The preservation of belief is possible not with dry information and theory, but by means of deepening in one’s inner world through reflecting upon the embroidery of Divine power and majesty exhibited upon the Qur’an, the universe and the human being, by observing acts of worship in a state of rapture and devoted reverence and with an elevated morality. There is no delight and degree loftier than servanthood to God. Acts of worship are akin to the vitamins of the life of our heart. On the other hand, if a heedless life beneath the yoke of base and carnal desires, with a purblind, sullen, coarse and ungraceful constitution of heart is being lived, than this implies the debilitation of belief.
The essence of Islam is belief, while its objective is deeds of righteousness and good character. Islam is not something which should be concealed only within the conscience, for any truth which is relegated to the field of thought and feeling and which is not actively experienced, no matter how lofty it may be, does not have much value. If a person cannot verbally articulate a truth in which they believe and put it into practice, their belief in and love of it gradually diminishes.
For this reason, Islam has not only inculcated theoretical and theological principles, but also practical rulings. That is to say, Islam is in the complete sense of the term a ‘religion of life’. Belief, which is to begin in the deepest point in the heart and envelop a person entirely, is to flow from the tongue like the water of life and then become diffused to the whole body and its surroundings.
Belief is preserved not through dry facts and theory, but as a result of the enhancement of reflection before existent truths, a spiritual deepening and the observation of worship with this increasing spirituality. If the outward citadel of worship is weakened, the inner citadel of belief is also threatened. If we were to liken belief to a lamp, worship resembles the glass lantern protecting it from blowing out in the face of winds coming from various directions and which serves to enhance its light.
Knowledge can only develop through implementation and experience and, taking root, becomes expertise. While the protection of dry information that has not been put into practice is most difficult, its benefit is little if any. Similarly, belief ’s becoming established in a person is possible only through worship. In blessed and elect servants of Allah, the joy and pleasure of belief has surpassed all fleeting joys and pleasures. It has virtually annihilated the burning, unbearable and deleterious force of worldly pain, suffering and hardship:
When the sorcerers who challenged Prophet Moses, peace be upon him, professed their belief, the tyrannical Pharaoh had their hands and feet cut off alternately and had them crucified all together. In the face of this great persecution of the Pharaoh, these new Muslims raised their hands towards the heavens in fear of demonstrating human weakness and weakening in faith, and entreated Allah Almighty:
“Our Lord! Pour out upon us persevering patience, and take our souls to You as Muslims (wholly submitted to You)!” (A’raf 7:126.)
And finally, they returned to their Lord in the spiritual exuberance of declaration of Divine Unity. The first followers of Prophet Jesus, peace be upon him, each sincere Muslims, displayed persevering patience and steadfastness in their belief in Allah’s Oneness, even at the risk of being mutilated between the teeth of lions at the circus. They attained martyrdom in a state of spiritual rapture, overcome by the sublime delights they had tasted.
After having tasted the pleasure of belief, the Prophet’s Companion Sumayya, may Allah be well pleased with her, showed great perseverance in the face of the Makkan polytheists branding her body in torture, when she formerly had feared of the prick of a single needle. She made not the slightest concession from her belief. After having been subjected to barbaric torture, her body was savagely brutalised by having each foot tied to a separate camel. Her husband Yasir, may Allah be well pleased with him, displayed extraordinary patience, despite himself being elderly and weak.
Eventually, he too was martyred. In this way, the Yasir family, may Allah be well pleased with all of them, became the first martyrs of Islam. They paid the price of their belief by practising it with great love and devotion and with their own lives. The illustrious state of the Companion Bilal, may Allah be well pleased with him, is by virtue of the same exhilaration of meeting with Allah (liqa’ Allah). Bilal too, may Allah be well pleased with him, despite being covered in blood under the brutal torture of the Makkan polytheists, proclaimed, “One, One… Allah is One, Allah is One!” Rather than feeling the pain and agony, he experienced the rapture of meeting with Allah with a heart which had tasted the exalted pleasure of belief. For he, as with all the others, had perceived to the utmost the greatness of the blessing of Islam.
In this way, they knew just how they were to open the doors of Divine Exaltedness in both worlds with their love and rapture. With their ephemeral lives ending within the spirit of the Divine command, “O you who believe! Keep from disobedience to Allah in reverent piety, with all the reverence that is due to Him, and see that you do not die save as Muslims (submitted to Him exclusively),” they attained the life true and eternal.
The believing generations that came after them, too, were exalted at each time they crowned themselves with Islam. A belief that is not consolidated with acts of worship however, due to its diminishing with time, loses the positive effect that it exerts over the behaviour of a person. As the effect of belief weakens, the person begins to commit various sins and vices by being dragged into negative feelings and evil character. Touching upon the wisdom of worship, Allah Almighty declares:
“Now O humankind! Worship your Lord Who has created you as well as those before you (and brought you up in your human nature and identity), so that you may attain reverent piety toward Him and His protection (against any kind of straying and its consequent punishment in this world and the Hereafter).” (Baqara 2:21)
A servant protected from wrongdoing and who continues their worship is thus becoming nearer to Allah with every passing moment. The Messenger of Allah, upon him be peace and blessings, has expressed this as follows:
“Allah, glorified and exalted be He, said
‘Whoever shows hostility to My saintly servant, I will surely wage war on him. My servant cannot draw near to Me with anything more loved by Me than fulfilling the things I have made incumbent on him. Then, My servant draws nearer and nearer to Me through supererogatory acts of worship until I love him. When I love him, I become his ears with which he hears, his eyes with which he sees, his hands with which he grasps and his feet on which he walks. Were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely grant it to him, and were he to seek refuge (from something), I would surely take him under My protection…” (Bukhari, Riqaq, 38.) Also see, Ahmad, VI:256; Ibn Hibban, Sahih, II, 58:347)
There is the following inclusion in some narrations:
“…his heart with which he reasons and his tongue with which he speaks.” (Tabarani, Kabir, VIII, 221:7880; Haythami, II:248)
By enabling spiritual advancement, acts of worship save a person from Hellfire and carry them to Paradise. The sole capital that will benefit the human being in the Hereafter is the worship performed with belief and their deeds of righteousness. We will be buried with nothing other than our deeds of righteousness in the bosom of the earth. How beautifully Rumi expresses this:
“If you do not wish to be alone where you are headed, then take a child (i.e. a helper) of goodness and worship (along with you).” (Divan al-Kabir, II:692)
Acts of worship have many positive effects on a person’s psychological make up. Each of the different acts of worship retain a distinct quality and each of them amount to spiritual sustenance and nutrients given to spirits. A believer who carries out their worship is psychologically strong and lives their life in peace of mind and heart. They do not despair or undergo stress before the obstacles, difficulties and hardship they face throughout their lives.
A person who neglects their worship, however, cannot find peace in two abodes. It is stated in a Prophetic Tradition: “When a person lapses in their duties of servanthood, or fails to perform sufficient worship, instead decreasing it, Allah afflicts him with grief and sorrow.” (‘Ali al-Muttaqi, Kanz al-’Ummal, no: 6788)
Moreover, through their worship, a person is freed from becoming swept up in materiality, ascends spiritually and attains the honour of true humanity through grace, refinement and sensibility. To the extent that they draw near to Allah with their worship, worldly transactions and good character, they attain the honour of being the treasured of the universe.
From another standpoint, acts of worship also have physical benefits for Islam does not neglect any of the domains of human activity and establishes a magnificent balance between these. Islam is a perfect system which envelops life in all its facets. For instance, Allah’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, has stated that believers who are mindful of their worship are granted abundance in their provisions. Again, Allah’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, has stated:
“Your Lord, exalted and glorified be He, has said:
‘If My servants were to obey Me, I should give them rain by night, make the sun rise on them by day, and not cause them to hear the sound of thunder.’” (Ahmad, II:359; Hakim, IV, 285/7657)
As is evident, Islam places great importance on worship. It is for this reason that deeds of righteousness are mentioned, in the main, alongside belief in the Qur’an and in the Prophetic Traditions. This situation, at the same time, illustrates the vital role of worship in the protection of belief and its centrality in religion. It also be remembered that worship mainly benefits people themselves.
Allah Almighty is in no need whatsoever of the worship and devotion of any other. Worship can perhaps be an expression of gratitude for the innumerable worldly and otherworldly bounties that Allah Almighty has bestowed upon us. What great ingratitude is a person in, who fails to express thankfulness towards the Almighty despite all these bounties, favours and blessings, if not at the very least by performing their worship.
However, everything in the universe is in a state of worship toward Allah Almighty, before His majesty. The Qur’an declares that whatever is in the heavens and the earth glorifies Allah with praise. The stars, mountains, trees, animals, the birds flying in patterned ranks in the skies and indeed all other beings prostrate themselves to Allah Almighty, in the way which He demands and in a manner beyond our comprehension. This is known as the “worship of the universe”.
In short, a life without worship is meaningless for Allah Almighty has created humankind for servanthood and worship. And He has designed human nature accordingly. For this reason, the human being is in need of seeking refuge in their Lord and Creator, asking help from Him and worshipping Him. It is for this reason that the life of the human being is filled with manifestations of the search for truth in way of reaching their Creator. On the basis of the statement, “Humankind has been created for worship,” it must not be supposed that Muslims are constantly serious and in hardship.
The Messenger of Allah, upon him be peace and blessings, always had a smiling countenance and informed the Muslims that they would be rewarded for smiling at one another. The Companions would joke among themselves, utter words of cheer and the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, would smile at them. Again, Allah’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, would recommend the display of happiness and cheer on days of festivity and at weddings.
That is to say, Muslims too have their times for relaxation, rest and recreation. However, all of these are realised in their lives in due measure and harmony, without any room for heedlessness and carnality. Islam has ordained worship in different forms and has sprinkled these throughout various times. This enables the person to maintain constant togetherness with Allah Almighty.
Experiencing constant nearness to the Almighty grants great tranquillity and security to the believer. As a final point, let us note that the sole Being Who is worthy of worship is Allah Almighty for worship is the highest of the ranks of reverence, obedience and homage. This is only done towards Allah and only He is entitled to this, as it is only He Who bestows the body, life and all the bounties pertaining to these. For this reason, prostrating to any other than Allah has been absolutely forbidden.
1. Ablution (Wudu’) and Cleanliness
Islam places importance on both physical as well as spiritual cleanliness. It demands of human beings to be clean, organised, mannerly and sensitive in every way. It lists the use of scents pleasing to human beings among the most important elements of the elevated practices of the Prophet.
For this reason, it deems cleanliness as worship and places it at the head of all acts of worship. It stipulates that a person who has newly entered Islam take the full body ritual ablution (ghusl). Islam informs human beings that such worship as the Prescribed Prayer, circumambulation of the Ka’ba and recitation of the Qur’an are not acceptable without the ritual ablution.
The Messenger of Allah, upon him be peace and blessings, advised the washing of hands before and after meals and the taking of ablution before retiring to bed. He even encouraged believers to be in the ritual state of ablution as much as possible. One morning, the Messenger of Allah, upon him be peace and blessings, called his Mu’addhin (the reciter of the Call to Prayer) Bilal al-Habashi, may Allah be well pleased with him, and said:
“O Bilal, With what (deed) have you preceded me to Paradise? I have never entered Paradise (in my dreams) except that I have heard the sound of your footsteps in front of me. Last night (in my dreams) I entered Paradise and I heard the sound of your footsteps in front of me…”
Bilal, may Allah be well pleased with him, said:
“O Messenger of Allah, I have never recited the Call to Prayer except that I prayed two units of prayer (afterwards) and I have never broken my ablution except that I renewed it (immediately) and I believed that I should offer two units of prayer to Allah (i.e. after every ablution).”
The Messenger of Allah, upon him be peace and blessings, then said:
“It is because of those two (units of prayer).” (Tirmidhi, Manaqib, 17:3689; Ahmad, V:354)
At the end of the Qur’anic verse in which Allah Almighty commands and describes the ritual ablution, He declares: “…Allah does not will to impose any hardship upon you, but wills to purify you (of any kind of material and spiritual filth), and to complete His favor upon you, so that you may give thanks (from the heart, and in speech and action by fulfilling His commandments).” (Ma’ida 5:6)
Again, it has been stipulated that both the garments as well as the place in which one is to perform the prayer is to be clean. An examination of the ablution, full body ablution and other acts of cleanliness enjoined by Islam reveals that these hold a great many benefits and wisdoms from the perspective of health and hygiene. In the simplest terms, human beings both keep their surroundings and themselves clean in a great spirit of worship and also maintain their health and wellbeing. For the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, has said:
“Cleanliness is half of belief.” (Muslim, Tahara, 1)
Just as Muslims show meticulousness attention to cleanliness during their lives, after their deaths, they seek to embark on the journey to the Divine in a state that is pure and clean. Consequently, the body of a Muslim who has died is washed carefully, they are made to take the full body ablution, their body is enshrouded with a pure white cloth and is scented, and it is then entrusted again to the pure soil. Supplications are made for the person to rise from their grave at the Resurrection in the purest possible state.
2. The Prescribed Prayer
The greatest and most important of the springs of worship leading the servant to the ocean of union with their Lord is undoubtedly the Prescribed Prayer. The Prescribed Prayer holds the position of being the pinnacle and essence of all forms of worship, with respect to scope, content and rank.
All beings in the universe – the sun, stars, meadows, grass, trees and animals – are all in a state of glorification and remembrance of Allah. The birds flying in fancy formations, the mountains and rocks are all in servitude to Allah in a glorification unknown to us. The worship of trees and plants are in the standing position of prayer (qiyam), that of animals is the bowing position (ruku’) and the position of those deemed inanimate is that of being face down, that is, in the position of prostration (sajda).
The situation of the inhabitants of the heavens is also thus. A certain group among the angels are in the upright position, a group in the bowing position, another group in prostration and yet another in praise and glorification. As for the prayer that Allah Almighty has favoured the believers with as an Ascension, however, it merges all these forms of worship within itself.
Consequently, those who duly observe the prayer attain the incalculable rewards and spiritual manifestations of having performed an act of worship which encompasses that of all other beings in the earth and the heavens. There is no worship that resembles the Prescribed Prayer. One who observes the prayer cannot be preoccupied with anything other than the prayer itself. The prayer severs their connection with everything else and enables the person to experience an indescribable union with Allah Almighty.
This is not the case with the other forms of worship. For instance, one who fasts can simultaneously work and a person performing the pilgrimage can engage in buying and selling when necessary. However, both the physical being and the spirit of a person performing the prayer are in the Divine presence. As affirmed in a Qur’anic verse:
“…Prostrate and draw near (to Allah).” (‘Alaq 96:19)
In the physical sense, the Prescribed Prayer enables the human body’s inner and outward movement. Through causing a person to pursue their life in an organised fashion, it enables them to acquire a time discipline and punctuality Spiritually, the Prescribed Prayer is filled with such favours and blessings as being in the Divine presence, reflection, consolation during times of fear, consolidation of spirituality during times of joy, preservation of belief and intimacy with Allah Almighty.
From the standpoint of its social benefits, the Prescribed Prayer is a means to unity and solidarity, acquaintance, intimacy, familiarity and the strengthening of the ties of belief and brotherhood. In particular, not differentiating human beings on the basis of race, colour, language, rank and status, the prayer that is performed in congregation – namely the Friday Prayer and the specific prayers on days of religious festivity – facilitate people’s coming together on the same level, as well as their integration, cooperation and the development of a social conscience.
In terms of its spiritual manifestations and through taking the person to the Divine presence, the Prescribed Prayer is a form of worship that adorns the human being with such meritorious qualities as sincerity, piety and faithfulness. In prayer, a person transforms the world of their heart into a spiritual climate of spring. Due to the fact that it is repeated at least five times every day, the Prescribed Prayer constantly reminds one of Allah Almighty and connects the heart and conscience to Him. It firmly establishes the infinite power of Allah, His absolute will, His mercy and compassion, favour and grace, and His wrath and punishment in the human being’s heart. In this way, it keeps the person away from sin, wrongdoing and injustice. As stated in a Qur’anic verse:
“Recite and convey to them what is revealed to you of the Book, and establish the Prayer in conformity with its conditions. Surely, the Prayer restrains from all that is indecent and shameful, and all that is evil. Surely Allah’s remembrance is the greatest (of all types of worship and not restricted to the Prayer). Allah knows all that you do.” (Ankabut 29:45)
Coming to the Prophet one day, a person said:
“So-and-so performs the Prayer in the night but steals when it is morning.”
Allah’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, said:
“If they are observing the Prayer truly, then this Prayer and the verses of the Qur’an that they recite during their Prayer will pull them away from that act of wickedness.” (Ahmad, II:447)
The crime rate among Muslims is rather small and the countries in which the least murders are committed are the Muslim majority nations. Western researchers continue to conduct important studies on the reasons behind the low murder rates in Muslim societies.
The most important reasons behind this are the principles of belief, worship and the ethics and morality established by Islam. A person who receives an Islamic education and training fears Allah and believes that they will have to account in the Hereafter for even every atom’s weight of good and evil they carry out. Consequently, it becomes a padlock for evil and a key for goodness.
The Prayer observed at set times frees a person, at regular intervals, from the intensity of a heavy workload and the monotony of life, thus giving them respite. It enables the servant to express their obedience, submission and feelings of gratitude to their Lord. A person who prostrates finds the opportunity of turning to their inner world, confronting himself or herself directly therein.
A critical illness in our world today, where people are becoming more and more estranged from one another, self-interest comes to the fore and individualism reigns supreme, is the sense of loneliness. The best remedy for this disease, which drags the human being into the clutch of various mental disorders, is the Prayer. Whether the Prayer is performed individually or in congregation with a view to increasing its merit, it dispels a person’s sense of loneliness, at least five times every day.
This is because the Prescribed Prayer, carrying a person to the Divine presence, reminds them that they are not alone, even if they observe the prayer on their own. When performed in congregation, however, it both takes a person to the presence of Allah and also brings them together with their fellow believers. Sociologist Professor Ümit Meriç has stated:
“A society that performs the Prescribed Prayer has no need for psychology and a society that pays the prescribed annual alms (zakat) has no need for sociology.”
In relation to the Prayer, the Almighty declares, “Prostrate and draw near.” He informs us that His prosperous servants perform the Prayer in devoted reverence. By virtue of one single Prayer performed in such humble submission, a person’s reliance and surrender to Allah Almighty increases.
As a result of this surrender, the person is protected from psychological disorders and mental illness. For, through submission to Allah Almighty, the greatest power, they have left themselves at the mercy of the infinite Presence. A believer who observes the Prayer feels themselves to be under the Divine protection and lives in a great sense of peace and security. The Messenger of Allah, upon him be peace and blessings, stated in relation to those who neglected the Prayer:
“…Whoever neglects the Prescribed Prayer, they will be deprived of the protection of Allah.” (Ibn Maja, Fitan, 23)
Consequently, a society that observes the Prescribed Prayer is physically and psychologically sound. A doctor had come to the city of Madina during the Age of Happiness but was unable to find work. Eventually, the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, advised him to return home to his family.
Again, when we examine the narrations, we do not encounter any case of psychological illness during the Age of Happiness. Allah Almighty has sent His Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, as an exemplar. Just as he served as a model in every other way, he was an example in the matter of psychology and psychotherapy. Similarly, he is an example in regard to the reform of society.
The greatest demonstration of this is the society of the Age of Happiness. Furthermore, the Prescribed Prayer is, after belief, the most meritorious160 of deeds carried out for the invocation and remembrance of Allah and also the most perfect. It is the most important pillar of Islam after the Declaration of Faith and the major sins of a person who observes the Prescribed Prayer will be forgiven. The Messenger of Allah, upon him be peace and blessings, once said to his Companions,
“What do you think would happen if there was a river by someone’s door in which he washed five times every day? Do you think that any dirt would remain on him?”
The Companions said, “Not a scrap of dirt would remain on him.”
He said, “That is a metaphor of the five prayers by which Allah wipes out wrong actions.” (Muslim, Masajid, 283. See, Bukhari, Mawaqit, 6)
The Messenger of Allah, upon him be peace and blessings, informs us that this river gushing forth plentifully is just at our doorstep. In other words, it is very close to us and our taking water from it and entering it to bathe is most easy. With slight effort, we are able to attain the immense grace and favour promised by Allah. As the Prayer is the key to Paradise161, Allah’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, advised those wanting to enter Paradise and be his neighbour to prostrate much. The prostration is, at the same time, a means of deliverance from Hellfire. This truth is expressed in a Prophetic Tradition as follows:
“…When Allah wishes to show mercy to those He chooses among the people of the Fire, He will command the angels to take out all those who worshipped Allah. They will bring them out, recognising them by the mark of prostration (sajda). Allah has forbidden the Fire to consume the mark of sajda. Thus they will come out of the Fire. The Fire consumes every part of the son of Adam except for the mark of sajda.” (Bukhari, Adhan, 129)
Implied in the sajda is largely the Prescribed Prayer. In some Qur’anic verses and Prophetic Traditions, the Prayer has been mentioned with the prostration, its most important element. One of the other benefits of the Prayer, more important than all the others is its being the means for the believers entering Paradise being favoured with vision (jamal) of the Almighty. The Prophet’s Companion Jarir, may Allah be well pleased with him, relates:
We were with the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, one night and he looked at the full moon and said,
‘You will see your Lord as you see this moon and you will not be harmed by seeing Him. If you can manage not to be overwhelmed to the point of missing the prayer before the sun rises and before it sets, don’t be.’
Then he recited, ‘…and glorify your Lord with praise before sunrise and before sunset, and glorify Him during some hours of the night – as well as glorifying (Him) at the ends of the day – so that you may obtain Allah’s good pleasure and be contented (with what Allah has decreed for you).’” (Ta-Ha 20:130)163 (Bukhari, Mawaqit 16, 26; Tafsir, 50:1; Tawhid, 24; Muslim, Masajid, 211)
Hence, the Prescribed Prayer is the most important act of worship enabling the human being to realise their purpose of creation. The human being’s skeletal make up being created in a form facilitating the bowing and prostrating position, is in a sense to ease the observance of the Prayer and, as such, to allow them to reach their true purpose. For this reason, the human being must organise their entire life in accordance with the times for Prayer and must make the Prescribed Prayer the axis around which their life revolves.
3. Fasting and the Month of Ramadan
Fasting is a form of worship which entails obedience to the Divine command and refraining from eating, drinking and sexual relations from pre-dawn until sunset, in order to earn the good pleasure of Allah.
The month of Ramadan, observed with such forms of worship as the fast first and foremost as well as the Prayer, prescribed annual alms, spending in Allah’s way, remembrance of Allah, recitation of the Qur’an, cooperation and hospitality, is a blessed month of reward and spiritual gifts. It is the master of all the other months164 wherein Allah Almighty honours His servants with great favour and kindness. The doors of forgiveness are wide open and He bestows immense rewards for even the slightest of deeds. Allah’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, has stated:
“When Ramadan comes, the gates of the Garden (Paradise) are opened, the gates of Hellfire are closed and the satans are chained.” (Bukhari, Bad’u al-Khalq, 11; Muslim, Siyam, 1, 2, 4, 5)
The Wisdom of Fasting
The mystery of forsaking fleeting pleasures and attaining everlasting pleasures is realised in this month through the Divinely ordained worship of fasting. A believer who fasts constantly struggles against the obstacle of the carnal self within the consciousness of worship and, holding it under control, reduces its effect to an absolute minimum.
Fasting perfects our morality through the training of such states necessary in the struggle of life as “determination, patience, perseverance, willpower, contentment, resignation, steadfastness and detaching oneself from carnality”.
Fasting serves as a protective shield for a person’s honour and dignity against the never ending desires of the carnal soul in the way of eating, drinking and lust. Again, by means of deprivation and hunger, fasting reminds a person of the innumerable bounties bestowed to them by Allah. Causing us to consider the plight of the poverty-stricken, it sensitises our hearts with feelings of mercy and compassion, and revives our feelings of gratitude. Through this quality, fasting is a form of worship most effectual in eliminating such elements engendering disorder in society as hatred, envy and covetousness. Fasting has been enjoined not only for this community, but for earlier ones as well. Allah, exalted and glorified be He, declares:
“O you who believe! Prescribed for you is the Fast, as it was prescribed for those before you…” (Baqara 2:6183-184)
The worship prescribed by Islam function as remedies for myriad spiritual diseases. Carnal desires, being deceived by the attractions of the world, inclining to pleasure and amusement are among the causes of spiritual and psychological illnesses. Regulating one’s diet is necessary if one is to be protected from contracting such spiritual diseases.
Fasting is the best method of this treatment, for fasting is enjoined by Allah Almighty, the Creator of human beings. Assuredly, He knows best His servants’ needs. Indeed fasting serves as a sort of curative for a great many physical and spiritual ailments. It is for this reason that it is observed on “days that are numbered” for if medicine is used for prolonged periods of time, the body becomes accustomed to it and its benefits are no longer evident. Thus, the Messenger of Allah, upon him be peace and blessings, warned one of his Companions who said that he would spend the rest of his life fasting:
“Someone who fasts all the time does not fast at all,” and repeated this statement three times. (Bukhari, Sawm, 55-57)
From the medical point of view, it is observed that fasting nonstop becomes habitual, which does not engender the same effect as fasting at particular intervals. To fast for less than a month does not produce great effect, yet a fast for more than forty days becomes a habit.
Fasting enables the person to acquire a discipline of eating and drinking and the habit of controlling one’s appetite. It prevents obesity, greed and consequently many diseases. If a person who observes the fast is overweight, they are able to lose their extra kilos and grant respite to their digestive system, which works non-stop throughout the year. A look at the universe also reveals many examples of fasting:
Biological studies have shown that during times of snowfall, wild beasts cannot find anything with which to fill their stomachs. As a result of this, these animals spend the entire winter in hibernation or fasting, as it were. The same is true for trees. In winter, they shed their leaves and enter into a long sleep and cannot even absorb water to their roots until the arrival of spring and the ensuing melting of the snow. At the coming of spring, following these several months of fasting, they thus become rejuvenated are productive, as can be gleaned from the abundance of their leaves and flowers.
Even metals and minerals are in need of the fast. Engines and machines are given rest after having worked for extended periods of time. This rest facilitates the reacquisition of their former strength and power. In a new method of medical treatment implemented recently, the chronically ill are treated, depending on the situation of the patient, via extended or short-term fasts.
Moreover, the fast’s being observed during a set month is significant with respect to fostering the unity and solidarity between Muslims. In addition, the tasks undertaken with others are easier for individuals to perform and the sacred month of Ramadan is realised in unison, in a spirit of festivity.
As a result, the fast, which is comprised of a set period of days, adds an especial refinement, profundity and grace to our lives that are again numbered. In addition, the fact that the month of Ramadan rotates throughout the seasons of the year represents another one of its wisdom. Ramadan falls upon the hot, cold, cool and warm as well as the long, short days experienced throughout the various seasons of the year respectively.
In this way, the fast gives blessings to all the days of the year at regular intervals. This situation at the same time serves, for those who observe the fast, as a means to manifestations filled with various difficulties and ease and allows the believers to experience a great many spiritual delights. Again, this state is the best illustration of the believers’ obedience to Allah Almighty under any circumstances. Allah Almighty declares in relation to the month of Ramadan and the fast:
“The month of Ramadan, in which the Qur’an was sent down as guidance for people, and as clear signs of Guidance and the Criterion (between truth and falsehood). Therefore whoever of you is present this month must fast it, and whoever is so ill that he cannot fast or is on a journey (must fast the same) number of other days. Allah wills ease for you, and He does not will hardship for you, so that you can complete the number of the days required, and exalt Allah for He has guided you, and so it may be that you will give thanks (due to Him).” (Baqara 2:185)
According to this Qur’anic verse, Allah Almighty wills that the fast be observed in gratitude for the Qur’an’s being sent down. However, as with all other matters, He has made fasting easy for His servants and has never left them in a difficult situation. In the last section of the verse, He declares, so to speak, that which must be engendered from the fast. Accordingly, the human being perceives the majesty and favours of Allah and learns the best way of expressing gratitude to Him.
Thus, the actual meaning and essence of the fast, in addition to refraining from certain bodily desires, is to purge the consciousness of worldly attachment and all other than Allah, and to thus reach the highest limit possible in spiritual concentration in the way of togetherness with Him.
The Virtue of the Fast Mawlana Jalal al-Din al-Rumi, may Allah sanctify his secret, says:
“The true sustenance of the human being is the light of Allah. It does not befit them to give them excessive bodily sustenance. The true sustenance of the human being is Divine love and reason. The human being is uneasy as they have forgotten their true spiritual sustenance and have become attached to bodily sustenance. They are voracious. They have grown pale, their legs quiver and their heart pulsates in panic.
Where is the sustenance of the earth, the sustenance of infinity! Allah, glorified and exalted be He, declares concerning those killed in His way, “With their Lord they have their sustenance.” For this spiritual provision there is neither mouth nor body.”
There are ten advantages of eating little and, in particular, in hunger and fasting.
1) In hunger is ease of heart and strength of memory, while in satiation is folly and forgetfulness.
2) In hunger, the heart softens and one derives joy and blessing from supplication and worship. In satiation, however, the heart becomes hardened and no pleasure is derived from worship.
3) In hunger there is tenderness of heart, delicacy and humility, while in satiation there is extravagance, pride, conceit and self-praise.
4) In hunger, the poor and hungry are remembered, while they are forgotten and dismissed from the mind in satiation.
5) In hunger, carnal and bodily desires are crushed. In satiation, however, the carnal soul strengthens.
6) In hunger, the body is alert and awake. In satiation, sleep and heedlessness take precedence.
7) In hunger, it is easy to continue worship and servanthood. In satiation, however, there is laziness and laxity.
8) The body is healthy in hunger, while in satiation the body is worn down and becomes beset by illness.
9) The body is light and refreshed in hunger, while heavy and lethargic in satiation.
10) An enthusiasm for giving in charity, generosity and spending in Allah’s way accompanies hunger. And this allows the servant cool shade in the horrendous heat of Judgement Day. Stinginess or wastefulness surface in satiation and this ruins the servant spiritually.
In other words, while satiation rouses carnal desires, hunger – as long as one does not go to extremes – strengthens the capacity for reflection and feeling. In sum, fasting enables the human being to be healthy in all respects. The Messenger of Allah, upon him be peace and blessings, states:
“Observe the fast so as to attain (physical and spiritual) health.” (Haythami, III:179)
The most perfect illustration of the physical and spiritual health and qualities acquired through hunger is this: Allah Almighty prepared His Messengers for the spiritual effusion of Prophethood through the fast. When they reached the peak of spiritual perfection, they withdrew from the people for a certain amount of time and angelic qualities became manifested in them.
In this way, their hearts and minds overflowed with the spiritual outpouring of Divine revelation. For instance, the precious Prophet of Mount Sinai Prophet Moses, peace be upon him, fasted for forty days and forty nights until the revelation of the Torah. The great Prophet of Mount Sa’ir, Prophet ‘Isa (Jesus), upon him be peace, also fasted for forty days and nights until he heard the first words from the Gospel.
Prior to the first revelation of the Qur’an, Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, spent extended periods of time alone at Mount Hira, in Makka’s surrounds, and spent his days observing various kinds of worship. In the end, he received glad tidings from the voice of Archangel Gabriel and the light of Divine effusion began to rise in his heart. Again, prior to his Ascension to the heavens and his personal encounter with Allah Almighty, which is of a nature unbeknownst to us, he reached the zenith of spiritual perfection through patiently enduring the severe hunger and hardship that the Makkan polytheists inflicted on them during a three-year boycott.
These facts illustrate that the actual aim and advantage of the fast is spiritual. Consequently, as fasting is a form of worship, it must be observed with purely this objective. If only the external benefits are made an objective, then fasting is no longer worship. That is to say, our fasts must not have such objectives preventing filling our stomachs completely and losing weight; earning the good pleasure of Allah cannot be conceived of in such fasts. Benefits such as these will emerge automatically with the fast that is observed for the sake of Allah.
A Muslim who fasts with this intention must shield the life of their heart from carnal desire, inclination and thoughts. Not being content with merely avoiding bodily tendencies such as eating and drinking, they must protect their inner world from every kind of baseness such as backbiting, lying, hatred and jealousy. Allah Almighty has encouraged His servants to observe the fast due to a great many more benefits and virtues that cannot possibly be all enumerated here.
In order for human beings to have an inclination to fasting, He has multiplied its virtue several fold. Every good deed is given from ten up to seven hundred times the reward; however, fasting is not included in this. Its reward will be granted by Allah Almighty in a measureless fashion and, pleasing His fasting servants both in this world and in the Hereafter, He will receive them personally in His Paradise. The Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, has stated:
“Allah, glorified and exalted be He, said, ‘Every action of the son of Adam is for himself except for fasting. It is Mine and I repay it.’ Fasting is a shield. When someone is fasting, he should not have sexual relations nor quarrel. If someone fights him or insults him, he should say, ‘I am fasting’.
By the One in whose hand the self of Muhammad is, the changed breath in the mouth of the faster is more fragrant to Allah Almighty than the scent of musk. The faster experiences two joys: when he breaks his fast he rejoices and when he meets his Lord he rejoices in his fasting.” (Bukhari, Sawm, 9; Muslim, Siyam, 163)
In short, fasting is one of the best nourishments of the spirit. It enables the servant to live in a state of austerity, both physically and with respect to their worldly possessions. By accustoming them to use even the permissible to a bare minimum, it develops the spirit. A believer who uses even the permissible in a state of austerity shuns even more those things that are doubtful and never approaches the prohibited.
4. The Alms-Tax (Zakat)
The prescribed annual alms (zakat) is comprised of those possessing more than a given amount of possessions and property giving 2.5 percent of their wealth – annually, according to the Hijri calendar – in the way of Allah. The Prescribed Purifying Alms (zakat) is given to the poor, the destitute, officials in charge of collecting the alms-tax, those whose hearts are to be warmed to Islam, to free slaves, those overburdened with debt, those working in Allah’s cause and wayfarers in need of help. (Tauba 9:60)
Animals and agricultural produce are also subject to the almstax. All these are calculated separately. The prescribed annual alms on agricultural produce is referred to as ‘ushr.
Islam has left the spending in God’s way in addition to the prescribed alms for those with lofty aims up to the individual, to be given in accordance with their own respective situations.
Responsibilities of the Wealthy and the Poor: The fact that individuals and communities assume differing positions such as powerful and weak, healthy and unhealthy, wealthy and poor, hold many deep and subtle wisdoms of the Divine will. Before all else, Allah Almighty has bestowed all the bounties that we possess in life as each a means of trial. To the degree of the bounties we possess, even the deprivations we undergo are each a means of examination. Allah, exalted and glorified be He, declares:
“And so, human – when his Lord tries him by bestowing favors on him – says: ‘My Lord has honored me. But whenever He tries him by straitening his means of livelihood, then he says, ‘My Lord has humiliated me.’” (Fajr 89:15-16)
Accordingly, riches are not, for instance, an honour and poverty abasement; these amount to Divine apportionment and distribution. Allah Almighty declares:
“…it is We Who distribute their means of livelihood among them in the life of this world, and raise some of them above others in degree, so that they may avail themselves of one another’s help? But your Lord’s mercy (in particular Prophethood) is better than what they amass (in this life).” (Zukhruf 43:32)
While the Almighty has distributed among His servants differently, He has ordered their responsibilities accordingly and, as such, has on no account wronged them. Moreover, we also understand from this Qur’anic verse that the differences among human beings play a vital role in the establishment of social harmony and order. The wealthy will be called to account before Allah in regard to where they earned and spent their wealth – or concerning their lawful or unlawful earnings – as well as their alms-tax, charity and good works.
They are charged with giving a determinate portion of their property to the poor and are subject to a great trial with respect to their wealth. However, in the event of their success in this examination, they will earn Divine approval and attain the blessings of Paradise. As for the poor, they will be called to account in such affairs as patience, complaint, rebellion, hatred, jealousy and honour. If the outcome of all these accords with the good pleasure and approval of Allah, their worldly suffering will be transformed into an eternal happiness in the Hereafter.
Just as the poor are in need of the material support of the wealthy in this world, the wealthy are in need of the supplication of the poor both in this world and the next. The magnanimous wealthy, the people of thankfulness, and the poor and dignified are together in the honour of humanity and Divine approval. However, the arrogant miserly affluent, as well as the impatient poor who have made a habit of begging, have been openly condemned in Islam. Hence, the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, used to entreat Allah saying,
“O Lord, I seek refuge with You from the evil of the affliction of wealth and from the affliction of poverty.” (Muslim, Dhikr, 49)
This being the case, in whomsoever contentment, reliance, surrender and obedience prevail, they are the true wealthy… Working and earning property and possessions through lawful means are of course a virtue. That which is right is to spend these in the way of Allah without embedding these in the heart, or in other words without deifying them. Otherwise, wealth will amount to nothing other than porterage in the world and the cause of woeful punishment in the Hereafter.
The following report is exemplary in terms of illustrating the significance of spending, giving in charity as well as of service and endeavour in Allah’s way. Bashir ibn Khasasya, may Allah be well pleased with him, relates:
“I came to the Messenger of Allah, upon him be peace and blessings, to pledge my allegiance to him. He enjoined upon me to bear witness that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is His servant and His Messenger, to observe the Prescribed Prayer, to pay the prescribed annual alms, to perform the pilgrimage, to observe the fast during Ramadan and to struggle for the sake of Allah.
I said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, two of those I cannot do. The first is charity. I only have ten camels. They constitute my entire wealth. The second is struggling in the way of Allah (jihad); I heard that whoever runs away from the battlefield has incurred the wrath of Allah. I am afraid that if I reach the battlefield I might fear death and my spirit would fail me.”
Allah’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, grabbed his hand, waved it and said, ‘No charity and no jihad! How then can you enter”
Paradise?’ I then said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, I pledge my allegiance to you!’ The Messenger of Allah took my pledge on every term he mentioned.” (Ahmad, V:224; Hakim, II, 89:2421; Bayhaqi, Shu’ab, V:8; Haythami, I:42)
Wisdoms of Zakat and Spending in Allah’s Way: The prescribed annual alms and spending in the way of Allah prevents the well to do from being deceived by their riches and transgressing, and prevents the needy from breeding feelings of hatred and envy towards the wealthy.
In this way, social life is protected and individuals in society are bound together with ties of solidarity and affection. The gap between the rich and the poor is reduced to the bare minimum. Consequently, with the great decrease in the number of poor, a great many problems, which arise due to poverty and desperation, will be prevented. The following example, which illustrates the way in which the prescribed annual alms brings diverse people together, is noteworthy:
‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, passed by the door of a house in front of which he saw a beggar who was an old blind man. He tapped his arm from behind and asked,
“To which People of the Book do you belong?”
The old man said that he was a Jew. Upon this ‘Umar, may Allah be well pleased with him, said, “What is it that has reduced you to such a state?”
The blind Jewish man replied, “Being in need of money to pay the poll tax (jizya), my poverty and my old age has reduced me to this state (of begging).”
‘Umar, may Allah be well pleased with him, held the man by the hand and took him to his own house. He gave the man some things that he could find in his house as well as some money.
‘Umar, may Allah be well pleased with him, then summoned an official from the public treasury (bayt al-mal) and instructed him as follows:
“Attend to this man and the likes of him. By Allah, if we have benefited from the productive time of his youth and have thus forsaken him in his old age, we would not have acted justly…”
After this incident, Caliph ‘Umar, may Allah be well pleased with him, exempted such individuals from paying the poll tax.
Non-Muslims are our partners in humanity. As the last breath is an unknown for everyone, it is essential to treat all people in the best way and to approach unbelievers with the hopeful attitude that they might one day believe. For this reason, a share can be apportioned to them from charity, if not from the alms-tax. These kindnesses and favours can be a means to their guidance.
We see the most vivid example of this again in the life of Allah’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings: In the seventh year after the Emigration, the Messenger of Allah, upon him be peace and blessings, sent various items in aid to the people of Makka who had faced severe drought and famine following the conquest of Khaybar. Abu Sufyan received all of these and distributed them to the Qurayshi poor. Despite himself being a polytheist at the time, he was struck with admiration and expressed the joy he felt saying,
“May Allah reward the son of my brother with goodness as he observed the rights of kinship!”
Softening the hearts of the Makkans, such benevolence facilitated their collectively embracing Islam at Makka’s conquest. Many people were guided in this way throughout the history of the Ottoman Empire also. The property received as alms-tax is gradually transferred to society’s suffering and downtrodden. In this way, balance, justice and social harmony ensue. Being purified, the fortune of the wealthy becomes completely lawful for its owner. The conflict between rich and poor has existed since time immemorial.
For the most part, the poor have looked to the wealthy with hatred and envy and the wealthy have snubbed the poor and have held them in contempt. The exception to this has only been possible in periods where the prescribed annual alms have been duly observed. In such times, the alms-tax and charity used to be offered in great secrecy and grace for as declared in a Qur’anic verse,
“… surely Allah is He who welcomes His servants’ turning to Him in repentance, and accepts what is offered as charity (prescribed or voluntary) for His sake…” (Tauba 9:104)
If the prescribed annual alms were to be duly observed today, there would be next to no needy and suffering in society. And so, during the caliphate of ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-’Aziz, people used to bring their alms but could find no one to whom to give it.
‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-’Aziz once sent an official charged with distributing goods given in alms to Africa. The official returned without having distributed the goods, as he was unable to find anyone who would accept alms. Upon this, he emancipated a great many slaves with this money. This situation is a reward of spending one’s wealth and life for the sake of the Almighty.
Thus, while Islam dresses the physical and spiritual wounds of humanity in such a way and restores them to health, other systems have been unsuccessful in this, going to extremes in either aspect. Some have completely forbidden asking others for anything, while begging has become rife in others. Islam, however, has approached this wound with exceptional wisdom through the prescribed annual alms and spending in God’s way, and has offered the most feasible solution.
Indeed, zakat is one of the loftiest values which Islam adds to humanity. One of the ways of removing the yoke of slavery that was once a bitter reality for humanity is the prescribed annual alms, as one of the eight places in which the property given in alms can be used is to emancipate slaves.
Another wisdom behind the alms-tax and spending in Allah’s way is the prevention of abnormal growth of individual capital. The prescribed annual alms and spending in the way of Allah is the best remedy and cure preventing capital becoming a cancerous growth.
Again, it is by virtue of zakat that people striving in the way of Allah can be supported and good works be pioneered. By means of supporting the education of students, the use of knowledge in the way of servanthood to Allah is facilitated. Thus, peace becomes established in a society which gives in alms. We see that society experienced a universal peace in both various Muslim societies and in the Ottoman communities. The Ottoman Empire stood tall for 620 years with this peace.
When the social fabric is destroyed by not giving the alms-tax, such ills as theft, indulgence and pretension are compounded. As one digresses from spirituality, carnal desires are stirred and, as a result, the peace of the entire society is disturbed. In such a case, sociology’s laws remain merely in words.
Dominion Belongs to Allah: We live in the dominion of our Lord. We are sustained with His bounties. Do not those who display negligence in their financial worship consider whose wealth they are withholding from whom? In reality, dominion belongs to Allah absolutely. The property and possessions of human beings, however, resembles time share. Worldly wealth is a trust given by Allah to His servant. On no account can individuals’ use of this at will be condoned. It must be used in line with the commandments of the True Owner of that property.
In this case, one who spends in the way of Allah in actual fact spends of the wealth that Allah has bestowed again for one of His servants. Consequently, Allah Almighty has apportioned the almstax as a right that those who are able to are required to give to those in need. It is declared in a Qur’anic verse:
“And those in whose wealth there is a right acknowledged (by them) for such as have no means other than begging, and such as are denied help (because, having self-respect, they cannot beg and are thought to be well-off).”
“And in their wealth the poor (who had to beg) and the destitute (who did not beg out of shame) had due share (a right they gladly honored).” (Ma’arij 70:24-25; Dhariyat 51:19)
Hence, a servant wishing to acquire Divine morality and favour are obliged to allow the needy and suffering to benefit from the worldly wealth from which they themselves benefit. For the true aim is to become a believer from whom all others benefit and to thus attain Divine approval and good pleasure.
The Blessing in Zakat and Spending in God’s Way: The prescribed annual alms, which gladdens society’s downtrodden, in actual fact avails the giver more than the receiver. Literally meaning cleanliness, purity and blessing, the word ‘zakat’ possesses such exceedingly important benefits as the human being’s being purified of particular spiritual diseases and evils and the cleansing and increase of one’s wealth.
Such that this cleansing, which includes the heart’s purification, the spirit’s growing in purity and the refinement of the carnal soul, is one of the wisdoms behind Prophets and Messengers being sent to humankind. Through abating avarice and covetousness of one who is predisposed to attachment to wealth, the prescribed annual alms enables them to turn to Allah Almighty Who is worthy of true love and devotion. It facilitates a person’s experiencing the meaning of Divine Unity by purging everything that casts a cloud over love of Allah and, being freed from miserliness, to show thankfulness to Allah for the provisions He has bestowed upon them. And thankfulness increases the bounty. Allah Almighty declares:
“…If you are thankful (for My favors), I will most certainly give you more…” (Ibrahim 14:7)
“The parable of those who spend their wealth in Allah’s cause is like that of a grain that sprouts seven ears, and in every ear, there are a hundred grains. Allah multiplies for whom He wills. Allah is All-embracing (with His mercy), All-Knowing.” (Baqara 2:261)
Explaining the expansive and far reaching spiritual blessings of charity and spending one’s wealth in Allah’s way, the Messenger of Allah, upon him be peace and blessings, has stated:
“Allah, glorified and exalted be He, admits three people into His Paradise by means of a single morsel of bread, a handful of dates or the like from which the needy can benefit:
1) The owner of the house who instructs that it (i.e. charity) be given;
2) The woman of the house who prepares that which is to be given; and
3) The domestic servant who personally conveys the charity to the needy.”
After enumerating these, Allah’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, completed his words as follows:
“All praise is due to Allah Who omits none of us!” (Haythami, III:112)
From another standpoint, charity averts a great many worldly and otherworldly afflictions. Allah’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, refers to a group of these:
“Charity extinguishes (the fire of) sin as water extinguishes fire.” (Tirmidhi, Iman, 8:2616). Also see, Ibn Maja, Fitan, 12)
“Charity extinguishes the wrath of Allah and saves a person from an evil death.” (Tirmidhi, Zakat, 28:664)
“The charity of a Muslim lengthens their life (i.e. makes it fruitful), prevents a bad death and, through it, Allah Almighty removes arrogance, poverty and self-praise.” (Haythami, III:110)
“Hasten in giving charity as calamity cannot exceed it.” (Haythami, III:110)
“On the Day of Reckoning, everyone will be under the shade of their charity until judgement is delivered.”
Abu al-Khayr, may Allah be well pleased with him, one of the narrators relating this Prophetic Tradition, strove to the utmost to give in charity every day, even if that which he gave was a single onion or the like. (Ahmad, IV:147-8; Haythami, III:110)
According to a Prophetic account, a group of people visited Prophet ‘Isa (Jesus), peace be upon him. After they left, Prophet ‘Isa, peace be upon him, said to those with him, “One of them will die today, if Allah wills.” At nightfall, those people again came to Prophet ‘Isa with the bundle of branches they carried on their backs. Prophet ‘Isa, peace be upon him, commanded them to, “Place the branches on the ground.” Then, to the person about whom he said would die on that day, he said: “Unbundle your branches.” When that man unbundled his branches, a black snake emerged from among them. Prophet ‘Isa, upon him be peace, asked,
“Which deed of righteousness did you perform today?”
The man responded, “I did not perform any righteous deed today.” Prophet ‘Isa, peace be upon him, said,
“Think long and hard. What had you done?”
Upon this, the man said, “I did not perform any deed, but I had a piece of bread in my hand and at that point, a person in need came to me and asked if I had anything to give them. I then gave a portion of this bread to them.”
Upon hearing this, Prophet ‘Isa, peace be upon him, said:
“This is the reason why disaster was averted from you.” (Haythami, III:109-110; Ahmad, Zuhd, I:96)
How beautifully Mawlana Jalal al-Din al-Rumi expresses the blessing of spending in Allah’s cause:
“Wealth never decreases by giving in charity. Far from it, giving in charity protects one’s wealth from loss and waste. Your charity serves to guard your pocket. Your prayer serves as your shepherd and protects you from the wolves and evil. The storehouse of one who plants crops is emptied, but when the time comes, they receive many times its return in yield. In return for a single storehouse, they receive many more.
However, if the wheat is not used fittingly and is instead kept in the storehouse, it will become feed for pests, maggots and mice which will, in turn, completely destroy it.”
The Proper Manner of Zakat and Spending in God’s Way: Observing the proper conduct when giving in the prescribed and voluntary alms is very important. In particular, the giver must feel a sense of indebtedness to the receiver as they have relieved them of a religious obligation and have been the means for them to attain a great many blessings. When giving obligatory or voluntary alms, one must at the very least give of the average in quality of one’s property and possessions. We must not give to others as charity what we ourselves would not take save with disdain.
Again, one must not place the receiver under any obligation or taunt them for Allah Almighty has forbidden such repugnant behaviour absolutely. It is not right to ask for something back after having given it to the needy. This conduct has been deemed to be extremely repulsive.
Another important matter that needs to be regarded in almsgiving, charity and good works is observing secrecy. This is because charity that is given openly diminishes the sense of modesty of the receiver and when it in time becomes habit, it removes the desire and effort to work. In addition, it prevents the giver’s falling prey to such bad character traits as arrogance, pride and self-conceit.
Charity must be given in sincerity and earnestness, purely for the sake of Allah. Spending that is done for show and for worldly interests come to naught and cannot avail the human being.
Danger of Neglecting the Prescribed Annual Alms: Great dangers, both material and spiritual, await societies that fail to pay the prescribed annual alms. Drawing attention to this threat, Allah Almighty declares:
“(So) spend in Allah’s cause (out of whatever you have) and do not ruin yourselves by your own hands (by refraining from spending. Whatever you do,) do it in the best way, in the awareness that Allah sees it. Surely Allah loves those who are devoted to doing good, aware that Allah is seeing them.” (Baqara 2:195)
The Hand that Gives is Superior to the Hand that Takes: Islam does not prohibit a person in need from asking something from others. It does not, however, encourage such from an ethical perspective, only allowing asking from others in dire circumstances and times of great need, for begging degrades a person. For this reason, when the Companions pledged allegiance to the Messenger of Allah, upon him be peace, he stipulated,
“that [they] would not beg people of anything”.
That is to say, one must endeavour not to take alms but to give it. For Allah’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, has stated:
“The upper hand is better than the lower hand. Begin with your dependents. The best charity is that given by the wealthy. Anyone who refrains [from asking], Allah will spare him the need to and anyone who seeks to be independent, Allah will give him independence.” (Bukhari, Zakat 18; Muslim, Zakat 94-97, 106, 124)
Furthermore, Allah Almighty draws attention to the sensibility of heart of the righteous believers who spend in His way, in alms and charity. Indicating that their inner worlds which are like a court of mercy, must become a spiritual x-ray machine, so to speak, with respect to identifying the true needy, He declares:
“That (which you spend) is for the poor who, having dedicated themselves to Allah’s cause, are in distressed circumstances. They are unable to move about the earth (to render service in Allah’s cause and earn their livelihood). Those who are unaware (of their circumstances) suppose them wealthy because of their abstinence and dignified bearing, but you will know them by their countenance – they do not beg of people importunately. And whatever good you spend, surely Allah has full knowledge of it.” (Baqara 2:273)
The Harms of Interest: With its rulings such as the Prescribed Purifying Alms and spending in Allah’s cause, Islam has gratuitously extended out a hand to people in difficult circumstances and has completely healed many a bleeding wound. In addition, it has prohibited the scourge of interest, which on the surface appears to be assistance and ease for human beings, but which in reality amounts to nothing more than exploiting the circumstances of those in difficulty.
For the usurer seeks to take advantage of the difficult circumstances of others. One who gives alms, however, is the fellow sufferer of those in need and in difficulty. Their sole aim is to earn the good pleasure of the Almighty. Consequently, they constantly strive to be of assistance to His suffering servants. The wealth of a person who is ambitious and avaricious, however great it may be, constantly appears in their eyes to be slight. However, those who are used to almsgiving and charity are generous and bighearted. They make do with a small amount of worldly possessions.
The vision of a usurer, however, has been clouded with ambition to such an extent that they seek to increase their own wealth at the expense of destroying others. However, their end is always bankruptcy and ruin, for Allah, exalted and glorified be He, has declared:
“Allah deprives interest (which is thought to increase wealth) of any blessing, and blights it, but makes alms-giving (which is thought to decrease wealth) productive…” (Baqara 2:276)
Allah’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, has warned his community thus:
“Whoever increases their wealth through interest, their end is assuredly their being dragged to ruin.” (Ibn Maja, Tijarat, 58; Hakim, IV, 353:7892; Bayhaqi, Shu’ab al-Iman, IV, 392:5512; Tabarani, Kabir, X, 223:10539)
Due to the fact that interest involves taking from one and giving to another, or in other words draws the blood of one to strengthen the teeth of another, it damages the foundation of society. It increases inflation. It makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. It drags the people into a quagmire, financially, socially, religiously and morally.
In contrast, due to the fact that the charity and donations given to assist the poor and aggrieved in society ensure the perpetuation of social harmony and order, they are a means for blessings in the world and the Hereafter. In sum, with feelings of solidarity diminished, social peace and tranquillity destroyed and hatred and hostility on the rise in our day, there is a great need for a serious campaign of spending in the way of Allah. We must not forget that we could have been in the situation of those who are impoverished and needy. Hence, our spending on them is at the same time our debt of thankfulness to our Lord.
5. Pilgrimage (Hajj)
The pilgrimage (hajj) is an act of worship observed by every Muslim who is financially and physically able, once in a lifetime and through visiting the Ka’ba in Makka on certain days of the year. Allah, exalted and glorified be He, declares:
“…Pilgrimage to the House is a duty owed to Allah by all who can afford a way to it…” (Al-’Imran 3:97)
The pilgrimage had also existed in the time of previous Prophets. In time, however, the polytheists reduced it, from its sacred status of worship, to a show of strength by the wealthy to the poor and virtually an indecent ceremony.
Islam restored the sacredness of the pilgrimage once again. The pilgrimage has many wisdoms, both worldly and transcendental. The pilgrimage transpires in a blessed and glorious climate wherein Allah’s infinite mercy is manifested. For this reason, one of the names of the city of Makka is “Umm al-Ruhm” (Mother of Beneficence), or the place upon which Divine mercy pours.
The sacred spaces in which the Pilgrimage is undertaken are the spiritual climates of an exalted realm. These climates are filled with Divine signs. The mercy and favour of Allah are forever remembered therein. These blessed lands have been nourished with the spirituality of believing hearts since the time of Prophet Adam, and have been watered with their tears of love. Those who perform the Pilgrimage gnostically seek these blessings and follow the footprints of the many Prophets who came before, experiencing the spiritual blessings of their memories. This is because these sanctified places, as singular wellsprings of Divine grace, are filled with the honoured memories of the chain of Prophets.
In this respect, one purpose of the Pilgrimage is reverence to those blessed spaces and to adorn hearts with the recollection of the sacred stations therein. The Pilgrimage is to receive a spiritual share in the reliance and surrender in Allah of Prophet Abraham and Prophet Ishmael, upon them both be peace.
It is to stone the enemy within, known as the carnal self, as well as the satanic tendencies externally. It is to shed differences in class, don the shroud and to be able to seek refuge in our Lord.
It is to shudder with that horrendous scene of the Day of Judgement and, by bringing together Muslim communities distant and foreign to one another, to establish a brotherhood of faith.
Again, the Pilgrimage is to strive to cast off carnal craving by shedding the garment of the body and penetrating the depths of the spirit. The city of Makka is the place where the reality of such conceptions as race, colour and dress are lifted and all believers’ being one nation under the Islamic brotherhood is manifested. There, chief, official, destitute, wealthy, poor, ignorant, scholar, sultan and subject, all are together, wearing the same garments, in the same space and standing together.
That blessed city is the bosom of security, peace and love and the hearth of Prophets filling hearts with blessing and mercy. The unity displayed in those blessed spaces during the major and minor pilgrimages despite all the pangs felt in the Muslim world, those summits of brotherhood and love, are magnificent scenes indeed. Muslims favoured with forgiveness and mercy merge therein with a profound love of belief, rapture and rhapsody.
The pilgrimage is the observance of a servitude filled with love. The essence of the Pilgrimage is to dedicate oneself solely to Allah, pulling away from everything else in one’s actions and behaviour. It is in a sense preparation for death and the journey to the Hereafter and a rehearsal for the states to be experienced after death. The Pilgrimage constitutes the servant’s being stripped of all worldly ranks, with just two towels wrapped around them and their heads and feet exposed, a representation of their gathering at the place of Judgement so to speak and, as such, their state of heartfelt entreaty and complete submission to their Lord.
The Pilgrimage vividly demonstrates that the shedding of sins can only be realised after the blessing of a form of worship observed after entreaty, reliance in God and submission to Him. The Pilgrimage directs the person to a spiritual life, as this delicate form of worship is replete with many manifestations of compassion, mercy and love. Hunting, hurting Allah’s creatures and even plucking a single blade of grass is forbidden during the Pilgrimage. There, a love and courtesy by virtue of the Creator prevails. Hence, the Messenger of Allah, upon him be peace and blessings, once said to ‘Umar, may Allah be well pleased with him,
“O ‘Umar, you are a strong man, do not crowd around the Stone and disturb the weak. If you find space, then touch it, otherwise just face it and gesture, reciting the Declaration of Faith and saying ‘Allahu Akbar.” (Ahmad, I:28; Haythami, III:241)
As the Pilgrimage is performed at a specific time and place, it enables Muslims to acquire the concept of time and space and the consciousness that everything in the world transpires within a certain order. It reminds human beings that when they miss certain important windows of opportunity in life, they will lose a great deal. Thus, it instructs the human being that they must perpetually be alert and must carry out every task at its particular time.
The Farewell Pilgrimage and Farewell Sermon of Allah’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, serves as an exemplar for all the Pilgrimages that his community will perform until the Last Day. At the same time, during his Farwell Pilgrimage, love exuded from the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings. The guidelines of the reciprocal rights between human beings have been reinforced with the mortar of love and compassion.
6. Other Forms of Worship
In Islam, there are other forms of worship alongside those mentioned thus far. These include supererogatory worship, invocation, remembrance, supplication and recitation of the Qur’an. Set times have not been allocated for such forms of worship, with people being encouraged to perform these to their own ability. People will acquire a degree according to the sincerity and earnestness with which they perform these acts of worship. Allah Almighty created humankind and the jinn for worship (servanthood) to Him.
For this reason, life in all its facets must be adorned with minor and major forms of worship. Allah Almighty forever wills ease for His servants.
Thus, he has made servanthood easy, opening a great many doors of good works accessible to people of all degrees. Every person of sound judgement can earn His good pleasure and approval through readily fulfilling His commands. The Messenger of Allah, upon him be peace and blessings, states:
“Your meeting your brother with a smile is a charity. Your enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong is a charity. Your guiding a man who has lost his way is a charity for you. Your guiding a person with defective vision is a charity for you. Your removing a stone or thorn or bone from the road is a charity for you. Your emptying your bucket of water into your brother’s (empty) bucket is a charity for you.” (Tirmidhi, Birr, 36:1956)
“Let not any one of you regard any good deed insignificant, even if it is that you meet your brother with a cheerful countenance. If you buy meat or prepare broth, add (extra) water to that and give that (as a present) to your neighbour.” (Tirmidhi, At’ima, 30:1833)
A sincere believer gains significant ground with a small step that they take in Allah’s path and, in so doing, attains great rewards. As is declared in a Qur’anic verse:
“Whoever comes to Allah with a good deed will have ten times as much, and whoever comes with an evil deed will be recompensed with only the like of it; and they will not be wronged.” (An’am 6:160)
In a Hadith Qudsi, Allah Almighty declares:
“If (My servant) comes near Me by a handspan, I come near him a cubit. If he comes near Me by a cubit, I come near a fathom. When he comes to walking, I come to him running.” (Bukhari, Tawhid, 50; Muslim, Dhikr, 2, 3, 20-22, Tauba 1)
Even one’s daily activities can become worship commensurate with their intention and sincerity. For instance, if a believer who observes their obligatory worship works with the intention of earning a lawful living to maintain their family and raise them with an Islamic grounding, then they both earn money and obtain the rewards of worship. If a person who eats aims to maintain a life of worship through the preservation of their health, they too receive rewards in line with their intention.
Hence, whoever places more importance on the Islamic forms of worship – the supererogatory as well as the religiously mandatory – they acquire greater degree and merit and they see the reward for their endeavour both in this world and in the Hereafter.
For this reason, the Companions were in a race toward worship and good works. Abu Hurayra, may Allah be well pleased with him, relates:
The poor amongst the Emigrants came to the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and said, ‘The rich people have obtained the highest degrees of Paradise and everlasting bliss.’ He said, ‘How is that?’ They said,
‘They pray as we pray and fast as we fast and they give charity but we do not give charity, and they set slaves free but we do not set slaves free.’
Upon this the Messenger of Allah, upon him be peace and blessings, said,
‘Shall I tell you something which will enable you, if you take it on, to catch up with those who have gone ahead of you. No one coming after you will be able to catch up with you and you will be the best of those you live among, except someone who does the same thing?’
‘Yes, O Messenger of Allah!’
He, upon him be peace and blessings, said,
‘Say after every prayer, “Glory be to Allah,”
“All Praise is due to Allah” and “Allah is the Greatest” thirty-three times each.’
The poor amongst the Emigrants returned to the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, saying,
‘Our wealthy brethren have heard what we have done and they have done the same.’
So the Messenger of Allah, upon him be peace and blessings, said,
‘This is Allah’s Grace which He gives to whom He wishes.’” (Bukhari, Adhan 155; Da’awat 18; Muslim, Masajid 142; Abu Dawud, Witr 24)
Thus, there are a great many wisdoms and benefits of each form of worship enjoined in Islam. We have not been able to exhaust all of these here. Just as the wisdom and benefit of some of these will be discovered with time, a great portion of these will be truly perceived in the Hereafter.
However, it must not be forgotten that it is not correct to consider such physical and worldly benefits of worship when performing them. For the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, has said:
“Actions are judged according to intentions, and every man shall have what he intended…” (Muslim, Imara, 155)
A Muslim must perform their worship only for the sake of earning the approval and good pleasure of Allah Almighty. They must consider these other benefits as being Allah’s grace and favour to His servants and must additionally praise and thank Allah for these.
Again, it ought not be forgotten that intentions are superior to actions. The situation of Khorasan’s great ruler ‘Amr ibn al-Layth is a clear example of this. After his death, a righteous individual saw Layth in his dream. The following conversation then took place between them:
“How did Allah treat you?”
“Allah forgave me.”
“Through which of your deeds were you forgiven?”
“I once climbed to the peak of a mountain. When I looked at my troops from above, their great numbers pleased me and, overcome by emotion, I said:
‘If only I had lived during the time of Allah’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, and supported him.’ It was due to this intention and fervour that Allah, exalted be He, forgave me.” (Qadi ‘Iyad, al-Shifa’, II:28-29)