Real Efforts, Good Relations, God Knows Best

Issue 998 » May 11, 2018 - Shaban 25, 1439

Living The Quran

Real Efforts
Al-Baqara (The Cow) Sura 2: Verse 184

"(Fast) for a fixed number of days. But if any of you is ill, or on a journey, then a number of other days. For those who cannot bear it, a penance: the feeding of a poor person. And whoever does more good than he is bound to do does good unto himself thereby; for to fast is to do good unto yourselves, if you but knew it."

As a religious institution, fasting is as universal as prayer. Jews fast on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, one of the holiest days in Judaism. Hindus fast during certain times of the year, such as the Durganavami festival, to purify the mind and the body. Christians observe Lent, a period of renunciation in the run-up to Easter, and have been recommended by Jesus to fast (Matthew 6:16, 17). The monks of Mount Athos, being Greek Orthodox, fast up to 200 days in a year.

In Biblical times, fasting was a sign of mourning, sorrow, affliction, or approaching danger. The Quran institutes fasting as a form of worship, as both an individual and collective act, that has to be carried out for 'a certain number of days'.

Those who cannot fast, because they are too ill or too old, are asked to feed and help the poor instead. But if they can do much more than that, of their own free will, it is better for them.

Fasting involves hardship. The word used for doing 'much more' is tatawwu, which has the connotation of spontaneously doing good. It also means acting with effort. These two ideas are also connected with fasting itself: it is both an instinctively good act and one that requires effort. The last part of the verse, 'And whoever does more good than he is bound to do does good unto himself thereby; for to fast is to do good unto yourselves, if you but knew it' seems to acknowledge the fact that fasting requires serious effort. The idea of effort in all forms of Muslim worship is crucial. It suggests that as individuals and communities Muslims should inculcate the notion that serious effort is essential for genuine spiritual attainment.

Given all the physical hardship and effort required to fast, there are exceptions. People on medication or those travelling can fast an equal number of days when they have recovered or their journeys have ended. Those with prolonged afflictions, the disabled, the elderly, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, don't have to fast at all. They attain their spiritual benefits by putting in real effort in what they do as a substitute.

Compiled From:
"Reading the Qur'an: The Contemporary Relevance of the Sacred Text of Islam" - Ziauddin Sardar, pp. 130, 131

Understanding The Prophet's Life

Good Relations

The Prophet was keen to foster good relations in every neighbourhood of Muslim society. He, therefore, highlighted the rights of neighbours, to ensure that all Muslims were aware of them. Neighbours are entitled to receive kind and friendly treatment and to have their interests respected. Moreover, everything God has forbidden to do to other people is even more strictly forbidden in the case of neighbours. The Prophet stressed neighbours' rights at every occasion. He also used various types of emphasis to drive his point home. He once repeated an oath three times, saying: "By God, he is not a believer! By God, he is not a believer! By God, he is not a believer ..." His audience asked: "Whom do you mean, Messenger of God?" He said: "A person whose neighbour fears his bad turns." (Related by al-Bukhari and Ahmad.)

The Prophet's Companions rightly understood the Prophet's teachings to include all neighbours, regardless of whether they were Muslims. Abdullah ibn Amr was one of the learned Companions of the Prophet and reported a large number of his statements. Once his family had a sheep slaughtered for food. When he came home, he repeatedly asked his family: "Have you sent some meat to our Jewish neighbour?" He then explained: "I heard God's Messenger when he said: 'Gabriel [the angel] kept urging me to do well by neighbours, making me feel that neighbours would become among one's heirs.'" (Related by Abu Dawud and al-Tirmidhi.) This last statement by the Prophet is also related by al-Bukhari and Muslim, through a different chain of transmitters ending with Aishah, the Prophet's wife.

Compiled From:
"Muhammad: His Character and Conduct " - Adil Salahi


God Knows Best

It has become common in the modern age to use the authority of the Author (God) to justify the despotism of the reader. In effect, by claiming that the only relevant consideration is the Will of the Author, the reader is able to displace the Author and set himself as the sole voice of authority. In essence, the reader becomes God. The displacement of God's authority with that of the reader is an act of despotism, and a corruption of the logic of Islamic law. Islamic law is founded on the logic of a Principal Who guides through instructions. Those instructions are issued to the agents who have inherited the earth and who are bound to the Principal by a covenant. The point of the covenant is not to live according to the instructions, but to attempt to do so. Searching the instructions is a core value in itself - regardless of the results, searching the instructions is a moral virtue. This is not because the instructions are pointless, but because the instructions must remain vibrant, dynamic, open, and relevant. It is impossible for a human being to represent God's Truth - a human being can only represent his or her own efforts in search of this truth. The ultimate and unwavering value in the relationship between human beings and God is summarized in the Islamic statement, "And, God knows best."

Deferring to God and honouring the text (instructions), requires a human being to exercise self-restraint in speaking for God and the text. But discharging the obligations of human agency mandates that the reader (agent) take his or her role very seriously by aggressively and vigorously investigating both God and God's instructions. "God knows best" is not an invitation to intellectual complacency and smugness, but, as the Quran states, to realize that "over every knowledgeable person is a One more knowledgeable." [Quran 12:76] Submission to God is at the core of the Islamic creed, but it does not mean blind submission to those who claim to represent God's law, and it does not mean submitting to the contentment and comfort of arrogant self-reference. Submission to God means the will and act of engaging the intellect and body in the pursuit of God, but also the humility of knowing that no intellect or body can ever fully represent God. The Quran sums up this point by reminding the Prophet that even he has not been sent to control or dominate people, but to admonish and teach. [Quran 88:21-22]

Compiled From:
"Speaking in God's Name: Islamic Law, Authority and Women" - Khaled Abou El Fadl