By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
I present my readers with a special edition of our discourse; a barka da sallah of three articles presented in one straight edition. The marathon essay is a farewell to Ramadan. The month visits us annually, as part of the twelve months in the Islamic calendar, months that were ordained by God “the day He created the heavens and the earth.” (9:36) Although it is not part of the “sacred four” (viz. Zul qida, Zul Hajj, Muharram and Rajab), it is by no means less important than any of them. That is because each time it visits us, it comes with offers that no other month will present us with.
I do not intend to belittle other months, as we said earlier, they were created by God, and behind each of His creation is a purpose (3:191; 38:27). But consider that one form of the gifts of Ramadan alone – a night most probably in the last one third of its tenure – “is better than a thousand months.” (97:3)
Like small kids used to a generous visitor, we lament that it will not be here with us longer than the ordained 29 or 30 days. Much as that lamentation is obvious, we are nevertheless glad that its grants are durable enough to last its absence. It is in this regard, of gratitude and remembrance, I felt compelled to bid it farewell by recounting the opportunities it offered for making us better human beings and better Muslims, annually. I hope the little that I hereby commit on paper will be a reminder to my readers such that they will make the best use of the gifts that Ramadan gave them and, hopefully also, they will eagerly await its return next year.
The most obvious gift Ramadan is associated with is fasting. Fasting means abstinence from what is lawful. Even outside the sphere of religion, people do fast for one reason or another to maintain the strength of their body, its shape or voice. Aqqad once wrote in second volume of his Islamiyyat, saying, “we have seen all sorts of fasting these days, done for the sake of the body, and none for the sake of the soul.”
In religion, fasting has been a long tradition. The Virgin Mary was commanded tell the Israelites when she returned to the city with her baby: “So eat and drink and cool (thine) eye. And if you dost see any man, say, “I have vowed a fast to (God) Most Gracious, and this day will I enter into no talk with any human being.” (19:26)
In the book of Ezekiel, as indicated in the Islamiyyat, we have seen how he fasted by abstaining from some types of food while eating others. Daniel also who abstained from any delicious food, meat and wine for three weeks, something practiced by some Christians to this day. For voluntary fasting, the Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) has recommended the fasting of David (Blessings be upon him), as he advised Abdullah bin Amr bin al-‘As: “fast for a day and eat for a day, that was the fasting of David and it is the best.” (Bukhari and Muslim).
Before it was raised to the status of obligation, the Prophet used to fast as a necessary part of his spiritual training, once he secludes himself in the cave of Hira. He continued with this practice after receiving the Message. Unlike prayer that was prescribed in Mecca before the establishment of the Islamic state, fasting was prescribed in Medina when some degree of personal stability and social liberty was attained, “for thy Lord is indeed full of kindness and mercy (16:47); and He “has not imposed any difficulties on you in religion.” (22:78) That is also why he waived the immediate obligation on the sick and the traveller, and quickly added, “God intends every facility for you; He does not want to put you to difficulties” (2:185)
Fasting in Islam is not abstention from meat or delicious food only. Rather, it is a complete abstinence from the necessities of life – food, drink and sex – from dawn to dusk. In the temperate regions and at high latitudes this may sometimes be easy for it does not exceed three to six hours. But in the tropics and in the desert regions – like Sahara or Arabian deserts – the days may be very long, at least 12 hours and the quest for water and food could be severe. Now would this not be interpreted as “difficulty”?
No. The fact is that fasting is essential for the fulfilment of the most important identity of man: self-discipline. This is the virtue upon which the entire concept of religion and the success of man in life are based. If man is to lead a life different from that of animals he must show discretion on how he indulges in the permissible. As he strives to achieve any goal, spiritual or material, his body must be under the command of his soul. And watch him, whenever he declines, his soul must be definitely under the command of his body.
The best way to reduce the influence of the body on the soul is to deny the former what it needs best. That food and sex, the strongest motivations in the animal kingdom, were selected was to differentiate us from animals that have no goal beyond eating and propagating their species.
The point is that if a person can deny his self the indulgence in what is lawful during Ramadan, then he can, if he chooses to, tame his desire for the unlawful throughout the year. Having control over the desires of the body will accord him the spiritual position that is necessary for the fulfilment of his obligations to God. He thus attains the position of Taqwa (self-restraint), the most fundamental character of the faithful, his ultimate goal on earth and his only currency or qualification for felicity in the Hereafter.
“O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint.” (2:183)
No other regulation can offer us this opportunity apart from fasting. In Islam fasting is not a recommendation but an obligation. If one would break it unlawfully for a day during Ramadan, he must compensate that single day with feeding sixty people or freeing a slave or fasting all day for sixty consecutive days in other months!
In according Ramadan fasting the position of obligation, God has saved us the trouble of negligence. It means that a billion people will undergo a turn around maintenance (TAM) every year, at the same time and without suffering from trouble of making up their minds one billion times on when to observe it individually. I did not understand the magnitude of this grace until I compared it with the TAM of our refineries. Successive governments, well aware of its need in the survival of the refineries suffered from the bug of indecision and neglected them until they broke down. Many of us would have suffered from this bug regarding fasting were it not for God’s intervention. Think of it, how difficult would it have been if fasting was made obligatory but the choice of the 29 or 30 days were left to the individual, to be observed anytime during the year, separately or consecutively? To grasp the difficulty, just remember how cumbersome it is to decide when to repay some fasting that you missed for one reason or another.
In addition, the dose was also prescribed, a month or what the Qur’an calls “a fixed number of days” (1:185). Here also, we were saved the trouble of consulting one spiritual leader or another on when to observe it and for how many days. And so on. The more we ponder over the Qur’an, the more we recognise that God has in the best way fulfilled the two most basic conditions of legislation: wisdom and knowledge. That is why God deserves our thanks for making it obligatory every year, as he clearly stated in the Qur’an: “He wants you to complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance ye shall be grateful.” (2:185)
Now doing it in congregation is another mercy from God. The Prophet was reported saying that “togetherness is mercy, and separation is torment.” That is why in Islam, congregation in worship is preferred over individual performance. Here, I beg to disagree with “show-off test” of our learned and most respected Sheikh, Abdulkadir Jilani (May God grant him mercy). In his book, al-Ghunyah, which has received the recommendation of even non-sufis like our late Sheikh Abubakar Mahmood Gumi (May God grant him mercy), he stated that, “if a servant finds it difficult to do in private the worship he does in public, then it is an indication of riya (show off).” The act of worship, in my humble view, becomes easier as a result of the blessing that God placed in the congregation as reported from the Prophet, not as a result of hypocrisy. But God knows best.
Now, having sacrificed our primary motivations, fasting takes us closer to God. At least in a year, for thirty days we share a common feeling of belonging to a congregation whose only goal is the satisfaction of God and getting closer to him through fasting, prayer and different forms of worship. The soul, debased of the primordial need of food and sex, transcends ordinary position and walks an extra mile in the spiritual sojourn that takes it ever closer to God. The movement is massive, just as the congregation: a billion people, sharing the same philosophy and culture doing the same thing for a month. It is also most assuring because as we try to move closer to the target, the target itself moves closer to us at a rate, according to a hadith, that is at least double our pace.
That is why God said, in the segment regarding fasting: “When my servants ask thee concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them): I listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he calleth Me: Let them also, with a will, listen to My call and believe Me: that they may walk in the right way.” (2:186)
I am not attempting to exhaustively expound the rationale behind fasting. I cannot. The late Sayyid Qutb was correct when, in his Fi Zilal, he refused to discuss at length the wisdom behind fasting, saying, “the horizon of human knowledge is limited; it does not have the capacity to encompass, nor to discover, the Wisdom of God …” Our intention rather was to capture, albeit in a glimpse, something of the importance of fasting during Ramadan and narrate it, within the short space available, to a generation given to discourse and reason.
Through the fasting of Ramadan, in a nutshell, an avenue is created that allows us to transcend the animal level of eating and propagation to that of proximity with the Highest Assembly in a constant preparation for a struggle to remain on the path of God. No wonder therefore, it was prescribed the very year that the Muslims were to fight their first and most decisive battle in their history: Badr.
The second gift of Ramadan is the Holy Qur’an, the primary text of Islam. It is not possible to exhaustively list down the teachings of the Qur’an. We will therefore restrict ourselves here to its peculiarities.
First, a peculiarity which Muslims in particular must note about the Qur’an, is that it is meant to be a guide (2:2) for them. It is thus a divine manual meant to be consulted, read, understood and applied in everyday life. In other words, unlike the books that other religions use today, the Qur’an is a book of practice. It has no ‘old testament’ that is discarded as irrelevant for today, nor a ‘new’ one that is modified according to exigencies of times. Thus anyone accepting Islam is discarding all sources of legislation and adopting only that which agrees with the Qur’an. Obedience to its commandments is obligatory, as much as possible.
This explains why Qur’an alone has the capacity to furnish humanity with a divine guidance upon which they will base their everyday life. The followers of other religions have long ago denied the relevance of their books as their sole source of legislation. Today we see them depending on human reason alone which cannot be separated from whims and which is limited in scope by the limitations of our faculties to encompass the entirety of knowledge and wisdom.
Secondly, the source of the Qur’an is another peculiarity that makes it distinct from books of other religions. Its origin is 100% divine. The Qur’an has never claimed to be the only revealed book though. On the contrary, it acknowledges the revelation of others before it: like the Psalms of David (17:55), the Law (Torah) of Moses (2:53); the Gospel (Injil,, not the present day Bible) of Jesus (5:46), etc. In fact there was no nation except a messenger was sent to it (16:36), from among its people who would convey and explain the Message of God to them (14:4) and who will serve as a witness in the Hereafter that the Message has reached them (16:89). And no nation was ever destroyed except a book was sent to it (15:4).
The Qur’an has gone further to acknowledge the noble message of these books: the Law of Moses for example is described as “guidance and light” (5:44) or “guide and mercy” (46:12) and the Gospel of Jesus as “therein was guidance and light and confirmation of the Law that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear God.” (5:49) Belief in the divine origin of earlier revealed books is a pillar of the Islamic faith (2:136).
Notwithstanding the above facts, the difference between the previous books and the Qur’an is that, in their present form, the former are not completely divine. There have been adulterations, contents that clearly originated from people recounting their experience, as expressed in the differences between the numerous versions of what is supposedly the same text.
The purity of the Qur’an on the other hand arose from the promise of God to protect it from adulteration (15:9) through memorization (29:49), an act He deliberately made easy (54:17; 22; 32; 40). No other book is so protected such that “no falsehood can approach it from before or behind it.” (41:42)
Thirdly, the Qur’an is the universality of its message. It is sent to the entire mankind, living in all ages since its revelation (21:107; 33:28). Contrarily, other revelations and Messengers were sent only to their tribe. For example, Moses (61:5) and The Law given to him (32:23) were only sent to the Children of Israel. This is why even today Judaism is the exclusive preserve of the Jewish race. Jesus too was sent to the Israelites (61:6) and the Gospel with which he was sent was a confirmation of The Law (5:49) and relief from its rigour (3:50). As was reported in the Bible, he once refused to heal a gentile woman, explaining that he was not sent except to the lost sheep of the Israel. That is why Christianity did not spread among the gentiles, until the conversion of Paul, decades after the death of Christ.
The Holy Prophet of Islam and the Qur’an are the property of the entire mankind (7:158). Only in the solvent of Islam can we find the practical dissolution of differences due to race, class, gender and political boundaries. In a single declaration, the root of humanity was traced to one source, Adam (4:1); the phenotypic and linguistic differences being purely for identification purposes while “the most honoured of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most Righteous of you.” (49:13). Righteousness therefore becomes the primary qualification and yardstick of difference between people. Therefore, no one should be segregated against except who chooses to abandon the path of virtue.
That is why Islam has the fastest growth rate ever recorded in the history of mankind. Even today, it has widely been acknowledged as the fastest growing religion. The reason behind this is that God has in it struck a balance between fundamental principles that can stand the test of time on the one hand and flexible details that will suit various cultures, peoples and environments. The concepts of human purpose, reward and punishment, equality of human race, freedom of the human species, social justice and so on form the basis for the unity of mankind. They do not change. On the other hand however, under its flexibility, peoples are allowed to differ in their traditions like dress, food and even in details of marriage and forms of government.
Fourthly, concomitant with the universality of the Qur’an is the comprehensiveness of its legislation – the shariah. It covers both the secular and the religious in a way no religion could claim to accomplish. In it, there is nothing like giving “to Caesar what is to Caesar, and to God what is to God.” All belongs to God. It means that legislations have to meet the basic guidelines provided by the Qur’an without violating any of the provisions.
What is astonishing however is how Islam also recognizes the relevance of human reason and made allowance for its accommodation within the paradigm of divine legislation. In the West, divinity and reason are often regarded as mutually exclusive given the experience of Europe under domination of the Church and its attempt to subdue the Renaissance.
Contrarily, the Qur’an calls mankind to reason. A practical demonstration of that is that acceptance of its message should be based on conviction, not compulsion. (2:256) After conviction and acceptance, the Qur’an exhorts people to knowledge (96:1,3) and contemplation (34:46) as its message is meant for people who know (41:3) and for the purpose of reasoning (43:3). Through contemplation over its verses, human reason is guided and accorded an infinite scope. In as much as faith is required in following the arguments of the Qur’an (27:86), reasoning (30:28) and knowledge (29:32) are also necessary.
Thus the Truth of revelation serves as a light for human reason in the darkness of human ignorance while at the same time preventing it from straying away in the wilderness of ignorance of the past and the uncertainties of future. The Qur’an lucidly puts this in form of a question: “Can he who was dead, to whom We gave life, and a Light whereby he can walk amongst men, be like him who is in the depths of darkness from which he can never come out?” (6:122).
Another aspect of the comprehensiveness of the Qur’an is how it makes man an integral part of the universe with guidelines and goals that run in harmony with those of other creations. Man is no longer alone living in wilderness, wondering whether there is any creation living elsewhere or not. He is not the species that destroys the environment for his mere luxury; neither is he the inventor of weapons of “mass destruction.” This peculiarity of the teachings of the Qur’an has made Islamic civilization distinct. The harmony, though, is not surprising because God in Islam, “is the Lord of all creations” (1:2), and “It is He Who is God in heaven and God on earth and He is full of Wisdom and Knowledge.” (43:84).
Fifthly and finally, the Qur’an brought to humanity a true message of liberation from all forces of subjugation. In ideology it freed it from doctrines that are based on class interest or bias, hate or affinity, as exemplified recently by communism and ethnocentric creeds like Caste System, Nazism, Apartheid and, of recent especially, ethnic cleansing. Nothing like this was ever witnessed under Muslim civilization in various part of the planet. It also liberated mankind from spiritual exploitation by other people in the name of idolatry or priesthood. Finally, it liberated it from class domination.. The rich, the leader and the commoners share the same law. Unlike in other civilizations, like the Roman civilization, there is no law for the Romans and another for other peoples under the empire; there is also no law for England and another for the colonies; or as we are witnessing in the aftermath of September 11, a law for American citizens and another for foreigners.
The kalimah, the epitome of Tauheed (monotheism) with which we are admitted into the fold of Islam, is a declaration of equality between all humans and that only God deserves obedience. By policies such as abolition of usury (interest), the establishment of Zakat, fair wages and gradual phasing out of slavery, distributive inheritance based on divinely fixed ratios, not on the wish of the deceased, etc, the means of economic exploitation and amassing wealth by the individual to the detriment of the society were blocked.
Under its creed of liberation, it fought many battles in order to break the backbone of human subjugation. This earned it numerous enemies, past and present. This is the challenge that the Qur’an put before People of the Book – Jews and Christians and which they could not meet: “Say: “O people of the Book! Come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but God; that we associate no partners with Him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, Lords and patrons other than God…” (3:64). When they refused and resorted to conspiracies against Islam, eight years later God accused them of polytheism: “They take their priests and their authorities to be their lords in derogation of God, and (they take as their Lord) Christ the son of Mary; yet they were commanded to worship but One God: there is no God but He. Praise and glory to Him: (Far is He) from having the partners they associate (with Him). Fain would they extinguish God’s Light with their mouth, but God will not allow but that His Light should be perfected…” (9:31)
The peculiarities of the Qur’an in terms of its effect on our lives are too many to be exhausted here. Let us make do with the five discussed above.
Now for the Qur’an, containing all the above peculiarities, to be revealed in Ramadan is a special status accorded to the month. Every year it comes round to remind us of its teaching. No wonder therefore that the Qur’an is most read during the month either as personal recitation, or as in commentary session or during the taraweeh or Qiyam. I used to ask why, not until I realized that God chose Ramadan for its revelation and the Prophet himself used to revise it before Gabriel every year during Ramadan. Every year therefore Ramadan offers us the opportunity to learn more about the Qur’an, check the strength of our memorization of its text, in addition to the abundant reward of recitation. This is a gift that no other month has given us and which no other religion can provide its adherents.
On the 17th of Ramadan, the first year of Hijrah, the month presented another gift to Muslims that was decisive to the establishment of Islam. That was the day the famous Battle of Badr took place.
Badr was a turning point in the history of Islam. In the preceding thirteen years Muslims have suffered persecution in the hands of the Arab autocracy in Mecca. They have been tortured, exiled and killed. They were economically boycotted and when they fled to Medina their wealth was plundered. Many times the faithful were eager to retaliate. But God knew their position and, for the long-term strategy of the Message and the spiritual training they were undergoing, they were denied any permission to revenge throughout those thirteen years but to concentrate on prayers and Charity (4:77)
After their migration to Medina, permission was granted for the sake of defence and for the larger objectives of liberation of mankind and freedom of religion: “To those whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged; - and verily, God is Most Powerful fro their aid; (They are) those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right, - (for no cause) except that they say, “Our Lord is God.” Did not God check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of God is commemorated…” (22:39-40).
Badr was to be the first major encounter between Muslims and their opponents. Details of the battle is given in chapter eight of the Qur’an called al-Anfal.
God has promised Muslims a choice, in compensation for their looted wealth in Mecca, between a caravan of 40 unarmed unbelievers returning from Syria and the booty of a battle with 1000 men from Mecca: “Behold, God promised you one of the two (enemy) parties, that it should be yours: ye wished that the one unarmed should be yours but God willed to justify the Truth according to His words and to cut the roots of the unbelievers; that He might justify Truth and prove Falsehood false, distasteful thou it be to those in guilt.” (8:7-8)
The Muslims thus came out with only 313 soldiers, lightly armed, and nothing else but their faith. On the other hand, the Meccans gathered an army of a thousand soldiers and over 100 horses. They left their homes “insolently and to be seen of men, and to hinder (men) from the path of God.” (8:47) They were allured by Satan who assured them, saying, “No one among men can overcome you this day, while I am near you.” (8:48)
The Prophet sought the help of God and he promptly got it: “a thousand of the angels, ranks on ranks” (8:10), a light sleep that gave them calm and a rain that purified them from the stains of Satan and gave them anchorage (8:11).
The decisive victory of Badr demystified the Arab aristocracy and opened the route to other victories culminating during the lifetime of the Prophet with the Conquest of Mecca. Within a decade Arabian idolatrous nobility was crushed forever, sinking along with it the influence and conspiracies of Jews and Christians in the peninsula together with their monopoly over revelation, literacy, knowledge and weapon industry. The Prophet was ordered to announce the flight of falsehood: “And say: “The Truth has (now) arrived, and Falsehood perished: for Falsehood is (by it nature) bound to perish.” (17:81)
After his lifetime, his noble Companions conquered distant nations like Egypt, the Byzantine Rome, Persia, Central Asia and North Africa. God thus has fulfilled the promise He earlier made to the faithful: “God has promised, to those among you who believe and work righteous deeds, that He will, of a surety, grant them in the land, inheritance (of power), as He granted those before them; that he will establish in authority their religion – the one which he has chosen for them; and that He will change (their state), after the fear in which they (lived) to one of security and peace…” (24:55). Whatever followed to date is our making.
This gift of Ramadan will never be forgotten. It remains indelible in our minds that whenever we hold fast to God by obeying His commands He will come to our aid. Without attaining this level of faith, we should expect nothing. Ramadan comes every year to remind us of this fact.
The Night of Power
The fourth gift of Ramadan is a special night called lailat al-Qadr. (“The Night of Power”). The night is “better than a thousand nights.” (97:2). This is a bonanza. Spending the night in worship will be rewarded with the reward of 1000 months. This is exclusively accorded, going some reported traditions, to the nation of Islam.
The Qur’an has conclusively fixed it in Ramadan while the most authentic of traditions have placed it among the odd days of the last one-third of the month. This is the reason why Muslims intensify worship during the nights of the last ten days. Some would travel for the lesser hajj and multiply the 1000 months with another factor of 1000 for praying in the Sacred Mosque or of 500 for praying in the Prophet’s mosque at Medina. Let’s look at the arithmetic. 1000 months x 1000 = 1,000,000 months! Dadi kashe ni. Come again: that is over 83,333 years. And God will multiply further to whomever He wishes.
The Prophet used to stand in midnight prayers (Qiyam) especially during the last one third of the night since the beginning of revelation. Whenever Ramadan came, he intensified the night prayer particularly in the last one third of the month in order to ‘catch’ the lailatul Qadr.
The I’itikaf, or resort in the Mosque, is also most commonly observed during Ramadan and particularly during the last ten days. Here, the entire world, together with its profit and loss, family and friends, business and office, is abandoned and sacrificed for worship of the Creator of the Earth to Whom we shall all return. The body and the soul take a leave from the agonies of the prevailing capitalist order that results in nothing but anxiety, high blood pressure and bad blood.
This indeed is a period that could be used to purge our souls and bodies from exalting the worldly at the expense of the Hereafter. A person that spends this time as recommended will definitely emerge with a soul free from stains of Satan. It is intended that this experience will likely linger throughout the year to be expressed in the improvement of his relationship with God and other fellow beings.
Charity during Ramadan is highly recommended. Islam lays a lot of emphasis on the society to take care of its needy. A form of charity, Zakat al-fitr – per capita Zakat – is given out to the poor by every family head for each member of the family. Though not obligatory as the Zakat of wealth, people practice Zakat al-fitr almost unfailingly. This means that at the rate of four rations of staple food per head, millions of tonnes are exchanged worldwide between the rich and the poor without any official protocol of the UNHCR or poverty alleviation officials. All this takes place within few hours in the morning of the Sallah Day.
Then comes the last offer, Eid el-Fitr or what we commonly call Sallah. It is a celebration that takes place at the end of the Ramadan. Muslims congregate on the Eid ground, wearing their newest dresses. They would pray to God, expressing their gratitude for witnessing Ramadan with the hope that their worship has been accepted by Allah and that they will live long enough to witness another occasion next year – Allah maimaita mana.
The feeling on the Sallah day is that of intense happiness. It is one of the two summits observed by Muslims throughout the world. The smaller ones are the daily congregations at daily prayers. They offer the opportunity for people in the same neighbourhood to meet five times a day, pray together, greet and ask about the condition of one another. If there is a problem with anyone, it is noted by his absence. At a higher level, a weekly congregation takes place on Friday afternoon, drawing Muslims from many neighbourhoods, villages and settlements. Here also, God has created an opportunity for interaction and expression of solidarity in faith.
Then comes the Eids, when Muslims from many jurisdictions of Friday congregations converge in one place twice in a year, remind themselves of their obligations to God after thanking Him for His guidance and His blessings that included Ramadan. These summits all finally culminate in a grand one, the Arafat, when during Hajj Muslims from various parts of the world congregate in one place to observe the rituals of hajj and discuss matters of common concern regarding their faith and in the spirit of universal brotherhood. But Hajj is meant for those who are able in terms of wealth, health and security, at least once in a lifetime. Those of us that cannot make it are annually offered the opportunity to observe another submit here at home, called Eid el-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice – a day after the Arafat.. This is the festival done in commemoration of the sacrifice of Ishmael by Abraham – the father of Monotheism. The same way he was ready to sacrifice his only son then – the most precious of his possessions – in obedience to the command of God, Muslims are supposed, by the animals they sacrifice that day, to sacrifice also all their desires that stand between them and piety.
That has been Ramadan, a period that embodies other fundamental obligations in Islam: by it faith is strengthened, prayers are intensified, charity is given and a summit that culminates in Hajj is observed. It is a month that we always wish would return and find us among the living.
In the concluding part of our lengthy discourse on Ramadan, I would like to briefly examine the extent to which we conform to its teaching..
First, the fasting. It is intended to equip us for the remaining year with self-restraint. The logic is, as we said earlier, if we could sacrifice the lawful – that is food, drink and sex – we can easily sacrifice the unlawful in terms of food, drink, sex and of course many other things.
To what extent have we achieved this? I am afraid to say that we are good at observing the abstention in the fasting, but little have we benefited from its lesson. If we had, we would have solved most of the problems facing our society. Most prominent among these problems of looting the public treasury which is constantly undertaken by the leadership with active participation of the followers. What is surprising is that both sides do fast during Ramadan but even during Ramadan not a single kobo, where possible, is saved from the wrath of these kleptomaniacs.
The problems of alcohol, adultery, theft, slander and so on would also have vanished if Ramadan were taken seriously. But as soon as it leaves, these bad habits return, in many cases right on the Sallah day, to rule over our minds for the rest of the year. Thus we could hardly be said to have achieved the objective of self-restraint.
The Qur’an, the second lesson of Ramadan, is studied and recited more often during the month – in prayers and other forms of worship – than in any other month. Agreed. But the purpose of the Qur’an is guidance. Have we made it our guide in our private and public affairs? How much of self-restraint have we achieved that will prevent us meting injustice to ourselves as well as to others? How much have strived to fulfill the promise that we will extend its message to others? Etc.
The fact remains that we have little to show in this regard also. Few Muslims today pay attention to a real study of the Qur’an. Fewer still would ever study it cover to cover even once during our lifetime, in spite of the abundance of translations both in English and Hausa. Most of us are content with the bits we would capture from the radio during commentary sessions (tafsir) that disappear immediately after Ramadan. How then could we make it our guide or realize its peculiarities?
If we had made the Qur’an our guide in life, we would have seen thousands everyday converting to Islam to benefit from its universal message of brotherhood and peace; we would not have been preoccupied with the world and given material wealth the ultimate position in our hearts. We would have stood by the truth wherever it is and we would not have had problems especially in politics. Unfortunately, we have made truth our worst friend.
The cry for shariah and the claim of its implementation would have yielded concrete dividends in terms of our welfare, accountability and development for other states to follow. The difference would have been clear. So far, it is difficult, using the scale of development, to distinguish between the two. What we have seen so far, good or bad, is not remarkable enough to be associated with shariah. We hope more attention will be paid to this.
As for victory, we have little to claim with our fate decided in Washington. Our leaders remain puppets of Judeo-Christian forces that are always ready to capitalize on our poverty, ignorance and indolence. If we had met the conditions that made early Muslims eligible for the help of God in Badr and many other instances in our history, the situation would have been different. God has pledged his help to the faithful. Now, do we think it is a coincidence that when He came to narrate the events of Badr, He started and ended the chapter with the definition of the ‘truly faithful’? I have not a single verse in the Quran where God promised Muslims any aid, only the faithful when he said: “And it was due from us to aid those who believed.” (30:47) The difference between the two is that ‘Muslim’ is a derived from claim (and it includes hypocrites) while ‘ the faithful’ or ‘the believer’ is derived from a conviction translated into practice and acknowledged by God. Which one are we? Who would dare an answer?
The lailat al-Qadr approaches and the wealthy among us have made it fashionable to travel for ‘Umrah – the lesser hajj. It is now the fastest growing industry in the Muslim sector of the economy. Notwithstanding the magnitude of reward earlier computed for any worship done during the blessed night, we would wish that the journey were undertaken with genuinely acquired funds and after making sure that no stomach was left hungry here in Nigeria.. Otherwise, we will hasten to advise, saying: “God is pure and does not accept anything except what is pure.”
We will remind also our brothers that there is a better way of using their surplus wealth: it should be spent in line with God’s instructions: “They ask thee how much they are going to spend; say: “What is beyond your need.” (2:219) Is it a coincidence that this instruction and the one discouraging Muslims from alcohol and gambling came in the same verse? No. The Quran ask us to think, concluding the verse by saying: “Thus God maketh plain to you (His) revelations, that haply ye may reflect.” Now, who then deserve our surplus wealth – or to use the term of the Quran, “what is beyond our need?” God said: “Whatever ye spend that is good is for parents and kindred and orphans and those in want and for wayfarers. And whatever ye do that is good, - God knoweth it well.” (2:215)
Space will not allow us to narrate what happened to Abdullah bin Mubarak who used to perform ‘Umrah yearly for over 60 years. On one occasion, he gave whatever he saved for the Umrah as charity to a family that was in dire need of food..
Someone once visited his sheikh to tell him he is going for ‘Umrah. The sheikh asked him how much it would cost him. He replied: “70 dinars.” The sheikh asked further: “Don’t you have the poor in your town on whom you can spend this amount.” He said, “Sir, yes, but I still want to perform the ‘Umrah…” The sheikh retorted: “A wealth that is not lawfully acquired will always refuse to be used except in what the heart desires.” That is why I intentionally italicised ‘that is good’ in the above verse.
We would have served Islam and this country a better cause if, even for a year, we will agree to sacrifice our ‘Umrah and use the millions of dollars to be realized there from in solving just one of our problems here in Nigeria in line with the recommendation of the verse 2:215 quoted above. We would have sent foreign aid and our poverty alleviation to hell. Otherwise, once ignorance and poverty abound, I cannot see a better way of dispensing of “what is beyond our need” and is “that is good.” But, perhaps, our case is no different from that of the student and his sheikh that we narrated above.
There has been a revolution in activity during the last ten days of Ramadan in Nigeria, especially during the last ten years. The Qiyam – where the entire Quran is recited in ten nights during prayer – is spreading like wildfire. The culture of resort to a mosque for at least a night – I’itikaf – is also becoming widespread during the last ten days of Ramadan. This is undoubtedly impressive. Nigerians have always had good records when it comes to rituals. We only wait to see how these prayers will be permitted to translate into the social piety that our society is direly in thirst of, for “prayer restrains from shameful and unjust deeds; and remembrance of God is the greatest (thing in life) without doubt. And God knows the (deeds) that ye do.” (29:45)
We will also pray that as we are prompt in observing the per capita charity – Zakat el-Fitr – we will endeavour to pay the obligatory charity on our wealth whenever it is due. If we had done that beggars would not have filled our streets and a welfare system would have been evolved thereby that will become the envy of other people. However, perhaps because the wealth is largely not ‘that is good’, it does not make itself amenable to charity. It prefers to yield eagerly to women, alcohol, gambling, cars and tourism – in any form it could take – to the east or to the west.
At the end I am not sure what Ramadan will be conveying to God regarding the account of our duties, especially with the above dismal evaluation of our collective performance. I am not also sure, when it returns next year whether it will find us in a better condition of faith than how it left us exactly a week ago.
All said however, our fate is in our hands. God is ever willing to forgive and assist whoever strives in His path, during Ramadan or anytime thereafter.
Finally, our last prayers: May Ramadan return and meet us among the living, in a better condition of faith and resolve. We are grateful to God for whatever He blessed us with during Ramadan and throughout the year as well. May His Peace and Blessings be on his noble Messenger, Muhammad, on his family and relations, his companions and on whoever followed their guidance until the Day of Judgement!
Postscript: This essay was first published 12 years ago in Weekly Trust as a valedictory. In writing it, i followed the format a Friday sermon once delivered by late Sheikh Abdulhameed Kishk of Egypt. May God have mercy on him! But as Ramadan is not tired of returning annually, so would I not be tired of publishing it for the benefit of my new readers at least.