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Posts Tagged ‘good deeds’

QURAN IN RAMADAAN: Convention or Essence?

In Quran, Ramadaan on August 26, 2009 at 4:58 am

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.

 

THE FAITH: The Three Stages of being a Muslim – Part I

In Islam, Quran on August 2, 2009 at 8:04 am

quranWhile I was reading the Qur’an some days ago, with  tafseer by Maulana Taqi Usmani, I came across an ayah in Sura Al-Maida which reminds us of the progressive stages of a Muslim’s faith.

In view of the coming Ramadaan, it seemed to be an excellent topic of presentation and preparation.

Here is the ayah.

Al-Maida, ayah 93

Translation: On those who believe and do good there is no blame for what they eat, when they are careful (of their duty) and believe and do good deeds, then they are careful (of their duty) and believe, then they are careful (of their duty) and do good (to others; and Allah loves those who do good (to others).

The context

This ayah appears in the context of the prohibition of drinking wine in a previous ayah (#90). When the commandment was received and announced by the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam), some Sahaba came and inquired what of those who had drunk and have already died before its prohibition. This ayah explains that since those Muslims had eaten only what was not forbidden according to the Allah’s commandments up till then, and that they had done this in sincerity towards Him while standing in fear of displeasing him, they do not deserve any penance; rather they deserve reward in the hereafter.

Stages of faith

However, what inspires me to write about today is the simple gradation of the Muslim faith that is provided in this ayah and against which we can measure ourselves.

In this and many other verses of the Qur’an, the Believers are called upon to believe. What does it mean? Why the apparent repetition? Why tell those who already believe to believe…?

Tafaseer confirm what the common sense points to: the belief that is being demanded of the Believers is of a different and higher kind than that more basic and lower rung of the ladder that they have already climbed. At various points in Qur’an and hadith, as here, this second stage of Faith is further distinguished from a third, higher one. The three stages in succession are:

1. Islam – 2. Iman – 3. Ihsan

Below follows a hadith that verifies the authenticity of these concepts.

The hadith

On the authority of Omar [razi Allahu unh] who said:

One day while we were sitting with the messenger of Allah there appeared before us a man whose clothes were exceedingly white and whose hair was exceedingly black; no signs of journeying were to be seen on him and none of us knew him. He walked up and sat down by the Prophet [salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam].

Resting his knees against his and placing the palms of his hands on his thighs, he said:

“O Muhammed [salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam], tell me about Islam“.

The messenger of Allah said:

“Islam is to testify that there is no god but Allah and Muhammed is the messenger of Allah, to perform the prayers, to pay the zakat, to fast in Ramadhan, and to make the pilgrimage to the House if you are able to do so.”

He said: “You have spoken rightly”, and we were amazed at him asking him and saying that he had spoken rightly. He said:

“Then tell me about eman.”

He [Prophet Mohammad salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam] said:

“It is to believe in Allah, His angels, His books, His messengers, and the Last Day, and to believe in divine destiny, both the good and the evil thereof.”

He said: “You have spoken rightly”. He said:

“Then tell me about ehsan.”

He said: “It is to worship Allah as though you are seeing Him, and while you see Him not yet, truly He sees you”.

[Reference: Hadith #2 in Al-Nawawi’s Forty Hadiths, taken from Muslim]

[Note: The narration continues to a discussion of signs of qiyamah and Hazrat Omar asking and finding out that the strange person asking questions and talking freely to Prophet Mohammad was Hazrat Jibrail (Angel Gabriel).]

Stage 1: Islam

Many of us assume (with a simple-minded ignorance) that if we have recited the kalima thus claiming our Muslim faith we have indeed attained the first stage.

Not so fast..

Look again at the first section of the reference ayah and you will find the phrase wa ‘amilu-ssalihaat (“and they perform the good deeds”) attached as an essential characteristic of the first stage. Even if you are a perfunctory reader of the Qur’an you will testify that this little phrase accompanies the phrase allazina amanu (“those who believe”) nearly all the places in Qur’an, except where they are simply being addressed (i.e., as ya ayyuh-allazina amanu).

Now look at the first section of the reference hadith wherein our Prophet Mohammad (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) replies to Jibrail the meaning of Islam. Therein we find the full requisites of falling in the “Muslim” category; the most basic definition of ‘good deeds’. And why not? Of course, ‘deed’ means action and ‘testifying’ to the basic components of faith is merely an intellectual act, not a behavioral one.

So here’s an opportunity for us to compare ourself with the following four-point scale of being a true MUSLIM (forget, for the time being, about being a Mo’min and next a Mohsin; that will come later).

The Muslim Scale: the starter

first_kalimah

Before the actual four deeds that are the minimum requirements for our Muslim faith having any validity in the hereafter, of course their is the prerequisite testimony. The common mistake is to invoke the testimony as Enough! No. Think of this testimony (the kalima) as a prologue. Suppose you go to your favorite bookshop and buy a novel by your favorite author. You don’t look into the book then (being in a hurry), and bring it home. At home a big disappointment awaits you. The novel only has a prologue! Where’s the rest of the story? It’s outrageously blank! [Or more typically, keeping in mind the actual case we are following, filled with irrelevent rubbish..] So what do you do? Placidly- patiently- rather helplessly- accept your position to be content with a mere two-page prologue? Never! Surely your dignity is of higher sensitivity. YOU WANT YOUR MONEY BACK! So you return to the bookstore as soon as you can and return this INVALID case of a novel with disgust. So what are we expecting from our Lord, the Almighty? This ayah (translation here) is a clear eye-opener if any doubts still remain:

Do they, perchance, wait for the angels to appear unto them, or for thy Sustainer [Himself] to appear, or for some of thy Sustainer’s [final] portents to appear? [But] on the Day when thy Sustainer’s [final] portents do appear, believing will be of no avail to any human being who did not believe before, or who, while believing, did no good works. Say: “Wait, [then, for the Last Day, O unbelievers:] behold, we [believers] are waiting, too!” [Al-An’aam, 158]

—–

In the next post InshaAllah, I will go through the other four points of this first stage.

Note: Read the Part II of this post here.

WORDS OF GOLD: The Intentions Behind Actions III

In Islam, morality on March 19, 2009 at 6:31 pm

We literally pass away our lives in mundane activities. We get up sometime in the morning, go through the washroom routine, have or skip breakfast, get ready for work (at workplace, school or at home), remain busy in the work for some regular time period, get back, nap after the meal and so on…. the drudgery.
Many Muslims do not associate the concept of goodness with such actions. Those are taken for granted. The null void in the battle of good and bad. That is a mistake. Such activities in fact count in our bid to inseminate as much spiritual meaningfulness into our lives as possible. And this can be achieved merely by realigning our intentions behind these plain deeds of daily life, or let’s say, by being more conscious of the reasons and value of such deeds.
Our Prophet Mohammad (Sallallahu alaihi wa aalihi wa sallam) reminded us of this point when he said words to the effect that every morsel a man feeds to his wife and children is a benefaction (Tafseer Ibne Kathir). There are other similar ahadith connecting such taken-for-granted acts with reward. But the deeds are raised to this level only if there was a conscious intention, for instance,  of the feeding husband, that he was doing it as a moral obligation placed upon him by his God.

And so we can turn literally every moment of our lives into an act of worship, breath in, breath out. An opportunity we lose on nearly every of those moments because we are too busy making plans for the future, worrying about the past, or trying to ‘pass the time’. We don’t have the time to stop and think of the purposefulness of every small occurrence, by us or by others, in our lives. We are missing on a gold mine.

Intentions and ‘psychological needs’

I would like to do a post about ‘psychological needs’ by Murray. He took the care to explicate observable actions associated with various human motivations – ‘intentions’ in the Islamic terminology. Being aware of what little spontaneous actions ‘reveal’ about our real motivations cannot only help psychologists. It can be of immense help to all of us in being more aware and seeing through the ‘images’ we present to the world and to ourselves. Not all of our intentions are fully conscious even to our private selves.

Acknowledgment

I am indebted to the inspiration and the basic idea behind this series of short essays to Khalid Baig’s book First Things First, in particular to his column/essay On intentions and actions, pp. 166-169. The explanations and examples are all mine.

WORDS OF GOLD: The Intentions behind Actions – I

In Islam, Words of Gold: The Quran on March 9, 2009 at 7:49 am

One of the most oft-quoted hadith (Prophet Mohammad’s saying) is the following meaning that rewards of deeds depend upon the intentions.

innamal aamal-u bin-niyyaat

It is also one of the most misapplied hadith, relied upon  in the wrong places, and totally side-lined in the right ones. In order to understand the rights and wrongs in applying this hadith, we must first understand that there are three types of actions in Islamic terms.

The first type of actions is those which Allah has asked us to perform. These encompass not only the musts but also the oughts of Islam: the basic forms of worship, serving the rights of others, and contributing relief to the needy are major examples. A second type of activities are those mundane ones which are the necessary part of daily living: eating, drinking, , raising a family, earning for sustenance and so on. The final type of actions is the prohibited ones.

Now the hadith about intentions stands in a different relation with each of these. Let us begin with the first type.

All of the actions in the first category are GOOD DEEDS. Religiously, socially, morally, some-how or the other, they are good acts. Now when our Prophet (salla-Allahu alaihi wa sallam) reminds us to analyze our real INTENTIONS behind a GOOD DEED, he teaches us an important psychological distinction: There’s a difference between a genuine and a fake act, between a real kindness and an apparent one.

Allah only accepts genuine acts of goodness, not posed or contaminated ones. And why should He? If you were given a gift where you knew the giver was merely fulfilling a formality, showing off, intending to obtain some gain in return, or partronizing you in some way, would you like such a gift? I bet not!

Note, it’s very EASY to mix our intentions behind these good deeds. They are so attractive because they attract others’ attention and earn us a quick good name. A string of speedy rewards follows those who successfully engage in one good act after another. There is the name, the fame, the good talk behind the back, the praise and appreciation on the face, the attention. Temptations to ‘indulge’ in piety merely for the sake of enjoying this good name are numerous. Those who have even slightly tasted  the admiration following the public performance of a moralistic act know it can be addictive. Soon it can be a lust of its own, all the time so subtle we may succeed in deceiving ourselves we are being good for sake of pure goodness.

At first glance we may not recognize the symptoms of this subtle behind-the-facade contamination. But wait…. Do you remember the time when you were rather irritated with the gift you received on your last birthday? You thought it should have been at least at par with the one you had given to the giver on her birthday! Remember the fight you ended up having with that friend whom you realized failed to live up to your expectations after eliciting favors from you first? Remember the lady who chastised her maid on her shortcoming after all the material help the lady had given her so far? The greater the favor before the more the irritation later!

It is difficult to detect the trail of impure intention while we are attempting the goodness. But the scent can be easily picked up in the aftermath.

There’s another key issue linked to this aspect of Intentions that deserves clarifying. What about the non-Muslims who commit good acts? What about them, particularly when they are presumably free of the kind of impurities I have mentioned above? Will Allah accept their deeds? The answer depends on which perspective you are taking, this world or the one to follow.

As far as this world is concerned, the return for a good deed is a good consequence. And in that there’s no distinction among people. Sure, Allah tests everybody with unexpected setbacks and disappointments, but sooner or later the good is returned to us in some form. The point of distinction is the afterworld: No matter how pure and good the good deed, its usefulness in the afterworld rests SOLELY upon the pivotal aspect of intention: Did we do it for the sake of the ONE TRUE GOD?

Consider it like this: You are the principal  in a certain college and unbeknown to you, an unregistered person not only attends all the classes as a student but plays the role very well. He is a highly capable person with genuine talent and uses it well in assignments and presentations and projects. He reaps all the immediate and positive consequences for his efforts: he is learning at the highest rate and acquiring a geniune reputation among the faculty and the class-fellows. Both things which will be definitely be of use to him later.  At the end of the program, however, he comes up to you with a rather frivolous expectation: that you should award him the degree as a result for his untiring and spectacular performance! Absurd, isn’t it?

So Allah will return the goodnesses of the non-believers in this world. But why should He do so in the afterworld when He has made it clear from the outset for whom the Heaven is reserved? In fact this aspect too applies to all of us, Muslims or not. The terms for gaining admission into that pleasant eternal life are clearly set out in the Quran. Our Muslim name doesn’t make a difference. Fair!

As a clarification and authentication of this last point, I refer to you to that famous Hadith-e-Qudsi detailing that the first three to be entered to hell-fire on the Judgment Day will be a martyr, a Quranic scholar and a philanthropist, all three of whom had engaged in their respective noble activities for sake of wordly rewards. Read the full hadith here.

IN the second part of this post, we shall turn to the third category of actions, the prohibited ones. I wish to discuss about this one before the second class of activities (the mundane, daily life ones) because of the widespread mis-use of the concept of intention in its case.

Thanks for being with me so far.