RENEWAL OF GUIDANCE
The message brought by Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was not new; the Quranic verses emphasize that his message was the same as given to the peoples before him through their messengers and prophets. The basic tenent of that message? The Lord your God is the One Deity; fear Him alone (taqwa) and heed willingly what He requires of you. If you reject His guidance or become slack in taking Him seriously —which all of us do at times— then it is you who are the loser. But if you then return to His Straight Way, then He stands ready to forgive your wrongdoings and reward you for your sincere repentance and correction.
First and foremost, the imperative to hold to the singular uniqueness of the sole Creator –All Powerful and Perfect as He is, the Sole Knower of all and the ultimate wise Guide– is the anchoring tenet of all valid religion.
Indeed, We have given revelation to you, [O Muhammad,] even as We gave revelation to Noah and the prophets after him—and [as] We have given revelation to Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and [to] the [prophets of the] Tribes [of Israel], and [to] Jesus, and Job, and Jonah and Aaron, and Solomon. And We gave David the Psalms [as a revelation]. Thus there are messengers of whom We have told you before and other messengers of whom We have not told you. And [it is true that] God spoke [directly] to Moses—His very word, indeed! They were messengers—bearers of glad tidings and forewarners—so that after [the coming of] the messengers people would have no argument before God [to justify their misdeeds]. Indeed, God is overpowering, all-wise. [Sûrah Al-Nisâ’, 4:163-165]
Yet you are [sent] only [as] a [solemn] forewarner [from God, O Prophet}—for to every people there is a [prophet sent as a] guide [to the straight way—whereas it is] God [alone who] knows [all]… [Sûrah Al-Ra’d, 13:7-8]
Indeed, [We said to all the prophets]: This [faith-] community of yours is one community, and I am your Lord, so worship only Me. But [succeeding generations] divided their faith among themselves. Yet all shall return to Us [for Judgment]. So whoever does any act of righteousness—and is a believer—then never shall his effort be denied [its reward]. For, indeed, We Ourself shall write it down for him. [Sûrah Al-Anbiyât, 21:92-94]
Thus behold! Abraham said to his father and his people: Indeed, I am innocent of [worshipping] all [the false gods] that you worship. [I] but [worship] the One who originated me. For, indeed, it is He [alone] who shall guide. Thereby, he made this [witness to the One God] a lasting word among his posterity, so that they might [always] return [to God and worship Him alone.] [Sûrah Al-Zuhruf, 43:26-28]
Those who believe [in the One God] —and who do not mingle their faith with wrongdoing—it is these who shall have security [from God’s Judgment]. For they are, indeed, guided. [Sûrah Al-An’âm, 6:82]
Narrated `Abdullah: “When the Verse:— ‘Those who believe and mix not their belief with wrong.” (6:82 – above quoted) was revealed, the Companions of the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Who amongst us has not mixed his belief with wrong?” Then Allah revealed: “Join none in worship with Allah, Verily joining others in worship with Allah is a great wrong indeed.” (Ṣaḥîḥ Al-Bukhari 3428)
Now of His [wondrous] signs are the night and the daylight, and the sun and the moon. You shall not bow [yourselves] down to the sun, nor to the moon. But you shall bow [yourselves] down to God [alone], who created them, if it is truly Him [alone] that you worship. But if they [who worship false gods] grow [insolently] arrogant [against bowing down to God alone, know that] those who are near your Lord give due exaltation to Him [ceaselessly], by night and by day. And [of this], they never weary. [Sûrat Al-Fussilât, 41:34-38]
In the Biblical Book of Proverbs, considered part of the Torah (tawrah), we find the same terminology for the believer’s relationship with the All-Merciful Creator: the term ‘fear of God.’
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. For by Me your days will be multiplied, and years will be added to your life. If you are wise, you are wise for yourself; if you scoff, you alone will bear it. (Bible, Proverbs 9:10-12)
The Torah likewise has vehemently condemned the association of man-invented gods with the Creator; the Torah puts Moses on record as warning his people that they were, in fact, going to abandon their Lord and that when they did, God would abandon them to punishment in this life.
God spoke and these were his words: “I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt, where you were slaves. Worship no god but me. Do not make for yourselves images of anything in heaven or on earth or in the water under the earth. Do not bow down to any idol or worship it, because I am the LORD your God and I tolerate no rivals. I bring punishment on those who hate me and on their descendants down to the third and fourth generation. But I show my love to thousands of generations of those who love me and obey my laws. Do not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, because the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses His name. …” (Bible, Exodus 20:1-7)
The LORD said to Moses: “You will soon die, and after your death the people will become unfaithful to me and break the covenant that I made with them. They will abandon me and worship the pagan gods of the land they are about to enter. When this happens, I will become angry with them; I will abandon them, and they will be destroyed. Many terrible disasters will come upon them, and they will realize that these things are happening to them because I, their God, am no longer with them. And I will refuse to help them then, because they have done evil and worshipped other gods.”
… Moses wrote God’s Law in a book, taking care not to leave out anything. When he finished, he said to the levitical priests, who were in charge of the Lord’s Covenant Box, “Take this book of God’s Law and place it beside the Covenant Box of the LORD your God, so that it will remain there as a witness against his people. I know how stubborn and rebellious they are. They have rebelled against the LORD during my lifetime, and they will rebel even more after I am dead….” (Bible, Deuteronomy 31:16-18; 24-27)
It should be just as clear to us that Allah does not help those who put themselves in a state of having abandoned Him. When we abandon God’s requirements, He abandons us to the evil which we have chosen to follow in preference to Him.
But as for anyone who chooses to remain blind to the remembrance of the Most Gracious, to him We assign a [personal] satan who shall then become [ever] his close companion. And, indeed, these [evil impulses] shall [then,] most assuredly, bar them [forever] from the path [of salvation], though they [would] think that they are rightly guided—until when [at last] one comes to Us [for judgment], he shall say [to his satan]: Oh, how I wish there were between me and you the distance between the East and the West —for a most woeful companion [you have been]! [Sûrah Al-Zukhruf, 43:36-38]
Have you ever considered [the kind of man] who makes his own desires his deity, and whom God has [thereupon] let go astray, knowing [that his mind is closed to all guidance], and whose hearing and heart He has sealed, and upon whose sight He has placed a veil? Who, then could guide him after God [has abandoned him]? Will you not, then, bethink yourselves? [Sûrah Al-Jâthiyah, 45:23]
O you who believe! Should any of you turn back from his religion, then [know that] God shall bring forth [instead] a people He will love and who will love Him—humble with the believers, mighty with the disbelievers, striving [hard] in the path of God and having no fear of the blame of any who would [cast] blame [on their religion]… [Sûrah Al-Mâ’idah, 4:54]
Furthermore, no trust in a strong person, family, institution, or ideology —or even the ultimate trust in one’s own capabilities or judgments— none of these should be allowed to substitute for one’s trust in God and obedience to His Guidance.
After trust in Allah, and submission to Him, with pure intention and understanding of our ‘none-like-unto-Him’ Deity (Q 112:4), the ways and means of our daily Straight Path—Prayer, Charity, Fasting— are beneficial to us in the degree to which we adhere to these practices. The practice of Islam is not intended to be about mindless ritual. It is the quality, not quantity, of our Prayers or Zakat-Charity or Fasting that pleases Allah and brings us close to Him.
Anas reported: I never prayed behind an Imam who was more brief and more perfect in Prayer than the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ). (Ṣaḥîḥ Muslim 469c)
Narrated Jarir bin `Abdullah: I gave the pledge of allegiance to the Prophet (ﷺ) for offering Prayer perfectly, giving Zakat, and giving good advice to every Muslim. (Ṣaḥîḥ Al-Bukhari 1401)
Narrated Abu Mas‘ud: When we were ordered to give zakat-alms, we began to work as porters (to earn something we could give in charity). Abu `Aqil came with one half of a Sa‘ [a measure for food grains] and another person brought more than he did. So the hypocrites said, “Allah is not in need of the alms of this [i.e. Abu ‘Aqil]; and this other person did not give alms but for showing off.” Then Allah revealed: “[Among the hypocrites are] those who slander the believer as to the charitable offerings they volunteer. Indeed, they [slander] those who find no more [to offer in charity] than their [personal] efforts. Still, they scoff at them. [Rather,] God scoffs at [the scoffers among] them”…’ (Q 9.79) (Ṣaḥîḥ Al-Bukhari 4668)
It was narrated that ‘Aishah said: “I said: ‘O Messenger of Allah: And those who give [charitably] all that they give, with trembling hearts, because [they know] they are returning to their Lord [for judgment]—it is these who hasten to [exceed one another in] good works. And they are, indeed, foremost in [attaining] them. [Q 23:60-61] Is this the one who [trembles because he] commits adultery, steals and drinks alcohol?’ He said: ‘No, O daughter of Abu Bakr’ – O daughter of Siddiq – rather [the one who trembles] is a man who fasts and gives charity and prays, but he fears that those [good works] will not be accepted from him.’” (Ibn Majah 4198)
It was narrated from Abu Nawfal bin Abi ‘Aqrab that his father said: “I asked the Messenger of Allah about fasting and he said: ‘Fast one day of the month. ”Fast one day of the month?’ I said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, let me do more, let me do more. I am able for it.’ Then the Messenger of Allah fell silent until I thought that he was going to refuse my request. Then he said: ‘Fast three days of each month.”‘ (Al-Nasa’i 2433)
Narrated `Abdullah bin `Amr bin Al-As: The Prophet (ﷺ) said to me, “I have been informed that you pray all the nights and observe fast all the days; Is this true?” I replied, “Yes.” He said, “If you do so, your eyes will become weak and you will get bored. So fast three days a month, for this will be the fasting of a whole year, or equal to the fasting of a whole year.” I said, “I find myself able to fast more.” He said, “Then fast like the fasting of (the Prophet) David who used to fast on alternate days and would not flee on facing the enemy.” (Ṣaḥîḥ Al-Bukhari 3419)
Our attention to keeping up with our Prayer, Charity and Fasting, and how well we perform these straightforward means-to-the-end, are designed to make us spiritually mature individuals and to build vibrant Muslim communities. Yes, the carrying out and accomplishment of these can be perfected. Their ultimate value to any one of us personally can be increased — focusing on the prescribed right behaviors which are set out in the Quran and Sunnah for our correct guidance. As long as we keep our intentions pure, then our implementation of the foundational prescribed acts —holding to pure Belief, Prayer, Charity, Fasting— these will keep us on “the way of those upon whom [Allah has] bestowed grace, not those upon whom there is wrath, nor those astray (Sûrah Al-Fâtihah, 1:7).”
The divine guidance and blessings that we are taught to seek —Guide us along the straight way (Sûrah Al-Fâtihah, 1:6)— are brought close to us when we perform our basic worshipful activities. Call them our “conventional” or “orthodox” practices, for they must be enacted following conventional ritual (Prayer) and set patterns (Prayer, Charity, and Fasting).
The rituals of our practices are not ‘magic’; but rather the accomplishment of them ‘primes the pump,’ so to speak, and prepares for the spiritually life-giving ‘water’ to flow. They are designed to melt the heart of human beings, and to result in submission to our Lord. If we are sincerely looking for guidance, purity of heart, forgiveness, acceptance by our Creator, then we need to take seriously the ritual and standard practices that are given to us for attracting and cultivating these results.
…To be continued in Part 15