Ramadan and Going ‘Straight’

Ramadan and Going ‘Straight’

Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad 

 اَلْحَمْدُ لِلهِ وَالصَّلَاةُ وَالسَّلَامُ على رسول الله وعلى آله وصحبه ومن اهتدى بهداه

اللَّهُمَّ إِنَّكَ عَفُوٌّ كريمٌ تُحِبُّ الْعَفْوَ فَاعْفُ عَنَّا

There is a well-known Quranic term which needs careful definition, which is indicated in a number of ayat and hadith. A famous hadith in Sahih Muslim in which one of the Sahaba says

 

عن أبي عَمْرو، وَقِيلَ: أبي عَمْرَةَ، سُفْيَانَ بْنِ عَبْدِاللهِ الثّقَفيِّ رضي الله عنه قَال:

“قُلْتُ: يا رَسُولَ الله، قُلْ لي في الإِسْلاَمِ قَوْلًا لاَ أَسْأَلُ عَنْهُ أَحَدًا غَيْرَكَ، قَال: “قُلْ: آمَنْتُ باللهِ ثُمَّ اسْتَقِمْ

؛ رواه مسلم 

(13) باب جَامِعِ أَوْصَافِ الإِسْلاَمِ
 

It is narrated on the authority of Sufyan b. ‘Abdulla al-Thaqafi that he said:

I asked the Messenger of Allah to tell me about Islam a thing which might dispense with the necessity of my asking anybody other than you.
He (the Holy Prophet) remarked: ‘Say I affirm my faith in Allah and then remain steadfast to it.’
 

 He’s asking for something very short and sweet. Tell me something in Islam which if I say it and follow it I will not need to ask further ? and he (صلى الله عليه وسلم ) says: “say I believe in God and then go straight”

“قُلْ: آمَنْتُ باللهِ ثُمَّ اسْتَقِمْ”

That’s it, this is    من جـوامـع الـكـلـم , one of the words, one of the phrases that kind of include all phrases. Everything we need to know and very often we find that there are ahadith of the chosen one صلى الله عليه وسلم are amazingly comprehensive in telling us everything in a few words. So in this phrase the Holy Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم is indicating two things :

Profess your belief in the Creator, the One, the source and the place of return – المبدأ و المعاد   (the origin and the return) .  Without that you are kind of floating in a void without a beginning without an end without knowing your orientation without a qibla  (direction) you are kind of nothing, nihilist and then

اسْتَقِمْ : follow istiqama – go straight. So it’s a matter of statement, ‘qala‘ and how you are, ‘hal‘. You can’t have the one without the other.

Going straight is difficult unless you know where you’re going to – saying ‘Allah’ is not really very meaningful unless you act in accordance with the fact that the world has a direction. So this includes everything.

It’s like the two shahadas,  مُحَمَّدٌ رَسُولُ ٱللَّٰهِ ,   لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا ٱللَّٰهُ ,   “No god but God“, what should I do about that ? the Sunnah –  follow the Holy Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم

So this istiqama, this going straight which is what we pray for 27 times a day or more :

اِهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِیْمَۙ

Surah Al Fatihah

 

Guide us to the straight path“, the upright path, the path of rectitude, the path that is the shortest line between two points. is of course where we go astray we go on other roads – may be in English the word crook refers to the fact that somebody’s gone crooked, we’re not straight, we’re not upright, as the Americans say you’re not a stand-up guy.

So we are created in أَحْسَنِ تَقْوِيمٍ , in the best of forms. Adam is an upright creature, unlike any other creature. He is heavenward in his direction – but at the same time we look this way and we looked that way and it’s tempting. The scenery of dunya (world) is pretty appealing. In this time, in this month that’s a tap of temptations, is turned off or turned down, it’s just a trickle. Maybe we look at things that we shouldn’t look at. Maybe we think about things we shouldn’t think about. Maybe we are not right with God – we’re not mustaqeem.

But the benefit of this month is that it is easier for us to see this straight path in front of us because the distractions, the scenery is kind of monochrome. The temptations, the possibilities are constrained especially at this time when so many of us are in our homes.

Istiqama is easier by God’s grace than it is when we’re just kind of enjoying the pasture without thinking about where we might be going. So this  istiqama is important but we get distracted, that’s our nature. It is said that the reason why man is called insaan is that he is full of nisyaan, forgetfulness – one interpretation,  poetic perhaps of what the name of man means –  we forget, we remember and we forget and we remember and we forget. But Allah in His grace gives us lots of times and opportunities and days and months to go back to Him. And at a time when many are thinking about perhaps a near return to Him this becomes easier and this inaba, this turning back, becomes more real and more necessary and more yearned for but it’s still difficult.

The Holy Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم was asked by Abu Bakr as-Siddiq رضي الله عنه :

Ya Rasulullah, I see that you’re turning gray

The Prophet replied,
 
شَيَّبَتْنِي هُودٌ وَأَخَوَاتُهَا
 
I’ve been turned gray by the surah of Hud and it’s sisters.
 
That is, the other surahs that begin with the same letters (Al-Waqiah, Al-Mursalat and Amma Yatasa’lim and Idhash Shamsu Kuwwirat).
 
And it is said one of the meanings of this is that it contains the phrase فَاسْتَقِمْ كَمَا أُمِرْتَ (v 112) : 

“Go straight / be a person of rectitude, as you have been commanded” – this is directed to him صلى الله عليه وسلم and so awe-inspiring is this command, by the only one has the right to give commands, and so catastrophic the possibility of just following impulse, that it turns him grey. He who was ma’sum (معصوم), divinely secured from straying, nonetheless feels this fear and the believer is between fear and hope. Like the two wings of the bird – if they’re balanced the bird travels, goes right if you like, in a balanced way. So we have to have fear as well as hope.
 
Life is not just about enjoying the pasture. Life is all about having a direction. You are not always going to be in this field, where you’re munching the grass happily. You came in through a gate, you’re going out through another gate. That’s the iron rule of life for Bani Adam and for every living thing. You came in through a gate. you’re going out through another gate. So don’t spend too much time just thinking this pasture and this joyful munching is going to go on forever.
 
So this istiqama is in a sense what makes us human beings and is the greatest miracle given the nature of our impulses and in this month the shayateen (devils)  as the Holy Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم says in the famous hadith,
 
 
 ‏ “‏ إِذَا دَخَلَ شَهْرُ رَمَضَانَ فُتِّحَتْ أَبْوَابُ السَّمَاءِ، وَغُلِّقَتْ أَبْوَابُ جَهَنَّمَ، وَسُلْسِلَتِ الشَّيَاطِينُ ‏”
 

Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of the heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained.”

Sahih al-Bukhari 1899
 
When the month of Ramadan comes in, the doors of good are opened and the chains of the devils are fastened. The devils are fastened  and a caller cries out:
 
وَنَادَى مُنَادٍ يَا بَاغِيَ الْخَيْرِ أَقْبِلْ وَيَا بَاغِيَ الشَّرِّ أَقْصِرْ وَلِلَّهِ عُتَقَاءُ مِنَ النَّارِ وَذَلِكَ فِي كُلِّ لَيْلَةٍ‏
 
‘O seeker of good, proceed; O seeker of evil, desist. And Allah has those whom He redeems from the Fire, and that happens every night.”
 
Tirmidhi 682, Ibn Maajah Vol 1:1642, Sunan Nasa’i Vol 3:2109
 
An angelic voice calls out and in this month we can kind of all hear that voice saying  o you who looks for good arise, get on with it, and you who looks for evil desist, the shayateen are chained
 
And it’s a little bit easier for us to get back on the straight path to find our true direction but this is the nature of Bani Adam that we have these two enormous impulses. Just as we have these two enormous spiritual principles within us : there’s the nafs which is gravitational, animalistic. It wants to go down subject to the laws of gravity and is interested in every possible way that the endorphin circuits of the brain might be tickled. Any pleasure it’ll be really interested in, like a dog that looks excitedly in the direction of anything that smells good. That’s us !  But there’s also this ruh – this spirit which is from the divine breathing in, insufflation. 
 
وَنَفَخۡنَ فِيۡهِ مِنۡ رُّوۡحِنَا
 
The clay of Adam had the divine spirit breathed into it and that has a divine home and that’s the istiqama
 
The lower self, the nafs, doesn’t really have a direction. It goes this way and that just like any instinct or creature goes whoever the pleasure seems to be greater. The goat goes for whatever looks tastiest – that’s us ! But the istiqama, the uprightness which is directed and oriented and secured by this vertical dimension which is from the نَفَخۡنَ فِيۡهِ مِنۡ رُّوۡحِنَا, is to go straight to the exit of the field beyond which there is true delight,  نَعِيْم مُقِيْم, ongoing blessing and delight. So we have these two dimensions within us. The one which is going this way and that and Sayyidna Umar ibn-al-Khattab on the minbar once was talking about istiqama, this going straight. And he said it means not weaving like a fox.  You probably haven’t been fox hunting but the fox moves this way and that –  it doesn’t run straight. It goes this way and that and because it’s a fearful creature, that wants to avoid the pursuing dogs or the huntsman’s gun – it’s a foxy creature.  The ego is like that – slimy wants to get out of difficulties, wants to tell fibs in order to extricate itself. It twists and turns. It’s devious.  But the spirit, what we truly are, the ruh which remembers the day اَلَسۡتُ بِرَبِّكُمۡ   (Chapter 7: Verse 172) :
 
وَ اِذۡ اَخَذَ رَبُّكَ مِنۡۢ بَنِىۡۤ اٰدَمَ مِنۡ ظُهُوۡرِهِمۡ ذُرِّيَّتَهُمۡ وَ اَشۡهَدَهُمۡ عَلٰٓى اَنۡفُسِهِمۡ​ ۚ اَلَسۡتُ بِرَبِّكُمۡ​ ؕ قَالُوۡا بَلٰى​ ۛۚ شَهِدۡنَا ​ۛۚ اَنۡ تَقُوۡلُوۡا يَوۡمَ الۡقِيٰمَةِ اِنَّا كُنَّا عَنۡ هٰذَا غٰفِلِيۡنَ
 
And recall (O Prophet) when your Lord brought forth descendants from the loins of the sons of Adam, and made them witnesses against their ownselves. asking them: ‘Am I not your Lord?’ They said: ‘Yes, we do testify.’  We did so lest you claim on the Day of Resurrection: ‘We were unaware of this.’
 

Just wants to go straight back, straight for the light, if the light is there and seen and felt why go this way or that ?  Go straight back !  And this is istiqama
 
So in this blessed month, as we travel from the first day of the fast, to the day of the Eid, moving like all human beings, always and forever in one direction. That’s a journey that is something that is absolutely constraining us and we can do nothing about it even though we wish ‘oh if only it was this time yesterday and I hadn’t said this to him..’ and we often make these futile hindsight lamentations. No ! we head in one direction only and we don’t revisit a single moment, a single virtue, a single vice, of our lives. Straight, straight for the grave, straight for the entrance to the unknown, straight back to the Lord,   اِلَى اللّٰهِ تَصِيۡرُ الۡاُمُوۡرُ,  (Surah Shura Verse No. 53) – Back to God all things return. And let that return for us be not trying to escape it, but rather to welcome that return and to find in putting our faltering and frail feet directly in the footsteps of the chosen one صلى الله عليه وسلم  whose march to his Lord was absolutely straight and beautiful, shining. Those footprints still shine for us. Flowers grow where he stepped. To go exactly in that way to follow the sunnah, to avoid all reprehensible innovations and deviations and the temptations of the ego, that’s a great thing.
 
So let that this Ramadan be for us and for this ummah and for a fearful penitent world, insha’Allah, a time of return that is going straight. Not resisting what is beautiful, not following what is dark within ourselves but let us be a people who hear this command in Surah Hud : go straight as you have been commanded. 
 
A commandment directed to all of Bani Adam.  Let us remember the monstrousness of stepping off that path because we think we know a better way and let us remember the great grandeur and dignity and beauty of those who stay on the straight path and go as quickly as they can towards the acceptance of their Lord’s decree whatever it might be.
So may Allah  سبحانه وتعالى make us people who receive forgiveness and blessings and uprightness and going straight and insha’Allah discerning with the eye of the heart, the luminousness of our final destination so that there is no temptation to step off the path, to the left or to the right, insha’Allah.
 
بارك الله فيكم

وَتَقَبَّلْنَا صِيَامَكُمْ

وَالسلام عليكم ورحمة الله