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Pilgrimage Rites Connected to Abraham & His Family

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Many of the rites of pilgrimage are connected to Abraham and his family. Abraham was commanded to leave his baby son Ishmael, and Ishmael’s mother Hajar in the barren land of Mecca before it became a thriving city. Hajar was left with little provisions for herself and her son. In order to seek water, she ran between the two nearby hills of Safa and Marwah a number of times. This is where the pilgrimage rite of Sa’i, or the walking between the two hills comes from.

On her 7th circuit up the hills, Hajar saw water by where she had left Ishmael. Fearing the water would run out, she built a small mound around it to contain it. This is the well of Zamzam. This water is considered blessed and pilgrims will drink from this water throughout their stay in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

Ishamel and Hajar would settle in this city and other people would come and join them. When Ishmael was a young boy, Abraham saw a dream that he should offer him as a sacrifice to God. Abraham informed Ishmael of this, and together they walked the short distance to Mina, the place where pilgrims today spend much of their pilgrimage. On his way, Satan appeared three times to Abraham to convince him to disobey God’s command. Each time, Abraham took small pebbles and threw them at Satan. This is why pilgrims stone the three pillars during the pilgrimage.

When Abraham was about to sacrifice Ishmael, God informed him that he had passed the test, and instead replaced Ishmael with a ram. Today, pilgrims offer a similar sacrifice during their pilgrimage.

A number of years later, Abraham returned to Mecca. This time, God had commanded him to raise the foundations of the Ka’bah. Abraham asked Ishmael for his assistance. Together, they built the Ka’bah. Abraham proclaimed this as God’s house and a place of pilgrimage, and invited God’s faithful servants to come there for pilgrimage.

It is in response to this call from God, through Abraham, that millions of Muslims flock annually to the holy city of Mecca to perform this once-in-a-lifetime obligation of pilgrimage.

What is Pilgrimage?

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Pilgrimage is the term that denotes travelling to Mecca to worship at God’s house called the Ka’bah. There are two types of pilgrimage:

  1. The Minor Pilgrimage (‘Umrah) – this can be performed at any time of the year.

  2. The Major Pilgrimage (Hajj) – this is performed in the 12th lunar Islamic month on specific days.

It is possible to combine both pilgrimages in the same trip, as the minor one can be performed before the major one begins. However, both only become obligatory if someone has the physical ability and financial means to perform them. They are obligatory upon all able adult Muslims once in their lifetime.

Pilgrims dress in certain garments throughout the pilgrimage. This state known as ‘Ihram’ begins at a specific place outside of Mecca and prevents pilgrims from doing certain things which they can usually do, such as removing hair, clipping nails and applying perfume.

For the minor pilgrimage, there are three main components. The first is circumambulation of (going around) the Ka’bah for seven circuits in a counter-clockwise direction. Pilgrims start their circumambulation from the part of the Ka’bah that contains the Black Stone. Each walk around Ka’bah back to the Black Stone is considered one circuit. The second is walking between the two hills of Safa and Marwah, situated a short distance away from the Ka’bah, within the walls of the Grand Mosque. Walking from one hill to the other is one circuit. Seven such circuits are made. The final component of the minor pilgrimage is to trim your hair; men also have the option to shave their head.

The major pilgrimage lasts from 4-6 days and also entails visiting the Holy Sites close by the city of Mecca. These sites are called Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah. The major pilgrimage begins on the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month. Pilgrims start off by spending that day in Mina. The following day they spend in Arafat, a place where the Messenger Muhammad gave a sermon and spent the day in supplication to God. On that evening, the pilgrims move to Muzdalifah where they rest for the night.

The third day of the pilgrimage consists of returning to Mina where the pilgrims throw small pebbles at the three pillars, offer an animal sacrifice, trim or shave their hair and then proceed to Mecca for circumambulation of the Ka’bah and the circuits between the hills of Safa and Marwah. They return back to Mina, and over the next couple of days will continue to stone the pillars and spend their day in general worship of God. The major pilgrimage is concluded with a final circumambulation of the Ka’bah.

Many pilgrims use the opportunity of the minor and major pilgrimages to also visit the city of Medina, where the Messenger Muhammad lived for 10 years and passed away. Offering prayers in the mosque there is very rewarding. The cities of Mecca and Medina also contain other religious and historical sites which can be visited.

Preparing For Last Ten Nights of Ramadan

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The last third of Ramadan has finally arrived, all praise and thanks is due to God. No matter how good or average the last 20 days have been, we have another chance to make everything better. These are the best nights of the entire year and one of them is better than a 1000 months, so no excuses! Let’s just do what we need to and bring it home!

Here are some tips to do our best:

1. To have an amazing night, you need to have had an amazing day! So be sure to look after the compulsory deeds and stay away from everything forbidden. If you slip, seek forgiveness sincerely and move on!

2. Perform all the confirmed recommended prayers which are attached to the compulsory prayers, and get your daily house in Paradise for doing so.

3. Try your best to pray at least 2 units of the recommended forenoon prayer every morning before midday.

4. Complete your morning Statements of Praise and Glorification of God in full before midday, and complete your evening Statements of Praise and Glorification of God daily before maghrib, so that the prayers are already helping you as soon as the night begins.

5. If you can, take a nap after the mid-day or afternoon daily prescribed ritual act of devotion, as it will help you manage the night with more energy and focus, God willing.

6. Put your phone on flight mode as soon as you can in the evening, and don’t switch it back on except at fajr. This is if you can of course. If your phone must be on, please don’t waste time on social media and focus solely on God.

7. Burn in, don’t burn out! Worship God with quality, and not quantity. If you feel you’re getting tired or losing focus, try another act of worship. All praise and thanks are due to God, that there are so many ways to worship Him, which includes teaching others beneficial knowledge.

8. In your prayers and remembrance, frequently repeat the prayer taught to Aisha by the Messenger Muhammad:

اللهم إنك عفو كريم تحب العفو فاعف عني

‘Allahumma innaka ‘afuwwun tuhibbul-‘afwa, fa’fu ‘anni

O Allah, You are Forgiving and love forgiveness, so forgive me.” 

9. Have faith in the promised rewards for your worship throughout the night, as well as positive hope that God Almighty will grant you better than you dream of in both worlds, including the rewards of the night which is better than 1000 months!

All the best everyone!  

Fasting at Work

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Ramadan is the name of the Islamic month which Muslims fast. It’s very likely that this will come during your work year. We will look at things we can do to help us fast whilst working.

1.      The Islamic calendar is based on the lunar calendar and the sighting of the moon, and therefore moves ten to eleven days each year. Therefore, there will be times when Ramadan is in the summer and times when it is in the winter.

2.      In Ramadan, we fast the daylight hours. This means we refrain from eating, drinking and other things which are consumed such as smoking.

3.      Ramadan is also a time when we (especially) improve our character and refrain from bad characteristics such as lying and backbiting.

4.      It’s a good idea to start fasting during the month before Ramadan begins so that we can train our bodies to get used to the fasting process.

5.      You may find the first few days difficult but your body will soon get used to the new routine.

6.      It is highly recommended to have a pre-dawn meal. This is also a good time to drink plenty so as to keep hydrated throughout the day.

7.      If the fast opening time which is at sunset is during work hours, you can use your comfort break for this, or depending on your job delay your lunch break to this time. You don’t necessarily need to eat a full meal at this time, just enough to rehydrate and sustain yourself until you can have dinner.

8.      If at any point in this month you fall ill or travel you can miss that day of fasting. You can then make this day up after Ramadan.

9.      Pregnant and nursing women likewise have an exemption from fasting and make the days up at a later time.

Minor Signs of the Day of Judgement

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God has not informed anyone of the exact timing of the Day of Judgement. This is knowledge He has kept with Himself. However, God has given us signs which show the nearness of the Day of Judgement. God says, “What are the disbelievers waiting for, other than the Hour which will come upon them unawares? Its signs are already here, but once the Hour has actually arrived, what use will it be then to take heed?” [47:18]

Therefore, God tells us to take heed of the signs of the Day of Judgement so that we can ensure we are working towards what pleases God. There are many signs of the Day of Judgement, however they can generally be split into minor and major signs. The minor signs are many and are those which are events and changes that occur well before the Day of Judgement and continue up to it.

The coming of the Messenger Muhammad and his death were from the first minor signs of the Day of Judgement. Since then, they have been occurring. A sign of the Day of Judgement does not necessarily mean that it is evil but prophecies which show to us the truthfulness of the Messenger Muhammad and remind us to prepare for the Day of Judgement.

Other minor signs of the Day of Judgement include increased ignorance of religion, increase in frequency of earthquakes, indiscriminate murder and killing, time passing by quickly, increase of immorality and bad conduct. To be aware of these and other signs is to know that the Day of Judgement is drawing close and the need to prepare for it.

Arabic Terminology

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There are a number of Arabic terms which you may come across when studying this topic. Here is a brief overview of some of these terms:

  1. Sunnah – literally a way or something which is followed. The term however is used generally to refer to all of the sayings, actions, tacit approvals and descriptions of the Messenger Muhammad. The term ‘sunnah’ can also refer to something which is recommended, this latter use is a more restricted term to show that an action is not compulsory but to perform it is rewarding.
  2. Hadith – literally speech. This term refers to everything which is attributed to the Messenger Muhammad. As with the term ‘sunnah’ it includes sayings, actions, tacit approvals and descriptions. A hadith consists of two parts, the sanad which is the chain of narrators and the matan which is the text.
  3. Sanad/Isnad – This refers to the chain of narrators between the Messenger Muhammad and the scholar who would eventually record the hadith in a book. A sanad can typically include three narrators or more. Each narrator is usually from a different generation. The chain of narrators helps hadith specialists to ascertain whether or not a hadith has been correctly preserved or whether there is a defect in it.
  4. Matan – This is the second part of a hadith and is the part which contains the text which would be the saying, action, tacit approval or description of the Messenger Muhammad.
  5. Sahih – This means authentic, i.e. that all the narrators are reliable people and they correctly recorded and relayed the hadith.
  6. Da’if – which means weak. This is when there is a defect in the hadith either in transmission or the text. This is mostly due to one or more of the narrators being unreliable.

God’s Providence & Decree Breakdown

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There are four parts to God’s providence and decree:

  1. God’s infallible and complete knowledge – God has knowledge of everything which takes place. His knowledge includes all that has happened and will happen. God says, “Not even the weight of a speck of dust in the heavens or earth escapes His knowledge, nor anything smaller or greater.” [34:3] God’s knowledge is perfect. He does not forget or make mistakes. His knowledge is also all-encompassing. Nothing is beyond His knowledge. There is nothing that God does not know about.
  2. God has recorded everything – God has recorded everything that will occur until the Day of Judgement. It is recorded in the Preserved Tablet (in Arabic: Al-Lawh al-Mahfuz). The Messenger Muhammad informed us that God first created the pen and asked it to record all that would take place.
  3. Whatever God wills happens – God says, “When He will something to be, His way is to say, ‘Be’ – and it is.” [36:82] Therefore, only what God wills to happen and take place. If things happened without God’s will or permission, it would be a weakness in God and He is far removed from all weaknesses.
  4. God is the Creator of everything – God says, “Praise belongs to God who created the heavens and the earth and made darkness and light.” [6:1] This includes all creations, their actions and their characteristics. In short, God is the creator of a

Human Free Will

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If God has decreed and pre-ordained everything, what role and freedom do we have as humans? Is it worth doing anything if it is all decreed to happen anyway?

In Islam, we believe that God’s providence and decree does not interfere with our ability as humans to make choices. God Himself gave us that ability and so our free will is part of God’s will. God does not force us to do anything or compel us to follow a certain way. If God had done so, there would be no disbelievers. However, the opposite is true as God says in the Quran, “There is no compulsion in religion.” [2:256]

Thus, we are all free to make our own choices and we do so on a daily basis. However, we cannot know what God has decreed for us. For us to assume that God has decreed us to be evil or a non-believer goes against common sense. We work to the best of our ability hoping in God’s reward and grace. We wouldn’t sit at home and expect money to come to us, or food to appear on our table without putting in some work and effort. Therefore, the believer in God trusts in His decree but also works to ensure they have a good life in accordance to God’s commands.

The Messenger Muhammad told us that we should work towards what is beneficial and seek God’s help. If something bad happens, we don’t say, ‘If only I’d done such and such’, because ‘if’ only opens the door to evil. Instead, we trust in God’s decree and say, ‘It is the decree of God and He decrees what He wills.’