Understanding the meaning of Taqwa Part 2

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Muhammad H. al-'Asi

Ramadan 12, 1432 2011-08-12

Bismillah Ar-Rahmaan Ar-Raheem. Alhumdulillah. Peace and blessings on Muhammad (sallalahu alaihi wa alihi wa sallam), his Noble Companions and Family. Dear Committed brothers, dear committed sisters,

This is the second Jum’ah in the month of Ramadhan. This month is a month of taqwa. Many of us repeat the traditional phrase “Ramadhan kareem” or “Ramadhan Mubarak.” It would be more in the spirit of the Qur’an and the Prophet to say “a Ramadhan of taqwa” because at taqwa is the objective of this month and tradition many times triumphs the original message and we live this almost daily. Taqwa has a central flavor in our character. Allah, in the most repeated ayah during this season, in His words says

كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ

… Siyam, fasting has been assigned to you as it was to those who preceded you … (Surah Al Baqarah verse 183)

For what purpose?

لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ

… for the purpose of taqwa, so that you may gain or so that you may ingrain in you this component of taqwa. (Surah Al Baqarah verse 183)

Because the word itself has been traditionalised- the word taqwa has been over-run by traditional definitions we have to regenerate its meaning. Taqwa is simply avoiding Allah. We are fasting to avoid Allah. Can we get this straight? We are observing this month of Ramadhan to avoid Allah. Now saying this, in these general words, doesn’t fit into our conventional understanding of who we are and what Islam is and Allah and our imaan, tec. But the fact is there are two impulses in us- an impulse to love Allah.

وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَشَدُّ حُبًّا لِّلَّهِ

… and those who are committed to Allah are most intense in their love for Allah … (Surah Al Baqarah verse 165)

An ayah- this is who we are. We love Allah. We are attached to Allah. We are endeared to Allah. That’s one impulse. The other impulse is we also place ourselves at a distance from his corrective measures. As much as we approach Him, beseech Him, call upon Him, remember Him, conscientize Him- as much as we do all of that, at the same time we want to keep our distance from the corrective power that He has. If we do wrong, if we do something wrong, if we misbehave with Him, if we blaspheme Him, if we violate Him, then He’s going to come down on us in either the world to come- in that world there is a fire to deal with- or in this world. Don’t think that by contradicting Allah your penalty is going to be delayed; it may be and but on the other hand it may not be and there is an immediate corrective action that is due to your from Allah in this world. Another ayah in one of the short Surahs of the Qur’an

إِنَّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ الرُّجْعَىٰ

Certainly unto Allah or from Allah shall be the reverberations of your conduct. (Surah Iqra verse 8)

Here; now. So this month of Ramadhan is a month that sensitizes this second impulse in us- the impulse of distancing ourselves from Allah’s eventual and unavoidable corrective actions and measures. If we were to follow the ayaat- the words of Allah in the Qur’an- we would find that with the same form of speech i.e. la’allakum tattaqun, there are other channels to Allah. How do we avoid Allah at the same time that we are anxious for Allah? How do we do that? Here, the premium is on avoiding Allah- the word la’allakum tattaqun. Allah in another ayah in teaching us, cultivating us, improving our lives says

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اعْبُدُوا رَبَّكُمُ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُمْ وَالَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ

O People: Conform in all the energy that you have/in all the work that you do/in all the endeavors that you partake of to Allah (or) discipline yourself to Allah Who has created you and those who have preceded you for the objective of taqwa. (Surah Al Baqarah verse 21)

The ayah of the month of Ramadhan says to fast so that we may acquire this sensitivity of Allah’s corrective power presence in our lives. Here, in this ayah also in Surah Al Baqarah Allah says

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ

O People: … (Surah Al Baqarah verse 21)

U’budu once again is another word that has been over-run by traditions. The word ú’buduh or ibadah that you are more familiar with, probably, doesn’t mean worship. The same way the word taqwa doesn’t mean piety which is the mainstream translation of the word, by the same token the word ibadah does not mean worship. Ibadah means conformity or compliance. So in this ayah

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اعْبُدُوا رَبَّكُمُ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُمْ وَالَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ

O People: Comply with your Sustainer, conform to your Sustainer Who has created you and those before you … (Surah Al Baqarah verse 21)

For what reason? Why are we to comply or conform to Allah? What’s the purpose for that?

لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ

… so that you may gain this description of taqwa. (Surah Al Baqarah verse 21)

Notice- in this ayah, Allah is speaking to humanity-

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اعْبُدُوا رَبَّكُمُ

O Mankind: Conform to Allah … (Surah Al Baqarah verse 21)

In the ayah of the month of Ramadhan, in the ayah of as siyam Allah says

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ

O you who are divinely committed: Siyam, fasting has been assigned to you … (Surah Al Baqarah verse 183)

So ibadah in its general meaning is required by all human beings. They are required to conform to Allah. The purpose of that is gaining taqwa. In a more specific sense, Alladhina Aamanu is required to fast in addition to ibadah to acquire taqwa. So there are channels for taqwa and there are layers of taqwa.

That’s the first channel, the first layer- an address to all mankind. The second and more specific channel, another layer (and) another channel of acquisition concerning we, the committed Muslims, is to observe this fast during the month of Ramadhan and whenever other days you may be observing. Another area through which taqwa is acquired is, (what may be referred to as), a social of a legal aspect of our lives. Allah says in another ayah in Surah Al Baqarah

وَلَكُمْ فِي الْقِصَاصِ حَيَاةٌ يَا أُولِي الْأَلْبَابِ

And in the law of retribution you have life, those of you who are of core thoughts, those of you who do substantial thinking…. (Surah Al Baqarah verse 179)

OK- for what reason? Why should we have laws of justice, laws of equal punishment, laws of retribution? Why? What is all of this about? Once again, in this section of life

لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ

… so that we may acquire this taqwa. (Surah Al Baqarah verse 179)

Another channel for taqwa, and this is where tradition took the word out of its original meaning, another context for taqwa is the context for fear; therefore the mistranslation of fearing Allah. There’s a difference between avoiding Allah and fearing Allah. You can avoid Allah without fearing Him but you can also avoid Him while you fear Him. An ayah in the Qur’an that speaks to Bani Isra’eel says- Allah is saying

وَإِذْ أَخَذْنَا مِيثَاقَكُمْ وَرَفَعْنَا فَوْقَكُمُ الطُّورَ خُذُوا مَا آتَيْنَاكُم بِقُوَّةٍ وَاذْكُرُوا مَا فِيهِ

And as we have taken the pledge of Bani Isra’eel We have raised above you At Tur, (a particular mountain in the Holy Land), take what We have given you, (meaning the scripture, the guidance, the instructions), from on high seriously- be robust about it- and have this guidance there-in penetrate your reason … (Surah Al Baqarah verse 63)

For what reason? Once again,

لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ

… so that you may gain this quality of taqwa. (Surah Al Baqarah verse 63)

Now, we want you and I to enter into the area of fear. Fear is a natural feeling. All of us, (we think), have experienced what it is to have fear, to be scared of something. At one point in our life we felt like that; but fear in the context of ar Risalah, Allah’s scripture and revelation, has a higher standing. It’s not the simple fear of some serpent or rodent or natural disaster. No! It’s not that type of fear. The fear that we speak about (that) people of Allah, lives belonging to Allah encounter comes from man’s exercise of excessive power. Musa (alayhi as salaam) feared. There was a fear in him and Allah from on high knowing who Musa is and knowing who the Pharoah is told him

لَا تَخَفْ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ الْأَعْلَىٰ

… don’t fear, you are the superior one …. (Surah Ta-Ha verse 68)

Not the Pharoah. This is quite a transition in human nature. It’s like one of us, (if we consider ourselves to be the heirs to Musa, Isa, Muhammad and the Prophets (alahim as salaam) of Allah), then we put ourselves in that position. Imagine yourself going in front of the Commander-in-Chief of a superpower who rules by his decree- he can virtually authorise and legalise anything he wants- and what do we have? You ask yourself. Let’s say you have an hour or two with the President of this country and you know your message conflicts with his, it’s the opposite of what he stands for; he thinks he’s the authority and he’s the power of the land and you say “No. It is Allah who is the authority and the power of the land.” Then he has all of these instruments around him; all of the appearances of might and power and authority and you have nothing. Absolutely nothing in the material sense of the word! And you go up and you, in your self, your heart begins to pump faster and faster; you fear because you know what the circumstances are. You know what you are and you know what your opposite number is. Allah was tuned in to this human nature- this is human reaction. He told Musa on one occasion when Musa went up to him

لَا تَخَفْ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ الْأَعْلَىٰ

… don’t fear, you are the superior one …. (Surah Ta-Ha verse 68)

Musa and Harun (alayhima as salaam) both went up to him. They still feared. Even though Musa had some one with him, that fear was still there and Allah had to address that.

قَالَ لَا تَخَافَا ۖ إِنَّنِي مَعَكُمَا أَسْمَعُ وَأَرَىٰ

Don’t fear, I am with both of you; I hear and I see everything … (Surah Ta-Ha verse 46)

But we never heard of this fear crippling the will to do what has to be done. Never! In the history of Prophets and Prophethood never has a fear crippled a Prophet from expressing the truth and saying what has to be said. It never made them silent neither. But why is it that when we are supposed to be very conscious or Allah’s power and authority particularly in this month we have some characters around who fear? They may hide it too- you can hide your fear and you can get away with it, probably to a certain extent, but your character, your behaviour gives you away. OK- how do you behave? This country is a superpower. It has nuclear weapons. It has whatever technology can give it and it has wealth and power and money and resources- so what? What if it does have? If you are with Allah- and this month of Ramadhan is supposed to bring us closer to Allah- remember the last Khutbah?

وَإِذَا سَأَلَكَ عِبَادِي عَنِّي فَإِنِّي قَرِيبٌ ۖ أُجِيبُ دَعْوَةَ الدَّاعِ إِذَا دَعَانِ ۖ فَلْيَسْتَجِيبُوا لِي وَلْيُؤْمِنُوا بِي لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْشُدُونَ

If My subjects, if my ibaad ask you about Me, indeed I am near to them; I will respond to the plea of he who calls upon Me if he does so; so let them ask Me and let them have a commitment to Me and in this manner they may reach maturity. (Surah Al Baqarah verse 186)

What happened? You’re not listening? These words don’t penetrate? If you are with Allah- which you’re supposed to be; and if Allah’s with you, where He’s supposed to be

وَنَحْنُ أَقْرَبُ إِلَيْهِ مِنْ حَبْلِ الْوَرِيدِ

… We are closer to him, than his jugular vein… (Surah Qaf verse 16)

So when this fear interrupts your character and your behaviour begins to leak of this fear you are only proving where you are vis-à-vis His Majesty, Allah. That’s all there is and a person with Allah’s insight can see that. Avoid the insight of a committed Muslim because he sees with Allah’s light and enlightenment.

Coming to today’s condition, today’s contemporary Islamic state of affairs that we are in. Because we are human beings and many times our human nature takes us off on tangents; we eat and indulge, we drink and satisfy out stomachs and our bellies throughout the course of the year- so we’ve go out on tangents; in this month of Ramadhan we come back to proportionality. We are no longer indulging ourselves. Those of us who are eating three meals in the month of Ramadhan and then turning their night into day they are defeating this whole purpose by which we acquire this taqwa. There’s some Muslims- and we say Alhamdulillah that their numbers are dwindling, are decreasing- who think “Ramadhan and the whole act of fasting is just a tradition that belongs in times past. Now the world is an advanced world. We have so much technology and we have much medical information that we really don’t need to fast anymore. It is outdated.” Alhamdulillah, as we said the number of Muslims who think this way- even though a couple of generation ago they were in an ascending order but now they are in a descending order. There are other Muslims who in themselves believe “Ramadhan is a fardh from Allah. It’s a mandatory obligation from Allah that we are required to observe as has come to us from Allah” but they personally are weak. They don’t want to fast so they break their fast away from the public eye. No one knows about them so their affair is left up to Allah. No Muslim should be policing the conscience of other Muslims. This is an unfortunate area that some Muslims have not worked out in their minds and in their societies. They want to try to be the conscience of the other Muslims conscience! You can’t do that! And there are those Muslims who know that Ramadhan is a fardh/faridhah and so what they do is go about fasting in their awkward way. During the day time they go to sleep all of the day or the overwhelming majority of the day. They don’t eat and they don’t drink so physically speaking they are doing what is required but during the night they wake up and indulge themselves until Fajr time. They eat and they drink and they do everything. Some of them even have five meals during the night and they think that they are fasting! The Prophet of Allah in a hadith, (that is not very popular), says in our normal times outside of Ramadhan in the other months of the year when we eat we fill one third of our stomach with food, we fill another third of our stomach with liquid and we leave another third of our stomach for the healthy function of our lungs. In the month of Ramadhan if we were to break our fast according to this, (let’s call it), law one third of our stomach gets food, another third gets water or liquid and another third is kept for the healthy breathing of our lungs. So we are having a third of a meal- if we step out of the Islamic definition and go into the material and secular world we are actually eating a third of our food during iftar time and then when it comes to suhoor, the meal before Fajr- the Prophet says have your sahoor because in this sahoor there is a blessing; in another hadith the Prophet says have your sahoor even if it’s a gulp of water. He wasn’t recommending for us to stuff ourselves early in the morning at the commencement of our fast. So we realise that we are not eating plenty of food during this month which facilitates our internal sensitivity because we are living a month of voluntary hunger. This is not the hunger of those who are forced into hunger. There are many people in the world who are forced into hunger; this is not that type of hunger. This is a hunger that we impose upon ourselves as a function of our free will. Fasting is also not in fear of some cops or policemen who are going to lash at you because you are not fasting. We are not fasting because of that. We are fasting as a function of our own conscience and we are fasting also to observe our tolerance level. This is extremely important because the industrial and the commercial world out there have disturbed our sense of proportionality and moderation. They’ve disturbed it! The simple act of eating has been interfered with by those who want to make profits. They found out that there are three ingredients that break the barrier of satiation in man. When you feel full there’s an impulse in you between your stomach and brain that tells you “you’re full.” These people out there, for the greed that’s in them- you see, Ramadhan is supposed to combat greed at this root level- they said “OK- how are we going to interfere with that pulse?” They looked at three ingredients- sugar, salt and fat. What is sweet, what is salty and what is rich and then they began to do their measurements to see how to annul this God-given signal in us and they managed to come up with recipes and menus that broke that barrier so we can eat and bypass the God-given signal in us to shut us off from eating at a healthy point. That’s how many people right now indulge themselves. It’s become a sickness. Obesity has become a medical and a social problem. This month of Ramadhan is supposed to bring us back to our God-given nature so that we can fine tune this God-given proportionality in our internal appetites, (in the plural), not just the appetite for food and water- all the other appetites that we may have. This proportionality is the qadr that Allah speaks about in the Surah when He says

إِنَّا أَنزَلْنَاهُ فِي لَيْلَةِ الْقَدْرِ

The germane and the root meanings of the Qur’an are accessible to you in this night of homeostasis when all of your appetites, all of your potentials are brought within their God-measured range. (Surah Al Qadr verse 1)

It’s very important to take note of this. Ramadhan is a month of fasting and fasting is like all other qualities; you can have disproportionate patience- patience is like all other qualities; you can have disproportionate patience! If a person has the quality of patience but doesn’t have a determination and a will power that patience is understood to be humiliation. We are not to be humiliated. Patience is different from humiliation, but in some people’s disproportionate world patience becomes humiliation. Obese patience is humiliation. Emaciated patience is recklessness. You’re cranky, you’re nervous. In this month of Ramadhan we should understand our proportions, our limitations. Allah says in the ayah at the end of the sequence of ayaat in Surah Al Baqarah

تِلْكَ حُدُودُ اللَّهِ

… those are the boundaries of Allah… (Surah Al Baqarah verse 187)

Boundary is an area in which if a certain quality exceeds that boundary, it becomes another quality; when a certain character in man exceeds its definition could become a counter character- it could become its opposite. This month of Ramadhan is a month that sensitises us if we are truly observing as Allah defines it and as his Prophet explains it. If we are observing Ramadhan within these dimensions we would have fulfilled the meaning of the Prophet’s hadith whoever observes the fast of Ramadhan with these matters on his mind and in his conscience as a token of investment and as an expression of commitment to Allah, then Allah will efface all of his errors.

Brothers and sisters, Committed Muslims…

There are some issues now- important matters- that are unfolding in the real world in a part of our territories, the Islamic territories of the world. One of these major areas that could possibly become a very polarising and divisive issue and which many people either don’t want to speak about or they speak about it in their closed sessions- they don’t want to mention it in public; we don’t know- brothers and sisters- how fat this fear can go in destroying brotherly communications among Muslims… But this area, specifically that we are pointing to, is the area of Syria. Recently, the issue of the bloodshed in that country has been increasing. It hasn’t been decreasing. Any of you that has been listening to any information that tells you “the condition in that country is on a downhill” is off the mark. It is not. One of the major reasons that there is so much attention on that particular country-there are many things happening in Yemen, there are many things happening in Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, and there is some information about these countries, but why is it that most of the information, most of the attention now is being concentrated especially in the Arab press, in the Arabic speaking world, on Syria- the obvious reason for that is because there is a very complex policy that is trying to feed off the victimhood of the people in Syria, whether they are Muslims or Christians- there’s no Jews to speak about; whether they are Sunnis or Shi’is or Alawis or Durzis or Isma’eelis- it doesn’t matter. Most of all of these denominations and religions have been living without a representative Government. That’s on one hand and every Muslim should be very clear and very frank about this fact. On the other hand, the Rulers in Damascus have managed to maintain, so far, a principled position on supporting the forces that are serious about liberating Palestine. It is because of the latter- not because of the former, not because the people of Syria are victims of their own Government- that we have all of the media now orchestrating a worldwide campaign against the Government in Damascus. No! It’s not because of that. The US Government, the Saudi Government, these other Governments of loud voices nowadays in support, (they tell us), “of the Syrian people” is not because they are enchanting with the Syrian people- they could care less about the Syrian people- Sunnis and Christians and Muslims and Shi’is and otherwise. They could care less about them! What they are concerned with is that Syria, (we say this as a matter of conscience in the month of Ramadhan on a day of fasting at this particular time of Jum’ah), these powers that are beginning to bunch up against a conduit- a branch, (if you will)- of support for Islamic and non-Islamic resistance fighters against the Israeli occupation of the Holy Land. The teaming up of these forces is to break this link. So it is not by virtue of what the Syrian Government is that it is enduring what it is enduring today, the mistake- in the eyes of Imperialists, Zionists and their Arabian clients- of the Syrian Government is its relationship with Islamic Iran therefore they see the opportunity presenting itself to ride the victimhood of the Syrian people to destabilise and eventually dislocate the Syrian Regime from its relationship with Islamic Iran. That’s as simple as it gets. The Israeli Zionist Imperialists tried to break Hizbullah- they failed. Five years ago, this month, they failed. They tried a couple-and-a-half years ago the same thing with HAMAS in Ghazzah they failed militarily. They are trying to do it economically, financially and politically and they haven’t seen any results. They look at Islamic Iran- its too risky for them to take it on directly so the only link now is to go full force against the Regime in Damascus to force it to behave like it behaved in the past. Some of our political memories are short. When pressure came to bear on (father) Assad, (he) disavowed the Kurdish struggle. He virtually expelled one of the Turkish “revolutionaries” from his country- who was caught and now he lingers in prison in Turkey- because he understood there is too much pressure. He couldn’t bear it anymore. This current Regime in Damascus understood the pressure when it was told “to withdraw its military forces from Lebanon” and a few years ago it succumbed. It drew its military forces from Lebanon. Today, the message is clear. The Imperialists and the Zionists no longer want the Syrian Government to honour the policies that it has in the past with the Islamic orientation in Iran. Is it going to behave like in the past, or what is it going to do? are trying to do the same thing

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