How to be firm on the path of guidance
Ghayri l-maghdūbi ‘alayhim (1:7) [He] wills that we do not resemble those who are astray, those who are not within the folds of Islam. Their fashion, advertisements, their waste economy… Our Lord wills for us to stay away from them. Allah Almighty wills that we stand before Him in complete purity.
For instance, a Jew came on the 10th day of [the month of] Muharram and said, “We fast also. Moses buried the Pharaoh in the Red Sea on this day.”
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said,
“We are closer to Moses than you are.” (See Bukhari, Sawm, 60, Anbiya, 22; Muslim, Siyam, 127/1130)
He then turned to his Companions and said, “Then we will add another day [of fast] to the 10th of Muharram,” to distinguish the Muslims from the Jews.
He did not resemble them even in worship. Ghayri l-maghdūbi ‘alayhim, even in worship.
How beautifully the Prophet’s Companions realised this in practice. The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) sent ‘Uthman, may Allah be well pleased with him, to Mecca as an envoy for the Treaty of Hudaybiya. His relatives were there and they said:
“You are free to perform tawaf around the Ka’ba, but we do not want Muhammad here.” He said in reply to them: “I will not remain where Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) has been excluded. I refuse to partake even in worship where he is not included.”
That is to say, we are required to be faithful to the state and manner of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) in our every act and manner. ghayri l-maghdūbi ‘alayhim – We need to strive our utmost not to resemble those who do not follow him, those who reject Divine Unity and Oneness. We recite the Opening chapter of the Qur’an in every unit of our prayer. We need to put that chapter in practice in our day-to-day lives.
In the same way, the prescribed prayer is vital. Allah Almighty declares, “…prostrate and draw near.” (96:19) A nearness… The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) also refers to it as an ascension to the Heavens.
From another standpoint, Allah Almighty created the human being anatomically in a way allowing for the best possible prostration, created their skeletal structure to allow for the perfect prostration so that they may frequently and constantly prostrate before Him. So that they may seek help from Him. And in order that the servant constantly endeavour to realise their own ascension. That they may, in other words, realise togetherness with Allah Almighty. Of course this entails every form of worship along with the prescribed prayer. Fasting is the same.
Mawlana Jalal al-Din al-Rumi says: “Do not perform the prescribed prayer merely as form. Do not observe the fast merely as a dietary regime. Your eyes need to fast. Your ears need to fast. The fast ought not be limited merely to the stomach,” he says. “All the limbs and organs need to fast so that this can enable the breaking of the fast to be a shield for you from the Fire.”
The prescribed annual alms, acts of charity, spending in the way of Allah… Allah Almighty declares: lan tanālū l-bira hattā tunfiqū mimmā tuhibbūn
“You will never be able to attain godliness and virtue until you spend of what you love (in Allah’s cause, or to provide sustenance for the needy)…” (3:92)
You will never be able to attain nearness to Allah unless you spend of what you love, He says.
In short, being able to draw near to Allah Almighty through acts of worship. So important is this prayer that ‘Abd Allah ibn Shikhir, may Allah be well pleased with him, says: “The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) used to stand for prayer and I used to hear a sound like the boiling of a cauldron coming from him.” (See Abu Dawud, Salat, 156-157/904; Ahmad, IV, 25, 26)
‘Ali, may Allah be well pleased with him was once struck by an arrow and he told those around him to remove it while he was in prayer. (After the prayer) he asked, “How did you go?”
And they told the Caliph that they had removed it.
‘Umar, may Allah be well pleased with him, was stabbed with a dagger and was drenched in blood to the point of losing consciousness. They could not lift him. A person came and said, “The prayer, O Caliph! It is time for the prayer.”
He rose, profusely bleeding, and said, “There is no place in Islam for those who abandon the prayer.”
In the Qur’anic chapter recited at the beginning (of this talk) from Surah al-Muddathir, those entering Paradise call out to those entering the fire of Hell known as Saqar, saying: “What has brought you to the Fire?”
They reply: “We were not of those who observed the prayer.”
“Secondly, we did not show compassion and were not of those who fed the hungry.”
“Thirdly, we were of those people who followed those who plunged into falsehood and used to follow the heedless. We used to imitate them. And we also used to deny the Day of Judgement. Until death came upon us.” (See 74:40-47)
In short, the prayer is very important. May Allah enable all of us those who perform the true prayer.
Prophet Abraham (ﷺ) had precisely such a concern. Offering the prayer in complete reverence… Performing a prayer that is an Ascension.
“O my Lord,” he says. Make me one who establishes the Prayer in conformity with its conditions, and (likewise) from my offspring (those who are not wrongdoers).” (See 14:40)
Being able to attain the reality and essence of the prescribed prayer. So that we can perceive ourselves to be in the Divine presence. And being able to maintain the state we assume during the prayer outside the prayer also.
The second matter which follows is the state of those who enter Paradise. This means that the first issue is acts of worship being invested with great spirituality. Secondly: wa-alladhīna hum ‘ani l-laghwi muʿ‘riḍūn
“They always turn away from and avoid whatever is vain and frivolous.” (23:3)
Good morality is demanded of us. To begin with, our tongue is not to be soiled with gossip and backbiting. Moreover, we are not even to be present in a place where there is gossip.
‘Abd Allah al-Dahlawi once passed by a place when he was observing a supererogatory fast. The people were engaged in backbiting there as he passed.
“Oh no!” he exclaimed. My fast is annulled.” In other words, he thought that his fasting had been compromised. The people asked him why he rushed past.
“I passed by but was overcome by a sense of heedlessness.”
Thus, actually engaging in gossip and backbiting aside, it is essential that we do not even remain in a place where people engage in gossip so that the heart is not tarnished as a result.
Because they turn away from empty words, and all that is futile and vain.
One day, mother of the believers ‘A’isha referred to Safiyya as being of slender height. She said this, in other words, in a slighting manner. The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) addressed her saying, “O ‘A’isha, you have uttered such words that were they to assume material form and be poured into the ocean, they would have surely rendered it turbid.” (See Abu Dawud, Adab, 35/4875; Tirmidhi, Qiyama, 51)
All she did was suggest her slender height. That was it.
Similarly, ‘Abd Allah ibn Mas’ud, narrates: We were sitting with the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) when a man left and another person spoke about him after the he left, whereupon the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), upon him be peace and blessings, said:
“Go wash out your mouth, for there are food remains between your teeth!” The man said: “What should I clean from between my teeth? I haven’t anything remaining (between them).”
He, upon him be peace and blessings, said: “You have backbitten your brother.” (See Ibn Kathir, Tafsir, IV, 231)
Allah Almighty declares in the Qur’anic chapter Hujuraat: “…Would any of you love to eat the flesh of his dead brother?” (49:12)
This goes to show that what matters most is to guard our tongue. This constitutes an infringement of the rights of others. And [the reckoning for this] is kept for the Hereafter.
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) refers to those who will come forth on the Day of Judgement with abundant acts of worship. Their deeds [of righteousness] will be taken from them and transferred to those against whom they engaged in backbiting. They will be given to those whose rights they infringed until at last the sins of the wronged person will be transferred to them and they will become one of the denizens of the Fire. (See Muslim, Birr, 59; Tirmidhi, Qiyama, 2; Ahmad, II:303, 324, 372)
Hasan al-Basri says: “If you seek to backbite another, if you derive pleasure from doing so and cannot break yourself loose from such a habit, then backbite your mother and father so that your good deeds can be transferred to your mother and father and not to a stranger.”
This is why we need to be able to guard our tongue. Being able to observe a ‘fast of silence’ as did Mary, at each and every moment.
There is also Sa’di Shirazi, one of the friends of Allah, who relates an incident from his youth:
I was once responsible, he says, at the Madrasa Nizamiyya, for instructing students day and night. One day, I said to my master:
“Dear master, I teach hadith but So-and-so comes – another teacher – and is jealous of me, he envies me deeply. He has a very confused inner world.”
“My master was very grieved,” he adds, “at my situation.”
“This is a grave situation indeed,” he said. “The envy of a friend constitutes evil conduct,” he said. “But your relating this evil conduct to me constitutes evil conduct also. You have both committed the same evil.”
Again, Sa’di Shirazi says: I used to love reciting the Qur’an in the middle of the night. My father used to wake me up during the night and we used to worship together. I once said to him:
“Father, happy are we! For we wake up during the night while no other lamps burn around us. All others are deprived of this.”
My father said: “Sa’di, be silent! They are in a state of heedlessness, but the angels do not record anything in their name for this. You, however, have looked down on and slighted them and they have begun to record unfavourable things in your regard.”
And so, one’s inner world is crucial. It is essential that we weigh our every state and manner against that of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), upon him be peace and blessings. This is an immense blessing for us. His Companions came from the Age of Ignorance. They transformed their morality with his morality, were in awe of him and strove to take on his noble conduct. For people are forever in admiration of good character.
Two things need to be stressed: First: halal food, especially in our day.
We need to watch what we put into our mouths. We need to pay attention to what we earn. Are there any question marks in our earnings? If a single drop of impurity is mixed in pure water, it mars the entire purity of the water. And when the religiously prohibited intervenes, heedlessness arises. Where there is the lawful, it offers strength and vigour.
One of the friends of Allah says: “Refrain from disobeying Him during the day so that He may keep you in His presence at night.” Be aware of the morsel that you consume, he says.
Mawlana Jalal al-Din al-Rumi says,
“Inspiration, wisdom, mystery did not become manifest in my heart tonight and I realised that I had consumed a questionable morsel [during the day].”
Thus, we need to guard our gaze for the revival of night worship. We need to guard our ear and we need to guard our tongue so that it can enable us to be in the Divine presence at night.
“I cannot wake up for night worship.”
“And why is that?”
This world is about sacrifice. That is to say, we need to get ourselves ready to wake up during the night. Why? Allah, May His Majesty be exalted, declares: wal-mus’taghfirīna bil-asḥār.
“and [those] who implore Allah’s forgiveness before daybreak.” (3:17)
Allah Almighty opens the doors of repentance. He invests the heart with spirituality. There is the declaration of God’s Unity, the salutations sent to His Messenger and there is reflecting upon death. There is the act of rendering your inner world more spiritual. This is how we must begin our day. The day will break. We will thus embark upon the day with the spiritual.
Allah Almighty declares, wal-fajri, “By the dawn.” (89:1) There is a dawn for us each and every day. Allah Almighty opens yet another leaf for us from the calendar of life. We need to think when we wake up:
There are many people who fell asleep last night and could not wake up in the morning. I could have been one of them. Yesterday could have been my last day too. Allah Almighty says, “By the dawn.” This is yet another page from calendar of life presented to me today. I need to consider, how will I fill this page? How will I fill it with good? How will I seek the good pleasure and approval of Allah by allocating for myself and for others? And, of course, on what does this depend? How will I spend my night? What kind of day will I have under the effect of that night, with the energy of its spirituality?
Allah Almighty declares, “They always turn away from and avoid whatever is vain and frivolous.” (23:3) There is to be nothing vain in our speech. There is to be nothing vain in our hearts. We meed to be in a constant state of balance and reckoning.
This is why the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) used to ask,
“Is there anyone among you who has visited a sick person today? Have you shown compassion to an orphan?”(See Muslim, Fada’il al-Sahaba, 12)
Have you called on someone who is in need, someone who is outcast, an emigrant, a Syrian, a poor person? Have you shared their grief and affliction?
Similarly, in the Qur’anic chapter Furqan: “…and when they happen to pass by anything vain and useless, pass by it with dignity.” (25:72) The discipline of one’s inner world is critical. This was the entire concern of the Companions.
‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Umar narrates, ‘Umar’s son:
I saw my father to be carrying a skin full of water upon his shoulder. He was on the one hand a Caliph, with the weight of the Muslim world upon his shoulders, carrying a waterskin with him.
I asked him why he did so and he said, “My selfhood tended to self-conceit and I wished to humble it by walking among the people with this waterskin.”
Likewise, Zayd ibn Thabit, one of the scribes of Divine revelation, said:
I saw ‘Umar wearing patched clothing. He was Caliph at the time. North Africa had been conquered and the public treasury abounded. I saw him walking around in a patched garment. I thought about my own condition, went home and began weeping. I went out once again and saw the Caliph again, this time with a skin of water. I approached him and asked, “O leader of the Believers!”
“Hush,” he said. “Don’t say anything. I will explain it to your later.”
I followed him. He went to the house of an impoverished woman and emptied the water he carried.
“Come,” he then said. I went to him.
“You were not next to me at the time. The Persian and Byzantine envoys came and paid me great compliments. ‘May God grant you goodness and prosperity, ‘Umar!’ they said. ‘All the people are in agreement concerning your knowledge, your virtue and your justice.’ And I feared [the arrogance] of my carnal self, for it had begun to take credit as a result. This is why I went with this waterskin, found someone in need and emptied all its water for their use.”
And so was Aziz Mahmud Hudayi, the great judge… They say that in order to embark upon this spiritual path you must first solve the problem of your carnal soul. And so he sells liver, as you know. Then what happens? He becomes a guide to the sultans who possess earthly dominion.
And so, being able to protect our own spiritual life from the evil of these bestial attributes and the forcefulness of carnal desires.
Allah Almighty says of us, you are God’s witnesses for the people. You represent His religion, He says. (See 2:143, 22:78) We are to both put it into practice and represent it (in the best possible way). We must concern ourselves with the plight of the Muslims.
Once again ‘Umar, may Allah be well pleased with him, says in such yearning:
“If Allah grants me another year of life tomorrow, then I will – with His permission – wander among the people for an entire year. For I know that there are many people who cannot reach me. There are many who cannot share their troubles with me. And my governors do not relate such things to me. I will go to Damascus for two months in the following year. To Jazira for two months. I will go to Egypt for two months. And to Bahrain for two months. To Kufa for two months, to Basra for two months. I will travel in these six nations for a whole year and preoccupy myself with the plight of all the Muslims,” he says. “I will strive to resolve all their problems,” he says.
This means making the best use of our time, reviving our own inner world and concerning ourselves with the troubles and problems of the community of Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ), as all Muslims are the each other’s responsibility. There is no life of solitude and individualism.
Consider the fact that the sacred month of Ramadan is followed by a witnessing, the Ramadan festival. The Festival of Sacrifice is a celebration which follows sacrifice. It does not end here. There are special duties particular to the religious festivity itself. We are to interact with others during the festival. We cannot perform the special prayer for the commemoration of the festival on our own. We perform it in congregation. We need to see one another, come to know one another and understand each other. Allah Almighty declares: “…you will know them by their countenance…” (2:273)
Our hearts will soften and become more feeling. We cannot commemorate the religious festival on our own. We offer special ‘Eid greetings to others, saying, “‘Eid Mubarak”. This means that this is a day of interacting with others.
The Pilgrimage is a great act of such social interaction. Performing the prayer in congregation is a smaller-scale example. This means that Islam should constantly make us more social. We have to say, “I am responsible for all my fellow brothers and sisters in faith.”