot summer day, when such a fasting person is alone in their room and they have their personal fridge with cold water, in spite of their desire to drink that cold water they don’t! If they do so there is no other person around to reproach them and they could very easily go out for ifṭār in the evening with friends, and no one else would know. However, they do not do it because their fasting was for Allah and they know that He is Watching.

Therefore, the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:
“Indeed your Lord said: ‘Every good deed is rewarded with ten of the same up to seven hundred times over. Fasting is for Me, and I shall reward for it.’ (Jāmi‘ al-Tirmidhi, 764).
For all of the other actions, Allah will reward tenfold or seventy fold or hundred, even up to seven hundred times for charity. However, fasting is the only action that Allah has said that He will reward it because this is an action that is done solely for His sake. This awareness is taqwa, and fasting is one of the means and the manifestation of it.

Furthermore, as you are getting trained to acquire taqwa by abstaining from drinking that cold water then why do you not take it a step further? Why do you not abstain from the unlawful when you go out to work? Just as you fear Allah for drinking that cold water while fasting, why do you not fear Allah while dealing unlawfully in your business or at work? Why do you not prevent your eyes from the evil glances and your ears from the unlawful sounds and your tongue from the unlawful speech? Your Ramaḍān training course will only be complete if you abstain from all the unlawful things.

Just as the medicine is necessary to cure a disease, so is the abstinence from that which causes it or adds to it! Allah has made fasting obligatory in this month in order for us to acquire taqwa, but that cannot be without the abstinence from sins. If you turn on the air-condition of your room, but you don’t close up your windows, it will not cool your room. Similarly, if you leave the windows of sins open, your fast will not be able to give you it’s desired benefit.

Real Objective Is To Obey

As mentioned earlier, fasting curbs the base desires within a person, however, this is a (secondary) wisdom behind it. The real objective of fasting is to obey the command of Allah and His Messenger. Whenever they command us to eat, eating at that moment is the dīn, and whenever they command us to stop eating, then at that moment the dīn is to stop. The entire dīn revolves around obeying Allah and His Messenger.

You fasted the entire day and when the command came to open it at the sunset (ifṭār), it is recommended for you to haste in opening the fast and it is disliked to delay without a valid reason. The real objective of fasting is to obey Allah’s command and not to follow one’s desires. In regular circumstances, greed is a reprehensible characteristic. However, when He commands us to be greedy then acting upon it has it’s unique pleasure. A poet says:

چوں طمع خواہد زمن سلطان دیں

خاک بر فرق قناعت بعد ازیں

When the King commands to be greedy,

Dirt be upon being content.

When the Rabb of the worlds is commanding us to be greedy in ifṭār (by hurrying) then there is no pleasure in delaying it. On the other hand, if someone eats a morsel a minute prior to the sunset then they have broken their fast and now they will be sinful along with a penalty (kaffārah) of fasting sixty consecutive days. The issue here is not of eating a morsel or a minute prior to the sunset, rather it is the disobedience of Allah. The command of Allah was to open the fast after the sunset, which they disobeyed, therefore, they are now obligated to pay the penalty in the form of sixty consecutive fasts.

Likewise, for suhūr (the pre-dawn meal), it is recommended to delay closer to the dawn. Some people have dinner around 10 pm or 12 am and then they go to sleep until Fajr. This is contrary to the Sunnah. The practice of the Companions was to delay the suhūr and eat until it’s last minute because this is the time in which eating is not only permissible but rather it is commanded by Allah. Therefore, as long as the time remained, they would consume their pre-dawn meal because this is in conformity and obedience to Allah’s command.

This dīn is all about the obedience and this is what a believer is getting trained for in Ramaḍān. Shaykh Thanwi used to say: “Allah is saying to the believer to eat, whereas, the believer does not eat, then this is neither obedience nor servitude. Listen! There is nothing in having suhūr and there is nothing in leaving it, instead, there is everything in His obedience! Therefore, when He commands you to eat, so eat! Do not act otherwise.”

Seek Purity in Livelihood

Another important point that I want to shed light upon is the importance of consuming halāl at least in this month. You want to avoid a situation where you open your fast from the wealth that is polluted by riba or you have your suhūr from the wealth earned through bribery. What kind of fast would it be in which the suhūr and ifṭār are from harām wealth? Therefore, prevent yourself from harām earning and seek help from Allah! Speak to Him and say, “O Allah! I want to consume halāl, save me from the harām.”

Some people have halāl livelihood, however, because of their carelessness, some harām gets mixed with their earnings. For such individuals it is very easy to avoid harām, they just need to be extra careful in this month in how they do things at work. On the other hand, there are those whose primary mode of earning is from a harām source, for example, they might be dealing with interest. Regarding such individuals, Dr. ‘Abdul Ḥayy al-‘Ārifī (d. 1986 CE/1406 AH)[2] suggested that they should take a month leave from their work and only utilize the funds from halāl source for this month; if possible try to find another halāl work during this time. If this is not possible, then take a (non-interest bearing) loan for this month’s expenses and have a firm conviction that they will only consume and feed their family from a halāl source.

Ramaḍān is the month in which Satan gets chained and locked away. Therefore, it becomes much easier to abstain from sins. In spite of the increased worship in this blessed month, try to abandon the sins.

Conclusion

The third important note I would like to make before I conclude is to avoid anger in this blessed month. This month is of patience and forbearance, therefore, avoid anger so that you can abstain from the sins that follow it.

The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said:
“If one of you is abused by an ignorant person while fasting, then let him say: ‘Indeed I am fasting.’” (Jāmi‘ al-Tirmidhi, 764)

As for worship in this month, it is known to all the believers that the fasting and tarāwīḥ prayers are the most important acts of worship. Additionally, the recitation of the Qur’ān is also an important form of worship, because in this month Angel Jibreel would review the entire Qur’ān with the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). Therefore, increase the recitation of the Qur’ān as much as you can.

In addition to it, moist your tongue with the constant remembrance of Allah while you walk, drive, run your daily errands. Recite the following:

سُبحَانَ اللهِ و الحَمدُ للهِ و لا إلهَ إلا اللهُ و اللهُ أكبر

“Subḥānallāhi wal-Ḥamdolilāhi wa Lā ilāha illallāhu wa Allahu Akbar.” 

“All the praises are due to Allah, and all the thanks are due to Allah, and there is no god except Allah, and Allah is Greater.”

Also, increase the salutations upon Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), increase seeking your forgiveness and the number of supererogatory prayers. During the suhūr time, you have an ample opportunity to offer the taḥajjud prayers, therefore, wake a little earlier and offer a few taḥajjud prayers. Try to have focus in your salāt; the men should join the congregational prayers in the mosque, and above all avoid the sins.

May Allah give us the tawfīq to act upon what we have learned today, and may Allah make this Ramaḍān a month full of blessings, and allow us to fully benefit from it. Amīn.

Muhammad Taqī ‘Uthmānī, Karachi.

[1] Hakīm al-Ummah Shaykh Ashraf ‘Ali Thanwi was a twentieth-century erudite scholar from the Indian subcontinent. He was a Hanafi jurist, a scholar of hadith, an expert in Islamic philosophy, and a Sufi shaykh. His collection of Urdu fatwas “Imdādul Fatāwa” are a reference work for every South Asian Dār al-Iftā‘ that issues religious legal opinions according to the Hanafi school. He studied under luminaries of the likes of Mawlana Muhammad Qāsim Nānotwi, Mawlana Rashīd Aḥmed Gangohi, Shaykh al-Hind Mawlana Maḥmūd al-Ḥasan, and threaded the spiritual path under Shaykh Ḥāji Imdādullah Muhājir Makki. Among his prominent students were Shaykh Ẓafar Aḥmad ʿUthmānī and Grand Mufti Muhammad Shafī‘ ‘Uthmānī.

[2] Dr. ‘Abdul Ḥayy al-‘Ārifī was one of the most prominent successors of Shaykh Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi in the path of tasawwuf. He was the spiritual guide of Shaykh Mufti Taqi ‘Uthmāni until he departed this world in 1986 CE. His body was laid to rest in the Dār al-‘Ulūm Karachi’s graveyard.

“إنَّ اللهَ اشْتَرَى مِنَ المُؤْمِنِيْنَ أَنْفُسَهُمْ وَ أمْوَالَهُمْ بِأَنَّ لَهُمُ الْجَنَّةَ.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Adnan

    May 5, 2019 at 12:45 PM

    Assalamu alaikum,
    Would you happen to have the original urdu version? JazakAllah

  2. Avatar

    Sister Evie in New Zealand

    May 6, 2019 at 3:26 PM

    Assalamu’alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh,
    Please forgive me if I’m wrong to ask for a correction. The paragraph to mention the Story of Prophet Yusuf Alaihi Salam seeking refuge of Allah, as I quoted herewith “and then in submission to the command of Allah one says, “مَعَاذَ الله” “I seek refuge of Allah” (Surah Yūsuf, 12:24).” is actually mentioned in Surah Yusuf 12:23, instead of in Surah Yusuf 12:24. Jazakumullahu khayran.
    Allahu musta’an. Wassalamu’alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh.

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#Islam

The Spirituality Of Gratitude

Shaykh Tarik Ata

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Gratitude

The Quran tells the reader of the importance of gratitude in two ways. First, worship, which is the essence of the relationship between man and the Creator, is conditional to gratitude “and be grateful to Allah if it is [indeed] Him that you worship” (2:172). The verse suggests that in order for an individual to truly worship Allah then they must express gratitude to Allah and that an ungrateful individual cannot be a worshiper of Allah. The second verse states the following “And be grateful to Me and do not deny Me” (2:152). The Arabic word used, translated here as ‘deny,’ is kufr which linguistically means to cover up. The word was adopted by the Quran to refer to someone who rejects Allah after learning of Him. Both the linguistic and Quranic definitions are possibly meant in this verse and both arrive at the same conclusion. That is, the absence of gratitude is an indicator of one’s rejection of Allah; the question is how and why?

What Does Shukr Mean?

Understanding a Quranic concept begins with understanding the word chosen by the Quran. The word shukr is used throughout the Quran and is commonly translated as gratitude. From a purely linguistic definition, shukr is “the effect food has on the body of an animal” (Ibn Qayyim v. 2 p. 200). What is meant here is that when an animal eats food it becomes heavier which has a clear and visible effect on the animal. Therefore, shukr is the manifestation of a blessing or blessings on the entirety of a person. From here, spiritualists understood the goal of shukr and added an extra element to the definition and that is the acknowledgment that those blessings are from Allah. Thus, the definition of shukr as an Islamic spiritual concept is “the manifestation of Allah’s blessings verbally through praise and acknowledgment; emotionally on the heart through witnessing the blessings and loving Allah; and physically through submission and servitude” (Ibid).

Based on this definition, the goal of shukr can be broken into five categories. First, gratitude that brings about the submission of the individual to his benefactor. In order for an act to be worthy of gratitude, the beneficiary must conclude that the benefactor’s action was done for the sake of the beneficiary – thus making the benefactor benevolent. In other words, the benefactor is not benefiting in the least (Emmons et al 2004 p. 62). When the individual recognizes his benefactor, Allah, as being completely independent of the individual and perfect in of himself, one concludes that the actions of the benefactor are purely in the best interest of the beneficiary resulting in the building of trust in Allah. The Quran utilizes this point multiple times explicitly stating that Allah has nothing to gain from the creations servitude nor does he lose anything from because of their disobedience (Q 2:255, 4:133, 35:15, 47:38). Through shukr, a person’s spirituality increases by recognizing Allah’s perfection and their own imperfection thus building the feeling of need for Allah and trust in him (Emmons et al 2002 p. 463).

Gratitude in Knowing That Allah Loves Us

The second category is love for the benefactor. Similar to the previous category, by identifying the motive of the benefactor one can better appreciate their favors. “Gratitude is fundamentally a moral affect with empathy at its foundation: In order to acknowledge the cost of the gift, the recipient must identity with the psychological state of the one who has provided it” (Emmons 2002 p. 461).[1] That is, by recognizing Allah’s perfection one concludes that his blessings are entirely in the best interest of the beneficiary despite not bringing any return to Him. Thus, the Quran utilizes this concept repeatedly and to list a few, the Quran reminds the human reader that he created the human species directly with his two hands (38:75), he created them in the best physical and mental form (95:4), gave him nobility (17:70), commanded the angels to prostrate to him out of reverence (38:72-3), made him unique by giving him knowledge and language (2:31), exiled Satan who refused to revere him (7:13), allowed him into Paradise (7:19), forgave his mistake (2:37), designated angels to protect each individual (13:11) and supplicate Allah to forgive the believers (40:7-9), created an entire world that caters to his needs (2:29), among plenty of other blessings which express Allah’s love, care, and compassion of the human.

The remaining three categories revolve around the individual acting upon their gratitude by acknowledging them, praising Allah for them and using them in a manner acceptable to Allah. In order for gratitude to play a role in spirituality the blessings one enjoys must be utilized in a manner that connects them with Allah. Initially, one must acknowledge that all blessings are from him thus establishing a connection between the self and Allah. This is then elevated to where the individual views these blessings as more than inanimate objects but entities that serve a purpose. By doing this one begins to see and appreciate the wisdoms behind these created entities enlightening the individual to the Creators abilities and qualities. Finally, after recognizing the general and specific wisdoms behind each creation, one feels a greater sense of purpose, responsibility, and loyalty. That is, engaging the previous five categories establishes love for the benefactor (Ibn Qayyim v. 2 p. 203). Observing the care and compassion of the benefactor for his creation establishes the feeling of loyalty towards the one who has cared for us as well as responsibility since He created everything with purpose.

Blessings Even in Hardship

One may interject by referring to the many individuals and societies that are plagued with hardships and do not have blessings to appreciate. No doubt this is a reality and the Quran address this indirectly. Upon analysis, one finds that the blessings which the Quran references and encourages the reader to appreciate are not wealth or health; rather, it is the sun, the moon, trees, and the natural world in general. Perhaps the reason for this is what shukr seeks to drive us towards. There are two things all these objects have in common (1) they are gifts given by Allah to all humans and all individuals enjoy them and (2) humans are dependent upon them. Everyone has access to the sun, no one can take it away, and we are critically dependent upon it. When the Quran draws our attention to these blessings, the reader should begin to appreciate the natural world at a different level and Surah an Nahl does precisely that. This chapter was likely revealed during the time of hijrah (immigration); a time when the companions lost everything – their homes, wealth, and tribes. The chapter works to counsel them by teaching them that the true blessings a person enjoys is all around them and no matter how much was taken from them, no one can take away the greater blessings of Allah.

In sum, these verses bring light to the crucial role shukr plays in faith. It serves as a means to better know Allah which can be achieved through a series of phases. First, the individual must search for the blessings which then leads to a shift in perspective from focusing on the wants to focusing on what is available. This leads to greater appreciation and recognition of the positives in one’s life allowing the person more optimism. Second, the person must link those blessings to the benefactor – Allah – which reveals many elements of who He is and His concern for His creation. Once this is internalized in the person’s hearts, its benefits begin to manifest itself on the person’s heart, mind, and body; it manifests itself in the form of love for Allah and submission to him. Shukr ultimately reveals the extent of Allah’s love and concern for the individual which therein strengthens the trust and love of the individual for Allah and ultimately their submission to Him.

Allah knows best.

Emmons, Robert A., and Charles M. Shelton. “Gratitude and the science of positive psychology.” Handbook of positive psychology 18 (2002): 459-471.

Emmons, Robert A., and Michael E. McCullough, eds. The psychology of gratitude. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Jawziyyah, Ibn Qayyim. madārij al-sālikīn bayn manāzil iyyāka naʿbud wa iyyāka nastaʿīn مدارج السالكين بين منازل إياك نعبد وإياك نستعين [The Levels of Spirituality between the Dynamics of “It is You Alone we Worship and it is You Alone we Seek Help From]. Cario: Hadith Publications, 2005.

[1] Islamically speaking, it is not befitting to claim that Allah has a psyche or that he can be analyzed psychologically.

Download a longer version of this article here: The Sprituality of Gratitude

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Lessons From Surah Maryam: 1

Shaykh Furhan Zubairi

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Alhamdulillah, it’s a great blessing of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) that He has given us both the opportunity and ability to come here tonight to study and explore the meanings of His words in Surah Maryam. I’m truly grateful for this opportunity. May Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) accept this effort from all of us and place it on our scale of good deeds.

Alhamdulillah, in our last series we were able to complete the tafsir of Surah Al-Kahf. InshAllah, in this next series, we’ll be exploring the meanings, lessons, and reminders of Surah Maryam. Tafsīr is an extremely noble and virtuous discipline. The reason why it’s so noble and virtuous is that it’s the study of the divine speech of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). As mentioned in a hadith the superiority of the speech of Allah over all other speech is like the superiority of Allah over all of His creation. There’s nothing more beneficial and virtuous than studying the Quran. And by doing so we’ll be counted amongst the best of people. As the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “the best amongst you are those who learn the Quran and teach it.”

All of us need to build a stronger relationship with the Quran. The Quran is full of wisdom and guidance in every single verse and word. It’s our responsibility to seek that guidance, understand it, contextualize it and more importantly act upon it. Tafsīr is such a unique science that it brings together all of the other Islamic sciences. While exploring a Surah a person comes across discussions regarding Arabic grammar and morphology, rhetoric, Ahādīth, fiqh, sīrah and all those studies that are known as the Islamic Sciences. One scholar described the Quran as an ocean that has no shore, بحر لا ساحل له. The more we study the Qur’ān the stronger our relationship with it will become. We’ll become more and more attached to it and will be drawn into its beauty and wonder. The deeper a person gets into tafsir and studying the more engaged and interested they become. They also recognize how little they truly know. It develops humility. That’s the nature of true knowledge. The more we learn the more we recognize we don’t know. May Allah ﷻ allow us all to be sincere and committed students of the Qur’ān.

Surah Maryam

Surah Maryam is the 19th surah in the Quran. It is a relatively long Makki surah made up of 98 verses. Some commentators mention that it’s the 44th Surah to be revealed, after Surah Al-Fatir and before Surah Taha. It has been given the name Maryam because Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mentions the story of Maryam (as) and her family and how she gave birth to Isa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) miraculously at the beginning of the Surah. Just like other Makkan surahs, it deals with the most fundamental aspects of our faith. It talks about the existence and oneness of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), prophethood, and resurrection and recompense.

The Surah is made up of a series of unique stories filled with guidance and lessons that are meant as reminders. One of the main themes of this Surah is mercy… It has been mentioned over 16 times in this Surah. We’ll find the words of grace, compassion and their synonyms frequently mentioned throughout the sūrah, together with Allah’s attributes of beneficence and mercy. We can say that one of the objectives of the Surah is to establish and affirm the attribute of mercy for Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). That’s why all of the stories mentioned also have to do with Allah’s mercy.

Another objective of the Surah is to remind us of our relationship with Allah ﷻ; the concept of Al-‘Ubūdiyyah. These are the two major themes or ideas of this Surah; the concept of Rahmah and the concept of ‘Ubūdiyyah (Mercy and Servitude).

The Surah can be divided into 8 sections:

1) Verses 1-15: The surah starts with the story of Zakariyya (as) and how he was given the gift of a child at a very old age, which was something strange and out of the ordinary.

2) Verses 16-40: mention the story of Maryam and the miraculous birth of Isa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) without a father and how her community responded to her.

3) Verses 41-50: The surah then briefly mentions one part of the story of Ibrahim 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), specifically the conversation he had with his father regarding the worship of idols. The surah then briefly mentions a series of other Prophets.

4) Verses 51-58: Mention Musa and Haroon 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), Ismail 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and Idrees 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) to show that the essence of the message of all Prophets was the same

5) Verses 59-65: compare and contrast the previous generations with the current ones in terms of belief and actions.

6) Verses 66-72: Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) addresses the Mushrikoon rejecting their false claims regarding life after death and judgment.

7) Verses 73-87: continue to address the Mushrikoon and warn them regarding their attitude towards belief in Allah and His messengers. They also mention the great difference between the resurrection of the believer and the resurrection of the non-believer.

8) Verses 88-98: contain a severe warning to those who claim that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has taken a child. They also express that Allah is pleased with the believers and mentions that one of the objectives of the Quran is to give glad tidings to the believers and to warn the non-believers.

Story

From various narrations, we learn that this surah was revealed near the end of the fourth year of Prophethood. This was an extremely difficult time for Muslims. The Quraysh were frustrated with their inability to stop the message of Islam from spreading so they became ruthless. They resorted to any method of torture that they could think of; beating, starving and harassing. When the persecution became so severe that it was difficult for the Muslims to bear it, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) gave permission to migrate to Abyssinia. “For in it dwells a king in whose presence no one is harmed.” 10 men and 4 women migrated in the 5th year of Prophethood secretly. After a few months, a larger group of 83 men and 18 women migrated as well. This migration added more fuel to the fire. It enraged the people of Quraysh.

Umm Salamah [rahna]narrated, “When we stopped to reside in the land of Abyssinia we lived alongside the best of neighbors An-Najashi. We practiced our religion safely, worshipped Allah without harm and didn’t hear anything we disliked. When news of our situation reached the Quraysh they started to plot against us…” They decided to send two delegates to persuade An-Najashi to send the Companions back by offering him and his ministers’ gifts. The plan was to go to each minister with gifts and turn them against the Muslims. So they went to each minister with gifts and said, “Verily, foolish youth from amongst us have come to the country of your king; they have abandoned the religion of their people and have not embraced your religion. Rather they have come with a new religion that neither of us knows. The noblemen of their people, from their fathers and uncles, have sent us to the king asking that he send them back. So when we speak to the king regarding their situation advise him to surrender them to us and to not speak to them…” The minister agreed.

Then they went to the king, offered him gifts and said the same thing… The ministers tried to convince him as well. An-Najashi became angry with them and said, “No, by Allah, I will not surrender them to these two and I don’t fear the plotting of a people who have become my neighbors, have settled down in my country, and have chosen me (to grant them refuge) over every other person. I will not do so until I summon them and speak to them. If they are as these two say I will give them up, but if they aren’t then I will protect them from these two and continue to be a good neighbor to them as long as they are good neighbors to me.”

al-Najāshī then summoned the Prophet’s ﷺ Companions. When his messenger informed the Prophet’s Companions that they were to appear before the king, they gathered together to discuss what they should do. One of them asked, “What will you say to the name (al-Najāshī) when you go to him?” They all agreed on what they would say to him, “By Allah, we will say what our Prophet ﷺ taught us and commanded us with, regardless of the consequences.” Meanwhile, al-Najāshī called for his priests, who gathered around him with their scrolls spread out before them. When the Muslims arrived al-Najāshī began by asking them, “What is this religion for which you have parted from your people? You have not entered into the fold of my religion, nor the religion of any person from these nations.”

Umm Salamah [rahna] narrated, “The Person among us who would speak to him was Jaʿfar ibn abī Ṭālib [rahnu] who then said, “O king, we were an ignorant people: we worshipped idols, we would eat from the flesh of dead animals, we would perform lewd acts, we would cut off family ties, and we would be bad neighbors; the strong among us would eat from the weak. We remained upon that state until Allah sent us a Messenger, whose lineage, truthfulness, trustworthiness, and chastity we already knew. He invited us to Allah – to believe in His oneness and to worship Him; to abandon all that we and our fathers worshipped besides Allah, in terms of stones and idols. He ﷺ commanded us to speak truthfully, to fulfill the trust, to join ties of family relations, to be good to our neighbors, and to refrain from forbidden deeds and from shedding blood. And he ﷺ forbade us from lewd acts, from uttering falsehood, from wrongfully eating the wealth of an orphan, from falsely accusing chaste women of wrongdoing. And he ﷺ ordered us to worship Allah alone and to not associate any partners with him in worship; and he ﷺ commanded us to pray, to give zakāh, and to fast.” He enumerated for al-Najāshī the teachings of Islam. He said, “And we believe him and have faith in him. We follow him in what he came with. And so we worship Allah alone, without associating any partners with Him in worship. We deem forbidden that which he has made forbidden for us, and we deem lawful that which he made permissible for us. Our people then transgressed against us and tortured us. The tried to force us to abandon our religion and to return from the worship of Allah to the worship of idols; they tried to make us deem lawful those abominable acts that we used to deem lawful. Then, when they subjugated us, wronged us, and treated us in an oppressive manner, standing between us and our religion, we came to your country, and we chose you over all other people. We desired to live alongside you, and we hoped that, with you, we would not be wronged, O king.” al-Najāshī said to Jaʿfar [rahnu], “Do you have any of that which he came with from Allah?” Jaʿfar [rahnu] said, “Yes”. “Then recite to me,” said al-Najāshī. Jaʿfar [rahnu] recited for him the beginning of Surah Maryam. By Allah, al-Najāshī began to cry, until his beard became wet with tears. And when his priests heard what Jaʿfar [rahnu] was reciting to them, they cried until their scrolls became wet. al-Najāshī then said, “By Allah, this and what Mūsa (as) came with come out of the same lantern. Then by Allah, I will never surrender them to you, and henceforward they will not be plotted against and tortured.”

Describing what happened after the aforementioned discussion between al-Najāshī and Jaʿfar [rahnu], Umm Salamah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) said, “When both ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ and ʿAbdullah ibn abī Rabīʿah left the presence of al-Najāshī, ʿAmr [rahnu] said, “By Allah tomorrow I will present to him information about them with which I will pull up by the roots their very lives.” Abdullah ibn Rabīʿah who was more sympathetic of the two towards us said, “Don’t do so, for they have certain rights of family relations, even if they have opposed us.” ʿAmr said, “By Allah, I will inform him that they claim that ʿĪsā ibn Maryam is a slave.”

He went to the king on the following day and said, “O king, verily, they have strong words to say about ʿĪsa (as). Call them here and ask them what they say about him.” al-Najāshī sent for them in order to ask them about ʿĪsa. Nothing similar to this befell us before. The group of Muslims gathered together and said to one another, “What will you say about ʿĪsa when he asks you about him?” They said, “By Allah, we will say about him that which Allah says and that which our Prophet ﷺ came with, regardless of the outcome.” When they entered into his presence, he said to them, “What do you say about ʿĪsa ibn Maryam?” Jaʿfar raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) said, “We say about him that which our Prophet ﷺ came with – that he is the slave of Allah, His messenger, a spirit created by Him, and His word, which he bestowed on Maryam, the virgin, the baṭūl.”

al-Najāshī struck his hand on the ground and took from it a stick. He then said, “ʿĪsa ibn Maryam did not go beyond what you said even the distance of the stick.” When he said this, his ministers spoke out in anger, to which he responded, “What I said is true even if you speak out in anger, by Allah. (Turning to the Muslims, he said) Go, for you are safe in my land. Whoever curses you will be held responsible. And I would not love to have a reward of gold in return for me hurting a single man among you. (Speaking to his ministers he said) Return to these two (men) their gifts, since we have no need for them. For by Allah, Allah did not take from me bribe money when He returned to me my kingdom, so why should I take bribe money. The two left, defeated and humiliated; and returned to them were the things they came with. We then resided alongside al-Najāshī in a very good abode, with a very good neighbor.”

The response was simply amazing in its eloquence. A believer puts the needs of his soul before the needs of his body. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) starts the Surah by saying,

Verse 1: Kaf, Ha, Ya, ‘Ayn, Sad.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) starts Surah Maryam with a series of five letters. There are many different saying or explanations regarding these five letters. The most correct opinion is that these are from the broken letters. There are 29 different Surahs in the Quran that start with the broken letters. Only Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) alone knows the meanings of these letters. They are a secret from amongst the secrets of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), meaning that no one knows what they truly mean. Only Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) knows their meanings so they are from amongst the Mutashaabihat, those verses whose meanings are hidden.

However, we do find that some great Companions, as well as their students, sometimes gave meanings to these words. For example, it’s said that it is in acronym and each letter represents one of the names of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Kaf is for Al-Kafi or Al-Kareem, “haa” is for Al-Hadi, “yaa” is from Hakeem or Raheem, “’ayn” is from Al-‘Aleem or Al-‘Adheem, and “saad” is from Al-Saadiq. Others said that it is one of the names of Allah and it’s actually Al-Ism Al-‘Atham or that it’s a name of the Quran. However, these narrations can’t be used as proof or to assign definitive meanings. They offer possibilities, but no one truly knows what they mean.

Now the question should come to our mind that why would Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) start of a Surah with words that no one understands?

1) To grab the attention of the listeners.

2) To remind us that no matter how much we know there’s always something that we don’t know.

3) These letters are the letters of the Arabic language and the Quran was revealed at a time that was the peak of eloquence of the language and it was their identity. The Quran was revealed challenging them spiritually and intellectually. The Arabs never heard these letters being used in such a majestic way.

4) To prove the inimitable nature of the Quran.

Allah then starts the story of Zakariyya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him). Zakariyya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was one of the Prophets sent to Bani Israel. He was the husband of Maryam’s paternal aunt. He was also one of the caretakers or custodians of Baitul Maqdis.

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Heart Soothers: Idrees Al Hashemi

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