In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful.
As the month of Ramadan progresses, I am trying to read the Qur’an as part of the spiritual regimen that this month brings. And as I re-engage with the Qur’an, I came across this gem:
True piety does not consist in turning your faces towards the east or the west - but truly pious is he who believes in God, and the Last Day; and the angels, and revelation, and the prophets; and spends his substance – however much he himself may cherish it – upon his near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer, and the beggars, and for the freeing of human beings from bondage; and is constant in prayer, and renders the purifying dues; and [truly pious are] they who keep their promises whenever they promise, and are patient in misfortune and hardship and in time of peril: it is they that have proved themselves true, and it is they, they who are conscious of God.
There is a little background on this: ever since the ministry of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) began, the Muslims had been praying in the direction of Jerusalem. Soon after the Prophet emigrated to Medina, however, there was an order from God (in the Qur’an) to change the direction of prayer to Mecca. This caused “scandal” among some non-Muslim factions in Medina at the time. This verse above was God’s response.
When I read this verse, it makes me think that we should avoid an excessive emphasis on ritual at the expense of larger moral and ethical conduct. In his explanation of this verse, Muhammad Asad wrote:
Thus, the Qur’an stresses the principle that mere compliance with outward forms does not fulfill the requirements of piety.
In my mind, these “forms” include things to wear, the type of socks someone should wear, the length of a beard, etc. And so many people place so much emphasis on outward forms and neglect the importance of inward purity and moral conduct. Now, don’t get me wrong: ritual practice is very important. Just because the Qur’an says that “true piety does not consist with turning your faces towards the east or west,” it does not mean that ritual prayer is no longer important. On the contrary, the Qur’an stresses multiple times on the importance of establishing the ritual prayer and other outward forms of worship, such as fasting.
In addition, there is nothing wrong if someone, seeking to emulate the Prophet out of love, wears a long beard or wears garb like the Prophet used to wear. But, it makes no sense for someone to wear a long beard, like the Prophet did, and then lie and cheat his customers when he works in his shop. It makes no sense for someone to wear leather socks, like the Prophet did, and then abuse his wife and children in a horrific manner.
What is outrageous to me is the pictures of the barbarian terrorists that are caught: they wear long beards because the Prophet did. But, does it ever occur to them that the Prophet forbade the killing and maiming of innocent people? Does it ever occur to them that the Prophet would abhor the murder they commit in his name? Does it ever occur to them that killing and murder is the antithesis of the true piety that they try to convey by their wearing a long beard? Truly outrageous.
The Qur’an is full of these gems: these short passages with tremendously profound meaning. This is one of the nice things about Ramadan (even if it is in the LONG, LONG, LONG days of summer). I get a change to re-acquaint myself with the Qur’an. And I am never disappointed.
Dr. Hesham Hassaball writes the "Common Word, Common Lord" blog for Beliefnet.