In the Quran, the Al-Mighty took an oath by two aspects of His creation, both being great in their stature, both being symbols of Allah, and both being signs to reflect on:
“By the dawn, and by the ten nights” [Surah al-Fajr, verse 1]
The dawn is truly a magnificent sign of Allah. It signifies the end of darkness and passing of the night, and heralds the beginning of a new day. It is a phenomenon that mankind recognises itself as having no control over, as Allah declared in the Quran:
“Say: Have you thought, if Allah made night everlasting for you till the Day of Resurrection, who is a God beside Allah who could bring you light? Will you not then hear?” [Surah al-Ankabut, verse 45]
So many acts of worship are connected to this time, such as the end of tahajjud prayer, the beginning of fajr prayer and the beginning of fasting.
Similarly, by association, the ten nights are a great sign of Allah. Something so profound, that Allah chose to take an oath by them. Something so important, that Allah connected it to the dawn itself. Ibn Abaas explained that these ten nights are indeed in the first ten days of Dhul hijjah.
This year Dhul hijjah begins on Saturday 3rd September and, as we stand at the eve of these ten days, we might well reflect, do we as Muslims give these days their due importance? Consider the last ten nights of Ramadan; The mosques swell beyond their walls with men and women praying in every nook and cranny of the courtyard. The evenings resound with the sublime recitation of Quran in taraweeh prayer. In the dead of the night, empty streets come to life with Muslim households switching on lights, preparing food and waking up tired children. Wallets are emptied for the orphans, destitute and oppressed with every noble cause raising its flag. The generous compete to feed the fasting with invitations and grand meals. But what of the first ten days of Dhul hijjah? Sometimes they come and pass anonymously with Muslims unaware of their importance, let alone knowing that they have begun. Sometimes these days are considered nothing but a countdown to the Eid. It was but two months ago that we raised our hands begging for Allah’s forgiveness. The roofs of mosques were almost taken off by the power of the qunoot beseeching the help of Allah and his victory. So what has changed? Why has our conviction in Allah’s promise waned? Why have we become overcome with an apathy that subdues worship and stifles our longing for the Hereafter?
This same companion, Ibn Abbas narrated that the Prophet (Peace and salutations be upon him) said:
“’There are no days wherein good deeds are more beloved to Allah than these ten days’. The companions asked, ‘Not even Jihaad in the path of Allah?’ He said, ‘Not even Jihad in the path of Allah, with the exception of that person who went out to fight with his life and his wealth and did not return with either.’” [Saheeh al-Bukhari]
No other motivation should be needed for us after these words of the Prophet (Peace and salutations be upon him). Jihad is the pinnacle of Islam. The noble act of worship where a servant puts on the line everything that is beloved to him, to make the word of Allah the highest. Even better than this is to worship Allah in the first ten days of Dhul hijjah! Allah has opened every door of goodness to us in these ten days, so be weary not to turn your back on the Mercy of Allah, lest that door is not opened for you again.
So what should the worshipper busy themselves with from the athan for Maghrib on the evening of the first of Dhul hijjah? Begin with the Dhikr (remembrance) of Allah as Allah said in the Quran
“and verily the Dhikr of Allah is greater” [Surah al-Ankabut, verse 45]
It is from the Mercy of Allah that He enjoined upon us acts of worship that bring peace and contentment to our hearts and that have an intrinsic enjoyment, as Allah said in the Quran,
“Truly in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest” [Surah al-Ra’d, verse 28]
As soon as the declaration of the beginning of Dhul hijjah reaches you, increase profusely in the Dhikr of Allah. Ibn Umar and Abu Hurayrah upon the entering of Dhul hijjah would enter the market place and raise the takbeer of Allah. So much so that the entire market place would resound with the glorification and praise of Allah. Ibn Umar narrates that the Prophet (Peace and Salutations be upn him) said:
“There are no days during which good deeds are greater and more beloved to Allah than these ten days. So recite more often the tahleel, takbeer and tahmeed.” [Reported by Imam Ahmed]
Our religion is a communal faith that cannot be practised in isolation. When Muslims remind and aid each other to increase in the remembrance of Allah, and compete with each other for the Hereafter, good deeds become so much easier on our souls.
Note the two types of takbeer to be made in these ten days. The generic takbeer which is made from the Maghrib of the first of Dhul hijjah until the tenth. And the specific takbeer which is made from the Fajr of the ninth of Dhul hijjah (the day of Arafah) until the Asr of the thirteenth of Dhul hijjah. The wording is flexible including statements such as those stated by Ibn Masood, “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, La ilaha illa Allah, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar wa lillahil-Hamd.”
Fast, for it is a unique act of worship that Allah attributed to Himself when He said “Fasting is for Me and I will reward it”[Sahih al-Bukhari and Muslim].
Ibn Hajr explains that one of the reasons fasting has been singled out is that showing off may enter into all good deeds except fasting as no one can see when a person is fasting except Allah. Also fasting can be performed simultaneously with other good deeds such as prayer and charity, while good deeds besides fasting are to be performed alone. Abu Qatadah narrates that the Prophet (Peace and salutations be upon him) said regarding the fast of the day of Arafah, “It expiates the sins of the past year and coming year.”[Sahih Muslim]
It is indeed reported from Hunaydah ibn Khalid that one of the wives of the Prophet (Peace and Salutations be upon him) stated that the Prophet (Peace and Salutations be upon him) used to fast the first nine days of Dhul hijjah and the day of Ashoorah, the three days each month, the first Monday of the month and two Thursdays.[Al-Nasai and Abu Dawood]
Sacrifice, for it is the ancient ritual of our forefather Ibrahim and was ordered for our Prophet (Peace and salutations be upon him) when Allah said “so pray to your Lord and sacrifice” [Surah al-Kauthar, verse 2].
The Prophet (Peace and Salutations be upon him) said:
“The son of Adam does not perform any actions on the day of sacrifice which is more pleasing to Allah than the shedding of blood. The sacrificed animal shall come on the Day of Judgement with its horns, hair, and hooves. The sacrifice is accepted by Allah before the blood reaches the ground…” [Tirmithi, Ibn Majah]
Ensure the sacrifice takes place after the Eid prayer or it will not be considered a valid ‘udhiyyah’ or ‘qurbani’, and if you deputise a friend, relative or charity to carry out the sacrifice on your behalf, ensure due diligence and care that the conditions of sacrifice are fulfilled.
Increase greatly in your prayer for it is related of Saeed ibn Jubayr that he would increase in night prayer and good deeds during these ten days so much so that people could not bear the example he was setting and would ask him to relent.
Recite the Quran for it is the best form of Dhikr and the shortest route to draw closer to Allah. Set yourself an aspirational target for these days as you did set yourself a target for Ramadan.
Donate in charity for charity has been linked to bravery while miserliness has been linked to cowardice. The Prophet (Peace and Salutations be upon him) would invoke, “O Allah, I seek refuge in you from miserliness and cowardice.”
In summary, it is the responsibility of every Muslim, man and woman, old and young, to revive these ten days until they become for our community like the last ten nights of Ramadan. Ibn al-Qayim explained that the best nights of the year are the last ten nights of Ramadan while the best days of the year are the first ten days of Dhul hijjah. Our lives are short and our accountability great. We cannot afford to let golden moments like these pass by without expending ourselves in the worship of Allah. So let our mosques and homes resound with wave after wave of the takbeer of Allah until they resemble the market places of Medina in the era of the companions. As the Islamic year draws to a close, let us revive the ancient ritual of our forefather Ibrahim. And as the pilgrims set out for Hajj, hoping to return pure from sin like the day they were born, let us remember that we too have worship that will tire us and consume us, but will illuminate our faces on the day that we meet our Lord.