Exerpt from Tanwīr al-Mūmināt (The Muslim Woman: Journey Into the Light)
Translated from Arabic by: Farouk Bouass
When a repenting woman purifies herself and turns in prayer to her Lord, she moves from one world to another. God will surely wipe out her sins if He wills, for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most-Forgiving. Al-Bukhārī and Muslim have reported on the authority of Imam ‹Uthmān Ibn ‹Affān (God be pleased with him) that the Messenger (God bless him and grant him peace) said, “Whoever does the ritual ablution and then prays a prayer of two rak‹a during which they do not think of any worldly concerns, all their former sins shall be forgiven.” Similarly, Muslim has reported the following hadīth on the authority of ‹Uqba Ibn ‹Āmir (God be pleased with him): “Any Muslim who does the ritual ablution properly and then stands to pray two rak‹a during which they turn their heart and attention [exclusively to God], for them Paradise is obligatory.”
What turns the shedding of water onto one’s organs into an act of purity is the intention to imitate the Prophet. What turns the motions of the ritual prayer into a commendable act is the turning of one’s heart exclusively to the Lord (Exalted is He).
Alternatively, whoever completely leaves aside the ritual prayer will have turned their attention and heart away from their Lord, quitted the circle of Islam, and will be reckoned among the kāfirūn. For as the Messenger (God bless him and grant him peace) said, “[What stands] between the servant and kufr is leaving the ritual prayer.” In another narration: “[What stands] between the servant and polytheism or kufr is leaving the ritual prayer.” [Reported by Muslim, Abū Dāwūd, at-Tirmidhī, and Ahmad.] In a third hadīth, the Prophet (God bless him and grant him peace) says: “The covenant between us and them is the ritual prayer. Whoever leaves it has committed kufr.” [Reported by Ahmad, Abū Dāwūd, and an-Nasā›ī on the authority of Burayda.] At-Tirmidhī has reported that the Companions did not regard the leaving of any commandment as kufr with the exception of leaving the ritual prayer. And al-Mundhirī has reported that the Companions unanimously regarded as kufr willfully performing the ritual prayer outside its prescribed time.
But Muslim scholars have disagreed over the meaning of kufr in this instance: is it a sign of total rejection of Islam, or merely a sign of ingratitude and negligence? The first opinion is effective for motivating the merely lazy, while the second opinion might give hope to those who would otherwise despair of God’s mercy and persist in leaving aside the ritual prayer.
With the ritual prayer we have entered the core of Islam’s pillars. The five pillars of islām form the framework of the dīn. Those who have one of these pillars demolished will have no dīn. “Islam is built on five [pillars]: to bear witness that ‘There is no god but God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God,’ to establish the ritual prayer, to give the zakāt, to do the pilgrimage, and to fast the month of Ramadan.” [Reported by al-Bukhārī and Muslim on the authority of ‹Abdullāh Ibn ‹Umar (God be pleased with him).]
The basic foundation of Islam is the ritual prayer. A woman servant of God realizes her weakness, her desperate need of the Lord, and how her Lord is great and compassionate towards His servants. She therefore turns to Him in worship with her heart and her limbs in a state of total submission. How happy is the man who discovers that he has a Creator Who is close to him, hears him, and answers his prayers!
It is indeed a precious wakefulness of the heart which cleanses it of the rust of sin, heedlessness of God, and ignorance of the purpose of man’s existence. Materialist philosophy, the concerns of subsistence, and the racket of daily life have all taken over the mind of modern man. But the oasis of īmān is in your heart if only you could realize it! How joyous will be that believing woman who guides a sister of hers, lost in the desert of life, to a relationship with God (Exalted is He) and to the honor of standing before Him and invoking Him from a near distance.
There once was an ascetic known for his deep seriousness and sobriety named ‹Utba al-Ghulām. One day, the people saw him swaying and dancing joyfully: “What’s the matter?” He replied, “Why shouldn’t I rejoice when I know that I have a Lord?”
There are human sheep lost in the desert of materialistic civilization, the racket of the media, and the commotion of women who dance on the bayonets of misery and the thorns of animal pleasure that frustrate and debase mankind. What joy the believing women can bring to these poor women if they can help them severe the ties of jāhiliyya, pledge allegiance to God, abstain from the unlawful, purify themselves, and stand in the presence of the Lord, thus bringing them spiritual life after death, fertility after aridity, dignity after the humiliation of unbelief.
The materialists try to explain the benefits of Islam away by arguing that the ritual prayer is only a sort of bodily exercise, the zakāt is just a kind of tax, fasting is a dietary practice, and the pilgrimage is just a political get-together. As for those wretched women living in the poverty and ignorance of the shanty towns, misery has nearly hushed their inner voice that longs for īmān.
The ritual prayer comforts and guides the lost sheep onto the right path toward the qibla. The Ka‹ba is the sacred edifice toward which the Lord has ordered us to set our bodies. As to the heart, reverence to God shall be its qibla and direction. In the ritual prayer, the mind takes part by reflection, the tongue by recitation, the limbs by their serenity and discipline, and the heart by turning toward the gate of the Lord.
As for the children of īmān – the repenting men and women – their hearts have long distances to traverse before their ritual prayer becomes the intimate discourse described in the following hadīth qudsī: “God (Exalted is He) has said: ‘I have divided the ritual prayer between Me and My servant into two halves. My servant will then be given what they have asked for’” – in another narration, ‘one half for Me and one half for My servant.’ “When the servant says, ‘Praise be to God, the Lord of all creation,’ the Lord says, ‘My servant has praised Me.’ When they say, ‘Most Gracious, Most Merciful,’ God says, ‘My servant has lauded Me.’ When they say, ‘Master of the Day of Judgment,’ God says, ‘My servant has glorified Me’ or ‘My servant has entrusted themself to Me.’ When they say, ‘It is You we worship and it is Your help we seek,’ God says, ‘That is between Me and My servant; My servant will then be given what they will ask for.’ When they say, ‘Show us the straight way, the way of those You have favored, not that of those who earn Your wrath, nor of those who go astray,’ He says, ‘That is between Me and My servant; My servant will then be given what they have asked for.’” [Reported by Muslim and Abū Dāwūd on the authority of Abū Hurayra (God be pleased with him).]
The ritual prayer joins the Muslim women and Muslim men together. It gives the body a direction, the heart a center of adoration, and the day a schedule so that the day and night of the worshippers, women and men, are ordered and have a meaning that transcends the rhythms of materialistic life. The same can be said about the prescribed times of the zakāt, the fast of Ramadan, and the pilgrimage, which are landmarks in the year of the believing woman and man. The ties of fraternity are established between the believing women and men through establishing the ritual prayer and the zakāt especially: “But (even so), if they repent, establish the ritual prayer and give the zakāt, they are your brothers in Islam.” (9:11)
The money is yours so long as you are heedless of God. The day you repent and turn to your Lord, standing before His greatness and acknowledging that you are His servant, you will realize that the money is His. You are responsible for seeking a lawful livelihood, but you also owe Him a share of His money to give to your sisters and brothers in faith. The Lord (Exalted is He) grants you the major part of His money so that you may spend it on your essentials. If you spend it extravagantly on lawful luxury, that money will be a loss. But if you spend it on unlawful purchases and abstain from giving the zakāt, your sinful forehead and flanks will be branded with the gold and silver you hoarded or misspent. The zakāt is an obligatory charity whose measure and time are prescribed by Islamic law. Voluntary charity is a supererogatory act that God accepts after the obligatory one. How magnificent and generous is the Lord Who created you, provided you with the means of subsistence, ascribed to you His money, and then asks you to spend it in His cause which He will receive with His own hand! The Prophet (God bless him and grant him peace) once said, “When a man gives charity from a lawful gain – for God accepts none but the lawful – the Lord takes it with His own hand, even if it is as insignificant as a palm date. The charity grows in the palm of the Most Gracious until it becomes bigger than a mountain.” [Reported by al-Bukhārī and Muslim on the authority of Abū Hurayra.]
We must believe in what the Lord has ascribed to Himself and what His Messenger has ascribed to Him – like a hand, a palm, a foot, etc. – without inquiring as to their exact nature. What we should understand from these reports is that charity from a lawful source is accepted by God (Glorified is He) and that He makes it grow.
There are precious moments that adorn the Islamic year even as precious gems adorn a piece of jewelry. Ramadan is the month of celebrations just as Friday is the day of celebration during the week. Over the course of the Muslim woman’s lifetime, another precious moment is the year when she does the pilgrimage.
Ramadan is the month of blessings, bounties, and repentance. It is the month where we Muslims renew our relationship with God and ask Him to grant us His pardon and save us from the Hellfire. It is the month that weans the body from its desire for food, drink, and sexual pleasure so that the Muslim woman may know what hunger and thirst are and that she may learn self-discipline so that her soul may transcend her animal drives. It is a spiritual transcendence that brings the truly fasting woman closer to the Heavenly Assembly. The true fast means to hold the body back from all material things prohibited by Islamic law, to restrain the limbs and tongue from sin, and to have them engage in worship so that the heart may forget its earthly burdens and be attached to heavenly sentiments. About such comprehensive fasting, the Lord says in a hadīth qudsī: “All deeds of the child of Adam are for them except the fast. It is for Me and I will reward them for it.” [Reported by al-Bukhārī and Muslim on the authority of Abū Hurayra (God be pleased with him).]
Pilgrimage is a series of concrete acts done in a physical place whose sacred essence our body and heart are drawn to. Muslim women and men come to here from all quarters of the globe, from all races, and with all degrees of īmān. The Lord (Exalted is He) pours forth His mercy on His servants and forgives them their sins. At the close of the pilgrimage, the woman whose pilgrimage has been accepted comes out with a clean record for submitting to her Lord and performing acts whose full meanings are inaccessible to human understanding: walking around the Ka‹ba, walking back and forth along the Safā and Marwa hills, and standing on ‹Arafat. Satan is utterly disgraced on the Day of ‹Arafat when he sees the mercy of God, just as he is humiliated when he hears the believing women and the believing men say: Labbayka Allāhumma labbayk (Here were are, O Lord! At Your service). Pilgrimage is one of the most sublime acts of worship. The pilgrimage gathers the Muslim women and men in one place so that they may know and consult with one another and take advantage of the benefits – material and spiritual – provided for them. Disheveled and dusty, they have devoted themselves to God, recognized their weakness and need, and come to Him, supplicating Him with all sorts of invocations, clinging to the cloth of His House and kissing the sacred Black Stone.