In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
Tafseer Al-Baqarah Ayah 189
The six commands that have appeared so far relate to even retaliation [qisas], bequest [wasiyah], fasting, I’tikaaf [seclusion in mosque], and abstention from the unlawful. Now appear the commands of Hajj and Jihad.
In this ayah Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala again corrects our understanding of the word Al-Birr or piety/righteousness. In the day of ignorance, there was a custom that whoever left his house with the intention of pilgrimage and mid-way he remembered something then he would not enter his house from the front door. Rather, he would either the climb the wall or enter from behind. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala corrects this behavior by saying this is not righteousness. Those who remember something and wish to return to their homes, they can do so by entering from the front door. What one needs to remember is the fear and pleasure of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala in everything that we do.
In the previous ayaat, we have taken up the issue of asking questions and we have mentioned that it is not liked. However, one key point to not forget is that it is the “unnecessary’ questions” (those intended to irritate or waste the time of the speaker) that are despised. Intelligent questions are always welcomed as it allows one’s brain to grow.
The Companions radhiAllahu ‘anhum had a distinct mannerism of their own. On account of the great respect they had for the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, they asked very few questions. This is contrary to the practice of the communities of the past prophets who asked many questions and thus failed to observe the etiquette due before a prophet.
Al-`Awfi related that Ibn ‘Abbas radhiAllahu ‘anhu said, “The people asked Allah’s Messenger salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam about the crescent moons. Thereafter, this ayah was revealed.”
Point to Reflect: This tells us that the Companions radhiAllahu ‘anhum were the people of intellect. They did not practice rote learning, but they reflected on the creation of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and asked intelligent questions. Have we ever reflected why Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala changes the shape of a moon? Do we take note of the changing shape during different days of the month? The fast-paced urban life has made us ignorant of Allah’s creation surrounding us. The binding lights of our cities have overtaken the beauty of moon and stars brightening the sky at night.
Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala addresses the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam to communicate to the people that uhila [الْأَهِلَّةِ] from the root hay-laam-laam [hilal] i.e. moon is a mean for telling time as denoted by the word mawaqeet. The word mawaqeet [مَوَاقِيت] is from the root wau-qaf-tay [waqth] and it means a mean for telling time.
In Islam, our worship is associated with the sighting of the moon. For example, we begin obligatory fasting when the moon for the month of Ramadan is sighted. Our fasting ends with the sighting of the moon for the month of Shawwal. If the moon is not witnessed on the 28th or 29th night we will continue to fast another day. We cannot leave fasting without witnessing the moon. Likewise, we cannot continue our fasts if the crescent for Shawwal has been witnessed.
The ‘Iddah [waiting period] of a widow or a divorced woman is also linked to the lunar calendar. Zakat [obligatory charity] becomes due upon completing one cycle of the lunar year. Similarly, Hajj can only be performed in certain months and for that the moon must be sighted. One cannot make Hajj in any month other than the ones prescribed by Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.
This tells us that the changing of the shape of the moon throughout the year is not meaningless. Rather, it is a mean for keeping count of the days, weeks and months. Today, we have calendars but previously people would depend on the moon to measure time.
Islam chooses the lunar calendar to be the fixed choice for performing the acts of worship. It is because for sighting a moon you do not have to be learned person or have sophisticated equipment. Anyone who can see the horizon can witness the moon including those in the villages, those on the mountains or those in the sea.
Denouncing a practice of the days of jahiliyah [ignorance], Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says, “It is not Al-Birr [piety, righteousness, etc.] that you enter the houses from the back.” It has been said that in the days of ignorance, when some people left their homes to travel but later abandoned their trip, they would not enter their houses from the front door. Rather, they would climb over the back wall and enter their homes.
The word bayoot [بُيُوت] is from the root bay-yay-tay [bayt] and it means house. For example, Bayt Al-Haram – the Scared House. The word zuhooriha [ظُهُورِهَا] is from the root zuay-hay-ray and it means behind or back.
Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says instructs them to enter their houses from proper doors. The word abwabiha [أَبْوَابِهَا] is from the root bay-wau-bay which means door.
This tells us that in Islam we cannot decide the rulings on our own or make the unnecessary, necessary. Islam does not allow us to burden ourselves with something that is not proven through Shari’ah. This is the reason why bidah [innovations] are shunned and termed impermissible.
Then what is Al-Birr? Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says, “…and fear Allah that you may be successful.” Taqwa is the goal for every worship that we perform whether it be fasting or going for Hajj. If a person does not attain taqwa then such a deed is incomplete. What is taqwa? It is fearing Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala – doing what He has commanded and refraining from what He has forbidden.
We need to keep our hearts in check. Am I simply performing a ritual or is my heart also conscious of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala? Many people work on their appearance, but what about the cleansing of our hearts? This should be our goal because in the Qur’an it appears no one will be successful on the Day of Judgment except he who brings qalbun saleem [a cleansed heart – free from rancor and hypocrisy].
May Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala make us of the successful ones, aameen.
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