By Rashid Samnakay, New Age Islam
06 July, 2013
Within the ambit of churches mankind has been searching for spirituality in various religions and therein to find peace of mind. On individual basis some may have even found it, or deluded themselves to have found it, but on collective basis that kind of spirituality is fruitless.
One of the practices of Religiosity for Muslims men is the withdrawal from the active world in the ritual of I’tekaaf during the coming month. This is said to acquire ‘nearness’ to God.
Women are not allowed to undertake this worship in a Mosque for reasons of modesty but could practice it at home.
The Arabic name for it is I’tekaaf, which is not found in common Arabic Dictionaries. However it is mentioned in Hadees books. This dual purpose practice of isolation is undertaken by the Muslims during, Ramadhan the month of Fasting.
In addition to the Religiosity the ritual is a gamble to catch the fleeting moment of the holy night that occurs, during which the practitioner’s supplications are answered and also all worldly wishes too are guaranteed to be granted. Provided that the person is ‘lucky’ to catch the moment during those last ten days of the month! A sort of-- ‘lucky dip Lotto’!
Hence it is a form of religious lottery; but a practice without incurring the expense of a cent to buy the ticket, let alone having to shed a drop of sweat in active toil to acquire such a huge benefit.
There is no reference to it in the source Book Quran. Hence it is extraneous to the Quranic Code and is an optional extra religious ritual.
Given this understanding then, it stands to reason that it is a gathering of likeminded group of contemplative people; like that in the Monasteries of Abrahamic faiths, where people indulge in “worship”. But otherwise toil in every other way to provide for themselves, and without imposing on others for provision of food, clothes, washing and other creature comforts. In addition they also help the surrounding community in various ways. However in the case of I’tekaaf, the above does not apply.
Whatever the spiritual argument to justify this practice, it is questionable on the basis of few principles laid out in Quran, and arguable when compared with its fundamentals.
First, that the element of the temporary hermitage, occupying space in a public hall, rent free such as a mosque, where on special occasions like Juma’ prayers it overflows with worshipers outside on the streets, causing inconvenience to general public, particularly so in the non-Muslim countries.
This, at the least is devoid of common ethical duty of care to others. It smacks of “showmanship” of piety at the expense of the praying public. Satirised in-107-6 as;–“those who want but to be seen by others.”
This short chapter Ma’aoon 107 soundly rejects the idea of fruitless religious piety and explains what practical, beneficial and outcome-based actions are and who negates the ad-Deen, the code.
Second, the inherent element of “gamble” that underpins the ritual, over the ten nights of Quadar! During this period when something nebulous occurs and all their supplications are guaranteed to be answered by the Divine Authority. The very Authority which has set up fixed standards for all outcomes of actions.
Games of chance, is forbidden as given in 5-93 etc.
Third, the obligations of service to others and guardianship to one’s family during this period of isolation is abrogated. It may be argued religiously that in so denying oneself of worldly pleasures such as companionship of the family and friends and adopt “holy seclusion” is a meritorious effort in which the family too gains vicariously.
The concept of eeSaal–vicariously passing on to others, one’s holy benefits is a very common belief among Muslims, like that of performing Hajj for loved ones, contrary to 6-164 where “…every soul draws the needs of its acts on none but itself: No bearer of burden can bear the burden of another…”
Fourthly, the mindset that Thawab- rewards for merit- that of ‘worship’, sitting on the prayer rug- Musallah is the means of becoming a Musalleen for achieving “nearness” to God is manifestly false. For example as explained in, that which brings one “near to god” 34-37.
Fifthly, as the whole “universe belongs to All Mighty God, 3-189” and “He is with you wherever you may be 57-4” etc.; then to usurp a private-enclosed space in a public place in a Church is brazen selfishness.
If this practice is supposed to be an intensive training to resist worldly temptations, there is no reason why it should not be exercised in one’s home, full of tempting environment, as the women ought to do, or sitting under a Bunyan tree rather than shielded in a house of worship?.
And lastly on more pragmatic aspect, the chapter ‘Night of the Standards or Power’ 44-3,states that the night is better than “thousand months 97-3”. That equates to eighty three and a third years on human counting. To then reduce it to just TEN nights is seeking something for nothing, which is not even possible in games of chance, and with zero application of effort in the name of religion. Whereas 94-4,5 assures of ease only after toil and sweat!
According to the Book, the reaction to one’s actions is based on: “for every soul to receive its reward by the measure of its endeavours 20-15” suggests that efforts, toil and endeavours follow the universal law of action and reaction as articulated by Newton also.
Every action, A’mal produces a reaction and therefore the repeated emphases in the Book to commit to positive actions “A’milus-Salihaati”; to differentiate from actions that produce negative reaction on self and its flow-on effect to the society.
This fundamental differentiation of positive and negative Actions is eroded in Religion by equating ritualistic actions to ‘righteous’ actions; devoid of any realistic, tangible and practical benefits to the performer and to the society, except for a nebulous reward – Thawab in the Hereafter to the individual. Which then entitles them to the most pleasurable company in heaven!
This concept negates the teaching of the Book as it puts all actions, good or bad committed in this world as having repercussions for all, and in the afterlife 28-77. There are numerous verses emphasising this point and for brevity only few are quoted, as for example:
16-97- “Whoever works righteousness, Man or Woman and has faith indeed We (God) give a new life, a life that is good and pure and We will bestow on such their rewards according to the best of their actions”.
21-105- “Before this We wrote in the Psalms after the message given to Moses: ‘my servants the righteous shall inherit the earth’ ”
34-4- that He (God) rewards those who believe and work deeds of righteousness: for such is reward of forgiveness and most generous sustenance”.
The universality of this law, the law of action and reaction applies to all as stated above, and as in 5-69- “…who so ever follows My (God’s) guidance, on them there shall be no fear and nor shall they grieve”.
The Book states, the ritualistic religious practices are not a big deal-‘birr’- per se, as given in 2-177 for example:- “It is not virtuous that you turn your face to the East or to the West (in prayers) , but what is …” and follows with all the practical obligations required as duty of care to humanity, and as explained in Chapter 107 the flip side of the same argument, as to what “negates the ad-Deen”!
The Code – ad-Deen - of the source Book is therefore based on practical actions, that result in realistic and beneficial outcomes to humanity 13-17,18 “…..while that what is good for mankind remains on the earth….” laying down the principle of Good for goodness sake that must be performed in this world.
Haali the Urdu poet and Mother Teresa the Saint, had translated this Code adequately where the former had said:- dard-e-dill kay waasteuy paidaa kiya insaan ko—to share and sympathise with others is what humankind is created for,
Warnah ta’at kay liye kuchh kum nah thhey qurrubiyan’—otherwise God was not short of subservient cherubim to carry out His commands.
Whereas the later, augmented it with her saying as--“arms extended to help others are better than those raised in prayers” and practically demonstrated actions of hers.
Not surprisingly it is also expressed eloquently by the motto of one Monastery:- “In the service of others Oh Lord we worship Thee”. Precisely defining Spirituality of active service as in 31-33- “Oh mankind do your duty to your Lord…”!
Alas the majority believes in engaging in negatives as individuals, institutionally and in States-sponsored activities, it instils fear and grief with dastardly, heinous and dehumanising reaction on Humanity in the name of religious dogmas, agendas and strategies and names it religious crusade or jihad, contrary to the Code of positive actions!
A regular contributor to New Age Islam, Rashid Samnakay is An Australian-Indian retired Engineer