By Mphutlane wa Bofelo*
Respected elders, beloved brothers and sisters in Islam.
We thank Allah (swt) for the opportunity to gather on Eid-ul-fitr to collectively celebrate and reflect on the lessons we draw from Ramadan and how we can use them to develop ourselves and our society, to communicate with each other on issues that affect and concerns us and humanity, and to learn lessons that will help us change our practice and transform our lives.
Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an:
“Indeed, Allah (does) not change the condition of a people, until they change what (is) in themselves.” (Al-Ra`d (Thunder), 13:11).
We just came out of Ramadan, a month dedicated completely to the purification of the soul and heart in order to rekindle the Light of the Soul to gain nearness to the Eternal Effulgent Light (An-Nur) through the practice of self-restraint. This entails subjecting the base, carnal, selfish, and conceited Self to the dictates of our conscientious, altruistic, compassionate, and godly Being. In this sense, Ramadan represents the journey or yearning of (Nafsi-Amara) the conceited self towards (Nafsi Lawama) the tranquil, calm, composed and content self. It is a yearning of the human being to experience the Divine Joy of being nothing other than an instrument of Light. It is an articulation of the intrinsic desire of Human Being to be at Peace, in Peace, of Peace, for Peace , by Peace. The spirit of Ramadan is an expression of the longing of human souls for a reconnection with that moment when Allah asked them:
Who is your Master ? What is Your Reality? Who is Your Reality?
Humanity responded in unison, in harmony, without any disharmony, without any discord:
We know no Master but You. There is no Reality but You.
Ramadan represents the longing to return to that plane where human souls knew no existence and being other than existing and being in Allah. In this way, the spirit of Ramadan can be likened to Rumi’s song of the reed-flute , yearning for the blissful moment when there was no separation between its song and the song of the entire reed-tree or rather when it knew no reality outside the Tree. This year, (2019) Ramadan took place in May, the month which, in South Africa was the month of the national general elections. The month which is known as Workers’ Month (because of the 1st May , International Workers’ Day and as Afrika Month, because of the 25 May, Afrika Liberation Day, which also happened to be the day the government of South Africa chose for the inauguration of the 6th President of the Republic of South Africa. What connections can we make between our post- Ramadan reflections , post-election reflections, post-Workers’ Day reflections and post Africa Liberation Day reflections?
The symbolic and substantive significance of the election is that they provides citizens a platform to express their voice as to which political party and\or political leadership has the policies and values that best capture their aspirations as to the type of government they would like to live under or the type of society they would like to live in. However, the increasing number of eligible voters who refrain or abstain from participating in the election or deliberately cast spoiled ballots, indicate popular disaffection and disenchantment with the political system. This disaffection is largely attributed to what is referred to as the democratic deficit or the crisis of representation. This is the phenomenon where significant sections of society feel misrepresented, unrepresented or underrepresented as a result of the social distance and disconnect between the people in power and the population.
Calls for various forms of participatory, horizontal and direct democracy, explorations of expressions of the people’s voice beyond the ballot and experiments with forms of power beyond the parameters of the state and political parties, are a cry for a society in which there is no disconnect between the people in power and the people. It is a cry for a society in which the prevailing structures of power are not at odds with people’s power, in which the idea of a people’s government is a reality. This is a call for those who take power in the name of the people but never return that power to the people once they are in power, to reconnect with the people and be true to their claim to be moved by the interests of the people. It is a call for those who engage in activism, philanthropy, relief and welfare work in the name of the damned of the earth but cannot stand the smell of the poor to reconnect with the constituencies they claim to represent or rather reconnect with the real cause of their activism and charitable work, which is supposed to be to promote equality, equity, justice, and peace and harmony in the world rather than to impregnate the pockets and egos of few individuals.
The call of Workers’ Day and Workers Struggles is an end to the alienation and disconnection of workers from their labour and the wealth and social services accruing from their labour. Africa Liberation Day is essentially about the call for Africans to reconnect with their free and human selves rather than to be slaves of various forms and guises of colonialism, oppression, exploitation, discrimination, powerlessness and anti-Black violence. It is about the reclamation of the humanity and dignity of a people who have been at the receiving ends of various forms of de-huminization and brutalization. It is a call to action for Africans to stop seeing themselves as victims but to take a stand as their own liberator , take a stand to be the objects, subjects and agents of their own liberation. At the heart of this call is the rediscovery of and a reconnection to the true, free and humane self. As Ali Shariati asserted, the consciousness , rediscovery and reconstruction of the authentic self should not be restricted to the individual self but should equally entail the consciousness, rediscover and reconstruction of the historic and social self. Similarly, Ramadan is the quest for the human being to reconnect and touch base with the Generous, Compassionate and Magnanimous Spirit of Allah deep within their souls. It calls human being to journey towards The Khidr of The Heart at the meeting place of the two seas.
For a lack of words, I find myself seeking security in poetic language to express the pains and pleasures of this Journey to The Lord of Power:
to join yourself up
with the Active Intelligence
& talk to Angel Holy Spirit
place not your feelings
in the image of yourself and other creatures, that you see in the mirror
put your hand in there, you will touch nothing
nothing in that space, only phantasms inviting your mind and heart
to sojourn into the infinite expanse of the metaphysical realms
to see the light behind the niche, and perceive forms in spaces
of the invisible heavens
let your sympathy lie with the forms of desire
shatter the rock of doubt with the light of love
let beauty transfigure romance into Supreme Theophany
to find your eternal individuality
look for the inner heaven, deep in the interior of your heart
engage in earnest conversations
with the Khidr of your heart
don’t be frightened by the experience of losing the law to find the Truth
the prophet of your being will make you realise
at your feet lies mount Sinai
the pole of the microcosm, the centre of the world
where flows the spring
of the waters of life
In this regard , it is important to ponder on the deeper meaning of the oft-quoted Hadith Qursi that appears in Imam Ghazali’s Al-Ihya:
“ Neither My Heavens nor my Earth contains Me, but the heart of My believing servant contains Me”
It may be helpful to relate this to the verse that tells us that Allah is closer to us more than our jugular vein, and to Surah Ikhlas, the Chapter of Purity, which according to the Hadith of the Prophet is equivalent to one third of the Quran. Imam Ahmad (RA) narrated that Ubbay ibn Ka’b (RA) narrated that the polytheists challenged the Prophet (SAW):
O Muhammed! Tell us about the genealogy of your Lord.
Thereafter, Allah revealed the Chapter of Purity , Surah Ikhlas:
In the Name of Allah the Most Merciful, The Most Compassionate
Say He is Allah, The only One
Allah the Eternal Refuge
He neither begets nor is He born
Nor is there anything equivalent to Him
In other words, there is no existence and being independent of Allah. Creation has no reality outside the Divine. Everything exists as but manifestations of the various attributes and names of Allah and as signs or pointers to the Eternal Essence. Love, peace, freedom, light are signs of Allah’s Presence. Hate , violence, unfreedom and darkness are indicators of the Absence of Allah. Because Allah is Ever-Present, His is not an actual Absence but an absence in the eyes of those whose Eye of the Soul has been blinded by the illusions of the material world and whispers of their egos. As nothing in the world, including the human being, exists on its own nor can it be without Allah, ( The First and the Last, the Present and the Absent ), the “I am” of the human being is a delusional utterance unless and until it is a testimony of the Presence of Allah in one’s life and an expression of one’s poverty and emptiness in the Absence of Allah. “”Labbaiyk Allahuma, Labbaiyk ! “means “Here I am Allah, oh Allah, Here I am” only in a metaphoric sense. In the real sense it means “Allah, I am here to witness your Presence that I may become.” “ Allah , I see your Presence therefore I am.” “Oh, Allah give me the Pleasure of Seeing You that I may truly Be.”
At the end of Ramadan, on Eid Day and at Arafa, when we chant Labbaik Allahuma, we are effectively refreshing the covenant the collective souls of humankind signed with Allah when they chanted : You are Our Lord. We are effectively refreshing the oath of witness
“I bear witness that no reality exist but Allah” I see only Allah. I know only Allah. I love only Allah. It important for us to note that is not us who do the witnessing and seeing. It is Allah who turns us into His witnesses. It is Allah who turns our tongues and our lives into a Testimony. It is Allah who turns us into his eyes. When we become self-righteous about our acts of faith, we miss the fact that we are not only the witnesses but that we ourselves are the witnessed. For a witness is the light that illuminates to see and therefore becomes seen in the process of seeing. Or as Rama Maharshi puts it
“The “witness” really means the light that illumines the seer , the seen and the process of seeing”
Fasting (like Salat, Zakat, Hajj and all acts of worship and service) in earnestness should translate into the emptying of the self to embrace the reality that only Allah is at work. We are only the symbolic hands of Allah. Allah works through us to manifest His Mercy, Compassion, Magnanimity and Generosity to the worlds. Allah is at work every day and night and every single minute and second. Therefore, we cannot and must not be witnesses to Allah’s Light, Peace, Compassion and Generosity only in Ramadan. The Zikr of our tongue and hearts should arise from the active awareness and wakefulness to the fact that we ourselves are and should be the Zikr of Allah at every beat of our heart, at every second of our life , in everything we do. Our declaration of the Shahada and our recital of the Quran should arise from our consciousness of the fact that every part of body , mind and spirit is in constant recital of the Names of Allah and of the Word of Allah, whether we are aware of it or not. That all that every inanimate and animate being , by virtue of its existence , do every single moment is a recital of the Jamal and Jalal attributes of Allah. That there is no time when anything in Creation is not before the Presence of Allah though it may not be conscious of it.
Sincere performance of Salat (and disbursement of Zakah and Lillah) is waking up to the Presence of Allah. It is the migration of all our senses and every part of our being from the world of Absence to realm of the Eternal Presence of Allah. It is awakening our minds, heart and spirits to Outer and Inner Knowledge and Esoteric Knowledge which is at our disposal at every moment we empty our hearts of the whispers of our egos and the trappings of the material world to be in contact with the Inner Prophet, the Khidr of our Hearts. It is praying every single Salat of our life like we are the Mosque of the Prophet. It is praying every Salat with the mindset that we are in heaven, standing before Allah. I think this is what Imam Ali (RA) meant when he asserted that he can’t pray to Allah unless and until He sees Allah. In the Gospel of Thomas , the disciples ask : Master when will the Kingdom of Heaven come. Jesus (AS) response is : It is all around you. It is just that you are too foolish to see it.
We should understand the symbolic and substantive benefits of a Thousands Night in Ramadan as the state of being in recitation of the Names and Words of Allah every single day, the state of being in heaven in every single prayer, and the state of being in worship of Allah in every utterance and action of ours, the state of standing for justice, peace, equality and oneness and harmony in everything we do. When we consider that it was the Wajib of the prophet of Islam that at the end of each day he dispose of everything that was beyond his basic needs and distributed it to the poor, it is not an exaggeration to say that the Ramadan of a true follower of the prophet (Peace Be Upon him) should be every day.
If we truly subscribe to the notion that Allah is enough (sufficient) for us, then the maximum needs of Muslims is their minimum and basic needs, and their Eid-ul-fitr is every day . For a true follower of the prophet Muhammed enough is a feast, every single day. Every day is simultaneously a Ramadan and Eid (the day of celebration of the bounties of Allah. In the month of Ramadan and beyond, one verse of the Quran that should ceaselessly ring in our ears is:
“Which of the Bounties of Allah Shall you Deny?”.
The affirmation that we should chant every single day is: “Verily , Allah is Sufficient for me”. The slogan that we should chant and translate in action, in this society of rampant crass materialism, selfish individualism, greed , consumerism, capitalistic opulence and kleptocratic politicians and corrupt government officials is
: Enough is a Feast!
The philosophy that make it possible for humanity to live with the mindset of ‘Enough is a feast’ is contained in the hadith of the Prophet:
None of you has truly submitted to the will of Allah until they wish for their Comrades in faith that which they wish for themselves. None of you is truly a Muslim until they wish for others what they wish for themselves.
It is the Philosophy of Umuntu Ngumuntu ngaBantu …A person’s is a human being because of the humanity of others. I am because you are. You are because I am. Again, words fail me, and I find myself finding succour in poetry in praying for our reflections beyond Ramadan , to take us to a state of Consciousness and Wakefulness where our tongue recite only from the heart and the heart knows nothing other than the Names of Allah:
from now on I am, more than a fact of biology
i am not a mere physical object, trapped in time & space
i came and will live beyond the ego
i don’t declare anything to be dead or alive
things can only live if I am alive
things can only die if I am dead
my past is not behind me
it is beneath my feet
my world does not evolve
it is forever ascending
my future is not ‘
in any specific direction
i create no tension
between here and there
in every space I realise the fullness
of my human personality
my eyes are cast on both here below
and there beyond
ideals and realities, I treasure equally
heaven and earth are but two cups of the same litre
in me all the world converge
i am the subject hidden in the object
i am the object of the disclosure
i am the essence that appears
when appearance is uncovered
i am the self that triumphs
when the ego has vanished
i am the enquirer and the quest
i am the owner of all names
i am the face and the voice
i am the source and the reason
i make and destroy everything
without me there is no past and no future
I am not an energy
I am a presence
I am the being
I am nothing
I am everything
i am my thoughts
i am my actions
i am my choices
i am my decisions
I am beyond all the above
Oh! Allah guide and help us to know Goodness and to follow it. Oh! Allah guide and help us to know Wrongdoing and to refrain from it. Oh, Allah guide and help us to know Truth and to Follow it. Guide and help us to know falsehood and to refrain from it. Ya Hadi! Ya Haq! Ya Latif! Oh! Allah Guide us to know justice and to stand for it even if it is against us. Oh! Allah guide us to know injustice and to stand up against it even if it is against us. Oh! Allah guide and help us to live our lives in such a way that every day of our life is a declaration of the Kalimah, a Ramadan, a day of Eid and a day of Ashurah all in one; and in such a way that each Salah we make is a Hajj and a Miraj for us. Oh! Allah make us ambassadors of Love, Peace, Togetherness and Goodness in the World. Ya Salam! Ya Wadud! Ya Jami! Ya Nafi! Ameen
*Mphutlane wa Bofelo is a poet, essayist, social critic, cultural worker and a facilitator of Worker-Education. Bofelo’s socio-political activism began in the 1980s when he joined the Azanian Students’ Movement until he was charged and given a one-year prison sentence. He came into contact with Islamic Literature in 1983 and embraced Islam in prison in 1986 after reading volumes of books on Islam. Bofelo studied Islam at Assalaam Education Institute, Political Science at Varsity College and Development Studies at UKZN. He has since become one of the most prolific writers, theorists and activists of the broader Black Consciousness Movement. Mphutlane is also a former Deputy-President and Secretary-General of the Muslim Youth Movement of South Africa. He is currently the national training manager of a Trade Union in the public sector. His literary works operated within a triune of modes: Sufi oriented Islam, Radical Humanism and Black Consciousness, fusing the spiritual and political to evenly straddle the personal and the public. His forthcoming book is "Transitions : From Post-Colonial Illusions to Decoloniality."