Ramadan: Purification and Emptying Out

Standard

As this most sacred of months, Ramadan, continues, we think about what it’s true meaning is. It’s about more than food and drink, because one must also abstain from certain bad behaviors, from slander and profanity, from committing any crimes such as vandalism or theft, from acting with cruelty to others such as bullying or mocking others, in person or online, openly or in secret. Not only must one abstain from sexual activity of any kind (and one considers that for Muslims this will be marital, lawful), but refrain oneself from any sexual thoughts or innuendos or behaviors that approach this area, including viewing materials online or in any way, shape or form. Even excess anger is prohibited. You get the idea. So it is a kind of emptying out of those things of this world that lead us away from thikr Allah, actively remembering Allah and calling upon Him and invoking His name while alert. It is a kind of purification.

The word zakat, which refers to the obligatory charity to be paid and distributed to the needy (who are defined specifically in the Quran), means “purification.” The idea is that one’s wealth or possessions, in excess of survival needs, should be shared with those who do not have the means to survive or who are in a state of deprivation of basic needs, such as food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. If one has excess wealth and does not spend it on the needy in due proportion, one incurs Allah’s wrath.

Surat Fussilat 41:7 –
الَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْتُونَ الزَّكَاةَ وَهُم بِالْآخِرَةِ هُمْ كَافِرُونَ

Those who do not give zakat, and in the Hereafter they are disbelievers.

The preceding aya concludes with the condemnation of idolaters, which the above aya completes.

Ramadan has its own special zakat to be paid during the month, often towards the end of the month. This emphasizes the importance in this month of purification.

And what is exactly purification? It is a clearing up, an emptying out of our lower desires and impulses, a reining in of that which could separate us from Allah. Because in the Hereafter, there will be no more free will, no more time to do what would help us meet Allah on that Day, that unimaginable reckoning when all we will have are our deeds, and thoughts are counted as well, including intentions, so that those who worked hard and struggled to be accepted by Allah will find themselves in an unimaginable paradise from which they can never be deprived or removed. Those who rejected Allah’s presence and His revelations, whose attitude was to serve their own self-interests without compassion for others, those who worshipped anything other than Allah, including their own selves and desires as well as idols or saints whom they call upon instead of Allah, all those will be separated from Allah. And the Hereafter is a timeless realm where they will be locked into the consequences of what they did in their time of free will.

So purification is crucial to our ultimate survival. Of course one can deny that there is a Hereafter. But they won’t make it not come true. And the rewards of fasting in Ramadan are palpable even in this life: when we spend time in prayer and reading Quran, and rein in even the basic desire for food, there’s a bright spirit of support that comes from the ever-present Allah to shore us up and give us a taste of the joy and fulfillment of the believers when they find Allah has accepted them. And so it is indeed a holiday, a holy month where we put in our account for the next life what we have in this life, actions we take for Allah alone. And He has made it obligatory as a gift, to ensure that we may be motivated enough in this life with its temptations to purify ourselves for the next.

Advertisements

The Quran’s Guidance on Truth, Lies, and Faith 

Standard

The Quran frequently refers to issues relating to Truth and lies; distinguishing between them is critical, in many ways the defining point of guidance. In fact, faith itself is predicated on that distinction, the purpose of the Quran and other divine revelations being to guide us to the truth and, as a part of that guidance, to help us recognize and avoid falsehood.

From Al-Nisa’ 4:105:

إِنَّآ أَنزَلْنَآ إِلَيْكَ ٱلْكِتَٰبَ بِٱلْحَقِّ لِتَحْكُمَ بَيْنَ ٱلنَّاسِ بِمَآ أَرَىٰكَ ٱللَّهُ ۚ وَلَا تَكُن لِّلْخَآئِنِينَ خَصِيمًا

We have sent down to you the Book with the Truth that you may judge between the people by that which Allah has shown you, and do not be an advocate for the treacherous.

  Continue reading

Is Allah “Personal,” “Impersonal,” or None of the Above?

Standard

A not-infrequent complaint from Christians about Islam is that the Islamic idea of Allah is not personal enough. Another complaint from people in arguments against religion generally is that God is too impersonal. There is this general belief that God created the universe (if they even believe that), then left it alone to fend for itself, retiring into abstract glory to answer, perhaps, a prayer or two. The first idea, of a personal God, seems based on human interpersonal relations. The second on possibly kings or dictators. Neither idea is true of Allah, the Almighty, All-Merciful, who describes Himself in the Quran as being “closer than your jugular vein.” (Surat Qaf 50:16)
Continue reading

The Difference between Salat and Du’a: What is Prayer?

Standard

image

When most people think of “Islamic prayer,” they picture rows of worshippers bowing and prostrating in unison, usually inside a mosque, facing Mecca (Makkah). But the act of worship pictured is salat, a specific act of worship with geophysical as well as body-language physical protocols, requiring a ritual ablution, preferably in water, prior to its performance. The word du’a, on the other hand, is equivalent in meaning to the English word “prayer,” which is simply “supplication.” To refer to salat as “prayer” is convenient, because there is no English equivalent, but inaccurate. Continue reading

Ramadan: Time, Physical Worship and Limits

Standard

The days of Ramadan are flying by with so much to do, so little energy, and no time to write about it. Time and its fleeting nature is a topic the Quran discusses with some frequency, most often in reference to spending some of that time with thikr Allah, thinking about Allah, how we will meet Him in the Hereafter, and what we are doing to be better people, more compassionate and responsible. The difference between faith and denial is enormous——yet manifested in small ways, perhaps the change from one to the other could move a mountain, a change of mindset that may take a matter of seconds…
Continue reading

Day 3: The Power of Praise

Standard

“Praise” is an easy word to be glib about, saying such platitudes as “we must be grateful for all we have,” but the Quran mentions al-hamd so frequently and with such significance that I was struck with a lesser-noticed attribute: sheer power. Past the invocation or Bismallah, the first word in the Quran is al-hamd, or “praise.” But in a sense it is also the last word, as this aya indicates… Continue reading

Does the Qur’an have an Overriding Principle?

Standard

After hearing so much horrific news about happenings in the Muslim world, particularly the oppressive actions of dictators who torture Innocent citizens— men, women, and children — and prevent Muslims from worshipping in mosques, as well as the slaughter of innocent civilians and destruction of their homes and lives by armies, police, and whole governments, I paced for hours in a state of unbearable rage, until the time came for salat al-asr (afternoon worship). Continue reading