The month of Ramadan is the month in which the Quran was sent down,
a guidance for the people, and clear verses of guidance and criterion.
[Quran: Chapter 2:183]


Thursday, October 2, 2008

Ramadan Lessons

What I Learned During The Month of Ramadan

The month of Ramadan has come to an end. Certain habits that we have inculcated during this blessed month will also come to an end - waking up for early morning meals, not eating or drinking during the day, gathering to break the fast with the family at an appointed time and attending the teraweeh prayers. Such acts we usually reserve for Ramadan.

But the other habits that we have formed during this month, such as reading the Quran, positive behavior modification (habit of avoiding lies, vain talk and foul languages), acts of charity and kindness to the less fortunate, and being tolerant and patient, are habits that we should retain. We should do these all year round because they help us better ourselves as Muslims.

Each of us will learn something new each year as we perform our fasts during Ramadan; our spiritual development will evolve and progress with the increasing level of our maturity as well as with the amount of effort we put into understanding our religion (and ourselves consequently).

Here is what I learnt during Ramadan 2008.

1) Human Emotions - Despair

We are told that human beings are emotional creatures. As human beings, we have feelings; positive and negative emotions that can make us happy or plague us.

Positive feelings and emotions can be a motivational factor for us to want to continue to do good things in life. For instance, I think one of the reasons why Muslims (or anyone else) pray is that we attain a positive sense of well-being, and this is one of the driving factors for us to continue to pray. God does not need our prayers, we are the ones who need them - to keep us well-adjusted in this world, and also for the next world. "But those will prosper who purify themselves, And glorify the name of their Guardian-Lord, and (lift their hearts) in prayer" (Quran 87:14-15). The key is obviously to start - and once we do, it positively reinforces us to continue to do so.

Negative feelings and emotions though can be destructive. In today's society, we see many people troubled deeply by life's problems - financial problems, relationship problems, psychological troubles etc. People allow these problems to become their primary focus - day in and day out, worrying about how to resolve it, at the expense of doing anything (or something)else. That's why there are so many depressed people around. They are stuck in cyclical warp. Life passes them by, and they move from one life's problem to the next.

But all of such negative emotion is unnecessary, and also a huge waste of time and energy. We will, of course, face obstacles in life. No one is immune to them. But that should not be an occasion to be wallowing in despair and forget our spiritual obligations.

God has revealed that in return for the good effort believers will enjoy peace, blessings and happiness in this world and the hereafter: “What is with you runs out but what is with Allah goes on for ever. Those who were steadfast will be recompensed according to the best of what they did. Anyone who acts rightly, male or female, being a believer, We will give them a good life and We will recompense them according to the best of what they did.” (Surat an-Nahl, 96-97)

It follows then that in times of difficulties, we should be continuing our spiritual obligations, and asking for help from God so that our troubles may be eased.

Anything else is simply unislamic. Why? Because if we are on the right path (by keeping up with our spiritual obligations) then we should also realise that God does everything for a purpose, and we should try to look for meaning in the things that cause us problems. And we should also realise that God can do whatever He wishes whenever He wishes, and that He will heed people’s prayers.

So is there really any need for despair when faced with obstacles, and to even dare to proclaim that all in this life for yourself (because of whatever problems) is only blackness, doom and gloom? Such people are caught in their own self-reinforcing cycle of negativity; and they worsen their situations by putting a halt to any activities in their lives that may bring light and clarity because they are too focused on the negative state of their lives.

2) Remembrance of Frailty of Human Life and the Hereafter

Career and ambition is all good, so long it does not detract us from spiritual obligations. A lot of people in the West delay getting married and starting a family because they are so focused on creating a "proper environment" for their children. Funny thing is, this was never a reason not to marry four or fifty years ago. Why? Because back then even in the West, the family dynamic was still strong, so too was the moral structures that prohibited cohabitation and such things outside of marriage. Not so today. Prophet Muhammad said that " Marriage is my tradition who so ever keeps away there from it is not from amongst me". It is also said that when a man marries, he has fulfilled half of his religion, so let him fear for the remaining half. There must be a reason why Islam places so much importance on marriage. And the continued avoidance of it (especially those people in Western societies who are avoiding marriage for various reasons) will only be detriment to their spiritual development. And that affects society, social norms and a negative destructive cycle begins.

So we do not know what exactly the future holds despite all of our massive plans. With one stroke, God can disrupt even the best of plans. So what is this human propensity to plan every minute detail of our life, as if only we with our own powers of planning can determine what happens in our lives.

This is not to say, we cannot plan for the future. We can and should; otherwise, we would be all leading directionless lives. But since we cannot fully foresee the outcome of our plans, we should act now and be hoping for the best.

That leads to the second realization - we may not be around to see the result of our plans because we do not know when our time may come. Reading of Surah 67 (Al-Mulk) of the Quran reinforces the frailty of our human state; it reminds us what we will all have to face eventually - that is, God's judgement.

Would we want be saying the below when we meet our Maker?

'They will further say: "Had we but listened or used our intelligence, we should not (now) be among the Companions of the Blazing Fire!"' (Quran 67:10).

If we cannot comprehend our religion, it would be better to listen to the more knowledgable. And if we are blessed with intelligence, we should use it rightly so that we are not placed in a situation where we will feel regret at not having done so.

So those are the lessons I had during Ramadan. And probably I will have more understanding as time progresses.

What were your Ramadan lessons?


Special Ramadan Series

Dear Reader, Assalaamu’alaikum.

Ramadan Mubarak. We wish you a blessed and productive Ramadan! Make no mistake about it - keeping the fast and increasing our acts of worship during this blessed month is not an easy task. The physical demands of balancing work or school with fasting all day, feeling fatigued and less effective than you normally are, waking up for Suhoor, praying Teraweeh and Tahajjud prayers, dealing with sleep deficits.

But the last thing we would want is to let Ramadan pass us by without doing all that we aim and desire to. Do not allow yourself to feel guilty or regretful when Ramadan passes.

The Ramadan Series will send you emails with practical tips on how to gain and maintain the physical and spiritual energy necessary to embark on increased religious oligations so that you will reap the benefits from this blessed month. This includes special Ramadan duas to say during the month. Do sign-up today!

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