يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ
O you who believe! Fasting has been prescribed upon you as it was prescribed upon those before you, that you may acquire taqwā. [ʾal-Baqarah: 183]
Tweet and a question
I had tweeted:
People who have 11 months to socialize but don’t, now desperately need to chat and invite to meals during #Ramadaan. So much precious time lost in this delusion
Please educate: Is #Ramadan not meant to be a time for gathering (in the evening)? Is it only at the end of the holy month?
Mr Feldman is a Jewish journalist of note. Although we hold diametrically opposite views on matters such as Palestine, I do believe that there is mutual respect amongst us, as fellow followers of Abrahamic faiths. I am therefore preparing a concise reply, but also further details for my usual Muslim readers which Mr Feldman is of course welcome to read if he wishes.
Ramaḍān is a month of purification of the self. Every possible moment should be spent in building one’s relationship with God. There are gatherings at night for the special Tarāwīḥ prayer at Masjids (mosques) and then one should meet with friends and family on the day of ʿĪd, after Ramaḍān. Social gatherings during Ramaḍān are a cultural phenomenon, not a command of Islām. They may be permissible, but participants should be aware that every second that passes is precious and lost forever.
What is the purpose of Ramaḍān?
It has become fashionable in a politically correct era to tell ourselves, and more so, non-Muslim whom we seek to impress, that fasting is a social movement of sympathy for the poor. While that is without any doubt one of the benefits of fasting and part of the teaching and traits of the beloved Messenger of Allāh, Muḥammad (Allāh’s salutations and peace be upon him), that is not the purpose which Allāh mentions. He says, “O you who believe! Fasting has been prescribed upon you as it was prescribed upon those before you, that you may acquire taqwā.” [ʾal-Baqarah: 183]
Taqwā is difficult to express in English, but encompasses piety, righteousness, God-awareness and avoidance of God’s displeasure.
Islām teaches us balance [ʾal-Baqarah:143]. We have individual and social obligations. However, Ramaḍān is a time of acquiring taqwā, of focusing on building our relationship with our Creator. This is clearly demonstrable in the noble example of our Master, Muḥammad (Allāh’s salutations and peace be upon him). For example, our Mother, ʿĀʾishah (may Allāh be pleased with her) narrates:
عن عائشة رضي الله عنها قالت كان النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم إذا دخل العشر شد مئزره وأحيا ليله وأيقظ أهله
When the last ten days of Ramaḍān entered, the Prophet (Allāh’s salutations and peace be upon him) would fasten his loincloth and spend his night in worship, and awaken his family. [ʾal-Bukhārī]
Fasten the loincloth is a metaphor for exertion and avoidance of sexual relations. His focus was on personal devotion. This was not only during the prophetic period, but Allāh’s Messenger (Allāh’s salutations and peace be upon him) used to spend his Ramaḍān in isolation in the Cave of Ḥirā, even before Prophethood. It was during such a spiritual retreat that the angel came with the first revelation. For centuries Muslims had understood the link between spiritual cleansing and Ramaḍān and thus imitated Allāh’s Messenger (Allāh’s salutations and peace be upon him) in his practice of ʾIʿtikāf, spiritual retreat in the masjid during the last third of Ramaḍān.
Of course when communal obligations arose, he fulfilled those duties too. Yet the balance of evidence points to focus on personal spirituality, and fulfilment of community duties only as per necessity.
Yes, the two great Battles of Badr and Makkah occurred during Ramaḍān, but the operative word is occurred. An examination of the facts (the Quraysh violating the truce) would make it far fetched to claim that Allāh’s Messenger (Allāh’s salutations and peace be upon him), chose to time these events during Ramaḍān. Even during those events, history records his intense spiritual devotions. The night before Badr, was spent on the muddy earth begging Allāh, “O Allāh! If this little group is destroyed, then never again will You be worshipped.” Six years later he entered Makkah as a peaceful conqueror, head lowered, carrying the child of his recently martyred daughter, reciting Sūrah ʾal-Fatḥ. Then standing on the steps of the Kaʿbah he addresses his defeated enemy, “There is no god, but God alone, Who has no partner. He fulfilled His promise. He helped His slave. It is He alone Who defeated the alliance [of unbelievers]. O gathering of Quraysh, how do you wish me to treat you?”
There is no moment that he turned his attention away from Allāh in frivolous pursuits. His focus was entirely on Allāh.
No Second of Ramaḍān can be wasted
There are so many narrations of Allāh’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) exhorting us to value Ramaḍān. We cannot afford to lose out on this annual bargain, which for some, might be their last. For example:
فقد ورد في صحيح ابن خزيمة وغيره حديث طويل فيه: أيها الناس قد أظلكم شهر عظيم، شهر مبارك، شهر فيه ليلة خير من ألف شهر، جعل الله صيامه فريضة، وقيام ليله تطوعا، من تقرب فيه بخصلة من الخير، كان كمن أدى فريضة فيما سواه، ومن أدى فيه فريضة كان كمن أدى فيه سبعين فريضة فيما سواه.
“O people! There has come upon you a great month, a blessed month, a month in which there is a night better than a thousand months. Allāh has made its fast compulsory, and standing in prayer during its nights an optional virtue. He who draws closer to Allāh through an optional virtue during it, is like one who has fulfilled a compulsory deed outside of it. He who observes a compulsory deed in it is like one who observes 70 compulsory deeds outside of it…” [ʾIbn Khuzaymah]
The Benefits and Rights of the Qurʾān
The Qurʾān is to be lived by and recited. Its every letter grants the reciter a special reward, and that multiplied by 70 during Ramaḍān. Those of us living in non-Muslim lands generally have full working days during Ramaḍān. Surely intelligence demands that what little free time we have should be spent on the purpose of Ramaḍān and not socialising? The rewards are for our eternal life, why do you want to be a comparative permanent pauper in Paradise? Why do you not multiply your investment by 70? Allāh’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said:
روى أبو داود والترمذي عن عبد الله بن عمرو بن العاص رضي الله عنهما، وهو حديث صحيح، قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: (يقال لصاحب القرآن: اقرأ وارتق ورتل كما كنت ترتل في الدنيا(
It will be said to the Companion of the Qurʾān, “Recite and ascend [the stages of Paradise]. Read slowly like you used to read in the world.” [ʾAbū Dāwūd]
So choose the Qurʾān as your Ramaḍān companion. Will your buddies be able to give you the same benefit when you are resurrected?
In the attempt to build our relationship with Allāh, we need to purify our hearts.
عن ابن عمر قال : قال رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – : ” إن هذه القلوب تصدأ كما يصدأ الحديد إذا أصابه الماء ” قيل : يا رسول الله وما جلاؤها ؟ قال : ” كثرة ذكر الموت وتلاوة القرآن ” روى البيهقي الأحاديث الأربعة في شعب الإيمان
Allāh’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said: “These hearts rust just as iron rusts when water damages it. “O Messenger of God,” someone asked, “What is its polish?” He replied, “Frequent remembrance of death and recitation of the Qurʾān.” [ʾal-Bayhaqī]
If we spend our free time in Ramaḍān socialising, then when do we build our personal relationship with Allāh, when do we polish our hearts?
Touring Negates Completion of the Qurʾān
In South Africa there exists the phenomena which the participants therein call “touring”. A person will not attend every night of the Tarāwīḥ prayer at a single masjid, but will tour from masjid to masjid as his heart pleases. Part of the motivation is socialising. Yet even the term “touring” reveals that the tourist’s intention is self-pleasure, not Allāh’s pleasure. What religiously sanctioned reason can there be for this practice? Rather, the right of the Qurʾān is not fulfilled.
It is Sunnah (practice of Allāh’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) that the entire Qurʾān must be recited or listened to during Tarāwīḥ. This means every letter from the first B of the Qurʾān to the last S. In our weak state it is almost unheard of that no mistake is every made. Those not versed in Arabic and the Qurʾān will not realise that every night the mistakes of the previous night are first rectified before the recitation of that night itself. The tourist misses out on that rectification and his Qurʾān is not complete. He loses out on a precious Sunnah all for the sake of self-pleasure and socialising.
There are others for whom touring is not intended in itself, but is a consequence of accepting invitations in another area. They too will attend another masjid and they too will be deprived of the Sunnah.
Is Socialising a Virtue or a Sin?
Most deeds are not innately good or evil, but depend on the intention and method of implementation. The average Muslim is aware of the famous statement of Allāh’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم), “Actions are according to the intentions.” [ʾal-Bukhārī].
Meeting with friends and family too can be virtuous, but with criteria. Allāh’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said:
عن أبي هريرة رضي الله عنه قال: قال النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم: ((سَبْعَةٌ يُظِلُّهُمْ اللَّهُ تَعَالَى فِي ظِلِّهِ يَوْمَ لَا ظِلَّ إِلاَّ ظِلُّهُ إِمَامٌ عَدْلٌ، وَشَابٌّ نَشَأَ فِي عِبَادَةِ اللَّهِ، وَرَجُلٌ قَلْبُهُ مُعَلَّقٌ فِي الْمَسَاجِدِ، وَرَجُلَانِ تَحَابَّا فِي اللَّهِ اجْتَمَعَا عَلَيْهِ وَتَفَرَّقَا عَلَيْهِ، وَرَجُلٌ دَعَتْهُ امْرَأَةٌ ذَاتُ مَنْصِبٍ وَجَمَالٍ فَقَالَ: إِنِّي أَخَافُ اللَّهَ وَرَجُلٌ تَصَدَّقَ بِصَدَقَةٍ فَأَخْفَاهَا حَتَّى لَا تَعْلَمَ شِمَالُهُ مَا تُنْفِقُ يَمِينُهُ وَرَجُلٌ ذَكَرَ اللَّهَ خَالِيًا فَفَاضَتْ عَيْنَاهُ))
There are seven categories whom Allāh Most High will shade in His shade on that day when there will be no shade except His…. Two men who love each other for Allāh’s sake. They gather for His sake, and depart for His sake…” [ʾal-Bukhārī]
It is clear that socialising is not a virtue in itself, but becomes a virtue through God-consciousness. Are our Ramaḍān parties truly God-conscious events or opportunities for gossip, slander etc? Allāh says:
لَّا خَيْرَ فِي كَثِيرٍ مِّن نَّجْوَاهُمْ إِلَّا مَنْ أَمَرَ بِصَدَقَةٍ أَوْ مَعْرُوفٍ أَوْ إِصْلَاحٍ بَيْنَ النَّاسِ ۚ وَمَن يَفْعَلْ ذَٰلِكَ ابْتِغَاءَ مَرْضَاتِ اللَّهِ فَسَوْفَ نُؤْتِيهِ أَجْرًا عَظِيمًا
No good is there in much of their private conversation, except for those who enjoin charity or that which is right or conciliation between people. And whoever does that seeking means to the pleasure of Allah – then We are going to give him a great reward. [ʾan-Nisāʾ: 114]
In his commentary to the above, the famous commentator, ʾIbn Kathīr reproduces the statement of Allāh’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم):
عن أم حبيبة قالت : قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم : ” كلام ابن آدم كله عليه لا له ما خلا أمرا بمعروف أو نهيا عن منكر [ أو ذكر الله عز وجل ”
The speech of the son of Adam is entirely against him, not for him, except for ordering good, forbidding evil, or remembering Allāh Most Mighty and Majestic.”
Even if one does avoid evil speech, one still loses on the chance to polish one’s heart. A common teaching of the spiritual masters is that qillatul ʾikhtilāṭ [lessening of social intermingling] is necessary for spiritual cleansing.
There is no living psychologist greater than Satan. He has had millennia to perfect deceiving us. One type of deception is to take us away from a greater and more urgent virtue to a lesser virtue. For example, ʾal-Ghazzālī condemned the wealthy person who goes for optional pilgrimage while his neighbour is hungry.
ʾIbnul Jawzī has written a veritable encyclopaedia on the topic called Talbīsul ʿIblīs (Deception of Satan). Please read it.
Sit and ponder with an honest heart how much of your Ramaḍan’s spirituality is lost through self-deception. I cannot point out every condition. Let us ask for example if we really need to listen to every broadcasted sermon of every scholar on radio during Ramaḍān? Certainly some time set aside in the path of knowledge is commendable, but how often is the amount of time used in that simply an excuse to avoid our own personal spiritual exertions? Can we not abandon frivolities outside of Ramaḍān and then listen to their podcasts? For the record I do not think that you need ʾIbnul Jawzī to explain the deception of the obscene dramas on certain “Islamic” Radio Stations, but you might need ʾas-Sulamī, the great scholar during the Crusades, to explain the evils of these media bootlicking the Satanic Saudi regime.
Rights of Family & Children
I think I need to conclude and attend to my own polishing. I hope that I have given you some food for thought and conclude with one final thought. As a parent you work the whole day and do not have much time with your family as you would like to. If you spend the intense spiritual time of Ramaḍān with friends, or even extended family, instead of your own household, what memories will your children have, and when do you expect to find a more blessed time to bond with them? When will the realisation hit you that when your child looks at you, you are a stranger?