1430, 04 Ramadaan:
َلَيسَ البِرَّ أَن تُوَلّوا وُجوهَكُم قِبَلَ المَشرِقِ وَالمَغرِبِ وَلٰكِنَّ البِرَّ مَن ءامَنَ بِاللَّهِ وَاليَومِ الءاخِرِ وَالمَلٰئِكَةِ وَالكِتٰبِ وَالنَّبِيّۦنَ وَءاتَى المالَ عَلىٰ حُبِّهِ ذَوِى القُربىٰ وَاليَتٰمىٰ وَالمَسٰكينَ وَابنَ السَّبيلِ وَالسّائِلينَ وَفِى الرِّقابِ وَأَقامَ الصَّلوٰةَ وَءاتَى الزَّكوٰةَ وَالموفونَ بِعَهدِهِم إِذا عٰهَدوا ۖ وَالصّٰبِرينَ فِى البَأساءِ وَالضَّرّاءِ وَحينَ البَأسِ ۗ أُولٰئِكَ الَّذينَ صَدَقوا ۖ وَأُولٰئِكَ هُمُ المُتَّقونَ
It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces Towards east or West; but it is righteousness- to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity; to fulfil the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the Allah-fearing.
The above verse is no. 177 from Al-Baqarah and falls in the second juz of Qur’an. The verse is the most complete and comprehensive definition of the Arabic word ‘birr’ (good deed) and is hence called as the ayat-ul-birr. I believe this is also the perfect verse for Ramazaan as it makes the key distinction between engaging in ‘conventional’ forms of religious observations and those behaviors which reflect the essence of moral behavior.
This verse was sent to the Holy Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wasallam) at the time when the qibla had been recently changed from the Mosque Al-Aqsa to the Ka’aba. The jews of Madina were raising arguments at this change and the verse is one of several that answer to them.
The verse highlights the fact that compared with the ‘form’ of a deed, the character that is being developed through those deeds is of higher importance. It doesn’t mean that the ‘form’ can be changed at will; for even in that lies the test of our willingness to submit ourselves to Allah’s injunctions.
However, it does refocus our attention away from futile arguments over details of form on the essence of religiousity which is intimately tied to morality in Islam. So how can this verse serve us in Ramadaan?
It provides us with a list of behaviors through which we can compare our behavior and judge for ourselves how much of the true spirit of the fast is there in our efforts.
1. Have we set our beliefs straight? that is, based on this excellent and the most authentic sources at our disposal? This first point in the verse covers all the essentials of belief and raises an important question: What is the validity of a fast that is held for the sake of convention (because everybody else is fasting and expects us to keep, because of parental pressure, etc) because it merely satisfies the outward observers; but can it be acceptable to Allah who knows that in the person in his/her hearts of hearts does not believe? This refers us again to that Islam vs Eman issue we have been lately considering.
2. We fast, we offer more than the obligatory prayers; we try to complete one cycle of Quran’s recitation; but here is the test of tests: do we spend from that most closest-to-the-heart of our possessions — money? Note zakat is not intended here for it is covered in the next point of the ayah. It is the other-than-zakat expenditure called sadqah in Arabic. And there are so many ways of offering it as outlined in the ayah. I have read this in ahadith that this is one of those deeds which can protect us from falling into the hell-pit when we are crossing that bridge over it to the heaven’s side and which will also protect us from the intense heat of the day of the big gathering while we are waiting for the Judgment process to begin. We spend so much in Ramadaan on ifraar and sehri but do we bring ourselves to remember those who are not as lucky as us? Indeed there may be families whose state of faith might be weakening because of the very urgent need of food and hygiene. Your charity can save them from completing falling away from the path of faith, because faith on God does have an association with faith on people. Your help can be a message of hope for someone, can be a reminder that God creates ways out of trouble, and can motivate the needy ones to benefit as much from this prized month as you yourself are gaining.
3. Many people count salat and zakat among the more formal aspects of Islam. But their mention in this verse reminds us that these two are the key character-building exercises that are designed to produce the qualities that this verse summarizes. Just think. All these qualities require a firm self-control and both these conventions teach us that. Whatever activity your are engaged in, no matter how important, or no matter how engrossing the fun you are having, you must break away from it to offer your prayer on time. Self-control! Then again, no matter how large an amount your 2.5% translates into (depending upon the extent of your resrouces), you must deliver it as promptly as it is due. Another important point is that since Ramadaan quickly transforms into a cultural observation and a lot social pressure is accumulated, there are people who do “fast” while retaining their lack of concern about offering salat and while having no intention whatsoever of clearing their zakat dues. So can such a fast be acceptable?
4. The final portion of the ayah covers all those behaviors — keeping promises; patience in pain, adversity and panic; and truthfulness — that are not only the traditional good deeds but also very practical guidelines in going through the affairs of the world with i) straight relations with people intact, ii) duties performed efficiently and effectively, iii) and good health (both physical and mental) maintained througout the ups and downs of life. Being judged as a good subject of our Creator is, of course, an incomparable bonus. Once again, all of these are also the many qualities of a sincere and authentic (and truly acceptable) fast that we keep reading in various ahadith.
So, think about it.