Strengthening the Foundations for a Muslim Community of Excellence : Lessons of Ramadan
اَللهُ أَكْبَرُ x9 كالي
اَللهُ أَكْبَرُ مَا تَعَالَتْ أَصْوَاتُ النَّاسِ بِالتَّكْبِيْرِ
اَللهُ أَكْبَرُ مَا تَفَتَّحَتْ أَبْوَابُ السَّمَاءِ فِي هَذَا الصَّبَاحِ الْكَبِيْرِ
اَللهُ أَكْبَرُ مَا تَنَزَّلَتْ عَلَيْنَا رَحْمَةُ اْلإِلَهِ الْعَلِيِّ الْقَدِيْرِ
اَللهُ أَكْبَرُ مَا تَقَارَبَتْ قُلُوْبُ الْمُسْلِمِيْنَ فِي هَذَا الْيَوْمِ الْعَظِيْمِ
اَللهُ أَكْبَرُ، اَللهُ أَكْبَرُ، اَللهُ أَكْبَرُ، لاَ إِلَهَ إِلاَّ اللهُ وَاللهُ أَكْبَرُ، اَللهُ أَكْبَرُ وَللهِ الْحَمْدُ.
أَلْحَمْدُ للهِ الَّذِيْ أَمَدَّ أَوْلِيَاءَهُ بِالتَّوْفِيْقِ، وَأَلْهَمَهُمْ كَلِمَةَ الْحَقِّ وَالتَّصْدِيْقِ، وَأَرْشَدَهُمْ إِلَى أَوْضَحِ مَحَجَّةٍ وَطَرِيْقٍ، وَجَعَلَهُمْ بِرَحْمَتِهِ خَيْرَ أُمَّةٍ وَفَرِيْقٍ، أَحْمَدُهُ عَلَى النِّعْمَةِ الَّتِيْ بِهَا حَبَانَا، وَأَشْكُرُهُ عَلَى الْمِلَّةِ الَّتِيْ بِهَا هَدَانَا.
وَأَشْهَدُ أَنْ لاَ إِلهَ إِلاَّ اللهُ وَحْدَهُ لاَ شَرِيْكَ لَهُ، وَأَشْهَدُ أَنَّ مُحَمَّدًا عَبْدُهُ وَرَسُوْلُهُ. اَللَّهُمَّ صَلِّ وَسَلِّمْ وَبَارِكْ عَلَى سَيِّدِنَا مُحَمَّدٍ وَعَلَى آلِهِ وَصَحْبِهِ وَمَنِ اهْتَدَى بِهَدْيِهِ.
أَمَّا بَعْدُ، فَيَا عِبَادَ اللهِ اتَّقُوْا اللهَ وَأُوْصِى نَفْسِيْ وَإِيَّاكُمْ بِتَقْوَى اللهِ وَطَاعَتِهِ.
Maasyiral Mukminin rahimakumullah
The glorious month of Ramadan has left us. We pray to Allah that Ramadan left us not with only memories but positive effects in our lives – in our personal, family and social spheres. This is the mission for fasting, to strengthen the taqwa in ourselves. Taqwa does not only affect our personal and individual selves, but radiates and shines in our social lives too because our religion is “Rahmatan lil ‘Alamin” (mercy to the worlds). This is the message and spirit of Ramadan. Therefore, on this beautiful morning, let us enliven the spirit of taqwa and ihsan, that is, righteousness and excellence. This is the sign of our victory as Ramadan leaves us. Our true victory will be achieved when we are able to continue with the righteous and excellent deeds after Ramadan, as individuals, families and as a community. Allah Al-Mighty says in Surah Al Imran verse 102 :
Meaning: “O ye who believe! Fear Allah as He should be feared, and die not except in a state of Islam.”
Now is the time for us to assess and check ourselves. Let us look back for a while, reflecting on the lessons and values which Ramadan has inculcated in us. Then we look forward, how to continue with our lives in trying to develop a more meaningful individual life and hence, strengthen the foundation to create a Muslim community of excellence, particularly in Singapore. This morning’s sermon hopes to guide all of us in this journey to look at these values, while calling us to move hand in hand, and work together to strengthen the foundations of building a Muslim community of excellence.
Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar wa liLahil Hamd
If we look back at the month of Ramadan and its purpose and goals, and if we reflect back on the principle values in the Holy Quran revealed in that month, we would come to a conclusion that the foundation for building a community of excellence has three important elements. This excellence, however, positively affects not only Muslims, but also mankind as a whole.
The first element or principle is Iman & Taqwa, that is Faith & Righteousness.
Second is knowledge.
Third is Rahmah, that is Mercy and Guidance to all mankind.
Let us look at the first principle, which is Iman & Taqwa.
Maasyiral Mukminin rahimakumullah,
After thirteen years in Mecca, where Prophet Muhammad S.A.W. built personalities who had strong faith and taqwa, they were ordered to leave for the Holy City of Medina, to build a community, one which Allah Al-Mighty then described as Khaira Ummah, that is, the best Ummah. Prophet’s first initiative upon his arrival in Medina was to build a mosque, called Masjid Quba’. It served as a symbol of a new community. Indeed, this mosque was built with such a strong feeling of piety to God, and on Islamic principles which would bring mercy, excellence and goodness to all mankind. The beacon of guidance began shining in the mosque, and it radiated to the horizons far away, with no limits. Allah Al-Mighty described the mosque as one which was built on the foundation of piety to God. Allah says in the Holy Quran :
“There is a mosque whose foundation was laid from the first day on piety; it is more worthy of the standing forth (for prayer) therein.” (al-Taubah : 108)
This is then a very important foundation that must exist in shaping a community of excellence – Taqwa, or Righteousness and Piety. Although this verse mentions explicitly a mosque, it means more than just a mosque. This is the foundation for everywhere on the face of this earth. Everywhere on the face of this earth can be a “masjid”. This means that if we want to build a Muslim community, we must begin laying its foundation with taqwa. Allah says in the Holy Quran meaning :
“Which then is best? - he that layeth his foundation on piety to Allah and His good pleasure? - or he that layeth his foundation on an undermined sand-cliff ready to crumble to pieces? and it doth crumble to pieces with him, into the fire of Hell. And Allah guideth not people that do wrong.” (al-Taubah : 109)
Our responsibilities do not stop at bringing prosperity to the houses of God which are the mosques, but we must bring prosperity to the lands of God. Fasting in Ramadan aims at strengthening such a foundation. After the Quba’ mosque was built in the first year of Hijrah, Allah wants to strengthen this foundation of taqwa by prescribing the act of fasting in the second year of Hijrah. Allah explains the purpose of fasting in the following verse :
“O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may have taqwa (i.e. have self-restraint) ” (al-Baqarah : 183)
Every year, we renew our efforts to strengthen this foundation. When we fast each year, we remind ourselves of this mission. It is like an annual auditing process to check on how much we have deposited into our own and our community’s taqwa accounts.
Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar wa liLahil Hamd
The second foundation is Knowledge. If we look back and ask ourselves, what is the major event which took place in the month of Ramadan and we have never failed to celebrate it? It is none other than Nuzul Al-Quran or the Revelation of the Quran. Al-Quran was sent down to Prophet Muhammad S.A.W. in the month of Ramadan. Allah Al-Mighty mentions this in the Holy Quran :
“Ramadhan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur'an, as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment (Between right and wrong).” (al-Baqarah : 185)
The purpose of Al-Quran is clearly understood from this verse. Al-Quran was revealed to firstly guide mankind; secondly to explain the guidance, with the reasoning and its intellectual principles, and thirdly to separate the truth from falsehood.
Allah has described the Holy Quran as
”al-Bayyinat”, meaning explanations and proofs which are clear to mankind. This means the knowledge and understanding of the purpose and goals of the Quran (bayyinaatin minal Huda). When we have strengthened the foundation of taqwa, we are reminded that all our efforts must be based on knowledge and proper understanding. To understand the Quranic principles which Allah has described as al-Huda. A Muslim community of Excellence is one that is based on understanding and knowledge, particularly understanding correctly Quranic principles and the objectives of the Shariah.
Hence, it is of no surprise that Allah sent the first revelation to “Read”. To read from what is written and understand its meanings. To also read the signs of Allah from His creations. To read the signs of Allah in the horizon and in one’s self. Allah says in the Holy Quran meaning “Soon will We show them our Signs in the (furthest) regions (of the earth), and in their own souls, until it becomes manifest to them that this is the Truth.” (Fussilat : 53)
Allah calls upon us to look at His creations, hence emerged the sciences of astronomy, geology, psychology, sociology, biology, history and others. Because the signs of Allah can be found everywhere.
Hence, it does not come as a surprise to see the first generation of excellent Muslims succeeding in creating a civilization which had researched and pioneered various sciences and fields. Their work was emulated and followed by humanity at large and not only Muslims. This is the spirit of Al-Quran which was revealed in Ramadan. When we fast every year, it reminds us of this spirit and enthusiasm. Ramadan checks on our understanding and knowledge account. If taqwa reminds us of our spiritual account, it also reminds us of our knowledge and understanding, which is our intellectual account. For our community to excel, it must be based on knowledge and understanding.
Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar waliLahil Hamd
Maasyiral Mukminin Rahimakumullah…
Is taqwa and knowledge for our own personal benefits? If it goes beyond that, and serves some communal objectives, would it be confined to just the Muslim community? Or is it a global, humanitarian, worldwide mission? Such is the guidance of the Quran. Such is the beauty in the message of Islam. It is not an exclusive religion. The goodness that comes with it is not solely for a specific group, but it includes all of God’s creation. This can be seen from the earlier verse, where Allah has described the Quran as Huda li al-Nas i.e. Guidance for Mankind, not only for Muslims. It is not our goal to ensure that everyone becomes a Muslim. This may not be possible. This itself wasn’t the mission for the dakwah works of Rasulullah S.A.W. for it is Allah who decides. However, we share this goodness and guidance with everyone else. There are a lot of Hadith or Sayings of Prophet Muhammad S.A.W. which illustrate the responsibilities of the believers towards their neighbours and family members, whether they are Muslims or otherwise. Did not our Prophet Muhammad S.A.W. himself treated well his neighbours and the dwellers of the city of Medina, full of justice and equality, disregarding their nationalities or religious faith? Our Prophet did that as he brings mercy and the blessings of God to all the worlds. Allah says in the Holy Quran :
“We sent thee not, but as a Mercy for all creatures.” (al-Anbiya’ : 107)
The House of Allah in Mecca, the Kaabah itself was built to bring blessings and guidance to all the worlds. Allah mentions in Surah Al Imran verse 96 :
“The first House (of worship) appointed for men was that at Bakka: Full of blessing and of guidance for all kinds of beings”
The first principle is our spiritual account. The second is our intellectual account or knowledge and understanding, while the third is our social account – how much can our faith and taqwa, knowledge and understanding, guidance and blessings that we have been bestowed with be shared with others, with everyone else to build the kind of community and civilisation that is spiritually strong, ethical and virtuous.
These are the principles and values which Ramadan has taught us. If we look back, we will find that Ramadan hopes to inculcate such values in ourselves. It is an annual audit, assessing and evaluating our spiritual, intellectual and social accounts.
Allahu akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar wa liLahil hamd
Alhamdulillah, All Praises be to God, we thank Him for the great opportunity to fulfil our duties in Ramadan. We hope that we have succeeded in learning from such lessons from Ramadan. As a community, we must assess ourselves and strengthen those principles.
Are we going to let those principles leave us with the passage of time? How do we continue to strengthen such principles within ourselves? How do we ensure that our accounts do not deplete to the extent of bankruptcy, in terms of spiritual, intellectual and social bankruptcy? How do we continue to mould and shape a Muslim community of Excellence whose mission is to bring mercy and blessings to the whole world?
Firstly, on the individual level, each and everyone of us must continue to do the good and righteous deeds that we have done in Ramadan. We must also continue to gain more knowledge, both for ourselves and our families. A Muslim community of excellence cannot exist without the presence of an intellectual culture, and if we do not accord the right status to knowledge which it deserves. We must continue to learn and understand Islamic principles and the noble values of Islam. We must move away from just being concerned with form or ritualistic aspects of Islam. We must give strong emphasis to content, to Islamic principles, values and the Quran. If we truly understand these general principles, the values and spirit of Al-Quran, we will find that the battle to lead a more meaningful life is not solely ours. It is the responsibility of all mankind and all human civilisation which wishes to create a spiritual, moral and ethical society.
Secondly, on the societal or community level, we must assist each other to strengthen those principles and to reinforce unity within the community. A community built upon the foundation of taqwa is a community which is united, with pure souls, where each member loves the other as much as he loves himself. When Allah mentions about the mosque which was built on the foundation of taqwa, Allah also mentions:
“…In it are men who love to be purified; and Allah loveth those who make themselves pure” (al-Taubah : 108)
Allah explains that the foundations for the Best Ummah is unity. Allah mentions in the Holy Quran meaning :
“O ye who believe! Fear Allah as He should be feared, and die not except in a state of Islam. And hold fast, all together, by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves” (Al Imran verses 102 & 103)
Support these noble efforts to develop the foundations for taqwa, knowledge and sharing of Rahmah or mercy with other communities. We should be the ambassadors of Islam to other communities via our commendable character and personality, together with the noble universal values. We should not feel that we are a minority community in doing so. This is because everyone shares in envisioning a community which is just, ethical and spiritual. In this effort of ours, we are a majority. And each of us will be accountable for what we do. If each and everyone fulfills his or her roles, only then our efforts to create a Muslim community of excellence is very much simplified and facilitated.
Ramadan reminds us of all these meanings and values. The month of Syawal denotes our victory through this auditing process. We must continue with our efforts, so that our victory is not short-lived.
May Eidul Fitr bring new hope to the Muslim community, and be the beacon which will guide towards the creation of a Muslim Community of Excellence in Singapore.