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Ramadan, the Habit Change Opportunity: Taqwa

Mirza Yawar Baig

THEY say, ‘Habits make a person.’ Psychologists tell us that habit change takes 21 days. If someone does something continuously for 21 days it will become a habit. We are about to come to the Annual Habit Change Workshop that Allah sends as His Mercy every year to help us to cultivate habits of the people of Jannah.

The first and most critical condition of being a Jannati, of being from among the people of Jannah is to be a Muslim. And a Muslim is one who submits to Allah and has Taqwa of Allah. To attain levels with Allah one has to make effort; to enter that blessed group of people who will be honored and entered into Al Jannah. And remember, it is Allah who will decide who is a person of Taqwa. It is not a matter of either one proclaiming it for himself or of his friends or followers proclaiming it for him.

Allah ordered us to have His Taqwa – to fear His displeasure and be aware of His presence– when He said:

O you who believe! Fear Allâh (have Taqwa) as He should be feared. And die not except in a state of Islâm (as Muslims). [A’al Imraan, 3:102]

Allah ordered the Muslims to develop a state of mind and heart where they fear to displease Him as it is His right that people should fear to displease Him. And He told the Muslims to make sure that they don’t die except in a state of complete submission to Him. This is the meaning of ‘fearing Allah’. I make this point because we hate things we fear. But with respect to Allah we love Him. Allah said about the Believers:

But those who believe, love Allâh the most (above all else). [Al Baqarah 2:165]

So the fear of Allah that we talk about is the fear of displeasing Him because we love Allah above all else and so we fear displeasing Him more than anything else. Anyone who deliberately disobeys Allah is showing that He doesn’t love Allah. So there is no need for any confusion between fear and love of Allah. Then Allah showed us how to develop Taqwa and gave us the means to do it. He made fasting Fardh (compulsory) upon us so that we can develop Taqwa.

O you who believe! Observing As-Saum (fasting) is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become Al-Muttaqoon. [Al Baqarah 2:83]

As we can see, Allah ordered us to have Taqwa and then showed us how to develop Taqwa – by fasting. Once a Muslim develops Taqwa then his submission to Allah is assured and so the second part of the ayah becomes possible.

And die not except in a state of Islam (as Muslims).

The secret of obedience is to obey without question. It is not obedience without understanding. The understanding when obeying Allah is to understand who Allah is; not what the command is or the logic behind it. This is a major trap that most of our so-called intellectuals fall into. They get lost in trying to understand the logic of the command and forget who is commanding it. That is why Ramadan comes to emphasize the fact that the Muslim obeys because Allah commanded it; not because it makes ‘sense’ to him.

Allah made some things Halaal and some things Haraam. But in Ramadan during the hours of daylight, He made even the things which are ordinarily Halaal, Haraam. When the Muslim obeys Allah and fasts he is essentially doing something which makes sense only when one understands whose command it is. It is emphasized for the Muslim that if he obeyed Allah during Ramadan and stayed away even from Halaal then how much more important it is for him to stay away from what Allah prohibited and made Haraam?

That is why it is so critical to know Allah, to be connected to Allah, to be conscious of Allah and to be concerned about His pleasure and approval for all that we say or do because to Him is our return. Ramadan comes to reiterate this to us every year; that we are the slaves of Allah and in being true to that is our salvation. Ramadan comes to teach us obedience. It comes to teach us the meaning of Uboodiya. It comes to teach us the meaning of being Abdullah and Amatullah and to do that because we love Allah above all else.

Ramadan, the Habit Change Opportunity: Who is Allah?

ALLAH Subhan wa Ta’ala introduced Himself and asked us to reflect on His Asma was Sifaat – Names and Attributes – so that His awe and majesty may permeate our hearts.

Before He introduced Himself He told us that the people of the Hellfire and the people of Jannah are not equal. They are on two different paths leading to two different places. Islam gives people the choice to choose the path that they want to follow and nobody is compelled to follow any particular path. However each path leads to a different place. He said:

Not equal are the dwellers of the Fire and the dwellers of the Paradise. It is the dwellers of Paradise who will be successful. (Hashr 59:20)

Allah then mentioned His Glorious Book and said:

Had We sent down this Qur’an on a mountain, you would surely have seen it humbling itself and rending asunder by the fear of Allâh. Such are the parables which We put forward to mankind that they may reflect. (Hashr 59:21)

Allah gives us examples so that we may reflect on His Glory and Majesty and remind ourselves of who it is that we worship. He then introduced Himself thus:

He is Allâh, than Whom there is Lâ ilâha illa Huwa, the All-Knower of the unseen and the seen (open). He is the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful. He is Allâh than Whom there is Lâ ilâha illa Huwa, the King, the Holy, the One Free from all defects, the Giver of security, the Watcher over His creatures, the All-Mighty, the Compeller, the Supreme. Glory be to Allâh! (High is He) above all that they associate as partners with Him. He is Allâh, the Creator, the Inventor of all things, the Bestower of forms. To Him belong the Best Name. All that is in the heavens and the earth glorify Him. And He is the All-Mighty, the All-Wise. (Hashr 59:22-24)

This is who we worship – not a stone, a concept, a human being, an idea or anything in creation – but the Creator Himself. We worship Him without any partners, associates, assistants or equals. Because He is alone in His Grace, Power and Majesty – unequalled, unparalled and incomparable. This is not our concept of Allah but how Allah described Himself. In Islam Allah is not a concept. Allah is real. Taqwa is to develop this connection with Him, this awareness of His being, such that to displease Him is something that the Muslim is terrified of doing. That is the meaning of ‘fear of Allah’

That is why there is no contradiction between ‘loving’ Allah and ‘fearing’ Allah because both result in the same outcome i.e. fearing to displease Him.

Allah promised Al Hidaya (guidance) only to those who have Taqwa. He said:

This is the Book (the Qur’an), in which there is no doubt, a guidance to those who are Al-Muttaqoon. (Baqara 2:2)

Allah loves the Muttaqeen. He said:

Verily, for the Muttaqun, there will be success (Jannah) (Naba 78:31)

He encouraged us to race towards Jannah which is for the Muttaqoon. He said:

And race towards the forgiveness from your Rabb, and for Jannah as wide as are the heavens and the earth, prepared for Al-Muttaqoon. (A’al Imraan 3:133)

And He said:

And (when) it is said to those who are the Muttaqoon, “What is it that your Rabb has sent down?” They say: “That which is good.” For those who do good in this world, there is good, and the home of the Hereafter will be better. And excellent indeed will be the home of the Muttaqoon. ‘Adn (Jannah) which they will enter, under which rivers flow, they will have therein all that they wish. Thus Allah rewards the Muttaqoon. Those whose lives the angels take while they are in a pious state (state of Taqwa) saying (to them): Salamun ‘Alaikum enter Jannah, because of (the good) which you used to do (in the world). (Nahl 16:30-32)

And finally He said:

And those who kept their duty to their Rabb will be led to Paradise in groups, till, when they reach it, and its gates will be opened (before their arrival for their reception) and its keepers will say: Salamun ‘Alaikum! You have done well, so enter here to abide therein. And they will say: “All praises and thanks be to Allah Who has fulfilled His Promise to us and has made us inherit (this) land. We can dwell in Paradise where we will; how excellent a reward for the (pious good) workers!” And you will see the angels surrounding the Throne (of Allah) from all round, glorifying the praises of their Rabb (Allah). And they (all the creatures) will be judged with truth, and it will be said. All the praises and thanks be to Allah, the Rabb of the ‘Alamin (all that exists).” (Zumar 39: 73-75)

It is to help us to become Muttaqoon that Allah sends us His Mercy annually, called Ramadan.

Ramadan, The Habit Change Opportunity: The Habits Of The Muttaqoon

O let us see what the habits of the Muttaqoon, the People of Jannah are:

1. Obedience:

The first habit to be cultivated and ingrained is unquestioning obedience to the orders of Allah. That is where it all begins. Without obedience; with a rebellious Nafs there is no hope of ever becoming a Muttaqi. Allah praised the obedience of the Sahaba and said:

The Messenger (SalAllahu alaihy wassallam) believes in what has been sent down to him from his Rabb, and (so do) the Believers. Each one believes in Allah, His Angels, His Books, and His Messengers. They say, “We make no distinction between one another of His Messengers” – and they say, “We hear, and we obey.” (We seek) Your Forgiveness, our Rabb, and to You is the return (of all). (al-Baqara 2:285)

It is the right of the Glory and Majesty of Allah that He should be obeyed without question or hesitation. It is the duty of the slave and a sign of his Uboodiya to do so. A slave who questions and refuses to obey the order of his Creator, Owner, Sustainer is a rebellious slave worthy of punishment.

Ramadan came to teach us that Allah is to be obeyed whether or not His orders appeal to our reason, desire, logic or anything else. Being a slave is about obeying. Not about picking and choosing. Not about deciding what to obey and what to leave out. So the first condition is to obey without conditions or questions. Islam is to submit. The Muslim is one who submits and without submission there is no Islam or Muslim.

2. Attention to Imaan, Salah & to Spending in the path of Allah:

When Allah mentioned that Al Hidaya is for the Muttaqoon, He mentioned their top three qualities: Belief in the Unseen, establishing Salah and spending from what He gave us. He said:

Who believe in the Ghaib and establish As-Salat (Iqamat-as-Salat), and spend out of what we have provided for them. (al-Baqara 2:3)

There are three habits to inculcate in this respect:

Have conversations about the Aakhira, Al Ghaib – Jannah, Jahannam, Day of Judgment, the grave and its conditions and that Allah sends His decisions based on our actions. What we remember and speak about is real. What we never mention becomes a memory, a concept and eventually a legend and mythology.

Establish Salah as we do in Ramadan. It is a tragedy of this Ummah that masaajid empty with Eid. If the masjid could speak it would call Eid ul Fitr a day of mourning and not a day of rejoicing; because it knows that from that day onwards for the next 11 months it will be abandoned and deserted. Ramadan is an opportunity to concretize the habit of praying in the masjid.

Spend in the path of Allah on a regular basis just as we spend in Ramadan. Why are all our actions ‘Shaytaan based’? Is it that we can do good only when the Shaytaan is chained? Charity is not only for Ramadan. So inculcate this habit in yourself and your children. Teach them the value of investing with Allah]. That is the only investment that matters.

3. Attention to seeking knowledge and Tilawatil Qur’an:

Ramadan is the month of the Qur’an. We listen to it, we read it and we try to implement it in our lives. This is the third habit to ingrain.

Allah said:

The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for mankind and clear proofs for the guidance and the Criterion. (al-Baqara 2: 185)

Make the reading of the Qur’an the first thing you do every day. Let the Qur’an be the first thing you see every day, the first thing you read, the first thing that has your attention. Read it in Arabic because only the Arabic is the Word of Allah. By all means read translations; even better, learn Arabic. The language of the Qur’an and its grammar is a miracle in itself. It is a tragedy that even those who memorize it in our countries are completely oblivious to the miracle that brought many Sahaba to Islam. When will we learn to teach the Qur’an as Rasoolullah (SalAllahu alaihy wassalam) taught it – with its meaning and with understanding? How do we expect people to practice it in their lives when we insist on teaching it without understanding and insist that understanding it is not required for memorizing?

Open your eyes O! People! Before you answer to Allah about why you treated His Kalaam in this way.

4. Attention to dua: thanking Allah and seeking His Forgiveness:

Allah mentioned dua in one of the most beautiful Ayaat of the Qur’an which He placed in the middle of the Ayaat about Ramadan. Ramadan brings us close to Allah and naturally the slave seeks the pleasure of His Creator and seeks to place his difficulties before the One who created him.

Allah opened the doors of His Mercy and Grace and taught us the way to connect to Him and to seek His Pleasure, Mercy and Forgiveness leading to Al Hidaya, when He said:

And when My slaves ask you (O Muhammad) concerning Me, then I am indeed near. I respond to their dua when he calls on Me. So let them obey Me and believe in Me, so that they may be led aright. (Baqara 2:186)

Make dua a habit. Inculcate it in your children. Teach them to ask Allah for everything that they need. This is the essence of Tawheed ur Ruboobiya. That is why Rasoolullah (SalAllahu alaihy wassalam) called dua ‘Mukhkhul ibaada (the essence – brain – of worship). This is the greatest resource that a Mu’min has. It is the greatest legacy that you can give your children if you teach them how to invoke the power of Allah and to take from the treasures of Allah, to give to the world. Talk to Allah because He knows and hears and responds. Make friends with Allah because He said that He is the Wali of the Believers:

Make it a habit that for every situation to turn to Allah first before you seek any material aid. In every difficulty and in every ease, turn to Allah first. Remember that the best dua is to beg Allah for His Forgiveness. Remember that there are no secrets from Allah. Talk to Him. Tell Him your story. Build a connection with Him while you can, because one day you and I will need that connection more than anything else. Even if today we live as if we don’t need it. I ask Allah to make this easy for us.

Finally remember that Allah put conditions about those whose dua He accepts. He said:

So let them obey Me and believe in Me, so that they may be rightly guided. (Baqara 2:186)

Remember that there is no acceptance of dua without acceptance of the Uboodiyat of Allah. Allah accepts the dua only of His obedient slaves. Those who think that they can live their lives in disobedience and unconsciousness then turn to Allah only in times of difficulty are suffering from one of the most common forms of self-induced dementia and delusion. I ask Allah to cure this fatal malady and to open our eyes before they are opened for us by Malakul Mawth.

5. Attention to personal conduct & Huqooq-ul-Ibaad (Rights of people):

Ramadan is a month where we focus on improving our personal conduct. We try to control our anger, protect our tongues from Gheeba, cursing, useless talk, name calling and other debilitating diseases. We protect our eyes and ears from looking at and listening to whatever Allah prohibited. Let us make the intention to use the month to make these good habits permanent. Gheeba, cursing and useless talk don’t become Halaal after Ramadan. Let us remember that we are role models for all those who come into contact with us. Let us reflect on what kind of role model we want to be.

Allah said about these things:

The Believers are nothing but brothers (in Islam). So make reconciliation between your brothers, and fear Allah, that you may receive mercy. O you who believe! Let not a group scoff at another group, it may be that the latter are better than the former; nor let (some) women scoff at other women, it may be that the latter are better than the former, nor defame one another, nor insult one another by nicknames. How bad is it, to insult one’s brother after having Faith [cursing, swear words.]. And whosoever does not repent, then such are indeed Zalimun (oppressors).O you who believe! Avoid much suspicion, indeed some suspicions are sins. And spy not, neither backbite one another. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would hate it (so hate backbiting). And fear Allah. Verily, Allah is the One Who accepts repentance, Most Merciful. (Hujuraat 49: 10-12)

Major matters concerning the rights of people are self-evident so I won’t mention them here. But what about our social lives? We know backbiting is Haraam yet we don’t stay away from it. Remember that to say something factual but uncomplimentary about someone in their absence is backbiting.

To say something about someone that is not true is slander which is even worse. Both are not only sins and so punishable before Allah but actually result in your good deeds going into the account of someone you hate. Now how intelligent is that? That is why Imam Bukhari is reported to have said, ‘If I wanted to backbite, I would say something about my mother because at least my good deeds would go to her.’ Let us beware of this fatal disease which results in the destruction of brotherhood.

6. Attention to reflection and self-correction:

Finally Ramadan is an opportunity to take stock of our lives, to reflect on what we have been doing and what we should have been doing. In Ramadan we take time out for extra worship. Most people at least pray Taraweeh. Let us pray that with peace and equanimity, not hurrying the Imam to recite fast and violate the Qur’an. To recite fast without adhering to the rules of Tajweed alters the meaning of Ayaat and in some cases may nullify the Salah itself.

Even when it doesn’t nullify the Salah it is a grave misconduct and a sin to deliberately recite the Qur’an without the respect that is due to it. Since in our upside-down world most Imams are subservient to the followers, the sin of forcing the Imam to recite fast will be on your heads. All power to those Imams who are true Imams and fearlessly show the way and don’t follow those who force them to disobey Allah to please themselves. So please don’t violate the honor of the Qur’an.

In Ramadan also we have that greatest of benefits, Itikaaf. This is a very important Sunnah of Rasoolullah (SalAllahu alaihy wassalam) and is a means for us to get close to Allah and to have our duas accepted. Let us use Itikaaf in its true sense as a time to spend in solitude, silence, contemplation, studying the Qur’an and Sunnah and in worship. Let it not become an opportunity to hang-out with friends, spend time in lazing around, idle talk, over eating and other pointless activities.

Let us make contemplation, study and reading and reflecting on the Qur’an, Sunnah and Seerah and correcting our lives the object of Itikaaf. Let Ramadan be a means for us to re-engineer ourselves so that we become the inheritors of Jannah.

As I said, it takes 21 days to change a habit and establish a new one. Allah gave us 30. Let us make the best use of those days so that when we stand before Allah we would be able to stand with honor as His favorite slaves – as His Awliya.

I ask Allah to forgive us all and enter us into His Mercy.

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