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The common perception of pre-Islamic Makkah during the age of ignorance (or ‘jāhiliyya’) is that society was wholly immoral, that they were tribal savages who did not know right from wrong. It is said that Islam came to these people because they were in desperate need of it. What is often overlooked are the admirable qualities that eventually made them the right hosts for the early stages of its journey and propagation.

Of the significant pre-Islamic events, consider the chivalrous pact that was made against a notable Makki, who refused to pay for some valuable goods as he thought that, because the merchant was foreign (non-Makki), he could get away with it. The clans pledged that they would stand together against the oppressor until justice was done. Muhammad (s), who was taken along by his uncle, said: “I was present in the house of Abdullāh ibn Jud’ān at so excellent a pact that I would not exchange my part in it for a herd of red camels; and if now, in Islam, I were summoned to it, I would gladly respond.” (Ibn Ishāq)

And what about the rebuilding of the Ka’bah, following a flash flood, as a smaller square instead of its original rectangle? The Quraysh decided to use licit funds only (and not the proceeds of usury or prostitution) and, as such, the smaller square is what the Quraysh could afford to rebuild. They discerned right from wrong and feared sacrilege.

Such examples not only raise important questions as to what ‘jāhiliyya’ really means but also ask whether Islam came to Arabia only because they were in need of it, or because they also had the requisite qualities to eventually carry the message. More crucially, do we today exhibit these good qualities which were valued and implemented even in pre-Islamic Makkah?

Where scientific studies reveal how certain substances heal maladies, they cannot tell us why. This reality is illustrated by one of the sweetest prescriptions of Allah [swt] – honey.

And thy Lord taught the bee to build its cells in hills, on trees, and in habitations; then to eat of all the produce of the earth, and find with patient skill the spacious paths of its Lord: there issues from within their bodies a drink of varying colours, wherein is a healing for men. Verily in this is a sign for those who give thought.

(al-Nahl, 68-69)

Unlike folk remedies and Western medicine, Prophetic medicine is not predicated upon experimentation or conjecture. Rather, it is based upon Divine sources and built upon through reason. Prophetic prescriptions are therefore also distinct because they have a dual purpose; they not only promote the well-being of the physical body but also the soul. This is because submission requires a Muslim to recognise that an illness can only be healed if the Creator permits the intervention of the cure. The use of honey has highlighted this understanding. Before we look at how, it is worth appreciating that what we now know about the production and use of honey accurately reflects the Qur’anic verse above.

The Varying Colours.

The “drink of varying colours” is produced through the collective discipline and systematic diligence of the bee. The bee produces enzymes which convert floral nectar from sucrose to glucose and fructose. It then uses the fanning of its wings to evaporate the excess water.

The product is honey and there are over 300 types known worldwide, each originating from different nectar sources and each identified by its distinct colour and flavour. Al-Zuhri, one of the earliest Hadith authorities, when explaining that honey is good for the memory, said that the best of these varieties is “the pure, the white, the least sharp, and the sweetest”.

Healing with Honey.

As explained in Ibn Kathir’s Qur’anic exegesis, students of Prophetic medicine have interpreted that the Qur’anic reference to “a” remedy instead of “the” remedy suggests that honey is not necessarily a remedy for every disease. For example, in keeping with the learning that a disease should be treated with its opposite, honey should be used for every ‘cold’ disease, because honey itself is ‘hot’.

Still, the known benefits of honey are almost as varied as its colours and researchers are still discovering evidence of its diverse medical effects. Honey is known to have detergent and tonic properties which can rid impurities from arteries and bowels; it can be used to suppress coughing and to cure a loss of appetite; it has diuretic and detoxicating properties; it is an antitoxin against certain poisons; and it has been used as an ointment for head lice and to promote hair growth. It is also known to extraordinarily preserve fruit, vegetables and meat for months. And these are just a few of its known merits!

“God Spoke the Truth”

There is a well-known authentic narration wherein the Prophet [saw] prescribes honey for a man complaining of irregular bowel movement. Eventually, the condition passes but before then, the man’s brother repeatedly returns to the Prophet [saw] to inform him that the honey did not help. It is reported that the Prophet [saw] said: “God spoke the truth and your brother’s belly lies”. (al-Bukhari)

It is largely understood that the Prophet [saw] was firstly emphasising that honey is indeed the correct medicine for this specific ailment – because of its ability to expel excess moisture. Secondly, this narration highlights the importance of patience in continuing treatment. Finally, by identifying the stomach’s denial, it is illustrated that, despite using the correct methods, it is only with the leave of Allah [swt] that healing can take place. In other words, it is not the honey, or indeed any other medicinal substance, that has the power to cure. The honey is the ‘how’; the ‘why’ is Allah [swt].

The understanding that Allah [swt] permits both the illness and the cure according to His Will, based on His Wisdom which is unknown to us, should permeate the Muslim’s outlook on healing. Recognising that we are ultimately in His Dominion in all respects is an act of submission. Therefore, it is no wonder that the Prophet [saw] encouraged the physical healing along with that of the soul when he said: “Make use of the two remedies: honey and the Qur’an.” (al-Tirmidhi)



Toobaa is tumbling through the peaks and troughs of learning curves and will be back soon.


On Reform

“The chicken had his wish, and was magically transformed into a fox.

Then he found that he could not digest grain.”

(Idries Shah, The Magic Monastery)

A short reminder on avoiding the hit-and-miss approach.

Fasting is prescribed on you as it was prescribed on those before you so that you may achieve taqwā.’

(The Holy Qur’ān, Surat Al-Baqarah (2:183))

Upon the advent of each Ramadān, our attention seasonally returns to inevitable questions about the mechanics of fasting; has the moon been sighted; what nullifies a fast; what is permissible; etc? The answers to these questions are necessary to increase and protect the value of the fast. However, the legislated fast is a means to an end. This is a brief reminder to consider the intended journey toward piety, or God-consciousness. Whilst various respected theologians each correctly assert that there are two aims or three degrees of fasting, one matter will be clear – that there is physical abstention for the purpose of attaining taqwā. You may not find in the following paragraphs a checklist of things to do for this end. The purpose is to ignite the impetus to research and map out our spiritual journey through the month ahead. Ramadān is quickly approaching but it is not too late.

The physical workings – a natural need.

It is self evident that fasting requires a physical struggle and results in a physical impact upon our bodies. Whether this is positive or negative depends upon how we approach each fast – for example through our chosen patterns of work, consumption and rest. The renowned fourteenth century theologian and physician, Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya, writes about the physical benefits of fasting in his work, ‘Medicine of the Prophet’,

It has a wonderful effect in preserving health, melting the superfluities, restraining one from consuming things which could be harmful; this is especially so when it is moderate and practised at the best times according to the revealed Law and the body’s natural need for it. Then indeed it contains such rest for the faculties and the organs as to preserve their powers.’[1]

Taqwā is not a by-product of fasting – it requires a conscious effort.

Taqwā means godliness, devoutness or piety. Crucially, as the verse above (2:183) makes clear, fasting is not merely about physical abstinence or exertion. However, we are not guaranteed the attainment of taqwā merely by subjecting ourselves to the physical parameters of fasting. The Prophet Muhammad (s) said,

All that some people get from their fasting is hunger and thirst.[2]

(Ibn Mājah)

This makes it clear that taqwā is not an automatic by-product of fasting.

In understanding this, it is worth considering that Imam Al-Ghazzāli wrote that there are three degrees of fasting. Firstly, the fast of ‘the ordinary person’ – consisting of abstinence of the appetite, sexual intercourse, noise, arguing, etc. Next, there is the fast of ‘the select few’, who keep the ears, eyes, tongue, hands and feet together with all the other senses free from sin. Finally, there is the fast of ‘the elite’, which is the fast of the heart from bad thoughts, worldly worries and anything else that may divert from anything but thoughts of Allāh (swt).[3]

The Arabic word, taqwā, is derived from waqā which means to guard or to preserve. Al-Jawziyya thus elaborates that fasting protects from ‘illnesses of the spirit, heart and body[4]. He articulated that ‘[o]ne of the two aims of fasting is protection [junna] and defence [wiqāya], which is of great benefit. The other aim is the consolidation of the soul’s powers in the love of God and His obedience.’[5]

Despite the immense benefits we could gain, for this life and the next, we often take a hit-and-miss approach to Ramadan, hoping that physical abstinence alone will do the trick. We assure ourselves that everything else will fall into place. Sadly, it is not uncommon for a fasting person to feel burdened – as though he has been denied many of his rights whilst his responsibilities remain and fulfilling those responsibilities feels more difficult due to the lack of energy or his lowered morale. This often results in a downward spiral whereby a person gradually becomes increasingly irritable and uncomfortable within himself. He becomes impatient for the end of the  blessed month! We must appreciate that attaining psycho-spiritual benefits often requires specific, conscious endeavours. It is therefore necessary for each of us to plan, reflect and consider how fasting can enable us to actualise our purpose as human beings, serving Allāh (swt), ensuring that we realise the goal of fasting – taqwā.

Preparing your appetite for life.

Consider the following explanation by Al-Jawziyya on the narrations concerning the Prophet Muhammad (s) breaking his fast with fresh dates or dried dates.

[f]asting clears the stomach of food; the liver finds nothing to attract and to send on to the faculties and organs. Sweet substances are the quickest to reach the liver being what it likes best, especially rutab [fresh dates]; so it eagerly accepts them, and thus both the liver and the faculties benefit thereby. Next come tamr [dried dates] because of their sweetness and nutriment. If not these, then broth of water, which extinguishes the burning of the stomach and the heat of fasting, and then the stomach is prepared for food and accepts it with good appetite.[6]

On one hand we have clear, practical advice. On the other, we may draw an apt parable from Allāh’s (swt) creation. When we protect and defend against evil more intensely during Ramadan, we create a spiritual clearance and detoxification – a purification – within our selves. If we then nourish that craving void with goodness, through enjoining good deeds and ‘ibādah, we are preparing our selves to filter, accept and manage the highs and lows of our psycho-spiritual living once Ramadan is over.

The journey.

Whether we decide that fasting has two, three or more elements (or three degrees divided by two aims?), we can be clear that there is physical abstention for the purpose of attaining taqwā.

Interestingly, one particular form of classical Arabic poetry, the qasīda, was employed to illustrate the human transition from one state of being to another, namely from dependence to independence, childhood to maturity – from being a consumer to being productive. This style of poem is divided into three parts. First the poet depicts the nasīb – the original state of childhood, dependence or need – the starting point which the ‘hero’ is mentally preparing to leave behind. Next, the poet describes the rahīl – the journey which is full of hardship and hunger, fear of the unknown and darkness, battles against beasts, difficult territories and desert mirages, self-doubt and survival. Finally, he illustrates the madīh. This is the praise, relief, rejoicing and sense of victory the hero feels when he finds himself triumphant at his destination. He has overcome a challenge that each human being faces when making a transition from one state of being to a more responsible state of being such as adulthood, independence, or a provider. The change is natural. It is a rite of passage. Yet, the change needs conscious will and effort in order to achieve success through it.

The state of fasting can be likened to this transitional struggle. Our focus is forced away from dependency on nourishing or indulging ourselves. The landscape of our daily routine is lined with temporarily forbidden temptations and other challenges (the aroma of your colleague’s Veggie Delite Subway (most foods are imagined to be quite delicious when you are hungry) or the sight of a chilled, unopened bottle of, well, any drink). However, we become aware of more subtle, behavioural challenges (the temptation to sleep through the blessed time of sahur, the useless whiling away of time, counting down till iftar, engaging in behaviour which suggests poor character, etc[7]). The desire to successfully travel through this troublesome terrain is driven by a deeper need – the need to examine, cultivate and beautify the landscapes of our hearts through ‘ibādah, obedience, and good deeds. We pray that Allāh (swt) facilitates through this, our arrival at the destination prescribed for us in the verse above – a sense of God-consciousness. For this, we would feel relieved, grateful and blessed! Amīn!

And it has a special property which causes its preference, which is its ability to make the heart rejoice, here and hereafter. […] For it is a defence and a protection for the servant against what harms his heart and body, here and hereafter.’[8]

Ramadan approaches. Let us recognise that physical abstention is a means to non-physical ascension (if He wills!). Let us plan on consuming only what is enough to maintain us evenly on this path to piety, rather than causing states of extreme saturation and lethargy by over-eating. Let us not take a scatter-gun approach to fasting, but strategise how we will regulate our days and our deeds to reap the most beautiful reward of Ramadan – taqwā.

wAllahu A’lam.

[1] Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya, Medicine of the Prophet, translated by Penelope Johnstone, Islamic Texts Society, Cambridge, 1998.

[2] Sahih Hadith – Ibn Majah, Ad-Darimi, Ahmad and al-Bayhaqi.

[3] Al-Ghazzali, The Mysteries of Fasting, Inner Dimensions of Islamic Worship, Ed. 12/1999

[4] Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya, Medicine of the Prophet.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Obviously, these lists of examples are far from comprehensive and will not be relevant to all people.

[8] Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya, Medicine of the Prophet.

Drunk and Drunker

There was an old, drunk man on the Central Line at 11 a.m. this morning. Well, there were two but one was noticeably more inspired by his inebriation than the other.

Upon sight, one may have considered that these two men were not drunk at all, but simply newly tanned and their eyes were only wet because they were aged and that is what seems to happen to the elderly – their eyes seem to glaze over with teary wisdom. Except, Toobaa had felt the tangible consensus amongst the other passengers as soon as she had gotten on. They had united in their audience-ship of this inadvertent comedian and, exchanging smirking glances, they observed the articulations between these two old men.

Drunk: …

Drunker: [Looks up and down the carriage.] There ain’t a single Eeenglishman on this train! Nowheya!

Drunk: … *nod*

Drunker: Who carries the flayg, uh? Who? I’ll tell ya!

Drunk: …

Drunker: We’ve been doing this for… for… firty yeyars! Ain’t a single

Drunk: [Sighs and takes a swig of whatever remains in his bottle.]

Drunker: Eya! That’s not allowed on eya! They got cayyymmeras in eya on these trains! … Gi’s a drink!

Drunk: [Takes a deep breath, then thrusts bottle toward his comrade.]

Drunker: That’s what I like about you! Ha! Haa! You don’t give a daymmmnnn! [takes a swig]

Drunk: Don’t worry about it.

Drunker: Ha! Ha! [Then, adopting a Sylvester Stalone accent,] Don wowwy abbawt eh! Don wowwy ha! Ha! Don wowwy abawt eh! Ain’t a single

Drunk: …

Drunker: You know what? You know where all these Pakis come from?? I’ll tell ya!

Drunk: …

Drunk: They come from that f***ing ISLE OF WIGHT! Arrgh! Ha!


Every thing has come into existence from ‘nothingness’.

And you always have something.


Crowning Glory

Counting (on) Deeds

The more that I read

The more that it seems –

The less I am sure

If I’ve done a good deed.

In light of His Favours

There is no such thing –

In light of His Mercy

We are not meant to win.

Yet we strive hard

Tears wear us thin –

We cannot be sure

But we cannot give in.


Pondering: we cannot confidently rely on the deeds we think may have earned us a reward with Him. Regardless of how lopsided the scale of deeds may be, in the end, only His Mercy on us can truly tip the balance. We can never be sure. But we can never give in.