Friday, September 11, 2009

Last Ten Nights of Ramadan | The Nights of Exalted Possibility of Transformation

Ramadan Photo, Woman reciting Quran at a mosqueInvoking by the One of unfathomable grace, the One of incomparable love

1.
Last Ten Nights

The blessed month of Ramadan is entering its last and intensified final ten days and nights. The special month of Ramadan is offered as a gift to humanity for spiritual perfection and to enter into the exalted possibility of beautiful transformation. In the month of Ramadan, the first ten days are of mercy from the Source of Boundless Mercy, second ten days are of forgiveness from the One Who Loves to Forgive and the One Alone Who holds authority to Forgive and the last ten days are of freedom from the Awesome Might of God that burns away everything that is displeasing to Him.

During these last days of Ramadan, the Beloved Master Prophet Muhammad used to strive hard in his offering of his heart. Its narrated that Allah's Messenger used to exert himself in devotion during the last ten nights to a greater extent than at any other time. His wife Aisha reported, with the start of the last ten days of Ramadan, the Prophet used to tighten his waist belt (i.e. work hard) and used to pray night long. Among the things he did were secluding himself in I’tikaaf (special seclusion in a place only devoted to divine remembrance) and seeking Laylat al-Qadr (the night of power) during this time.

In the beginning of this Month the Prophet reminded, "Ramadan is the month which invites you to be the guests of Allah and invites you to be one of those near to Him. Each breath you take glorifies Him; your sleep is worship, your deeds are accepted and your supplications are answered.

So, ask Allah, your Lord; to give you a sound body and an enlightened heart so you may be able to fast and recite His Scripture, for only he is unfortunate who is devoid of Allah’s forgiveness during this great month."

2.
The Days of Exalted Possibility of Transformation

Every single day of Ramadan is blessed. By the saying of the Prophet: "A month which with Allah is the best of months. Its days, the best of days, its nights, the best of nights, and its hours, the best of hours... A person gets the same reward by reciting in this month, one verse of the Holy Quran, as others do by reciting the whole of the Quran in other months." Imam Ali said: "The sleep of a fasting person is worship, his silence is glorification, his prayers are answered and his actions are multiplied."

Again in the saying of Allah's Messenger: "Whoever draws nearer (to Allah) by performing any of the voluntary good deeds in (this month) shall receive the same reward as performing an obligatory deed at any other time, and whoever discharges an obligatory deed in (this month) shall receive the reward of performing seventy obligations at any other time. It is the month of patience, and the reward of patience is Heaven. It is the month of charity, and a month in which a believer's sustenance is increased."

No other month in Islamic cycle of time offers more blessing to seek nearness and transformation than the month of Ramadan. It is the month where voluntary or superogatory works are encouraged and rewarded abundantly. On reaching proximity of human soul to Divine Presence through voluntary action, its noteworthy of a well-known extra-Quranic statement, the so called hadith-an-nawafil, in which Lord says, "My servant does not cease to come closer to Me by means of superogatory works, and when he approaches Me a span, I approach him a cubit, and if he comes walking I come running, and then I love him until I become his eyes by which he sees, his ear by which he hears and his hand by which he grasps."

This hadith qudsi, a much loved and celebrated one among mystics points to a transformation of man, who by constant service reaches divine proximity and is consumed by God. This transformation to the extent of replacing human qualities with qualities of God is what kabbalists call "to become (like) God." This is at the same time the final point on the way of intoxication for those who are so completely carried away that they lose themselves in God.

3.
Seclusion | I'itikaf

During the last ten days of Ramadan, one of the noble practice of the Prophet was to enter into the santuary (mosque) for prayer, devotion and meditation purpose only. Every outward action done by a Messenger is for the teaching and benefit of the community and to extension to the humanity. I'itikaf or the sacred practice of seclusion in the mosque, performed by the Prophet was his continuation of his earlier practice of retiring in the cave (Jabal an-Noor) before the revelation of Quran began. But once he was bestowed the responsibility of a Message deliverer, guiding his community, maintaining his extended family and the affair of the whole nation, he could no longer retire like before.

Thus by the very action of I'itikaf he taught a beautiful practice for the modern man also. We can not adopt the ways of the spiritual beings of ancient past who used to retire in ancient caves or jungles by outwardly renouncing the family, society or the world. But at the same time the ten thousand distractions of the material world causes the heart to die of the spiritual world. For a modern man living in this age, the pre-occupations and diversions with material need and engagement are so great that if there are no inward turning, man never recoveres from his perpetual loss of not seeking nearness to his Divine Source.

Thus the practice of I'itifak, the practice of abandoning the need of the external world as much as possible is the guarding of the principle of I'itikaf. It is the turning away from the world outwardly for the sake of turning in inwardly to God Alone. For those who can commit themselves in a mosque for the last ten days are lucky, but many living in the west or in the modern world having jobs and duties will not be able to do so. For them the guarding of the principles of I'itikaf in their whole of being is the best practice to adopt.

4.
Guarding the Principle of I'itikaf

God has not made two hearts within (one) body.
- The Quran 33:4

Shamsuddeen Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah says, "Since the hearts' rectitude and firmness upon the path towards Allah the Most High, rests upon directing it solely upon Allah and causing it to turn and give all its attention to Allah the Most High. Since the disorder of the heart cannot be rectified except by turning to Allah the Most High, and its disorder will be increased by eating and drinking too much, mixing with the people excessively, speaking profusely and sleeping too much. These will cause it to wander into every valley, and cut it off from its path to Allah, weaken it, divert it or put a halt to it."

The practice of I'itikaf or seclusion during the last ten days has the principle to devote oneself singularly to the Singular One Alone. It is principle of spiritual perfection to make the heart devoid of everything other than God, not to leave any room for any worldly attachment or worries or concern. This is also a method to attain what Christ, upon him be peace, taught when he said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and all your mind."

The sufis maintain that the heart is the Throne of the Beloved, and nothing else is worthy of this place but He. In entering into I'itikaf one approach that principle of giving the Heart to One Alone. As God says in the Quran, there is only one heart inside the breast of man, so should there be only One residing in it. To be in a place of no distraction helps one to give all his mind to divine devotion, as mind and its singular concentration is essential for attaining That which be attained.

Spiritual perfection is awakening to the ultimate nearness between human soul and Divine Reality. In Ii'tikaf one strive for that nearness in the heart by leaving every other ephemeral concerns.

If one is unable to stay in the Mosque, or an exclusive place of sacredness during this time (which is the case of many) then wherever one may be, one should keep the remembrance of God as much as possible by sacrificing other worldly concerns as much as possible. The Prophet himself didn't like any hardship in any practice, or that which is unnatural to attain and he certainly didn't like any fuss regarding the practice of spirituality. During the last ten days of I'itikaf there is a noteworthy incident that points to that.

Recorded in the Bukhari collection of Prophetic tradition its related, "One time Allah's Messenger wanted to make i'tikaf during the last ten nights of Ramadan, and he ordered his tent to be set up (to separate himself). Aishah reported: "When I saw that, I ordered my tent to be set up, and some of the Prophet's wives followed suit. When he [the Prophet] prayed the morning prayer, he saw all of the tents, and said: "What is this?" They said: "We are seeking obedience [to Allah and His Messenger]." Then he ordered his tent and those of his wives to be taken down, and he delayed his i'tikaf to the first ten days [of Shawwal]." This very hadith teaches that the Prophet didn't like unnecessary ceremony / outer forms when it hinders the inner principles.

Thus due to modern life style, when seclusion in a mosque or other place is not possible, may it be done wherever we may be. We may find solace in the Prophet's saying when he says, "This earth has been made for me a place for praying and a substance to perform the purification of tayammum." The principle of I'itikaf is none other than to turn and devote oneself singularly to the Divine without any distraction. May such extra-ordinary awareness be practiced even amidst our ordinary living.

A sufi master said, "separate from yourself that which separates you from God". May in these last ten days of Ramadan, our retreat whether its inner sanctity be maintained with outer observation or not, may during this time we contemplate upon our shortcoming and our straying from the awareness of Beloved and strive to seek nearness to the One Who is Nearmost.

The Prophet taught the following prayer for this blessed time,

"Allahumma innaka 'afuwwun, tuhibbul 'afwa, fa 'fu 'annee"

O Allah! You are forgiving, and you love forgiveness. So forgive me.

May we find time during these blessed days and specially its night to enter into our prayer-niche, our inner sanctuary just as Mother Mary , upon her noble soul be grace, did her i'itikaf, her sacred seclusion which was followed by her receiving of the Holy Spirit and Divine inspirations.

And mention of Mary in the Scripture, when she withdrew from her people to a place in the east, and she placed a curtain (to screen herself) from them, then We sent to her Our Holy Spirit ... - The Quran, Chapter of Mary

Like the archetypal narrative of Mary, every soul with its feminine quality, may become recipient of sweet fragrance of loving surrender and stay near to that Fragrance.

Ya Kareeb (O NearOne)!

Ya Mawjood (O Ever Present One)!

5.
Hints for Practice at Holy Nights
or to Turn any Night Holy

Stand by night except a little, Half of it, or lessen a little from it, or add to it and read the Quran as a carefully slow distinct chanting .. Verily the rising by night is most potent for preparing the Way (to Allah), and most effective for the (receiving of) Word. Verily during the day, there is for you long work for your living.

But remember the name of your Lord, and devote yourself to Him with complete devotion. Lord of the East and the West, there is no god but He, so take Him as Protector. And bear patiently what they say, and forsake them with an excellent forsaking. - The Quran 73:2-10

Fa-iza faraghta fainsab,
Wa-ila Rabbika fairghab.

So when you are free, strive,
and make your Lord your exclusive goal
- The Quran 94:7-8

6.
Men who neither trafficking nor merchandise divert from the Divine remembrance

They worship in houses which Allah has bidden to be exalted and His Name remembered there in the mornings and the evenings ... Men who neither trafficking nor merchandise divert from the remembrance of Allah .. That Allah may give them the best reward of what they have done, and give them more out of His grace; and Allah gives sustenance to whom He pleases without measure. - The Quran, Chapter of Light


quli Allahu thumma tharhum fee khawdihim yalAAaboona

Say: Allah! and leave them to plunge in vain discourse and trifling.

- The Quran 6:91


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