To Walk the Straight Path: Day 18 of Ramadan

 

The opening chapter of the Quran is a beautiful passage known as Al-Fatiha:

In the name of Allah, the All Merciful, the Ever Merciful;
Praise be to Allah, the Lord (Cherisher and Sustainer) of the worlds;
The All Merciful, the Ever Merciful;
The Possessor of the Day of Judgment;
You only we worship and only Your help we seek.
Guide us to the Straight Path;
The Path of those on whom You have bestowed Your Mercy,
Not of those against whom You have sent Your wrath,
Nor of those who have erred and become lost.

I am struck by how similar the chapter’s themes are to the opening chapter of the Book of Psalms in the Bible:

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
Or take the path that sinners tread,
Or sit in the seat of scoffers;
But their delight is in the law of the Lord,
And on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees planted by streams of water,
Which yield their fruit in its season,
And their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
But the way of the wicked will perish.

What intrigues me is the emphasis of both passages on the right path. Both texts indicate that there is a wrong path and a right path, and that one way leads to destruction, and the other to God. Both selections stress the importance of choosing one’s way in this life carefully.

In my conversations with Yaseen, I have discovered that he and I face similar struggles in our work as spiritual leaders. We both struggle to help people find their way along the right path. We both have to work hard to encourage people to live authentic lives before God, to be who they were created to be.

One of the things that disturb me the most as a pastor is the number of people I see in Christian churches who profess to be believers, but do not actually live the life of a follower of Jesus. I would say that a great majority of people who claim to be Christians, regardless of denominational affiliation, are Christian in name only. They do not attempt to walk the Straight Path, they do not have a daily relationship with God, nor do they really want to, because then they would have to live lives of great love, hope, mercy, and even, sacrifice. Sadly, we have encouraged generations of churchgoing folks to only “talk the talk,” but not “walk the walk.”

If I am honest with myself, I will admit that I have to constantly confront my own shortcomings and ask whether I am truly “walking”, not just “talking”.

I cannot speak for Yaseen and his particular congregation, but I know that he faces the same challenges.

And yet, the encouragement for both of us can be found in these passages from the Quran and Psalms.

The Quran makes it clear that we are to seek for God’s help only in this task; we do not possess the means to find the Straight Path in our own power. We don’t accidentally stumble upon it; instead, the Straight Path finds us, through the grace of God.

The Psalm then gives us the secret for staying in the right path: we are to plant ourselves, let our roots dig deep, right beside the refreshing, nurturing waters of life. Those waters are found in the sacred Scriptures which have been given to us, the People of the Book. Those waters are found in the communities of faith, the fellowship of the same People of the Book. Those waters are found in the habits of prayer, fasting, and meditation, which we are taught by our ancestors.

When we find ourselves on the Straight Path, we must find a way to stay there, to keep walking, to keep discovering new mercies of God, to keep on reaching for the glory in front of us.

The life we seek is in the walking.

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32 comments

  1. Ed

    “We don’t accidentally stumble upon it; instead, the Straight Path finds us, through the grace of God.”

    This is powerful pastor!

    This is one reason that Muslims are not supposed to proselytize and are not in the business of converting people. We are expected to deliver the message of God to the world, but it’s not up to us to convert people, it’s up to God to guide them according to His own knowledge and wisdom and mercy.

    What amazes me pastor is that some people do not believe even if miracles are happening right in front of their eyes and ears and senses. If we think of it, imagine people were seeing the prophets face to face, and hearing the word of God directly from them, pure, untouched, and they disbelieved. People saw Jesus performing miracles with the leave and permission of God, and they still disbelieved. Indeed our human race is very interesting. May God Almighty guide all of us to Him and help us stay steadfast on the path. Because it’s not enough to have found the path, or the path to have found us, life is a continuous struggle, a jihad where we ought to be on our tows until the day of judgment when we can finally relax God willing. Until then, Satan is continuously plotting and planning against us. he is the real enemy of mankind. May Allah save us from him and his partners. Ameen!

    • ♥ natnat ♥

      Wow that totally opened up my eyes Ed. Even those who have seen the miracles of the Prophets right in front of their very eyes (firaun etc) can disbelieve, what more us who have never seen a miracle other than what the Book tells us? This is what they call Faith. Thank you for sharing, both of you.

      • Ed

        Anas bin Malik (RA) narrates that the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him said: ” I wish that I could meet my brothers.” The companions asked: “Aren’t we your brothers?” He replied: “You are my Companions, but my brothers are those who will believe in me without having seen me.”

        May Allah make us the true brothers of our beloved prophet peace be upon him.

  2. Arif Abu Fathan

    it’s a honour to knowing that you fasting as together as us, muslims…i hope you already get a lot of benefit from this holy month Ramadhan…healthy spiritually and physichally…i’m very pleased that you joining us,fasting in this Ramadhan, Thank you for sharing your fasting journey in this blog…(arif guntur from Cianjur, Indonesia)

  3. Lori Panu

    Powerful last two sentences, Wes. You write superbly. As one who was keenly aware of being shown the straight path and then constantly being re-averted to it, mercifully, I greatly appreciate your poignant post. Well done.

  4. Senja

    I have been a reader of your blog for a while and I noticed that you rarely write about you fasting experience anymore. How are you coping? Are you used to it now? Does the hunger hinder you from doing your daily tasks? I would love to hear more about it.

  5. ReneeW

    Wow great words. Indeed we *are* only able to come to that path thru the Mercy of the One & Only True GOD! Thanks to both of you – Pastor Wes & Ed – for re-opening my eyes to these things this morning.

  6. Umm Abdullah

    We know that our level of faith goes up and down, and this is another reason why Ramadan is a blessing. We might engage intensely in worship during this month (fasting, extra prayers, charity, reading Quran, more supplications, etc.) but we can’t really keep that up all year. At the end of Ramadan, there is the Eid prayer, where large congregations gather (often outdoors) at around sunrise. The sermon is usually about trying to maintain our Ramadan habits even after Ramadan is finished, but over the next year, it’s natural that we drift away from that some. But by the grace of Allah, after 11 months, we have another Ramadan to set back on course. Without Ramadan ever year, we might keep drifting and drifting… farther and farther away, being pulled back only when something (like maybe the death of a loved one) reminds us.

  7. blue sky

    They are so similar, these words in the Quran and these words in the Psalms, because they are from the same Source – the same One God you mention. The similarity which strikes you so strongly is not just by coincidence…Even if the language is not the same, the spirit is the same…it is the same Message.

    The Quran is a sequel to the Pslams…the next instalment if you will..God Almighty sent the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Final Testament. The Quran is nothing other than the Final Testament. If we believe God sent the Old Testament and the New One, why would we find it strange if He sent one more after that? If He sent Moses and other Prophets, and then sent Jesus, why would we find it strange if He sent yet one more Prophet after that?

    Prophet Muhammad is the Great Prophet of the End of Times; this is what the early Unitarian Christians believed: that Prophet Muhammad is Shiloh spoken of by Jacob in Gen 49 1-10; he is the Paraclete, the Deutoronomy Prophet.

    Islam and Christianity are not sister religions, they are the same religion: belief in One True God. Islam is simply the final testament of that same age-old calling began by Adam, and carried forward in each age by a different Prophet – Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus…and finally, Muhammad. Muhammad is fulfilling the Mission of Jesus Christ. Take out the dark skin color we associate with Muslims, their strange clothing, and their “different” customs, their “Sharia” – and go straight to the texts. Is there a doubt that this is from the same God as Christianity itself?

    • ♥ natnat ♥

      I held this belief that the Quran is so called the last installment after injeel, or the Gospels. So Moses (PBUH) was given the Torah, David (PBUH) was given the Psalms, Jesus (PBUH) was given the Injeel and lastly Mohammad (PBUH) was given the Quran.

  8. jami

    Reading your post, these thoughts came to mind… On the journey towards God, everyone travels at their own pace while navigating their own roadblocks. It’s easy to fall into judging others who we think should be farther along. But something that is easy for one person, can cause a major diversion for someone else. We need to be supportive and encouraging to everyone who is striving along the path, mindful of the heavy burdens they often carry with them.

    • Um Yaseen

      @Jami, So very true. We can never really know another’s heart. It is best to try to make our own way, perfecting our habits and strengthening our weaknesses one by one than to attend to other people’s issues. Let’s try to complement each other and support each other on the way. May God in His infinite mercy, accept from us and strengthen us and draw us near to Him, Ameen.

  9. Suhail

    There is an incident reported of Imam Ahmed bin Hambal (if I’m not wrong). While in his death bed, the imam was going into moments of unconsciousness, and during these, he was reported saying “Not yet! not yet!” His son who was at his bed side was worried on hearing this from his father. This is because in Islam, not wanting to die is a sign of having a weak faith. So he asked his father about it. The imam replied “I was visited by satan and he told me ‘Ahmed you’ve slipped out of my hands!’ and so I was replying to him, not until I’m dead!”
    What written explains this so beautifully.
    I havent commented on your blog earlier, so I must add in to say what your doing has touched us all at so many different levels and has humbled us all. May you be rewarded for your efforts in both this world and the next. And may we all be guided to the straight path by the Lord Almighty.
    Ameen.

    A brother from India

  10. asifa t. sheikh

    Dear Mr. Wess,

    May God bless you for your efforts to strive in the path of truth and goodness and closeness to the Divine. Your good work, through your fasting, your sharing, your writing, your friendships and your striving in faith, are a wonderful example for muslim and christian alike…your actions demonstrate to all of us the power of understanding, of faith, of being aware of our shared humanity before God, creator of all of us. May we all find ourselves closer to the Divine this Ramadan, and closer to each other as His creatures, ame(e)n!
    Asifa T. Sheikh

  11. Mahmood Kara

    Peace Be Upon You, May God accept your efforts and bless you. According to Harold Bloom in “Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds”, the Quran is the only religious book in which God talks to man in the first person narrative. I encourage you to look at a book from the fourth grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (AS) called the Psalms of Islam in which he teaches man how to speak to God. To talk to God is a kind of “therapy” and Imam Sajjad (AS), the grandson of the Prophet teaches us how to do so in a beautiful way. I particularly recommend the supplication for noble moral traits, number 20. We often recite this and other supplications during the holy nights of the month of Ramadan. Here is the link: http://www.duas.org/sajjadiya/sajjadiya1.htm

  12. Ali Kazmi

    Hello Mr. Magruder, I would like to share a sermon of Imam Ali (as) with you, He was the son of Abu Talib, Ali was also the cousin and son-in-law of Islamic prophet Muhammad (as), ruling over the Islamic Caliphate from 656 to 661, and was the first male convert to Islam. And the way he received his knowledge is through the Holy Prophet (pbuh) himself. Also Prophet Mohammad (pbuh)said “I am the city of knowledge and Ali is it’s gate.” This is his first sermon, In this sermon he recalls the creation of Earth and Sky and the birth of Adam according to the Islamic view, I though it would be interesting for you to compare it with the beginning chapters of the Bible.

    “Praise is due to Allah whose worth cannot be described by speakers, whose bounties cannot be counted by calculators and whose claim (to obedience) cannot be satisfied by those who attempt to do so, whom the height of intellectual courage cannot appreciate, and the divings of understanding cannot reach; He for whose description no limit has been laid down, no eulogy exists, no time is ordained and no duration is fixed. He brought forth creation through His Omnipotence, dispersed winds through His Compassion, and made firm the shaking earth with rocks.

    The foremost in religion is the acknowledgement of Him, the perfection of acknowledging Him is to testify Him, the perfection of testifying Him is to believe in His Oneness, the perfection of believing in His Oneness is to regard Him Pure, and the perfection of His purity is to deny Him attributes, because every attribute is a proof that it is different from that to which it is attributed and everything to which something is attributed is different from the attribute. Thus whoever attaches attributes to Allah recognises His like, and who recognises His like regards Him two; and who regards Him two recognises parts for Him; and who recognises parts for Him mistook Him; and who mistook Him pointed at Him; and who pointed at Him admitted limitations for Him; and who admitted limitations for Him numbered Him.

    Whoever said in what is He, held that He is contained; and whoever said on what is He held He is not on something else. He is a Being but not through phenomenon of coming into being. He exists but not from non-existence. He is with everything but not in physical nearness. He is different from everything but not in physical separation. He acts but without connotation of movements and instruments. He sees even when there is none to be looked at from among His creation. He is only One, such that there is none with whom He may keep company or whom He may miss in his absence.

    He initiated creation most initially and commenced it originally, without undergoing reflection, without making use of any experiment, without innovating any movement, and without experiencing any aspiration of mind. He allotted all things their times, put together their variations gave them their properties, and determined their features knowing them before creating them, realising fully their limits and confines and appreciating their propensities and intricacies.

    When Almighty created the openings of atmosphere, expanse of firmament and strata of winds, He flowed into it water whose waves were stormy and whose surges leapt one over the other. He loaded it on dashing wind and breaking typhoons, ordered them to shed it back (as rain), gave the wind control over the vigour of the rain, and acquainted it with its limitations. The wind blew under it while water flowed furiously over it.

    Then Almighty created forth wind and made its movement sterile, perpetuated its position, intensified its motion and spread it far and wide. Then He ordered the wind to raise up deep waters and to intensify the waves of the oceans. So the wind churned it like the churning of curd and pushed it fiercely into the firmament throwing its front position on the rear and the stationary on the flowing till its level was raised and the surface was full of foam. Then Almighty raised the foam on to the open wind and vast firmament and made therefrom the seven skies and made the lower one as a stationary surge and the upper one as protective ceiling and a high edifice without any pole to support it or nail to hold it together. Then He decorated them with stars and the light of meteors and hung in it the shining sun and effulgent moon under the revolving sky, moving ceiling and rotating firmament…”

    There is more to just the first sermon, but if you are interested in reading the rest, this website has all of Imam Ali (as) sermons, http://www.al-islam.org/nahj/
    And the book in which all these are compiled into is called Nahj al-Balaghah.
    Sorry for the really long reply!

    • Umm Abdullah

      You should mention that this is according to Shia beliefs and practices. The book you quote from is not accepted by Sunni scholars. (I know that some will say I shouldn’t cause division, but this is important to be aware of.)

  13. humbled

    Dear Pastor,
    please pray for us. Your prayers are blessed, and we are in need of blessings.
    Thank you……

  14. Marc Doering

    Dear Pastor,
    You have renewed my faith in humanity. Amongst all the chaos and trouble in the world it is comforting to know there are individuals like yourself that are willing to make the world make a better place. May god bless you and your family.

  15. yakin

    Dear Pastor Wes,
    it is our tradition in Islam to ask those who have great piety and faith to pray for us, out of recognition that their prayers are blessed and reach God and are more likely to be answered than our own. So pray for us, during this holy month and always. May your blessed prayers be answered.
    Your Muslim brother,
    Yakin

  16. dogman70

    Another really nice blog & I’d like to ask that some Muslims take a look at what I wrote because I need their perspective on something I am thinking about as I undertake this fasting. I haven’t been as succesful, so far there has been 3 days where I broke fast before sunset, however I am thinking I am doing pretty good at keeping up. Thanks.

  17. amatullah

    Translation of the Quran was a great blessing for many non arab muslims.
    Below is a link that might be of interest of one man who took up the enormous task of doing the translation.

    >

  18. simplyme30

    As we come to the last ten days; I was thinking you may like to ask your Muslim friends to let you witness the night prayers too.

    These are longer than the daily prayers and the night prayers are special.
    While everyone sleeps Muslims all over the world wake up for these special prayers seeking the night of power. A night in Ramadan when the Quran was first revealed as this night holds many specials for the ones praying.
    http://islamiclearningmaterials.com/lailatul-qadar/

  19. Aliya

    Pastor, you are super cool. I just love you. subhanAllah. i just really love you. You put up with all these crazy comments, and you are so silent and patient. And you are reaping all the benefits of fasting, while many of those who are commanded to fast, my fellow Muslims, are so busy trying to tell you how to benefit and rushing to inform you and wow you, that they are missing out on their own benefitting. craziness.

  20. endah indonesia

    dear wess,
    As a muslim, im very glad with your positive consideration of Islam.
    Keep on read The Al Quran and you will find The Truth.

  21. Cory

    I also find the Christian prayer referred to as “The Lord’s Prayer” (below) very similar and arguably more similar to Al Fatiha.

    The Lord’s Prayer:
    “Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name.
    Your kingdom come,
    your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
    Give us this day our daily bread,
    and forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
    And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.
    Forever and ever ,Amen”

    Al Fatiha:

    “In the name of God, the All Merciful, the Ever Merciful;
    Praise be to God, the Lord of the worlds;
    The All Merciful, the Ever Merciful;
    The Master of the Day of Judgment;
    You alone we worship and You alone do we ask for help.
    Guide us to the Straight Path;
    The Path of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace,
    Not of those upon whom there is wrath,
    Nor of those who have erred and become lost.
    Amen”

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