Many times in life, we build expectations about how certain future events should be. We make our plans and get excited…and then things turn out totally differently.

And when things don’t go the way we wanted, it’s easy to become disillusioned and feel like all is lost.

Recently, it almost happened to me.

You see: my current job ended the day before Ramadan started, and I’m due to start my next job tomorrow insha-Allah. That gave me a good 11 day holiday – covering the first third of Ramadan. For this period, I’d set out a list of how I’d like to maximize my time – taking full advantage to work on the spiritual / religious and (some) worldly aspects of my life that need attention.

The first few days kind of slipped away – as I’d anticipated they would due to Ramadan starting on a weekend. And although the day after that was relatively productive, I still didn’t cover what I’d planned to. “No worries”, I thought – “there’s still more than a week to set things right”.


The next day came an explosion in my personal life. A kind of drama that comes up from time to time – a recurring conflict that’s haunted me for years, and had been dormant for almost a full year – until now.

I won’t go into any details – other than saying that it’s not something that can be easily resolved, because the core of it is two diametrically opposed points of view; and neither side will change – unless by miracle. (And since it’s a month for miracles, I’m hoping for one.)

So while this month so far – this ‘holiday’ of mine – was supposed to be about spirituality and peace and progress, instead it’s largely been one of inner turmoil, stress, and worldly pressures dominating my thoughts and robbing me of the tremendous opportunity I thought I’d have in these days.

For a long time, I couldn’t let it go. I’d hoped the situation would be resolved quickly – one way or another. But that wasn’t to be. It was being drawn out longer and longer, and I eventually realized I couldn’t let it eat at me the way it was doing. Shaytaan may be locked up this month, but hallmarks of his whisperings are still with me: my internal bad habit of obsessing about problems and having imaginary arguments in my head dragged on and on for far longer than I wanted.

While all this was going on, I was aware of the fact that my Ramadan was slipping away. I just couldn’t get into the spirit of it. I couldn’t / didn’t do as I had planned due to this drama – and it felt like the time was just passing me and I was powerless: like this amazing ‘train’ of barakah (i.e. Ramadan) was moving, and I was being left behind.

In such a situation – as I said above – it’s easy to just lose hope and give up. Be angry at what happened and blame it for ruining my entire month – because even though there’s still most of the month to come, my start was spoilt in a horrible way, and my ambitions were in tatters.

But – alhamdullilah – that didn’t happen. Regarding the drama, I was eventually able to just let it go. A resolution did come in the end, and although the episode wasn’t pleasant, it’s something I’m comfortable with, and something that’ll need to move forward – regardless of the opposing views.

And regarding my plans, I resigned myself to the reality that I wouldn’t get close to what I’d hoped to achieve. But the bright side was that I did manage to maintain a decent level of consistency in some things. And like I often say – in reference to a hadith –consistency in small things is far better than a few big efforts that aren’t sustainable.

Plus, much of my time in these days was filled with a different experience – one that I hadn’t anticipated: spending a tremendous amount of time alone with my daughter (which is rare in the ‘normal’ routines of life – when I’m working). So while I missed out on my personal development (as I had planned), I got amazing and priceless moments with her – which I hope will be of maximum benefit to us both as life now returns to ‘normal’ from tomorrow insha-Allah.

It would have been easy to write off this month – fall into the trap of despair and inaction due to the challenges that derailed me. But I know there was some greater purpose in all of this – the timing of what happened, and the pain and trouble that it came with. Although we plan, Allah is the best of planners – so I know that even though I’m not yet sure what the lesson is, I have to accept that this is what Allah decreed for me at this point; and that this was what was best for me.

So to round off here, the moral of the story is to always try to keep the bigger picture in mind – particularly in difficult situations: Allah is in total control, and whatever happens to you is what’s best for you. So even if you can’t understand why things are ‘going wrong’ at the time, know that it’s not the end of the world: try to bear patience, keep the link with Him strong (via dua and consistent good deeds and ibadah), and insha-Allah once you get through the difficulty, you’ll see the wisdom in the experience, and appreciate the benefit and strength you gained from it.

Parting message

If I don’t write again this month, I’d like to leave one final message which I hope will suffice for the remaining weeks: focus on your relationship with Allah – your personal relationship with Him. Whether you’re facing difficulty or conflict, or you have some desperate need, or even if things are going well and there are no problems in your life – in all cases, the bond between you and your Creator is the thing that’s most important. This is a bond that will serve you well both in terms of worldly endeavours and the spiritual realm, and both in this life and the one to come once you leave this world.

And even if you can’t feel it right now or don’t feel sincere enough in it, that doesn’t limit His closeness to you, and His ability to give you everything you need and want – even if you feel you don’t deserve it.

All you need is sincerity. Humble yourself to Him, and realize your need of Him, and insha-Allah your heart will drive you to the best of thoughts and actions to find the fulfillment you need.


Mufti Menk 2012 Ramadan series

Following on from last year’s stories of the Prophets theme, Mufti Ismail Menk is back in South Africa this Ramadan (in Polokwane this time). The theme of his talks this year is seerah (the life of the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w). You can find the videos and audios at Muslim Central

If you know of any other sites linking these, feel free to add them in the comments.

Ramadan 2012 planning: Downloadable template and resources

Masjid Al-Aqsa - seen through festive Ramadan lights (2009 - AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Festive Ramadan lights in Jerusalem (2009 – AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Although the Ramadan 2012 Early Bird Challenge focused intensely on specific areas of preparation, it’s also important to do more general planning for the month – such as outlining the kind of schedule you’d like to keep, along with listing other areas you want to work on and actions you’d like to take forward beyond Ramadan.

With this in mind, I’ve updated the Ramadan planner template – which is a compact 2-page template you can use to help you prepare. It’s rather amateur – but it’s only a template, so you can customize it according to your own needs (including making it more visually attractive if you want).

Download: Ramadan planner template v2 (50Kb)


1. The Fasting and the Furious

I highly recommend listening to Muhammad Al-Shareef’s “The Fasting and the Furious” – which contains many important lessons for the month, and especially the middle of the month (when we lose momentum).

Follow these links for the video and the MP3 audio. (Note: If the links don’t work, just search the Internet. The talk is quite popular, so you should find it easily).

2. Ramadaan inspiration

One of my favourite Islamic speakers is Shaykh Hussain Abdul Sattar of Chicago – who has a knack for using easy to understand analogies to help make the listener understand some spiritual aspect.

His website contains a treasure chest of awesome audio material; including an in-depth series on purification of the heart, which I started writing about (kind of a transcription) in this article.

Anyway, for this month specifically, you can find hours of Ramadan-related talks in the Ramadan section.

All the best for the coming month. May it serve as a means of purification for our hearts, minds, and bodies – and benefit us in ways that will stick with us for the rest of our lives.

If you’ve found the template, any of these resources, or the Early Bird series beneficial, please share them with others. A person who helps spread goodness gets a piece of the reward – so be generous to others and think of what you yourself can also gain from sharing.



Hajj Chronicles Part 7: Madinah attractions (Part 2 of 2)

Continuing from last time, we now look at a few other attractions in the city of Madinah.

The Cave of Uhud

Cave of Uhud from base of mountain

The Cave of Uhud from the base of the mountain

Related to the Battle of Uhud is the Cave of Uhud, which is quite far from the battle site. The cave – which sits on the side of Mount Uhud – is where the Prophet s.a.w. took refuge after being wounded in the battle. We visited the cave on a separate, unofficial ziyarah (meaning that the Saudi government doesn’t encourage visiting this site). While most of us climbed up and tried to get in, not many could, because a small group of visitors from another country were just staying put inside – not letting others have a turn.

While that level of selfishness and disregard for others angered our group, we realized that we should just take advantage of whatever we could get – which was climbing on the very same path that the Prophet s.a.w. climbed, and having a rare view of another part of Madinah – far from the hotels and shops that dominate the Masjid area.

I got quite close to the cave itself – almost into the entrance, but could go no further. I did pick up a sweet scent, though. Some say it’s the smell of the Prophet s.a.w. still lingering, while sceptics would say that maybe people just perfume the area as a sign of respect for the place. Without having any credible evidence for the former, I’m inclined towards the sceptical opinion.

Close-up of Cave of Uhud

A close-up of the cave of Uhud

The neighbourhood at the foot of the cave was also a unique experience. Unlike the well-developed commercial and tourist area around Masjid an-Nabawi, this was a taste of the ‘ordinary’ society of Madinah. It seemed a poor neighbourhood – fairly run down, and with little kids asking for money / selling water to the tourists that come to their area for the cave.

The neighbourhood at the base of Mount Uhud

The neighbourhood at the base of Mount Uhud

A building near the base of Mount Uhud

A building near the base of Mount Uhud

Masjid Qiblatain

Masjid Qiblatain

Masjid Qiblatain

Masjid al Qiblatain – meaning ‘Mosque with Two Qiblas’, is one of the oldest mosques in the world and is unique because it contains two mihrabs – one in the direction of Jerusalem and the other facing Ka’aba. This was the final stop on the official ziyarah circuit, and is famous because it’s where the qibla of the Muslims was changed from Jerusalem (our original qibla) to the Kabah in Makkah (more details here).

But for me, the visit wasn’t very spiritual. And I hardly spent any time in the actual masjid.

This being the end of the tour, we would have to rush to make it back to Masjid an-Nabawi for Thuhr salaah. On top of that, I needed the bathroom, and with the group having limited time, I didn’t want to get left behind. So off I went – rushing in to the toilets outside.

Now, when it comes to Hajj, one of the big considerations – for me, and many others – is what the toilet situation will be like. The Eastern toilet is a daunting prospect for us Westerners – and it’s made even scarier when we worry about how clean it’ll be (and believe me, it can get pretty awful). While the hotels have Western toilets, the places of Hajj itself, as well as other public places – including masjids – have the Eastern ones. I tried not to think of this – as my coping mechanism – but once I got into the toilet at Qiblatain, my ‘ignorance is bliss’ strategy became a thing of the past.

When you gotta go, you gotta go. I had to go, and the Eastern toilet was all that there was. I’ll spare you the details, except to say it wasn’t as dirty as I’d feared – this was actually one of the cleanest Eastern toilets I encountered on the whole trip.

The lesson I took from the experience – other than the actual procedure to do my business in the cleanest possible way (without touching things I could avoid touching) – was that fears are easily conquered by necessity. When the pressure is on and you have no choice, you have to throw your concerns aside and do what you need to do. And in doing so, you often find out that what you feared actually wasn’t real at all. More than half the battle is in your head – so if you can condition your mind to be fearless, you can spare yourself a lot of unnecessary anxiety.

Saqeefah garden (Garden of BanuSa’edah)

After the death of the Prophet s.a.w., the companions (may Allah be pleased with them) needed to choose a successor to assume leadership of the Muslim community. There’s a long and sometimes-contentions story about this event – which I won’t get into (some details are here), except to say that the actual location they held the meeting was in this garden – which belonged to the tribe of Banu Sa’edah.

The garden is 200 metres west of Masjid an-Nabawi, and is beautifully maintained. When we were there, it was open to the public during the daytime. Aside from its historical significance, it’s a lovely, peaceful place – perfect for a picnic, or just relaxing away from the crowds.

The Garden of Banu Sa’edah - where Abu Bakr r.a. was appointed leader

The Garden of Banu Sa’edah

Another shot of the Garden of Banu Sa’edah

Another shot of the Garden of Banu Sa’edah

Other places

As part of the unofficial ziyarah, we also visited a few other places, such as the Al-Ghars well and the site of the house of Salman Al-Farsi (r.a.) – the latter of which was brief but highly significant, given the tremendous story of how his quest for truth led him to Madinah and Islam. For us born Muslims, we shouldn’t take Islam for granted. We should look at examples like Salman’s and even some of today’s reverts – and we should appreciate how valuable this deen is, and reflect on whether we give it its due rights or not.

The site of the house of Salman Al-Farsi r.a.

The site of the house of Salman Al-Farsi r.a.

Another highlight was the Madinah Multimedia museum – which contained great photographic and model exhibits of the city’s history, and is definitely worth a visit.

A model of the Battle of Uhud

A model of the Battle of Uhud

A model of the Rawdah-tul Jannah inside Masjid-an Nabawi

A model of the Rawdah-tul Jannah inside Masjid-an Nabawi

A historical model of Masjid an-Nabawi

A historical model of Masjid an-Nabawi

An old, hand-written copy of the Quran

An old, hand-written copy of the Quran

Next up, insha-Allah: Jannatul Baqi (The graveyard of Madinah), and Masjid an-Nabawi

Request: Either by commenting here or sending me an e-mail, please give your feedback on this particular post and / or the series so far. We’re nearing the end of the Madinah period, and I’d welcome any suggestions on how to make the Makkah, Hajj, and Palestine segments better for you as readers. JazakAllah.

Related lessons:

  • When touring – and in other situations in life – you’ll get people that make things difficult for others. If the situation is out of your control, don’t complain and whine about it. Rather appreciate the fact that you got to be at the site itself, and make the most of it. And make dua that you’ll get another chance to FULLY experience it in future.
  • Don’t believe everything you hear about the historical sites in Islam. Many people narrate stories and things they’ve heard – folklore – which may have no real basis. Be sure that you’re getting authentic information.
  • Although the Saudi government discourages visits to historical sites other than the main, famous ones, try to understand the reasoning behind this. And if you want to visit those sites for legitimate reasons (i.e. you’re NOT going to do bi’dah there), visit. It helps you make more of your trip, and also gives you a taste of other areas that aren’t so shiny and impressive.
  • Fear and anxiety are all in your mind – and the reality is usually not as bad as you imagined. Necessity conquers fear – so try to save yourself the trouble beforehand by remembering this.
  • Don’t take Islam for granted. Remember the struggles that many of the past – such as Salman Al-Farsi r.a. – went through to come to this deen, and reflect on whether you really appreciate it and give it its due rights or not.
  • Try to visit the Madinah Multimedia museum if possible. We visit museums at home and in other places in the world – so why would you pass up that kind of learning experience in the city of Allah’s beloved Prophet s.a.w?

What happened next?

The entire series (30 parts) is available at this link – post by post. You can also download the complete series as an e-book, either in PDF format or as an MS Word document (both versions are under 4MB in size).

Image sources: All pictures taken by me, except the close-up of the Cave of Uhud and Masjid Qiblatain.