Category Archives: Ihya Series

Ramadan Challenge With Imam Ghazali

You might be wondering what challenge has to do with someone who has passed away centuries back. Well, his sadaqatu jariah lives on and one of his blessed works – the Ihya is very much alive with us and I want to take us through how all the forty books in the magnus can help us prepare for Ramadan. Ihya is arguably the most talked-about book in Islam after the Qur’an and the books of hadith. Ihya is praised for capturing every aspect of knowledge an average Muslim needs to live a life of fulfillment and Imam Ghazali has a way of making you feel that you are sitting with him whenever you are reading from the book. I have rated The Magus Opus as the all-time best-selling self-help book. The Ihya ulumudeen is composed of Four Parts or Quarters and each quarter has 10 books hence a total of 40 books on various topics systematically laid out in order of relevance from abstract to essence and from the beginning to the end of life of a human being. And each of these topics has been explained in metaphors that made the lessons more relatable to our core. Ramadan is a month chosen to be special such that human beings are made to sculpt the best out of themselves for both the Ephemeral and after-life. We are encouraged to double our potential for the greater good so, that believer do their best to outdo others eager to learn and unlearn the best ways to achieve maximum rewards in the Holy months. Here are some summarised applications from the 40 chapters – arranged in the order of the book, that hopefully will give a direction on what to seek out for in Ramadan: Knowledge – Seek or review relevant knowledge (shariah) on what is required of you in Ramadan. The significance of Ramadan and some related relevant histories. Most significantly the spiritual significance of the components of Ramadan with your lord. Reaffirm your acceptance of the articles of faith and hold on to the correct beliefs in Allah and his messenger without anchoring any grudge in your submission, no doubt it will prepare you mentally for Ramadan knowing that you are about to journey on the instruction of your Lord. Learn to stay purified both externally and internally – by de-cluttering filthy; words, images, thoughts, and actions unbefitting of a Muslim in your preparation. Raise the bar of your Salah by constantly practising your focus when you have the chance to be one-on-one with Allah. Salah is a gift that makes the believer VIP before their Lord. Give the charity for Allah’s sake, and be kind to your recipients knowing that they are the ones doing you a favour. For those of us unable to give Zakah, let it be known that no one is disqualified from giving sadaqah or charity. So check all the gifts and blessings of Allah upon you and give out of it, even in your smile. Reflect on the metaphorical lesson in the Hajj or pilgrimage on how the whole exercise reflects the human journey from Allah to Allah. Develop friendship with the Qur’an, invocations and supplication and Night vigil activities to get closer to Allah. It is a known tradition that it is through voluntary actions that a slave attains high station and true celebrity status. The theme of the Second quarter is about Norms of Daily life. Manners of eating is the first topic and it is very relevant to Ramadan – the fear of hunger and evening feasting makes us lose our spiritual focus, so beware and be disciplined. Do not – in the name of Ramadan, develop strained relations in your marriage and it should not stop your acquisition and earning of a livelihood. Ramadan is not asking us to pause our mundane but to bring the best out of us while living our normal lives by abiding by lawful and staying away from prohibited acts, strengthening brotherhood in every possible way while avoiding too much or unnecessary socialization to develop your spiritual energy and mental health. Enjoy pleasurable sounds, and the best of them is the recitation of the Quran. Enjoy good, forbid evil, and live the Muhammadan way in your mannerisms. In the third quarter, the theme is about the thing that can lead us to perdition but Imam Ghazali started by explaining the wonders of the heart because that is the centre and the core of humans where the spirit meets the nafs hence, the centre of control. If the core of human beings is understood, such knowledge will help us stay alert and return whenever we are straying from moderation. Watching out the seat of desires; the stomach and the private parts, shunning Rancor and Envy, condemning the world through the realization of its reality, condemning miserliness, love of wealth, status and ostentation, pride, conceit and self-delusion. The final quarter discusses the way to salvation. The things that can help you stay moderate, elevated and return every affair to our Lord, are repentance, patience and thankfulness, having fear and hope in your Creator, through the affirmation of His attributes and essence. Cultivating abstinence, having faith in divine unity and trust in divine providence should lead to intimacy and contentment. Renaming pure in our intention, sincere and trustworthy. Constant self-examination and meditation. And ultimately to constantly remember death and the afterlife to prepare for it. The journey of life is a constant struggle, driving through the storm and fighting to be on the right track. A successful journey requires that one remain focused on the goal of the journey by constantly renewing the intentions and orientating the self to Allah to lead us to the right action and a good ending. Ramadan is a month that encourages us to buckle up and these 40 lessons can help us stay on track in Ramadan and even beyond, such that if Allah blesses us to be successful in them, our […]

Summary lessons from the Ihya (2): Foundations of Belief

What is required of a believer is to know who you are in connection to having faith in your Lord and His Messenger (SAW) among the other crucial components of belief (or articles of faith) that serves as the foundation for a creed. When we affirm that “we belong to Allah (God) and to Him is our return” when a person dies, we are reminding the living of the reality of our existence, not to pity the dead. One of the goals of the Magnus Opus, Ihya Ulum Al-Deen, is the realisation of faith as a knowledge that is lived and acted upon in relation to the state of the body and soul (in every action and inaction) to improve our connection to Allah (God) both in public and private lives. One has to confirm the truth that Prophet Muhammad has come with. The least of faith is acceptance of what has been transmitted by inculcating it, studying or knowing (in detail), the creed comes next and it is only needed to help you answer the questions of why you believe in what you believe, but it does not help in nurturing your faith, as Imam al-Ghazali argues.  Faith is nurtured by: Imam Ghazali has divided the text into four parts. 1-The Islamic Creed, The creed, as codified in the orthodox Islamic belief,  is a means of understanding the bare minimum of what is necessary for us to accept Allah’s attributes (God). These essential attributes in summary are; – He necessarily is Existent: The existence of Allah is the most obvious thing in this creation. Every other thing is contingent on His existence. – He is without Beginning and has no End: The opposite of having no beginning is coming into being, and that is Inconceivable of God. To say something brought Him to existence leads to an infinite regress. – He is Self-subsistent: He absolutely is free of all needs; He is not contingent upon anyone or anything. – God is Absolutely One: unlike His creation, He is not composed of parts, He is indivisible, similar to nothing, and nothing is comparable to Him. – He is all-Powerful, Willful, Knowing, Living, Seeing, Hearing, and Speaking – He is Dissimilar to Created Things The other part of the Islamic creed is about the belief in Prophethood and the certainty that Prophet Muhammad is the last of them. That Allah has sent the Prophets & Messengers to teach, warn, and tell us about our salvation and matters of the unseen, including the belief in all the events after death,  such as the punishment in the grave, resurrection details, judgement day, paradise, and hellfire; and to believe in the Angels. 2- Stages of Belief and Certainty by Proofs The first stage of belief is to retain the Islamic creed in memory as a child memorises without full understanding, the next stage is understanding, then believing in it, then attaining certainty of faith and acceptance. All of these can happen even in childhood. As Imam Ghazali argues, the strengthening of belief does not lie in proofs or argumentation. 3-The indoctrination of the creed is like planting a tree. In the first few years, you will not notice anything but as time passes, the seed begins to sprout. If the foundation is not strong in the first place, you will not have a firmly-rooted tree. So, it becomes evident what people have built for themselves over the years. The things they have nourished their souls with; reading, studying, addictions, entertainment, and all of those things which people do to escape their emptiness are reflected in their form. Meaning, even if you are ugly physically, people see only beauty because of your inward state.  This is why Imam al Ghazali, in his autobiography (Deliverance from Error), explains, after checking all the sciences (which he mastered before the period of seclusion), the science of the purification of the heart is the most important of all sciences that genuinely leads to Allah (God). You could be a great theologian or intellectual who understands or has proof of faith but may not be living it. Thus what you profess outwardly may not be your inward reality, even though the people and the law will/must judge you by what you profess outwardly. The reader can relate to someone they know or have met, who captures their heart, not because of their physical beauty but because of their wisdom and good character regardless of who they are. 4-Belief (Iman) and Submission (Islam) are interrelated but different terms. Consequently, every acceptance is a submission, but not every submission is a complete acceptance. In related terms, it can be said that belief is part of Islam. Islam can be outward acceptance while belief is an inward affirmation (with the mind). “We believe.” Say, “You, have no Faith, but you (only) say, ‘We have submitted our wills to Allah, ‘for not yet has Faith entered your hearts.” (Al Hujurat 14) May God grant us the understanding of what is necessary to know of Him, to submit and devote ourselves to Him and enter us into His mercy.

Summary lessons from the Ihya (1): On Knowledge

Imam al-Ghazali explains the very purpose of religion as all affairs that have to do with affirming the existence and submitting to Allah (God). Religion is truth and the truth is that which is known to correspond with reality. The reality is Allah (God). In this form of religion, all we need to do to submit to Allah (God) requires knowledge. This justifies why the book must start with understanding what knowledge means, including the what and why of knowledge. One thing the Prophet (SAW) was commanded by Allah (God) was to seek an increase in “knowledge” in Surahtul TaHa (20:114)  …and say, “My Lord, increase me in knowledge.”  Suratul TaHa (20:114) There are pieces of evidence in our tradition that point to the virtues of knowledge and the status of the possessor in the community of men. In a sound narration of Prophet Muhammad (SAW); “When Allah wishes good for someone, He bestows upon him the understanding of the deen (religion).” Imam al-Ghazali commented that having knowledge alone is not enough. The knowledge that does not result in action or sincerity is without meaning, in fact, it can be compared with someone who has medicine but could not use it to treat the ailment. The knowledge that should be sought after and is considered praiseworthy is the understanding of the religion. The Arabic word being used is “Al fiqhy fi’deen” (understanding of the religion). Imam al-Ghazali calls the attention of the reader to common misunderstandings among people on this terminology. He says it actually means knowing which is right, including the depth and consequences of something. Beneficial knowledge is knowing what draws one closer to Allah (God), wherever one is in life in terms of one’s actions/inactions.  And the most important knowledge is to know the One who must be worshipped hence the next chapter/book in the magnum opus is on the science of sound beliefs in the oneness of Allah and His reality. Subsequent chapters touch upon acts of worship in the religion. The third quarter of the book of Ihya is often considered to be the most salient part of the book as Imam Ghazali brilliantly unpacked destructive traits and character which is often something so hidden and subtle that no one can escape those foibles. It makes sense to understand them and be watchful of them. However, understanding the destructive traits alone without knowing how one can save oneself from those traits and instead adorn one with beautiful traits is fruitless. That is why the chapters of beliefs and worship precede in the arrangement of the Ihya. So thoughtful! Knowledge is of two types in relation to human activities; 1. Fard ayn (essential knowledge required of an individual): What an individual needs to know in order to properly submit to Allah (May He be praised and exalted) in the things that one engages in life, as compared to praiseworthy knowledge which has to do with pleasure/reward in its attainment.  Fard ayn includes the beliefs and actions of the heart. It would be obligatory to acquire knowledge of whatever would remove doubt of faith and the destructive matters of the heart, their causes, symptoms, and cure. 2. Fard kifaya (communally obligatory knowledge): This knowledge is needed to preserve the essential good of the community with respect to worldly and religious affairs. These are divided into Sacred (Shariah) sciences and Profane or other non-shariah sciences. Sacred sciences are acquired from the Prophet (SAW) and are not a result of reason like arithmetic, experimentation like medicine, or hearing like language. Profane sciences are divided into praiseworthy (includes knowledge that aids in this life like medicine), blameworthy (like magic, talismanic, trickery) and permissible sciences. “The beginning of knowledge is silence, next to it is listening, followed by retention, acting in accordance with it and teaching/spreading it” – Muhammad al Harith in Ihlyatul Awliya. Seeking knowledge requires Adab (the right way of doing things) and part of it is to have reverence and respect, to consult, to follow a trodden path, and to master what one learns so one can intensify it and be able to spread it to others accurately. Fruits of knowledge are becoming an Ulama’ al-Akhirah (scholars of the hereafter) meaning someone who can seek the hereafter and show others the path to the hereafter. The path to the hereafter is one of the most important things as Imam al-Ghazali expounded extensively to show proof of that in this chapter. Another fruit of knowledge is to be an Al-alim al Rabbani (Lordly scholar) which means to be someone whose knowledge enables them to direct the self and others to their Lord. Seeking opportunities for knowledge is prophetic inheritance. Whoever strives for knowledge knows he is seeking the inheritance of the prophet and the most knowledgeable will have the greatest share in the Hereafter, as reported in the popular hadith (sayings/deeds of Prophet Muhammad). Secondly, knowledge is empowering as it enables one to live with awareness and to be an agent of good, either by becoming a scholar or by acting in accordance with reality and truth. “Service without knowledge is toil without fruit”. It is more honourable to strive to enlighten people with what one has acquired of beneficial knowledge as Allah(God) said: “And who could be better of speech than he who calls [his fellow men] unto God, and does what is just and right, and says, “Verily, I am of those who have surrendered themselves to God” Quran (41:33). In conclusion, a clear message that served as a theme throughout the chapter is the emphasis that knowledge in seeking, spreading or practising must be in relation to the ultimate purpose of knowing and seeking the pleasure of Allah.  May we be blessed with that which is beneficial.

Summary lessons from the Ihya (7): Mysteries of Pilgrimage (Hajj)

Rationally, it is easy to understand the wisdom behind other acts of worship except for the Hajj. For instance, the act of bowing or prostration indicates humility and humbleness, fasting controls your nafs and breaking your desires, Zakat benefits poor people and this goes for other acts of worship. As for Hajj, going to Arafat, circumambulating Kaaba, throwing stones, etc, the only rationale is that you are a servant of Allah and you are there to respond to His call, so the pilgrim chants Labayka… ‘Here I am, O my Lord, Here I am. Here I am for Your service.’ all through. Some of the inner etiquettes to be observed by an intending pilgrim are yearning and longing to visit the prescribed places and to perform all of the acts of worship similar to the feelings you would have when visiting your loved ones.  However if one does not feel the yearning and longing, it should not prevent one from responding to the call, servitude to the Creator is enough reason to be excited about it, and then one can ask Allah to unveil its beauty.  The whole of hajj activities is a parable of the human journey from Allah to Allah, the journey of the soul. The deprivation from lowly desires, the feeling of being destitute before Allah, the hard work and the simple lifestyle to be embodied during hajj are in reality the true trait of those seeking mercy and closeness to Allah in this life. The higher merit, when the pilgrim intends to meet Allah at the holy sanctuary, is the gift of gazing upon the noble countenance of Allah (swt) in the abode of eternity, the greatest desire in paradise.     THE ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME ACTIVITIES: Unlike other acts of worship, Hajj must be performed only once in a lifetime; The Five daily prayers (salawaat) must be performed every day, the Jumuah to be performed every week, the fasting in the month of Ramadan must be observed yearly, just as Hajj is prescribed for a once-in-a-lifetime, reflects the event of the day of judgement is a one-time experience, hence, all of the activities of the hajj are parables for the events of the Day of judgement. THE IHRAM CLOTHING: By buying the two garments, the person should remember they will be buried and shrouded in the same type of clothing after death. It is also a reminder that you may not return from the hajj. LABAIKA ALLAH… Here I am, O my Lord, The moment you reach any of the stations (Miqat) to chant labaika… is a similitude of our response to Allah on the plain, when He asked…   “Am I not your Lord?” They said, “Yes indeed, we bear witness…” Surah Al A’raf 7:172 At that point, a person should hope that Allah accepts them. And this will help to develop reverence (kushoo) and humility before Allah during hajj and in every other act of worship. ENTERING MACCA , THE KAABA, TAWAF… The entry into the haram reflects entering Allah’s protection and seeking protection from hellfire, hence sight of the Kaabah is one of the scenes that should give you the feeling of being in the courtyard of Allah, and the tawaf should be seen as an act of worship and holding on to the Kaaba is a moment to pour out your heart as though you are in the presence of the King. SAFA AND MARWAH Safa and Marwah is a demonstration of a servant in the courtyard of the king’s house, demonstrating sincerity in service (to and fro) and expecting to be acknowledged and accepted with mercy. ON THE PLAIN OF ARAFAT “Verily, Allah Almighty boasts to His angels of the pilgrims on the afternoon of the day of Arafat, saying: Look at My servants, coming to Me dishevelled and dusty.” Hadith The standing at Arafat then should remind you of the day of judgement and just as people are standing in groups, on the day of judgement, Allah says:  (Remember) the day when We will call every people with their Imam; then whoever is given his book in his right hand, these shall read their book, and they shall not be dealt with a whit unjustly. Surah al Isra 17:71 And as the sun sets, you may feel this remorse that you could have done better just as we will be remorseful we could have done better in life on the day of judgement. And after the hajj, the reminiscence of hajj activity should instil in us a form of rebirth and renewal of our life. VISITING MEDINA AND THE PROPHET The Prophet said, “He, who visits me after my death seems as if he visited me during my lifetime.” One should remember that it is the city chosen by Allah (swt) for His messenger (saw). And in this city, he laid the foundation of the obligations and duties enjoined by his Lord. Imagine you walk into this city with regrets about missing his company. And while visiting the Prophet, imagine how you would have approached him had he been alive. Thus, learn and observe all the etiquettes of visiting the beloved. In conclusion, it is incumbent upon every intending pilgrim to observe these inner and outer etiquettes before and while on the hajj. May Allah count us among the pilgrims and accept it from us.

Summary lessons from the Ihya (5): Mysteries of Zakat (Charity)

One of the reasons why it is difficult for most humans to give up potions of their wealth is the notion of entitlement or a false belief that the wealth they own is due to their hard work. More unfortunate is that most of us perceive the possession of wealth as “the source” of survival and enjoyment; thus, we do our best not to lose it, which leads to hoarding and stinginess.  This attitude is an indication of a poor state of mind, unconsciously placing wealth in God’s position when it is taken as the source of survival. It is mostly a latent disease! When Allah (God) is asking us to give from what He has placed in our care (of possession), people shrug, they do not want to let go, so they reject the command and the offer from God. Their wrecking soul silently adopts a deceptive affirmation; “My wealth is more precious, I rather keep this money than obey you, God” or “Oh, I love you God, but I love the wealth you gave me more”. Some will give so that he does not get excommunicated or rebuked in society for not giving charity.   One of the wisdom of Zakat is to help us renew our relationship with God, undeniably accepting He is our Lord who owns us and owns the things we own, recognizing and submitting to His commands willingly and accepting His dominion while having a good opinion of Him. In that case, whether there is benefit in Zakat for human beings or not should not be the real reason to give Zakat. It should be to submit to the will of God with all reverence.   Lexically, Zakat can be interpreted to mean growth, increase in good, purification, or praise. Zakat in jurisprudence is the name for the minimum amount of property that must be paid to a certain kind of recipient annually. It is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. From these meanings, we can deduce the notion of purity, proximity, and property. If you make a claim to love God, the first way to prove it is how you handle God’s property in your possession. Refusing or delaying to give Sadaqah (the voluntary charity) or Zakat (obligatory charity) only exposes deficiencies in your Love for Allah and thankfulness for His property in your possession.   In our dealings and transactions, we make mistakes; thus, our wealth may have unlawful traits; the job of Zakat is to purify it. To help the reader relate to how Zakat can genuinely be a purification is the idea of blood cupping, a method of letting out a small amount of blood to purify the whole blood. It is a painful process, but the joy and willingness to go through the process override the pain because the result is known. While Zakat has more merit because there is never a loss in a transaction with Allah (God), obedience to God is intrinsically a blessing, not to mention Zakat’s spiritual role in wealth or property. It is prescribed as an obligation on every Muslim – male, female, adult, and child with the property’s minimum amount required. The technicalities of how to give and when to give are detailed in Islamic jurisprudence.   Zakat is paid for;  Zakat recipients are;  Zakat of Eidul Fitr is another type of charity given and it is an obligation on every free Muslim male, female and child provided one has the necessary amount of food which will be 2.036kg of grain or money value on the day of Eidul Fitr (festival for commemorating the end of fasting in the month of Ramadan) for himself and those he is obliged to support.    The inward ambition of Zakat and Sadaqah is a test of character. “Character is a combination of qualities or features that distinguishes one person or group from another.” Spending willfully from what they love most distinguishes people who give charity.    Allah (God) said in the Glorious Qur’an: You will not attain piety until you expend what you love; and whatever thing you expend, God knows of it. surat al Im’ran (3 vs. 92)  Be careful of actions that can invalidate your Zakat. The etiquette of giving charity is to give it secretly. Sometimes it is better to make it public if you want to encourage others but you must be careful to avoid showoff from creeping into it. And be careful not to destroy your Zakat by holding yourself in favour over the person you are giving it to; in reality, he was the one doing you a favour. His acceptance of your charity is a purification for you. You have given them a temporary assistant but they have given you a permanent assistant. What some righteous people do is to give it out with their hands beneath the person they are giving it to so that they can recognize the higher hand is better than the lower hand. These are some of the spiritual etiquettes. And you do not humiliate and think less of the person you are giving it to.    The Prophet said: “Three things destroy, and three things save. As for the three things that destroy, they are greediness that is obeyed and desires that are followed, and a person becoming self-conceited (and proud) with himself. As for the three things that save, they are the fear of Allah in secret and public, and moderation in poverty and richness, and fairness in anger and pleasure.” The pronunciation of the shahadah (testament of faith) is a commitment to the oneness of Allah in His action (being the creator of you and what you do), His attributes (e.g the most beneficent, the most merciful), and in His essence (actual existence belongs to Allah). Therefore, there is nothing except Allah is a blueprint. The condition of fulfilling this statement of Shahadah is that it does not remain in the heart of the one who believes in this statement any object of love except for […]

Summary lessons from the Ihya (4): Mysteries of Worship

The religion establishes the relationship between the creation and the Creator, and the Salat (Islamic worship/prayer – whose root word means to connect) is the connection to establishing the relationship. Therefore, the adhan (call to worship) is the call to connect to Allah.  The call is pronounced five times daily as a reminder that Allah (God) calls us to connect after the disconnect and distractions of life. Getting to answer Allah’s (God) call is undoubtedly the most honourable thing to do. Internalising what Allah (God) means to every creature in their past, present, and future, answering the call to worship and performing it duly, is an act of gratefulness. The opposite of this is a sign of ungratefulness. Amongst the acts of worship, salat has the highest rank, perhaps being the one that is meant to place one in remembrance entirely and connects one to Allah (God).  One of the unique things Imam al Ghazali did in Ihya is the description of spiritual realities in jurisprudence language by synchronising both outward and inward together such that everyone can relate. For instance, Kushoo (being in a state of reverence, presence, and mindfulness before Allah) is something that can genuinely be determined inwardly-it is a state of mind we cannot see physically, so it cannot be an abiding condition in jurisprudence, but Imam al Ghazali boldly states it as a condition of prayer (for someone who wants a meaningful salat). When you are standing to establish the prayer, it is to be present with the one you are praying to (Allah). Being in a state of remembrance in prayer is a command and being mindless contradicts and nullifies remembrance. It is said by the Prophet, “Verily, the worst thieves among people are those who steal from their prayers.” Stealing here means the prayer is not given its due or not correctly performed.  The road to performing prayer is to know the conditions of the validity of the prayer. Some of them are;  Remembrance of Allah (God) is from the soul. The body needs healthy food, but the soul needs the remembrance of Allah. The prayer consists of Allah’s remembrance in the Quran’s recitation, prostration, and bowing and sitting. And every single position of prayer has a spiritual reality. The goal behind all of these positions is to have the utmost reverence of the heart (not of the body) before Allah (God). The most honoured part of a human being is the face, and we let it face the ground in order to humble it before the Most High while acknowledging our lowliness. And this is why in Islamic Law, it is forbidden to perform prostration to anyone other than Allah.  To attain the internal reality, one should have;  There are two primary reasons people are distracted in prayer;  Outward distraction is easy to avoid by observing a few technics or removing objects of distraction or going to a secluded place.   Inward distraction is more intense. They take a person to have all of these concerns and thoughts from one thing to another.  According to Imam al Ghazali, the best way to avoid this is that a person prepares himself before entering the salat, having the intention to solely pray to Allah and ignore every other matter. Takbir’s saying (raising the hand while mentioning the opening declaration – Allah is great) reminds one God is greater than what one intends. The person standing for prayer should remind himself (or renew the remembrance) of the hereafter and the severity of the outcome of that day in standing before Allah for judgement.  Bowing and Prostrating It is accompanied by a renewed affirmation of the supreme greatness of God. Prostration is the highest form of submission as you are putting the noblest thing to a man on the ground.  “The hardest test I ever faced in my life was praying. You understand. But bending my knees to pray — that act — well, that took me a week … I had to force myself to bend my knees. And waves of shame and embarrassment would force me back up. For evil to bend its knees, admitting its guilt, and to implore God’s forgiveness is the hardest thing in the world. It’s easy for me to see and to say that now. But then, when I was the personification of evil, I was going through it. Again, I would force myself back down into the praying-to-Allah posture. When finally, I was able to make myself stay down — I didn’t know what to say to Allah.” (The Autobiography of Malcolm X).  So, Imam Ghazali advises that before you pray, you should take care of those things that can lead to distraction and free yourself of every responsibility (so that it does not lead you to rush). Imam Ghazali gives an analogy of you standing before a great King and how focused you will be in his presence so that nothing can cause you to be distracted from him. In that case, nothing is comparable to Allah; all glory belongs to Him.  May He establish us in the reality of our connection to Him. And free us from all distractions from Him and make the salat the coolness of our heart. Ameen

Summary lessons from the Ihya (3): Mysteries of Purity

Whenever the word purification is mentioned, the concept that comes to most minds is the cleanliness of an object, so cleansing for rituals is automatically associated with purification of the body from filth. Imam al-Ghazali redirects our attention to the reality of purity. Purification is an integral part of worship but is not limited to cleaning some body parts.  The transaction between us and Allah (God) is built upon purity, and the religion is of three levels; Islam (associated with the five pillars of worship), Eeman (the beliefs in the oneness of God), and Ihsan (the state of Excellence with God while perfecting Islam and Eeman). These are synonymous with; body (outward), mind (inward), and the soul (inward of the inward). Purity has four stages: Stage I – to be clean outwardly from filth. Stage II – purification of the limbs (eyes, ears, tongue, stomach, private parts, hands, and feet) from crimes and sins. Stage III- purification of the heart from blameworthy traits and reprehensible vices. Stage IV – purification of the innermost core of our being from everything other than Allah (God), and this is the purification of the prophets and saints (most trustworthy in their actions and speech). Explaining our journey to purity and returning to fitra (clean state, innate nature, or natural disposition to the oneness of God): In the creation of human beings,  Allah (God) said; When I have shaped him and breathed My spirit in him, fall you down, bowing before him!’ Suratul Saad (38) vs 72 “When the soul is breathed into the body, the body is animated; at that point, the relationship between the ruh (spirit) and the body is called the nafs (spirit uniting with the body). But that nafs, because of its new relationship with the body and the material world, has some difficulty. Generally, or unless it is from the Prophets of God who have the Tranquil soul, the nafs call to evil. If Allah (God) enlightens (shines a light on) the heart, it realizes the intrinsic desire to return to the permanent abode (paradise). Still, then it is overcome and remembers the immediacy of the world, then inclines towards it and continues to oscillate in this manner (being attracted to evil or good) depending on how much light Allah (God) causes to shine on it.” Purification from actual and ritual impurities: The science of Jurisprudence gives a detailed explanation of this type of purity. Purification from real and ritual impurities is generally with water and stone and water substitution with the earth’s dust when water is not available. Ritual impurities can also be referred to as cleaning impurities; we cannot see when it is done for the sake of Allah (God) and places or lifts a person from the state of impurity.  Performing ritual impurities: Major impurities – the performance of ritual bath (Ghusl) – to lift major impurities (e.g., after sexual intercourse) by intention and ensuring water touches all the body·  Minor Ritual impurities – by ablution to enable the performance of prayer – Ablution has six integrals. They are; washing the face, washing both hands up to and including the elbow, wiping the head, washing the two feet up to the ankle, and performing the actions in the right order.·  Tayammum (dry ablution) – It is a substitute when water is not available, or a person is unable to use water due to illness. It is a sort of blessing from God to enable people to go on with worship when water cannot be used. Its demonstration is also detailed in the Jurisprudence. It is not something to do anytime or any place. It is nullified by the things that nullify ablution, and the presence of water negates it.  All outward things are a reflection of inner realities. In ablution, we purify places where human beings can see. However, a person should feel a sense of shame if he is before Allah without a purified heart. He (God) is aware of your inner state (the rancour, anger, jealousy, negative assumptions, preoccupation with the love of material things, etc.). Those who possess insight know that the heart’s purification is the most critical type of purity with these external indications. This is so because it is unlikely that when it is said, “Purity is half of faith,” it means the purification of the outer part of the body to leave the inward (heart) part. Otherwise, where does faith lie? In the heart!  We see the obsessiveness of people with outward purity, just as it was a concern in the era of Imam Al-Ghazali, so it is in our generation, and it is even more prevalent. Furthermore, since faith is an internal conviction, it also means purification is half of what you cannot see. And it should include decorating the heart with praiseworthy attributes and ridding oneself of blameworthy traits. Cleansing and adorning then become the two activities for the purification of the heart. Cleansing precedes adornment just as we have in outward purity. So, when you approach Allah (God), ensure the heart is as clean as the body.  Taking care of your purification is very essential as it is the key to salat (prayer) established in the Islamic Tradition. Salat comes from the root word to connect, meaning the key to connecting to Allah lies in purity. Make it a habit to scrutinize the subtleties of hypocrisy and injustice and every other sickness inside you. From the early believers’ stories, we read narrations of how inward purity was paramount; the Prophet’s companion, notably Umar (ra), accuses himself of hypocrisy. These show their utmost concern is the inward purity, and a slight stain on the heart makes them lose sleep. We must reflect purity inwardly and outwardly and not single out either of the two.

Summary Lessons from the IHYA(6): Mysteries of Fasting

Every living organism needs a constant supply of energy to survive for each temporary or transient journey it takes. For human beings, food is essential for survival, especially for nourishment and energy to carry out their activities.  Too much food will however lead to laziness or render one inactive. This means that food must be seen as a medicine for survival, where poor prescription (or consumption) will have side effects. In other words, a sensible person pays attention to the quality and quantity of food intake knowing it plays a role in the wellness of his/her being. The tradition of temporarily abstaining from food which is known as fasting is common in all traditions and cultures, connoting wellness in the being both in the physical and the spiritual sense.  However, what constitutes fasting takes varying forms but, the common theme is to abstain.    In Islam, this form of abstention has an obligatory and voluntary prescription. It is also believed to be a good form of seeking reward and closeness to God.  And because food is one of the main energy providers a person will abstain from while fasting, many have internally reduced the essence of fasting to a form of exercising the body by starving it for some time. Hence, when it is time to break a fast, some make it a feast and try to fill their empty containers with the same portion they had missed during the day.  It is impossible that God will starve you of the temporary thing except that He has something better or permanent to give in return. Fasting, in reality, weakens our connection with the mere material world. Fasting exposes our attachment to excessive eating and drinking which keeps us alive to desire more of this world. The energy we get from food instigates us to commit all forms of atrocities.  Therefore, taking the minimum not only helps maintain balance and focus but also forces us to reconnect with our inner being and connect to the spiritual realm. No wonder, all spiritual teachings advocate fasting, and in essence, they are advocating for us to reduce our connection with the cravings for the world.  Fasting has a deeper meaning to Muslims. Especially in the month of Ramadan when all Muslims are commanded to abstain for 29 or 30 days. Fasting helps to reconnect us to God while realizing and accepting that He is free of need and that we depend on Him as the source of the materials for survival.  This leads to the purification of the heart and clarity in reflection. Upon realization of this state of our weaknesses caused by hunger, our heart is softened to turn to God, an opportunity to be dutiful to Him leaving all forms of lowly and blameworthy traits and breaking the desire for sins. There are legal components in jurisprudence that must be adhered to keep us upright during fasts. We are disciplined to follow those rules which makes it easy to continue in that spirit beyond the state of fasting.  Surprisingly, in a fasting mood, we gain the strength to carry out acts of devotion either willingly or just because there is no option to do the opposite while realizing we are in the mood for purity only.  In reality, all forms of worship have a form of abstention from the material to the spiritual realm. When giving out Zakat, the heart is made to detach from the love of wealth, in salat the heart is made to detach from worldly activities and connect to God. These rituals have outward and inward realities.  As for the outward aspect; The outward aspect of fasting is to abstain from specific characteristics and to avoid some things you normally enjoy of the world (like food, drink, and sex) from dawn into sunset and to continue in the state for 29 or 30 days for the month of Ramadan. Another outward aspect is to connect us with the nature around us, looking at the moon, using the sun to gauge the dawn and the sunset, and helping us reflect on the way the cosmos work in relation to our existence and their obedience to the creator. You never hear of the sun being late, they are obedient to the command of their Lord. And they are made for you, they are executing their duties and they will not get a reward. So, what about you?!   As for the internal aspect;  Imam Ghazali further explains that fasting subjugates Satan whose inroads to us is through our cravings. And they are not strengthened by anything other than food that we take on a daily basis. Satan travels through the body just as the blood flows. Fasting tightens up these inroads by hunger. It works tirelessly to incite and distract us so we can remain in the sensory realm, where only the limbs and the sensory organs translate things to us and the heart is made inactive.  If the heart is active, it sees and comprehends beyond the senses, it can transcend to the spiritual and the unseen. In so many verses of the Qur’an, Allah clarifies the ability of the heart and the effect of a dysfunctional heart.  Have they not travelled throughout the land so their hearts may reason, and their ears may listen? Indeed, it is not the eyes that are blind, but it is the hearts in the chests that grow blind. Al-Hajj (22) : 46  The removal of the veils of false desires and the enemy who suggests them is the objective of the fast. From this perspective, we can see how fasting is the door to worship. i.e. giving up what is temporary  Fasting or abstention comes in three levels; The first is the level of an act of worship to God. Refraining from the things that invalidate the fast as stipulated in the law – leave off the urges of the stomach and those of the private parts from the desires. And this is […]