Archive for August, 2013

Life After Ramadan

Written By NAIYERAH KOLKAILAH
Courtesy of www.suhaibwebb.com

Say, ‘In God’s grace and mercy let them rejoice.’ That is better than all they accumulate. (Qur’an, 10:58)

Today is one of the happiest days for millions of Muslims all over the world. While we’re sad to see the blessed month of Ramadan go, we’re so grateful for having completed a month of intense fasting and detoxification; a month meant to cleanse our hearts, minds and bodies so we can be closer to God with our souls and spirits. We experienced a special sweetness of faith during this past month, and now we celebrate with family and friends, fun festivities, delicious food and sweets of all kinds.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/elycefeliz/5814171545/As we rejoice and celebrate, we can also remember that we have another happy camper celebrating too. He was locked up during Ramadan, and he just gained his freedom. For the last month, he’s been watching millions of Muslims fill up the masajid, pray intensely during the night, supplicate fervently to Allah, give abundantly in charity, and feel more motivated to do good than ever before. He saw Muslims who would drink often now stopped drinking; people who didn’t feel like praying before want to pray regularly; believers who never opened the Qur’an throughout the year choose to read it and contemplate its meanings. He saw Muslims who envied and hated one another stand side by side in prayer and become the closest of brethren. Before, they were held back by his whispers and their sins, distractions, temptations. Now that weight is lifted, so they picked up speed and worship became easier and more enjoyable. So, he was chained and they were freed. He was restrained so we could be liberated.

Have you seen people who live for a cause? They eat, sleep, breathe and die for their work. Imagine if these people were prevented from living their passion; and not only that, but imagine that they watched all their life’s efforts being destroyed right before their eyes. They have no control and can’t change what happened. It would probably make them sad, frustrated and angry. If they were given the power and freedom again, they could at least rebuild what was destroyed and fix what was broken.

Of all non-human creation, Satan is probably the most passionately committed to his cause. Yet, his mission in life is not to build, but to destroy. His sole purpose is to mislead and deviate and burn, as is his nature. Speaking to God, he said, “I swear by Your might! I will tempt all of them, except Your sincere servants,” (Qur’an, 38:82-3). So now that he’s liberated, he’s not just walking towards us casually; he’s coming back with a vengeance.

Fasting is designed by God to increase our taqwa. While taqwa is often translated as God-consciousness, its linguistic root connotes protection from harm. Fasting is a shield that protects us from harming ourselves and others, that protects us from the harmful effects of our sins. It’s a shield that protects us from getting burned by Satan’s tricks, and ultimately, from getting burned by the Fire. One of Satan’s tactics is to make us indulge in our physical pleasures, cravings, and desires in the most unbridled way. He wants to ignite the animalistic tendencies within us and make us pursue these pleasures as ends in and of themselves, not as means for livelihood and lawful well-being.

Out of God’s mercy, He restricts our access to these two pleasures during fasting so that they don’t consume us and define our being. Through fasting, our relationship with these desires becomes less obsessive and animalistic, and more tamed and disciplined. So, when the month-long training is over and we’re back on the battlefield with Satan, his avenues to our hearts and minds are tightened and restricted. If we choose to broaden those pathways and re-indulge in our desires again, we invite him back into the very veins that run through our bodies; but if we feed these instinctual appetites in moderation and through the proper channels, we loosen Satan’s grip and become freed to nurture a deeper spiritual relationship with God throughout the year.

God says in the Qur’an, “O Believers, do not follow in Satan’s footsteps—if you do so, he will urge you to indecency and evil; and if it were not for God’s grace and mercy towards you, not one of you would ever have attained purity. God purifies whoever He wills; and God is All-Hearing, All-Seeing.” (24:21)

During the blessed month of Ramadan, we may have gained more spiritual awareness, clarity and focus, and even felt a deep desire to become better Muslims, believers, and worshipers. Let’s not allow those feelings to dissipate and disappear just because Ramadan has passed. While the shade of Ramadan has left, the shade of God’s Mercy is everlasting. If God purifies whomever He wills, let’s also do our part in pursuing and recommitting to the path of purification. As Khurram Murad says, “The initial desire and ensuing effort to do and become good, is part of the continuing process of self development, a process that may begin at any point in life that you choose and continue till your last breath.”1

So, before we get caught up in our busy lives and demands of family, work, or school again, now is the time to inculcate the good practices and habits we gained from Ramadan—no matter how small. Perhaps you didn’t used to pray sunan and voluntary prayers, and now you do. Maybe you would pray late often, and you found yourself praying more on time. Perhaps you would flirt a little much with the ladies, and during Ramadan you had some self-control. Maybe you were used to hearing or seeing shameful things, and you found it improper to do so during Ramadan. Perhaps you tried performing night prayers for the first time, and you absolutely loved it. Or maybe you didn’t feel the need to make du`a’ (supplication) before, but you poured your heart out to Him one night and felt an amazing, healing effect. Or maybe, like many people, you would think about food most of the day and fasting made you focus on more important matters like nourishing your soul.

What else? What other positive changes did you experience? Keep reflecting on your special moments and changes during Ramadan and hold on to those. Keep nurturing these feelings, habits and practices. Continue to fast, pray, read Qur’an, and forgive. Continue to shine with love, patience, and empathy. Give a little more than before, and don’t give up on yourself or on God’s mercy. Remember that Satan wants to take you away from God’s remembrance and bury you under layers of darkness and fleeting pleasures, but God is calling you to purity and peace, and to what gives you life.

So make this Eid a memorable one. Be happy and rejoice in God’s bounties and blessings, and start pursuing the endless opportunities for rising to greater spiritual heights.

How Do We End Our Ramadan?

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YUSRA OWAIS (AMATULLAH)

We thank Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) who has blessed us with witnessing yet another Ramadan! The Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) said that actions are judged by their ending [Bukhari]. So while many of us have started preparing for Eid, we should also make sure that we end this blessed month in a great way.

Tawbah: Repentance

We end this month by returning to Allah (swt) in a state of humility and repentance. We seek forgiveness of Allah (swt) and repent to Him because we acknowledge that our deeds are deficient, and we acknowledge that we have wronged ourselves and others.

Repenting to Allah (swt) is a reminder that Allah is the One who guided us to righteous deeds, and we do not know if He will accept them from us. Allah (swt) teaches us in the Qur’an that when we end a deed, we end it with seeking forgiveness. We seek forgiveness after finishing our prayers and after we end a gathering just as Allah (swt) told the Prophet ﷺ to seek forgiveness and to repent after the Opening of Makkah.

We are taught to repeat the du`a’ of the last 10 nights: “O Allah, You Alone are the One who Pardons, and You Alone love to Pardon, so pardon me.” This du`a’ embodies one of the goals of Ramadan, to be forgiven and to start anew. Pardoning, or ‘afw, means to wipe the slate clean. We end this month by turning back to Allah (swt) and asking Him to wipe our slates clean.

Shukr: Gratitude

We end this month in a state of gratitude to Allah (swt). Allah (swt) says:

“[…] to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which he has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful,” (Qur’an 2:185).

We thank Allah (swt) for all that He has given us during this month. He blessed us to be among those who worshiped Him and He gave us the health and ability to fast, to pray, and to increase in our good deeds. We thank Him for giving us the opportunity to grow and come closer to Him. We thank Him for the innumerable gifts – the ones we often forget because we are accustomed to their presence in our lives.

Gratitude is a trait of the believers that is highlighted throughout the Qur’an and the tradition of the Prophet ﷺ. We even see that when the believers enter Paradise, they say:

“[…] ‘Praise to Allah, who has guided us to this; and we would never have been guided if Allah had not guided us.’ […]” (Qur’an 7:43).

Being grateful to Allah (swt) and thanking Him reminds us to be humble, because we would not have received anything good or have had the opportunity to do any good without the Help of Allah (swt). Gratitude is a means to faith. It reminds us of our need and reliance upon Allah (swt).

Takbeer: Proclaiming the Greatness of Allah

We end this month by declaring the Greatness of Allah (swt) for what He has guided us to. Allah (swt) says:

“[…] to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which he has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful,” (Qur’an 2:185).

Takbeer is to declare the Greatness of Allah (swt), to exalt Him, and magnify Him. Saying “Allahu Akbar” is the highest and best way to exalt Allah (swt). It literally means “Allah is Greater”, and it is understood: Greater than everything and anything else.

We repeat this throughout the night and day, reminding ourselves that Allah (swt) is Greater than everything else, that He is Perfect, Flawless and deserving of all Praise for having guided us to finish Ramadan.

Shaykh ibn Uthaymeen (rahimahu allah, may Allah have mercy on him) says: “What is more beautiful than seeing the people declare the greatness of Allah (swt) and His Magnificence in every area and place, filling the horizon with Allahu Akbar (Allah is Greater than everything), Alhamdulillah (Praise and thanks is for Allah Alone) and La ilaaha il Allah (There is no deity worthy of worship except for Allah), between hope and awe of Him!”

Intention to Change

We end this month with the intention to continue fasting, praying and doing good. Ramadan is a month of change that is meant to give us a spiritual cleansing that will last us the whole year. The virtues of fasting and praying do not end after we celebrate Eid; rather, Eid should be the beginning of a new chapter for us to continue doing the habits we started in Ramadan. We can continue reading the Qur’an, fasting Mondays and Thursdays, or the White Days (the 13th-15th of each lunar month), and we can pray the night prayers every night (or once a week).

We’ve tasted the sweetness of standing during the night; we’ve tasted the sweetness of raising our hands to Allah (swt) in supplication; we’ve tasted the sweetness of breaking our fast after a long day; we’ve tasted the sweetness of giving charity.

Continuing these habits after Ramadan may be difficult, but now you know that you can do it. The sacrifices we’ve made during this month to take full advantage of it have shown us that developing good habits and a strong spiritual relationship with Allah (swt) is not out of our reach. We’ve done it, so now can we continue it? One of the great past scholars, ibn Rajab (ra) says: “Be cautious of returning to enslavement after having been freed.”

So we ask Allah (swt), the One who guided us to worship Him in Ramadan, to help us continue in our worship and good deeds. Remember that Ramadan has left us but the One who created this month will never leave. He is Living and His reward is Everlasting.

The Human Capacity For Change

By Tarek Younis

When the caliph Abu Bakr, radi Allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him), became sick and sensed his end was near, it was clear to him the subsequent choice of caliph would determine the community’s future. As such Abu Bakr (ra), whose wisdom was unmatched save for the Prophet ﷺ himself, decided it would be less controversial if the Muslim community agreed upon the next caliph while he was still among them; the ummah (all Muslims) most assuredly would not argue upon a choice seen favorably by the greatest of the Prophet’s ﷺ companions. However the sahabah (companions), unwilling to take the position for themselves and unable to find a qualified individual in their stead, delegated the task back to Abu Bakr (ra). Accepting the task, undoubtedly having a candidate already in mind, the caliph requested some time to do his research, and invited the most prominent Muslims in the community for counsel—Uthman ibn Affan, Abdur-Rahman ibn ‘Awf, Usayd ibn Hudayr among others from the Ansar and the Muhajirun (ra).

“What is your opinion of Omar ibn al-Khattab?”

The companions of the Prophet ﷺ, astounded that such a question need even be asked, all responded harmoniously: “He is better than you think he is. There is no one else like him among us. I know that he is the best after you.”

Thus, the decision was clear, the voices unanimous—save only for the concern of one companion, Talhah ibn Ubaydullah (ra). The concern he raised to Abu Bakr (ra) was simple, and indeed comprehensible in light of what is widely known of Omar ibn Khattab’s (ra) character, even to this day:

“What will you say to your Lord when He asks you about appointing Omar over us when you have seen how harsh he is?”

The wisdom contained within Abu Bakr’s (ra) reply to this remains outstanding; wisdom delivered only to the real men and women of understanding, with Abu Bakr as their role model:

“Are you trying to make me fear Allah? [Any ruler] who does you wrong is doomed. I will say ‘O Allah, I appointed over them the best of your people.’ [Omar is so harsh and strict] because he thinks I am too soft and gentle; when he is in charge, he will change a great deal.”

Abu Bakr’s (ra) wisdom entailed the appreciation of man’s capacity for change. And true to his firasa (profound insight), Omar (ra) did. Indeed, if anything, one can relate Omar’s entire life—from attempting to kill the Prophet ﷺ in his time of jahiliya (when he was naive) to his caliphate following the death of Abu Bakr (ra)—as a testament to change which, implicitly or explicitly, made him admirable to so many. People are naturally inclined to hold such stories of change with high regard, because they not only remind us of the transience of our current situations, but upon reflection, they erect large signs above our futures which say:

‘You can become much more, if you so will.’

A Contemporary Model of Profound Change

Another great example of the human capacity for change is el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, commonly known as Malcom X. Although people often reflect upon the achievements he afforded the oppressed African-American community or his ultimate acceptance of ‘real’ Islam in Mecca, let us set all labels and incidents aside and appreciate the man as a whole. Here, again, we see someone whose life testifies to change; he was an intelligent young student, turned atheist hustler and thief, turned bookish and scholarly, turned separatist leader, turned outcast then finally Muslim human rights advocate. Although one may disagree on the labels, his own words emphasize mine:

“Despite my firm convictions, I have been always a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth.”

This was a virtue which made him so impressionable among the young Black youth around America; as a man who came from the streets, he symbolized the human ideal of developing one’s potential beyond environmental constraints. None of this is to say that all change is necessarily good. Indeed, our capacity for change encompasses both extremes of vice and virtue, and it only takes one reading of Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning or Hannah Arendt’s The Banality of Evil to reflect upon a modern-day account of how regular people (i.e. you and I) are fully capable of committing terrible injustices and atrocities. Instead, the point of this article is to reflect on our capacity to change; only then, can we will a change for the better.

Ramadan: the Greatest Catalyst for Change

Ramadan is an especially prominent time to meditate on our capacity to change. In fact, if you think about it, the sacred month already sets the stage to reflect upon a state of being devoid of essential pleasures, such as food and water. This, in and of itself, is already a fundamental change, even psychologically. Indeed, many people, especially non-Muslims prior to conversion, almost see it as an impossibility to go an entire day without food, let alone water. But, in time, they do—they change, not only their habits, but the very way they see themselves. It is this opportunity afforded to all of us which is, in its essence, self-revelatory: “Wow, if I can stop myself from these essential things, what else can I change in myself?” But this should only be the beginning—a taste—of your undiscovered potential, and to emphasize this, the Prophet ﷺ warned that whoever completes Ramadan with the sole intention of fasting, will only leave it hungry. And naturally, the Prophet’s ﷺ wisdom is unequaled; he understood, better than anyone, the sheer potential for change contained in Ramadan – the type of change that can mark the difference between Paradise and Hellfire in an instant. In light of all this however, the change I am focusing on here is not only limited to spirituality in the strictest sense of the term, although clearly there is no better change than to increase in taqwa (God-consciousness) and attain ihsan (the most elevated state of faith)—indeed, there are few (if any) changes that do not affect them. Rather, the change I am proposing refers to your very nature, as an individual. Let me provide an example from my own life to avoid unnecessary theorizing.

I used to play a lot video games—a lot—which began at a very early age. Many years ago, in Ramadan, I began to question my obsession with video games; was it really all for fun, or was there something else involved? I decided to use the month as an opportunity to cut back entirely from it, and so as the days passed by, lo and behold, I began to feel more and more anxious. Then suddenly it dawned on me, an extreme stroke of self-revelation which, to this day, surprises me how hidden it was in plain sight (although understandably, as we rarely reflect on habits and characteristics that are so close to us): beyond leisure, I played video games as a form of escapism. Escape from what? Many things, but among others: feelings of anxiety or humiliation; when life was not looking too good; when I was not feeling heard or respected; when I experienced some powerful emotions I did not understand. Please note however that this was my escape, and it should not be generalized to others. There are many other forms of escapism of course (a client in therapy told me about his with Facebook; a constant need to be around others; an obsession with the news or sports), and I am sure, looking back, I would ascribe music, movies and TV shows to myself as well. Now, by withholding these pleasures—these ingrained habits—from my system, things became all too clear, and I was able to reflect on the mental states which previously sparked a need to escape. For example, perhaps I give too much weight to how others see me, and so, by virtue of the impossibility to please everyone and the ensuing feelings of anxiety, I need to rethink my priorities (note: of course, rethinking is an overly simplistic description of what needs to be done; actions intended towards others rather than Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, (exalted is He) are more difficult to spot than an ant on a dark rock at night). Now, although far from perfect, I’m able to enjoy video games, movies, books, the company of others etc, at a much different level than before, appreciating them for what they truly are and singling out what I really like about them. It may seem like a small change, but in my opinion, no grand changes to the likes of Omar ibn al-Khattab (ra) or Malcolm X come in one fell swoop; they take years upon and years of self-development, and are only truly appreciated in retrospect. But you have to start somewhere.

Time to Make a Change

Having just provided an example, now it is your turn. What are your most dysfunctional or distressing characteristics? These are obviously the most significant characteristics demanding your immediate attention. Also, take a moment to reflect on the things in your life you rarely ever reflect on, because Ramadan is the perfect time to do so; indeed, we rarely ever think about the sustenance of water in our lives but sure enough, come Ramadan, we do so every day. As such, ask yourself questions such as “If I were to abstain from habit X in Ramadan, let’s say hitting the gym, how does that make me feel.” At that moment, you may realize just how much muscle mass really means to you, and you have an opportunity to reflect on why this is the case. Furthermore, entertain the following reflection: if you could change anything in your life, what would it be? Here, again, I am not referring to an exclusively Islamic framework of change; indeed, a small concern I have with this is that we often limit our perspective towards things that are halal (permissible) and haram (impermissible) (i.e. I need to stop smoking), or even the things that are encouraged and frowned upon, while neglecting one’s very self. Naturally, no one should ever tell you that Facebook or going to the gym or watching the news is haram or frowned upon, nor can they. Rather, I am referring to you as an individual, embodied with a potential to become an Omar ibn al-Khattab (ra) or a Malcolm X. You need to ask yourself, “What kind of personal insight must I attain to change myself to such a degree?” Read up on the great men and women who have experienced major changes in their characters. Finally, take a moment to also reflect on your positive characteristics, and ask yourself how you can improve upon them. If by each passing Ramadan we are left with just a little more self-understanding, we are well on our way to becoming much more than we are today.

If, on the other hand, we only take Ramadan at face value—a month of abstinence—we may have just forfeited the greatest opportunity for self-development available to us. When else, I ask myself, will we find another opportunity to fulfil our capacity for change?

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