Certainty vs uncertainty: Thoughts on the Occasion of the Middle Night of Shaaban – Shaykh Jihad Hashim Brown

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By the Name of Allah, Most Merciful, Most Compassionate

Certainty vs. Uncertainty in the Preparatory Program of Rajab and Shaaban

Jihad Hashim Brown

Portentum

((إِنَّ الزَّمَانَ قَدْ اسْتَدَارَ كَهَيْئَتِهِ يَوْمَ خَلَقَ اللَّهُ السَّمَوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ السَّنَةُ اثْنَا عَشَرَ شَهْرًا مِنْهَا أَرْبَعَةٌ حُرُمٌ ثَلَاثٌ مُتَوَالِيَاتٌ ذُو الْقَعْدَةِ وَذُو الْحِجَّةِ وَالْمُحَرَّمُ وَرَجَبُ مُضَرَ الَّذِي بَيْنَ جُمَادَى وَشَعْبَانَ))

((Verily time has come full circle like it was on the day that Allah created the heavens and earth))

– Hadith

﴿وَلَمَّا رَأَى الْمُؤْمِنُونَ الْأَحْزَابَ قَالُوا هَذَا مَا وَعَدَنَا اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ وَصَدَقَ اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ وَمَا زَادَهُمْ إِلَّا إِيمَانًا وَتَسْلِيمًا

(And when the believers saw the confederate forces [gathered against them] they said: ‘this is what Allah and his Messenger promised us and Allah and His Messenger spoke the truth.’ And it only increased them in faith and acceptance)

– Quran

Disclaimer

There is much that concerns and preoccupies us at the moment. The current death toll in the Syrian conflict has surpassed 13,000; with no end or compassion in sight. The “old boy” Islamists in Egypt wrestle with the “old boy” secularists in elections while the young people that brought on this change in events are marginalized.

In this part of the world, families and their providers struggle with recession and rising unemployment. Here in the UK, Students continue to worry more about tuition than exams. In North America, our “Great Brown Hope” looks a little less ‘Nobel’ with an ever-extending game of “Grand Theft Drone” being played from the comforts of suburban Nevada. And all this, as we go to the polls to choose between bland and blander in an ever divisive election.

The Future looks uncertain ~ Leave what gives you cause for skepticism for what does not

As Muslims we puzzle over these things while our own religious leadership seem to be preoccupied with jostling to justify their own existence. There is much that we could say in this regard. We would like to speak about what is the role of the scholars in all this – and what is not the role of the scholars.  What we have to say would pivot upon the principle of:

((Allah have mercy on the person who knows his limits; and keeps to them))

((رحِم الله امرأً عرَف حدّه فوقف عنده))

But it is more effectual that we digress toward more hopeful themes.

A More Comprehensive Approach

So much preoccupies us and concerns us. We want to do something, to analyze something (unfortunately, usually not both together, or in the appropriate order). But perhaps there is a more comprehensive approach. We don’t mean to intimate that care and concern – and calculated action – are not essential;

((… as the likeness of a single body, if one part agonizes, the rest of the body remains in sleeplessness and fever))

((مَثَلُ المُؤْمِنينَ في تَوَادِّهِمْ وتَرَاحُمهمْ وَتَعَاطُفِهمْ ، مَثَلُ الجَسَدِ إِذَا اشْتَكَى مِنْهُ عُضْوٌ تَدَاعَى لَهُ سَائِرُ الجَسَدِ بِالسَّهَرِ والحُمَّى))

But this is only part of a more holistic program. A more holistic program that has two provisos: (1) Concern and action are not effective without the tawfiq (or divine success) of Allah; and, (2) Allah is more likely to address the concerns of those with whom He is pleased are concerned with Him.

The Future looks uncertain ~ Leave what gives you cause for skepticism for what does not

It may be that the more comprehensive approach to addressing these concerns that preoccupy us is to engage with the foundations of the more holistic program. This engagement being in the form of  availing ourselves of the full opportunity of the sacred season that is upon us. Surely our care and concern – and our calculated action will be augmented with increased effectiveness if we are whole-heartedly engaged (body, mind, and soul) with the program prescribed by the One Who holds the keys to success.

A Preparatory Program

The lunar months of Rajab and Shaaban are a sacred season. They are among the “Days of Allah”. They constitute a preparatory program for the month of Ramadan.

Rajab al-Fard

Virtue and significance

The programme of Rajab

Counsel

A Programme for Shaaban

Virtue and significance

Prescribed programme

The Middle Night of Shaaban (nisf al-shaaban)

Counsel

The Way to Certainty

Burhan of the Theo-logic

Application of universal precepts

Decisiveness surpasses conjecture

Closing Synthesis

Rajab al-Fard

In the two compendia of Bukhari and Muslim, the Prophet (r) is reported to say:

((إِنَّ الزَّمَانَ قَدْ اسْتَدَارَ كَهَيْئَتِهِ يَوْمَ خَلَقَ اللَّهُ السَّمَوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ السَّنَةُ اثْنَا عَشَرَ شَهْرًا مِنْهَا أَرْبَعَةٌ حُرُمٌ ثَلَاثٌ مُتَوَالِيَاتٌ ذُو الْقَعْدَةِ وَذُو الْحِجَّةِ وَالْمُحَرَّمُ وَرَجَبُ مُضَرَ الَّذِي بَيْنَ جُمَادَى وَشَعْبَانَ))

((Verily time has come full circle like it was on the day that Allah created the heavens and earth. The year is twelve months, four of which are sacred. Three of them are consecutive: Dhu’l-Qiidah, Dhu’l-Hijjah, and Muharram. And Rajab (of Mudar) between Jumada and Shaaban)).

Today is the 19th of Rajab. It is one of the four sacred months. Ibn Abd al-Barr and al-Nawawi contend that it is the month in which the Prophet (r) made his Night Journey and Ascent.

Virtue and significance

Rajab is Allah’s “Abundant Month” (Shahr Allah al-Asabb) When “Compassion is poured out profusely for the repentant; and the light of acceptance diffuses for those who make effort.” Al-Suyuti – narrating from Ibn Asakir – reports about it that, the Prophet (r) said: ((There are five nights in which no supplication will be refused: The first night of Rajab, the Middle Night of Shaaban, the night of the Friday prayer, the night of Eid al-Fitr, and the night of Eid al-Nahar)).

The program of Rajab

There is an exceptional reward designated for devotions offered in Rajab. Particularly those revolving around (4) activities:

1. Fasting

2. Charity

3. Seeking forgiveness (istighfar)

4. Repentence from misdeeds (tawbah min al-awzar)

Abu Qalabah has said: “There is a palace in the Garden for those who fast in Rajab.” Imam al-Bayhaqi commented that Abu Qalabah was one of the senior tabi’in, he wouldn’t say such a thing except that it was from an authoritative source.

Counsel

Anas (y) reports that: “When Rajab would come, the Prophet (r) used to say: ((Allah bless us in Rajab and Shaaban and get us to Ramadan!))”

((اللهمّ بارك لنا في رجب وشعبان، وبلِّغْنا رمضان))

Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali likens Rajab to a key to the blessed months; and Abu Bakr al-Balkhi said: “The month of Rajab is the month of sewing seeds. The month of Shaaban is the month of irrigating the fields. The month of Ramadan is the month of harvesting the crops.” He said also said: “The likeness of the month of Rajab is to that of the (fecundating) winds. And that of Shaaban is like the nimbus clouds. And that of Ramadan is to that of the rainfall.” Other scholars would say of it, “The year is like a tree: And the month of Rajab is the days when its leaves appear. The month of Shaaban is the days when its fruit appears on the branches. And the month of Ramadan are the days of harvest; and the believers are the ones who harvest it (or, the believers are its fruit).” Ibn Rajab counsels in regard to this month: “It is befitting for a person who has blackened his record with misdeeds to whiten it with repentance in [Rajab]. And for the person who has wasted his life in idleness to avail himself in [this month] of what time remains of his life.”

The Future looks uncertain ~ Leave what gives you cause for skepticism for what does not

A Program for Shaaban

Virtue and significance

The author of Kanz al-Najah advises that, “Whosoever conditions himself to make effort in [Shaaban], will be awarded with a handsome celebration of Eid [at the end of] Ramadan.”

Shaaban will begin this year, on (or around) the 20th of June. Anas is reported to have said that the Prophet (r) was asked which fast after that of Ramadan is best? To which he responded: ((Shaaban, in reverence for Ramadan)). Usamah b. Zayd – According to Imam Ahmad – asked the Prophet (r) about the two days – Monday and Thursday – which he was observed to fast more than any other. He (r) responded that: ((Those are the two days in which deeds are presented to the Lord of the Worlds, and it is my hope that my deeds be presented while I am fasting)). Usamah went on to ask about the month of Shaaban in which he was observed to fast more than any other month. To which he (r) responded: ((That is a month – between Rajab and Ramadan – that most people are heedless of. And, [in one report (from Aisha y in Majma al-Zawa’id), “That is the month in which the Angel of Death is given the prescription for the terms of the lives that will be taken for that year; and I don’t wish that my name be written except that I am fasting])).

In his mentioning of the heedlessness that most people reserve for this month, Ibn Rajab indicates evidence for the well-known preference that those periods of time, called the “times of heedlessness” be filled with works of devotion; and that this is beloved to Allah. The early Muslims used to enliven the period between Maghrib and Isha with devotion. Likewise, there is an indication of the virtue of prayer in the middle of the night when most people are heedless. The Prophet (r) said: ((If you can be of those who remember Allah in that period, then “be so” (fakun).))

We may also find – in this Hadith about Shaaban – an indication of the virtue of being alone in remembrance during moments when no one is mindful. In this regard comes the narration of Abu Salih that: “Allah smiles at the one who remembers Him in the marketplace;” The reason for this being that he remembers Allah in a place of heedlessness among heedless people. Also, in a hadith of Abi Dharr reported by al-Tirmidhi: ((There are three persons that Allah loves: (1) A group of people who travel by night until the point where sleep becomes more preferable to them. So they all lay down their [weary] heads. Except for one of them who stands the night [in prayer], ingraciating himself to Me (yatamallaqani) and reciting My verses. And (2) a group of people who were in an offensive charge but were routed, except that one of them turned [alone] to face their adversaries, and remained steadfast until he met his end. And he also mentioned (3) a group who were approached by a beggar who petitioned them yet they didn’t give to him [and continued along] yet one from among them broke away [returning] to give to him secretly)). So these three individuals separated from their groups to engage with Allah secretly between themselves and Him; and so Allah loved them.

Prescribed Program

Along with the virtue indicated in the “heedless” quality in the hadith mentioned above, the prescribed program for Shaaban revolves around (6) activities:

1. Fasting

2. Recitation of Quran

3. Night prayer

4. Supplication

5. Seeking forgiveness (istighfar)

6. Performing repentance

Ibn Rajab advises, “As Shaaban is as a prelude to Ramadan, the same works are prescribed for it as are prescribed for Ramadan; such as fasting and reciting Quran; such that one becomes prepared to meet Ramadan and condition one’s ego in this way for the obedience of the All Compassionate (al-Rahman).” Anas said, “The Muslims used to absorb themselves in their masahif once Shaaban came around. And they would get out their zakat in order to strengthen the weak and unfortunate for the fast of Ramadan.”

The Middle Night of Shaaban

When the Middle of Shaaban would come around, Imam Ali b. Abi Talib would say: “Stand in prayer during its night and fast during its day; because Allah descends with the setting of the sun to lowest heaven saying: ‘Is there anyone asking forgiveness that I might forgive him? Is there anyone asking sustenance that I might sustain him? Is there any afflicted person that I might heal him? Is there any such and such (and so forth); until sunrise comes.” Ibn Majah reports from Abi Musa that the Prophet (r) said: ((Allah looks out on the night of the Middle of Shaaban and forgives his entire creation except for the polytheist or a one who harbors spite)).

The Middle Night of Shaaban this year will be on or around the 4th of July. Imam al-Shafii said about it, “It has reached us that there are five nights on which prayers will be answered: The night of the Friday prayer, the two Eid celebrations, the first night of Rajab, and the Middle night of Shaaban.” It has been narrated from Kaab b. Malik, “On the Middle Night of Shaaban Allah sends the Angel Gabriel to paradise to command it to make itself festive. He says: ‘On this night of yours, Allah has freed [from the fire] the number of the stars in the sky, and the days and the nights of the world, and the leaves of the trees and the measure of the mountains, and the quantity of the sand.” “So it behooves every believer,” Ibn Rajab counsels, “to make time that night for the remembrance of Allah, and to ask of Him His forgiveness from misdeeds, and His concealment of flaws, and relief from anxiety. And [a person] should precede all of this with repentance because Allah relents on this night to all who repent.”

Counsel

Maala b. al-Fadl said, “They used to pray to Allah for six months that He get them to Ramadan. And then they would pray for another six months that He accept it from them.” Yahya b. Abi Kathir tells us, “One of them used to say: O Allah! Allow me to reach Ramadan safely, and turn Ramadan over to me, and receive Ramadan from me with acceptance.”

Ibn Rajab counsels, “O though whose absence from God has been prolonged, the time for reconciliation has drawn nigh. O though whose failure has been persistent, the days of successful business approach. Whoever does not profit in this month, at what other time might he profit? Whosoever does not draw near to his Guardian Master in it, then in his exile he shall remain.”

The Future looks uncertain ~ Leave what gives you cause for skepticism for what does not

The Way to Certainty

The sacred season of Rajab and Shaaban is a way to certainty. With devotion and spiritual exercise comes an increase in faith. The Imam, Ibrahim al-Laqqani, said in verse:

“The predominant position is that faith is given to increase; by means of an increase in works of obedience.”

“Its decrease comes with a commensurate decrease in the same; the [minority] position is otherwise; and its said the difference is semantic.”

بمـا تزيد طـاعة الإنسان

ورجّحتْ زيادة الإيمـان

وقيل لا خلفٌ كذا قد نقِل

ونقصه بنقصها وقيل لا

Ahmad Ibn Ajibah defines al-Yaqin as, “the calmness of the heart with Allah due to a knowledge that is not given to change, modification, or disruption caused by the onslaught of turbulence.” Imam al-Ghazali gives examples of simple certainty in his mi’yar al-ilm in the rules that: “the whole is greater than the part,” and “all things equal to a single other thing are in turn equal to each other.” (i.e., the identity of indiscernibles).

He will further proceed to link yaqin (certainty) – which is clearly a higher form of knowledge –  to faith itself; as we have been alluding: “Certain Knowledge: is that you know a thing to have a particular predicate coupled with the tasdiq (assertion of validity) that it is not logically possible that it be otherwise; even were you to try to convince yourself to the contrary.” The tasdiq (or ‘assertion of validity’) mentioned here is the essence of faith (iman). According to Imam al-Bajuri, “Faith: is the assertion (tasdiq) of the veracity of the Prophet (r) with regard to everything he has reported along with what is necessarily known to be of the religion (deen).” On the more spiritual side of yaqin (certainty), Dawud al-Antaki is reported (by Ibn al-Hawazin al-Qushayri) to have asserted that: “the least level of certainty, if it enters the heart, it fills it with light and cancels any doubt; and the heart is infused with gratefulness and fear of Allah.”

The Future looks uncertain ~ Leave what gives you cause for skepticism for what does not

Burhan of the Theo-logic

Tomorrow is uncertain and potentially a cause for anxiousness; and the success of our preoccupation, analysis, and calculated action is not guaranteed. This is not, of course, to suggest forgoing action:

Say: Act, and Allah will see your actions – and his Messenger and the believers﴿

﴿وَقُلِ اعْمَلُوا فَسَيَرَى اللَّهُ عَمَلَكُمْ وَرَسُولُهُ وَالْمُؤْمِنُونَ

But instead, it is to suggest a more comprehensive and replete approach to action. One that prioritizes the foundations of sound action by invoking its metaphysical dimensions also.

The theo-logic of all this is that: while the outcomes of our worries and over-confidences in our selves is not certain, the promise of Allah is. Allah has guaranteed a response to prayer:

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

(And if My slaves ask you about Me, I am near. I answer the call of the caller when he calls. So let them respond to Me and believe in Me…)

He has guaranteed that He hears your worries and fears:

﴿قَدْ سَمِعَ اللَّهُ قَوْلَ الَّتِي تُجَادِلُكَ فِي زَوْجِهَا وَتَشْتَكِي إِلَى اللَّهِ وَاللَّهُ يَسْمَعُ تَحَاوُرَكُمَا

(Allah has heard the words of the woman who beseeches you with regard to her husband; and complains to Allah. And Allah hears your conversation…)

He has dedicated Himself as the patron of the weak:

((وَاتَّقِ دَعْوَةَ المَظْلُومِ ؛ فإِنَّهُ لَيْسَ بَيْنَها وَبَيْنَ اللهِ حِجَابٌ))

((Fear the prayer of the oppressed; because there is no veil between it and Allah))

He has promised that He will never allow the effort of any man or woman to be wasted:

﴿فَاسْتَجَابَ لَهُمْ رَبُّهُمْ أَنِّي لَا أُضِيعُ عَمَلَ عَامِلٍ مِنْكُمْ مِنْ ذَكَرٍ أَوْ أُنْثَى

(And Allah answered them saying: Indeed, I will not allow the effort of any man or woman to be wasted)

Therefore, you can be certain that your sincere effort and supplication, your dedication of yourself to the renewal of your relationship with the Divine in this sacred season will not go unnoticed. More so, your anxiousness for the wellbeing of the oppressed, and your concern for their safety will not go unheeded. We would be remiss to forego these assurances for a mere reliance on other strategems of less guarantee alone. Whatever our preoccupations may be, all of us will be wrapped up in Ramadan. Let’s make it programmatic.

Application of universal precepts

So while tomorrow is dubious and skeptical – the promise of Allah is certain. To this we may apply the ‘universal juristic maxim’ (al-qa’idah al-kulliyyah):

اليقين لا يزول بالشك

“Certainty is not lifted by doubt”

Its source is in the hadith:

((فليطرح الشك وليبن على ما استيقن))

((Let him throw out what he’s doubtful of and build on what he’s certain of))

About which Imam al-Nawawi says is a foundation from the foundations of Islam, and a monumental precept from the precepts of jurisprudence. Being that, “things are adjudicated to remain upon their foundations until any contrary development is made certain; and that any conjecture presented to the contrary is rendered ineffective.”

Al-Suyuti claims that “the subsidiary rulings (furu’) based on this principle comprise three-fourths of all jurisprudence.” Additional universals that corroborate the understanding that, matters of certainty supersede those characterized by conjecture and doubt, include:

الأصل بقاء ما كان على ما كان

“The foundation is that a thing remains in accordance with its original state of affairs”

الأصل إضافة الحادث إلى أقرب الأزمنة إليه

“The foundation is that an event is attributed to it nearest moment in time to it”

الأصل في العادات والمعاملات الإباحة

“The foundation with regard to customs and norms is that they are permissible”

الأصل في التعدي على الضروريات الخمسة التحريم

“The foundation is that any encroachment on the five universal human necessities is that it is unlawful”

لا عبرة بالدلالة في مقابلة التصريح

“No consideration is granted to an allusion in the presence of an explicit statement”

Decisiveness surpasses conjecture

Furthermore, the promise of Allah illustrated in the preceding verses and ahadith are decisive in their implication (qatii al-dilalah) if not always in their recension (thubut). The rule in Islamic hermeneutics being that what is qatii (or definite) is not abandoned for what is zanni (or speculative).

﴿وَلَمَّا رَأَى الْمُؤْمِنُونَ الْأَحْزَابَ قَالُوا هَذَا مَا وَعَدَنَا اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ وَصَدَقَ اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ وَمَا زَادَهُمْ إِلَّا إِيمَانًا وَتَسْلِيمًا

(And when the believers saw the confederate forces [gathered against them] they said: ‘this is what Allah and his Messenger promised us and Allah and His Messenger spoke the truth.’ And it only increased them in faith and acceptance)

Closing Synthesis

Perhaps the most essential element of this theo-logic is that we must (a) prepare ourselves spiritually to weather the turbulence ahead; and (b) invoke divine concern through devoted action. When our effort includes turning to Allah in the face of the troubles that concern us, we may be certain that this turning will not go unnoticed.

Ramadan presents a most excellent opportunity to engage the divine concern (al-inayah al-rabbaniyyah). Make your engagement with this sacred season the comprehensive foundation of your care and concern and your calculated action; just as this program of Rajab and Shaaban into which we’ve entered is a comprehensive foundation for Ramadan.

((اللهمّ بارك لنا في رجب وشعبان، وبلِّغْنا رمضان))

((Allah bless us in Rajab and Shaaban; and convey us to Ramadan))


Reported by Numan b. Bashir and ‘agreed upon’.

Reported by Abi Bakrah.

(Q.09:105)

(Q.02:186)

(Q.58:01)

Reported by Muadh b. Jabal and ‘agreed upon’.

(Q.03:195)

(Q.33:22)

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"Whoever guides someone to goodness will have a similar reward"-- The Prophet (Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him)