Here are selected verses from the taraweeh recitation for each night with lessons for our lives today.
Juz Sixteen - Surah Kahaf and Surah Maryam
This surah started in juz 15 and is concluded in juz 16. It is a highly recommended practice that we should recite it every Friday. Ahadith promise that those who do it will be protected from the deceptions of Dajjal. The Dajjal will be a person, who personifies deception. His will be an era of extreme trials and tribulations for the believers. We are asked to pray always for protection against those trials.
While the Dajjal has not yet appeared, we are indeed living in an age when dajjali deceptions are increasingly manifest all around us. For a fuller discussion of how the message of surah Kahf protects us from these deceptions, one may like to read Maulana Sayed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi’s “Faith versus Materialism: The Message of Surat al-Kahf.”
The story of the People of the Cave is narrated in ayahs 9-26. These were young people for whom their faith was all important. They lived at a time when the people of faith were being persecuted by a ruthless king. They could not fight him, nor could they surrender to him. So they took refuge in a cave. They put their affair in the Hands of Allah and He saved them from persecution through a miraculous sleep that lasted for three centuries.
The story of Prophet Musa and Khidr is narrated in ayahs 60-82. Its most important moral is that things are not always what they appear to be. We should not be deceived or disheartened by the events that unfold before us everyday. What seems to be an imperfect world is actually a perfect testing ground.
The story of Dhul Qarnain is told in ayahs 83-98. He was a powerful, just, Allah fearing king. Two actions of his are specially highlighted.
1.) His declaration that he would punish the unjust and deal kindly with the virtuous. This makes moral purpose and virtue as the yardstick with which to measure any ruler. In contrast secular western democracy holds that the government has no business deciding morality or virtue.
2.) He refused to tax the people for a national project even when offered by the people. This was obviously not for the purpose of improving his chances of reelection; it was the extension of morality and virtue to the economic field.
Here are reflections on some ayahs from this surah.
وَلَا تَقُولَنَّ لِشَيْءٍ إِنِّي فَاعِلٌ ذَٰلِكَ غَدًا . إِلَّا أَن يَشَاءَ اللَّهُ ۚ وَاذْكُر رَّبَّكَ إِذَا نَسِيتَ .
And never say about anything, “I shall surely do this tomorrow,” without [adding], “if Allah so wills.” And remember your Lord if you forget. (Surah Kahaf, 18:23-24).
The stories of the Seven Sleepers as well as of the encounter between Prophet Musa and Khidr and of king Dhul Qarnain were unknown to the Arabs. The Quraish of Makkah were advised by Jewish scholars in Madinah to ask the Prophet about them as a test of the authenticity of his prophethood. He promised to answer the question the next day expecting the revelation to come by that time. This surah was the answer. (This was a most brilliant answer that not only gave details about them, but also applied their stories to the situation at hand to show that the Quraish were on the side of wrong in the stories about right and wrong. Unfortunately obstinacy kept the Quraish and the Jews from accepting the Truth.)
This surah was the answer, but it was delayed by two weeks. The two anxious weeks were a Divine reminder of an important message mentioned in this ayah. We should never announce plans about the future as if we control it. Rather we should qualify these by the words, Insha-Allah (If Allah wills).
There was a time when in the Western world, the phrase God willing, carried the same message. Today the secularized discourse shies away from acknowledging that we do not control the future. And even when it does acknowledge it, it refuses to acknowledge that the control belongs to God. So “God willing” is replaced by any number of clumsy expressions, whose common concern is to avoid mentioning God. Like the following: "If Fate decrees," "If the wind blows right," "Hope it’s my lucky day," “Barring some unforeseen (circumstance/incident/accident),” “If things work out,” and “If things go according to plan.” Superstition also reigns supreme as people normally say “knock on wood” or “keep your fingers crossed.”
We should not give in to this secular madness. We need to bring Insha-Allah (and God willing) back to our everyday discourse--- on every continent and in every language of the world. For wherever we are and whatever language we speak, the future is always totally in the Hands of Allah.
وَاصْبِرْ نَفْسَكَ مَعَ الَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ رَبَّهُم بِالْغَدَاةِ وَالْعَشِيِّ يُرِيدُونَ وَجْهَهُ ۖ وَلَا تَعْدُ عَيْنَاكَ عَنْهُمْ تُرِيدُ زِينَةَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا ۖ وَلَا تُطِعْ مَنْ أَغْفَلْنَا قَلْبَهُ عَن ذِكْرِنَا وَاتَّبَعَ هَوَاهُ وَكَانَ أَمْرُهُ فُرُطًا
Keep yourself content with those who call their Sustainer morning and evening, seeking His countenance, and let not your eyes overlook them, seeking the splendor of the worldly life. And do not obey the one whose heart We have made heedless of Our remembrance, and who has followed his desire and whose behavior has exceeded the limits. (Surah Kahaf, 18:28)
Here is the most profound --- and ignored --- truth about extremism. Those who do not remember Allah end up following their own desires and go to extremes in satisfying them. It all starts from a single minded devotion to the splendor of this worldly life. Extremism is thus a direct and inevitable result of materialism and unbelief. And turning to Allah --- and away from obedience to our lusts and greeds --- is the only way to fight it.
Life of this world
وَاضْرِبْ لَهُم مَّثَلَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا كَمَاءٍ أَنزَلْنَاهُ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ فَاخْتَلَطَ بِهِ نَبَاتُ الْأَرْضِ فَأَصْبَحَ هَشِيمًا تَذْرُوهُ الرِّيَاحُ ۗ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ مُّقْتَدِرًا
Set forth to them the similitude of the life of this world: It is like the rain which we send down from the skies: the earth’s vegetation absorbs it, but soon it becomes dry stubble, which the winds do scatter: it is (only) Allah who prevails over all things. (Surah Kahaf, 18:45)
قُلْ هَلْ نُنَبِّئُكُم بِالْأَخْسَرِينَ أَعْمَالًا . الَّذِينَ ضَلَّ سَعْيُهُمْ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَهُمْ يَحْسَبُونَ أَنَّهُمْ يُحْسِنُونَ صُنْعًا . أُولَٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا بِآيَاتِ رَبِّهِمْ وَلِقَائِهِ فَحَبِطَتْ أَعْمَالُهُمْ فَلَا نُقِيمُ لَهُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ وَزْنًا .
Say, “Shall We tell you about the greatest losers in respect of (their) deeds? Those are the ones whose effort in the worldly life has gone in vain, while they think they are doing well. Those are the ones who rejected the signs of their Lord and (the concept of) meeting with Him, so their deeds have gone to waste, and We shall assign to them no weight at all. (Surah Kahaf, 18:103-105)
Good deeds without the right motives are a waste. The motives are the soul of every action. Motives are in turn driven by belief. When belief in Allah and the Hereafter is absent then one’s good deeds are soulless.
This is an all important reminder that we need to purify both our intentions and our actions. If we do not seek rewards from Allah in the Hereafter, we’ll surely get no such rewards.
The blessed people
أُولَٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِم مِّنَ النَّبِيِّينَ مِن ذُرِّيَّةِ آدَمَ وَمِمَّنْ حَمَلْنَا مَعَ نُوحٍ وَمِن ذُرِّيَّةِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَإِسْرَائِيلَ وَمِمَّنْ هَدَيْنَا وَاجْتَبَيْنَا ۚ إِذَا تُتْلَىٰ عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتُ الرَّحْمَٰنِ خَرُّوا سُجَّدًا وَبُكِيًّا
Those are the people on whom Allah bestowed His grace, the prophets from the progeny of ’Ādam, and of those whom We caused to board (the Ark) along with Nūh, and from the progeny of Ibrāhīm and Isrā’īl (Jacob), and [all of them were] whom We guided and selected. When the verses of The Rahmān (The All-Merciful) were recited before them, they used to fall down in Sajdah (prostration), while they were weeping. (Maryam, 19:58)
In surah Fatiha we make the dua to be shown the path of those on whom Allah bestowed His grace. Here exactly the same word is being used to tell us that the prophets were the people who were so favored. So anyone sincerely looking to find Allah’s true favors and blessings should be following in the footsteps of the prophets.
And the thing to note in their behavior is their attitude toward the Words and commands of Allah. Falling down in sajdah with tears of love and awe in their eyes captures their willing and loving devotion to Allah and His commands.
Reflections on ayat sajda
This is one of the fourteen ayahs of sajdah in the Qur’an. These ayats are themselves a reminder of the miracle of the Qu’ran. When reciting any of these ayahs, or listening to their recitation, inside the salat or outside, believers always perform sajdah. That simple act of prostration that we do not think much of is in reality an extra-ordinary event. To realize that we can ask if anyone can produce a book such that whenever readers reach a certain point in it they will perform a prescribed act of devotion. We can challenge the multibillion dollar publishing empires to pool all their resources and marketing talents to produce such a book. They will fail. For only the Words of Allah can command such devotion.
There is another important message here. We cannot approach the Qur’an as another book, to be critically evaluated and judged and selectively accepted or rejected based on one’s understanding. This is the way an Orientalist will approach the Qur’an. But for a Muslim these ayats set the tone for all our interaction with it; it is one of total and loving submission.
Importance of Salat
فَخَلَفَ مِن بَعْدِهِمْ خَلْفٌ أَضَاعُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَاتَّبَعُوا الشَّهَوَاتِ ۖ فَسَوْفَ يَلْقَوْنَ غَيًّ
Then came after them the successors who neglected Salāh and followed their lusts and desires. So they will soon face Destruction. (Surah Maryam, 19:59)
This emphasis on Salat came in Makkah (in the 5th year of Prophethood) about five years before the five daily prayers were ordained. After narrating the stories of many prophets, we are told how deviations came in their followers. The prophets had shown the Straight Path. With the passage of time, their followers were overcome by lusts and turned away from this path. And the first error they committed, which finally led to this tragic result was being negligent in salat. A famous hadith gives the same message. Salat is the pillar of deen, i.e the Islamic way of life. Whoever destroys it destroys his deen. In other words one cannot build an Islamic life, an Islamic community, an Islamic institution, or an Islamic government while neglecting or weakening this pillar.
In one of his circulars Sayyidna Umar ibn Khattab, Radi-Allahu anhu, sent instructions to all his administrators saying, "In my opinion, salat is the most important of your obligations. Whoever takes good care of it and safeguards it safeguards his religion and whoever neglects it will neglect other things even more." He then added instructions about the times for the five salats and admonition against dozing off before Isha. [Muwatta Imam Malik. Hadith No. 5]
This letter from the ruler of a vast empire to the officials of his government --- shall we call it Executive Order? --- gives us a lot to reflect upon. For salat is among the most emphasized commands in Shariah. Unfortunately it is also a grossly neglected obligation in our life today.
By Khalid Baig