Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam
Ashrah in Arabic means ten days. And, we are already well into the first ashrah of the holy month of Ramadhan. Though the whole month of Ramadhan is full of Allah’s Grace and Mercy, these particular days are known as ashrah of Allah’s boundless, overflowing mercy. These are precious ten days (and nights), nearly one-third of which has already slipped into eternity. As I said in my last column it, like all happy times, slips away before you notice it. So, be mindful and conscious of the great Gift from Allah and stick to every second of it. The dua for this ashrah is Ya Waas-e-al Maghfirah (O, the Great Pardoner). Say this dua frequently throughout the day and in the night as long as you are awake.
Because we got the Gift of the holy Quran during this month from Allah Subhanhu Ta’alaa the recital and reading from Book gets a centrality during this month. Reading from the Quran and reciting it individually is an act of faith highly rewarded. However, there is a provision for listening to the Quran collectively during Ramadhan from cover to cover in salaat taravih. It is a greater act of faith because you are both listening to the entire Quran and you are also offering salaat.
There is some lack of clarity on whether one should offer 20 raka’ats, 12 raka’ats or 8. There are different Muslim schools of thought. The prophet (PBUH) was seen offering 20, 12 and 8 raka’ats on different occasions. Thus it is not only those offering 20 raka’ats that are getting the maximum reward, but the other two groups as well, because they also are following the prophet’s (PBUH) precedence. In fact, the diversity here is another Gift from Allah because if we follow only one way of the prophet (PBUH) and eliminate the other two, we will be destroying an important Sunnah. Besides, it is easier for the extremely old, weak or sick people to offer eight raka’ats even though they were offering 20 raka’ats when they were younger or healthier. In any case it is better to offer a shorter or lighter taravih than none at all.
There is always the question whether taravih can be offered at home, or is it mandated as a congregational prayer only. The answer is that taravih is not mandated as a congregational prayer. The prophet (PBUH) often offered it at home. Offering it in a congregation ensures that one gets to listen to the entire Quran during the month from a certified hafiz (one who remembers the entire Quran). Not every one of us has got that distinction. That is why it is better to offer it in a mosque even if it is packed with namazis and there is little to no space left for you. The prophet knew the entire Quran by heart and could recite it at home as easily and comfortably, if not more, as a good hafiz today. Hence he could offer taravih at home. However, the point to emphasise here is that it is not mandatory to offer taravih at a mosque.
Much of our waking hours have to be spent in reading from the Quran or reciting from it seeking Allah’s mercy, the verbal declaration of La Ilaha Illal Lah (there is no God, but Allah) and saying Astaghfirul Lah (forgive me, Allah), asking for Jannah and Allah’s protection from hell. There is a dua that enfolds all the four: Lailaha Illal Lahu Astaghfirulllah Asalukal Jannah wa auzubika minannar. (there is no God, but Allah, I seek forgiveness from Allah and I ask for jannah and His Protection from fire). This is a dua common to all three ashrahs.
This early period of Ramadhan is marked by a greater absorption in Allah’s consciousness, dhikr (remembrance of Allah) and offering of sala’at nafl (optional prayers). The beauty of nafl is that it brings one closer to God because mandatory prayers are there for everyone, but the optionals are performed by only those who seek closeness to Allah.
When Allah mandated Ramadhan fast on Muslims He announced (in the Quran), addressing the believers that the Ramadhan fast had been made compulsory for them (except for children, the weak, the aged and the sick). Travelers were also exempted on the condition that they would complete their fasts after getting back home. The sick too had to complete the fasts after getting well.
While telling Muslims that Ramadhan fasts had been made compulsory on them, Allah also said that this was mandatory for some earlier faith groups also. Allah said that Ramadhan fasts were ordained “so that you (Muslims) become pious.” Thus it is a month of cultivating piety.
It is also called a month of cultivating empathy through helping the poor, the sick, the traveler, the orphan and making their burden lighter on them. Offering shelter to the traveler, providing food and water (also, milk, juice, sherbet, soft drinks) to persons on fast for iftaar (breakfast) at sunset are such acts. The prophet (PBUH) said that giving even a single date to someone is an act of piety. Going ahead further, he said that giving even the stone of a date is an act of piety.
Allah is Generous. He gives in ample measure to everyone irrespective of colour, belief and social standing. This month demands that we earn closeness to Allah through acts of generosity. The act of giving is greatly ennobling. As we discussed in the last column, the prophet’s act of giving used to become so much prominent right from the beginning of Sha’ban (the month preceding Ramadhan) that, according to Hazrat Aisha (the prophet’s wife) it used to look life ceaseless, torrential rain. This was only a preparation for greater amounts and frequency of giving away in Allah’s path during Ramadhan.
Empathy, helping others in distress or need is central to the theme of Ramadhan. Practice empathy and giving maximally during this month. This will help us to continue with it in the rest of the year. Best wishes.