The Fatiha and Closeness

On this journey of Hope and Closeness, Shaykh Faraz throws light on diverse ways a believer can strengthen the connection with the all-sustaining and ever-living God, the ultimate purpose of life and religion, and the means to draw closer to Him.

What are the essential features of reciting Sura al-Fatiha in the prayer as a medium to be closer to Allah Most High? The Fatiha is calling out to Allah. It is a conversation with Allah, our Creator, our Lord, the All-Knowing, and the All-Powerful. True prayer brings about success and a transformation of character. As stated in the Qur’an:
“Successful indeed are the believers. Those who humble themselves in their prayer.” [23:1-2]
When you are deeply engrossed in frequent supplications, your heart melts and flows like water at the threshold of Allah Most High. You are so absorbed in Allah that all stray thoughts are silenced. You seek Allah’s help and grace. You achieve such a single-mindedness of purpose that a kind of ecstasy and tenderness of heart arises, and the door of success is opened for you. Through this, the love of this world grows cold because two loves cannot occupy the same place simultaneously.

The Opening Prayer

Prayer is not just an action but an expression of faith. The Qur’an commands that you establish prayer “for My remembrance.” Continuing on Habib Hasan al-Bahr al-Jifri’s Sifat Salat al-Muqarrabin, Shaykh Faraz identifies and explores the various dimensions of Surah al-Fatiha and its impact on our overall being in the prayer. The recitation of Surah al-Fatiha and the beginning verse is to affirm the recognition of and gratitude to Allah Most High.  As Abu Madyan says, “You and all the existence were it not for him will be effaced and perished.” It is to know we owe our existence to Allah Most High.
And when we say this, al-Rahman al-Rahim, it is to reiterate the extraordinary mercy and majesty of Allah. It is to utter and understand the sole center of devotion is Allah Most High. The affirmation of slavehood is to acknowledge there is none who is sought but Allah Most High. it is to affirm all our attributes, intelligence, will, resolve, power comes through Allah Most High. Every succeeding Aya of this Sura contains a universe of meanings and moving on the other Aya is to seek guidance as to the fruit of recognizing the Lordship of Allah Most High. This sentence manifests our utter neediness and reliance on God for directing us towards the right guidance and true path.  Asking Allah for the preservation, sustenance, protection of the faith is to manifest our utter dependence on Him.
It is to understand and comprehend the path of Allah’s Messenger and all other prophets is the true path of ultimate light and felicity. And abstaining from the path of those on whom is God’s wrath. It is to seek Allah’s protection and stay away from those who are ignorant, heedless, and distracted. It is inevitably significant to understand the gift of God through his mercy to recite his speech in our prayer and Allah is addressing me through a text which even mountains were unable to withhold. As Habib al-Jibri mentions, “reciting any surah or some verses of the Qur’an means to behold Allah in His speech”. Understand the metaphysical presence of God and His address to you through the recitation of the Qur’an.
It is to make us conscious to renew our covenant with Allah Most High. The key in the recitation of the Quran in the prayer is to mean it before one recites it and you will see the prayer transformed. To also reinforce the idea that this Surah primarily addresses the strong inner spiritual need of all human beings, provided we care to maintain our fitrah-centric inner goodness.

The Prayers of Those Closest to Allah

On this journey of Hope and Closeness, Shaykh Faraz throws light on diverse ways a believer can strengthen the connection with the all-sustaining and ever-living God, the ultimate purpose of life and religion, and the means to draw closer to Him.

Human beings have been praying for as long as humanity has existed. Rich or poor, literate or illiterate, the urge to pray is equally present in all. In line with the significant place of prayer in Islam, the various dimensions of prayer are the greatest act of devotion expressing the slavehood of human beings to Allah Most High. By realizing Allah’s greatness and our dependence on our Lord, man is humbled and rid of pride and arrogance.

In the prayer, the believer puts the highest part of his body and source of intellect, his head, onto the ground to purify his soul in the presence of Allah. This is the perfecting and transformative role prayer plays in opening doors for remembrance of Allah. The life of the practicing Muslim is punctuated ever anew by the daily prayers, which break the hold of profane time upon the soul and bring men and women back to a sacred time marked by the meeting with Allah Most High and to a sacred space pointing to the supreme center of the Islamic universe, Mecca.

The Prayers of the Elect

The Arabic word for prayer (salah) is derived from the Arabic word meaning “connection.” Allah’s Messenger said: “When any one of you stands to pray, he is communicating with his Lord, so let him pay attention to how he speaks to Him.” Allah says in the Qur’an: “Successful indeed are the believers. Those who humble themselves in their prayer … They are the heirs who will inherit [the Garden of] Firdaus. They will live there forever.” [23:1, 2; 10-11]

Exploring the pre-requisites for successful prayer in Sifah al-Salah al-Muqarabin, Imam al-Habib Hasan al-Bahr al-Jifri (d.1273 AH) suggests taking a pause to remind oneself of the inherent dependence of our existence and debt to the One true God before starting the prayer. This means to stand in complete humility and lowliness before the Majesty of the Overwhelming Kind. To make sure, we are ready to enter in the presence of Allah and then utter (Allahu Akbar) the absolute greatness of Allah Most High.

The prelude of prayer is to consider the blessings of Allah Most High. To remind yourselves to pray out of awe, slavehood, joy, servitude, remembrance, and then to express that through your words and actions during the prayer. The absolute key to successful prayer is to understand it, mean it, and then say it.

From Humble Beginnings

Prayer is a spiritual rejuvenation for the soul. It offers protection against evil acts. It is a shelter for believers amid the storm of the life of this world. Prayer is a sacred mutual space shared by the servant and the Lord. It is only right that the servant is clear in heart and mind before entering into the presence of Allah. To pray is also to seek refuge in Allah Most High from the accursed devil. It is to enter the sacred space seeking shelter, protection, and assistance of Him from the evil whispers of Satan.

The Basmala is an opening invocation glorifying the Creator of the heavens and the earth. Imam Ali, Allah be pleased with him, said: “All the meanings of the Qur’an are contained in the Fatiha and all the meanings of the Fatiha are contained in Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim.” Everything exists by and through Allah. The divine mercy of the ultimate existent who brings everything into existence and the Rahim who sustains everything around us. The utterance of Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim is the affirmation of the endless blessings of Allah on his creation.

Considering the significance of beginnings, humble beginnings ultimately lead to beautiful ends. Those who spark the beginning of their prayer with the light of faith will see their end illuminated with the greatest blessings of Allah Most High.

Prayer and Presence 

On this journey of Hope and Closeness, Shaykh Faraz throws light on diverse ways a believer can strengthen the connection with the all-sustaining and ever-living God, the ultimate purpose of life and religion, and the means to draw closer to Him.

Islam is a straight path with an aim of the closeness of Allah and guidance as a means to achieve that goal. How this journey is to be undertaken by engaging one’s heart with gratitude, steadfastness, and patience on the way to Allah? Ibn Ata’illah states, “prayer is a purification for hearts from the vileness of sins, and a seeking of the opening of the doors of the unseen.” So, understand its potential to open the gates to presence with Allah.

Our Sense of Presence

How does prayer cultivate our sense of presence with Allah Most High? Allah says in the Qur’an:

Truly, prayers prevent shamelessness and wrongdoing. And the remembrance of Allah is greater. And Allah knows, and you do not” [29:45]

The first part of the aya touches on the expiatory component of prayer. The second part on the role of prayer as a means of closeness to Allah Most High. Prayer is a material medium to connect to the transcendental realm and a mode of communication between creation and the Creator. It has purificatory potential and acts as a reminder to turn to Allah. It acts as a means of remembrance of Allah and it opens the doors of closeness to Allah Most High. Reminding ourselves of Allah’s remembrance of the servant through prayers is greater than the remembrance of the servant of his Lord.

Shaykh Siraj tells us: “Several aspects of prayer give us this elevation and presence before Allah Most High.” In the Qur’an Allah says:

Therefore remember Me, I will remember you, and be thankful to Me, and do not be ungrateful to Me. [2:152]

Allah Most High mentions His reciprocation of our actions in the first part: when we remember Him (in praising and supplicating), He will remember us (in bestowing upon us His blessings and mercy). Thus, it is our right to reciprocate His blessings and favors with thankfulness and appreciation, just as He remembers us when we call on Him. We must thank Him for His favors without disacknowledging their significance, and we must do so on a regular basis.

He, Allah Most High, the Lord (Rabb) of the worlds, comes to us when we seek Him. He does not ignore or overlook us calling upon Him, despite His greatness and supremacy. So we too, as mere humans, cannot ignore or overlook His favors to us, and we cannot deem ourselves above acknowledging and appreciating them. Realize then that by every act of remembering we are drawn closer to Allah Most High.

Remembrance and Closeness

Let us look at the role of the establishment of prayer as a means of remembrance and closeness to Allah. Allah says in the Qur’an:

“Prostrate and draw near.” [96:19]

Here Allah Most High gives us very clear guidance on how to get near to Him. Through prostration. In prayer, we move our bodies, we move our lips. But do we move our hearts in prayer? Are our hearts in the state of utter humility before Allah? We need to feel the pull of our hearts in prostration and humble ourselves completely before our Lord as we place the most dignified part of our body onto the ground in submission to Allah Most High.

In this light, our beloved Messenger, blessings and peace upon him, said: “The closest the servant is to their Lord is when they are in prostration.” Another aspect is to rise in ranks by praying until one ‘reaches’ Allah (wusul). Allah’s Messenger in one of the hadith mentioned, “hold fast to much prostration because with every prostration Allah Most high raises you a degree, and lifts from you an error.” [Muslim]

Intimate Address and Engagement

Prayer is also intimate address and engagement with Allah Most High. There are many beautiful hadith discussing this phenomenon. In a hadith from Tabarani, Prophet Muhammad, blessings and peace upon him, said: “Don’t be distracted, for you are in intimate address of Allah as long as you are in prayer.” It is to remind ourselves of prayer as a moment of truth and engagement with the one true Lord of this world.

Abu Dharr may Allah be pleased with him relates that Allah’s Messenger, blessings and peace upon him, said: “Allah continues to turn towards His servants in their prayer as long as the servant doesn’t turn away.” [Nisai] It is a way of lifting the veil of distance from Allah Most High. All we have to do is to drop the veil of distraction. That is, shift your focus from a quantitative, ritualistic understanding of prayer to a qualitative sacred interaction with the transcendental.

The important question at the end is to identify ways to achieve this closeness to Allah Most High. You need to put things in that order and start it from your heart and put it in practice through your prayer to achieve the goal of closeness to Allah Most High.

Prayer, then, is time spent with the One you love and seek closeness to – raising you in rank, remembrance, and intimate address.

 

Prayer and Closeness

On this journey of Hope and Closeness, Shaykh Faraz throws light on diverse ways a believer can strengthen the connection with the all-sustaining and ever-living God, the ultimate purpose of life and religion, and the means to draw closer to Him.

After proclaiming one’s faith the second most important aspect of Islam is the beginning of prayer. Purification and presence are two aspects of prayer. Prayer is a means to reach the transcendental. In his aphorisms, Ibn Ata’illah Iskandari talks about the aims of prayer and how they are attained.

He said: “Prayer purifies the hearts from the pollution and filth of sins, and calls for unlocking the doors to the hidden and unknown.”* The journey of this worldly life is influenced by material aspirations which keep forcing us from the right path and lead us to vileness and destruction. That is why we often seek Allah’s help to guide us on the straight path in prayer.

Doors to the Unseen

Prayer safeguards us from the ill effect of sins. What is more it opens the doors to the closeness of Allah Most High. As mentioned in the second part of the aphorism quoted above, prayer “calls for unlocking the doors to the hidden and unknown.” It is important to understand in this context that Allah is manifest while equally hidden and to be sought.

Hence you are to believe in the Unseen while equally seeking to gain knowledge of the Unseen realities. Always be aware that Allah is closer to you than your jugular vein. Seek the presence of Allah. In regard to the importance of prayer, it has two elements: a) purification, and b) presence (in prayer).

In his book, Drawing Closer to Allah, Shaykh Siraj al-Din mentions the Qur’anic Aya:

Indeed, the prayer prevents from lewdly and wrong [29:45]

He explains that true prayer has a transformative power and requires two qualities a) reverence (khushu) and b) humility (khudhu). To internalize the reverent awe of the divine is primarily an inward quality of stillness and from this comes humbleness from consciousness of Allah. Never discourage others who follow the Prophetic path. Focus on the principle of understanding the twin aspects of prayer – reverence as a state of faith and humility as a state of submission.

Expiation and Reward

What is the role of five daily prayers in diminishing the ill effects of sins. To pray is to be conscious of Allah and not lost in the arrogance of our piety. Prayer humbles us and bring us closer to each other. The Prophet, blessings and peace upon him, said: “Give glad tidings and do not cause people to turn away.” The expiatory role of prayer is mentioned in many hadith form Allah’s Messenger, blessing and peace upon him. Among them is one related by Tirmidhi:

Five prayers and from one Friday prayer till the next is expiatory for all that is between them as long as one avoids the major sins.

This hadith shows that the impact of prayer on our daily lives is immense. Every prayer comes with a light that illuminates our hearts and leaves no space for sins. Another hadith talks beautifully about expiation and the reward for prayer as “the preparation for presence with Allah.”

The discipline of prayer and choosing Allah over worldly commitments with our entirety at every part of the day is the renewal of one’s slavehood to Allah.

 

* الصَّلَاةُ طُهْرَةً لِلْقُلُوْبِ مِنْ أَدْنَاسِ الْذُّنُوبِ، وَاسْتِفْتَاحٌ لِبَابِ الْغُيُوْبِ

Purification and Closeness

On this journey of Hope and Closeness, Shaykh Faraz throws light on diverse ways a believer can strengthen the connection with the all-sustaining and ever-living God, the ultimate purpose of life and religion, and the means to draw closer to Him.

In the pretext of contextualizing the existential reality and our inevitable existential Ubudiyya to Allah. In this session, Shaykh Faraz continues on the theme of devotion and closeness and how it relates to purification and why there is so much reward for the act of purification. What is the place of purification in devotion and Allah Most High has commanded in belief and practice? “Our Master Sheikh Siraj argues ‘the acts of worship that Allah has legislated are supposed to be undertaken because Allah deserves them and they are entailed by who we are.” Another reason for fulfilling our responsibility is because of our Moral capacity (Ikhtiyar) and moral responsibility (Taklif) that causes us to choose between acquire good or bad.
It is also important to understand that acts of worship affect the worshipper. They take the servant from unrefined merely animal lustful state to fulfilling the human potential as a true servant of Allah Most High. Likewise, when are born, we have the potential to be clothed and honored spiritually but without the garment of piety and refinement of religion, we are no more than misguided naked animals. We are not created without purpose rather the best of creation with a heart and mind to seek the pleasure of God.
Quoting Sheikh Siraj al-Din’s another aphorism, Shaykh Faraz asserts,  “worship dyes the mind, heart, and soul with light” This is the dye of Allah and who is better than Allah in dyeing? And to him alone are we devoted (Quran, 2:138) and worshipful. It is meant to transform our consciousness to make considerate choices and train our soul from dormant recipient to conscious presence and being with Allah.
Talking through the acts of devotion, every worship has a purificatory element and adorning element so that we attain gratitude for Allah. Shaykh Faraz talks about the mercy of Allah that he has granted us the ritual of purification. Mentioning the Quranic verse “It is not Allah’s will to burden you, but to purify you and complete His favor upon you, so perhaps you will be grateful” (2:138).
So, it is important to understand the ritual acts of worship have an inward purificatory element (taharah) and complete favor of true devotedness (ibada). It is to be truly grateful (shukr).
Siraj al-Din argues the acts of worship are a) purificatory and cleansing for the worshipper from whims and worldliness b) perfecting oneself in making sincere choices and adorning beautiful qualities clothing oneself with the garment of faith. It is to understand “wudhu adorns and beautifies one outwardly but it cleans you inwardly by washing off the sins. As Allah’s Messenger said “every act of wudhu purify that limb’s sins (Muslim).” Another famous hadith of Uthman “whosoever does wudu and does so well, all their sins leave them—even from under their nails” (Muslim).
It is to consciously engage and understand the excellence of wudu can be achieved through the exact replication of upholding the Sunna of wudu without excess. The prophet said. “A virtuous quality may be found in a person and Allah will rectify through it all their actions. And a person’s purification for prayer is a means for Allah’s expiating through it their sins—and the prayer is all extra reward.”  [Abu Yala and Tabarani]. Abdul Raouf al-Munawi calls identifies them as Mafatih al-Khayr and one such key is “wudu”. It is to understand not just make wudhu but undertake a conscious wudhu so that prayer just turns out to be an extra reward. As Prophet said in another narration “Wudhu grants light to foreheads and limbs” (Bukhari).
Shaykh Siraj mentions the hadith, the prophet said to the group from Abd Qays: “O Allah, make us from Your servants who have radiant limbs; and your accepted group”. Someone asked, Who are the servants of Allah? Prophet replied, “the righteous servants of Allah are those who make good their relationship with God”. The questioner further asked, what does it mean to have radiant limbs? Prophet replied, “they are the one whose purification illuminates their limbs”. They again asked “who is the accepted group? Prophet replied “It is the group that heads forth with their prophet with knowledge, devotion and service in conduct and character to their Lord.
This conversation, Shaykh Faraz concludes helps to understand that our daily purificatory act of wudhu is the weapon of the believer and that is why one should perform wudu with high intention and remind oneself to seek purification and closeness to God. It is to remain in remembrance and supplication through your wudu and perform all the Sunans—without excessiveness and close the wudu with supplication.

The Way to Closeness

On this journey of Hope and Closeness, Shaykh Faraz throws light on diverse ways a believer can strengthen the connection with the all-sustaining and ever-living God, the ultimate purpose of life and religion, and the means to draw closer to Him.

 
Shaykh Abdullah Siraj al-Din, Allah have mercy on him, was an eclectic scholar who grew up in a home of immense knowledge and extreme piety. He attained tremendous feats in knowledge and became a master in the sciences of Hadith and spirituality. In his book, The Way of Getting Closer to Allah, he throws light on the description of the way of closeness to Allah Most High. Allah Most High describes this absolute reliance and submission in the Qur’an:
Truly, you guide to a straight path – the path of Allah, to whom belongs all that is in the heavens and on Earth. Truly, to Allah do all matters return. [42:52-3]
 
This verse affirms that everything in the heavens and the earth is in utter submission, neediness, and slavehood to Allah Most High. The ultimate destination of everything in existence is to return to Allah Most High.

Our Relationship to the Prophet

The important point is to realize the road that leads to this association goes through absolute submission to Allah’s guidance (shar‘) and devotion to the path of Allah’s Messenger, blessings and peace upon him. That is to understand the nature of our relationship with the Prophet, blessings and peace upon him, and to seek closeness to Allah through devotion (ubudiyya).
As the hadith Qudsi mentions, “My servants draws closer to me by what I have made incumbent upon them” and another hadith wherein the Prophet, blessings and peace upon him, says: “If you love Allah then follow me so that Allah will love you.” Since human beings are granted choice and freedom to recognize and submit to one true God.
Understand that human beings in their existential makeup are “slaves of Allah” and need their Master. Devotion is an intrinsic right of Allah, and our existence demands devotion, gratitude, and yearning for Allah Most High.

Two Types of Devotion

Also, framing in another way, there are two types of devotion, i.e., existential slavehood and existential devotion to Allah Most High, which applies to all existent things since they are all dependent on Allah Most High in every moment.
The hadith of Muadh ibn Jabal, Allah be pleased with him, beautifully sums up this relationship about the mutual rights between Creator and the creation:
What is the right of Allah upon His servants? The right of Allah upon His servants is [that they] worship Allah alone and not associate any partners with Him. The right of servants upon Allah is that if they are devoted to him and associate no partners with Him, He will not punish His servants.

The Proper Manner of Slaves

Our master Shaykh Abdullah Siraj al-Din, Allah have mercy on him, argues that “Whosoever humbles themselves before Allah are raised by Allah.” The proper manners of the slave are to humble themselves, and if their humility becomes complete, Allah draws them near.
Shaykh Siraj al-Din also talks about the responsibility of devotion (ibada) on the believer to fulfill what Allah Most High has commanded, of actions and words – in awareness of their slavehood (ubudiyya) to the Creator.
As Allah’s Messenger, blessings and peace upon him, said: “It is to be grateful of innumerable blessings of Allah Most High’” and to understand the path of love goes through the gateway of gratitude.
Acknowledge the acts of devotion are the acts of heart and cultivate them. Realize that the ultimate aim of devotion is to reach the understanding that our every act is for the sake of Allah Most High.

Ibn Ata’illah’s Aphorism on Closeness

On this journey of Hope and Closeness, Shaykh Faraz throws light on diverse ways a believer can strengthen the connection with the all-sustaining and ever-living God, the ultimate purpose of life and religion, and the means to draw closer to Him.

Living in the whirlpool of ideas, and philosophically speaking in the emblem of narratives, ideologies and Epistemes, human beings are fettered in a complex web of discourses. But as existential spiritual beings, we always feel the quest to find ways to recognize God and look for means to be closer to Allah. In this pretext, Shaykh Faraz explores few aphorisms (Hikam) of Ibn Ata’illah for seekers of the spiritual path to achieve closeness to Allah. Imam Ahmad Zaruoq describes this as a path of “truly directing oneself to God as commanded by Allah in a manner pleasing to Him.” This journey starts from a heartfelt realization to uphold one’s commitment to the tenants of faith (Tahqiq al-Iman) and manifest conscious mindfulness (Taqwa) of God. It equally bequeaths the unfaltering commitment to fulfill the recommended acts of worship and avoid the ones disliked in the tradition. To remind ourselves, the commitment shown on the path of self-realization (Taqwa) leads to the (second level) realization of the faithful presence (Tahqiq al-Ihsan).
It is important to identify that most spiritual paths tread the path of general precepts of faith before the higher spiritual stations. The method of ibn Ata’illah (Rahmat Allah ‘alayhi) asserts “to keep faith first from the beginning of one’s commitment with God and the realization of God’s presence comes only after fulfilling the condition of upholding the Taqwa of Allah.” To reach the level of such consciousness described in the Prophetic injunction is “to be devoted to Allah as though you behold Him; and If you don’t behold Him, then to know that he beholds you.” This hadith redirects the attention of believers to realign our engagement and consciousness back towards the realities of faith. Shaykh Faraz talks about closeness to Allah through the aphorisms of Ibn Ata’illah.
The first aphorism of Ibn Ata’illah talks about the consciousness of Allah vis-à-vis human existence:
Creation is all darkness. It is only illuminated by the manifestation of the Real in it. So, Whoever sees creation but doesn’t behold Allah in it, or at it or before it, or after it, has proved in need of light, and the rays of Divine knowledge have been veiled from them by the clouds of created things
This quote motivates the believers to understand God-consciousness and the mindfulness of Creator must precede before engaging with the creation. To rightfully consider the hierarchy of priorities into consideration—Creator, the act of Creator and then the creation itself. Considering this hierarchy is to acknowledge the creation as an act (Amr) of the creator. It is to cast off the veil of ignorance to see Allah first and acknowledge the role of God as the primary reason behind the origin and sustenance of creation. To understand, the ultimate test of life is to recognize the salvific minimum and through this path achieve the level of righteous believers and attain closeness to Allah.

Ibn Ata’illah in another aphorism talks about the role of “God is pointing out the existence of His overwhelming power (glorious is He) and that He veiled us with that which doesn’t have any existence with Him.” This aphorism informs us of a way to attain closeness through shedding heedlessness and stop swimming in the murky waters of worldly delusions. It is to understand the only pathway for our hearts to be at rest goes through strong conviction and consciousness of God.

Again, Shaykh Faraz mentioning another aphorism of Ibn Ata’illah asserts:

How can anything conceivably veil Him, when He is the one who manifests all things? How can anything conceivably veil Him, when He is the one with whom there is nothing?
It is to understand the role of Allah as the sole reason of human existence. Allah is the one who separates right from wrong and truth from falsehood and offers signs to identify our true purpose in life. As another aphorism alludes:
Do not leave the remembrance of God because of your lack of presence with Allah in it. Your heedlessness from His remembrance is worse than your heedlessness during His remembrance. He may well raise you from remembrance with heedlessness to remembrance with wakefulness. And from remembrance with wakefulness to remembrance with presence. 
It is to choose the remembrance of Allah amid all otherworldly engagements and remembrances. It is to remain wakeful and conscious of God even if it is not in its perfect order as He promises to raise his sincere servants from heedlessness to the state of wakefulness along with the final destination of remembrance with divine presence. Human beings, the dependent beings, who owe their existence to God must rethink their priorities in life and re-center their lives around the remembrance and presence of God.

“As It Was Prescribed for Those Before You”

During Ramadan of 2021, the scholars of SeekersGuidance Arabiyya held daily lessons on various topics throughout the month. The lessons have been translated for the benefit of our English-speaking audience. Shaykh Faiz Iyad gave the fourth lesson.

In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful. All praise is due to Allah, Lord of all creation. May the best blessings and most perfect peace be upon our master, prophet, and intercessor Muhammad and all of his family and companions. Allah, You are perfect. We have no knowledge except for what You teach us. You are All-knowing and Wise. 

Dear respected brothers and sisters, I would like to congratulate you on the arrival of the blessed month of Ramadan. I ask Allah to allow us to make the most of it and benefit from it as it deserves to be benefited from. 

Dear brothers and sisters, the ayah in which Allah obligated us to fast is the ayah wherein He says, “O You who have believed, fasting was prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you so that you may attain Taqwa,” [2:183] as well as the ayah, “Whoever among you witnesses the month must then fast it.” [2:185]

The study of this ayah from an angle of fiqh is clear, and so other scholars may speak about it in that regard. But I have some notes on the particular part of the ayah in which Allah says, “fasting was prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you.” Allah obligates fasting for us just as he obligated it for those before us. But our fasting is not like theirs and not exactly equal to theirs. What is similar here is the very fact that it is mandatory, not in how or when the fasting is done. 

Fasting Is an Ancient Obligation

Of these notes that I wish to share first is the singularity of Allah’s religion in its roots, foundations, and objectives. Since fasting is an action that is beneficial to all humans at all times, Allah informs us that fasting is an ancient obligation. He mandated us to do it just as He mandated those before us. This is an indication of the singularity of Allah’s religion in its foundations and objectives, and there are many clear pieces of evidence of this very fact.

For example, when Allah says, “He has ordained for you the Way which He decreed for Noah, and what We have revealed to you and what We decreed for Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, to ‘Uphold the faith, and make no divisions in it.’” Imam al-Qurtubi, Allah have mercy on him, says in his tafsir on this ayah, “The meaning is that Allah ordained for the Prophet, blessings and peace upon him, what He had ordained for the prophets before him. That is because the religions of all the prophets were one in their foundations that were never different in their principles such as monotheism, prayer, zakah, fasting, and Hajj, as well as coming closer to Allah through good deeds, returning the heart and limbs to Him, as well as honesty and commitment to our covenant, and upholding trusts and ties of kinship. As well as the prohibition of unbelief, murder, adultery, and harming others in any way, and even transgressing against animals. As well as ridding us of anything unbefitting and improper.

This is all a part of Allah’s single religion, the unified way. It was never taught any differently by any prophet, even if the numbers varied. This is why Allah says, “Uphold the religion and do not disperse therein.” [42:13] Meaning to keep it standing firm at all times and continuously protected, firmly established without any disagreement or confusion therein. Some people fulfilled that command, while others broke it. Anything beyond that amy have differed in the religions according to what Allah decided was most beneficial and wise for each period of time.” 

Imam al-Bukhari named a chapter in his Sahih book, “The Chapter on All of the Prophets’ religions being One.” In it, he mentioned the statement of the Prophet, blessings and peace upon him, “The prophets are brothers, sons of different mothers. Their mothers are different, but their religion is the same.” The hadith means that the core of their religion was one, even though their laws and conducts differed. Just as Allah says, “For each we have made a law, and a way of life.” the Prophets all agreed on the religion that contained all of the basic principles of theology and action.

The Purification of Souls

The second note is that the purification of the souls can only be taken from the correct sources. Allah sent the messengers and revealed the scriptures, and ordained the divine laws to purify and refine the souls and rectify them. Fasting is one of the most important means of doing so. This is why Allah mandated it for us and the previous nations. And if we wish for the correct method of purifying our souls, we will find that it is a methodology that coincides with the fitra without any excessive strain or burden and no detachment from reality. Someone who follows it does not need to burden himself or find difficulty training and refining the soul, such as taking vows of silence or sitting in the sun, abandoning hygiene, going into seclusion away from people, or eating only one type of food, etc.

One this point, Bukhari and Muslim report from Anas bin Malik, Allah be pleased with him, who said, “Three men came to the houses of the wives of the Prophet, blessings and peace upon him, asking about the Prophet’s worship, blessings and peace upon him. And when they were told about it, it was as if they saw it to be little. They said, ‘Where are we compared to the Prophet, blessings and peace upon him? He has been forgiven for all of his past and future sins!’ One of them said, ‘As for me, I will pray all night.’ Another said, ‘I will fast every day without exception.’ The other said, “I will abstain from women and never marry.’ When the Prophet, blessings and peace upon him, came, he said, ‘Are you the ones who said this and that? By Allah, I am the most fearful from Allah of you all and the most cognizant of Him. Yet I fast some days and eat others, and I pray, and I sleep, and I marry women. Whoever is averse to my way has nothing to do with me.’ 

Ibn al-Qayyim says, ‘So whoever attempts to purify his soul with a practice that the Messengers did not bring forth is like an ill person who treats himself according to his own assessment. How does his knowledge compare to that of a doctor? The Messengers are the doctors of the hearts, and so there is no way to purify them or repair them except through them and at their hands and a complete surrender to them.”

The Lord of Mercy and Forgiveness

The third point: It is from Allah’s kindness and generosity that He mandated this obligation upon His servants. Why? Because this great act of worship that Allah made a mainstay of this natural religion and without which the structure of Islam does not stand contains immense rewards and benefits on the societal and individual levels. There may be some difficulty to this task, but these difficulties compared to the gifts and fruits that it leads to are not bad, but are actually pure goodness. They are a form of pure generosity from Allah to His servants. As He ordained this act of worship for them through which they attain levels they could never have otherwise reached. 

There is an important question: why was the verb “prescribed” used in the passive voice? Of course, in Allah’s book we know who the actor of the verb was, as it is Allah, and so we use a special term for the passive verbs out of etiquette with Allah. The answer is that there is a subtle and important meaning here: Those ayahs contain a form of hardship with which the believers are tasked, as they are prohibited from intercourse with their wives and the delights of food and drink throughout the day. And so a subtle rhetorical tool here is used to avoid attributing that hardship to Allah. He is the Lord of mercy and forgiveness.

Perhaps this is the secret behind the word “prescribed” being used in the passive voice in many of the religious laws that contain a level of difficulty, hardship, and commitment. One example is the verses of legal retribution for crimes, as Allah says, “retribution for those killed has been prescribed upon you.” [2:178] Similarly, in the ayah of writing wills, Allah says, “Writing a will is prescribed for you that when death comes to one of you if he leaves behind wealth for the parents and relatives.” [2:180]

As for the active voice of the verb “prescribe,” it comes in the context of mercy and reminds believers of their blessings. Allah says, for example, in the ayahs of fasting, “… then you may be intimate with [your wives], and seek out what Allah has prescribed for you.” [2:187[ As well as in the ayah, “Your Lord has prescribed for himself mercy.” [6:54] As well as the ayah, “Allah has prescribed: ‘My messengers and I shall prevail.” He also says, “Those are the ones in whose hearts He prescribed faith.” [58:22]

Guarding That Which Is Firm

The fourth point: Guarding that which is firm. In this time of ours, things that used to be agreed upon as true and known by everyone as part of the religion are now being revisited and refuted after those who deny and hate the religion worked to destroy both the meaning and practice fasting. You can see them calling on people to break their fasts by claiming that fasting hinders production and keeps the ummah in a worthless state. They only wish by this to destroy the religion and its sanctity. And so this portion of the ayah came to emphasize the fact that the realities of the religion and its firm points, including fasting, are invincible to doubts and skepticism and too firm to be affected by the accusations of the liars in every age. By the simply saying “prescribed,” there is an indication to the consistency of its obligation, and further so with the preposition “upon,” indicating a command from a superior to an inferior. This all means that fasting is a firm pillar in every faith. 

The fifth point: when all share a difficulty, its burden is lightened. There is consolation in knowing that we are following those before us. Allah charged us with a certain level of difficulty in fasting, especially in the summer when the heat is intense and the days are long. This is a way of saying, “rejoice, for fasting didn’t start with you, as it is an ancient act of worship.” There is no doubt that when a person is told that others share a certain difficulty with him, it will become easier. This is why the poet al-Khansa’ said in her eulogy for her brother Sakhr, “The rising of the sun reminds me of Sakhr, and I remember him at every sunset. Were it not for the crowds around me crying for their lost brothers, I would have killed myself.”

Let the Competitors Compete

The sixth point: Motivation to compete in good deeds. This reminder is an encouragement for this ummah and a means of sparking their motivations to complete this act of worship and clarifying that fasting is not a difficult task that only they were tasked with. They are not distinct from those before them. Islam raises its children for each one of them to have high aspirations, never settling for less. We are meant to always strive for the perfect outcomes, feeling as though we are in the heat of competition, preparing well, and striving for success. Allah, for example, says, “then, for that, let the competitors compete.” [83:26] Allah also said about His righteous servants that they pray: “make us leaders for the pious!” [25:74] asking to be leaders whose good example is followed.

That is the end of my reflections, from the beautiful meaning of this ayah, especially that portion of it: “As it was prescribed for those before you.” 

I ask Allah to accept from you and from us and to grant us benefit from our fasting and this blessed month. He is All-Hearing, Near, and Ever-responding. All praise is for Allah, Lord of all creation.

Neediness Is a Means to Closeness

On this journey of Hope and Closeness, Shaykh Faraz throws light on diverse ways a believer can strengthen the connection with the all-sustaining and ever-living God, the ultimate purpose of life and religion, and the means to draw closer to Him.

The current session is part of a series on Hope and Closeness taught by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani on diverse pathways to comprehend the reality of closeness to Allah. In the current session, Shaykh Faraz looks at some of the key aphorisms of Abu Madyan Shu’ayb ibn al-Husayn al-Ansari, who was called by later biographers the Imam of the Ascetics and the Pious, and Exemplar of the Seekers’, a seminal figure of Sufism in Muslim Spain and North Africa. The variety of Abu Madyan’s oeuvre, which includes doctrinal treatises, and aphorisms, provides a unique opportunity for seekers to navigate the journey of achieving closeness to Allah.
This session offers a contextual framework of reference to unpack the theological arguments to understand the dependency and sense of neediness of human beings on God. These two ideas are the main themes of Abu Madyan’s aphorisms where the idea of human existence is contextualized in a theological paradigm. Identifying the role of God in the life of human beings amid the sea of philosophical dispensations. How God offers life as a gift to human beings and the journey starts from nothingness to existence. To quote our Master Abu Madyan, he said:
I know well you and all existence
were it not for him to sustain all would be effaced and nothing.
The first aphorism of Abu Madyan ‘neediness is honor’ offers an insight to find means of approaching the Almighty God vis-à-vis the realization of one’s absolute dependency and neediness. It is to realize the debt of our existence to Him and acknowledge the role of God as our creator, sustainer and source of all goodness. Accepting and identifying with this reality is to be spiritually alive and to deem oneself independent of God leads to an existential crisis and spiritual death.
The second principle discussed by Shaykh Faraz from the countless pearls of Abu Madyan’s aphorism’s on closeness to Allah is to understand ‘neediness is a light as long as we conceal it, and the light departs as soon as we manifest it’. In other words, it is to accept and acknowledge that seeking God is a matter of the heart and internal journey to be traveled in silence. As further elaborated in the third aphorism ‘reaching Allah is for your attributes to be drowned and qualities to be effaced in the consciousness of Allah and extinguish all our existential attributes that is to reach Allah.’Rasul Allah said none of you believes until we keep aside our whims and extinguish the worldly desires that keep us away from Allah.
Continuing through this journey of seeking closeness of God, the fourth aphorism ‘whoever finds intimacy in creation will be alienated from the Creator’ explains the importance of keeping the focus centered around God while our whims push us in the other direction. It is to understand God is aware and answering our prayers even if we are not conscious of Him. It is to remain steadfast on the straight path and work to seek closeness and love of the one true God. To hold on to the firm ground of certainty and show gratitude (Shukr) fuelled by steadfastness (Sabr) through devotion with sincerity and excellence.

“Fasting Has Been Prescribed for You”

During Ramadan of 2021, the scholars of SeekersGuidance Arabiyya held daily lessons on various topics throughout the month. The lessons have been translated for the benefit of our English-speaking audience. Shaykh Muhammad Badhib gave the third lesson.

In the name of Allah, Most Merciful. All praise is due to Allah. May the best blessings and perfect peace be upon the one who was sent as a mercy for all creation: our master and prophet Muhammad. May the best blessings, the greatest greetings, and most perfect peace be upon him, his family, and his companions. 

This is one of many blessed lessons in Ramadan. I ask Allah to place benefit in it for whoever watches and listens to this. He is most generous and kind.

The Meaning of Sawm

Our discussion today is about the ayah: “O You who have believed, fasting was prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you so that you may attain Taqwa,” [2:183] and Allah’s speech is most truthful. 

In this beautiful ayah, Allah informs his believing servants that fasting the month of Ramadan has been obligated and prescribed for them. Imam al-Tabari says in his tafsir, “In this ayah, ‘O You who have believed,’ refers to those who believe in Allah and His Messenger and affirm them. The phrase, ‘fasting was prescribed for you,’ means that fasting was made obligatory for you. The word for ‘prescription’ means to legislate, establish and mandate. The word ‘siyam’ is a verbal noun for a verb that is used to mean to hold back from something. Both ‘sawm‘ and ‘siyam’ are verbal nouns for the same verb. What it means to us is to refrain from that which Allah ordered us to refrain from.”

There is a linguistic meaning to the word “sawm,” like when someone uses it for a horse to mean that it stopped traveling. One poet used it in describing his horse as “not sa’im,” meaning it was unrestrained in its prowess while others were held back by reins. That is an example from classical poetry by al-Nabighah al-Dhibyani, one of the poets whose work is a reference for language use. Another example of the word “sawm” being used in its linguistic sense is when Allah quotes Mary saying, “I have vowed sawm to the Most Merciful,” [19:26] referring to her vow of silence. The word “sawm” was used one time in this way in this ayah, while the word “siyam” repeatedly appears in more than one ayah. 

Imam al-Baghawi, Allah have mercy on him, says in his tafsir called Ma‘alim al-Tanzil that the verse, “O You who have believed, fasting was prescribed for you,” means that Allah mandated and obligated fasting on you. And fasting means to restrain oneself and refer to the time of the day when the sun appears still in at its peak in the sky. For when the sun reaches the sky, it looks as if it stopped in its tracks for a moment. And also the verse, “So say, ‘I have vowed sawm to the Most Merciful,” meaning silence, as it is restraint from speech. Then he mentioned the fiqh scholar’s definition of sawm in the religion. Imam al-Baghawi said, “In religious terms, sawm is restraint from eating, drinking, and intercourse with the proper intention during a specific time.” 

The Umma of Ramadan

Imam Ibn Kathir, Allah have mercy on him, says in his commentary on this blessed ayah, “Allah addresses the believers of this nation and orders them to fast, which is to restrain from eating, drinking, and intercourse with a sincere intention for Allah because of the spiritual purity it contains, and because it cleanses one of lowly and ignoble manners. And He mentions that just as He obligated it for them, He also obligated it for those before them, so they are a model for them. These believers must strive hard to fulfill this obligation more diligently than those before them. Just as He also says, “To each of you We have ordained a code of law and a way of life. If Allah had willed, He would have made you one community, but His Will is to test you with what He has given [each of] you. So, compete with one another in doing good.” [38:120]. 

This is why our Lord says in this ayah: “O You who have believed, fasting was prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you so that you may attain Taqwa.” This is because fasting is a purification for the body and a means of blocking the path of Satan. 

In the two Sahih books, it is reported that the Prophet, blessings and peace upon him, said: “O young men, whoever among you has the capability should get married. Whoever cannot must then fast, for it will be a means of abatement for him.” He also made clear how much one should fast and that it shouldn’t be every day to not be too difficult on ourselves and end up incapable of continuing. Rather, Allah said: “It is a short number of days.” This was the case at the beginning of Islam. They would fast for three days each month. Then that ruling was replaced with fasting the month of Ramadan, as will further be made clear.

It was reported that fasting at first was like how it was for the nations before us: three days out of every month. This was reported from Mu‘adh, Ibn Masud, Ibn Abbas, Ata’, Qatadah, and al-Dahhak bin Muzahim. One scholar added that this had been the case since the time of Noah, peace be upon him, until Allah replaced it with fasting the month of Ramadan. 

Miracles of Revelation

In this beautiful Ayah are shades of the Quran’s linguistic miracle. One is that the ayahs of fasting come in the context of Allah speaking about the difficulties that came down to one of the previous nations. Then the ayahs of patience come straight afterward, followed the ayahs of Hajj – all in one context in Sura al-Baqara. 

Another linguistic miracle is in Allah choosing the words “fasting was prescribed for you,” instead of saying “Allah prescribed fasting for you,” or “We prescribed fasting for you.” Another linguistic gem is that He said “prescribed” and not “obligated.” That is because fasting is a difficult form of worship in which we restrain ourselves from life’s basic components and the body’s necessities. And so the use of the passive form of the verb here contains a beautiful secret, as part of the Qur’an’s linguistic prowess is that whenever a command involves some level of difficulty and effort, it is made in the passive form.

Another example is when Allah says, “The enjoyment of desires was made attractive to people.” These subjects are not enjoyable to the soul. Fasting is repulsive to the soul because it is difficult for it. On the other hand, the enjoyment of desires is attractive to the soul, but Allah is not pleased with it as it distracts one from worshipping him and occupies them with worldly pleasures and passions. 

We also find that when the Qur’an speaks about things that are good and pleasant for the soul, the verbs are in the active form. Allah says, for example, “He prescribed mercy for himself.” In another ayah, He says, “Those are the ones in whose hearts He etched faith.” Now we learned something about this miraculous wording of the Qur’an in using the passive form in verse, “Fasting was prescribed for you.” 

The Sawm of Silence

Another linguistic gem is the use of the word “siyam” instead of “sawm.” The word “sawm” only appears in the Qur’an in the statement of Mary: “I have vowed Sawm to the Most Merciful.” This is a “sawm” in the linguistic sense, meaning silence. At the same time, the word “siyam” was reserved for the act of worship and also used to refer to the period of time during which the Muslim refrains from food and drink during a specific time, i.e., the month of Ramadan in general, and specifically the daily act of fasting between the time of dawn and Sunset. 

And so we ask Allah to open the doors of understanding for us and the audience and to teach us the knowledge of the religion. And we ask Him to make the Qur’an the spring of our hearts and the remover of our distress and grief. And we ask Him to make reciting the Qur’an during the day and night easy. He is the All-Capable and All-Powerful. 

All praise is due to Allah, Lord of the worlds, and may Allah send peace and blessings upon our master Muhammad and all of his family and companions.