5th Ramadan 1440 AH
فَمَنْ تَطَوَّعَ خَيْرًا فَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَهُ
وَأَنْ تَصُومُوا خَيْرٌ لَكُمْ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ
“If anyone charitably volunteers to do good of her/his own accord (i.e. does good beyond what is required and obligatory) it is virtuous for her/him, and fasting is better for you, if only you knew” (Qur’an: Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:184)
We extol and thank Allah, the Most Generous, for once again affording us the unique opportunity of experiencing the great blessings of the month of Ramadan. During this holy month of Ramadan, we pray that the Grace and Barakah of Allah will flow throughout the Muslim Ummah and rejuvenate its deepest sources of life and action.
Fasting during the month of Ramadan has a very high status as an act of worship and is the third of the five pillars of Islam. Unlike the other pillars of Islam, fasting is a secret and thus a very special form of worship. In this regard, our beloved Prophet Muhammad (may Allah’s everlasting peace and blessings be upon him) taught us that Allah, the Lord of Compassionate Justice, proclaimed that:
وعن أبي هريرة – رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنهُ – قال : قال رَسُول اللَّهِ – صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيهِ وَسَلَّمَ -: (( قال اللَّه عَزَّ وَجَلََّ: كل عمل ابن آدم له إلا الصيام؛ فإنه لي وأنا أجزي به، والصيام جُنة، فإذا كان يوم صوم أحدكم فلا يرفث ولا يصخب، فإن سابه أحد أو قاتله فليقل إني صائم؛ والذي نفس محمد بيده لَخُلُوف فم الصائم أطيب عند اللَّه من ريح المسك، للصائم فرحتان يفرحهما: إذا أفطر فرح بفطره، وإذا لقي ربه فرح بصومه )) مُتَّفّقٌ عَلَيهِ. وهذا لفظ رواية البخاري.
“Every good deed of the child of Adam belongs to him or her, except Fasting, it belongs to Me, so I will give a (special) reward for it.” Fasting is a shield. When any one of you is fasting, he should not be obscene or raise his voice. If anyone is abusive towards him or fights him, he should say: ‘I am fasting’. I take an oath by that Being in whose control is the life of Muhammad, that the smell that emanates from the mouth of a fasting person is more fragrant to Allah, the Most High, than the fragrance of musk. There are two occasions of joy for the fasting person: when he breaks his fast he rejoices, and when he meets his Sustainer he will rejoice on account of his fast. (Reported by Abu Hurayra in Sahih al-Bukhari, 7492 and Sahih Muslim, 165, and the Musnad of Ahmad. The above is the wording found in the narration of Bukhari)
At this special time of Ramadan we are also commemorating 50 years since Imam Abdullah Haron was unjustly detained by the apartheid police on the 28th of May 1969. Imam Haron was martyred 123 days later while incarcerated in solitary confinement in an apartheid prison on the 27th of September1969. In this khutbah I would like to focus on a much neglected dimension of the life of Imam Abdullah Haron, namely that of his spiritual fortitude. He cultivated his inner spiritual strength to fortify his witness for social justice by engaging in a number of spiritual disciplines, chief of which was regular fasting.
The Spiritual Fortitude of Imam Abdullah Haron
The short yet rich life of al-Shahid Imam Abdullah Haron (1924 – 1969) provides us with an excellent example of witnessing for social justice, but more importantly, his celebrated life offers an inspirational paradigm of spiritual fortitude. Many of the modest spiritual acts, which formed an integral part of the daily life of Imam Haron have not been highlighted and have thus gone unheralded. For example, it is a little known fact that Imam Haron fasted every Monday and Thursday for most of his adult life. With this practice, he was not only emulating a great Prophetic sunnah but also fulfilling an oath (nadhr) that he had made to his teacher, Shaykh `Abdurrahman `Alawi, after he completed a two year study program in Makkah al-Mukarramah from 1938 to 1940.
As a direct result of the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the madrasa in the city of Makkah where the young Abdullah Haron was enrolled for Islamic studies was forced to suspend its programme; and was obligated to send home all of its international students. Before their departure back to their home countries their principal teacher Shaykh `Abdurrahman `Alawi asked each of the students to take an individual vow (nadhr) and promise to continue their education (tarbiya) and spiritual pathways (tazkiya). Abdullah Haron promised his respected teacher that he would fast every Monday and Thursday throughout his life. This was the spiritual pathway the young Abdullah Haron consciously chose in order to show gratitude and to serve Allah, the Lord of Compassionate Justice.
Imam Haron’s Vow of Fasting and the Years Ahead
Imam Haron was only 16 years old when he made his vow of fasting, and many of those who were close to him can attest to the fact that he faithfully honoured this commitment until his murder in detention at the age of 45. Imagine the discipline this required – that no matter the weather, the season, how he felt or what onerous tasks he had – Imam Haron fasted every Monday and Thursday. And he did not sleep away those days but carried on with his normal daily activities and working life. This was precisely the reason so many who were close to him could attest to this practice. There can be little doubt that the discipline and commitment it took to fast every Monday and Thursday, from the young age of 16, would have nurtured an inner-spiritual fortitude that nourished the Imam and few of us have probably experienced in our lifetimes. We take comfort in believing that this inner-spiritual fortitude that the Imam displayed in his life, would have given him the inner strength and resilience to withstand the violence and brutality of his torturers during his 123 days of incarceration in an apartheid police prison cell.
One very significant detail that was revealed in the state autopsy report completed on Imam Haron’s martyred body, was that in addition to a broken rib and 26 bodily bruises, mostly on his legs, his stomach was found to be empty. This latter detail was significant because it suggested that Imam Haron may not only have continued his lifelong practice of fasting every Monday and Thursday while in detention but that he may have fasted each day of the 123 days he spent in solitary confinement.
For those who knew the Imam, there was little doubt that the spiritual discipline of fasting, in addition to his fondness for recital of tilawa al-Qur’an and dhikr must have sustained and provided him with the inner-spiritual fortitude and resilience to suffer through and withstand frequent interrogation sessions during the torturous last period of his life. The remembrance of Allah (dhikru Allah) would have been something his interrogators could never take away from him.
When one considers the conditions under which Imam Haron would have been fasting while he was in an apartheid detention cell, whether it was for 123 days as suggested above, or even just Monday and Thursday, we can imagine that Imam Abdullah Haron was provided with a unique opportunity to raise his level of fasting to a higher level as eloquently described by the renowned late eleventh and early twelfth century scholar, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d.1111).
Imam Ghazali on Three Levels or Grades of Fasting
In his magnum opus, Ihya `Ulum al-Din (The Revival of the Religious Sciences), Imam Ghazali. identified three levels or grades of fasting: the ordinary fasting of the common faithful people, the special fasting of ‘the elect’, and the extra-special fasting of ‘the elect of the elect’.
The ordinary fasting of the common faithful people (sawm al-`umum) conforms to the external requirements of Islamic law (fiqh) and is therefore completely valid. It consists of refraining from satisfying the stomach and carnal desires from dawn to dusk with a clear intention to do so for the sake of Allah, the Most-High.
The second level of fasting is the special fasting of ‘the elect’ (sawm al-khusus). It consists not only of conforming to the external requirements of the fast (zahir) but also in adhering to an inward disposition (batin) which involves keeping all the external limbs of the body free from sin, for example, not listening to reprehensible things and not using abusive speech.
The third level of fasting is the extra-special fasting of the ‘elect of the elect’ (sawm khusus al-khusus). It involves fasting with the heart (qalb) i.e. abstaining from worldly and mundane thoughts and completely refraining from focusing on anything that may divert from Allah, the Most High. This is the highest level of fasting and was observed by the prophets, the saints, and those who are near to Allah.
Imam Haron: The Elect of the Elect
Imam Haron’s incarceration of 123 days in solitary confinement provided him with an unexpected opportunity to raise his level of fasting to that of the elect of the elect as described by Imam Ghazali. The first level of fasting for Imam Haron would have been abstaining from eating the prison food. The second level of fasting for the Imam was achieved by virtue of being in solitary confinement – all his external limbs were automatically free from sin as he could not communicate with anyone anyway. And evidence for the Imam having reached the third level of fasting is that he stood firmly on the side of justice in the face of interrogators who tried to break him. His interrogators could not divert him from the path of Allah and from defending the oppressed and protecting those who fought for the dignity of all people in South Africa. Imam Haron was martyred taking this defiant stand of justice for all, against immense torture, while in a high spiritual state of fasting. This is a demonstration of sawm khusus al-khusus – fasting of the elect of the elect.
We take comfort in the belief that al-Shahid Imam Haron did indeed reach this highest level of fasting and that his elevated level of fasting and resilience could not be broken by his torturers.
At this time when we commemorate 50 years since the unjust incarceration and martyrdom of al-Shahid Imam Abdullah Haron we are blessed to experience another fasting month and enjoy the spiritual perfume of Ramadan. So, let us emulate the acclaimed spiritual discipline of the Prophet (pbuh) and the habitual meaningful practice of Imam Haron. Let us try our best to be gentle in our speech, dignified in our actions and conduct and fast with hearts full of love and affection for Allah, the Most High, and for each other. But most of all during this fasting month of Ramadan let us emulate the noble example of the Prophet (pbuh) and al-Shahid Imam Abdullah Haron by becoming even more generous to the oppressed and marginalized. Let us resolve to perform our fasts as more than mere duty but also to build and increase our spiritual fortitude, love for Allah, the Lord of Compassionate Justice, and show solidarity with the poor and the marginalized.
Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) informed us that:
“Verily, there is a gate in Paradise called al-Rayyan, through which only those who fasted will enter on the Day of Resurrection. No one else will enter it along with them. It will be said: Where are those who fasted that they may enter? When the last of them enter, it will be closed and no one else will go through it.” (Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 1797, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 1152)
We implore Allah, the Lord of Compassionate Justice, to grant al-Shahid Imam Abdullah Haron the supreme honour of entering paradise (al-Jannah) by the door of Rayyan. Allahumma Amin.
At this sacred time of the first jumu`ah service of the holy and blessed month of Ramadan, please join me in a special prayer and supplication:
Ya Akramal Akramin – O Allah, the One who acknowledges and bountifully rewards all acts of goodness, thankfulness and praise,
We express heartfelt gratitude for being granted the opportunity to reach yet another blessed month of Ramadan.
During this holy month we ask for Your help to ward off judgement, greed, pride, resentment and anger – and to engender and instill in us humility, self-control, generosity, forgiveness and faith.
Ya Rabb al-Qist – O Our Lord – One who is Most Equitable and Utterly Just,
As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam Abdullah Haron, we ask You to help us to emulate his noble example by becoming even more generous to the oppressed and marginalized, and to perform our fasts with the intention to grow in the virtue of fortitude.