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Taraweeh Reflections - Juz 20

Juz Twenty

Friendships

وَيَوْمَ يَعَضُّ الظَّالِمُ عَلَىٰ يَدَيْهِ يَقُولُ يَا لَيْتَنِي اتَّخَذْتُ مَعَ الرَّسُولِ سَبِيلًا. يَا وَيْلَتَىٰ لَيْتَنِي لَمْ أَتَّخِذْ فُلَانًا خَلِيلًا. لَّقَدْ أَضَلَّنِي عَنِ الذِّكْرِ بَعْدَ إِذْ جَاءَنِي ۗ وَكَانَ الشَّيْطَانُ لِلْإِنسَانِ خَذُولًا
And (be mindful of ) the Day the wrongdoer will bite his hands saying, “ Would that I had taken a path along with the Messenger! Oh, woe to me! Would that I had not taken so-and-so for a friend! He did lead me astray from the Message (of Allāh) after it had come to me! Ah! Satan is but a traitor to man! (Al-Furqān 25:27-29).

This is the last sūrah revealed before hijrah; its āyah 85 was revealed when the Prophet had already started his journey to Madinah. This was a heart breaking departure and he was consoled that Allāh would be bringing him back to this city as a conqueror. This happened within a decade although at that time there were no apparent clues leading to this result.

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Taraweeh Reflections - Juz 19

Juz Nineteen

Friendships

وَيَوْمَ يَعَضُّ الظَّالِمُ عَلَىٰ يَدَيْهِ يَقُولُ يَا لَيْتَنِي اتَّخَذْتُ مَعَ الرَّسُولِ سَبِيلًا. يَا وَيْلَتَىٰ لَيْتَنِي لَمْ أَتَّخِذْ فُلَانًا خَلِيلًا. لَّقَدْ أَضَلَّنِي عَنِ الذِّكْرِ بَعْدَ إِذْ جَاءَنِي ۗ وَكَانَ الشَّيْطَانُ لِلْإِنسَانِ خَذُولًا
And (be mindful of ) the Day the wrongdoer will bite his hands saying, “ Would that I had taken a path along with the Messenger! Oh, woe to me! Would that I had not taken so-and-so for a friend! He did lead me astray from the Message (of Allāh) after it had come to me! Ah! Satan is but a traitor to man! (Al-Furqān 25:27-29).

This is direct reference to the case of ʿUqbah ibn Abu Muʿayṭ, who accepted Islam then turned back and even spat on the face of the Prophet ﷺ under the pressure of his friend Ubayy ibn Khalaf. Both of them reached an evil end.

 

But the wording is general and is a reminder that we should never accept as friends those people who may lead us away from the path of the Messenger ﷺ.

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Taraweeh Reflections - Juz 18

Juz Eighteen

Sūrah al-Mu’minūn

Reflections on Falāḥ (Success)

This sūrah begins with the promise of falāḥ for the believers who have certain qualities. It  ends with  the  categorical assertion that non-believers will not get falāḥ. The first eleven āyahs specify the type of person who will definitely achieve falāḥ. Translated  as success, falāḥ signifies a state where a person’s every wish comes true and at the same he is protected from everything undesirable. This point is also made explicit in other āyahs. “We have been your friends in the worldly life, and (will remain as such) in the Hereafter. And for you here is whatever your souls desire, and for you here is whatever you call for.” “And there will be whatever souls desire and that which eyes enjoy. And you will be living in it forever.” The point to ponder is that if everyone can get all their wishes fulfilled, this could also potentially lead to chaos.

People, after all, are capable of harboring wild wishes! The answer is that only those people will be admitted to Paradise who can handle such a privilege with responsibility, who have purified themselves thoroughly and developed a personality that is qualified to get such a blank check. Paradise is an exclusive place. Not in the sense that it is reserved for a specific race or nationality or color or economic standing. But in the sense that it is meant only for those who have developed the required personal qualities. It is a beautiful place, more beautiful than the most beautiful place the human mind can even imagine. It is meant for people who have developed an inner beauty. Unlike physical beauty which may be inherited, this is the beauty of the soul which is to be acquired—through the purification of one’s intentions and actions.

 

The  qualities mentioned  in  this  sūrah  (āyah 1-11) should be read with this perspective in mind. This is not a disjointed list of some things that believers are supposed to do; the qualities paint the portrait of the God fearing and God conscious personality that is always seeking good and avoiding evil. We should be judging ourselves not only on the specific qualities listed here but also on how close we are to that ideal personality to see how far we are from true and eternal success.

Qualities for Attaining Falāḥ

The listed qualities are:
A) They are believers. This is the key quality. The success in the Hereafter belongs only to the believers. The point is further emphasized in the end of this sūrah, where it says: “Lo! Disbelievers  will not  be successful.” Paradise is not something that will be given away to those who do not even believe in it and are not even seeking it.
B) They concentrate their attention in humbleness when offering ṣalāh (prayers). This is the state of their prayer. Concentration  and  humbleness mark  it,  and  with  the frequency of ṣalāh in their daily life, make these the overriding parts of their personality.
C) They keep themselves away from vain things. They stay away not only from sins, but also from vain pursuits and useless and purposeless activities. They know the value of their time and their resources and do not waste any of them on things that will not contribute to their success.
D) They are performers of Zakāh. This refers to self purification  as well as the purification of one’s wealth through the charitable donation normally known as Zakāh.
E) They guard their chastity. They stay away from all extramarital  sex and things that can lead to it.
F) They honestly look after their trusts and covenants. They are a people for whom talk is not cheap. When they give their word, they honor it. Their pledges are solid. They are honorable people in their dealings with everyone.
G) They (strictly) guard their prayers.The desirable traits are bracketed with references to ṣalāh, thus indicating that it is the pillar of the successful personality. A Muslim negligent in his prayers is far from the model of success that Islam espouses.

Sūrah an-Nūr: Hijab

One of the key qualities for eternal success mentioned in the previous sūrah was guarding chastity. This sūrah further amplifies on it and gives commands both for the preservation of that chastity and for the punishment when it is violated. It begins with the punishment for fornication, followed by punishment for slandering a chaste woman or man. These are two of the four Ḥudūd laws, which are not subject to any change with the passage of time. The other two Ḥudūd Laws deal with punishments for theft and consuming alcohol.

It also deals with the slander of Sayyidah ʿĀ’ishah by the hypocrites, rebuking them and testifying to her chastity. It  continues to  give commands for  the  preservation of ḥayā in the social life of the Muslim community. This forms the essential Islamic “sex education” course. And a key component of that course is contained in the following two āyahs.

قُل لِّلْمُؤْمِنِينَ يَغُضُّوا مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِمْ وَيَحْفَظُوا فُرُوجَهُمْ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ أَزْكَىٰ لَهُمْ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا يَصْنَعُونَ
Tell the believing men that they must restrain their gazes and guard their chastity; it is more decent for them. Surely Allāh is All-Aware of what they do. (An-Nūr, 24:30)

وَقُل لِّلْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَغْضُضْنَ مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِنَّ وَيَحْفَظْنَ فُرُوجَهُنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا ۖ وَلْيَضْرِبْنَ بِخُمُرِهِنَّ عَلَىٰ جُيُوبِهِنَّ ۖ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا لِبُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ آبَائِهِنَّ أَوْ آبَاءِ بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَائِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَاءِ بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنِي إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنِي أَخَوَاتِهِنَّ أَوْ نِسَائِهِنَّ أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُهُنَّ أَوِ التَّابِعِينَ غَيْرِ أُولِي الْإِرْبَةِ مِنَ الرِّجَالِ أَوِ الطِّفْلِ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يَظْهَرُوا عَلَىٰ عَوْرَاتِ النِّسَاءِ ۖ وَلَا يَضْرِبْنَ بِأَرْجُلِهِنَّ لِيُعْلَمَ مَا يُخْفِينَ مِن زِينَتِهِنَّ ۚ وَتُوبُوا إِلَى اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا أَيُّهَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ
And tell the believing women that they must restrain their gazes and guard their chastity, and must not expose their adornment, except that which (necessarily) appears thereof, and must wrap their bosoms with their shawls, and must not expose their adornment, except to their husbands or their fathers or the fathers of their husbands, or to their sons or the sons of their husbands, or to their brothers or the sons of their brothers or the sons of their sisters, or to their women, or to those owned by their right hands, or male attendants having no (sexual) urge, or to the children who are not yet conscious of the private parts of women. And let them not stamp their feet in a way that the adornment they conceal is known. And repent to Allāh O  believers,  all  of  you,  so  that  you  may  achieve  success.  (An-Nūr, 24:31)

The first step toward preserving chastity is the creation of the environment in which temptations are minimized. A woman’s beauty is not public property to be enjoyed by one and all. It is a private treasure that has to be kept private. Both men and women have to restrain their gazes so the looks that can potentially start lusts are nipped in the bud. But women have to do more by covering themselves as detailed above.

Ḥayā’

Islam’s laws about hijab, its ban against free mixing of men and  women, its teachings about  gender-relations—all  of these reflect a deep concern for ḥayā. The only people who will try to water down these injunctions are those who are not fully cognizant of ḥayā’s central place in Islamic life and the destruction caused in the society by its absence.

What is ḥayā? It is normally translated as modesty or inhibition but neither word conveys the same idea as ḥayā. Modesty suggests  shunning indecent behavior but  it also implies bashfulness based on  timidity.  That  is why the adjective based on  its opposite, immodest, is sometimes also used as a compliment suggesting courage. Inhibition is defined as: “Conscious or unconscious mechanism whereby unacceptable impulses are suppressed.” This is a very neutral definition with no reference to right or wrong. Thus one finds psychiatrists “helping” their patients overcome inhibitions.

In contrast to the moral ambiguity of these words, ḥayā refers to an extremely desirable quality that protects us from all evil. It is a natural feeling that brings us pain at the very idea of committing a wrong.

Along with its unique connotation comes the unique value of ḥayā in Islam. Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ said: “Every religion has a distinct call. For Islam it is ḥayā.”   Another famous hadith says: “There  are more than seventy branches of Īmān (faith). The foremost is the declaration that there is no god except Allāh and the least of it is removing harmful things from the path. And ḥayā is a branch of Īmān.” As some Muḥadithīn point out, the number seventy is a figure of speech. What the hadith tells us is that the declaration of faith is the most important part of Īmān but that is not all. Īmān also has to reflect itself in all kinds of actions in real life. Moreover, ḥayā is a centerpiece of most of the actions that Īmān calls for. It is the basic building block of Islamic morality. When it is lost everything is lost.

Restraining Gazes

The command to restrain gazes is seen today in wholesale violation. In fact women feel they are a greater target of stares on the streets, say, in Karachi or Istanbul than they are in Los Angeles or London. This sad reality then leads some to question the very restrictions  being violated. Maybe we can have better morality if all the restrictions are removed?

We need to put this delusion to rest. What we are seeing in Los Angeles or London are better manners and not better morals. The alarming rates of sexual improprieties at every level of the society, from the President on down, at the same time that sexual impropriety  is being constantly redefined and narrowed down, are sufficient to put an end to this fanciful thesis.

However it does show that when believers violate Allāh’s commands, they may become worse than anybody else in their manners as well. This should not detract us from the fact that the goal of the believers is to excel in both manners and morals. This can only be achieved by turning back to Allāh. Once again, we need to start listening to the Qur’ān to get out of this terrible mess.

 
Taraweeh Reflections - Juz 17

Juz Seventeen

Sūrah al-Ambiyā’

This sūrah narrates the stories of many prophets to highlight the central message of Islam and the urgency with which one must turn to it. This is captured in the following āyahs.

اقْتَرَبَ لِلنَّاسِ حِسَابُهُمْ وَهُمْ فِي غَفْلَةٍ مُّعْرِضُونَ
Closer  draws  unto  men  their  reckoning:  and  yet  they  remain stubbornly heedless (of its approach). (Al-Ambiyā’, 21:1)

The moment of reckoning will come unannounced to each one of us. And for humanity as a whole, too, it keeps coming closer. Yet we are too preoccupied with all the distractions to pay attention.

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Taraweeh Reflections - Juz 12

Juz Twelve

Joys and Pains of This Life

وَلَئِنْ أَذَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ مِنَّا رَحْمَةً ثُمَّ نَزَعْنَاهَا مِنْهُ إِنَّهُ لَيَئُوسٌ كَفُورٌ. وَلَئِنْ أَذَقْنَاهُ نَعْمَاءَ بَعْدَ ضَرَّاءَ مَسَّتْهُ لَيَقُولَنَّ ذَهَبَ السَّيِّئَاتُ عَنِّي ۚ إِنَّهُ لَفَرِحٌ فَخُورٌ. إِلَّا الَّذِينَ صَبَرُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ أُولَٰئِكَ لَهُم مَّغْفِرَةٌ وَأَجْرٌ كَبِيرٌ
And thus it is: if We let man taste some of Our grace, and then take it away from him—behold, he abandons all hope, forgetting all gratitude (for Our past favors). And thus it is: if We give him a taste of comfort after a hardship has touched him, he will say, “Evils have gone away from me”, (and thus) He will become over-exulting, boastful. (And thus it is with most men—) save those who are patient in adversity and do righteous deeds: it is they whom forgiveness of sins awaits, and a great reward. (Hūd 11:9-11)

The big barrier to following an ākhirah-oriented life is the human weakness of being a slave to the present moment. Hardships in the now make us desperate; joys in the now make us exultant because we cannot see beyond the immediate. Patience and righteousness help us overcome this tendency and make us see the bigger picture of life, thereby promising forgiveness for our mistakes and great reward for our good deeds.

It may be noted that the pop culture and the consumerist society thrive on the desire for instant gratification. Marketing experts learn the art of exploiting this human weakness. And with the latest electronic gadgets, with their click-click and now tap-tap world, where results come in  split seconds, this natural human weakness is taken to extremes. While we use them we need to take extra steps to counter these tendencies.

Pursuit of Happiness or Disaster

مَن كَانَ يُرِيدُ الْحَيَاةَ الدُّنْيَا وَزِينَتَهَا نُوَفِّ إِلَيْهِمْ أَعْمَالَهُمْ فِيهَا وَهُمْ فِيهَا لَا يُبْخَسُونَ. أُولَٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ لَيْسَ لَهُمْ فِي الْآخِرَةِ إِلَّا النَّارُ ۖ وَحَبِطَ مَا صَنَعُوا فِيهَا وَبَاطِلٌ مَّا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ
Those who seek (merely) the worldly life and its beauty, We shall repay them in full for all that they did in this (life), and they shall not be deprived of their just due therein. It is they who, in the life to come, shall have nothing but the fire—for in vain shall be all that they wrought in this (world), and worthless all that they ever did! (Hūd 11:15-16)

This is again a very powerful reminder that a life led based on the idea that this world is all there is to it is entirely wasted. Good deeds performed without faith and without expectation of reward in the Hereafter are rewarded in this world. Such a person may get luxuries of this life and fame here, but nothing but disaster in the eternal life. Having the right motives and intentions is so important even for the apparently good deeds!

Response to Those Who Mock Our Religion

وَيَصْنَعُ الْفُلْكَ وَكُلَّمَا مَرَّ عَلَيْهِ مَلَأٌ مِّن قَوْمِهِ سَخِرُوا مِنْهُ ۚ قَالَ إِن تَسْخَرُوا مِنَّا فَإِنَّا نَسْخَرُ مِنكُمْ كَمَا تَسْخَرُونَ
He started making the Ark. Whenever the chieftains of his people passed by him, they scoffed at him. (Thereupon) he said: “If you are scoffing at us—behold, we are scoffing at you (and your ignorance), just as you are scoffing at us. (Hūd 11:38)

There is great support and inspiration here for those struggling to swim against the popular currents.  As they know too well, the most visible symbols of an Islamic life are generally also the favorite targets of this popular pressure. Thus we see that in many Muslim countries even such a simple act as growing a beard (or observing hijab for women) are treated as crimes punishable by public ridicule! To go beyond that and challenge any of the established un-Islamic practices qualifies one to be labeled as a fanatic!

This episode from the story of Prophet Nūḥ is so telling. His final act of building the ark was considered proof positive by his people of he being out of his mind. Building a ship in an area nearly a thousand miles away from the sea! What could be crazier than that! They were having a great time, making fun of Prophet Nūḥ. Little did they realize that soon the Flood would wash away all of their ignorant self-assurance. One can imagine their horror when the end finally came, for it must have been in  proportion to their delusion till that point.

We must realize that the most ridiculous thing would be for anyone to leave the Straight Path for fear of being ridiculed by those who are happily rushing on their path to eternal doom. The most laughable act is to trade truth for falsehood for fear of being laughed at. The craziest deed would be to knowingly disobey Allāh for fear of being called crazy!

Supporting Oppression

وَلَا تَرْكَنُوا إِلَى الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوا فَتَمَسَّكُمُ النَّارُ وَمَا لَكُم مِّن دُونِ اللَّهِ مِنْ أَوْلِيَاءَ ثُمَّ لَا تُنصَرُونَ
And do not incline towards those who are bent on evildoing lest the fire (of the Hereafter) touch you: for (then) you would have none to protect you from Allāh, nor would you ever be helped (by Him). (Hūd 11:113)

There is a stern warning here that we should never lend any support to the powers of oppression and injustice. What is prohibited  here is even a slight inclination towards them. Can we imagine the dire results for the oppressors themselves?

Good Deeds Drive Away Bad Deeds

وَأَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ طَرَفَيِ النَّهَارِ وَزُلَفًا مِّنَ اللَّيْلِ ۚ إِنَّ الْحَسَنَاتِ يُذْهِبْنَ السَّيِّئَاتِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ ذِكْرَىٰ لِلذَّاكِرِينَ
Establish Ṣalāh at both ends of the day, and in the early hours of the night. Surely, good deeds erase bad deeds. That is a reminder for the mindful. (Hūd 11:114)

This āyah covers the five daily obligatory ṣalāhs, details of which are in hadith. The five ṣalāhs set the rhythm of the daily life of a Muslim. They also act as strategically placed filters that sift out the dirt and contamination picked up during the course of the day to clean out a person’s account of deeds.

The principle stated in  the  second part  (good deeds drive away bad deeds) is a general one and we are asked to remember to always do some virtuous act after having committed  a  mistake, to  wipe it  out,  although ṣalāh is especially emphasized for this purpose. If we make a mistake then as soon as we realize it, we should pull out the eraser and erase it. The mechanism works in three ways. 1) Good deeds cause the bad deeds to be erased from our record. 2) They strike at one’s inclination for doing bad deeds, thereby reducing the possibility of their recurrence. 3) They help create an environment for the community in which virtue flourishes and vice is curbed. However as Shāh ʿAbdul Qādir noted, the volume of good deeds is important to attain the desired results: The detergent should be in proportion to the laundry load.

Destruction of Nations

وَمَا كَانَ رَبُّكَ لِيُهْلِكَ الْقُرَىٰ بِظُلْمٍ وَأَهْلُهَا مُصْلِحُونَ
Your Lord is not such that He  would  destroy  the  towns  unjustly, while as yet their people were putting things right. (Hūd 11:117)

This should set our perspective right on the causes of and way out from the destruction going on around the world. A nation would not be destroyed if it is engaged in reform. But it is a candidate for punishment when evil and corruption becomes dominant in it and voices and efforts for reform have been marginalized.

 
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