Interpretation, Physical Activity, Balance and Effort

Issue 853 » July 31, 2015 - Shawwal 15, 1436

Living The Quran

Al-Maida (The Table Spread) - Chapter 5: Verse 44 (partial)

"And whoever does not rule by what God has revealed, truly they are the unbelievers."

The charity that Muslim scholars granted passages from the Quran and Hadiths in order to read them as part of a greater, encompassing system of truth meant that their literal meaning was often set aside altogether. That one had to move from the evident meaning of a text to a secondary meaning because compelling evidence required it was known as Tawil, or interpretation. Even the earliest Muslims understood that literal meanings could, in fact, be dangerous. In a series of verses chastising the Jews and Christians of Medina for not following the sacred laws revealed to them or submitting to the Prophet's judgment, the Quran declares: 'And whoever does not rule by what God has revealed, truly they are the unbelievers.' This verse has echoed violently among militant revivalist groups in the modern period. It literally condemns as kafirs - unbelievers - those who do not rule by the law revealed by God, the Shariah. The Companion Ibn Abbas, who was so prized for his exegesis of the Quran's language that he was dubbed 'The Rabbi of this Nation,' offered a crucial specification. 'It is not the unbelief that they think it is, namely the unbelief that places someone outside the Muslim community. Rather it is an unbelief other than that unbelief.'

Distancing this Quranic verse from accusations of apostasy was crucial in the first decades of Islam, which saw the emergence of the extremist Kharijite sect. This group believed that anyone who committed a serious sin was an apostate deserving of death (if someone really believed in God, how could they disobey Him?). Kharijites assassinated the fourth caliph, Ali bin Abi Talib, after accusing him of not ruling by God's decree. Ibn Abbas confronted the Kharijites with his explanations, and some four thousand eventually recanted their extremism.

Compiled From:
"Misquoting Muhammad" - Jonathan A.C. Brown, pp. 81, 82

Understanding The Prophet's Life

Physical Activity

Believers in Islam must take care of their spiritual, emotional and physical health. Our bodies, the most complex of machines, are given to us by God as a trust. They should not be abused or neglected but maintained in good order. Diet and nutrition play a big part in maintaining the best possible health, so does a lifestyle incorporating exercise. Islam lays emphasis on a simple diet combined with physical exercise.

Fulfilling the obligations of three of the five pillars of Islam requires that Muslims be of sound health and fitness. The daily performance of five prayers is in itself a form of exercise, its prescribed movements involve all the muscles and joints of the body, and concentration in prayer relieves mental stress. Good health is necessary if one intends to fast the month of Ramadan and the performance of the Hajj (or pilgrimage to Mecca) is an arduous task that requires many days of hard physical effort.

Prophet Muhammad advised his followers, to work, to be energetic, and to start their day early, all of which are conditions for a healthy body. He said "O God, make the early morning hours blessed for my nation." [Ahmad] Obesity or an inadequate diet, laziness and weakness are all afflictions for which we will be called to account. Even though preventing illness or injury is often out of our control, there are many conditions brought on or made worse by our own lack of attention to diet and fitness. Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, said, "Any action without the remembrance of God is either a diversion or heedlessness excepting four acts: Walking from target to target [during archery practice], training a horse, playing with one's family, and learning to swim." [Tabarani]

The Prophet Muhammad and his Companions were naturally physically fit. Life was tougher, long distances were covered on foot, they hunted and farmed their food to survive, and there were no useless recreations to produce laziness and waste many hours of otherwise constructive time.

Exercise increases muscle tone, improves flexibility, enhances endurance, strengthens the heart and fights depression. Exercise also helps achieve significant weight loss. Aerobic exercise fights heart disease and high blood pressure, and reduces the risk of diabetes, while weight training increases muscle strength and reduces fat, increases bone density, fights back pain and arthritis, and improves overall mental health.

A true believer recognises the wonder of the human body and is grateful to the Creator. This gratitude is shown in the care and attention given to maintaining optimum health. Islam's holistic approach to health covers all aspects of the mind, body and soul. A truly health conscious person blends diet, nutrition and exercise with the remembrance of God and an intention to fulfil all their religious obligations.

Compiled From:
"Health in Islam" - Aisha Stacey


Balance and Effort

Islam does not subscribe to the type of asceticism where we purify our hearts and yet remain immersed in political, economic or social corruption. Tazkiya (self-purification) must encompass our entire life - the privacy of our thoughts as well as their social manifestations in our daily life. Everything must be in conformity with Allah's will.

This will of God also requires you to seek and maintain a delicate balance between the various obligations that demand your attention; between your obligations to Allah, your obligations towards others and your obligations towards yourself.

Unless you approach tazkiya as an all-embracing process, you will find that your life is compartmentalized, certain parts impeding the development of others. This can only result in a life of disharmony and unhappiness. Approached as a comprehensive and all-embracing process, however, you will find that each part of your life will complement some other part. This should, God willing, make your struggle on the path to God and Janna, easier and full of grace.

It is a misconception to believe that simply by setting up Paradise as the ultimate goal, one can get there without any further effort. It is also a misconception that Paradise can solely be achieved by concentrating only on certain aspects of life, the 'religious and the spiritual'. The very fact that Paradise is the ultimate objective means that tazkiya must be pursued in all aspects of life, and in life as a whole. Consider, for example, the following:

- Is not honesty a means to enter Paradise?
- Will not a sense of responsibility enable me to enter Paradise?
- Will not striving to fulfill the needs of fellow human beings make me deserve Paradise?
- Will not abstaining from vain talk and aimless actions bring me closer to Paradise?
- Is not consciousness of the best use of my time a key to Paradise?
- Will not keeping promises and offering Salat on time, which are distinguishing traits of the righteous, put me on the highway to Paradise?
- Must not all of the above be sought to attain Paradise?

Every effort that is legitimate and is aimed at attaining Paradise is also an integral part of the process of tazkiya.

Compiled From:
"In The Early Hours" - Khurram Murad