BY: ASLAM ABDULLAH
Rajab is the seventh month of the Islamic Lunar Calendar. This month is a prelude to Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar in which Muslims are commanded to observe fasting from sunrise to sunset. It is also one of the four sacred months besides, Muḥarram (Islamic month 1), Dhū al-Qaʿdah (Islamic month 11), Dhu al-Ḥijjah (Islamic month 12) and. During these four months, hostilities and conflicts have been forbidden and have to come to an end or halt.
Additionally, it is also the month remembered for one of the most sacred events to take place in the history of Islam when a human being was chosen by the Creator of the universe to visit the world reserved for the life hereafter.
The event known as Al Isra’ wal Miraj took place on the 27 day of Rajab with its mysterious dimensions still incomprehensible to the human mind. Israa is an Arabic word referring to Prophet Muhammad’s miraculous night journey from Makkah to Jerusalem – specifically, to the site of al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem – as referred to in Surah Al-Israa in the Quran.
It is believed to have been followed by the Mi’raj, his ascension to heaven. According to some of the Hadith scholars this journey is believed to have taken place just over a year before Prophet Muhammad migrated to from Makkah to Madinah, on the 27th of Rajab.
Muslim scholars have often focused on recommended acts of worship during this month. However, some of these recommendations are the subject of debate and scrutiny. The spectrum of opinion range from attaching no specific value to any special act of worship in this month to sanctifying events and particular acts of worship. For instance, some scholars have presented some ahadith (sayings of the Prophet) recommending fasting at least once in the month of Rajab, while the others have rejected those ahadith declaring them weak. Unfortunately, few scholars have presented the significance of the month for a plural society beyond its relevance for Muslims. This has shifted the focus from the real significance of the month.
In essence, the month of Rajab and the events that occurred therein highlight three important features.
1. Conflicts and hostilities must come to an end to attain peace and commitment to divine guidance.
2. Human beings have the capacity to reach the peak of their existence by learning about the hereafter.
3. Islam is the continuation of divine guidance and the main objective of the faith is to revere, respect and deliberate the diversity of the divine guidance.
Path to Peace
Rajab is declared a sacred month, hence all hostilities must come to an end in this month. Although divine guidance has always encouraged humanity to refrain from executing their anger into unfavorable actions, there is a special emphasis made during the four sacred months as it provides a month-long reminder. The focus helps them to recognize and control their egos and desire and to refrain from hateful acts of taking revenge especially if it inflicts harm on others. The idea is simply that for four months in a year, a universal understanding in the sense of an ethical framework that people agree to self-restrain and work towards peace in a committed and dedicated manner. People are encouraged not to indulge in anything that can lead to conflicts either at home or in the world at large. This type of thinking would be enough to enable people to live peace throughout the year ensuring that the message of the sanctity of human life is preserved.
Peak of Humanity
From an Islamic perspective, the experience of Isra and Miraj, journey to Jerusalem and then ascension to the heavens in one night is a significant event in the history of humanity. For the first time, a messenger was invited to the heavens to experience the worlds that are yet to emerge and then report it back to the believers. Whether it was physical or spiritual, is beside the point. What is significant is that a human reached a peak of incomparable proportions that is still beyond human comprehension. Obviously, it is implied that only truly a blessed human being with minimal flaws was allowed to have this experience. The event connects humanity with the hereafter and gives assurance to the believers that it is within the reach of every human being.
Path to Pluralism
Prophet Muhammad in his ascension to the heavens was first taken to Jerusalem. Why was this a one-stop flight? Why was it not direct? This is a very significant issue as it emphasizes the unity of all monotheistic religions and underscores the commitment of all religious communities to respect each other. There was no Muslim place of worship in Jerusalem at that time. There were symbols of Jewish and Christian faiths. There were Sabians also present. The presence of the Prophet in the holy lands establishes the principle of religious pluralism and unity of monotheistic faiths. Rather than engaging in conflicts, these faiths should work hand in hand to ensure that people develop a better understanding of their relations with the divine.
These were the essential messages that the month of Rajab highlights. Some of the recommended acts of worship include an emphasis on worship which are generally accepted to increase a person’s spirituality. For example:
1. The Prophet (SAW) fasted every Monday and Thursday as documented in many authentic ahadith.
2. The Prophet (SAW) recommended doing zikr (remembering God).
3. Finally the Prophet (SAW) always asked his followers to give to the poor and the needy all the time.
These acts of worship prepare one to welcome the month of Ramadan.