Friday Sermon: Spiritual Growth through Ramadan, Hajj/Qurbani and Muharram

by Riaz Ahmadali

23 July 2021 (Institute for Islamic Studies and Publications / Instituut voor Islamitische Studies en Publicaties (IVISEP))

وَ الۡفَجۡرِ ۙ﴿۱﴾ وَ لَیَالٍ عَشۡرٍ ۙ﴿۲﴾ وَّ الشَّفۡعِ وَ الۡوَتۡرِ ۙ﴿۳﴾ وَ الَّیۡلِ اِذَا یَسۡرِ ۚ﴿۴﴾ ہَلۡ فِیۡ ذٰلِکَ قَسَمٌ لِّذِیۡ حِجۡرٍ ؕ﴿۵﴾

“By the dawn! And the ten nights! And the even and the odd! And the night when he goes! Verily in this is an oath for men of understanding” (The Holy Quran, 89:1–5).

We have just completed the ten blessed days of the month of Zul Hajj in which the Hajj (Pilgrimage) and the Feast of Sacrifice took place.

Many Muslims spend part of these days fasting, especially on the ninth day, the Day of Arafat, the culmination of the Hajj. The tenth day of Zul Hajj is the Feast of Sacrifice.

In the latter part of the month of Ramadan we have also ten blessed nights, which is the period in which the Lailat-ul-Qadr [Night of Majesty] falls, or the night in which the first revelation of the Holy Quran to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) took place. This too is a time when one engages in additional acts of worship like praying and the giving of charity.

The first ten days of Zul Hijjah are specially blessed, as the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has said:

“There are no days when good deeds are more loved with Allah than these ten days” (Bukhari).

In the verses I just recited, the ten nights are mentioned. According to some scholars, these refer to the last ten nights of Ramadan, and to others, to the first ten days of the month of Zul Hajj. Either way, both periods can give us a new spiritual start, if we use them well.

Perhaps after Ramadan you felt that you could have done more during that blessed month? Maybe after Eid-ul-Fitr the euphoric feeling you had in Ramadan has disappeared?

Well, the first ten days of Zul Hajj offer another chance to get great rewards, have our sins forgiven, and continue to increase our piety. These days are blessed not only for those who go on Pilgrimage, but for all believers everywhere in the world. Everyone can earn extra blessings by doing additional good deeds during these days, as this is a month of heightened spirituality in which two very special events take place — the Pilgrimage and the Feast of Sacrifice — all in devotion to Allah. It is, however, a period to which not enough attention is paid, a period that presents itself and is  just  suddenly  over.

Hajj represents the culmination of the believer’s spiritual growth. After having fulfilled the four other pillars (creed, prayer, fasting, and zakat), as a last spiritual step the inner urge to visit Mecca, to perform the Hajj, to be in that place where our Holy Prophet [Muhammad (pbuh)] as well as other great Prophets such as Abraham dwelt, propels us towards fulfilling the last pillar of Islam, the spiritual pinnacle, in the last month of the Islamic year.

Ramadan can actually be seen as a prelude to Hajj. The Feast of Sacrifice, Eid ul-Adha, is considered to be a more important festival than Eid-ul-Fitr. We read in the Holy Quran (2:183):

یٰۤاَیُّہَا الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا کُتِبَ عَلَیۡکُمُ الصِّیَامُ کَمَا کُتِبَ عَلَی الَّذِیۡنَ مِنۡ قَبۡلِکُمۡ لَعَلَّکُمۡ تَتَّقُوۡنَ ﴿۱۸۳﴾ۙ

“O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may attain taqwa” (The Holy Quran, 2:183).

And when we consider what the true purpose of the sacrifice of Eid-ul-Adha is, we see that it goes much further than just taqwa (to guard against evil, Godly fear, righteousness), as we read in the Holy Quran:

قُلۡ اِنَّ صَلَاتِیۡ وَ نُسُکِیۡ وَ مَحۡیَایَ وَ مَمَاتِیۡ لِلّٰہِ رَبِّ الۡعٰلَمِیۡنَ ﴿۱۶۲﴾ۙ

“Say: My prayer and my sacrifices and my life and my death are certain for Allah, the Lord of the worlds” (The Holy Quran, 6:162).

In other words, all our deeds must be aimed at pleasing the Creator. In everything we do, we must ask ourselves: When Allah sees this, what will He think? Or, what would the Prophet do in this instance? Regardless of whether we are busy at work, with our family, within our circle of friends, or wherever else, that every act we do must be done with good intention and also be done well and with a positive frame of mind.

If Hajj is performed with the right intention, it is assumed that all sins are forgiven, that the believer makes a fresh start as clean as a newborn baby. And that new start is beautifully symbolized by the new year, which begins right after the month of Hajj, this year around the 9th of August [2021].

A time of reflection, a period of self-evaluation. The Hajj, a time of qurbani (sacrifice); ten blessed days in the month of Zul Hajj. A time of sacrifice, in which Allah says in the Quran (22:37) is not about the blood or the flesh of the animals, but one in which our righteousness counts for Him. It is a time to carry out our intention to improve our righteousness. A time to check whether we are indeed on the way to a higher and higher spiritual level, namely that our prayer, our sacrifices, our life and death will indeed be more and more in the service of Allah.

The first month of the new year, Muharram, is associated with the Hijrah, the exodus of the first Muslims — a very small group — from Mecca to Medina, when the situation in Mecca became untenable for them. They all moved to Medina. And this event was so unusual in Arabia at that time that with it, the Islamic era started.

The Holy Quran in 4:97 instructs Muslims to move if they are not allowed to practise their religion normally:

اَلَمۡ تَکُنۡ اَرۡضُ اللّٰہِ وَاسِعَۃً فَتُہَاجِرُوۡا فِیۡہَا ؕ

“Wasn’t there enough space on Allah’s earth for you to move on?” (The Holy Quran, 4:97)

And if we obey this, Allah promises us:

وَ مَنۡ یُّہَاجِرۡ فِیۡ سَبِیۡلِ اللّٰہِ یَجِدۡ فِی الۡاَرۡضِ مُرٰغَمًا کَثِیۡرًا وَّ سَعَۃً ؕ وَ مَنۡ یَّخۡرُجۡ مِنۡۢ بَیۡتِہٖ مُہَاجِرًا اِلَی اللّٰہِ وَ رَسُوۡلِہٖ ثُمَّ یُدۡرِکۡہُ الۡمَوۡتُ فَقَدۡ وَقَعَ اَجۡرُہٗ عَلَی اللّٰہِ ؕ

“Whoever flees by Allah’s way will always find shelter in the earth and sufficient resources. And whoever leaves his house in flight to Allah and His Messenger, and is overtaken by death, surely finds his reward in Allah” (The Holy Quran, 4:100).

In our daily lives we often come across times when it is necessary to withdraw ourselves from certain situations (call them ‘mini hijrahs’). One such case is recorded in the Holy Quran 4:140:

اِذَا سَمِعۡتُمۡ اٰیٰتِ اللّٰہِ یُکۡفَرُ بِہَا وَ یُسۡتَہۡزَاُ بِہَا فَلَا تَقۡعُدُوۡا مَعَہُمۡ حَتّٰی یَخُوۡضُوۡا فِیۡ حَدِیۡثٍ غَیۡرِہٖۤ ۫ۖ اِنَّکُمۡ اِذًا مِّثۡلُہُمۡ ؕ

“If you hear that Allah’s message is disbelieved and mocked, do not sit with them until they broach another subject, for then you would indeed be like them” (The Holy Quran, 4:140).

This is one of the acts we must carry out in order to improve ourselves. To stay away from those who negatively influence us.

Instead, we must seek good company, company that charges us spiritually, as the Holy Quran advises in 18:28:

وَ اصۡبِرۡ نَفۡسَکَ مَعَ الَّذِیۡنَ یَدۡعُوۡنَ رَبَّہُمۡ بِالۡغَدٰوۃِ وَ الۡعَشِیِّ یُرِیۡدُوۡنَ وَجۡہَہٗ وَ لَا تَعۡدُ عَیۡنٰکَ عَنۡہُمۡ ۚ تُرِیۡدُ زِیۡنَۃَ الۡحَیٰوۃِ الدُّنۡیَا ۚ وَ لَا تُطِعۡ مَنۡ اَغۡفَلۡنَا قَلۡبَہٗ عَنۡ ذِکۡرِنَا وَ اتَّبَعَ ہَوٰىہُ وَ کَانَ اَمۡرُہٗ فُرُطًا ﴿۲۸﴾

“And keep company those who invoke their Lord morning and evening in search of His benevolence, and let not thine eyes them wander in search of the beauty of this worldly life. And follow not him whose heart We have made heedless of Our remembrance, and he follows his base desires and his case exceeds limits” (The Holy Quran, 18:28).

A fresh start is also stated in the verses I recited at the beginning. In the first verse, Allah swears

وَ الۡفَجۡرِ ۙ﴿۱﴾

“By the dawn!” (The Holy Quran, 89:1)

And what symbolizes the dawn in our daily life? The morning prayer. A good start to the day starts with the morning prayer in the period of dawn, when the night is coming to an end and before the sun rises, a period that is considered very auspicious. As we read in the Holy Quran, 17:78:

اَقِمِ الصَّلٰوۃَ لِدُلُوۡکِ الشَّمۡسِ اِلٰی غَسَقِ الَّیۡلِ وَ قُرۡاٰنَ الۡفَجۡرِ ؕ اِنَّ قُرۡاٰنَ الۡفَجۡرِ کَانَ مَشۡہُوۡدًا ﴿۷۸﴾

“Maintain prayer from the going down of the sun until the darkness of the night, and the recitation of the Quran at the dawn. Verily, the recitation of the Quran is witnessed at dawn” (The Holy Quran, 17:78)

In summary: We have had Ramadan. Perhaps we have lost the spiritual uplifting feeling of that blessed month as time went by. We have had the first days of Zul Hajj. Maybe we didn’t even notice. But let’s be aware that we will soon enter the new Islamic year (around 9th August [2021]), that we can leave everything we may have done wrong in the old year and enter the Islamic year 1443 with a clean slate, with the intention to leave out the bad and shape ourselves into better and better people. And that every day we make a fresh and good start of our day by performing the morning prayer during the period of dawn.