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173 Seeking meaning to rituals


Dear Friends,
Assalamu Alaikum,
The world around us is absolutely amazing.
If we were to observe what we could refer to as the greater picture, then we have to say that the
Universe is amazing amazing amazing!
It is quite obvious to me, that there has to be a super power that has planned, designed, created
and is sustaining everything in the Universe.
When I say everything I mean simply everything.
All systems and processes that we see functioning around us are intricately interconnected or you
could even say that these are systems within systems, and processes within processes, all working
in concert it is simply mind boggling and just too much to even think that all this is the result of
a series of evolving random accidents!
That just cannot be.
There has to be this All-Wise, All-Powerful and All-Magnanimous God planning, designing,
creating and putting everything together in this amazing Universe.
How many more universes are there?
That is something we just cannot even imagine!
When this thought or this realization begins to take root in our minds we begin to contemplate on
a number of questions. It is a natural curiosity.
We now begin to view the world with this thought;
It looks like there is a God, so how do we seek God? How do we seek the purpose behind
everything that we observe and see?
So gradually this belief that there is a God begins to make sense and this conviction begins to take
root in our minds.
So obviously we begin wondering as to why God has created this Universe.
Why?
There are many connected questions, for example;
Why did God create this Universe?
Why did God create me?
Is there life after death?
What is the purpose of my life on Earth?
Where was I before I was born?
And so on, oh there are so many questions.
In todays world there is always some person or some book or some web sites through which we
could learn almost any subject or even any topic that we can think of.
Lets say we want to learn something very simple like some recipe, or maybe we want to learn
something very complex like quantum physics, then where do we turn to?
Obviously we turn to those who are familiar with the subject. We also try to refer to books as well
as to web sites on the subject.
Similar would be our approach to learning about God.
We would turn to religions, especially the religion to which we or which each of us would belong
to.
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Now here is where the problem begins.


It is not only a problem that is difficult to explain but it is also a sensitive one.
So how do I explain this problem?
Let me try.
We are trying to seek God and through seeking God we are trying to work out the objectives of all
those elusive answers to what is known as the fundamental questions.
I mentioned some of these questions a few minutes ago.
Now in seeking God and in seeking these so called divine objectives, I would obviously seek or
obviously observe Gods creation and try to get some ideas about God, some clues, some signs.
Now, when I observe His creation I see order, I see beauty, I see consistency, I see cyclic
repetition, in other words it is a very orderly, sequential world.
If we look at the cosmos, the universe that surrounds us, we are able to predict the time of sunrise,
of sunset, of phases of the moon, of seasons even predict the movement of planets and of the
constellations and other heavenly bodies. It is so orderly and so predictable.
In fact this is what how Wikipedia describes the word cosmos;
Cosmos can be defined as a complex and orderly system, such as our Universe; the opposite
of Chaos. It is the Universe regarded as an ordered system.
The philosopher Pythagoras is regarded as the first person to apply the term cosmos to the order
of the Universe.
If we were to observe the space within our atmosphere, here too we would observe energies and
electromagnetic waves all working in concert with pure mathematical precision. It is so
predictable that the field of physics or the study of all these energies and electromagnetic waves
can even be described as exciting.
Though we do not give it much thought, the space surrounding us and above our heads, or the
atmosphere is so full of activity. We observe so many systems and processes working seamlessly.
We observe through relevant meters energies such as heat, light, and sound predictably flowing
around and then we also have the electromagnetic spectrum.
What about gravity and the water cycle? All this is in the atmosphere.
And then on earth we have this rich blanket of life. There is life in so many amazing forms.
And then we have this human being, a creation vastly superior to all other living beings on earth
and the reason for our superiority is our intellect and our ability to use it.
It is through the use of this intellect that we observe the universe as well as the workings of its
systems and processes and we are able to intelligently work out the how this all works.
We have many terms and words to describe this working.
We refer to them as the laws of nature, or cause and effect or natural sequence and so on.
We see this everywhere.
Let us see how the religions draw our attention to these phenomena.
I am discussing the topic of religions; however as a Muslim I would be referring to the teachings
of Islam.
There are many Aayaths in the Quran that draw our attention to these wonderful phenomena;
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For example Aayath Nos 191 and 192 of Surah No 3 (Aal E Imran)
[003:190] Indeed! in the creation of the
heavens and the earth,
and in the alternation of night and day,there are indeed Signs for men of
understanding,[003:191] Those who deeply contemplate
on Allah
whilst standing, sitting, and lying down on
their sides,
and contemplate the (wonders of) creation
in the heavens and the earth,

Through observation of how these systems and processes work we try to get these systems and
processes to work in our favor.
We refer to these developments as technology.
This is mathematically precise.
For example, today in the world there are more than 100 million mobile phones being used.
However every one of us are sure that if we were to dial a number, then out of those 100 million
(plus) mobile phones, only one phone would ring. We take it for granted. We are so sure of the
rational, the logic, the mathematics etc that has gone in to putting these phones together. So we
observe (most definitely) that Gods plans, design and creation are logical and follow rational
plans that could be worked out.
We see this rational or this logic being researched in to by very learned personages.
This happens in every field of study.
(P)
However there is a very important field of study where people just do not follow rational or logic,
and the most surprising thing is, that this is in the field of religion.
Ironically religion is the field where we seek out the truth, we seek out the rationality of all this
rationale, and we seek out the logic of all this logic.
This is really surprising. I have seen so many very learned and astute academics that are so
meticulous about their fields of expertise, but when it comes to religion they believe teachings
that border on the absurd. This feature in religion and belief does puzzle me.
It is unfortunate that within every religion some absurd dogmas, superstitions, symbols and rituals
have crept in and these are followed even though they just do not make sense. These absurdities
are not in the original teachings.
What is even more peculiar is that I would not see the absurdity in some of these teachings in my
religion but I could easily point out the absurdities in the beliefs, teachings, rituals and dogmas of
other religions.
How is it that we are so blind or nave to these absurdities?

Where worldly disciplines of science and humanities are concerned we fastidiously demand
proof; but when it comes to religion, the discipline that makes us seek deep in to the core of all
these proofs, we just accept these absurdities. Not only do we blindly accept them but we also
defend them dogmatically.
Are we accepting that God has created this world and has designed the working of all its systems
and processes with so much order and logic that with dedicated application we can discover or
discern the modalities of how these work, but in the area of study of religion or of seeking God or
of seeking the truth, we have to abandon this seeking through method, logic and rationale and in
its stead blindly and unquestioningly follow dogmas, superstition and rituals?
Would it not be more religious or more in the spirit of seeking the truth if we set aside these
dogmas, superstitions and rituals and tried to seek out the truth so that slowly but surely with
realization we would begin to bring in to our lives the meaningful practices of the truth.
To the uninitiated, some of our seeking may look like meaningless rituals, but then to those of us
who are seeking, these rituals suddenly take on new meaning.
There are number of Aayaths in the Quran that espouse us to use our intellect, our intelligence and
to use all our faculties in trying to understand these very Aayaths of the Quran.
For example;
(030:028) This is how We explain the signs for
those who use their (AQL) intelligence

S Yaseen
(036:068) Then, do they not use their (AQL)
intelligence?

S ALM Sajdha

(032:026)Surely, in that there are signs. So,


do they not listen?
S Aal E Imraan

(3:13- Part) Indeed, there is a lesson


therein for those who perceive
S Aal E Imraan
(3:103 - Part) This is how Allah makes His
signs clear to you, so that you may be
guided.

To me religion has to be the path to seeking the truth.


The truth must be sought so that it makes sense.
If it does not make sense, then it cannot be a part of religious teachings.
If the teachings reflect dogma, then it cannot be religion.
If the teachings are being imposed, then it cannot be religion.
If the teachings or the practices border superstitious thinking, then it cannot be religion.
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Religion has to be the path to the truth.


So in this path to the truth the teachings or the lessons or the signs have to be sought, and if it is
the path to the truth then it has to make sense.
Religions are full of rituals.
Again if religion is the path to the truth then these rituals, all of them, yes all of them have to
make sense. If we are following these rituals without realizing the sense in them, then we should
have the courage or the curiosity to seek the truth within these rituals.
If there is no truth that we can discern, would it not be more sensible to keep away from these
senseless rituals?
Again I wish to repeat as a Muslim it would be difficult for me to objectively search for truth in
the rituals, and then to purify myself of those rituals that make no sense.
However as a Muslim I do see the shortcomings or even the absurdities of the rituals of those who
follow other religions.
I am sure non Muslims would be able to point out shortcomings or absurdities n the rituals of
Muslims. So sometimes in seeking the truth in rituals we may get the feeling that we are moving
against or moving away from our religion.
But then isnt the purpose of religion itself to seek the truth and to keep away from or to shun
absurd practices?
Here is how Wikipedia describes rituals;
A ritual "is a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a
sequestered place, and performed according to set sequence."
Rituals may be prescribed by the traditions of a community, including a religious community.
Rituals are characterized by formalism, traditionalism, invariance, rule-governance, sacral
symbolism and performance.
Rituals of various kinds are a feature of almost all known human societies, past or present.
They include not only the various worship rites and sacraments of organized religions and cults,
but also the rites of passage of certain societies, atonement and purification rites, oaths of
allegiance, dedication ceremonies, coronations and presidential inaugurations, marriages and
funerals, school "rush" traditions and graduations, club meetings, sports
events, Halloween parties, veterans parades, Christmas shopping and more.
Many activities that are ostensibly performed for concrete purposes, such as jury
trials, execution of criminals, and scientific symposia, are loaded with purely symbolic actions
prescribed by regulations or tradition, and thus partly ritualistic in nature.
Even common actions like hand-shaking and saying hello may be termed rituals.
That is how Wikipedia describes rituals. Interesting isnt it?
Now ever religion has a series of rituals and the followers of those religions do take these rituals
very seriously.
Islam is full of rituals and actually if we were to analyze these rituals it would not be wrong to say
that the life of a Muslim is a series of almost continuous or never ending rituals.

Muslims even take pride in stating that to practice Islam we have to follow pre-formulated step
by step rituals from the moment we wake up to the time we fall asleep.
Sounds nice when we hear, it but then when we go to think about it we begin to ask, Is this the
life God wants a Muslim to lead?
Is this the way to the truth?
It is true that sages from the past changed their lifestyles and would have been expressing
thoughts or words with deep meanings, from their hearts.
But then we Muslims imitate or repeat these words of these sages without effecting any changes
to our lifestyles or even to our thinking.
Isnt it apparent that something is wrong or that something is missing?
How do we discern truth from fiction and decoration through the practices of these almost
unending rituals?
Somehow on contemplating, we get the feeling that something is not correct.
But then how do we correct ourselves?
How do we learn these rituals so that they become meaningful and provide to us an enlightening
experience? Is this not true for all religions?
Let me describe some of the rituals that are well established by Muslims as the very essence of
Islam. If you were to ask a Muslim Tell me about Islam a large majority would answer Believe
in God and then diligently follow the rituals of following the Prophet, and establish the Salaath or
prayer, fasting in the month of Ramazaan, performing Hajj at least once in a life time and paying
zakaath or what they would describe as the dues of the poor.
Are these all not rituals?
In fact it makes me wonder whether our claims to belief in God too, are just at ritual level.
Should not our belief in God be through conviction rather than demonstrations of ritual belief?
Would not conviction come through sincere seeking rather than through mere repetitive ritualistic
action?
Our Salaath or our daily prayers, our fasts, our Hajj and our Zakah should be alive with yearning
and ever increasing conviction.
In fact it is interesting to note that the word Zakah means to purify
The Salaath or the prayer of the Muslim is very central to his life.
There are many ingredients to this Salaath.
These ingredients are not only of those within the performance of the Salaath but there are many
ingredients that also lead to the proper performance of the Salaath.
For example a person observing the Salaath would notice actions which could be described as
standing, bowing and prostrating. These are referred to as the Qiyaam the Ruku and the Sujoodh.
These are actions within the Salaath, but then there are many other actions or ingredients that lead
to the Salaath like the ablution, the call for the Salaath, even the earnings of a Muslim and his
honesty or integrity are considered as factors that contribute or impact the Salaath.

So then to many of us Muslims not only is the Salaath a serious ritual but even the call to the
Salaath, the ablution and even our earnings as well as our dealings have to be included as rituals
that lead to the ritual of Salaath.
It then follows that many of us Muslims try to bring in ritualistic practices to all these ingredients
so as to satisfy ourselves that we are paying proper diligence to these rituals.
However the point that I am trying to express here is that this Salaath and all those ingredients
leading to the Salaath are not meant to be mere rituals; these are actually acts of devotion and they
have to be alive or brought to life with a yearning to seeking the truth and with ever increasing
conviction.
Our dedication or focus should be on the inner learnings or the inner emotions connected with
Salaath.
However we give complete attention to the outer rules and regulations of the performance of
Salaath and to the outer rules and regulations of all those ingredients leading to the Salaath.
Is this not a great loss, especially since we are performing the Salaath, but not giving due attention
to the areas that really really really need attention!
Though I am referring to Islam, is this not true for all religions?
Let me now take the case of the fasts in the month of Ramazan.
Most Sri Lankans are aware that Muslims fast for one month, which is identified as the month of
Ramazan n the Arabic calendar.
We say the purpose of this fast is to get closer to God, which would mean getting closer to the
truth or increasing our attempts or our devotion to seeking the truth.
Obviously we also mean that we should reduce or give up, or even considerably reduce our
worldly pursuits, whatever form it may be in, whether it is for gain or for pleasure or even for
entertainment.
We even say that the fasts help us to empathize with the poor.
Have we not reduced this wonderful training or this wonderful path to seeking the truth, to a
series of mere rituals.
We also emphasize the point that Ramazan is also a month of giving or a month of charity.
Sounds nice - we fast and we give.
The obvious interpretation is that we reduce our wants and our needs and give away whatever we
can.
Ramazan has been identified as a month of giving so unfortunately we inter prt that to mean that
to give more we must earn more. So in the month of Ramazan rather than seeing a reduction in
wants and needs of the fasting persons we see a surprising increase in the wants and needs.
This is indeed unfortunate because the fast if properly practiced would have culled our wants and
needs but then because we have reduced this fasting to a mere ritual level the hunger we feel
actually drives or increases our wants and needs.
The fast is from dawn to dusk, so we are very particular on the timings of the pre-dawn and the
dusk meals. We are also very particular about the fare laid out at these meals.

It is not uncommon to find many Muslim or Islamic organizations hosting Ifthaar functions,
laying out an array of delicious dishes.
It has even become trendy to take the family out to fast food outlets that advertise special Ifthaar
menus.
Isnt it perplexing to think as to how such a simple and beautiful act of a regular monthly fast, can
be reduced to mere rituals and unfortunately the whole objective of the fast is convoluted by our
plans to add decorations to this activity. And all this is done under the guise of religiosity?
How did this happen?
How is this happening?
Is this not the plight of all religions?
Should not the objective of every action that we term religious be designed to seeking the truth,
to seeking nearness to God, to purifying ourselves and to changing our lifestyles to untroubled
simplicity?
Would that not be wonderful?
How do we do that?
(P)
This may sound radical, but I often think that to be religious I have to turn away from religions.
(P)
Is there not some truth in that statement?
Needs thinking, doesnt it?
I sincerely pray and hope that all of you benefit from these talks as much as I benefit from
preparing and then presenting these talks to you.
May Allah Taaalah guide us all and accept us all.
Jazza Kalla Khairan.
Assalamu Alaikum

Imtiaz Muhsin
Colombo Sri Lanka
crescent786@hotmail.com
You Tube Channel - HaneefanMusliman