Taraweeh Reflections - Juz One
Here are selected verses from the taraweeh recitation for each night with lessons for our lives today.
أَعُوذُ بِاللهِ مِنَ الشَّيْطانِ الرَّجِيمِ
"I seek protection from Allah against the accursed Satan."
We always begin our recitation of the Qur'an by saying these words. This is not an ayah of the Qur’an but the Qur'an commanded us to seek this protection in the following ayah:
فَإِذَا قَرَأْتَ الْقُرْآنَ فَاسْتَعِذْ بِاللَّهِ مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ الرَّجِيمِ
Now whenever you read this Qur'an, seek refuge with Allah from Satan, the accursed. (An-Nahl 16:98)
The first step in any successful communication is to make sure the communication link is solid and all external interference is eliminated. In receiving the communication from on High, the external interference that we have to be most concerned with is that of the whisperings and persuasions of our hidden enemy-the Satan.
As the next ayah in Surah an-Nahl makes clear, the way to protect ourselves from satanic influences is by entrusting our affairs to Allah. ("He [Satan] is such that he has no authority over those who believe and place trust in their Lord," An-Nahl 16:99) It is those who rely on their own powers, physical as well as intellectual, who become easy prey to the machinations of the Satan. Anyone who begins his interaction with the Qur'an by seeking Allah's help has put himself in the right state of mind for benefiting from Allah's Words-provided this is a conscious and sincere act. He has established a secure communication link so he can begin to listen to the Words of Allah as he reads or hears them.
بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
In the name of Allah the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful.
We begin every significant act by invoking the name of Allah and remembering His mercy and kindness. It is a measure of the extraordinary importance of the right beginning that the very first revelation began with this command: "Read in the name of your Sustainer." It was not just a command to read- as expropriated later by those who would use it to provide Islamic sanction for secular pursuits-but a command to read in the name of Allah. Beginning in the name of Allah helps filter out acts and intentions that are disapproved by Him. It makes us conscious that Allah is watching so we do not take wrong turns after starting. It assures us of Allah's help in completing it successfully.
Pagans in Arabia, as elsewhere, used to begin any task in the name of their idols. In the secular "enlightened" West many a time people begin important projects by saying "knock on wood." This is how people ward off evils in the old and new worlds of superstition. In contrast a Muslim seeks guidance, help, and support from none other than Allah- the Merciful Lord of the worlds. His day is filled with the calls of Bismillah. It is Bismillah before taking a shower, before putting on clothes, before eating, before getting on his ride, before starting his work, before starting a meeting, before signing an important paper, before taking a baby step, before taking a gigantic leap. And he can feel the blessings-the strength, the confidence, the peace of mind-this invocation brings throughout his days and nights.
This surah is an extraordinary petition taught by the One to whom the petition is to be made. While Salah is the most important act of worship in a Muslim's life, Surah al-Fatihah is the most important part of Salah. It is recited in every rak'ah (unit) of every Salah.
This surah deals with the fundamental questions of life. Where are we coming from? Where are we going? What is the purpose of life? These are the issues that humanity has been grappling with throughout its history. In seven short ayahs this surah answers these questions. This entire universe, and others that may be out there, are created by Allah Most High, Who is the Sustainer of them all. He is the Benevolent and Merciful God. He alone deserves all the praise for all the goodness in the world and all thanks for all the blessings and favors that we have received and continue to receive throughout our lives. He is also the Master of the Day of Judgment when all the wrongs will be punished and right actions will be rewarded.
It follows then that our greatest concern should be to know right from wrong and have both the willingness and ability to follow the former and avoid the latter. This is the Straight Path that leads one straight to eternal success. The petition is that He shows us the Straight Path and makes it easy for us to follow it.
The Straight Path is not a theoretical construct. It is not defined by some nice principles or commandments which sound good as decoration pieces but cannot be put into practice. It refers to a road well travelled by real people who lived on this earth. They are referred to as blessed people here and fall into four categories as explained in an ayah in Surah al-Nisa': "Those who obey Allah and the Messenger are with those whom Allah has blessed, namely, the prophets, the Siddiqin (those who never deviated from the truth), the Shuhada' (martyrs) and the righteous. And how goodly a company are these!" Followers of the Straight Path have company. And what a great company it is!
Further, those who deviate from it are condemned in no uncertain terms as being either willful rejecters of Divine guidance or being careless about it. The point of this condemnation is to distance ourselves from them and their ways for our own protection.
While Surah al-Fatihah encapsulates the essence of Salah, this ayah encapsulates the essence of al-Fatihah:
إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ
You alone do we worship, and from You alone do we seek succor. (Al-Fatihah 1:4)
This ayah is the affirmation of tawhid as both an article of faith as well as an overriding principle in total control of our actual life. The word 'Ibadah, translated here as worship for lack of a better word, implies establishing an absolute master-slave relationship, which includes unquestioning obedience, total submission, and devotional acts like bowing and prostration. Pagans do worship idols by bowing and prostrating before them and treating them as gods. Others worship wealth, power, or celebrity in a figurative sense; they put them in the driver's seat in their life. This ayah is a bold and loud rejection of all of these acts of worship meant for anyone except Allah. It is also a reminder that we should not start serving other gods even without realizing it.
The second part of this ayah is a corollary of the first part, but it needs an explanation. In our daily life we do offer and receive help from others. The Qur'an itself mentions this help at many places. For example, it says: "Help each other in righteousness and piety, and do not help each other in sin and aggression." thus regulating it by making righteousness or lack thereof as the basis for offering or withdrawing it. It praises the believers who help the Prophet Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam: "So, those who believe in him and support him, and help him and follow the light sent down with him,-those are the ones who are successful." It reports that Prophet 'Isa (Jesus) asked his companions for help: "Who will be my helpers in Allah's cause?" Obviously this help is not negated here; it is offered and sought under the system of cause and effect, which itself has been created by Allah for the normal running of this universe. What is negated ("We do not seek help from anyone except Allah") is the help from other beings (e.g. saints and dead men) that is thought to transcend the system of cause and effect. Also negated is any help that is supposed to work independent of-or worse in defiance of-the Will of Allah.
Allah can help through means that we could not have imagined-even bypassing the system of cause and effect. And He also helps through the normal system of cause and effect. For every need we seek help from Him, and even when we call on other people for assistance we fully realize that they are not independent agents for providing that assistance.
Lastly we seek Allah's help in performing the worship we promised in the first part. As a Sufi master suggested, if one is finding it difficult to stay away from sins and to perform acts of worship, then reciting this ayah profusely will help greatly.
Guidance and its Prerequisites
ذَٰلِكَ الْكِتَابُ لَا رَيْبَ ۛ فِيهِ ۛ هُدًى لِّلْمُتَّقِينَ
That is the Book, wherein is no doubt, a guidance to the God-fearing. (Al-Baqarah 2:2)
We asked for guidance in Surah al-Fatihah. The response is immediate. The entire Qur'an provides that guidance. It is here. Further, guidance requires certain knowledge. And this is the Book that contains certain knowledge and absolute truth. There is absolutely no room for doubt here. If someone entertains doubts about this Book, the problem is with them-not with the Book.
Right at the start we are being warned to shed our preconceived ways of discovering truth. With the proliferation and predominance of the secular and secularizing curriculum in the educational institutions throughout the world, this assumes even greater importance for us today. As Sayyid Naquib al-Attas writes: "(In rationalism) doubt is elevated as an epistemological method by means of which the rationalist and the secularist believe that truth is arrived at. But there is no proof that it is doubt and not something else other than doubt that enables one to arrive at truth. The arrival at truth is in reality the result of guidance, not of doubt."
But there are prerequisites for benefitting from this guidance. These are mentioned here and in the next two ayahs. If we are sincere in seeking guidance, then we must also be serious in satisfying the prerequisites.
The first prerequisite is that the seeker must be a person of taqwa (translated here as "God-fearing"). If taqwa is the end result of guidance, how can it be its prerequisite? It is because taqwa is both an attitude and a state. The attitude is the prerequisite. The state is the result of a lifelong struggle. Ibn Abi ad-Dunya notes, "The beginning of taqwa is the right intention."
It is the intention to follow Allah's command, to leave out whatever He forbids and carryout whatever He mandates. It is the intention to seek knowledge to translate it into action. It is a result of internalization of the knowledge that Allah is the greatest so no one else can distract us from listening to Him and obeying Him. Only those with this attitude will be able to benefit from the guidance.
The resulting state was described by someone in a letter of advice to Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr: "The people of taqwa are known by these signs: Patience in the face of hardships, contentment with the Will of Allah, gratitude to Allah for all the good things in life and humble submission to His commands."
الَّذِينَ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالْغَيْبِ وَيُقِيمُونَ الصَّلَاةَ وَمِمَّا رَزَقْنَاهُمْ يُنفِقُونَ
Who believe in (the existence of and the knowledge given by Allah about) that which is beyond the reach of human perception, and are constant in prayer, and spend on others out of what We provide for them as sustenance. (Al-Baqarah 2:3)
The visible spectrum is only a small fraction of the total reality. Everything beyond that is al-ghayb. While science, of necessity, deals only with the perceptible world, scientism insists that that is all there is to it. The successful guidance seeker is the one who is not blinded by this loud but false assertion. He is fully aware that the fundamental questions of life-about the existence of God and the purpose of creation, the life after death, the existence of spiritual forces, and so forth cannot be answered by science. He seeks them in revelation and finds them in the Qur'an and its explanation in the Hadith.
Since seeking guidance is not just an academic exercise, the true seeker has these two other qualities that encompass practical application of the guidance in all areas of life. He is always ready to follow the guidance, whether the demands are made on his body (e.g. Salah) or his possessions (e.g. spending in the path of Allah).
وَالَّذِينَ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِمَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْكَ وَمَا أُنزِلَ مِن قَبْلِكَ وَبِالْآخِرَةِ هُمْ يُوقِنُونَ
And who believe in what has been revealed to you and what was revealed before you; and who are certain of the Hereafter. (Al- Baqarah 2:4)
It is obvious that the Qur'an will provide guidance to those who believe in it. But why the requirement of belief in the previous scriptures? It is so because we must believe in the historic continuity of the revealed guidance. The coming of Prophet Muhammad Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam was not an historic anomaly but the culmination of a long chain of Prophets (124,000 in all according to a famous report), all of whom came with the same message.
This is a fundamental point in Islam's worldview. Humanity did not start its journey on this earth in the darkness of ignorance; it started it in full light of Divine guidance. By succumbing to temptations, human beings periodically deviated from that path and chose darkness over light. Spiritually and morally we have not been evolving, but rather deviating, and then being called back to the Straight Path by the Messengers of Allah. We believe in them all, not to seek guidance from the previous scriptures or prophets (because according to the Divine plan they were not preserved), but to affirm our conviction about the system of guidance whose last manifestation is the coming of Prophet Mu?ammad ?. With this worldview it is easy to see every new philosophy of life not as a mark of evolutionary progress but as another deviation, another failure, another move to darkness.
This ayah also implies the finality of Prophet Muhammad Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, since it does not mention any upcoming prophets. This is in contrast to ayah 3:81, which says that the followers of the previous prophets were told about the coming of Prophet Muhammad Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam and asked to pledge that they would accept him as the Prophet and support him.
وَأَقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَآتُوا الزَّكَاةَ وَارْكَعُوا مَعَ الرَّاكِعِينَ
And be steadfast in Salah (prayer), and pay Zakah, and bow down with those who bow down. (Al-Baqarah 2:43)
The bowing mentioned here refers to the position in Salah called ruku'. Of course what we are being required to do is to perform the entire Salah, and not just ruku', in congregation. This congregational Salah is highly desirable; according to the majority of the jurists it is an emphasized sunnah. This applies to the five daily Salahs and Salah of Jumu'ah and 'Eids, as they are all mandatory. It does not extend to the nafl salahs, which should be offered individually. Through this arrangement a balance is struck between public and private worship.
By extension we can also understand the balance between individual and collective rights and responsibilities prescribed by Islam. Our accountability before Allah will be on an individual basis. But we live and worship in a community. Surah al-Fatihah, the essential part of every Salah, uses the plural form; It is we not I seeking the Straight Path. It follows that we will be travelling on it together. The four pillars of Islam, salah, zakah, fasting, and hajj are all collective acts. All were ordained (zakah, fasting, and hajj) or given final shape (salah) in Madinah where Muslims could live in a community. Even when travelling, for whatever reason, we are asked to choose an amir so the travel will be an organized one. Both the individual and the group are controlled by the Shari'ah, which makes sure we avoid all excesses in their interaction.
The West has gone from the extremes of collectivism and totalitarianism to the extremes of individualism. It is important to remember that the middle course of Islam avoids both extremes.