QUN FAYA QUN: Reflections during the Nisfu Sha’ban

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/15 June) – Oftentimes, we define Islam as something that refers to “submission to the will of God”, or sallam to be the root word of Islam as “entering into the peace”. But with this simplified definition, we somehow lack the connection or relationship of the Creator, the human being, and the universe. How then can we connect these words “submission” or “peace” using the lens of Islamic tradition and relate them to the realities of “God,” the “human being,” and the present context that Muslims face in our modern world today?

My personal encounter and journey in Islam are both a combination of spiritual and intellectual experience. The Islamic consciousness that I learned from my family, my community, and my readings of books of Muslim scholars made me see that in substance and essence, Islam is a universal religion, thus, my conception about Islam is not only a religious matter but a spiritual relationship with Allah (SWT).

There is no appropriate way of comparing Islam to any other religion in terms of the forms of worship. But in terms of values and principles that each and every monotheistic religion in the world taught mankind is the essence of his relationship with God and to his fellow humankind. Thus, we can see that peace is one of the core principles of all religions.

Focusing on Islam, there are three fundamental principles: the absolute oneness of Allah (SWT), the impossibility of there being a representation of Him, and the truth of His word revealed in the Holy Quran. Therefore, if a person wants to understand Islam, he must have a strong grasp of these principles. Unfortunately, within the Islamic world, even during the 10th century, the debates of the different schools of thought of Islam, are not focused on these three principles. The debates lie on the political and economic concerns of the Muslims. Power relation or political control became the main debates of the Muslims after the death of the Prophet (SAW). The debates led to violence and killings of Muslims by other Muslims. But let us not discuss this at this point in time.

The underlying connection of these three fundamental principles is what we call “Tawheed.” The Holy Quran discussed the attributes of Allah (SWT) that clearly define the fact of His Oneness: the first Principle, Creator of all, eternally present in history and at each moment, He is the Most High (al-Ali), beyond all that is (al-Kabir, al-Wasi, al-Jami), infinitely near (al-Qarib), closer to each of us than his jugular vein. He is the One (al-Wahid), the Only One (la ilaha illa Hu), the Absolute (al-Samad), Justice (al-Adl), Truth (al-Haqq), and Light (al-Nur).

The Holy Quran also discussed the whole nature of creation and includes mentioning that everything, living and non living, are “Islamic” – submissive to and at peace with the Living One (al-Hayy), the Eternal (al-Qayyum), who grants life (al-Muhyi) and brings death (al-Mumit).

The Holy Quran discusses the nature of Allah’s creations. In this holy book, we see “abounding in signs (ayat) of this essential link with the divine, this “natural faith,” this “faith within nature” that is chanted by the mountain and the desert, the tree and the bird: “Art thou not aware that it is God whose limitless glory all [creatures] that are in the heavens and on earth extol, even the birds as they spread out their wings? Each [of them] knows indeed how to pray unto Him and to glorify Him; and God has full knowledge of all that they do”; “The seven heavens extol His limitless glory, and the earth, and all they contain; and there is not a single thing but extols His limitless glory and praise: but you [O men] fail to grasp the manner of their glorifying Him!”

Dr. Tariq Ramadan (2007), a Muslim scholar, explains that the “You” refers here to human beings, beings endowed with consciousness and freedom, yet who “do not see” and “do not understand” the celebration that the creation, simply by being what it is, addresses to God. He added, “with consciousness and freedom, another dimension is opened up, a dimension of faith, nature, submission, and peace, where one must listen, hear, understand, search, begin, resist, reform. Here we must learn to celebrate, learn to pray”.

It is in our nature that we have knowledge and its opposite which is ignorance, then we also have the ability to remember or memorize things and our default of forgetfulness. Therefore, the Quran reminds us of our connection and relationship with Allah (SWT).

When we were created by Allah (SWT), He also gave us distinct characteristics of living in life with dignity and freedom. With freedom, we know that attached to it is our responsibility to take good care of our fellow humankind and all the creatures living in this planet with us.

By looking at our environment, society, and the planet as a whole, God is talking to us. Showing signs of our connection with Him. It is hard to detach ourselves from this level of consciousness because He also gave us intellect to recognize His presence. Science, philosophy, and religion are all connected and interdependent with one another.

Thus, for us Muslims, it is imperative to search knowledge because searching knowledge is part of our worship to Allah (SWT), to find the essence of our existence from the verses (Ayat) of the Holy Quran and to give context to each and every revelation of these verses within the natural and socio-political environment that we exist.

The Holy Quran has one main purpose. This is to remind us of our connection with Allah (SWT). He demands that we become conscious of Him, recognize Him, and the Quran teaches us how to do this. Therefore, it directs our intelligence toward the awareness, consciousness, and knowledge of Him.

Who is Allah and what is He? These questions have been in the minds of humankind throughout the thousands of years since we occupied this planet. From the Holy Quran, we learn to understand and say of God only what He says of Himself. The verses in the Holy Quran remind us to listen and to communicate to Allah (SWT) by being good to all His creations. With His ninety nine (99) names or attributes, Muslims are directed toward the knowledge of Him, but never to the definition of Him.The Holy Quran says, “Nothing is like Him, and He is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing”: thus, all the divine names, of which were mentioned, make it possible for us to perform dhikir or to meditate and gain access to His Transcendence, His closeness, His kindness, and His mercy. Connect this to our nature and our human heart, insufficiency, dependence, and “need of Him,” Islam paves the way of our journey in life.

Last June 13, 2014 was a Muslim Holiday in the ARMM. This was the day of Nisfu Sha’ban or the 15th day before the month of Ramadhan. Muslims from different parts of the world celebrate this day based on their distinct cultural practices. The word ‘Nisfu’ is an Arabic word which means ‘middle.’ Muslims together with their imams recite the Suratul Yaasin three times simultaneously and followed by du’a or prayers for good blessings in the family and our communities.

This time of the year is important to every Muslim. As the month of Ramadhan is fast approaching, I enjoin my brothers and sisters to remember our connection with Allah (SWT). We need to detach ourselves with all this political and economic debates and simply look into the spiritual value of our religion as a peaceful way of life. As we slowly unfold our road to peace in Mindanao, I hope that we can have humility and acceptance of our diversities in life. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Mussolini Sinsuat Lidasan is Executive Director of the Al Qalam Institute at the Ateneo de Davao University where he is also completing his MA in Anthropology)