Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ramadhan and Faith

Ramadhan and Faith

The biggest challenge to us in this life is maintaining a balance between worldliness and spirituality. Worldliness has tremendous attractions for us. It is short term, and it is immediate and it is immediately gratifying. Spirituality is a long term goal and it requires patience, perseverance and above all faith.

We were created weak and the world was created attractive. The only tool given to us to fight this deadly combination is faith in our belief that our Creator wanted some thing better for us than the life of this world. If we believe that Creation was an accident than it hardly matters but if we believe that Creation was deliberate and purposeful then that is faith.

The flesh needs the world for it’s survival but survival alone is not the goal. We may survive in poverty or we may survive in luxury, hardly matters because death will take it all away. If we believe that this is the only life that we will have, then it does matter (unless we have tasted spirituality) but if we believe that this is but a small part of our total existence then that is faith.

A just society
If we are drawn to sex, power, wealth then we have gone beyond survival to exploitation. One seldom sets out to exploit, one first becomes a member of an exploitative society. It is that society that makes heroes of worldly people, worldly exploits and eggs us on to define worldliness as the end rather than a means to an end.

When I say this to you, I talk about Islam but you may not recognize this as Islam. This is not what you have seen Muslims practice. In fact it is what you have seen non Muslims practice. The Muslims have strayed too far from Islam to sometimes recognize their own religion but I can quote you verse after verse after verse from the Quran that says nothing but this.

One of my favorite verses from the Quran is;

Al-Imran (The Family of Imran)
Sura 3:185, "Every soul shall have a taste of death: And only on the Day of Judgment shall you be paid your full recompense. Only he who is saved far from the Fire and admitted to the Garden will have attained the object (of Life): For the life of this world is but goods and chattels of deception."..

Again from the Quran

Al Hadid
Sura 57:20. Know ye (all), that the life of this world is but play and pastime, adornment and mutual boasting and multiplying, (in rivalry) among yourselves, riches and children. Here is a similitude: how rain and the growth which it brings forth, delight (the hearts of) the tillers; soon it withers; thou wilt see it grow yellow; then it becomes dry and crumbles away. But in the Hereafter is a Chastisement severe (for the devotees of wrong). And Forgiveness from Allah and (His) Good Pleasure (for the devotees of Allah). And what is the life of this world, but goods and chattels of deception?

The Bible also says something similar;

David says in Psalms 51:5, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me." We can not come out from our sinful nature by our good deeds or by our own efforts. Yes, we need a Savior, ( Allah) we need a Messiah who can rescue us from our sins. ..

It is only when we become members of a Just Society that we abhor exploitation and that we bring to justice, the exploiter even in this world. If we set out to create a Just Society, we benefit not just ourselves but also mankind.

Worldliness is so self absorbing that Allah has provided us with instructions to pull ourselves away from it’s affairs so as to remind ourselves, five times a day, that our goal is to return to our creator and be able to say to Him that we have accomplished what we were sent to accomplish.

Even this has to be supplemented by devoting one month in a year to abstaining from what the flesh desires and what our ego demands. There is the outer fasting and then there is the inner fasting. If all one does is to go hungry and thirsty, then that is not a complete fast.

Here are some examples of Inner fasting:

Avoid excessive speech, learn to listen.
If we do not learn patience from the act of fasting, then we have missed something about this great rite of worship.
Ramadan is known as the month for spending in the way of Allah. It is the time for us to enter onto calculations for determining if we have given 2.5 % of our Savings in Zakat.
There is a Haddith, during Ramadan the devils are locked up. It is therefore easier for us to focus on our mission without interference of our our baser instincts.

In American corporations, once a year, the senior management will do a “retreat”.
This means they go offsite and lock themselves away from day to day for two to three days and focus on reviewing the Mission of the Corporation. They will come out of the retreat not only with a better understanding of the Mission but also a long term plan for the success of the company. This is not dissimilar to the Etaeqaf that Muslims will do in the last 10 days of Ramadhan when they become aloof from the world and spend their time meditating on their mission and developing a plan for the remaining 11 months.

If Islam was a Corporation, then who would be the senior management? Not the Imam, not the Islamic Scholar, not the Ayatollah. The senior management of Islam is each one of us. Imagine the entire Islamic Ummah participating in a retreat world wide in the last ten days of Ramadhan. Imagine coming out of this with a common mission without having spoken to one another. The mission is the same, we just have to refresh it. The test is how we put it into practice in the following 11 months. Whether we sit in Aiteqaf or are awake during nights to worship or just enter into the spirit of Ramadhan, we are all in a special “retreat”. The long term plans are being formulated but first we need to ask ourselves the question, how arrogant have we become? To what extent are we the exploiter or are we the exploited? If we are the exploited, how is it that we have allowed this to happen?

If we are the exploiter, we have to seek the forgiveness of Allah but if we are the exploited then we need to seek the assistance of Allah. Perhaps we are exploited precisely because we have taken as out friends and guardians people other than Allah. The Muslim Ummah as a whole will in all likelihood come to the conclusion that we are more the exploited then the exploiter. When it seeks the assistance of Allah, the first thing that will happen is that the Ummah will come together, Arabs, Turks, Chinese, Shias, Sunnis, Ismailis, will feel a common bond and feel the shame of being disunited and seeking the approval of worldly powers rather than of Allah.

My appeal to all Muslims is that if each of you believe that you are the senior management of Islam then behave as such. I repeat, do not look to the Mullah, or the Alim or the Ayatullah for leadership. Take ownership of your faith, take ownership of your destiny, take strength from Allah. Be humble, be kind, be patient but above all be firm. Your faith is too valuable to be compromised, but if you have compromised it then seek forgiveness and start afresh after these 10 days. Let the first of October, 2008 be a new dawn for Islam.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Friday Khutba 4- Real Freedom


Today I will talk to you about Real Freedom and how it can make us better human beings . In Islam real freedom is in submission to Allah.

I begin with Surah Al Ikhlas because in thisSurah the question of freedom is dealt with in the context of submission to one God. “ Say: He is Allah the One, Allah the Eternal. He brought not forth, nor was He brought forth; there is none equal to Him.”

One can talk for hours about this verse but I want to share with you a brief commentary by Syed Qutb. “ Islam began by freeing the human conscience from servitude to any one except that of Allah and from submission to any save Him. There is no supreme authority anywhere except that of Allah nor can any other grant life or death. None save He can supply provision of anything in earth or heaven, nor can there be any mediator or power, and all others are subject to Him, without ownership either of themselves or of others.”


Allah has provided for us a tool which is critical to us in avoiding temptation and for striving to improve ourselves. This tool is our conscience. Conscience is like the warning light that comes in our car when it should not be driven further. When our conscience warns us we need to stop and take stock. We need to stop, make repair and strengthen ourselves.

Like any tool, in order to remain effective, it must be maintained and kept in good health. A healthy conscience is the same as a free conscience. In Islam , the freedom of the conscience that Qutb talks about is the true freedom.

No one can manage our conscience except ourselves and yet we are often less concerned about managing it and are happy to leave it to it's own devices as if it were not a part of us. Managing our conscience means being aware of it, not through the filter of our ego but through our unvarnished objectivity.


Another tool ( this is not the correct word to be used here but I use it for effect. Niyat is not a tool but our innermost being) available to us is our Niyat. Our conduct in this world is the manifestation of our Niyat ( intentions). Knowledge of our Niyat only comes to us when it is tested through the process of time and challenges that we will face in our journey in this world. Outwardly we all believe that we act out of the best of intentions and it is not until we give in to temptation that we realise that our Niyat was not as strong a we led ourselves to believe.

One of the biggest tests for us is the attraction of this world. The constant test of our lives is to understand where survival ends and our mission begins. The constant test is our ability to maintain a balance between our love of God, the attainment of what pleases him ( Piety, Justice, Humility etc.) and the pleasures and riches of this world.

Our love of this world makes us come under the influence of such values as money, power, rank or lineage. The moment we come under the influence of these attractions that very moment starts a process which ultimately renders our Conscience incapable of true freedom. We are on the way to becoming addicted or a person under the influence. We become prisoners of our worldly desires. Once we are imprisoned we run the risk of being committed to a life sentence. The question is do we aspire to freedom or do we aspire to imprisonment.

So here Islam applies itself to all these values and puts them in their proper place . That is what is meant by maintaining a balance. Balance means minimizing the impact of material values and keeping a check on their impact on the human spirit.

At the same time Islam does not depreciate the value of wealth or of family. "Wealth and sons are an ornament for life in this world". But it does emphasise that such things are not such as to elevate or lower a man's true status. It is not wealth that confers a status in the eyes of God.

" The things which endure, the works of righteousness, are better in thy Lords sight.
Better for reward and better for hope," Al Kahf ( 18:44)

The Quran deals with material values and spiritual values by coining a parable about them in the souls of two men. I quote from Surah Al Tauba;

" Coin for them a parable. There were two men, to one of them We provided two gardens of vines which We surrounded with palm trees. In between the two We set a patch of arable land. each of the gardens produced its fruit and without failing in any way,and between the the two of them We caused a stream to flow. So this man had his fruit , and in dispute with his neighbour he said to him: "I have more wealth than you, and my family is mightier." So he went into his garden sinning against his own soul, and saying: " I do not think that this will ever pass away, nor do I believe that " the Hour" will come. But even if I am taken back to my Lord, I will surely find something better than this in exchange." But his neighbour said to him in Dispute: "have you no belief in Him who created you out of dust, then out of semen and then formed you as a man? Nay Allah is my Lord, and I will not associate any other with My Lord. Why did you not say when you entered your garden: "As Allah will; there is no power save in Allah, if you thought me inferior to yourself in wealth and children? it may be that my Lord will give me something better than your garden: and that He will send down on this a thunderbolt from Heaven, so that next morning it will be only smooth, bare soil. or the next morning the water may have sunk so deep in the ground that you cannot find it. Then his fruit was encompassed and the next morning he was turning down the palms of his hands in dismay at what he had spent on it., for it had fallen down upon the trellises: and he was saying: he had no party to help him except Allah, and so he was helpless." Al Kahf ( 18: 32-42)

In other words by choosing materialism and placing it on a pedestal equal to or greater than God, we have come away from the message given in Surah Ikhlas.

Islam is not unaware of this lurking danger for the freedom of the conscience, and it bestows upon it a profound attention. It places the highest priority to be given to the care of the innermost depths of the soul and again by its concern for all the abilities and endowments of the individual.

I quote from The Quran, Sura Al Tauba,

“ Say: There are your fathers and your sons, your brothers and your wives; there are your tribes, and the money you have earned, the commerce which you fear may suffer, and the dwellings in which you take pleasure. If these things are dearer to you than Allah and His Messenger, if they are dearer than struggle in His Cause, then wait in idleness till Allah starts on His work. Verily Allah does not guide people who are impious.” ( 9:24)

Here in one verse Allah places in a balance most of the things that we aspire to in the world, “ the attractions, the longings, and the desires”, are one side of the scale and on the other , the love Of Allah and the striving in His Cause. There is no doubt in this guidance as to which side of the scale needs to be heavier. . If the similarity to the scale is removed, then worldliness becomes a means to an end and not the end. Life is a struggle to keep this balance and not forget, ever, why we are here.


It is not the intent of Islam to discourage humans from worldliness but to warn them from losing perspective. It is possible to become drunk with worldly success. It is possible to gauge success and failure in material terms.. When we see some one materially successful or unsuccessful we tend to assume that the path they took is worth following or avoiding.

Material success as a measure of success is a slippery slope and the measure most likely to make the conscience a prisoner of materialism. Once your conscience is a prisoner,
you are free to compromise on principles, hurt other people , exploit them, cheat, lie, kill and justify it all to yourself. You have left Allah ( frequently without knowing it) and Allah has left you.

In the context of the current world it is very common for people to use this measure of wealth to extol the West and deprecate Islam.” Look”, it is said at the progress that the West has made and how far behind are Muslim countries. This is a complex subject and I will leave it to another day to discuss the validity of this argument but I bring it up simply to assert that it is a measure based purely on material progress and that argument alone is misleading when deciding upon a model to follow. The glitter of material progress and worldly pleasures is fleeting and addictive but even more importantly it can make us lose our humanity.

Self Knowledge

Let me return to the subject of knowledge of our Niyat. When we talk of self knowledge, we are talking about the knowledge of our Niyat. I am hoping that through this discourse, I am making you sensitive to the need to gain self knowledge and how to get it. This knowledge is most gained in moments of adversity. Adversity is therefore an opportunity to view yourself in a mirror. If all that you do at a bad time for you is to complain then you have bypassed this opportunity. You have missed a learning opportunity. Adversity is meant to make us stronger not weaker. We do not invite adversity, but often Allah chooses this as a way of teaching us.

Another opportunity for self knowledge is when we fall prey to temptation. We fall prey to temptation when we violate our own principles and fondest beliefs, when we commit ourselves the mistakes that we have accused others of in the past, when our conscience tells us, if it is free to tell us, that we have acted improperly, when our carnal and animal desires get out of control. The first thing to recognize is that we are not as pious as we thought, not as righteous as we thought. It is our image of ourselves that needs a revision before anything else. How can we seek forgiveness, if we are not convinced that we have sinned. How can we reform ourselves knowing that at the next temptation, we remain weak and vulnerable. The biggest obstacle to self knowledge is when we think that we are good. If we are good than what is the struggle and the striving for? Has the journey ended while we are still breathing?

In this connection we must also remember the story of Muhammad, PBUH with the blind beggar Ibn Umm Maktum and with Walid ibn al-Mughira, the chief of his people. It is a story in which Allah delivers a sharp rebuke to His prophet. I quote from the Quran, Sura Abasa ( He frowned).

“( The Prophet) frowned and turned away. Because there came to him the blind man (interrupting). But what could tell thee but that perchance he might grow ( in spiritual understanding)?
Or that he might receive admonition, and the teaching might profit him?

As to one who regards Himself as self-sufficient, to him dost thou attend; though it is no blame on thee If he grew not ( in spiritual understanding).
But to him who came to thee striving earnestly, and with fear ( in his heart).
Of him wast thou unmindful. “

A moment of human weakness had assailed Muhammad PBUH, in his desire that Allah might bring AL Walid over to Islam, and he was intent upon this matter when Ibn Umm Maktum came to him, and he was intent upon this matter when Ibn Maktum came to him , seeking some knowledge of the Quran, calling to him again and again while he was still occupied with Al-Walid. The prophet was annoyed with the beggar, and frowned upon him; but his Lord rebuked him sharply for it in these words which are almost the strongest possible rebuke.” ( 80:1-10)

The prospect of worldly success made even the Prophet lose his priorities for one split second. After all it was only a frown but Allah wanted to hold his Prophet to the highest standard and in it is an example for all of us. Doing the right thing can sometimes clash with doing things right. If there is a clash of principles and productivity, principles cannot be sacrificed. In doing the right thing we submit to the wishes of Allah and ultimately are better prepared for giving an account of our lives to Him.


Suggested Reading

Social Justice in Islam by Sayyid Qutb, translated by John Hardie.

Qutb who is much maligned in the West and completely misunderstood. Writes about Social justice in there parts.

1.Absolute Freedom of Conscience.
2.The complete equality of all men.
3.The firm mutual responsibility of Society