Whether learning Islam for the first time or revising its principles and exploring its Well-Trod Path, each of us, as part of his or her own community, all of us —together and individually— need to tune ourselves both to the general and to the specifics of this divinely-guided Religion. Section I of this current expedition begins at the overview level and wends its way into Section II, the how-to’s and why-for’s of the perfect example left for us by our blessèd Prophet (ﷺ).
SECTION I. GUIDANCE ON THE WELL-TROD, STRAIGHT PATH
The guidance of the Quran and Sunnah have been given to us as our means to the end of measuring up to Allah’s standard —His standard is for us to become a perfect and righteous people of God. They are steppingstones that are designed to coordinate collective human inter-relationships; they link the less-than-perfect believer —as part and parcel of his/her local Community (ummah)— to his/her perfect Creator.
It was narrated from Anas that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: “Every son of Adam commits sin, and the best of those who commit sin are those who repent.’” (Sunan Ibn Majah 4251)
Indeed, God loves those who are ever-penitent, and He loves those who purify themselves. [Sûrah Al-Baqarah 2: 222]
[O Muhammad,] say [to the believers}: If you love God, then follow me. God will love you and forgive you your sins. For God is all-forgiving, mercy-giving. [Surah Âli CImrân, 3:31]
Although no one can be faultless, still one can learn from his mistakes, learn to avoid the same, learn to be more skillful in doing what is right, and ask Allah to forgive and purify one’s intentions. In fact, a complete Muslim is not one with no fault whatsoever, but rather one whose conduct of life is faithful in perpetually learning submission and adherence to Allah’s Straight Path.
Seventeen times per day in our Prayers (when reciting Sûrah Al-Fâtihah, 1:6-7) we ask Allah for His help in living on this blessèd ‘Straight Path’ — all the while keeping up-to-date in seeking His forgiveness. And yet, yes, we do aspire to being perfect —yes, perfect without fault— as perfect as we are able to be at any given moment — motivated by adoration, gratitude, humility, submission and awe of our All-Powerful and Merciful Lord. SubHanahu wa ta’allah, ‘glorious and exalted is He.’
While accepting our own weaknesses as humans, we yet persist and persevere in upgrading ourselves at each encounter with any challenge, old or new. Also with each experience in life, whether we find that incident trying or rewarding. And we do so by building upon what we already have internalized within ourselves, as measured in comparison to what He requires of us. This is accomplished first and foremost through the means of keeping up the foundational practices, the ‘Five Pillars’ of Islamic Faith, as taught us by Allah’s final Messenger, Muhammad (ﷺ). None of us is without need of being reminded! That is why we remind ourselves first when we give counsel to our brethren.
There is nothing mysterious in our performance of these basic requirements of Islam: Belief in the one and only God so as, unerringly, to worship Him alone; Prayer; Charitable giving; Fasting; and Pilgrimage. But we must perform them in the best way possible for us at any particular stage of our journey on the Straight Path —that is, if we are to expect the maximum best results. Those best results are the forgiveness of Allah, His guidance, His blessings in this life and His promised rewards in the next—not to mention our spiritual bliss in nearness to Him. This spiritual bliss comes naturally when we surrender to the reminder of how completely dependent on Him we are for the least of our personal earthly provision.
In case we fail to measure up to the standards set for us, in case we disappoint ourselves —and disappoint Allah— between one Ṣalâh Prayer and the next, or from one Friday Jumu’ah gathering to the next, or from one Ramadan Sawm Fast to the next, we are afforded an arrangement whereby we keep our repentance up-to-date. Sincere engagement in our recurrent acts of worship keeps us on the official curriculum in our Lord’s training camp.
Abu Hurairah reported: The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “The five daily (prescribed) Salat, and each Friday (Prayer) to the next Friday (Prayer), and each Fasting Sawm of Ramadan to the next Ramadan, is expiation of the sins committed in between them, so long as major sins are avoided.” (Saḥîḥ Muslim 233c)
Success in Muslim life does not mean committing no mistake whatsoever, but rather it requires consciously guarding one’s self (taqwa) for pleasing Allah, for meeting His standards—and against a willingness to do wrong, against halfhearted good intentions. We are not intended to be obsessed or “stressed out” with avoiding technical missteps in our daily lives. But when one of the prescribed jurisprudential “Do’s and Don’ts” is applicable to us, we honor the Source [our Creator] of that guidance by adhering to it—as best we can.
Abu Hurairah narrated that: The Prophet said: “Leave me as I have left you (i.e., Don’t ask me the minor things that I have avoided telling you). For those who came before you were doomed because of their questions and differences with their Prophets. If I have commanded you to do something, then do as much of it as you can, and if I have forbidden you from doing something, then refrain from it.” (Sunan Ibn Majah 1/1/2)
As a God-fearing Ummah, armed with our personal taqwa, we seek the consensus of scholars in determining how to apply the detailed “Do’s” and “Don’ts” gathered from the Quran and Hadith. We honor their skill in negotiating for us the challenges, pitfalls, and opportunities of modern life. But as individual Muslims, seeking the approval and pleasure of our Lord—without excluding attention to the jurisprudential “Do’s” and “Don’ts” when they come up— we concern ourselves daily with the clear, un-debatable solid foundations of attitude and conduct in Muslim life. With those in place, we attend to the most basic requirements, namely: Ṣalâh/ Prayer; Zakah/Charity; and Sawm/Fasting.
If we fail to get these basic attitudes and mandated practices right, then quite possibly all the rest of the Do & Don’t Detail will be useless for enhancing our long term success in life. Do we engage seriously with fulfilling the purposes of our Imân, Ṣalâh, Zakah, Sawm (and of Hajj if we find the opportunity to undertake it)? Or, do we simply “go through the motions” of these rituals without seeking the acceptance of Allah? We should examine ourselves so as to consider what we need to change, and how our local communities need to improve —methodically, one-by-one and issue-by-issue and step-by-step, in order for us all to succeed in reviving a vibrant Ummah.
The awareness that our Creator is always present, that He provides what we need, and that He is waiting for an appropriate response from us—that is the key to keeping ourselves on the right track. Praising, thanking and supplicating to Allah are forms of worship that He, as our Patron, mandates for us. This is His program designed to prepare us for receiving His maximal blessings and ultimate reward.
It is essential for us to remember—whether our success in worldly affairs is great or small— that we are dependent upon Him. It is a firm fact of our existence that all created entities in our universe are dependent upon their Creator in a permanent, ongoing way. There is nothing demeaning about our dependency upon our self-sufficient, independent Lord. If you want to have a starring role in the drama of your life, then know that an elite but simple daily script is laid out for you —as it is for each of us. We, as a community, have been given a sure-fire way to articulate our response, gratitude, and ultimate dependency upon our Creator: This is rooted in the worship of Him without would-be divine partners.
And [know that] I have not created [either] jinn or human beings [for any other end] but to [know and] worship Me [alone]. [Sûrah Al-Dhâriyât, 51:56]
How to ‘prime the pump,’ so as to invite the waters to gush forth, in recognition of our [unavoidable] dependence on our awesome Lord?
It was narrated from Samurah bin Jundab that the Prophet (ﷺ) said: “(There are) four that are the best of phrases, and it does not matter with which you begin: Subhan-Allah; and Al-Hamdu-Li-llah; and La ilaha illa-llah; and Allahu Akbar (meaning respectively: Glory is to Allah; Praise is to Allah; None has the right to be worshiped but Allah; and Allah is the Most Great).” (Sunan Ibn Majah 3811)
Abu Dharr reported: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said to me, “Shall I tell you the expression that is most loved by Allah?” It is ‘Subhan-Allahi wa bi-hamdi-hi’ (Allah is free from imperfection and His is the praise)’.” (Saḥîḥ Muslim 1412)
Jabir bin ‘Abdullah said: “I heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) say: ‘The best of remembrance is La ilaha illa-llah (None has the right to be worshipped but Allah), and the best of supplication is Al-Hamdu Li-llah (All perfect praise belongs to Allah).'” (Sunan Ibn Majah 3800)
Yahya related to me from Malik that Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr Al-Thaqafi once asked Anas ibn Malik, while the two of them were going from Mina to Arafah, “What did you use to do on this day when you were with the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ)?” He said, “Those of us who were saying the talbiya [labayk ‘ala-humma labayk] would continue doing so, and no-one disapproved of it, and those of us who were saying ‘Allahu akbar‘ would continue doing so, and no-one disapproved of that either.” (Muwatta Malik 748)
Anas bin Malik narrated that Umm Sulaim came upon the Prophet and said: “Teach me some words that I can say in my Salat.” So he said: “Mention Allah’s Greatness (saying: Allahu Akbar) ten times, mention Allah’s Glory (saying: Subhan Allah) ten times, and mention Allah’s praise (saying: Al-Hamdu li-llah) ten times. Then ask as you like —(for which) He says: ‘Yes. Yes.'” (JamiC Al–Tirmidhi 481)
Ibn Abbas narrated: “Some of the poor people came to Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) and said: ‘O Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) The rich pray as we pray, they fast as we fast, but they have wealth with which they free slaves and which they give in charity.’ He said: ‘When you have performed Salat, then say, ‘Subhan Allah‘ thirty-three times; and ‘Al-Hamdu li-llah‘ thirty-three times; and: ‘Allahu Akbar‘ thirty-four times; and ‘La ilaha illa-llah‘ ten times. With that you will have surpassed them, and none would surpass you afterwards.’ (JamiC Al–Tirmidhi 410)
Truly, those who believe and perform wholesome deeds—their Lord will guide them by their faith. Beneath them rivers will flow in Gardens of Bliss. Their supplication in it will be, “Glory be to You, O Allah,” (Subḥânaka Allâhumma) and their greeting will be, “Peace” (Salâm). And their supplication will end with, “Praise be to Allah, Lord of All the Worlds” (Al-hamdu li’llâhi, rabbi al-‘âlamîn) [Surah Yunus, 10: 9-10]
By the way, are we to think that Allah wants us to flatter Him with our praise? No. He is not asking for flattery. He wants to gain our attention through our own proactive effort of approaching Him. Through this He wants to soften our hearts, to ready us to submit to His All-Knowing, All-Wise instructions. He wants us to complete our islâm, our willing and conscious surrender to dependence on Him. It is when we are in this state of submission that His guidance can best get through to us.
Accepting guidance and seeking forgiveness go hand-in-hand. A passion for keeping one’s forgiveness up-to-date can be awakened and bolstered by following this scripted supplication of our Beloved Exemplar (ﷺ):
It was narrated that ‘Asim bin Humaid said: “I asked CAishah with what the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) would start Qiyam Al-Layl [the Night of Standing during Ramaḍan] She said: ‘You have asked me about something that no one else has asked me about. He used to say Allahu Akbar ten times, and Subhan-Allah ten times, and Istaghfir-Allah ten times, and he would say, Allahumma ghafir-li, wahdini, wa-razuq-ni, wa-‘âfi-ni (O Allah, forgive me, guide me, grant me provision and give me good health,) and he would seek refuge from the difficulty of the standing [before Allah in judgment] on the Day of Resurrection.'” (Sunan al-Nasa’i 5535)
The impulse to worship the Creator comes natural to those who observe and ponder the structure and functioning of the physical world —not forgetting their own minds and the bodies in which they reside. That pretty much takes in all fields of human study, doesn’t it!
The habit of experiencing a metaphysical awe in the world around us, that especially can be a powerful link taking us from all created realms of being to the Creator of all. We engage personally with Allah through praise and supplication. That is why our Prayer begins with the verses of Sûrah Al-Fâtiḥah. This set of verses is a formula for generating in the worshipper an awe and sense of the Unseen Holy, on which our lives and provision depend.
…To be continued in Part 3