Adornment, Best State, Cultural Trappings

Issue 893 » May 6, 2016 - Rajab 29, 1437

Living The Quran

Al-Kahf (The Cave) - Chapter 18: Verses 7-8

"Surely We made whatsoever is on the earth an adornment for it, that We may try them as to which of them is most virtuous in deed. And surely we shall make whatsoever is upon it a barren plain!"

The earth is "adorned" by the various phenomena found upon it or in it, including its flora and fauna and its precious gold and metals. Adornment may also refer to humanity, which al-Razi considers to be the noblest of creatures on the earth. According to Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, the "adornment" of the earth is a means by which God tries human beings with regard to their ability to maintain an attitude of detachment and ascetism toward the world. That God shall make whatever is upon it, that is, the earth, a barren plain indicates that none of its adornments will endure forever, but will come to end and return to God. All upon it (the earth) passes away.

Compiled From:
"The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary" - Seyyed Hossein Nasr

Understanding The Prophet's Life

Best State

Shaban is a month of good that introduces the great month of Ramadan. The Prophet, peace upon him, used to fast voluntarily during this month more so than in any other month. One of the motivations for that is that Shaban is the month during which the deeds performed by the servant ascend to God. What follows is a discussion around fasting during the month of Shaban.

Usama B. Zayd relates:  “The Prophet, peace and mercy of God upon him, used to fast so many days in succession that we said, ‘He will never break his fast.’ At other times he would go without fasting for so long until we said, ‘He will never again fast;’ except for two days, which he would fast even if they occurred during the times he was not fasting consecutive days. Furthermore, he would not fast in any month as many days as he fasted during Shaban. I said: ‘O Messenger of God! Sometimes you fast so much it is as if you will never break your fast, at other times you leave fasting for such a long stint it is as if you will never again fast [voluntarily]; except for two days that you always fast.’ He asked: ‘Which two days are those?’ I replied: ‘Monday and Thursday.’ The Prophet, peace upon him, said: ‘Those are two days in which the deeds are presented to the Lord of the Worlds. I love that my deeds are presented while I am fasting.’ I said: ‘I do not see you fasting in any month like you fast during Shaban.’ The Prophet, peace and mercy of God upon him, said: “That is a month occurring between Rajab and Ramadan that many people neglect. It is a month in which the deeds ascend to the Lord of the Worlds, be He Mighty and Majesty, and I love for my deeds to ascend while I am fasting.” Related by Imam Ahmad and Imam Al-Nasai

The narrations conveying this meaning are numerous. Among the important points conveyed by the tradition narrated by Usama b. Zayd, may God be pleased with him, is that the Prophet, peace upon him, frequently fasted during Shaban, as is supported by a tradition mentioned by Aisha, may God be pleased with her. She said: “I did not see the Messenger of God fast any month in its entirety except Ramadan, and I did not see him fast as frequently in any other month as he did during Shaban.” Related by al-Bukhari and Muslim

Among the reasons for that, as mentioned in the initial tradition, is that Shaban is the month in which the deeds done throughout the year ascend to God. The Prophet, peace upon him, wished for his deeds to ascend while he was fasting. This should be sufficient motivation for all of us to fast some days of this month. Fasting purifies us of the physical dross that collects in our system and makes our spiritual faculties sharper. What better state could we be in as our deeds are ascending to our Lord?

Compiled From:
"Fasting During Shaban" - Zaid Shakir


Cultural Trappings

A return to the scriptural sources allows us to establish a distinction between the religious principles that define the identity of Muslims and the cultural trappings that these principles necessarily take on according to the societies in which individuals live. This is a fundamental distinction: just as the universality of the principles allows Muslims to make their own large swathes of national cultures through the process of integration, so it must not happen that a specific culture becomes so identified with Muslim principles that it interferes with adaptation to another context, or more pernicious, that it accords itself a false right to represent the only way of being authentically Muslim (as is sometimes the case with Arab culture).

So we must distinguish between on the one hand the elements of Muslim identity that are based on religious principles and that give it a necessarily open quality that allows the believer to live in any environment and on the other hand cultures that are a specific way of living out these principles, adapted for a variety of societies, none having more legitimacy than any other provided that it respects the religious injunctions. Let us remember that our task is to extrapolate the essence of the identity from the accident of its actualization in a particular time and place. In other words, our purpose and aim consist in discerning and abstracting Islam from the incidentals of Arab and/or Asian culture, tradition, and dress in order to arrive at a conception of the universal principles to which Muslims in the West must hold if they are to remain faithful and then to dress them in that culture. At the end of this process, the means of becoming a European or American Muslim will emerge.

Compiled From:
"Identity and Culture" - Tariq Ramadan