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TWD- Chapter Six: Revenge of the Pakoras

Myth: It’s Ramadan- Think Pakoras

There is something ostensibly odd about this verse:

“The Messiah, son of Mary, was no other than a messenger, messengers (the like of whom) had passed away before him. And his mother was a saintly woman. And they both used to eat (earthly) food. See how We make the revelations clear for them, and see how they are turned away!” (05:75)

Another statement where Allah (swt) is making a point that Isa (as) and his mother were not supernatural beings or Gods but merely humans. One might wonder, if they are paying attention, why is food brought here as a demarcating line between godliness and being human?

Why FOOD of all the things?

It’s a no-brainer, and definitely not a brainer in Ramadan, that food is human super-weakness. And anyone foolish enough to think he can be one with the heavens by denying himself food, is only kidding himself– that does happen, but only when you starve yourself enough to go six feet under. Very uh- ungodly. So, the point here, and in numerous places in the Quran, is that it is only Allah (swt) Who is free from all weaknesses and whatever partners people associate with Him are just not qualified enough.

You’d be surprised to know that food has been given its due attention in the Quran and Sunnah. And as Muslims, we have been told our limits here as well as in other things. But here is what happens-

You stuff yourself at iftaar, before taraweeh, after taraweeh until you achieve that state of reverse nirvana where everything stills and you want to throw up. And with the amount of gluttony that goes on and the way we drop like dead weights before Isha’, you can give this a sinister tagline. Ramadan- revenge of the pakoras. Blame it on that fried dish.

And after a very uncomfortable taraweeh (or lack thereof) and after shoving down more leftovers just for the heck of it, you pass out on your bed till dawn. Apparently you ate enough to skip suhur, and the cycle repeats itself. See why food is THE ultimate weakness? Can’t tell if we are the ones eating food or if food is consuming us…

We skip meals when we are supposed to have them and it is our overeating tendency that leads to it which is blatantly obvious.

The Prophet (pbuh) said,

“Take suhur as there is a blessing in it.” (Bukhari)

and

“The difference between our observance of fasting and that of the people of the Scriptures is the suhur.”  (Muslim)

Do yourself a favor- eat less, cook less, wake up early for a barakah-filled meal (and to feel less like a Jew) and you will not be plagued with hunger pangs throughout the day. Consequently, we will find ourselves eating the way Muslims should eat. Hopefully!

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TWD- Chapter Five: Exodus

Myth: Taraweeh marathon is the way to do it

You stifle a yawn and shift your weight from one foot to the next, as you make plans for your taraweeh-free nights after you’re done with your super-six days of intense standing sessions. And so, you motivate yourself to stand long and hard.

*The imaam recites somewhere in the background.*

Your plans unravel undisturbed save for the frequent hiccups, and you savor the after-taste of your iftaar as the prayers go on till morning. And on the night of the seventh—boy, do you feel exempted from all night prayers!

Allah (swt) says,

“And when they stand up for As-Salât (the prayer), they stand with laziness and to be seen of men, and they do not remember Allâh but little.” (04:142)

This couldn’t have been put any better. You see two kinds of people in Ramadan. Ones who sign up for the taraweeh marathon (6-rozah, 10-rozah taraweeh), and the others who waltz out of the mosque in the middle of the prayers singing 8 is Sunnah.

You must be a special kind of lazy if you can put yourself to a crash-Quran in taraweehjust to be rid of it for the remaining nights. The imaam recites on a 3x clock-speed and you space in and out of your thoughts. Sorry excuse of a taraweeh that starts with a bang, flickers in the second rakah and prematurely dies after a week. Like a soft-drink shaken open—frothing one moment and flat the next. And after a very anti-climactic performance, you find yourself blessed enough to not be bothered about the rest of the month.

Cutting in the middle of jama’ah after 8 rakahs is not a Sunnah either. It is one thing to quietly slip out of the rows and head home because you know you can’t pray any longer, and another thing to announce your departure to save your pious, bearded reputation in the masjid saying “I’ve done my Sunnah, folks”. And you see the 8-rakah exit squad get up. Let it be known that Sunnah is to stand behind the imaam for as long as he leads the prayer. Allah’s Messenger stated,

“He who in Ramadan stood (in prayer) with the Imaam till the end (of taraweeh in congregation), will be rewarded for standing (in prayer) for the whole night.” (Tirmidhi)

Point being- even though the prophet prayed 11 units, but if your imaam is praying more (which is equally permissible), then it is unbecoming of you to ditch the jama’ah in the middle. And even more inappropriate if you try to pass your laziness as Sunnah, baffling everyone else along the way.

(Those who really do pray 8 plus 3 in seclusion with all the sincerity and beauty that the Prophet practiced, are excluded from the generalization of course.)

Furthermore, laziness in prayers is a sure sign of hypocrisy. This verse was particularly revealed about the hypocrites who would wait till the sun sets, till time thins out to start praying- 4 raka’hs done shoddily with no khushu to speak of.

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “This is the prayer of the hypocrite, this is the prayer of the hypocrite, this is the prayer of the hypocrite. He sits watching the sun until when it goes down between the two horns of the devil, he stands up pecks out four Rak`ahs (for `Asr) without remembering Allah during them except little.” (Muslim)

And he (pbuh) also stated,

“The heaviest prayers on the hypocrites are the `Isha’ and Dawn prayers. If they know their rewards, they will attend them even if they have to crawl.”(Bukhari and Muslim)

There’s always a bit of hypocrisy infesting us some way or the other. Pray whatever quantity you can manage and pray it good. The whole point of qiyaam-ul-layl is to draw you closer to Allah (swt), not to keep count of Juz finished and raka’hs done like you’re going to cash them out for brownie points. And pray that you may have the strength to beautify your night prayers and that you are able to stand in the last passing hours when the night is full.

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TWD- Chapter Four: Hocus Pocus

Myth: My hocus pocus totally works!

Allah (swt) says in the Quran,

“Indeed Allâh conferred a great favour on the believers when He sent among them a Messenger (Muhammad SAW) from among themselves, reciting unto them His Verses (the Qur’ân), and purifying them (from sins by their following him), and instructing them (in) the Book (the Qur’ân) and Al-Hikmah [the wisdom and the Sunnah of the Prophet SAW], while before that they had been in manifest error.” (03:164)

Double, double, toil and trouble;

Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

That’s the three witches chanting in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”. No wait. In the Quaid’s Karachi.

Naana Bengali, Naani Bengali and Amil Junaid Bengali. The whole family or coven as you like, with their graffiti ads painted all over the city walls, claiming they get things done from kalam-e-ilahi.

And then there is us, doing our own hocus pocus. There’s a stark contrast between how the Prophet (pbuh) lived on the Quran and imparted the wisdom, and how we share our daily doses of refreshing insight about the Book.

I saw a small booklet tucked under my car wipers some time back. It was called “Daily Remedies” if I remember well and flipping through it, this is what I saw on the first page:

Musallamtul la shiyata feeha

“Recite this seven times and you will be rid of pimples and other facial ailments.”

Coincidentally, I was enrolled in a tafsir study those days and recognized this phrase from Surah Al-Baqarah. The translation of this piece is “whole and withoutmark”. Of course, they did not mention it. The funny part is, this verse was an answer to the questions the Jews asked about the cow they had been ordered to slaughter– and so Allah (swt) told them it should be whole and without any defects.

Makes you wonder how many damsels might have tried this out, not knowing the affair was of some cow long ago and has little to do with cutaneous concerns of distressed females…

A couple of months back, I came across another common one– we were busy cramming details half an hour before the final exam. A student chimes in: “I recite this and blow it over my paper every time and it works”-

Fa aghshaynahum fa hum la yubsiroon

“Good grades guaranteed.”

For those of you lost, this snippet is from a verse in Surah Yasin (Verse 9). Recited by Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) as he escaped a life-threatening situation, casting a handful of dust at his assassins; it has been long believed that this verse renders an examiner blind to all your mistakes, should you blow it over your paper. Neat.

Whatever helps you sleep at night.

Let us come to an agreement here. Quran is not a book of DIY remedies, charms, hexes, jinxes or shortcuts to all and sundry. It is a cure, yes– but only when taken in spirit and action.

It is also after all, the Word of Allah. And much as we hate ourselves being misquoted, it is only fair that we treat this Divine Message with utmost caution too. It was revealed to be our companion in this life and the next; the only friend who will vouch for you when all others would’ve deserted you.

Abdullah ibn `Amr reported that the Messenger of Allah said: “The fast and the Qur’an are two intercessors for the servant of Allah on the Day of Resurrection. The fast will say: ‘O Lord, I prevented him from his food and desires during the day. Let me intercede for him.’ The Qur’an will say: ‘I prevented him from sleeping at night. Let me intercede for him.’ And their intercession will be accepted.” [Ahmad]

You know what’s in it for you now.

Immortality in the Heavens.

And shortcuts just don’t cut it.

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TWD- Chapter Three: You’ll always make it

Myth: Can’t handle it.

Take this– if you have been whining about your growling stomach or super-conscious about your dry throat.

“Allâh burdens not a person beyond his scope.” (02:286)

The verse is deep even in its literal translation with many implications. Every nafs(self) has its own capacity and every nafs will be burdened and judged according to its aptitude. There is a reason why you were born into the family you did, why you have the education you do, why you are exceptionally good at some things and why you are the person that you are now. Allah has given you all your life experiences for a reason- so you can wield your Excalibur and put yourself to good use in His way; that you exhaust yourself in His cause in every way that you can. There is no perfect time for it nor is there a stage where you attain some sort of an elusive perfection to start. Contribute your bit in your capacity whatever it may be– intellectual, artistic, analytical, vocal or a bit of everything.

Suffice it to say, you can’t back out of your obligations thinking they’re beyond your “capacity”. The verse demands you keep the drama to yourself. If you find any commandment hard to carry out, you can’t opt out of it. Allah knew you could handle it and hence He ordained it. This is the other implication of this verse. So it’s either you weaseling out of tight spots or there’s something wrong with the statement.

For anyone who has suffered physical or emotional trauma, there is great comfort packed behind the words. And by trauma, I mean any life-altering event that metamorphosed you in some way or the other. Lost someone, some thing or lost a part of you…

You were put through your crucible because you could have handled it better than someone else in the same situation.

The greater your strengths are, the greater the trials and greater the reward for your patience. Also, this statement is a snippet from the last verses of Al-Baqarah that were given to the Prophet (pbuh) on the highest protocol denied even to the angels. Imagine the sheer magnitude of emphasis that comes with it. You have your parents constantly telling you to do your chores on a daily basis. Then there is “the talk” that they have on rare occasions in your room- just with you. About anything they deem important. This is exactly the case here. Allah (swt) called the Prophet up to meet Him on the Seventh Sky so He could gift his Ummah the five prayers and these verses—and to let you know that can pull through whatever the circumstances.

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TWD- Chapter Two: Prisoners on Parole

Myth: The ban is lifted at iftaar

Allah (swt) says,

“O, you who believe! Fasting has been made obligatory upon you as it was made upon those before you so that you become fearful of God.” (02:183)

Maleficent. Captain America- Winter Soldier. X-men.

TV series returning after a mid-season break. New episodes airing tonight.

And it’s Nigeria vs France today!

So much to watch, so little time, damn- you’re fasting and too bad you can’t binge-eat while you’re at it. But you’ll be watching anyway, or maybe you decide to wait till iftaar. So you load your stuff to stream while you sleep the day away. For smokers and music devotees, it is a different story. You can’t wait to get high again. And sometimes, both of you think it is okay to take a whiff while you’re fasting.

It is common knowledge that Quran was revealed in the month of Ramadan and Ramadan is the month of the Quran. The common denominator, that many people miss here, is “taqwa”. Quran guides the Muttaqun (as mentioned in the opening verses of Al-Baqarah) and fasting helps you attain that taqwa (piety).

So fasting does not merely encompass starving yourself from dawn to dusk—it is a concept that includes, but is not restricted to refraining from everything that warrants an “Astaghfirullah” from anyone who catches you doing your stuff. So if you fail to achieve even a speck of piety, then you have not fulfilled what was required of you through fasting.

And to believe that the bans are lifted at iftaar, you couldn’t be more wrong. Unless you think there is some reverse logic in spitting out the medicine after taking it. Ramadan nights are those combos, multipliers and bonuses you score in video games. And are as short-lived. Don’t waste them watching Jolie take the screen or a football match that you could read about later. Get back in your game and beat your previous score.

“Whoever stands the month of Ramadan out of faith and seeking its reward will have his sins forgiven.” (Bukhari)

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TWD- Chapter One: The False Prophet

Myth: Reading the translation is enough

Amr bin Al-Aas (ra), before he became a Muslim, rode out to meet Musaylimah the Liar who was proclaiming Prophethood. Upon his arrival, Musaylimah said to Amr, “What has been revealed to your friend (Muhammad) during his time?

Amr replied, “A short and concise surah.” And then he recited surah Al-Asr.

So Musaylimah thought for a while. Then he said, “Indeed something similar has also been revealed to me.” Amr asked him, “What is it?”

He replied, “O Wabr (a small, furry mammal; hyrax), O Wabr! You are only two ears and a chest, and the rest of you is digging and burrowing.”

Then he said, “What do you think, O Amr?”

So Amr said to him, “By Allah! Verily, you know that I know you are lying.”

Allah (swt) has said in the Quran,

“And if ye are in doubt concerning that which We reveal unto Our slave (Muhammad), then produce a surah of the like thereof, and call your witness beside Allah if ye are truthful.” (02:23)

Musaylimah the Liar failed to convince even a non-Muslim with his nonsensical string of babble- his only superpower being that he could narrate his “revelations” with a straight face.

Fast forward-

You read something that strikes a chord, words expertly woven that they resonate with your thoughts, and in that moment you know the writer had said everything that you wanted to say but couldn’t. It is like someone else discovering the long-lost novel you always knew you had, hidden away in a dusty corner amongst the antiques in wooden boxes. And what do you do then, but follow the calling of the words, ears tuned to every keystroke of the wordsmith. And it fills you with an intense impulse to share it around.

What if you read something that would make you doubt your own being? That could take you apart piece by piece and put you back together in a different order… with words chiseled so meticulously that they probe your inner depths of years of rust and stun you into denial.

This verse was a challenge proclaimed to the disbelievers of centuries past and still open today. Magic at work, a poet’s speech, soothsayer’s discourse… they had exhausted their excuses and came up with zilch. It was something so peculiar that it made the writers word-tied, poets give up their masterpieces and alcoholics slay their intoxication—and it could’ve only come from realms above. Hence the contest, if you can compose even a chapter that comes close to it, then go ahead with it. And as of today, the Quran stands timeless and unparalleled.

When Umar (ra) asked Labid, the famous pre-Islamic poet who had embraced Islam, to recite for him some of his poetry, Labid began to recite al-Baqarah. “This is not what I asked you,” Umar remonstrated. Labid replied: “Well, I have given up composing poetry after Allah gave me al-Baqarah and aal-Imraan.” (Narrated from Qurtubi)

Such is the power behind the Divine Revelation; an intellectual indulgence descended for all, but enjoyed by a handful few.

This Ramadan, pick up those flyers and really look at them. Or enroll online. Make it a point to understand the Quran the way it is deserved to be comprehended. So you may see the day when you can revel in the meaning as the words roll off your tongue. So you may be moved enough to cry silently as you pray behind an Imaam. And so when it is just you and Him and a long qiyaam, you may get to experience this unearthly feeling when your skin tingles with the weight of your recitation and the oft-spoken verses have a whole new meaning. These are one of those rare occurrences when you ever truly feel fortunate.

Starting tonight, learn at least two verses with an in-depth dissection of the words on the examination table, and prepare to be amazed. This is unlike any mortal’s rambling that you have ever read- scholarly or poetic.

PS: This is not to belittle anyone who reads the translation regularly. Point is- don’t limit yourself to just that.

Wrote this post for Youth Club Blog.