slip-sliding away…..

Archive for September, 2009

The dying moments of Ramadaan

Posted by Yacoob on September 17, 2009

With the 27th night of Ramadaan completed, and as we approach the day of Eid, there’s sometimes a tendency for us to start ‘winding down’. We think that, because Ramadaan is ending, we can now relax. Of course, the learned among us would tell us that this attitude is erroneous: they remind us that it’s important to make the most of all the days and nights of Ramadaan; even the last few. This is especially true because the 29th night could still be Laylatul Qadr, and we wouldn’t want to miss out on that night just because of laziness, or an incorrect perception that the 27th night is definitely the Night.

Ramadaan is bonus time for the Muslim: we can earn immeasurable reward through our fasting and extra worship. These are rewards which we simply cannot gain – consistently – throughout the rest of the year. And, as we come to the end of this blessed period, we should realise that we may never live to see such an opportunity again. So, we should treasure these last few days and nights and strive to gain the forgiveness of our Creator, as well as heightened taqwa – seeing that the whole point of fasting is for us to acquire taqwa.

But, other than that, the whole month, and especially these last few days and nights, are tremendously important for reaping long term benefits.

We often hear advice on carrying the goodness of Ramadaan through to the rest of the year. While that idea sounds good now – when we’re all spiritually enlivened – how do we actually follow through and make the effort to improve ourselves after Ramadaan has passed?

Sure, we can intend to be better after the month, but, without real effort, intention can amount to nothing more than wishful thinking.

There’s a popular adage that goes: “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” While it holds true for many things in life – it certainly doesn’t mean we should micro-plan every aspect of our lives. But, improving our own selves, and our relationship with our Creator, certainly falls into the category of things we should plan for.

And so, just as we may have made plans before Ramadaan began, we should also make plans for after Ramadaan has left us. Two cornerstones of our planning are encompassed in a hadith which tells us that: ‘The most beloved deeds by Allah are those that are consistent, even if they are small.’

The first key point here is consistency: engage in particular acts of worship* on a regular basis. Don’t just do it once, then forget about it until the next big occasion – or until the next time you ‘feel like doing it.’ No. Be regular in doing those deeds –daily, weekly, monthly, at whatever interval suits you – but be consistent in doing it. (*Note that “worship” also includes any good deed done with the right intention).

The second key point is being realistic: ‘…even if they are small’ means that, even if your deed seems insignificant to you – a tiny drop compared to what other people are doing, or almost nothing compared to what you yourself managed to do in Ramadaan – it still counts; it still matters to Allah.

For example, you may really struggle to read Quran, so much so that –outside of Ramadaan – you’re just not motivated to try even once a week. But in Ramadaan, you tried to read a little every day. After Ramadaan, don’t slip back into your old routine. Rather, decide that your small and consistent deed will be that, every single day, you’ll try to read just 2 verses of Quran. Just 2 verses. Not more. Does that seem so demanding on your time or energy?

By following through on such a resolution – with the proper intention and commitment – you can reap amazing benefits. With the help of Allah, recitation will become easier for you, and you can then focus on further aspirations related to the Quran – such as reading with correct tajweed, or memorising more surahs.

Now, while we can see this kind of planning manifested in the actions that we want to pursue after Ramadaan, it’s equally important to apply this principle to our character. In the month of Ramadaan, we have – hopefully – looked inside ourselves and identified personal characteristics which we’d like to work on. Maybe we need to become less selfish; or stop judging others; or beware of pride; or try to break the habit of procrastinating.

These, too, are things which we can plan to work on after Ramadaan. It’s as simple as breaking your list into manageable pieces, then working on one aspect at a time.

For example, maybe you’ve realised that you complain a lot – and you want to break that habit. Set aside one month – an entire month – to remind yourself of this goal, and to try to achieve this goal: in your thinking, in your conversations, in everything. Before you speak, stop to think about what you’re going to say. And, each time you find that you’re about to complain, stop yourself, think about whether this complaint is really necessary, then either swallow your complaint, or voice it in a constructive manner.

Insha-Allah, by the end of that month, you will have improved tremendously in that aspect of your character; and you can work on that for a further month, or move on to another character trait you want to improve.

We can never stop improving, and we can never stop learning. With these precious remaining moments of Ramadaan, we’ve now had about four weeks of self-discipline and better behaviour, and we’re hopefully a lot closer to being the ‘good’ person we want to be.

Now is the time to consolidate the gains of Ramadaan; and make a plan for carrying the benefit through for the next 11 months. And remember, everything starts with intention. So, first make the right intention for doing this. Then, ask Allah to make you successful in this endeavour. Then make your plan. And finally, follow through on it in the coming days, weeks, and months.

May these dying moments of Ramadaan be beneficial to you for the present, and the future.

 Eid mubarak to all :)

PS: If you want to take this post-Ramadaan challenge to the next level, check out http://www.postramadan.com/.

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If you could have it all….

Posted by Yacoob on September 5, 2009

Do you remember when you were younger? When you were at that age of wonder, where little things would capture your imagination, and you were – at times – greedy for everything you thought would bring you pleasure.

Did you daydream about being in your favourite shop, alone at night – with no one around – and being able to take whatever you want, and not worry about that adult concept of “buying”?

Now, fast forward to the present day – with you all grown up – and answer the following:

If you could have it all; everything you’ve ever wanted; all that your heart desires; all that you dream of; everything you aspire to becoming…EVERYTHING…if there was some way you could attain these things – would you do what you had to, to have your wishes fulfilled?

Do you think it’s possible for any of this to happen?

Or, to you, is it the stuff of fairytales? Are these the wild thoughts of an unrealistic mind that hasn’t grasped the reality of life?

“This isn’t Aladdin,” you may say. “There is no genie. There’s no ‘three wishes’ that are guaranteed to be granted.”

Yes, I realise that. But it doesn’t make my proposition any less unrealistic.

Why?

Because there’s something better than a genie. There’s something better than hours alone in your favourite store. And there’s something even better than every single desire, dream, and aspiration you have.

Who, or what, is this fantastic, unimaginable entity?

Allah: our Creator and Sustainer. The One who brought you – and this whole world – into existence. The One who created every dream and desire you have; Who made you all that you are – and Who still stays with you, closer than your jugular vein.

As we approach the last 10 days of Ramadaan, we know that the night of Laylatul Qadr will be upon us – though we’re never quite sure which night it is. And in that night-better-than-a-thousand-months, we have the ultimate opportunity to have all our dreams, desires, and wishes fulfilled.

How?

Simple. The ‘weapon of the believer’: Dua.

Dua is available to us all year round. But, many times, the rigours of everyday life – the demands on our time and energy – weigh down on us, making us resorted to ‘automated duas’ (the ones we make by habit, often not even remembering what they mean).

But in Ramadaan, and on Laylatul Qadr especially, dua seems so much more powerful – so much more attractive – than usual. We’ll make the effort to exert ourselves in dua; we’ll try our best to be sincere; we’ll open up to our Creator in a way that, perhaps, we haven’t opened up since the previous Laylatul Qadr.

A few years ago, I received beautiful yet simple advice from someone regarding this night: plan for it.

Plan your dua(s). Sit down BEFORE the night; think; let your imagination run loose; and write down everything you want to ask for – whether in this world or in the Hereafter. Then, on that night (or actually, to be safe, on every odd night of the last 10), make your dua. Ask Allah to grant you those things – ask Him to fulfil all your requests.

Remember what Allah says in the Quran? “I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he crieth unto Me.” (Surah 60, verse 186).

What more could you ask for? There are no intermediaries. There’s no priest, rabbi, imam, or mufti you have to go through in order to ask from your Creator. There’s an open, direct line you have to Allah. And it’s absolutely free. All you have to do is make that call. Make your dua.

Obviously, we won’t get everything we ask for exactly as we wish – because we know that duas are answered in one of three ways (i.e. either answered immediately; or Allah prevents an evil from happening to you; or your dua will be answered in the Hereafter). But all duas – provided you don’t ask for anything haraam – are accepted, insha-Allah.

So, if we ask with sincerity, insha-Allah we will get the best of what we ask for – in whatever way Allah chooses to respond to that dua.

So, whether it’s marriage you’re after; or something study or career related; or a way out of your debts; or good health; or world peace; or spiritual and personal growth after Ramadaan; or, or, or….or strengthening your relationship with Allah…whatever you want: make your list, and get ready to make your dua on that all-important night.

The Prophet s.a.w. reportedly said that “dua is the essence of worship”.

At the base of Islam – at the core of everything – is your relationship with your Creator. By communicating with Him – through dua and otherwise – you strengthen that bond. And, as the hadith goes, when you take one step towards Allah, Allah takes ten steps towards you.

Make the most of these precious days of Ramadaan; and prepare yourself for that auspicious night when, insha-Allah, dreams can come true, hearts can be permanently set aright, and you really can have it all.

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Ramadaan reflections

Posted by Yacoob on September 1, 2009

At this time last year, I wrote my first Ramadaan post. One week into that month, I was scared of missing out on the blessings of the month. My main goal – at that point – was to develop my self-discipline. Up till that point, it hadn’t been a very productive year in terms of personal development. At least, that’s what my perception was.

But looking back, in all those months, the foundations of improvement were being laid. And, even though – soon after Ramadaan ended – my commitment to self-discipline disappeared, things picked up for me in ways I was oblivious to for much of the year.

Ramadaan is the best month of the year for me. It’s the time of year where it’s easier to take stock. The time of year where it’s easier to focus on the things inside that need fixing. The time of year where many of the distractions of life can – largely – be subdued, relegated to a lower priority – while the more important things – those related to my true purpose in life – rise to prominence. This truly is a month of mercy. Because if it weren’t for this blessed month – this amazing, annual opportunity – I don’t know how I would fare in life.

The tone of this month is different – because Muslims share this time communally. I mean: we all experience this month. We all know how special it is. We all know it’s the one time of year where we have to focus on matters which, ordinarily, we can be so easily heedless or careless of.

There’s an atmosphere of peace. There’s increased individual and collective remembrance of our Lord. There’s enhanced service to humanity and goodness to others within our own circle of family and associates. All of these blessings descend upon us in this month, as the doors of Heaven are opened, and the doors of Hell are shut – with the devils being tied up.

Three years ago, I experienced my first Ramadaan ‘alone.’ And I had all these bursts of inspiration. I recorded these ambitions, hoping that they’d carry over into long-term life improvements. But alas, in my time alone, I saw that many of those plans never materialised; despite all the enthusiasm and commitment I felt when I wrote it all down.

At this time two years ago, my life rapidly moved to a new level. I ended that Ramadaan on such a high note – feeling at the height of spirituality. I knew what one of my ultimate goals was for the coming year – and indeed, my entire life to come. And I thought, with the impending changes which I’d dreamed of for so long – my personal dream coming true before my very eyes – that it would be even easier to strive towards that goal. As I came to find out, Allah had other plans for me. My ambitions for that goal, plus everything that was built up in that Ramadaan, seemed to be turned upside down and forgotten in the tumultuous months that followed. But, alhamdullilah, things settled down and progress was made (see the intro, about foundations) – albeit in a very different setting to my life of solitude.

One year ago, I began this month hoping that it would mark a change. I hoped that it would bring me back on track because, as noted above, I felt that the year up to that point was not going well: taking me backwards, rather than forward. Admittedly, last Ramadaan started slowly, but alhamdullilah, it picked up so beautifully. The inspiration returned, and I found myself writing in the vein of previous years – hoping that the words which flowed through me would be of benefit to others, whether the topic was the middle of the month or sustaining the goodness after the month had passed. By the end of that Ramadaan, I again felt a high that only comes after a month of sustained goodness.

And now, here I sit, one week into this Ramadan, and it’s once again been a slow start. But, like last year, I feel the momentum picking up. However, there’s been a monumental change in my circumstances this year: I’m now a father. And although that has occupied a lot of my time and energy, it hasn’t taken away that much from my Ramadaan. This is mostly because I’m not living with my wife and our baby, yet. But on Saturday (insha-Allah), that changes – when they come home. The timing isn’t ideal from a personal perspective – because the last 2 weeks of Ramadaan, and the last 10 days especially – is the time where we need to intensify our efforts; and gather up as much reward as we can, while doing as much as we can to make sure that the goodness we’re taking advantage of this month carries through to the next eleven months. But with this change in life – a ‘personal perspective’ is a luxury. It’s a selfish attitude – because my life must now become one of sacrifice: sacrifice for my family, and what they need, even if it means I won’t feel the spirituality that I crave.

I admire my wife so much for her sacrifice thus far. I know how sad she is to be ‘missing’ out on this month – because a baby is more than a full-time job: you get a break from a full-time job; but with a newborn baby, you don’t really get breaks. I only hope that she attains tremendous rewards for everything she’s doing – even more reward than she would get in a ‘normal’ Ramadaan. Motherhood is really the jihad of a woman; and that’s something that us men will never truly understand. The level of sacrifice a woman must make for her child makes it clear to me why Islam gives such importance to a mother.

Anyway, I wrote this post because I felt I needed to say something about this month. I needed to write while I still had the opportunity – because writing is something so dear to me, and so essential to my inner self. Ramadaan has – for the past few years – been the most inspired time of year for me. With this post, I’ve tried to combine my current thoughts with links from previous years’ posts; and I hope that, if you do read some of those previous posts, you’ll find something beneficial that will help you to make this month the most special of your life. (You can find all my Ramadaan posts here).

All the best for the coming days and nights. Use the time wisely, and remember that, whatever level you are on, this is the ideal month in which to push yourself forward in your spiritual and personal development.

Ramadaan mubarak to you and your family. May Allah strengthen you in your iman and taqwa, and make you of His most beloved servants.

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