So Ramadan has gone, and I can finally start being productive with my writing. I was going to write this in Ramadan, but serendipity has proved timely in publishing it after Ramadan. It has been a tumultuous Ramadan, with the death of Muhammad Ali, the Orlando Shooting, Brexit, Daesh bombings and black lives. All this combined plus the tiredness of Ramadan, didn’t permit me to publish this article. Now would be the right time to reflect.
Countless articles and the usual clichés dominate the pastiche of modern life. Among the popular hits – don’t shave or clip your beard during Ramadan, the devil is chained up during this month, make sure you work hard to the point of exhaustion to attain reward (because that’s what a merciful God wants, to see you suffer!). The list could go on, but for the sake of necessity I shall be concentrating on the idea of suffering and the devil apparently being chained up in Ramadan.
I shall be incurring the wrath of many of my current Muslim friends with this article by bringing in the idea of ‘Taraweeh’ (night prayer in Ramadan, literally translated to mean, resting between prayers) and what it means to us today and the idea of the devil being chained up in Ramadan, that it’s almost become a precursor to belief in what fasting is actually about.
I love Ramadan. Some of it is out of nostalgia, waking up in the wee hours of the morning whilst listening to sunrise radio, the smell of parathas still lingers on the nose. Some of it is a genuine love of community, spirituality and charity. I believe Ramadan brings the community together – Muslim and non-Muslim. There is so much charity and sharing going on, that all the prior months of brooding cynicism slowly washes away in Ramadan. I truly believe that Ramadan is a gift for mankind. It is an excellent time to develop and grow as an individual – both spiritually and emotionally.
However, we’ve convoluted a few things over time. I think we can make Ramadan even more efficient if we take the superstition out of it and the forced ‘catholic guilt’ hardship out of it.
Taraweeh is an optional night prayer Sunni Muslims partake in droves throughout Ramadan. The mosques are full during this optional night prayer – in contrast to the fard (obligatory) prayers throughout the years. That is to say, that I find it laughable that an optional prayer is more valued than the obligatory prayers. It provides an incisive look into the Muslim mind. Imagine this reader – you wake up at 2am to eat, fast for 18 hours+, break your fast at 9.20pm, then go through an excruciating prayer which lasts 2 hours or so. Served with lethargy, onion breath burps, misty heat and to add insult to injury – listening to the recitation of the Quran without understanding a word of it!
The insight it provides is that we’ve become a group of point collecting drones. All praying for salvation because Ramadan is the month of mercy and extra blessings. I have to be honest with you. I have not prayed Taraweeh for years. I do not believe in punishing the body. Conscious, self-inflicted hardship won’t be rewarded. It has become a masochistic ritual yearly. Why would I have a day job, fast for 18 hours and then numb my mind in a hall surrounded by words and men I do not know. It goes against the grain of common sense and ease. I will always choose ease where I can, because that’s the way of the Prophet. He never prayed a Taraweeh in his life and never made it a religious edict. So why are we ‘flogging’ ourselves? Forgetting the fact, that he never even called it Taraweeh. That word didn’t come about until later. In fact, the practise of congregational prayer didn’t come about until later. It was always assumed that people would reflect on the Quranic words and pray in the ease and relaxation of their home. Why? Purely, because Ramadan can be very difficult, so you do what you can in the optional prayers. Secondly, self-reflection. Without the inner journey, what have you possibly learned by not eating food and listening to a language that you don’t understand?
Dear reader, forgive my rash directness. I do believe we’ve lost our way. The night prayer is just an optional prayer. Our classical scholars have even argued that it is in fact a tahajjud(twilight prayer). If you claim to follow the Prophet of Islam, then why are you doing more than he ever did? You claim, he didn’t make it compulsory so not create hardship on the community – then why are you creating hardship for yourself? None of it makes any sense at all.
Prayer should beckon you. Not as a didactic ritual or a ‘tick box’ compulsion. Rather, as an act of absolute heartache – a connection of love that you are compelled to do. We must do it out of the habit of love.
After all, the child doesn’t crave attention out of clinical action. It’s an embedded need to seek love for all creatures who have thoughts and feelings.
Not forgetting the fact that in the summer months, there really isn’t an Isha and Fajr (evening and dawn prayer consecutively) prayer. There is wisdom in this, if you choose to see it. The days of where we are based in the UK and Europe are far too long, and we live a much more hectic lifestyle than most of the world. It is a mercy – that it simply does not exist for the summer months and throughout Ramadan. After all, what is wrong with opening your fast in the evening, reading your prayers, combining the evening and morning prayers in one. Getting 8-9 hours of really good sleep. Surely, you’re more productive, more alert in your normal activities and getting the most out of your mental control and reflection, throughout that amazing month. The insights, I have personally had with a healthy mind and healthy body – are far greater than a tired mind and body.
We must stop being so charlatan with our beliefs. We are supposed to be good representatives for humanity. We’ve become this strange array of literal and doctrinaire community. We’ve become this cult of ‘Muslims’ who enjoy hurting ourselves to please the most merciful, the most kind deity. Pause for moment. Think about that.
You’re hurting yourself to please a loving God?!
Before the expectant hurling abuse is riled at me. If you still have the energy and belief to read Taraweeh and Isha, please go ahead. I am merely asking for a reasonable approach to this. I am not a Shia ( I regard them equally as I do others). Nor am I Satan.
Which brings me to the final unravelling of this complacent mirage. The idea of Satan being locked away in Ramadan has permeated the Muslim consciousness for some time. It is an oft quoted celebratory phrase every Ramadan. It gets further tiresome when our scholars try and explain it, with a convoluted spray of nonsense and wordplay.
It is quite self-evident and glaringly so that Satan isn’t locked up –metaphorically or otherwise. He’s alive and well in Ramadan. Here’s a superficial example – I was told to join the feet in prayers as Satan gets in and disrupts the line. Yes, you heard that right. Firstly, Satan is supposed to be locked up in Ramadan. Secondly, why is Satan in a mosque? Thirdly, what is it with this Salafi foot fetish?
The devils are not locked up in Ramadan. That’s clearly evident from the worst kind of violence the Muslims have ever had in Ramadan from our Muslim friends, the Daesh. Perhaps the meaning is metaphorical? The fact, that all desire of sex and our primordial instincts are not fulfilled – means the ‘devils’ are at bay. However, I must emphasise that the majority of Muslims do not believe it in the metaphorical sense. This is what troubles me so much.
Devils or otherwise known as our base desires – will never go away until we recognise the contradictions in our nature.
I hope I’m not being condescending. However, I must question the mind that does not question these sorts of sayings. After all, you’re attributing them to our Prophet. This zeitgeist Hadith is found in Bukhari and Muslim, in varying words.
“Narrated Abu Huraira:
Allah’s Apostle said, “When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of the heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained.” – Sahih al-Bukhari 1899 Book 30
I’m not questioning the authenticity of Abu Huraira at all. Let’s analyse this a bit further.
Primarily, the matn (content) is flawed as explained above. When we further analyse the Hadith. It is found to be ahad (solitary). A hadith so important, that is has permeated the mind of almost every Muslim, and is quoted ad infinitum through the sphere of our mosques. Am I to believe a Hadith of such importance was only told to one man. A hadith that holds so much weight in actualising belief – was not in fact told to a multitude of people present. But in fact told only to one person and not corroborated by anyone else during that time. Allow me to put it another way. I have an announcement to make to my family. Yet, I only tell my brother. Has it actually been announced or not?
Furthermore, the chain of transmission is ‘strong’. See here. But, the problem lies that there is almost a 70 year gap between Abu Huraira and the next person in line! So what we have is;
- Content goes against rational thought and is in fact contradictory.
- It was only told to one solitary person. i.e. not corroborated by multiple people.
- The chain has a gap of 70 years between the original transmitter and the secondary transmitter.
- The secondary narrator in the chain would have to have been a child of 7-10 years of age when the hadith was passed onto him by Abu Hurairah.
We have to be very careful and afraid as to what we attribute and implement in our lives. Forget weak, this should be rejected on content and transmission. It’s sacrilege to associate wrong things that defy logic and rationale over the pseudo sacrilegious teachers who will cast doubt on anyone who casts aspersions on their expertise.
However, all of this is not detrimental to Islamic theology. If you choose to believe it (for whatever reason) – it will not affect the foundations of the faith. It really is not that important. What is far more important is the reaction I will get from writing my opinion of this texts negation. Call it an experiment if you may. What is far more revealing the nature of our reaction.
We immediately become tense and become hostage to this “siege mentality” we’ve enveloped over the years. Nobody is attacking us. We’re not under threat from the outside. Our post-colonial reactions to the religion have to stop. There is far too much knee jerk reaction to what we feel is common sense. In fact, it’s merely ego and self-preservation often disguised as protecting the “faith”. Here I have merely rejected a Hadith. Not the word of God. I’ve rejected a method that is interpretative to begin with. What will rile up the good Salaf is the idea of who am I to reject this? I’m the same as you, except that I choose to think.
All of this begs an important questions as to why is this tradition so common place. How we construct religion and religious edict says more about us, than it does for Islam. Perhaps, we’ve become so exhausted after our perpetual drought of knowledge – that we’ve self-manifested a mirage of a perfect dogma. I’m afraid the mirage in Ramadan, the idea of seeing things that are not there will continue for years to come.
Free yourself from this mirage, this mist of dogma and embrace ideas without having to accept them. I say this again and again to everyone I meet. Read and partake in culture. Inspiring and soul stirring tasteful music and culture shape the human soul and thought so gracefully, that it is a connection to a higher source. Our history has embraced civilisations – not through automated rituals, but through a real organic embracing of all cultures. I would also say read creative zeitgeist fiction which is sometimes better than the fiction we’ve created from our legal theories from our tradition.
“Does evil come from inside ,from the dark depths of the human soul or does it come from outside ,from the objective conditions of human life?This question divides all people into two large groups: believers and materialists. For believers all evil and good is in man. Hence denying violence because it’s directed toward the outside, is a fight with an imaginary, nonexistent evil. Violence should be directed toward ourselves, inside, in the form of repentance or asceticism.To assert that evil is outside, that a man is evil because the conditions in which he lives are bad, that changes in these conditions would bring changes in man,to insist that man is a result of outside circumstances, is from the religious point of view the most godless and the most inhuman idea which has ever appeared in the human mind. Such an opinion degrades man to a thing, to a helpless executor of outside, mechanical, unconscious forces.” ~ Alija Izetbegovic
By Benny Lava