Idols of the Heart, Happiness on Eid, Literal Meaning

Issue 851 » July 17, 2015 - Shawwal 1, 1436

Living The Quran

Idols of the Heart
Al-Baqara (The Cow) - Chapter 2: Verse 165 (partial)

"And [yet], among the people are those who take other than Allah as equals [to Him]. They love them as they [should] love Allah. But those who believe are stronger in love for Allah."

As humans, we are made to feel love and attachment towards others. This is part of our human nature. While we can feel this way about another human being, five times a day we enter into a meeting with our Lord and Creator. How often have we ever felt the whole world disappear while in His presence? Can we really claim that our love for Allah is greater than our love for anyone and anything else?

So often we think that Allah only tests us with hardships, but this isn't true. Allah also tests with ease. He tests us with naim (blessings) and with the things we love, and it is often in these tests that so many of us fail. We fail because when Allah gives us these blessings, we unwittingly turn them into false idols of the heart.

When Allah blesses us with money, we depend on the money rather than Allah. We forget that the source of our provision is not and never was the money, but rather it was the giver of that money. Suddenly we're willing to sell alcohol to avoid losing money in our business, or we need to take out loans with interest to feel secure. In so doing we are foolishly—and ironically—disobeying the Provider in order to protect the provision.

When Allah blesses us with someone that we love, we forget that Allah is the source of that blessing, and we begin to love that person as we should love Allah. That person becomes the centre of our world—all our concerns, thoughts, plans, fears, and hopes revolve only around them. If they are not our spouses, we are sometimes even willing to fall into haram just to be with them. And if they were to leave us, our whole world would crumble. So now, we have shifted our worship from the Source of the blessing to the blessing itself.

Compiled From:
"Reclaim Your Heart" - Yasmin Mogahed

Understanding The Prophet's Life

Happiness on Eid

In his book Al-A’yad Fil-Islam, Sheikh Muhammad Al-Jibaly defines Eid as “any day of gathering, from `Aada (meaning returned), because people return to it periodically. Some scholars say that it comes from `Aadah (custom or practice; plural A’yaad) because people are accustomed to celebrating it. According to Lisan-ul-Arab: “It is called Eid because it returns every year with renewed happiness.

We feel joy at the end of Ramadan for fulfilling our duty to our Lord and for obeying Him. We have a sense of accomplishment, knowing we prevailed over our physical desires seeking Allah's pleasure. These abstract pleasures are coupled with the physical pleasures of eating and drinking.

The fasting person's joy will be immense on the day that we meet our Lord and see the great reward that is in store for us. We feel joy in this world knowing that Ramadan is the month of forgiveness and atonement. We have every hope that Allah will forgive us and give us the strength to avoid sin. This makes Allah happy with us.

Prophet Muhammad said: “Allah is happier with His servant who repents than the happiness one of you would feel if he was wandering in a barren wasteland to find his steed had wandered off with all his food and provisions. Then, after the heat and his thirst become severe, he falls asleep in the same place and wakes to find his steed standing before him, so that he grabs its reins and says: “O Allah! I am your Lord and You are my servant”, mixing up his words on account of his extreme joy.” [Muslim]

Happiness is a natural emotional state we as human being are meant to experience, no less than sorrow. Happiness inspires us to work and be productive, and it allows us to enjoy life. It also inspires us to be grateful to our Lord and thank Him for His blessings.

We need to make sure to enjoy our lives in an excellent manner, without acting in excessive and inappropriate ways that only bring us back to sadness, fear, and shame. Happiness is not an exceptional state of being that only occurs outside of normal bounds. Quite the contrary, the closer our happiness is connected with what Islam teaches, the more lasting and stable it will be.

Happiness is natural. This is why Aishah enjoyed the Eid and watched the Ethiopian acrobats perform in the mosque, with the Prophet watching the show alongside her. [Bukhari and Muslim]

On the days of Eid, the people are supposed to all go out to attend the congregational prayer, men and women alike, young and old. We are called upon to give in charity on the two Eids. This enables the poor to enjoy these days and share in the celebration. [Bukhari] The Eids strengthen our collective identity and cultivate social cohesion. This cannot happen if there is great material inequality between the members of society, or where there is no affection and no sense of others' suffering.

This should inspire us to forgive one another on the occasion of Eid, visit each other, and rekindle old friendships. Disputes between neighbours should be put aside, and husbands and wives should resolve their problems. Eid is a time for us to come together, to be with our families, play, and have a good time. This is praiseworthy fun.

There are also blameworthy ways to celebrate Eid. This comes as the result of one of two things. The first is to celebrate in ways that are forbidden by Allah. The second is to go to excess in celebrating. Excessiveness in joyful things inevitably leads to sorrow. This is because those who exaggerate their joys also exaggerate their sorrows, and their hearts turn very quickly from the state of happiness to that of grief. Excess in celebrating also happens when we take that which is lawful in and of itself and engage in it in a way that it leads us to transgress Islamic teachings. This happens when we fail to keep ourselves in check and lose control of ourselves.

Compiled From:
"Celebrate the Eid" - Salman al-Oadah
"How did the Prophet & his companions celebrate Eid?" - Rahla Khan


Literal Meaning

There is no such thing as ‘literal meaning’ in its usual sense of ‘what a text really says.’ We often assume that, however much we differ on interpretations, a statement or text has an obvious and objective ‘literal’ aspect that preserves an unchanging core of meaning and cannot be escaped. We assume that we can isolate this stable, stand-alone meaning using the dictionary definition of its words and by removing it from any context. What we might term the ‘dictionary meaning’ of a text may indeed exist, but it is neither objective nor universal. As generations of Shakespeare readers have found, the definitions of words are not at all stable. They are shaped and reshaped by the speakers of a language as the language evolves. The bard’s ‘silly women’ in The Two Gentlemen of Verona were ‘innocent,’ not foolish.

‘Literal meaning’ is also commonly understood as the meaning that makes sense to us with the least interpretive effort. Put simply, it is the first coherent meaning that comes to mind. Better termed ‘evident meaning’ as the Muslim legal theorists called it (Zahir, or ‘outward’), this is not necessarily the same as the dictionary meaning. When a thief points a gun at you in a dark alley and growls, ‘Give me all your money,’ your mind immediately passes over the fact that, literally, ‘all your money’ includes everything in your various bank and investment accounts as well as other liquid assets you might own. You understand instantaneously that he only means the contents of your wallet (and maybe non-money items like your watch as well).

But like the dictionary meaning, evident meaning is also subjective. It is determined by context and by a tradition of symbols and veteran assumptions shared by what Stanley Fish has called the ‘interpretive community’ to which the reader or hearer belongs. That evident meaning is not universally obvious or undisputed is clear when courts in the US and UK feel the need to refer to how a ‘reasonable person’ in those societies would understand speech or art in order to determine if it is defamatory or obscene. Unlike minority or idiosyncratic interpretations, this hypothetical ‘reasonable person’ is imagined as epitomizing the proper thinking of the interpretive community in question. The obliquity of evident meaning has been a boon to comedy writers, as seen in films like Airplane! and The Naked Gun franchise (Banquet doorman: ‘Your coat, sir?’ Detective Drebin: ‘Yes it is, and I have the receipt to prove it’).

The evident meaning of a text seems obvious to those within an interpretive community, but, as Detective Frank Drebin illustrates, moving from the dictionary meaning to the evident one requires significant, if unnoticed, interpretive steps. In evident (i.e., ‘literal’) meaning, these unnoticed steps are those assumptions that the reader leaves unstated because he or she assumes everyone else shares them. Frank Drebin is so humorous because he is clueless about them. A tough noir cop supposedly ensconced in society and its hard-boiled dialogue, he is comically outside its interpretive community. He is oblivious to the understanding that you should leave your coat at the door at a fancy party; that the doorman is there to serve you; that you will be spoken to according to an etiquette that assumes you are used to being served.

Compiled From:
"Misquoting Muhammad" - Jonathan A.C. Brown, p. 273