We praise Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala an abundant praise that He allowed us to live through an entire season of Ramadan, that He made the fasting and the Qiyam in the month of Ramadan easy for us. We praise Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala that He blessed us to spend the day of Eid together with our family and friends in fortunate circumstances for there are many of our brothers and sisters who are living under much trying conditions and are struggling to cope with the trials they have been afflicted with.
Now that the month of Ramadan is over, we should not loose sight of the fact that the month of Ramadan is essentially a month of training & conditioning, which prepares us to meet the challenges we face outside of this month. And so we would like to spend a few moments to briefly review the purpose of Siyam so we could keep things in perspective.
We all know that the concept of freedom as its related in the Islamic tradition is very different from that presented in the West. So while the western concept of freedom revolves around freedom of the self and individualism, Islam emphasizes freedom from the self. So by the Islamic definition, to be truly liberated is to be free from the chains of the nafs and freedom of the self in reality serves as chains placed on our ability to be truly free.
Fasting and Sawm as prescribed by Allah intend to liberate us. That when we’re eating everyday and drinking everyday and focusing as many of us do on material things every day, then Allah from his love and from His Rahmah and compassion upon us, He prescribed the month of fasting which disengages us from that addiction to food and drink and all the other things. So that we realize that there is life beyond eating, there is joy and pleasure, there is happiness the source of which is not directly physical and material.
Now if we continue to do just that without ever taking a break, without ever looking inward into our soul, what happens is that for us the world is only how it appears from the outside. And that’s detrimental for us, that’s how our heart dies, that’s how we develop more and more inner ailments of more greed, of more arrogance, of more prejudice and so on and so forth. So fasting for at least one month during a year is an opportunity for us to liberate ourselves from the attachment and therefore the addiction that we may develop for material things. Ramadan liberates us. With the voice reciting the Quran and the hearts reflecting on the message of the Quran, with our tongues remembering Allah, the air is filled with special graces from Allah. And this is a wonderful thing in this day and age where we are overwhelmed by the forces of materialism that the human heart can still prevail; the human spirit can still prevail. The divine subtleties can still inspire us and orient us towards our Lord. And in this day and time, that’s a great blessing and we should rejoice in that blessing.
Acceptance of Deeds
One of the signs of the acceptance of our deeds as our scholars have related is that we remain steadfast in our actions and good deeds even after the month of Ramadan. That the state of our affairs before and after the month of Ramadan are visibly different in the sense that we have a more stronger connection with Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala and consequently are more careful in fulfilling the rights of our fellow human beings. And one of the ways we can achieve this is by reading the exegesis of verses in Quran that describe the characteristics of the believers. The ones I chose to discuss are the ones in Surah al-‘Asr.
Now ‘Asr is sometimes translated as ‘the declining day’ and also as ‘the ages’.
Times of Transition aka Times of Power
Allah frequently swears in the Quran by different times, wal-‘Asr, wad’Duha, wal-Fajr. Many of these times that are mentioned are the times of transition.
Wal-‘Asr – when the day is transitioning into the night.
Wal-Fajr – when the night is beginning its transition to the day
So these times indicate the power of Allah because it takes tremendous power to bring about a change. We find that in our individual lives that it’s very easy to sustain old habits that we have but its very difficult in many instances to change those habits. We find it in our automobiles that we find it takes tremendous power to get the car rolling but once it’s moving along, it takes significantly less power to sustain its momentum. So times of transition are the times where power is indicated.
And it’s interesting that when a person challenges the power of Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala, Allah reminds that person of this reality. So in the Quran, when Nimrod or Namrood challenges Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala, what does Allah’s messenger remind him with?
Have you not seen the one who disputed with Ibrahim concerning his Lord, because Allah gave him something of power and dominion? Ibrahim said it is my Lord who gives Life and causes death. He arrogantly said: I can give life and I cause death.
So it’s related that Nimrod summoned two men. He said kill one and let the other live and thus claimed that he could give life and death.
Ibrahim said it is Allah who brings the sun from the East. You then bring it from the West. So you change this order that Allah has established. Thus was the one who rejected faith dumbfounded.
So Allah swears by the declining day as He swears by other times that are indicative of His incomparable power.
Some scholars say that al-‘Asr is indicative of the ages that people have lived on this planet. Because every age contains miraculous events that illustrate to the people the power of Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala. Every age and every time we can look at miraculous events that if you reflect on them you say La ilaha illallah.
So for example in the early twentieth century, right at the peak of the industrial revolution, when mankind was marveling at their machines and their mastery over the forces of nature, they built this huge ocean liner the Titanic and they advertised it as ‘The Unsinkable Ship’. And they outfitted it with every conceivable luxury. And on its maiden voyage, what happened? Allah sent an iceberg and on its maiden voyage, this so called unsinkable ship ‘the Titanic’ went down.
If you were there to witness that as a Muslim, what would you say la ilaha illallah, Allah ‘ala kulli shayin Qadeer. So by the testimony of the ages, by the declining day, and Allah Ta’ala mentions these things to grab our attention so we pay attention to the statement that follows it.
Mankind is Lost
By the testimony of time (the eras that people have lived on this earth), surely humanity is lost; that humanity will never be able to guide themselves, independent of the guidance of our Creator.
So for example you see people fragmenting along nationalistic lines, ethnic lines, tribal lines, you see nations being torn apart on the basis of ethnic identity, the tragedies in Rwanda, in Bosnia, you see the tragic implications of racism, resurging in Europe.
Mankind is lost. And we can see that by looking at the destruction of the environment that we have brought about. We have orchestrated such a rapacious economic system and lifestyle that consumes our forests, that melts our ice caps, that sends armies to consume the resources of other people. That’s an indication of lost because that is a system that cannot sustain itself; that is an unsustainable system. So unsustainability is an illustration of lost.
We have such economic disparities between people where we have super rich people on one hand and super poor and starving people on the other. We look at the questions of security that are addressed by more prisons and more police, that’s an indication of lost.
Faith & Good Deeds
Then Allah makes an exception to this rule and describes the behavior and characteristics that we need to develop to be from amongst those who’ve been saved from getting lost.
Illallazeena aamanu wa amilus salihaat
Except those who believe and do righteous deeds.
So the exception is for those who believe and do righteous deeds, those whose faith translates itself into righteous deeds. And in the month of Ramadan, we see that translation. So we see the Muslims standing up at night to pray taraweeh. It’s beautiful when people gather for Taraweeh after fasting all day, just the spiritual energy that’s released; different races, different ethnicities, it’s beautiful especially in a world which is being torn apart based on their racial and ethnic identity.
And we see that Allah makes it easy on us because how many people pray 8 rak’as of prayer every night or 20 rak’as every night outside of Ramadan.Or how many people read one juz, or two juz of Quran every day outside of Ramadan? In Ramadan, it’s very easy. This is the manifestation of the faith of the believers.
They counsel each other with truth
And they counsel each other with truth that has been introduced in this world by the Prophet. And that has proved itself over time. Many of the things that have turned people away from Islam, that people held to be true in recent history, where are those things today? How many people by the name of Muhammad, Mustafa, Aisha, Fatima have left Islam in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century because they thought that communism was the truth? They’re probably feeling really silly that communism as a major social theory is passé. How many people left Islam because they felt Freudian psychoanalysis is what they felt was the truth. And what they saw or thought to be true is not taken seriously by too many psychiatrists today; thrown into the scrapheap of ideas. How many people left Islam in the 40s, 50s or 60s because they felt existentialist philosophy was the truth; this Islamic system is backward and reactionary. They’re probably feeling really silly right now as no serious philosophers are particularly enamored by existentialism. Now we have relativist philosophy and some people who feel really normal towards these ideas may end up giving their faith for it but 10 20 years down the road, when these ideas of relativist philosophy would be thrown onto the scrapheap of history, these folks would be feeling pretty silly. Throughout all that time Islam has remained. Marxism, socialism, come and gone, Islam is still here. Freud, came and gone, Islam is still here.
Islam gives us a source of permanence, a source of roots. And those roots are constituted by the worship that we engage in; those roots are constituted by the wisdom embodied in the counsel of our Prophet. And that’s the counsel that we are encouraged to give to each other.
They counsel each other with patience.
So we should patiently persevere under all circumstances. Patience includes both:
As-Sabru ‘ala Ta’ah – Patiently enduring difficulties that come through obeying Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala
As-Sabru ‘alal Ma’asi – Patiently persevering through the hardship and the loss that is involved in avoiding that which is prohibited.