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Ramadan Reflections
Mostafa Abdullah


For many years, we tried to convince our maid Jamila to get started on her Salaat. We spoke to her of the benefits of praying five times a day. She refused out of, what was for her, a well-founded fear. She feared that if she committed any mistakes in her prayers, she would commit sins so grave that they would bring upon her the wrath of Allah. For her, not praying was better than risking eternal hellfire.

The blame was not hers. Isn’t that what most of us were taught as we grew up? We were all given vivid descriptions of the fire for which we were destined for our lapses. We heard of Allah as Al-Mutakabbir (The Tremendous), Al-Mudhell (The Giver of Dishonour), Al-Mumit (The Bringer of Death and Destruction) or Al-Muntaqim (The Avenger).

Indeed these are four of the ninety-nine attributes (names) of Allah. Fortunately for the mankind all of the other 95 attributes assert His divine mercy, forgiveness, compassion and love. Allah proclaims: "Say: O my servants who have acted extravagantly against their own souls, do not despair of the mercy of Allah; surely Allah forgives the faults altogether; surely He is the Forgiving, the Merciful" (Qur’an, 39:53).

How I wish our maid Jamila (or for that matter, most of us) was taught more about the other attributes! She may have turned to the Almighty years ago out of love for Him and not be overcome with fear of His wrath. How I wish we could all seek Allah with knowledge and understanding!

My search for an answer reminded me of a Friday pre-Khutba lecture of Moulana Azad in our local mosque. One day he began by saying that he felt extreme pity for those of us sitting in front of him and listening to his lectures. He thought that at least 95% percent of the crowd listening to him were lot more educated and intelligent than himself. In spite of that, he was the one who was talking, and the rest of us listening to him. Which, ideally should have been the other way-round. He narrated that to avoid extreme poverty, his widowed mother put him into a Madrasah and that is the only reason that he is the one talking and rest of us are listening. Had his mother been resourceful enough, he would have also sat with the rest of us listening to someone as ill-informed as he is. He opined that without being privy to the ever evolving body of knowledge, one cannot comprehend the full meanings of the Allah’s message, meant for all nations and for all ages. He declared that the scholarship of Islam is to be rid of people like himself and be taken over by the educated ones equipped with the modern day knowledge of science, technology, philosophy, jurisprudence etc. Only such knowledge can lead to the unearthing of the wealth of inner messages imbedded in the Holy Quran, appropriate to the time and place to lead the nation of Islam out of present day stagnation.

It is my belief that Our Prophet may have conveyed the same message to his followers for all times to come, when he ended his last sermon at the Mount Arafat with the following; "All those who listen to me shall pass on my words to others and those to others again; and may the last ones understand my words better than those who listen to me directly. BE MY WITNESS O ALLAH THAT I HAVE CONVEYED YOUR MESSAGE TO YOUR PEOPLE."

The part "…may the last ones understand my words better than those who listen to me directly." often troubled me as I failed to comprehend as to how anyone could understand better listening from someone else than the ones who directly heard from the Prophet himself. What I now deduce is that the Prophet may have meant; as the body of knowledge grows over the time, meanings appropriate to the times and places will continue to evolve and consequently understanding of it will become better and better. I take this as an imbedded directive of the Prophet to his followers to seek the knowledge and truth commensurate to the time and place. I believe it is only fitting for someone who was the most forward looking and progressive man of his time. Our Prophet discarded everything that was evil, inappropriate and misfit in favour of what was good, timely and appropriate of his time and place. Would he want his disciples’ to hang on to what is untimely, backward and not move forward? Sadly, isn’t that what his Ummah is engaged in doing now?

I am tempted here to reproduce parts of the conversation between Mohammad Asad (Leopold Weiss) from his famous book ‘Road to Makkah’, with Shaykah Mustafa al-Magrahi, a prominent Muslim scholar of his time who later became the rector of the Al-Azhar University. In response to Asad’s admiration of the devotion he noticed among a group of students and their teacher in reciting and learning the scripture, the Shayakh commented, 'They are like those sacred cows in India which, I аm told, eat up all the printed paper they can find in the streets ... Yes, they gobblе up all the printed pages from books that have been written centuries ago, but they do not digest them. They no longer think for themselves; they read and repeat, read and repeat - and the students who listen to them learn only to read and repeat, generation after generation.' Asad interposed, 'But Al-Azhar is, after all, the central seat of Islamic learning, and the oldest university in the world! One encounters its name on nearly every page of Muslim cultural history. What about аll the great thinkers, the theologians, historians, philosophers, mathematicians it has produced over the last ten centuries?' 'It stopped producing them several centuries ago'. He replied ruefully. "Well, perhaps not quite; here and there an independent thinker has somehow managed to emerge from Al-Azhar even in recent times. But on the whole, Al-Azhar has lapsed into the sterility from which the whole Muslim world is suffering, and its old impetus is аll but extinguished. Those ancient Islamic thinkers about thou hast mentioned would never have dreamt that after so many centuries their thoughts, instead of being continued and developed, would only be repeated over and over again, as if they were ultimate and infallible truths. If there is to be any change for the better, thinking must be encouraged instead of the present thought-limitation ...’

I find a similarity to what the Shaikh had said - and in the remark of a social science Professor who gave the same questions year after year in the exam; "The questions may be same, but the answers need not be".

However, how would one overcome the thought-limitation in societies where religious stewardship is mostly in the hands of ill-informed lot with closed minds?

First, one need not seek an intermediary or a religious cleric, unless one chooses to, to seek knowledge in Islam. The book of ultimate knowledge, The Quran and its authentic translations and interpretations in numerous languages are readily and easily available today for anyone who may seek. Secondly, there had never been such a splendid opportunity to seek knowledge at the tip of fingers with the advent of modern information technology to quench the thirst of one’s knowledge. This offcourse does not exclude discussions and/or seeking opinion of the learned scholars on the matters of ambiguity and doubts. But eventually for all matters of truth, Allah’s Quran must prevail at all times.

As we are nearing the end of the month Ramadan, this may be a good time to look back at what may we have earned and learnt through the month long fasting and prayers. We may have bagged thousand times of sawabs through our fasting and prayers, but did we miss out on million times of sawabs through sharing our fortunes with the unfortunate ones? Allah ordained sharing, giving and good deed many more times in the Holy Quran compared to the obligatory salat and fasting.

I hope and pray that the month of Ramadan has taught us to overcome our egotism, vanity, malice and strengthened our resolve for compassion for other fellow human being. Without it, all of our fasting and prayers, Allah knows best, may have turned out to be an exercise in starvation and meaningless rituals.

May we all have a wonderful Eid with our family and friends.
May Allah forgive us for our ignorance, mistakes and sins. May He give us the courage to seek the truth. May He accept our prayers and alleviate the sufferings of all those in pain and agony around the world. May He bestow good health, peace and prosperity in this world and grant us a peaceful eternal abode in the hereafter.

Eid Mubarak.




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