Aly Zaker

Ruminating on sermons

August 16, 2012

prayer-handsI was in my village home on the night of Shab-e-Barat. This is a very important night for the Muslims of this sub-continent. I was once told by an Arab friend that there was no such thing as Lailatul Barat observed in any part of the Arab world. What is Shab-e-Barat in Persian is Lailatul Barat in Arabic. Well I have not been to many Arab countries so I could not check on the validity of my friend’s statement.

Whether Shab-e-Barat is or isn’t a done thing in Arabia is immaterial to me. For as far back as my memory would travel I have known about this auspicious night observed all over in my own country. On this night people pray, some times through the night, visit the graves of their departed family members and serve sweets to the friends and relatives. It is said that on this auspicious night God listens to you and grants your wishes of both material and spiritual desires. Usually special prayers are held in the mosques and milads are held in mosques and houses.

In my village on this night this year I was sitting in my open veranda listening to the waaz or religious sermons by the maulanas from various mosques. Sometimes the words came to me loud and clear, some times they became muffled because of the distance. Most of what was said is what we usually hear in any religious congregation. They speak about this life being inconsequential, the need to prepare yourself for the life here after, the harsh punishments that would be meted out to you for the sins you have committed for not being a performing Muslim in this world. They also talk about the beheshth or the heaven of which there are various kinds, the ultimate in terms of luxury there, the abundance of food and drinks, the things that you have always wished you had but could never have. They speak about salat, zakqat, hajj and roja as the compulsory deeds for every Muslim. And in each of these they add their own little spice. This improvisation depends on the kind of audience they are invited to address. They try and bring the sermons to as close a proximity to comprehension by common people as possible. Therefore, a lot of anecdotes are added copiously to make their lectures captivating.

So, I was listening to these sermons coming from various directions, thanks to the invention of the loudspeaker. All of a sudden it dawned on me that I have always been hearing the same sermons from the same group of people for years on end. I thought the poor and simple people of our country have not become lesser Muslims lately. Nor have their faith in Allah receded a wee bit over the period of time. What they are intrigued about and what they would long to get from these religious leaders is a sense of direction in these days of increasing restlessness fraught with danger. Our people, and I am not including the urbanite and well-off “us” in this, know very well or at least are in a position to guess who are behind the misdemeanour that have made our society unliveable.

Every society has a set of rules, values and ideals. We have grown up with these values. These were told to us by our parents, they by their parents, and so on. These, in some cases, have been watered down to conform to the demand of time. Our religious beliefs and these values have never been at conflict with each other. In fact, our religion has contributed to these ideals phenomenally and has made these obligatory for us as believers. These are as simple and mundane as, not telling lies, not stealing, not intimidating with others’ societal rights, not usurping others’ properties, not taking recourse to corruption, not hurting people’s sentiment, etc. I distinctly remember my mother telling us that “breaking some one’s heart is tantamount to destroying a mosque”.

The lists I have mentioned here contain only a few that come readily to my mind. Recording them all could convert this column into a lexicon of values. Pray, why don’t we hear such indispensable and religiously fundamental values included in the sermons of many of our present day religious leaders any more? They have the microphones in their hands. A crowd of people willing to listen to whatever they are told. Then why do they refrain from speaking on the most crucial things that are tearing our society apart, materially and morally?

I would not be as sweeping in my remark, like many, as to say that perhaps some of them are the direct beneficiaries of the misdeeds of their benefactors (?). I would once again turn to my most favourite playwright and say:

“O judgement, thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason” *

*from William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

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Aly Zaker is among the leading personalities in Bangladeshi theatre, a renowned actor on stage and television as well as a noted ad-filmmaker.

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18 Responses to “ Ruminating on sermons ”

  1. Kazi Saifuddin Hossain on August 22, 2012 at 11:10 am

    I see my comments have been misinterpreted by some. Let me clarify that Islamic evidences were passed on to us by earlier Muslim generations; we cannot break this human chain of generations and say that referring to them would be like the Bani Israil following their forefathers. How can a person learn about Islam, if it were not the earlier Muslims passing religious knowledge on to their posterior Muslim generations? However, in a Hadith, our Prophet (peace be upon him) has declared, “Posterior (Muslim generations) will castigate their predecessors.” We should not commit this mistake.

    The references I have provided should be studied minutely. One should not dismiss outright the Hadiths and narrations of our Prophet (peace be upon him) and the statements of the earlier Islamic savants like Shaykh Abdul Qadir Gilani and Imam Ghazzali in favor of Laylatun Nisf-i min Sha’ban i.e. Shab-i Barat. From my personal experience, I haven’t seen the validity of Shab-i Barat being questioned in the mid 1970s, when I began to go to the mosque for saying my prayers on the blessed night. The Salafis started questioning its validity only in recent years.

    Someone asked me to show Koranic evidence in favor of Shab-i Barat. Allahu ta’ala declares in Sura Nisaa, Ayah 103 – “Perform Dhikr (remembrance) of Allah, standing, sitting down, or lying down on your sides.” On the night of mid-Sha’ban Muslims perform dhikr of Allah, in accordance with this Koranic command. The antagonists must prove that it is haram i.e. prohibited in Islam to perform dhikr of Allah in order to negate worshiping on the blessed night of mid-Sha’ban!

    As for the halua (sweets) made for the occasion is quite alright, if intended for distribution among the poor; it is thawab (rewarding). The fire-cracker issue should be shunned, though, as it disturbs peace for the worshipers.

    • Kazi Saifuddin Hossain on August 24, 2012 at 11:55 am

      Post-script:

      Allahu ta’ala’s dhikr or worship performed by the Muslims on Shab-i Barat is nawafil, that is, supererogatory. In a Hadith-i Qudsi, Allah declares, “My ‘abd’, or votary, draws near to me through nawafil or supererogatory worship until I adore him; I become his ears, by which he hears; his eyes, by which he sees; his hands, with which he works; his legs, with which he roams; whatever he asks of me, I grant him his wish.” (Bukhari & Muslim)

      It is noteworthy that the ‘qurbat’ or nearness to Allah comes through supererogatory worship. Sufi Gnostic (like Shaykh Thanaullah Panipathi) have termed it as intense endeavors on the Sufi path (of Tariqah). More interesting to note is the fact that Allah has described all the actions (yasma’u bihi, yabsiru, yabtishu bihi, yamshi biha) of His votary (in the above-mentioned Hadith-i Qudsi) in the present and future tenses (Mustaqbil). It signifies that the Awliya or saints’ special powers are from Allah and are never-ending or infinite in nature. In other words, these powers will not cease even after their wisal (being re-united with Allah in the here-after); instead they are more powerful in the presence of Allah, according to the renowned Sufi Gnostic.

      In conclusion, we can say that Shab-i Barat gives us the opportunity to perform nawafil worship as prescribed by Allah and draw near to Him to the desired station (maqam) referred to in the Hadith-i Qudsi quoted above.

      [Just a little correction: Please read 'early Muslim generations' instead of 'earlier Muslims' written in my comments on this page.]

  2. M.A.Hai on August 19, 2012 at 7:30 am

    May I request Mr. Zaker and the fellow brothers who responded above, to read verses 1-4 in Sura Dukhan ( # 44) in the English Translation of Al-Qur’an By Dr. Muhammad Taqi-Ud-Din Al-Hilali and Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan published by King Fahd Complex for the printing of the Holy Qur’an, Madinah, KSA. You will get answers by yourself ignoring what the mollas say.

  3. Yusuf on August 19, 2012 at 6:58 am

    Excellent point about the sermons. These guys have become irrelevant to the time and space they live in. They’re even irrelevant to their audience. “If you can’t be relevant to the four corners of your mosque, how can you be relevant to the world at large”, says a North American Imam. Seems like these fairytale “waaz” will go on for ever. There is not a single bright soul, capable enough to deliver a sermon in common people’s language, which answers real questions. Ask them questions and you’ll just be amazed by the level of knowledge that they have. Silly how people are fooled by these “ulema”. And its damn dishonest from the “ulemas” part to fool people like this.

  4. Syed Kayes on August 18, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    Now that you have opened the Pandora’s box, it has become imperative on you to let the readers know your responses to the comments made by your readers on the article. Will you do that? True,you are not a ad filmmaker.The advertising company where you work for a living, do make ad films if asked by its clients. Please correct me if I am wrong.

  5. Musleh on August 18, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    Thanks for the write-up. But I am not sure what objective of the sermon or content you want change.
    If objective, I can’y agree as from the day of Adam (Peace be upon him) the same message has be sent to human kind by the Creator Allah, the Almighty. Same message is there in Buble, Toura.
    But yes, if you question contextualization of the sermon I agree with you.
    Lastly, you wrote, “I thought the poor and simple people of our country have not become lesser Muslims lately. Nor have their faith in Allah receded a wee bit over the period of time.” My personal observation is that we are so engrossed with the weal and woe of our own, so much sandwiched between different thoughts that at least our practice of Islam has receded, if not we have become lesser Muslims.
    Eid Mubarak to you and all.

  6. HASAN MAHMUD RONY on August 18, 2012 at 7:34 am

    Outstanding writing. Simply awesome. The story of Alex Haley’s “Roots” is knocking my sense. Really we should not forget our tradition, customs, culture, the system of our family bondage, everything, everything.

    Hats off.

  7. Kazi Saifuddin Hossain on August 17, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    A very well-written piece reflecting the traditions of our country. However, I would like to add a point or two here.

    Regarding your Arab friend’s opinion of Laylatul Barat not being observed in Arab countries, all Muslims should know fully well that the four sources of Islamic evidences – Koran, Hadith, Ijma’ and Qiyas – are the criteria for determining as to whether a matter is permitted or not in Islamic religion. Modern day Arabia is far, far away from the Sunnah or traditions of our Prophet (peace be upon him). The Wahhabi dogma currently practiced in Saudi Arabia is only one century old in age, and henceforth, not representative of Islamic traditions. On the contrary, Islam was propagated in Bangladesh by the Sufi Gnostic – Islamic savants who came from Arabia in the early times of Islam during the Middle Ages. We learnt Islam from our forefathers who were converted to it by these pious Arabian dervishes.

    Laylatul Barat is supported by Islamic evidences. I am providing here some links for you to find out yourself:

    1. ‘On the Benefit of the Night of Mid-Sha’ban’ at http://www.sunnah.org; this site is founded by Shaykh Hisham Kabbani, a Lebanese (Arab) Islamic savant, who migrated to the US.

    2. ‘The Night of the 15th of Sha’ban’, Question & Answer section, by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani at qa.sunnipath.com; this ‘Qibla’ website has affiliation with Shaykh Nu Ha Mim Keller, an English Muslim savant, who graduated in Islamic theology from the famous Jami’ al-Azhar University of Egypt.

    3. ‘The Night of Mid-Shabaan’ at http://www.sufi.co.za; this is a South African site. And finally,

    4. ‘Refuting Salafies (Wahhabis) Ahl-e-Hadith on Shab-e-Barat 15th Sha’ban from authentic Hadith 1/3′, a lecture in Urdu by Allama Tahirul Qadiri on Youtube.com; I hope you’ll be able to understand Urdu.

    I know the antagonists will defend their position, but my references stand. In the Koran, we are commanded to perform dhikr (remembrance) of Allah. Dhikr, in general Islamic term, covers all types of worship, including the Islamic code of life. Now, if someone wishes to worship throughout the night of Shab-e-barat, validity of which is supported by Islamic documents, how can a mullah keep him/her away from the dhikr of Allah by simply saying that it is a Bid’ah or innovation in the religion? He would be going against the Koranic command, that’s for sure!

    A mullah with a goatee, who regularly participates in a live show on the Diganta television, has conceded that the hadith stating, ‘Allah forgives, on the night of mid-Sha’ban, all (penitent) Muslims, except those committing shirk (polytheism) and grave sins’, is authentic. May I ask, why would Allah forgive Muslims, if the night didn’t have any religious importance or significance? Wouldn’t it be a sacred night to pray for our spiritual salvation, instead of accepting the mullah’s rationale for going to sleep on that very night? Muslims should be judicious in the matters of their religion; because Allah likes enlightened Muslims, not bigoted ones.

    • Yusuf on August 18, 2012 at 11:14 pm

      Salam, when I was in Bangladesh I used to celebrate Lailatul Barat properly, almost overningt. When I came to England I found out that there is no such thing as Lalatul Barat. I did some research and finally decided that there is no such thing Lailatul Barat.

      Brother Kazi Saifuddin Hossain, please learn Islam from Quran and Sunnah. Don’t learn it from your forefathers. This is the ideology of Boni Israeel, Please read sura Baqara 50-121 verse(roughly I am not sure at the moment)
      Please follow the link if you want a good talk about Lailatul Barat

      The evidance you gave for Lailatul Barat is not islamic evidance.
      Islamic evidance is Verses of Quran and Sunnah.
      Please listen this, I did not have much time to give you a good lecture. Please educate yourself.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSplO3hXNXA

      • Kazi Saifuddin Hossain on August 21, 2012 at 7:23 pm

        Thanks for your advice, but you have missed my point. I clearly stated that Muslims of Bangladesh learned Islam from original sources – the Koran, Hadith, Ijma’ and Qiyas; these teachings were passed on to us by the earlier Muslim dervishes who came to this land. On the contrary, the Wahhabi dogma practiced currently in Arabia is only 80 years old, and therefore, not representative of Islamic traditions that span a period of 14 centuries. And UK, as a country, is certainly not the document or criteria for deciding matters of the Sharia!

        The links that I provided prove the validity of ‘Laylatul Nisf-i min Sha’ban’ i.e. shab-i barat from the Sunnah of our Prophet (peace be upon him). If you have evidences that prove otherwise, you can take it up with the authorities of the websites I had referred to in my comment. In this context, I would like to produce some more links here:

        1. ‘Note: The 15th Night of Sha’ban’ at http://www.abdulkarimyahya.com; Shaykh Yahya lives in Hadramaut, Yemen and got his sanad (certificate) from an Islamic savant in Syria. So he is definitely not from the Indian Sub-continent.

        2. ‘The Significance of Nifs Sha’ban’ at http://www.muslimbuzz.sg;

        Finally, I did give a Koranic reference; Allah has commanded us to perform dhikr (remembrance of Allah) and we Muslims do just that on the sacred night of shab-i barat. As per fiqh rules, you need to produce evidences to negate the validity of the matter; we do not require to produce proofs for Allah’s general command in this regard. The Almighty likes His servants praying to Him, and there’s nothing wrong with that!

  8. F Rahman on August 17, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    The reason why present day religious leaders do refrain from speaking on these crucial things has been best described by the Promised Messiah (as) in his book the Victory of Islam – [http://www.alislam.org/library/browse/book/Victory_of_Islam]

    “Our time is a time in which emphasis on external forms and indifference to inner spirit and true piety are at their maximum. So are absence of honesty and integrity and disregard of truth and purity. So are love of riches and love of the world …. Creature-worship of many different kinds had become established. So have these evils, one and all, raised their head in our time. Things lawful are not accepted and used with the gratitude and humility, which is their due. Things unlawful are not avoided with the nausea and disgust they deserve. Important ordinances of God are put aside by cheap excuses and inventions ….. “
    The present day ‘Ulema’ are “no way behind the scribes and Pharisees” of ancient times…. “They also would swallow a camel but strain at a gnat. The Kingdom of God is closed by them upon every one. They enter it not themselves.”

    And the self-certified religious leaders of the present age are like “….. He who is blind himself cannot show the way to the blind and he who is a leper cannot take away the disease from other people’s bodies …..They do spend a long time over Namaz, the daily prayers. But their hearts are devoid of love of the True God and of a sense of His Majesty and Greatness. From the pulpit they deliver sermons, which would move men to tears. But their works tally not with their sermons. Their tears roll down easily and this is amazing. For, their hearts are so different – ill intentioned and rebellious. Their speech is full of professions of faith and this also is amazing. For at heart they are so different ….”

  9. Abdallah Habib on August 17, 2012 at 6:55 am

    Riches and piety will diminish daily until the world is corrupted.It will be wealth that will confer distinction.Lies will be only method of success in business.Women will be objects only of sensual gratification.Dishonesty will be universal means of subsistence.Earth will be valued because of its mineral wealth.Women will only obey their whims and infatuated by pleasure.A simple ablution will be regarded sufficient for purification.Ceremonies in the Vedas will be neglected.Farmers will abandon agriculture and commerce and exercise mechanical professions.These are words from Vishnu Puranas.
    Surah Rum says that ” corruption has appeared in the land because of what man’s hands have sent…
    Zaker is indeed a modernist who has contributed substantially to modernism through his professions in projecting present day society as in the Puranas.
    Result is the cynicism, abject corruption, hatred, the sterility…
    I trust Zaker will vow to be returned in a traditionalist way without the “religious ” strappings.

  10. mehidi hasan on August 16, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    I agree with Mr Aly Zaker on what he wrote about Arab states not celebrating Shab-e-Barat and this way they are totally different from Asian Muslim believers. This is what I have seen in last few years of living in an Arab state. Thanks bdnews24 for publishing a meaningful column from Mr Aly Zaker.

  11. Yusuf on August 16, 2012 at 7:35 pm

    Salam alaikum. I’ve read your article and seen your interest on what you thought. True that what others do might be immaterial to you but because of that you can’t deny what is told by the holy scripts. We need to believe things which are proven by books and by thoughts, it’s a common sense that Arabs were born in the same desert where the actual Islam began from and they’d learn nothing new than what our prophets had taught them. Sure thing that there might be black sheep in every community, so does it goes for Arabs. There are elements among Arabs for which some of them hates the natives of that region but that doesn’t refrain to the whole of Arab practice of religion.

    Arabs grew up seeing what Prophet Muhammad has himself practiced and accordingly they have been practicing until now, Qur’an was never altered neither were the verses from the Hadith where it describes how to practice Islam otherwise known as the reference book in Islam.

    If you say auspicious night and it is followed throughout your country, then that’s not enough to prove Islam commands for this night or even recommends. You need to show the proof of this very night by the authentic books in Islam and not from any books you get. You also said, you are not sure if this night to be followed as others do. What kind of Muslim won’t go through his/her religious book to know what it commands and accepts by the words of mouth. A person is sure not to have any space in there life to go through what Islam says if he follows the colliding paths of Islam, such as, working for theaters and being a a renowned actor on stage and television as well as a noted ad-filmmaker!! whereas, you remember the words spoken by a non-Muslim!!!

    Let me bring this to a conclusion by referring you a verse from the Hadith mentioned by Ayesha (may Allah be pleased with her) that Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) described anyone who invents something new in the religion will be rejected and his words will not be accepted.

    Secondly, A Muslim is not a Muslim until he is a fundamental Muslim, not just like, treating our self as a moderate Muslim, i.e pray once in a year.

    • Shaheena on November 14, 2012 at 10:10 pm

      I totally agree with you brother. I have read your old comments too, alhamdulillah very nice. I was thinking is there anyone who can tell the truth and alhamdulillah you did.
      I always remind myself that our beloved prophet said that at the end there will be a few who will follow the correct way and the people who will follow the sunnah it is like they are holding the fire charcoal in their hand.
      A doctor’s son just cannot be a doctor or an engineer’s child cannot be an engineer, can they? At least they have to go through their 7 years of college. But when we talk about our religion we say our fathers, grandfathers told us, and our tradition is this and that. We forget that Islam is a complete life style. Please learn before you say something about Islam. Allah never told us to do anything that we cannot do. The Creator knows His creation the best. And our beloved prophet delivered exactly what Allah told him to do.
      The first word was send down to Mohammad(pbuh) from Allah was ‘Iqra’ means ‘read’. We need to read the Quran and from the right tafseer, authentic hadiths. If we cannot do this then we should get knowledge from someone who studied from these sources for long period of time, and Allah knows best.
      By the way there is a very reliable website where you can get almost all of your answers is following:

      http://islamqa.com/en

  12. Aly Zakwer on August 16, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    My coordinate should stand corrected. I am not an ad film maker. I work in the advertising industry for a living.

    • Abdallah Habib on August 19, 2012 at 7:08 pm

      I trust you may agree that advert. “industry” is a profession of lairs who distort the truth , selling their souls and minds to Mephistopheles .
      Innocent people by virtue of the power of ads. drink poison like phosphoric acid in Pepsi used for making phosphatic fertilizers.
      Surely on Eid day u will be giving out largesse showing your munificence to the village folks.
      Know thyself.

  13. শূন্য। on August 16, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    Wish is All About.

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