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Ethics & Values New Muslims

The Straight Path and How to Follow It

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The thrust is that man should be just and truthful in his social relations.

God says:

Say: “Come, I shall recite what your Lord has forbidden to you”:

Do not associate anyone with Him in His divinity.

Be good to your parents.

Do not kill your children for fear of want.

We shall provide for you and for them.

Do not approach shameful deeds, whether open or secret.

Do not take life which Allah has made sacred, except in a just cause.

This He has enjoined upon you so that you may reflect.

And do not approach the property of an orphan except in the best manner until he comes of age.

And give full measure and weight with justice. We do not burden anyone beyond his capacity.

When you speak, be just, even though it be against a near relative.

And fulfill the covenant of Allah. This He has enjoined so that you may remember.

This is My way – the Straight way. Follow it then and do not follow other paths; that will deviate you from His way. This He has enjoined so that you may fear Allah.

And do not approach the property of the orphan except in the best manner until he attains his maturity, and give full measure and weight with justice- We do not impose on any soul a duty except to the extent of its ability. (Al-An`am 6:151-152)

Exploitation of the weaker sections of society is a common sight. The Qur’anic guidance for following the ‘straight way’ covers this aspect of social life as well. For the Qur’an forbids all forms of usurpation or misappropriation of an orphan’s property.

The Qur’an aims at developing such righteousness among man that any wicked thought of taking away an orphan’s belongings should not even cross one’s mind. For the Qur’an instructs that the guardian’s sole concern should be the protection and betterment of the orphan’s interest. He should look after such orphans until they come of age and are in a position to manage their own affairs.

The Islamic stance on ensuring the welfare of orphans has elicited the following tribute from a leading Western social scientist:

“One of the most commendable things which one finds in reading the Qur’an is the solicitude which Muhammad (peace be upon him) shows for the young, and especially for such as have been deprived of their natural guardians. Again and again, he insists upon kind and just treatment being accorded to children.

And working upon his words, the Muhammadan doctors have framed a system of rules concerning the appointment and duties of guardians which is most complete, and extending to the most minute details.” (Robert Roberts, Social Laws of the Quran, London, 1911)

Consciousness-based

The same Qur’anic concern for extirpating injustice and for promoting peace and cordial relations in society lies at the core of its other directives for acting with honesty and fairness in business transactions.

It goes without saying that fraudulent trade practices make man’s life miserable and breed a host of vices which tarnish man’s spiritual and moral well-being. Let it be clarified that the directive for giving full measure and weight signifies uprightness on man’s part. Included in it, by implication, is the point that man should be conscientious in all that he does. For example, he should perform his duty well and not waste time.

Punctuality in duty is as important as precision in weight and measure. As a trader is forbidden from cheating customers, an employee should faithfully serve his employer. The employer too, stands obliged to act fairly towards his employees. The Qur’anic worldview is all-inclusive.

It is not restricted to the performance of obligatory prayers on time in the prescribed manner. Rather, it seeks that the same spirit of devotion to Allah, which permeates one’s prayer, should also be reflected in every walk of life, especially in a person’s dealings with his fellow human beings.

It is not therefore surprising to note that many components of the Straight Way, as embodied in this passage, relate to man’s social life, not to devotional theology. As part of the same stance, business practices find mention in clear terms in that these affect all members of society. The Qur’an insists that these be characterized by fairness, transparency and justice.

After having prescribed this particular code of conduct and exhorted man to abide by it, failing which he will incur Allah’s wrath, the Qur’an comforts man also with an eye on bolstering his morale.

Within Capacity

It is noteworthy that at the conclusion of these commandments the Qur’an records the observation that Allah does not burden man beyond his capacity. Gifted with the numerous faculties and potentials granted to him by Allah, man can easily follow all these commands.

The Qur’an has not set man some gigantic tasks, which are beyond his capacity to accomplish. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and his Companions stood this test and performed admirably what was expected of them.

It is not therefore beyond our capacity to emulate them. Implicit in the above assurance is the fact that Allah will condone any lapse on man’s part in pursuing the Straight Way, as long as his intention to observe these directives is pious and sincere.

The Qur’anic exhortation to profess and practise justice at all costs is to the fore, once again, in its directive that man should be fair in his testimony. Evidently this directive is not special to the legal sphere. The thrust is that man should be just and truthful in his social relations. This point emerges on studying the above directive in conjunction with the following verses:

O Believers! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be against the rich or the poor. For Allah can best protect both. (An-Nisaa’ 4:135)

O Believers! Stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just. That is next to piety and fearing Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do. (Al-Ma’idah 5:8)

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The article is an excerpt from Abdur Raheem Kidwai’s book “The Qur’an: Essential Teachings”, published by the Islamic Foundation, 2005/1426 H.

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Ethics & Values New Muslims

Self-development between Purity of Heart & Worldly Conduct

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Even though spiritual purification is important seclusion and neglect of worldly responsibilities are not condoned by Islam.

Islam is a way of life that teaches Muslims to focus on bettering themselves by following the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, and the teachings of the final Prophet, Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Prophet Muhammad once said, “Truly I was sent as a Prophet for the purpose of perfecting human character.” (Ahmad) This prophetic tradition defines a very important aspect of Islam: self-improvement through spiritual and physical purity.

An old Arab proverb aptly states: “The one who lacks something cannot give it to others.” This saying establishes the fact that in order for one to spread “good” in terms of his or her character, manners, words or actions, he or she must first strive to possess it. One should not neglect to improve one’s own faults even as they attempt to assist others.

Of course, this does not mean that one has to be perfect in order to be of benefit to others; for instance, some people think that they cannot spread knowledge because they are not scholars. Instead, this adage goes hand in hand with the English saying, “Practice before you preach.” As Prophet Muhammad said, “Who are the learned? Those who practice what they know.”

In Islam, it is of utmost importance for Muslims to seek self-improvement in regards to every aspect of their lives. As a result, one’s good character will impact others and therefore improve society as a whole. This dynamic change all begins at the individual level. In this regard, God says:

Truly God does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves. (Ar-Ra`d 13:11)

Pure Intentions

Before an individual consciously embarks on this journey, he or she must define and cleanse their intention. A pivotal teaching of Islam is derived from the prophetic statement, “All actions are judged by their intentions, and each person will be rewarded according to his or her intention.”

Hence, a desire to genuinely improve oneself, please God, and provide benefit is paramount. On the other hand, having impure intentions such as seeking the admiration of other people or showing off is counterproductive. For these reasons, purifying one’s intentions is critical to the success of one’s pursuit of self-development.

Cleansing of the heart is also a large component of self-improvement because it directly impacts one’s actions. God says in the Qur’an:

God did confer a great favor on the believers when He sent among them an apostle from among themselves, rehearsing unto them the signs of God, sanctifying them, and instructing them in scripture and wisdom, while, before that, they had been in manifest error. (Aal `Imran 3:164)

This verse demonstrates the role of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the importance of self-improvement in Islam. Prophet Muhammad taught the pagan Arabs of Makkah to believe in the One God and to live righteously; he implored them to renounce idolatry and their impulsive lifestyles. Over the course of 23 years, his message uplifted the status of women, brought God-consciousness among people, and safeguarded the poor and needy.

In doing so, not only did he help individuals to attain self-improvement, he rehabilitated an entire society: racial discrimination was practically eliminated, tribal warfare was replaced with united ties of brotherhood, usury and alcohol were completely forbidden.

Righteous Actions

Self-development begins at the individual level and requires a vast amount of discipline. Along with striving to become more physically pure by maintaining a healthy and clean body, it is equally important for an individual to maintain his or her spiritual health through righteous actions. Purification of the soul allow an individual to become closer to God and exhibit more positive behavior which will translate into his or her deeds.

In order to purify and enhance oneself, Islam outlines several pragmatic steps:

Core worship, such as prayer, fasting, supplication, etc. Performing these allows Muslims to draw closer to God by increasing the individual’s awareness of God throughout the day.

This will, in turn, decrease his or her likelihood to commit acts that would displease God, enabling people to raise their moral and ethical standards.

Smiling, being kind, and staying positive when interacting with others. This leads to mercifulness and forgiveness, which are attributes which God loves in human beings.

Prophetic traditions mention that smiling is an act of charity and removing obstacles from the road is a sign of faith; others encourage people to spread good news and exchange gifts as a way of increasing love between people.

Having self-discipline and managing one’s time so that the person is more productive throughout the day:

By (the token of) time (through the ages), verily man is in loss, except such as have faith, and do righteous deeds, and (join together) in the mutual teaching of truth, and of patience and constancy. (Al-`Asr 103:1-3)

Lending a helping hand to those in need. Once Prophet Muhammad was asked: “What actions are most excellent?” He answered: “To gladden the heart of human beings, to feed the hungry, to help the afflicted, to lighten the sorrow of the sorrowful, and to remove the sufferings of the injured.”

Striving to increase one’s knowledge whether it be religious or academic. Working towards becoming an informed and proactive citizen.

According to Prophet Muhammad, “The seeking of knowledge is obligatory for every Muslim.” (Ibn Majah)

Maintaining good company and friends that will influence the individual in a positive manner.

Prophet Muhammad has stated, “It is better to sit alone than in company with the bad; and it is better still to sit with the good than alone. It is better to speak to a seeker of knowledge than to remain silent; but silence is better than idle words.”

Performing sincere repentance for one’s sins and seeking the mercy and forgiveness of God. Feeling guilty for transgressions that one has made, and then making an active effort to learn from one’s mistakes and never repeat them again:

Your Lord has inscribed for Himself (the rule of) mercy: verily, if any of you did evil in ignorance, and thereafter repented, and amend (his conduct), lo! He is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. (Al-An`am 6:54)

As you may have noticed, many of these steps involve interacting with others. Even though spiritual purification is important, it is critical to note that seclusion and neglect of worldly responsibilities are not condoned by Islam.

Prolonged seclusion for the purpose of spiritual purification is in fact inconsistent with Islamic teachings. A large component of self enhancement involves treating others with compassion and respect, and helping the less fortunate. This is not possible if one leads the life of a recluse.

One of the prophetic traditions encourages people to look at those less privileged when making worldly comparisons with others: “When you see a person who has been given more than you in money and beauty, look to those who have been given less.”

This advice is very important because it enables us to be grateful for the blessings we have and be less greedy or miserly. Such an attitude allows one to remain focused on the quest of attaining self-improvement and eternal success in the hereafter rather than the transient materials of this temporary life.

The Virtues of Selfishness!

Self-improvement plays a significant role in the lives of Muslims also due to another key Islamic concept: that every individual will be held accountable for only him/her self in the hereafter. On the Day of Judgment, God will question each soul on its actions, and how it spent time on earth. On that day, each person will solely be concerned about the magnitude of his or her deeds.

The importance of self-development cannot be overemphasized in Islam although it may seem like a selfish endeavor on the surface. However, such “selfishness” may actually be considered a virtue rather than a vice. When one is constantly struggling for self-improvement, he or she becomes more willing to help others and disperse the good that he or she has gained to society at large.

As a result, one person’s efforts contribute towards collective development. Such commitment is not possible in the individual who is self-absorbed for the sake of self-gratification. Therefore, “selfishness” for the purpose of self-improvement and the greater good is the first step to selflessness.

Indeed, the essence of all good deeds stems from a pure and tranquil soul.

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Source: whyislam.org.

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ABC's of Islam New Muslims

Islam: Guidance to the Straight Path

Description of the Straight Path

Religious guidance is the greatest gift that a person can possess. It is something that we do not control or own, but rather it is bestowed upon us.

Muslims plead to be guided to the straight path at least seventeen times a day while reciting Surat Al-Fatihah (the first chapter of the Qur’an) in the five daily prayers. How many of us have reflected on the nature of this guidance and the path that we are supposed to be upon?

“Guide us” (Ihdina)

In Arabic the word hidayah does not simply mean guidance, but it means to guide gently. The word “gift” (hadiyyah) in Arabic also comes from the same root letters as the word for guidance (hidayah). Religious guidance is the greatest gift that a person can possess. It is also something that we do not control or own, but rather it is bestowed upon us in an act of infinite mercy and grace of Allah (Exalted is He).

Notice how it is in the plural- not ‘guide me’ but “guide us”. This instills in us a sense of brotherhood by making this request on behalf of fellow Muslims, especially as we stand in prayer as a group.

Types of Hidayah Mentioned in the Qur’an

There are four types of hidayah mentioned in the Qur’an, according to (Ibn Al-Qayyim).

1- General hidayah that is given to all creation. This type of guidance and knowledge is given by Allah to all created things. By this guidance, animals, plants and even inanimate objects fulfill the purpose for which they were created. This also includes the general intellect, wits and inherent intuitive knowledge given to all responsible beings regardless of their faith. This is referred to in the following verse:

He said, “Our Lord is He Who gave each thing its form and then guided (it)”. (Ta-Ha 20:50)

2- Hidayah that is in the form of explanation and education by way of defining the two paths of good and evil. It is when someone guides you by explaining that which is good and warns you from that which is evil according to Islam. This is the type of hidayah referred to in this verse::

And indeed, (O Muhammad), you guide to a straight path. (Ash-Shura 42:52)

3- Hidayah that is tawfiq (a specific type of divine guidance) and inspiration (ilham) from Allah to be guided to the truth of iman (faith), Islam (submission), etc. The following verses refer to this type.

…Thus does Allah leave astray whom He wills and guides whom He wills. (Al-Muddaththir 74:31)

No disaster strikes except by permission of Allah. And whoever believes in Allah He will guide his heart. And Allah is Knowing of all things. (At-Taghabun 64:11)

4- Hidayah that is in the next life, by which one shall be guided to Paradise.

And We will have removed whatever is within their breasts of resentment, (while) flowing beneath them are rivers. And they will say, “Praise to Allah, who has guided us to this”. (Al-A`raf 7:43)

Each one of the above types of hidayah has a sequential connection and relationship. Without the first level of guidance you will not have the capacity to attain the second and without the second you cannot attain the third and fourth levels.

We have absolutely no power to guide anyone using any of the above types of guidance except for the second type of hidayah that is explanation and education.  This type of guidance is what is referred to in the following verses.

And indeed, (O Muhammad), you guide to a straight path. (Ash-Shura 42:52)

You are only a warner, and for every people is a guide. (Ar-Ra`d 13:7)

The remaining types of guidance, particularly the third type which is tawfiq from Allah to have iman, are what are referred to in the following verse of the Qur’an, again addressing the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him):

Indeed, (O Muhammad), you do not guide whom you like, but Allah guides whom He wills. And He is most knowing of the (rightly) guided. (Al-Qasas 28:56)

In other words even the Prophets cannot guide whom they choose to become believers in the sense of actually putting faith in a person’s heart.  They can only guide in terms of explanation, exhortation, clarification and instruction regarding the truth.

The first lesson here is that we should seek guidance in every matter with Allah first and foremost before turning to others. Secondly, it should humble those of us who are inviting or ‘guiding’ others to Islam to acknowledge and internalize the fact that we have no real power over this matter, and that true guidance is the sole dominion of Allah, the ‘turner of the hearts’.

However, that should not make us despair of the work we do, for which our reward is with Allah. But rather it should increase our confidence in inviting others knowing that the result is not dependent on ‘my da`wah’ or speech, which is full of weakness and defects, but is in the hands of Allah Who can instantly change the hearts of the most wicked and tyrannical into the most pure and righteous.

The Ten Levels of Guidance

A Muslim may question why he or she has to ask for guidance at least seventeen times a day whilst they have already been guided to Islam. Scholars have explained that it is because firstly we ask for constancy (thabat) on guidance and secondly because there are so many levels and aspects of guidance that we are in need of in every detail of our daily life.

The following will help to clarify. For example, there are a further ten levels of guidance that need to be attained for one to be truly guided. (Ibn Al-Qayyim)

Therefore one should bear in mind when asking for guidance that one is asking Allah to:

1- Be granted guidance of knowledge and clarity, in order for one to know and reach the truth.

2- For the capacity to be guided

3- Make one desirous of guidance

4- Make one act upon the guidance

5- Make one remain steadfast on guidance

6- Remove all barriers and obstructions that impede guidance

7- Be granted a distinctive and detailed level of guidance on the path itself and its stations

8- Be granted sight of one’s ultimate goal along the path, to be alerted to it so that one can perceive it on the journey, catching sight of it without being blocked from seeing it.

9- Make one aware of one’s own destitution and desperate need for guidance (from Allah) over and above all other necessities.

10- Make one see the two misguided paths that veer off from the path of guidance; firstly the path of the people of wrath- those who intentionally, out of rebellion, turned away from following the truth; secondly the path of the people of misguidance- those who turned away out of ignorance and misguidance. One then sees the straight path upon which are all the Prophets and Messengers (peace be upon them) along with their followers from the truthful (siddiqeen), the martyrs and the righteous.

We are instructed by Allah to ask for guidance to the straight path (as-sirat al-mustaqim). What then is the nature of this path?

Description of the Straight Path

In the language of the Arabs a path (sirat) needs to possess five qualities for it to be called a sirat. The path needs to be:

1- Straight

2- Easy to travel upon

3- A familiar well-trodden path

4- Wide and spacious

5- Leading one to the desired destination

Since the path that we are asking guidance to is Islam itself, notice and reflect on how these qualities apply to Islam. Islam is straight in that it is a correct and firmly established way, pure and protected from any crookedness or deviation from the truth.  Allah describes those who want to block people on the path of Allah:

…Who averted (people) from the way of Allah and sought to make it (seem) deviant while they were, concerning the Hereafter, disbelievers. (Al-A`raf 7:45)

Islam is also easy as Allah has said:

Allah intends for you ease, and does not want to make things difficult for you, (Al-Baqarah 2:185))

and as the Prophet said, “The deen (Islam/religion) is easy…” (Al-Bukhari).

Allah does not burden a soul beyond its capacity. There will be challenges, temptations and difficulties in living as a Muslim but they are things that we ultimately have the capacity to bear. Everything in Shari`ah (Islamic law) benefits us or wards off harm for us in this world and/or the next.

Islam, which is submission to the commands of Allah, is also a familiar and well-trodden path, the path of all the Prophets and their followers. As Allah says:

And whoever obeys Allah and the Messenger – those will be with the ones upon whom Allah has bestowed favour of the prophets, the steadfast affirmers of truth, the martyrs and the righteous. And excellent are those as companions. (An-Nisaa’ 4:69)

The final, universal revelation of Islam is wide and spacious and accommodates all, regardless of color, race or social status. It is us with our parochial attitudes that restrict the vastness of this path to our favorite ‘saved’ group, way of thinking, sheikh or a specific allegiance that excludes others that Islam hasn’t excluded.

Ibn Majah records that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “I have left you on a (wide, spacious) clear (white) path, its night is like its day, whoever deviates from this after me will be destroyed….”

Indeed, the path of Islam leads to the desired destination, which is Allah’s Pleasure gained by obeying Him. Allah says:

So those who believe in Allah and hold fast to Him – He will admit them to mercy from Himself and bounty and guide them to Himself on a straight path. (An-Nisaa’ 4:175)

You will also notice that the word as-sirat (path) in the surah (chapter) has the definite article “Al”. The definite article is close to the meaning of ‘the’ which renders it ‘the straight path’ in English and has several possible meanings in Arabic. Here it is said that it denotes something definite which is in the mind as well as in reality.

For example, when students waiting for their teacher to arrive say ‘the teacher is late.’ The teacher they are referring to is known amongst them and in their minds they know exactly who they are referring to. In that sense, grammatically, ‘the teacher’ is a definite noun phrase and not an indefinite one. They would not say a teacher is late in this case.

Similarly, in this case, it is a specific and definite known path that we are seeking guidance to. It is the path that Allah has ordained for the people that He has favored, the path that leads to His Pleasure and His Paradise, which is in fact His deen (religion) – besides which nothing is acceptable to Him.

It is said that it is also the path that we intuitively know in the deepest core of our hearts that must exist because as human beings we were affirmed, when we were created, that Allah is our Rabb (Lord).

All praise is to Allah Who has gently guided us to the straight path, described to us with crystal clarity its features and guided us to pray for it every day of our lives.

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Source: suhaibwebb.com

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