The Qur’an speaks of ultimate reality in highly charged terms: “And what will express to you what the ultimate reality is?” (Surah Al-Waqiah, “The Crashing Blow”). We must realize from this that human beings really only have two choices with every step they make. The choice is either toward Heaven, or else toward Hell.
Every year, I try to follow the Qur’anic being read cover-to-cover by the imams in Mecca. At the end of these recitations, there is a long, long supplication usually made by many of the imams. There are sometimes real glories in their voices, glories that so many of us really need and depend upon.
During these concluding prayers each year at Ramadhan’s end, it becomes clear to everyone that for every step we are NOT making in the direction of Heaven, we are immediately vulnerable to the Satan. He is waiting at every moment to destroy our souls for being cast out of Heaven himself, and to get his revenge upon us that he cannot ever go there, while we still may.
We could not hope to cope with the intense pressure of this duality without our Ibadah, our sacred aids and Divine Mercy which we need at every moment. Heaven or Hell, which do we want? That is the ultimate and imminent choice we all have. Yet Qur’an and Hadith try to create a sort of buffer zone in between these two aspects of the Ultimate Reality which is really the Last Veil before the pure Tauhid. This buffer zone teaches us the limits of our devotions in favor of daily work and raising our families. Without it, we would be driven into madness.
The original meaning of secular ideology was to widen and protect this buffer zone, so human beings could withdraw far enough away from the ultimate Heaven/Hell confrontation in order to accomplish something on this earth, without corruption from the “syirik” of constant political interference. That is what we do between prayers. Although remembering Allah as best we can, we commence tying up our camels – seeing to our worldly material needs. And we expect our leaders to help us do this, to ease our way, to “facilitate, not obstruct”. The priorities of good governance begin with “convenience of the citizenry”.
It is only at special times — daily prayer and “zikir”, Friday prayer, fasting, charity, and pilgrimage — that we step firmly into the heavenly abode, to re-affirm our commitment to the Afterlife as our chief and ultimate goal. It is especially during pilgrimage that we rise as close to the Tauhid as we can, recognizing that Unity as our only protection from the Hellfire itself.
We can also make this effort in Mecca at Ramadhan itself, where our presence during the last ten days are credited as the same as Hajj, the only time other than standing on Arafat that our presence in Mecca suffices for all Eternity. Umrah secures our credit for the “dunya”, and these ineffable benefits may only be maintained by repetition.
Unfortunately, some of our human brothers and sisters have become stuck, as it were, within this secular gap, preferring to ignore the ultimate Heaven/Hell dilemma. They seem to be gloating that they have gone to space and walked there without the aid of religious devotion.
What they fail to realize is that for all the progress they can make in the material, scientific side of life, they are becoming almost totally blind to the spiritual, that is, the ultimate Reality of which we speak. Sheikh As-Sudais’ prayer closing the Ramadhan Qur’an recitation this year has reminded me, that if you get “stuck” in the secular gap of earthly life, you may well end up in Hell.
In other words, life without religion is neither secure nor in any way worth living, considering its almost inevitable destination. So while we reject the totality of the western commitment to earthly progress and endeavor, we still perhaps may be reminded by them that such progress and endeavor is itself mandated to human beings, yet only in an ongoing context of daily Remembrance of Allah and the Afterlife, without which the Satan may easily claim our souls upon death.
On 27 Ramadhan this year, one of my friends, passed away after a long struggle with lung cancer. I am so glad he was with his wife there, and well-taken- care-of in his last days, painful as they obviously were.
His passing has reminded me of many things. While I wept copiously at losing yet another companion along Allah’s Way (the secular term would be “life’s way”), I realized it was not really for losing him. It was in sympathy with his facing that Day of Dread, his accounting before Allah swt, which he was sharing with those of us who were closest to him in life. It was, in fact, a small touch of what he was facing in those very moments, and a reminder and a warning that we must each and every one face the terror of never escaping an all-consuming REMORSE for our sins, which sometimes seem to be far heavier than our good deeds in the scale of our own self-judgment.
Grief is therefore a blessing from the newly departed to those left behind, a reminder of what we must never forget, that NO ONE is guaranteed deliverance, or salvation, from eternal punishment, even as our friend or loved one is being consumed with the horror of reading his or her own Book of Deeds at the very moment of our tears of grief. And we obtain this gift only because we truly loved the dearly departed.
Mercifully, our grief concludes, and we return to the “secular gap”, or “worldly dimension”, where we may continue seeking our daily provision without being overly crippled by terror from the Afterlife. “Terrorists” have no right whatsoever to create that fear in people for any reason, as it is only the domain of Allah swt to do so. This is the ultimate BLASPHEMY of so-called Muslims creating terror in the lives of innocents, with the excuse of furthering an Islamic agenda.
Many Muslims living in western lands are doing very, very well for themselves and their families, far better than they could do in their own homelands. It is a pity that these homelands and their inept leaders (to put it mildly) are not able to take those secular principles from the West, by which they might create a scientific, intellectual, and economic life that would be far more reflective of Qur’an and Sunnah than we see in Muslim lands now. “Return to Qur’an and Sunnah” is an oft-repeated slogan that does not allow, in itself, for stepping back, relaxing, perhaps even joking around. The missing ingredient here is that Qur’an and Sunnah are meant to create cultures, or to adapt existing cultures, while by themselves they default into Arab desert culture, which can never be obligatory on Muslims.
On the one Ramadhan evening that technical glitches interfered with my following the broadcasts from Mecca, I felt a distinct descent back to earthly levels and concerns. My mind functioned more efficiently and my social reactions were more “everyday normal”, so to say. Yes, the sun of our dear Ramadhan was setting.
Fortunately, however, the concluding Qur’anic recitation and closing prayer sufficed very well to lift me back up to the realms approaching the Tauhid, where that continuous choosing between Heaven and Hell was not so formidable after all. It was one last reminder of our trust in what Allah has told us through the Hadith Qudsi, that “My Mercy exceeds my Wrath”.
One of the more philosophical functions of the Ramadhan fasting is said to be relieving the pressure upon us of all the “nafs” that are building up in the modern world, and which so often oppress if not completely cover up, our capacity to live compassionate, considerate, and loving lives. Ramadhan is a unique blessing for the Muslim Ummah, by which we can hope perhaps to return to that condition which is so often claimed by the Christians, that of loving-kindness, otherwise known as “the Golden Rule”.
The problem is implementation. We need more than some wisdom or effort of a Prophet of 2000 years ago (Nabi Isa a.s.). We need the self-discipline and exercise in surrender that our Ibadah Puasa gives us. The Christians nowadays seem only to increase their eating and shopping during holiday periods. What a grace our Ramadhan is, so that when we complete our efforts, we may actually see some real progress in our lives, our loves, and our vision of the Akhirat through the Lailatul Qdar.
And the return to our daily commerce is also a part of our celebration, as symbolized by the Idul Fitri gift-packs of surprise consumer items that have now been sanctified and made holy through our fasting for the Pure Pleasure of Allah swt. We pray earnestly that Allah swt will return His blessed Ramadhan to us next year, and that we may escape yet again from the illusions and deceptions of the satanic domination of our earthly realm, AMIN.