Exerting ourselves in worship this Ramadan

As part of our series of practical strategies to build taqwa, its important to reflect on our ultimate purpose. Allah(SWT) states the purpose of our creation:
And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me. [Surah Al Dhariyat 51:56]

But what exactly is worship?

Imam Ibn al-Qayyim explains that worship (ibaadah) unites two principles:
The extremity of love with the extremity of humility and submissiveness. So whoever you loved but were not submissive to, you are not a worshipper of him, and whomever were submissive to without (showing) love, you are not a worshipper (of him) until you are (both) loving and submissive.
[(Madaarij as-Saalikeen 1/74)]
How can we relate to this in our daily lives? Based on this definition, we are all worshipping something which is the peak of our love and submission to which we are devoted and willingly sacrifice our health, sleep and time. What keeps you awake at 2am generally?
  • Your family worries – spouse or children
  • Entertainment – Sports events, binge-dramas
  • Socialising – late night gaming, social media or parties
  • Thinking about work or business

In the days of Ramadan, we have an opportunity to refocus this attention and spend nights in communication with our Lord (dua and salaah) revelling in His conversation and advice (listening to the Qur’an). But how do we make this an effort of love through driving our willingful submission?

Lessons from eating, drinking and sleeping football

Perhaps by reflecting on a popular global passion for many today, we can identify key behaviours to help develop love and submission. A fan(-atic) supporter typically exhibits key characteristics including:
  1. Being totally transfixed and focused on matches, either in person or on TV.
    This is taqwa – complete mindfulness and focus on the object of devotion.
  2. Constantly learning and reciting scores, updates and stories related to the game.
    This is qiraa’ah and tilaawah – reading and beautifying the message.
  3. Constantly talking about football at every opportunity and bringing it up in conversation.
    This is da’wah – spreading the message through love and a desire to see others recognise its greatness.

How did the early generations devote themselves?

Abu Nu’aim (rh) says that Dawood Tai (rh) used to drink bread soup instead of eating bread. Someone asked him why he did that. He said: ‘There is enough time to recite fifty verses when I drink bread soup instead of chewing bread.’
The wife of Masrooq (rh) says that Masrooq always had his calves swollen because of lengthy prayers. I used to sit behind him and weep out of affection for him.’
Abdullah ibn Dawood (rh) says that they used to roll up their beds (sleep very little) as soon as they reached forty.
Abu Darda says: ‘If it were not for three things I would not like to live a single day:
  • Remaining thirsty for Allah in the afternoons
  • Prostrating in front of Him at night and
  • The company of those who sift the best of conversation like people sift (choose) the best of fruits.’
Ali ibn Abi Talib says: ‘The signs of the pious are that they are pale out of vigilance: they have weak eyesight from weeping ; their lips are withered because of fasting and they are covered with the dust of the devout.’
Hasan was asked: ‘What is it about those who strive that they are very handsome?’ He replied: ‘That is because they are alone with The Compassionate.’
He also says: ‘From among the bounties of this world , Islam is enough for you. From the occupations of this world, obedience should occupy you and from the lessons you should learn, death is enough to teach you.’
Hamid al-Lifaf (rh) says: ‘We sought richness in wealth and found it in being content and we sought comfort in the world and found it in the Hereafter.’

Disciplining yourself

When a servant engages in obeying his Lord, the servant inevitably has shortcomings. This is why the predecessors punished themselves on those occasions, because obedience can be very difficult on oneself.

Some of the righteous predecessors would desire a sweet treat, and so they would promise themselves to eat it. If they prayed the night prayer they would allow themselves this reward.
Umar (RA) donated a piece of land worth 200,000 dirhams when he missed Asr prayers in congregation.
Ibn Umar (RA) used to stay awake the whole of the night if he missed a prayer in congregation and then he would free two slaves.
Tameem Dari (RA) failed to wake up for Tahajjud (pre­ dawn) prayers one night. He stayed awake the whole of the next year.
Hassan ibn Abi Sinan (rh) passed by an apartment and asked when it was built. He deliberated for a moment and realised he had asked about something that did not concern him. He disciplined himself by fasting for a whole year.
Imam Ghazali (rh) says: ‘This is how people of determination disciplined themselves. The amazing thing is that you are willing to punish your family members for their blunders and shortcomings on the pretence that if you let them off, they would rebel against you. But then you let yourself off the hook even though it is your biggest enemy and is more likely to rebel against you. The harm it inflicts upon you is far greater than the harm your family can inflict. The most they can do is disturb your worldly life which will perish one day. Yourself, on the other hand, ruffles the everlasting life of the Hereafter. It is much more worthy of punishment. [Ihya: 4/395]

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