Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ramadan: Between culture and religion

It is that time of the year again. Everybody is excited and ready for Ramadan! In this month, Muslims all the world fast and pray. Unfortunately, due to lack of knowledge, many of us have ritualized this religion and do not attain maximum benefit from it. In this short piece, I want to list some of the reasons why Ramadan and fasting are prescribed then highlightsome common cultural mistakes we often make.

The wisdoms behind Ramadan:

There are many lectures and books available online mentioning the benefits of fasting and Ramadan with all their evidences. I will just mention some in point form. You may listen to those lectures or read those books for more details.

1. The Qur'an clearly states that fasting is prescribed to assist us in attaining Taqwa (God Consiousness). This Taqwa is attained when we fast for the pleasure of Allah, and realize that if we can stay away from basic necessities like food and drink to please Allah, then we have the ability to stay away from sin to please Allah.

2. Self-Control: The hadeeth makes it clear that if you sin while fasting then you attain no reward for that fast. With this in mind, when we fast to pelase Allah, we are careful not to do or say anything Haraam. This is training so that we may learn to control our tongues outside of Ramadan

3. Growing close to the Qur'an: Ramadan is the month of the Qur'an, the purpose behind taraweh and recitation is to expose people to the message of the Qur'an so that we may benefit and grow closer to Allah through it. Of course, this means one must recite the Qu'an with understanding during Ramadan.

4. Reflection and Repentance: Through fasting, staying away from sins and useless deeds, we have more time to reflect on our own lives, especially if one sits for Itikaaf. This reflection should lead to repentance and a positive change in our lives.

Cultural issues that clash with the above:

1. Overeating: If one overeats for Iftaar or Suhoor, you have defeated the purpose of fasting. The Sunnah is to have a light meal for both Suhoor and Iftaar. By overeating, we are damaging our bodies and in the case of Suhoor, we do not feel our fast (what then is the point of fasting), and in the case of Iftaar, we are too tired and full during Taraweh which leads to mass burping competitions in the back rows.

2. Wasting time: Three hours left till Iftaar? Lets watch the Lord of the Rings so we don't feel it. Once again we are trying to avoid feeling the fast, so our fast passes like any other day without any spiritual benefit. Even if something is Halal, if it is not beneficial, try to stay away from it in Ramadan and focus on more important things like studying Islam, reciting Qur'an and helping others.

3. Missing our prayers: I have observed people skipping Maghrib while enjoying Iftaar. This is a futile exercise which shows lack of understanding or priorities. Salah is the second pillar of Islam and even more important than fasting. We nullify the reward of our fasts if we sleep through Asr or skip Maghrib because we are eating.

4. Ritualized Taraweh: It is your choice if you want to pray eight or twenty Rakah Taraweh but pray it properly. I firmly believe that praying eight rakah slowly with concentration and understanding is far more rewarding and beneficial than rushing through twenty rakah at superspeed. As Dr Bilal Philips once told us, "the way we pray Taraweh today (ritualized and superspeed) is bidah and might not be accepted by Allah,"

5. Khataming Qur'ans: We grew up with the idea that in Ramadan, we should finsih the Qur'an as many times as possible since Abu Hanifa use to recite it 60 times every Ramadan. We forget that Abu Hanifa had already studied and mastered the knowledge of the Qur'an before doing so. Instead of speed reading the Qur'an so that we can boast how many times we completed it. Read it just once or twice with understanding and resolve to practice and follow it.

6. Counting down the days to Eid: Some people can't wait for Ramadan to end and count down the dyas till Eid. You can not benefit from Ramadan if you do not appreciate it and are waiting for it to end. Change your mindset and appreciate each and every one of these blessed days as they come.

7. Cigarette Iftaar: Instead of using Ramadan to give up their sinful habits, many Muslims stand outside teh Masjid waiting for the Adhaan so that they can make Iftaar by polluting the air and their lungs with this evil substance. You don't see alcoholics waiting outside with bottles in their hands or drug addicts waiting with their shots, so why do smokers do so? If you can stay away from it all day in Ramadan, you can stay away from it permenantly. Just make the effort and resolve to do so.

May Allah make this Ramadan beneficial and spiritually uplifting for us all.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Students of knowledge, we need to watch our Character!

"With great power comes great responsibilities" as Spider-man's wise uncle once said to him.

I grew up on this principle and take it very seriously. After all, Islam teaches us the very same. The prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said that all of us are shepherd and responsible for our flocks. The bigger role we have in the world, the bigger our responsibilities towards others becomes.

This brings me to the issue of Islamic knowledge and the responsibility that comes with it. I do not think many students realize this but we are looked upon by others as role models. They watch our very move and when we do stupid things, either people will lose respect for us or think it is right. We need to realize that knowledge is power and with great power comes great responsibility. When you choose to gain knowledge of Islam, realize that you become responsible for assisting and serving the Ummah.

Yet many people do not seem to realize this. I found too many students of knowledge and scholars, who I initially look up to, disappoint me by displayed such character that even an ignorant Muslim knows is wrong. This is true for people from all schools of thought including Salafis, Deobandis and Sufis. Below are some of my experiences with such people:

1) I visited a student of knowledge who runs his own Islamic center and who has been praised as knowledgeable in the Deen with the hope of working for him. He invited me to his house for dinner were I noticed two things that put me off working with him, firstly he was very harsh and judgmental in his way of talking.

The entire time at dinner he would just lecture me about certain faults I have (he had just met me and assumed these faults). Secondly, his sons sat at dinner scared and silent, clearly terrified by their father. When he asked me if I had children, I responded that I had two sons. In front of his sons, he told me they only get harder to deal with as they get older. It was clear in his sons' faces that they were embarrassed and hurt by his statement in front of a stranger.

I decided never to work for him or visit him again. I guess being a knowledgeable person with your own center is more important than your children's feelings or your character in dealing with others.

2) I met a world-renowned Salafi Islamic teacher, only to immediately recognize that his character was lacking. He does not know how to talk to people and seems disconnected from the world and unable to relate to others. I would later learn that he treats his wife horribly and clearly does not love or care for her.

3) I attended the lecture of a famous Sufi scholar at a conference. In the middle of his lecture, he pointed to me in the audience and told me to sit properly. The entire audience turned to look at me. Perhaps he did not learn the manner of correcting people and the prohibition of publicly embarrassing people (especially for something as small as the way they sit at a conference).

4) I attended the lecture of a female scholar who seemed very impressive until the Q&A session in which she displayed utmost arrogance and humiliated a Madinan Graduate for questioning a statement she made. She even said that she is right because she has a PHd and then accused him of being a chauvinist for questioning her opinion.

5) I met too many scholars who tell me some strange ruling and when I ask for evidence, their evidence is, "I'm a Moulana/Mufti/Shaykh, I'm telling you so," So apparently his view counts as proof in of itself.

All the above examples show the exact same problem, many people focus on the book knowledge while ignoring the Adab and practical aspects of dealing with people. Too many times we get so caught up in studying Fiqh that we become like walking emotionless books unable to relate to others, care for them, completely devoid of empathy.

A lot of emphasis needs to be placed on studying human interaction, psychology, importance of family and plain old good character. Such issues need to be incorporated into our curriculum at the universities.

If you can not care for people, treat them well or relate to them, you can not help them and you end up doing more harm than good. Especially if it is your own family. Children raised by such religious people who do not know how to treat their wives or children end up becoming averse to Islam because they do not want to be like their parents.

I know this came across as a rant but I needed to let this out. Firstly as a warning to myself, as well anyone else studying Islam. This religion is an Amaanah (trust) on our shoulders and our actions are Dawah, whether we like it or not.

When you wear the mantle of knowledge, people watch you and learn more from your behavior than your lectures.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Taraweh: Eight or Twenty, both are permissible

The people who hold that twenty rakats taraweh is a compulsory sunnah (Sunnah Muakiddah) usually bring forth two arguments, the first being that Umar (May Allah be pleased with him) united the Muslims upon twenty rakahs behind Ubay Ibn Ka’ab and Tamim Daari. The second being that the four Imams unanimously agreed that twenty rakahs is sunnah muakiddah.

Regarding how many rakahs Umar (May Allah be pleased with him) united the people
upon, Imam San’ai says, "There is a difference of opinion in the amount that Ubay Ibn Kab read. Some say it was eleven rakahs, others say it was twenty one rakahs, others say twenty, others say twenty three and there are other opinions as well," (Subulus Salaam Vol:2 Page: 356)

So we see that the scholars don’t even agree upon how many rakahs Umar united the people upon so this can not be a proof.

Regarding the four Imams, Imam Malik (May Allah be pleased with him) narrated the following in his Muwatta, "Umar ibn al-Khattab ordered Ubayy ibn Kab and Tamim ad-Dari to watch the night in prayer with the people for eleven rakats. The reciter of the Qur'an would recite the Mi'in (a group of medium-sized surahs) until we would be leaning on our staffs from having stood so long in prayer. And we would not leave until the approach of dawn," (Muwatta Malik 6:2:4). This narration also shows that Umar united the people upon eleven rakahs, not twenty.

Regarding the Hanafi viewpoint, Imam Muhammad, the student of Imam Abu Hanifah, mentions the following narration in his Muwatta, "the prophet (peace be upon him) would not read more than eleven rakahs, neither in Ramadan or out of it (Muwatta Muhammad, Chapter of the Ramadan prayer 71:239)

Imam Muhammad then says, "We (The Hanafis) go according to all of this, there is nothing wrong in praying in the month of Ramadan, the people praying voluntarily with an Imam," (Muwatta Muhammad, Chaper of the Ramadan prayer 71:241)

This shows that the belief of Imam Abu Hanifah and his students was that Taraweh is optional. When the hadith says eleven rakahs, it could mean eight rakahs taraweh and three rakahs witr or ten rakahs taraweh and one rakah witr, Allah knows best.

So it is clear that Taraweh is optional and each person should read what he is able to, with eleven rakahs (including the witr) being the sunnat. To make twenty rakahs compulsory upon Muslims is an innovation with no basis in the Quran or Sunnah.