Shaykh Seraj Hendricks, a leading and renowned scholar of South Africa, discusses the spiritual and internal dimensions of Eid.
On Praise and Celebration
The two salahs (prayers) – along with the khutbahs (sermons) – of the two Eids are significantly placed at the beginning of the day of these two great Islamic occasions. They act as a singular reminder that no matter how joyous a celebration might be for us, the centrality of the Divine and normative spirituality in our lives ought never to be ignored. Our celebrations, festivities and commemorations are invariably configured within the orbit of that quintessentially Islamic practice of spirituality. Nevertheless, it remains a Sunnah to rejoice – to, in effect, feel and experience that joy – regardless of how bleak and dim matters might appear to be.
Our rejoicing, however, need not be read as a moment of insensitivity towards the suffering of others. On the contrary, our rejoicing is an expression of the Qur’anic verse: “Do not despair of the Mercy of Allah, for Allah forgives all sins.”(39: 53) We have to rejoice at the fact that even if we have nothing other than Islam and Iman (secure faith) that this is enough cause for celebration. “Indeed, the true religion with Allah is Islam.” (Qur’an, 3: 19). Here Islam is not presented as a falsification of other prophets and religions, but as a crystalline distillation of those beliefs, rites and practices that found both their manifestation and actualization – in all their multifarious forms – throughout our sacred history from the time of the Prophet Adam (Peace be upon him) and Hawa (Peace be upon her) to the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and salutations upon him). With the advent of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and salutations upon him) the sacred chain of prophets and religions had come full circle and found its perfection in him.
In the latter sense Islam is the ultimate ni’mah (Divine Grace). Within the starkness of this condition we need to remember that in Islam the emphasis is on optimism, not pessimism. This will remain so even though it appears as if we are going through one of our most trying moments in history. There are media and cultural biases against Muslims, religiously bigoted views about Islam and active distortion about the political and social conditions in some parts of the Muslim world. But when we venture below the surface, we encounter another story – that Islam is in fact the fastest growing religion on the planet• despite the best efforts by propagandists to smear and demonize Islam and Muslims. For those in the know in the non-Muslim world, it is not bombs, bullets and the behavior of emotionally disturbed individuals speaking in the name of the ummah that will get Islam and Muslims anywhere, but potentially this demographic fact of the massive conversion rate in the world today – particularly in the Western world. Yet care should be exercised in this regard. Demographics alone is not good enough.
So, what is the position of Muslims vis-à-vis all of this? The Qur’an tells us, “When the help of Allah comes and victory; and you see people entering the religion in droves, then hymn the praises of Allah, be then grateful and seek forgiveness.” (110: 1-3). The message is clear: Islam is not the property or possession of any particular person. It does not belong to “me” to boast about when there is an increase in fortune and capital. It is not a self-aggrandizing condition that entitles cradle Muslims to sport and parade their newly acquired wares. What indeed are required are gestures of humility and thanksgiving that speak of hearts that are fully aware of the fact that Islam requires change founded in a sacred and transcendent order that seeks to spiritually liberate the human condition from the most blameworthy qualities that blight that condition. Qualities such as malicious envy, rancor, belligerence, bigotry and both internecine hatred and hatred of the “other”. In other words, celebrating the entrance of droves of humanity into Islam is meant and designed to celebrate the great qualitative changes that may precipitate from those who adopted Islam as their new faith, on the basis of choice and free will. Choices that may well contribute to elevating those cradle Muslims fossilized in an arrogance and self-righteousness that serve to undermine rather than proclaim the universal message of Islam.
The social importance of events such as Eid, however, should also not be overlooked. These are times during which thousands of Muslims fill our mosques to capacity in a collective moment of elevated togetherness. They are also times of unconditional giving and sharing – moments that know no borders, whether personal, individual, or organizational. Those who fail to participate in this unity of experience can hardly claim to be of the ‘Ai’din (participants in the celebration of Eid).
The very fact too, that it is a sunnah for women to attend the salah of the two Eids underscores the importance of a border-free participation in these two events. Like Hajj and ‘Umrah, they are designed to represent the ultimate in human togetherness. But this “human togetherness” we experience in our mosques – as Muslims proud of our religion, proud to be the bearers of the message of Islam – needs to be transferred into the broader arena of our social living.
As part of our own contribution to this togetherness my brother, Shaykh Ahmad, and I have long ago decided to join hands with those who are both firmly rooted in and creatively linked to our classical legacy and, more specifically, to that great normative Tradition of Islam that finds its expression in the voices of the likes of Hujjat al-Islam Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, al-Shaykh al-Akbar Muhyi l-Din ibn al-‘Arabi, Shykh Abdal Qadir al-Jilani, Shaykh Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhuli, al-Faqih al-Muqaddam, Shaykh Junayd al-Baghdadi, Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi and others far too numerous to mention. It is a Tradition, too, that has never failed to recognize and acknowledge that the Qur’an and the Sunnah form the twin sources of spirituality and Divine Grace (barakah) – a spirituality and a grace that have found their infinite space and flow upon the shores of those hearts receptive to the perennial rhythms of Divine Providence.
Upon these shores, and across the ages, stand these gladiators of Islamic Spirituality who wield those radiant staves – enlightened and enlightening – of Sufism.
In these representatives, we find an Islam that combines fearlessness with wisdom, methodology with sanity and a state of being imbued with confidence and dignity. It is an Islam that tells us when we invite to the Way of Allah that we do so with hikmah (wisdom) and maw’idht al-hasanah (beautiful exhortations). It is an Islam that tells us that representative Muslims are those who “are guided unto good speech and are guided unto the path of the Praiseworthy.” (Qur’an, 22:24). It is an Islam that teaches us that while it is permissible to requite a wrong, that it is yet better to forgive. It is an Islam that teaches us that if we are oppressed and removed from our homes that we are entitled to fight for the restoration of our natural rights. It is an Islam, moreover, that teaches that if our enemies stop their hostilities with offerings of peace that we, in turn, reciprocate with peace and get on with our lives.
In short, it is an Islam the essence of which is taught in the madrasah of Ramadan. Here we are taught the virtues of taqwa (God-consciousness), the virtues of disciplining the will and aligning it with the Will of Allah, the virtues of purifying the heart and the soul, and the virtues of sabr (patience and endurance), namely, that extraordinary and richly rewarding capacity to live with fortitude in the long term.
In this madrasah we are taught to be truly human. And we can only be truly human, in Islamic terms, if we live up to the highest standards demanded by Islamic Spirituality. It is in the context of realizing the greatness of spirit within each and every human being that we come to recognize the greatness of Allah. Moreover, we need to live up to the greatness of that spirit within each and every one of us in order to realize, not only the meaning of the takbir (magnifying Allah) on both Eids, but also to rediscover that spiritual umbilical cord that connects us to Allah:
Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar…La ilaha ill Allah wa l-Llahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar wa lillahi l-hamd – Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest. There is no deity other than Allah, for He, indeed, is the Greatest. Allah is the Greatest and to Him belongs all praise.
Ultimate Praise is for Allah alone for it is nothing other than an echo that found its first articulation when the children of Adam (Peace be upon him) and Hawwa (Peace be upon her) were asked to bear witness to their Lord in their original state of primordial nativity: “Am I not your Lord?” They proclaimed: “Verily, we bear witness!” (Qur’an, 7: 172).
But we should not forget our praise and thanks for those upon whom and within whom the imprints of that Lordship have found their resonance and expression. They are those prophets, saints and savants who have been touched – in varying degrees – with the radiance of Divine Grace. As living symbols of all that constitutes the sacred, these are the people, too, we should never forget in our commemorations and celebrations. They form as much a part of sacred history and memory; as sacred, – if not more on occasion – as those divinely selected and sanctified moments of space and time.
Shaykh Seraj Hendricks
Azzavia Institute 2020