23 April 2004
ASSALAMU ALAYKUM WA RAHMATULLAH WA BARAKATUHU
A’UZU BILAHI MINASH SHAYTANIR RAJIM
BISMILLAHI RAHMAN NIR RAHIM
AL HAMDU LILAHI RABBIL ALAMIN
ASH HADU AN LA ILLAHA ILLALA WAHDAHU LA SHARIKALAHU
ASH-HADU ANNA MUHAMMAD ABDUHU WA RASULUHU
WASSALATU WAS SALAMU ALA MUHAMMAD, WA UMATUHU
PEACE AND BLESSINGS OF THE ALMIGHTY LORD BE UPON ALL OF YOU
I SEEK REFUGE IN GOD, THE MOST EXALTED FROM EVIL AND PEVERSITY
IN THE NAME OF ALLAH, THE MOST GRACIOUS, THE MOST MERCIFUL
ALL PRAISE IS DUE TO THE CREATOR, THE LORD OF THE WORLDS
I BEAR WITNESS THAT THERE IS NO DEITY EXCEPT THE ONE TRUE GOD WHO IS UNIQUE AND HAS NO ASSOCIATE OR PARTNER
I BEAR TESTIMONY THAT MUHAMMAD IS GOD’S SERVANT / MESSENGER
PEACE & SALUTATION TO MUHAMMAD AND TO HIS COMMUNITY
Today it is IDD ALFITR, the festival marking the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan. It is the day of personal thanks and collective gratitude to the Lord of the Worlds. All Muslims are happy and delighted to have followed God’s command to have fasted from dawn to dusk for the past 30 days. So, we gather here today with two thoughts uppermost in our hearts and minds: the feeling of joy and satisfaction on the completion of this religious injujnction, and the feelings of revived brotherhood and sisterhood, of solidarity and affinity.
Ramadan has been, for Muslims, the training school for self-discipline and self-restraint. This voluntary denial of all food, drink and pleasure during daylight hours is part of a regulated discipline whereby Muslims not only fulfill their Islamic obligations, but it is also a means of bringing them closer to their Creator, nearer to God and their Maker. Ramadan is the spiritual mechanism whereby we re-attach ourselves to the Divine priority and detach us from earthly matters. Ramadan provides practical deterrence from sin and wrong-doing. It is the path for individual purification as well as collective self-monitoring. The positive aspect of fasting with its communal practices like breaking the fast with family and friends are all designed to create social cohesion to combat selfish individualism, hedonistic materialism and egotistical isolation.
For Muslims, God’s commandments are for the benefit of humanity. The Creator does not place any unrealistic burdens upon people but provides us with divine rules and guidance that are advantageous and beneficial to us all. This observation applies particular to the annual Ramadan fast. Everyone who has experienced the rigours of fasting will readily recognise that the purpose and quintessence of fasting is to free the soul from its worldly attachments, to enable it to ascend to elevated levels of spirituality, thus empowering it with a higher essence and existence. In other words, the annual fast in Islam is a divinely sanctioned method of liberating the human soul from the realm of time and space and graft it to the absolute and eternal reality.
Fasting, as we all know, bestows great benefits for individuals as well as for society at large. It generates tremendous spiritual, moral, physical and social rewards. Among other things, fasting
- Inculcates self-discipline and moral training
- Intensifies God-consciousness and true piety
- Hinders hedonism, materialism and selfishness
- Encourages greater humility, kindness, charity and righteousness
- Brings people closer together as a community and as neighbours
- Teaches personal patience, perseverance and steadfastness
- Fosters individual empathy, courage and fortitude to do good deeds
- Accentuates human health and strength by regulating food addiction
- Advances mental alertness, psychological stability and emotional well-being
- Purifies the physical body, enlivens the minds and rejuvenates the soul
Fasting in Islam therefore is not about just going through the motions of giving up food, water and all pleasures during daylight. Those are only the external manifestations and outer dimensions of Siyam / Saum. It must be accompanied by moral rectitude. In fact, the Holy Qur’an is quite explicit in articulating both both the injunction and intention of fasting. We read in Surah Baqqarah, 2:183
YA AYUHAL LATHINA AMANU KUTIBAH ALAYKUMUS SIYAM KAMA KUTIBA ALAL LATHINA MIN QABLIKUM LA ALAKUM TATTAQUN
O YOU WHO BELIEVE, FASTING IS PRESCRIBED FOR YOU AS IT WAS PRESCRIBED FOR THOSE BEFORE YOU SO THAT YOU MAY BECOME RIGHTEOUS (MUTAQQI) AND EXERCISE SELF-RESTRAINT
Here in very categoric terms, Muslims are told that the objective of fasting is to become fully God-conscious and to be truly righteous. To become a mutaqqi, those who have achieved the highest spiritual elevation. In Islam, as we know, there are various gradations of spirituality and degrees of piety. Starting right at the bottom is the Muslim, someone who only practices the pillars and principles of the faith. The next stage is for those who are Mu’min, a believer who have intensified their faith and developed a more profound sense of God-consciousness. Then at the highest level, we find the Mutaqqi, the truly righteous, those who are close to God and those who have reached a spiritual status that sets them apart because their daily conduct and moral behaviour.
Fasting is the vehicle, the mechanism whereby believers can attain the highest stage of spiritual development. And this is the fundamental aim and significance of fasting. Remember, God is not in need of you giving up your sustenance and nourishment. Fasting is meaningless without accompanying ethical, moral and spiritual elements. It is therefore a spiritual exercise to instill self-discipline, moral upliftment and ethical regeneration. It is not confined to the physical denial of food and water. It must be combined by refraining from all evil deeds, sinful acts and mischievous conduct. After a month of fasting and intensified prayer and supplication, and abstaining from all wrong-doing whether it is telling lies, cheating, stealing and so forth, devout Muslims will find themselves becoming closer to God. Only then will they achieve the true purpose fasting.
Fasting in a vacuum, focusing only on the externals of this religious pillar, is pointless. Fasting must be united with increased prayer, higher ethics, stringent morality and an intensified consciousness of God as well as a greater solidarity and affinity with all our fellow human beings, Muslims and non-Muslims. Only then do we attain the kind of genuine spirituality that will confirm that we have indeed fulfilled the Qur’anic rationale for fasting.
Fasting, more than anything else, focuses the mind on the three H’s. Those who are hungry, those who are homeless and those who are helpless. It is our obligation as Muslims, particular those who have experienced the pangs of hunger and thirst during this Ramadan to link up with those who are less fortunate, with those who are victims of natural disasters and human conflicts. We have a duty as Muslims to come to the assistance of all, Muslims and non-Muslims, who are deprived and all those who are in need and all those who seek help.
This is our human obligation and it is our moral commitment. The Holy Qur’an is strict about this personal and collective responsibility that we must have for the poor, the underprivileged, the victims of natural disasters and human upheavals.
In Surah Al-Ma’un, Chapter 107:1-3 we read:
ARA AYTAL LATHINA
UKAZZIBU BID DIN
FA THALIKAL LATHINA YAD-UL YATIM
WA LA YAHHIDUL ALA TA’AMIL MISKIN
FA WAYLULI MUSALIYIN
AL-LATHINA HUM AN SALATIHIM SAHUN
AL-LATHINA HUM YURA-UN
WA YAMNA-UNAL MA’UN
HAVE YOU SEEN THE ONE WHO DENIES RELIGION? THAT IS THE ONE WHO TURNS THE ORPHAN AWAY AND URGES NOT THE FEEDING OF THE NEEDY WOE TO THESE PRAYING ONES, WHO ARE UNMINDFUL OF THE PURPOSE OF THEIR PRAYERS. WHO ONLY DO GOOD TO BE SEEN AND PRAISED AND REFRAIN FROM ACTS OF KINDNESS TO THEIR FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS
Here in the clearest possible terms, the Holy Qur’an rejects the notion that religion is only form and ritual, only show and tell, without any substance and reality. According to this passage, it is incumbent for Muslims to assist all the needy, the poor and those in distress, regardless of their faith, nationality or heritage. In other words, it is a spiritual imperative, an obligation of faith and a religious requirement to do so. Without social charity there can be no religious piety.
Acts of humanity and philanthropic deeds are especially enjoined in Ramadan when we must direct our attention not only to our spiritual development and intensify our spirituality, but we should also devote time, effort and resources to come to the assistance of all those who are homeless, hungry and helpless. In this, we have the glorious example of the Holy Prophet Muhammad whose generosity and hospitality was legendary. But in the month of Ramadan, his philanthropy and social involvement with the destitute and the despairing was especially evident. There are many authentic ahadith that corroborates this. It is for this reason, that each and every Muslim is obliged to make a charitable contribution before the IDD prayers. This compulsory SADAQA AL-FITR is geared to benefit the homeless, the hungry and the helpless irrespective of faith
The Holy Month of Ramadan has served to emphasize that Islam is a religion of worship, faith and action, This is best evoked by the Arabic word, `ibadah which is loosely translated as worship. However, worship in Islam, is not a mere performance of rituals and empty postures. It is a whole way of life that encompasses every facet of life. Worship helps us to remain fully conscious of God and of our higher selves. Proper worship corrects our relations with every person and with every thing. The people of worship are those who are good to their families, gentle with their spouses, benevolent to their parents, loving to their children, kind to their relatives, helpful to their neighbors, collegial to their co-workers, friendly to the environment, protective of the resources of the earth, and concerned with the world at large. The people of worship strive to make everything right and everything good. Ibadah or worship is thus the very crux of Islam. It is in fact, the express goal of divine creation. In the immortal words of the Holy Qur’an, this time from Surah ad- Dhariyat, 51:56 we read:
|WAMA KHALAQTU ALJINNA WAL-INSAN ILLA LI YA’ABUDUNI||AND I HAVE NOT CREATED THE JINN AND HUMANS EXCEPT THAT THEY MAY WORSHIP ME ALONE|
Faith and worship in Islam therefore has an explcit purpose. Its primary aim is to put right what is wrong. Worship sets aright our relations with our Creator, with our own selves, with our families, with our neighbours and friends, and with the world at large. If we have faith and we worship, but we make other poeple unsafe and insecure by our words and our actions, then we have learned nothing from our worship. If we pray and yet do injustice to others, if we worship and ignore the cries of the poor and those in pain, if we pray and do not care for those who are suffering in our neighborhood and around the world, then our prayers and faith have not done us any good at all. If we pray but we do not try to change the negative social and economic conditions around us and do not resist political injustices at home and abroad, then we have not realised the true meaning of worship, the ultimate purpose of faith.
The real `ibadah or worship is that which changes people. It transforms them into the true followers of God. This party of God is described in the Qur’an in Surah as-Shura (42:36-39). They are those who believe in the eternal God, who avoid all major sins and grievous transgressions, who forgive others when they are wronged, who pray regularly, who are charitable to all in need and who struggles remorselessly against evil and injustice.
In this context, the Qur’an says that those who submit and surrender to the Lord of the Worlds are the paradigms of virtue and goodness. They stand for peace and justice in the world. They are not only content merely with their personal righteousness and salvation, but they work to bring justice, peace and joy for all.
So, today, as we celebrate the end of Ramadan, let us heed the real lessons of this blessed month of fasting by re-dedicating ourselves to live truly righteous lives, to be ethical and moral in all our dealings, to think always of those who have not and to do our best we can to alleviate pain, suffering and injustice where ever it might be, whether here in the UK or elsewhere.
The true object of Ramadan has been to recharge our spiritual batteries for the year ahead, for us to become not only nearer to our Creator but also closer to humanity. That is the message of Ramadan and the lesson of the past month.
We as Muslims are facing many challenges at this time. But with faith and trust in God and with unity and solidarity among ourselves, we can overcome present difficulties. We must not succumb to despair, fear, or anxiety. We must continue working with sincerity, honesty, trust and wisdom to promote all that is tolerant, progressive and beautiful about Islam. We must increase our involvement with all those around us and integrate more effectively with the wider society without diluting our religion and identity. We must accelerate interaction on the interfaith front and political levels. We have to work hard to dispel any misunderstandings and biases about us and about our faith from the minds of the British public. We must also continue building the bridges of mutual understanding and tolerant co-existence with others to keep this Britain of ours a just and peaceful, diverse and pluralistic country. Let us also remind ourselves that we must face the big challenges of the present and future with courage and confidence, with wisdom and harmony. The Holy Qur’an repeatedly tells us that God will help those who are sabirin (2:153), mutaqqin (2:194), and muhsinin (29:69). In other words, God comes to the rescue of those who are steadfast, those who are righteous and those who are kind to one another.
So, in conclusion please permit me to congratulate all those who have fasted for the whole month and performed their duty to God and humanity. Let me commend those who have turned over a new leaf and made a fresh beginning on the road to ultimate spiritual salvation and moral success. For the first time in a month, we will be able to partake of food and drink during daylight hours, and for this, our profound thanks and infinite gratitude is due to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.
I greet you therefore on this blessed IDD AL-FITR (the festival of the breaking of the fast) with the joyous traditional greetings from around the Muslim world. In the Indian sub-continent, people greet each other on this day by saying IDD MUBARAK or IDD SA’ID, meaning happy and blessed IDD. In Southeast Asia, it is common to address people by saying SELAMAT HARI RAYA or SELAMAT IDUL FITRI which means “Happy Idd” in Malaysian and Bahasa Indonesian. In that part of the world, Muslims also tend to greet one another with MAAF LAHIR DAN BATIN which means “I’m sorry physically and spiritually”, because in Indonesia and Malaysia, IDD AL-FITR is not only a huge festive celebration, but it is also the time for Muslims to wipe the slate clean and start anew again. In Turkey, Muslims greet each on this day with the salutation BAYRAM INIZ KUTLU OLSUN (meaning happy and blessed IDD to you) while in Iran, people also greet each other with the popular IDD MUBARAK. In the Arab world, the universal greetings on this day is:KULI AAM BI ANTUM BI KHAYR (MAY YOU ENJOY GOOD EVERY YEAR)
But whatever the greetings or the language, the message remains the same. It is a time of unfettered spiritual joy and festive celebrations. So before we go downstairs to enjoy a specially prepared brunch and refreshments, let me conclude this sermon by requesting that each of you turn warmly to greet everyone in this hall. Hug and embrace another in a spirit of peace and harmony. And give the most friendly of greetings and handshakes to all those you don’t know. This is a time of religious celebration and great personal joy for everyone.
IDD MUBARAK, BLESSED GREETINGS FOR ALL ON THIS VERY SPECIAL DAY