Ramadan 2012: The Early Bird Challenge part 2

Following up from part 1, we now continue our journey to prepare early for Ramadan 2012. At this point, we have – insha-Allah – about four months left until the whole (Muslim) world begins this most auspicious month. But if you’re taking up this Early Bird Challenge, you’re eager to get a head start on the rest of the ummah.

Last month, we took the ‘pillar’ of the deen – salaah – as our point of improvement. This month, we take another critical element – one which, according to hadith, is the ‘essence’ of worship: dua (supplication).


The ticket to everything you want

Humans – by their nature – have been created to want, and want more, and more. And while sometimes this is good, many times it isn’t – because we too often focus intensely on the material things we want, while neglecting the spiritual things we need.

Regardless of this, the fact remains that we want – whether what we want is material, spiritual, or both. And when we want, we need to seek what we want from the source of that thing.

As Muslims, we know that everything comes from Allah. So anything we want – be it material sustenance, freedom from hardships or debts, cure from illness, that dream job, marriage, children, knowledge, achievement, spiritual purity, or anything else – we need to ask it from Allah (as long as it’s not haraam, of course).


Renewing the link

Unfortunately, in our fast-paced lives of today, we often fall victim to thinking that we’re too busy to make dua. With so much to do, so much demanding our attention, and almost constant time pressures, it can be rare that we get a moment to stop and make a really intense, in-depth, and heartfelt dua.

Or maybe we do make duas often, but confine these to our ‘automated’ duas – the ones that we mechanically repeat in Arabic and/or English as part of a routine, without really feeling much sincerity when we make them.

Or maybe we always rely on the imam to make the dua, and simply repeat our ‘ameen’ after him – thinking that that’s enough for us when it comes to dua. And while there certainly is virtue in making dua behind an imam, the reality is that that imam isn’t you – so he can’t make the personal duas that are most important to you; your heart’s deepest needs and desires, which are kept between only you and Allah.

The link with Allah is the most important aspect of a Muslim’s life, and dua is the means by which this link is maintained and nurtured. Allah loves for us to ask from Him, and actually gets angry if we don’t ask (as stated in a hadith).

So it’s clear that dua should really be at the core of our lives, because it’s the essence of our life’s purpose (i.e. worship) – and the means by which we can attain anything we need (or want).


The Early Bird solution

As explained in the first post, our approach in this series is to follow a five-step process to gradually improving ourselves:

  1. Selection of an area: For this month, the topic is dua
  2. Diagnosis: Analyse what your current condition is in the area (quality, frequency, etc), and list your weaknesses
  3. Root cause analysis: Get to the root of your weaknesses / problems
  4. Solutions: Come up with practical methods to overcome those root causes
  5. Planning and implementation: Set up a realistic plan of action to implement those solutions gradually in the coming months, then at a higher pace in Ramadan



Ask yourself:

  • Do I really understand how important dua is in life?
  • Do I make time each day to make dua(s) to Allah?
  • If I do make duas, are these automated duas, or those of the imam alone?
  • Do I take time out to think about what I truly need and want, and make specific duas for that?
  • Do I believe that my duas have to be in Arabic only?
  • Do I truly believe that Allah will answer my duas?
  • What actions cause Allah to reject duas?
  • Am I doing anything – intentionally or out of forgetfulness – that would cause Allah to reject my duas?
  • When are the best times to make dua (i.e. the times when they are accepted)?
  • What actions cause Allah to readily accept duas?
  • Am I carrying out these actions on a regular basis?
  • Do I know the etiquettes of dua?
  • Aside from personal duas, do I know duas from the Quran and Sunnah? (Either in English or Arabic.)

Using this month’s worksheet, think through each question, and record your answers. Be honest with yourself – and do this either completely in private, without sharing it with anyone (if you prefer it that way), or with someone else (if you think that’s more beneficial).List all your weaknesses or problems.


Root cause analysis:

Now go through each of your listed weaknesses or problems you need to address, and write down its outward symptoms that you notice (e.g. I don’t put enough effort into making personal duas consistently). Then try to find what the root causes of those problems are by interrogating each symptom: ask yourself “why?” that symptom persists, and keep asking “why?” of each answer until you get to the root cause.



With the problems diagnosed, the symptoms identified, and root causes found, now think of practical ways to solve those problems from the root.

For example, if you don’t put enough time and effort into tailoring your duas to your most dearly-held needs and desires, one solution is to take time out from life to sit and write down the areas that are important to you (this month’s worksheet can help with that), and the duas you’d like to make in those areas. Let your imagination run wild – without getting into haram, of course J – and then find a period each day to make some of those important duas.


Planning and implementation:

With solutions identified, now analyse what your schedule and life is like at this moment, and come up with a realistic plan of how you can implement the solutions over a period of time. Remember to plan this is ways that are realistic – achievable – for you, even if it means you’ll be taking tiny steps over a long period of time. Doing things gradually – in small and consistent steps – is the best way to achieve sustainable, permanent solutions.

Also include, in your plan, the ways you’d like to intensify your efforts when Ramadan comes.

If, after a while, you find that you’ve incorrectly estimated your ability to follow the plan, simply make adjustments as needed. The goal for this month, and the four that follow, is to implement steps that are realistic for you – what you can manage, and not what will overburden you.



To help with this month’s exercise, you can download and use the following document: RamadanEarlyBird worksheet (2nd edition).



To help you with this month’s focus, check out the following:

  1. Mufti Ismail Menk audio lecture on ‘Supplication’ – from Ramadan 2009
  2. Shaykh Yasir Qadhi video lecture on dua

And again, the most important resources of all are the right intentions, sincere dua asking for success in this venture, and then consistent effort to do your best.

With four months left until Ramadan, now is the perfect time to start strengthening this critical area of life. Ramadan is a time when duas are even more valuable, especially so for the night of Laylatul-Qadr.

All the best with this step in Ramadan prep; and feel free to share your feedback or progress in the Comments section.

Other parts in this 5-part series are posted here.


For the rest of your days

Undoubtedly, Hajj is one of the greatest events in the life of a Muslim – and one filled with many lessons. From the struggles of raising the funds and getting the opportunity, to the patience that’s needed to endure the hardships of travel, and then to the incomparable spirituality felt during the five days of Hajj – pilgrims learn from the different segments of the journey, and hope that they will take those lessons home with them, to apply for the rest of their lives.

Back to reality

But for many pilgrims, those feelings can quickly fade once they arrive home, because the contrast between the lands of Hajj and the ‘normal’ home environment is as striking as day against night.

Madinah, Makkah, Mina, Arafah, and Muzdalifah are not the real world. Divorced from the responsibilities of family, work, and home life, the journey of Hajj is like an experience in another galaxy – one where everyone is geared towards worshipping Allah; there’s no immoral advertising, music, and images smacking you in the face every hour; and the only worry each day is making it to the masjid to get a spot for the five compulsory salaahs.

But once pilgrims arrive home, they return to the environments of hardship, laziness, and sin. And despite all the wonderful gains from the weeks they’ve just spent as guest of Allah, maintaining a spiritual high under such circumstances is difficult – if not impossible.

The maintenance plan

For a pilgrim, the effort doesn’t end when Hajj ends. Once you’ve gone on Hajj, your life’s work is not ‘done’. Your ticket to Paradise is not guaranteed. You’ve merely improved your chances of getting there – but the hard work still remains. It’s a common cliché to say that the actual Hajj itself isn’t the difficult part – but the difficult part is ‘living’ that Hajj for the rest of your life.

But how does one do that when you don’t live in the relatively ‘pious’ universe of Makkah or Madinah?

To help answer this question, Cape Town’s Imam Suyuti Institute has initiated a course titled: “Maintaining your Hajj & Umrah: Making it count for the rest of your days”.

The first run of the ten week course – which is being taught by Shaykh Riyadh Walls – has drawn a large crowd each week, with attendees eager to extract the spiritual inspiration and practical advice dished out to help them consolidate the lessons of Hajj.

Shaykh Riyadh began by sketching out the model Hajj – that of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) – before delving into inner dimensions of the journey. As explained, even if pilgrims didn’t realize the spiritual benefits of the different steps at the time, it doesn’t mean they were deprived of that goodness. Those benefits were gained – but the work is to now unlock those treasures and use them to enhance their lives.

The Shaykh then analysed Hajj as a parallel to death, explaining how Hajj is a journey to Allah in this world – before we undertake our journey to Allah in the Hereafter. Accompanying this understanding is the concept of Hajj as an expression of inordinate love for Allah – how Hajj helps us show our love, gratitude, and longing for Allah while still in this life.

The peak of Hajj – the Day of Arafah – was also discussed. For Hajjis, Arafah serves as the first day of the rest of our lives, because it’s the day when our slates were wiped clean, and our enemy – shaytaan – was disgraced by seeing all his work of misleading us decimated in the space of a few hours, by Allah’s complete forgiveness.

Shaykh Riyadh raised critical points here, reminding us that – because of this shame – shaytaan and his allies will try even harder to bring us back into lives of sin and transgression; which means that Hajjees need to work even harder than before if they are to ward off the whisperings and evil invitations of the devils.

Also covered was the understanding of Hajj as the ultimate form of repentance, and how one of the greatest ways to maintain the Hajj is to live a life of repentance – each day seeking Allah’s forgiveness for the wrongs you may have done, and each day returning to your covenant with Him.

Accompanying the knowledge and spiritual dimensions of the course, Shaykh Riyadh also helped attendees initiate a practical ‘maintenance plan’ – focusing on areas like repentance, taking care of salaah, taking account of one’s self, striving to improve in character, and repairing relationships with others.

For many Muslims, Hajj represents the ultimate opportunity to make permanent changes: to drop bad habits, pick up good practices, improve character and conduct, and become the person they dream of becoming. This is so because while other major forms of worship – such as salaah and Ramadaan – are meant to help bring on such change, they are repeated often, and risk becoming ‘routine’ – which can compromise the transformational  aspects that they include. Hajj, on the other hand, comes just once in a lifetime (for most) – so it’s crucial that a Muslim makes the most of it, and uses the benefits and lessons of Hajj as the fuel that’ll drive them to Allah’s pleasure, and into Jannah.

Courses like these help remind us of where we were and what we did, as well as the promises we made to Allah, and what we need to do to fulfill those promises.

Further information

Video recordings of the course may be made available later in 2012. Contact Cape Town Muslim Events (info@imamsuyuti.co.za) for further information.

And for those in Cape Town, the course’s second run begins this April, with registration closing on 4th April 2012. Registration is available online at this site.


Apartheid Lives!


As part of the South African leg of the 2012 Israeli Apartheid Week, the film “Roadmap to Apartheid” is currently being screened in different parts of the country. The film explores, in detail, the apartheid comparison as it is used in the enduring Israel-Palestine conflict. As much a historical document of the rise and fall of apartheid in South Africa, the film shows why many Palestinians feel they are living in an apartheid system today – under Israeli occupation, and why an increasing number of people around the world agree with them. It features interviews with South Africans, Israelis and Palestinians, and the film winds its way through the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and inside Israel moving from town to town and issue to issue to show why the apartheid analogy is being used with increasing potency. It analyses the similar historical narratives of the Jewish people and the Afrikaaners, the tight relationship the two governments shared during the apartheid years, and everything in between.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has seen the film, and commented: “Roadmap to Apartheid is very powerful and compelling, and the visuals of house demolitions are appalling.  Religion is repeatedly misused by politicians. One of the lessons of Jewish history is that God is always on the side of the oppressed.  Another is that those who dehumanise others dehumanise themselves.  Israelis will pay a heavy price for their callous mistreatment of Palestinians.”

It’s a must-see for all who feel strongly about justice in the world, and especially South Africans – who know very well the experience of such a cruel and divisive system.

You can view the trailer here, and if you’re in SA, there are still a few screenings remaining in the country:

Cape Town
Sunday, 11 March @ 14h30 (Joseph Stone Auditorium, Klipfontein Road, Athlone)

Thursday, 08 March @ 19h30 (Factory Cafe, 369 Magwaza Maphalala Street (Gale Street), Glenwood)
Sunday, 11 March @ 14h00 (Al Ansaar Hall, West Road, Overport, Durban)

Thursday, 08 March @ 13h30 (L2-69, Graduate Centre, University of Pretoria)

Click here for details of screenings in Soweto, Modimolle/Nylstroom, Ermelo, and Polokwane; and here for details of further events around the country for this cause, including a panel discussion with cartoonist Zapiro, Professor Allan Boesak, Ronnie Kasrils on Thursday evening.

Other important documentaries and resources on the subject are:

With all the war talk about an Israeli attack on Iran, let’s not forget about the silent war that happens each and every day in the occupied territories.

Look beyond the political rhetoric, and think about the people that are suffering as a result of this absurd, inhumane occupation – and imagine what it would be like if you or your family were the victims.

It’s through ventures like this 2012 campaign that the reality of the situation can be exposed, and more and more people are awoken to the shocking truth of just what is going on.

Marriage and you (Yes, YOU)

Once upon a time, for what felt like ages, marriage was the most important issue in my life. For years, I searched for that elusive partner – the mythical ‘soulmate’ who would ‘complete’ me, help me to grow personally, and provide for me the emotional bond I so desperately craved.

And in those years, a lot of my focus –in thought, writing, and discussions with others – was on that very mission – who, when, and how it would all happen. In fact, I think the pinnacle of my writing at that point was this poem – which encapsulated pretty much all my dreams for marriage.

And when it did finally happen, it didn’t take long for that focus to fade away. I mean, once a mission is complete, you don’t go on ruminating about it – especially when time no longer permits (yes – being married is a rather time-consuming matter).

As far as the blog world goes, back then, there were many others who were in the same boat as me. And I’ve found that it’s a constant in this realm – many bloggers and commenters are single, and looking (not necessarily the ones referred to above).

And while I myself am no longer in their shoes, a part of me still remembers what it was like. So with that in mind, I have some thoughts about a possible series I’d like to start on this here blog – specifically on that subject matter: Mission Marriage.

So what I would like from you – the single and looking ones out there – is your input. You can choose to post here as a comment with your blog-name or anonymously, or email instead if you don’t want it publically visible.

  • What are the biggest issues for you in your quest?
  • In today’s times and Western societies we live in, is the ‘Islamic way’ of going about this quest still feasible or effective?
  • What are your thoughts on arranged marriage? And would you accept it for yourself?
  • Do you fear that you’re approaching a ‘sell-by date’, after which your chances are going to fall dramatically?
  • What kind of wedding do you hope for?
  • What are your thoughts on pre-marital education (e.g. marriage classes)?

Those are just some questions that came to mind, but there are probably many more that can be added.

In your responses, I ask that you be honest but also careful not to say anything you would regret later. Don’t get too personal (meaning, don’t give your life story about your experiences in this – extract your points without mentioning any identifiable names). And don’t expose any wrongs that you or others have done. And don’t harshly criticize others who are doing things you don’t agree with.

I don’t know if anything will come of this, but it’s an idea right now – and perhaps it may blossom into something bigger, if demand is there and time permits it to go further.