The last third of Ramadaan is almost upon us, and if you’re like me, you haven’t really hit the highs of the month yet. Personally, it’s been another low-key Ramadaan (as is the standard in recent years) – with only … Continue reading
Day 25, and the month is almost up. What usually is a time of abundant inspiration – especially in terms of writing – has been quite the opposite for me this year. This is the first I’ve written, publically, in the whole month. Privately, it’s not been much better.
Spiritually, it’s also been pretty lean. There have been Some highs, many lows, and large chunks of mediocrity – making this the most unusual Ramadan in my own memory.
What went wrong?
The focus of my attention and energy, this year, has mostly been on my kids. The older one is almost 5 years old, with the younger nearly 1 year. My wife and I have a lot of help from others – alhamdullilah – but for most of my time at home, our energy goes to seeing to them, spending quality time with them, and doing all the things parents need to do for small children.
Perhaps it’s our own weakness and shortcoming that we can’t make most of our time with them spiritual. And that, when it comes to our own spirituality and striving in ibadah, we have to confine that to the hours they’re asleep (which, alhamdullilah, are not that few since we have long Winter nights in our part of the world).
It can be frustrating wanting to make extra salaah, wanting to read more Quran, even wanting to listen to / watch Islamic lectures – yet being curtailed by the sometimes never-ending demands of young kids who depend on you so much.
A different perspective
Now, so far, this may sound like a big list of complaints. And although it does sometimes get to that stage, I think I’ve come to a healthy perspective on all this:
While spirituality and striving in ‘formal’ worship (salaah, Quran, dua, etc) is critical in Ramadan, failing to excel in those areas doesn’t mean you’ve lost your month…if you’ve filled your time with other kinds of worship.
I’m no scholar, and my understanding is perhaps primitive as compared to the more learned amongst us, but the way I see it, Allah has given us kids as a gift and a responsibility. It’s our duty to take care of them, raise them, and do the best we can for them – just like our parents did for us.
So, maybe we didn’t get to read a few pages of Quran. But instead, we tended to a sick baby that needed frequent comforting and attention. Maybe we didn’t go for taraweeh many times, but instead we endured the long process of putting the kids to bed (actually, they put us to bed too 😉 … then ended up making Esha really late, and being too tired to do much else afterwards.
Maybe we didn’t FEEL spiritual, or feel a close connection to our Creator. But we felt LOVE and closeness from precious little beings that our Creator entrusted to us. And by fulfilling the trust He placed upon us, does that not make Him pleased with us? Does that not strengthen the bond we have with Him – even if we can’t really feel it in the constant mill of unspiritual-but-necessary activity?
That’s the way I see it, and I think – for parents with young kids – if you struggle to find spirituality in Ramadan, it’s an optimistic perspective that really needs to dominate your thoughts. There’s no room for despondency and depression in Ramadan.
Spirituality would be nice. Feelings of closeness to Allah would be awesome. But always remember:
WE DON’T WORSHIP FEELINGS. WE WORSHIP ALLAH.
Our obedience to Allah’s commands, staying away from His prohibitions, and striving in His cause – no matter what area of life it’s in – are all to please Him…for His sake.
We don’t do it just because we want to feel a certain way. If those feelings come, then alhamdullilah – we have been blessed with a gift from Allah. But if the feelings don’t come, we don’t get depressed…we simply keep striving and hope for it in future.
So if your kids are taking over your month, don’t let it get to you. There’s a bigger picture to look at. As long as you are taking care of them with the right intentions – that you’re doing it to please Allah, and wanting it to be considered an act of worship – then insha-Allah you are successful, even if you can’t feel it right now.
May Allah help all of us to see things positively, and strive in ALL our acts of worship – whether those be ‘traditional’, or the necessary, day-to-day activities that are just part of our lives as humans.
And no matter how difficult we perceive our circumstances to be, may we always remember those who face the most challenging of situations – like our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, children and elderly who are enduring the insanity of life in Gaza, Syria, Burma, and elsewhere at this very moment.
Eid mubarak to all; and please try to take forward the goodness from this month into the next 11 to follow. And what you feel for the people of Gaza (and elsewhere) right now, please remember that even when the bombs stop falling, and the media stops reporting on it, they will still be suffering. So keep them in your duas at all times, and support them as best you can all year round.
I hope everyone’s having an awesome Ramadan so far. Ramadan in South Africa usually means that our esteemed guest, Mufti Ismail Menk (from Zimbabwe) performs taraweeh in one of our cities – each night following the salaah with a talk based on some aspect of the Quran.
This year, he’s in Cape Town – at Zeenatul Islam (Muir Street – District Six), and the talks are about the stories of the Prophets (peace be upon them all).
Cape Town radio station Voice of the Cape is broadcasting the taraweeh and lectures this week; and I think Channel Islam International also broadcasts it every night (not sure though). For those who can’t pick up those stations, click on the links and they both have audio streaming via the Internet.
You can find the videos of these inspirational talks – updated regularly – on YouTube. And for those interested in downloading the talks, you can find days 1 to 5 at:
This site is updating it regularly, so they’ll hopefully keep adding more until the month is done. I’m aware that at least some of the audios on that site have a problem – with sound in one channel only. For an alternative, which might be better, try this link.
Note that Mufti Menk does allow his talks to be downloaded for free from the Internet – just as long as you don’t alter them. (And also don’t try to make a profit from them!)
For those who prefer / want rough transcripts of the talk, Du’aa a Day on Facebook is publishing daily / regular transcripts. And for those without Facebook (perhaps better to keep off it this month for some of us 😉 – Muslimah (Life)Style is posting the transcripts on their site.
For older lectures by him, visit www.muftimenk.co.za– which has the complete sets of most of his South African Ramadan talks for the last few years.
Feel free to pass this message on to anyone that’s interested. Many, many, South Africans benefit from these lessons each year – and even though we can listen to / see / read it at any time of the year; Ramadan is a time when our hearts are much more open and accepting of these beautiful advices – so take advantage of them now, while you’re in these blessed moments.
It’s amazing how much benefit and reward a person can get from just simple actions. For example, the following hadith (narrated in Muslim) tells of four simple words that – if recited three times – are more valuable than hours and hours of thikr.
Juwairiyah bint Al-Harith (May Allah be pleased with her) reported, the Mother of the Believers: The Prophet (PBUH) came out from my apartment in the morning as I was busy in performing the dawn prayer. He came back in the forenoon and found me sitting there. The Prophet (PBUH) said, “Are you still in the same position as I left you.” I replied in the affirmative. Thereupon the Prophet said, “I recited four words three times after I had left you. If these are to be weighed against all you have recited since morning, these will be heavier. These are:
- Subhan-Allahi wa bihamdihi, `adada khalqihi,
- wa rida nafsihi,
- wa zinatah `arshihi,
- wa midada kalimatihi
- Allah is free from imperfection and I begin with His praise,
as many times as the number of His creatures,
- in accordance with His Good Pleasure,
- equal to the weight of His Throne
- and equal to the ink that may be used in recording
the words (for His Praise)].’
For a talk explaining more on this, listen to: “Levels of Submission” (19 minutes : Stream/Download) by Shaykh Hussain Abdul Sattar (Chicago).
For a downloadable version of this hadith – along with the Arabic and individual words, click here: Fourwords.doc.
Memorising and repeating little things like this – on a consistent basis – will, insha-Allah, be of immense, immense benefit to us not only in this life, but most importantly on the Day of Judgement.
Remember: the most beloved deed by Allah is the one that is consistent – even if it be small.
And please feel free to share this with others – so that you can benefit from having taught it to others.
As a reminder to myself and to my readers, here’s an excellent piece from Suhaib Webb‘s site.
Food is a necessity in life. But keep over-eating (irrespective of nutritional value), and you can become overweight and obese. Eat unhealthy, fatty foods, and you get high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and other nasty illnesses and diseases. The Internet can be compared to our relationship with food. It is a great tool that provides us innumerable benefits. But if we over-indulge or keep ingesting unwholesome pieces and quantities, it can ruin our physical, spiritual and mental health.
With the plethora of content in cyberspace, it’s difficult to maneuver without feeling overwhelmed and virtually claustrophobic. It’s a challenge to be selective in what to read, who to talk to, and what activities to engage in. It’s a struggle to even turn off our electronic gadgets that constantly beep, flash and vibrate with new e-mails, updates, and instant messages. Someone or some group always wants to show and tell us something—always wanting immediate attention. If we comply—all the time—we’ll be hooked for good, and always waiting for more.
The Internet will gladly consume our thoughts and time, if we let it. Our unhealthy online habits can detract from nourishing our real-life interactions, from excelling at work or in school, from reading beneficial books and publications, and from spending quality time with friends and family. We can develop a horizontal approach, broadening our exposure to numerous people and information while developing little to no depth in any of our relationships or knowledge of certain subjects. Our incessant perusal through other people’s pictures, videos, and blogs can make us aimless consumers, and distract us from leaving our own meaningful footprint in cyberspace. Worse, our online sins can develop into addictions that violate our moral code, eat away at our soul, translate into real-life sins, and sever our relationships with spouses and loved ones. If we find ourselves developing any of these problems, we might consider doing the following:
1. Unplug. Log-off. Disconnect. Give your eyes (and ears) a break. Go to a park, or watch a sunset. Enjoy the solitude. Listen to the chirping birds, rustling leaves, and the streaming rivers and creeks. Praise God for the beauty in His creation. Bond with your spouse, children or siblings. Talk about your hopes, dreams, fears and needs. Have a cup of coffee with real friends, and connect in person. Catch up on all the unread messages in the Qur’an. Reflect on their meanings, and on your purpose in life. Try making these daily or weekly habits. Be present with your heart, mind, body and soul.
2. Minimize. When you’re back online, think small. Take bite-size portions you can chew. Be selective. Choose quality over quantity. Read only some posts, watch only some videos. Maybe read an e-book instead. Remember to leave room for breathing space, and digestion. Try not to multi-task online. Don’t toggle between so many tabs and conversations, or jump from wall to wall, and post to post. Focus, process, reflect. Ponder on how you can apply new lessons in your life. Then take time away to implement.
3. Refine. Think of your activities online. Evaluate your surfing, speaking, and spamming. Is it useful, appropriate, and modest? Is it impulsive or superfluous? Choose your words wisely, cautiously, courteously. If they’re with the opposite gender, make them kind but modest. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Try expressing thoughts and feelings in words, rather than using emoticons. Use proper grammar. Take the time to infuse your communication with excellence. Don’t abbreviate, abridge, and shorten where length is valued. Don’t expose, reveal and elongate where concealment is needed. Before you share, post and forward, check if you’ve benefited and reflected.
Remember, from all the online struggles, addiction to viewing pornography can become a clinical problem. It is complicated by changes in brain chemistry, which are difficult to reverse. Don’t let it happen to you. If it already has, seek professional help to prevent further harm to you and your loved ones.
Finally, I’d like to share a passage from Elias Aboujaoude’s Virtually You: the Dangerous Powers of the E-Personality. It sums up the dangers and hopes for the new virtual phenomena quite eloquently:
Virtualism, as enabled especially by the Internet, is a major signpost in our journey through history. There can be no doubting that it has opened windows and brought opportunity—for social connection and outreach, for liberation from anxiety and doubt, for financial and personal success, and for self-realization and fulfillment. Similarly, there can be no doubt any longer the big experiment we are conducting with our psyches. To offer a psychological read of the virtual age is to offer a candid assessment of an encounter between humankind and a new type of machine—one that is not entirely inanimate; that can be alluring, deceptive, and addictive at the same time; and that can efficiently prey on our basic instincts and impulses, our need for amusement and information, and our never-ending search for longing, and self-betterment. Yet for all the problems and “for the worse” changes this machine might have introduced into our lives, we are not lesser for it; only much more complicated…I hope that we will someday be able to measure the World Wide Web’s legacy beyond gross domestic product indexes, efficiency gains, and the number of smiling emoticons flying through the ether. Only then can we honestly rejoice in the Internet’s many real bounties1
“Tasawwuf” is a segment of Islam that’s concerned with the growing – or maturation – of the soul. One of the teachings it extracts from the Islamic sources is that things – all of which were created by the Almighty Allah – are created in one of two ways:
- Instantly, by Allah’s command (“Be…and it is”); and
- Gradually, over time
Those things created instantly include Jannah (Heaven) and the angels; while those created gradually over time include things of this world – such as the Earth itself, plants, animals.
Things in the latter category start out in a stage of infancy or immaturity, then grow over time. For example, a plant starts out as a seed, which then grows roots, and then a stem, leaves, etc – until eventually it becomes a full grown plant.
But things in the former category are fully developed from the moment of their creation.
These two distinctions are important because humankind is unique in that we are a combination of both: we have bodies – which are formed and develop gradually over time; but we also have souls – our core and essence – which come into our bodies ‘ready-made.’
It’s important to recognise these two categories, because understanding what we’re made of will, insha-Allah, help us to understand how we can progress in our lives and attain happiness.
Nourishing each category
Another principle, which follows on from the first section, is that created things are nourished and grow only by interaction with / consumption of things that belong in their own realm.
So, in short, things that are created instantly are nourished by things in that spiritual realm; while things that were created over time are nourished by other things that were created over time.
For example: the plant, which was mentioned above, is nourished by water, sunlight, and the nutrients in the soil it grows in. The plant, as well as its nourishing elements, are all created over time.
Another example is the human body (i.e. the body alone – without the soul): the body is created over time, and it’s nourished by things that were created over time: food – which is either derived from plants, animals, or other things of the Earth.
The soul – which was created instantly – is from the spiritual realm. As such, it is nourished from things in that realm. In Islam, the belief is that the purpose of humankind’s creation – the reason we’re here – is to worship our Lord and Creator: Almighty Allah. (And the term ‘worship’ has a very broad definition in Islam – it’s not restricted to ritualistic acts such as prayers or fasting).
So, acts of worship nourish the soul. These include the ritual acts of worship (especially if done with the proper understanding and a deep connection to Allah); as well as the more informal / ad-hoc acts – such as remembrance of Allah (thikr), reflection on the wonders of this creation, and spending in charity.
We all want to be happy. It’s a natural human desire – one which we gravitate towards and seek out in many different forms.
But the ways we seek that happiness often show our lack of understanding of, and inability to learn from, the two categories discussed so far.
In our understanding, which is highly influenced by the world we live in, we tend towards materialism. It’s no secret that, over the last 50 or so years, materialism and greed for more has really taken hold of many of our societies. Much of the world is trapped in consumerism – always wanting more, or wanting the next ‘new’ thing; often thinking that those items we lust after will make us happy.
And companies and advertisers use this to make tremendous amounts of money. For example, take Coca Cola’s recent slogan: “Open Happiness.”
The implication is that Coca Cola makes you happy. And for a short period – while you’re drinking it and enjoying it – you certainly do feel some kind of ‘happiness’; because the drink tastes good, and satisfies a desire within you to have that which you enjoy.
But in reality, Coca Cola does not make you happy. Actually, if you aren’t responsible and moderate about the amounts you drink, it can make you unhappy – in that it can be detrimental to your health.
Or what about people who feel depressed and think that going on a shopping spree will make them happy? Those items they purchase may make them feel good for a short period, but in the end, the attraction of those items fade – and if they’ve spent money they know they couldn’t afford to spend, then regret (and debt) quickly overtake them.
Or what about the super-rich people of the world, who have mansions and cars and everything money can buy. How many of them, in reality, live unhappy lives? How many of them try to fill the void – try to find happiness – by turning to drugs, promiscuous sexual behaviour, lavish spending on unneccessary things, etc? And what are the results of these forms of pursuing happiness?
If you read the tabloids, or follow celebrity news stories – or you just hear the headlines – you’ll know that the results are nothing to be proud of. Sometimes, those pursuits end in death – either through suicide or an overdose.
The important thing to understand here is that “happiness” is something which is linked to the soul – not the body. When the soul is happy – the whole human being is happy. And when the soul is depressed or sad, the entire human being is depressed or sad.
And because happiness is of that spiritual realm, only things of the spiritual realm – like those acts of ‘worship’ mentioned above – will truly advance a person towards achieving it.
In Islam, the act of fasting – in Ramadaan especially – aims to elevate the soul by denying the body of its pleasures. And for many, many Muslims, Ramadaan is the best time of year – because they feel most spiritually alive in that month; most connected to their Lord; and as a result – most happy, compared to other times of the year.
People of other faiths or spiritual beliefs have also used this concept to elevate the soul. Ascetics deny themselves worldly pleasures – even to the point of denying their human need for sexual gratification by remaining unmarried and keeping away from the opposite sex completely.
But such extreme asceticism is unnatural, and can have disastrous results. How about the sexual abuse scandals that have been rocking the Catholic Church?
Some of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) also took to the idea of self-denial – in an extreme way. One pledged to fast every day, while another wanted to deny himself the sexual satisfaction of being with his wife. The Prophet (pbuh) taught them very simply – by mentioning his own lifestyle – that such extremity is not the way to go. His reply to them encapsulated the concept of moderation, which is so central to Islam’s teachings.
Islam takes a balanced view with regard to self-denial. It recognises that the body does indeed have needs, and those needs must be fulfilled in order for the human being to live a healthy life. But it also requires that the person deny these bodily needs for a set amount of time.
So, for example, fasting in Islam denies food, drink, and sexual activity – all things which the body needs – for a set period of time each day. During this period, the body is denied its pleasures and needs, so that the soul can be elevated.
And then, at night, fasting ends, and the Muslim is then free to satisfy these bodily needs (in a lawful manner).
A Balanced Diet
As mentioned, things of the spiritual realm –acts of ‘worship’ – are the keys to happiness. Yet these acts need to be balanced – both in quantity and in variety. Among the acts are fasting, reading Quran, prayer, dua, repentance, giving charity, and making thikr.
To achieve happiness of the soul, a person needs to find the right balance – the right ‘spiritual diet’ – that works for them; thereby helping their soul grow, find happiness, and attain closeness to its Lord.
In the example of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and the teachings of Islam, we have all the sources necessary to find that balance. For many of us, perhaps, the only missing ingredient is a learned scholar – a practitioner of the soul – who would be able to assess our unique situations, and ‘prescribe’ the ‘diet’ that would be best for us.
This piece is primarily based on a talk on the subject of Tasawwuf, given by Chicago-based Islamic scholar Shaykh Hussain Abdul Sattar – whose works can be found at www.sacredlearning.org. This particular talk, is called “Fundamentals of Tasawwuf (Part 1)” (Download) – and the main content (discussed in this article) starts at about 27 minutes. Shorter talks, which encapsulate the main ideas, are “Sustaining the soul” (Download) and “Essentials for the soul” (Download).
As a reminder to watch what we say, I thought I’d put up a collection of Islamic quotes and more with regard to backbiting. It has been covered before, but we can never get too many reminders when it comes to matters of such importance.
I hope these serve as reminders to us all about how careful we need to be with our tongues.
*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
O you who believe! Avoid much suspicion; indeed, some suspicions are sins. And spy not on each other nor backbite one another. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would hate it (so hate backbiting). And fear God, verily, God is the one who accepts repentance, Most Merciful.
(Quran 49: 12 – Surah Al-Hujurat, verse 12)
Various ahadeeth and sayings:
- “…Backbiting is to say something about your brother that he would dislike…If what you say about him is true, you are backbiting him, but if it is not true then you have slandered him.” [Muslim]
- “When man wakes up in the morning each day, all parts of the body warn the tongue saying, ‘Fear God as regards us, for we are at your mercy; if you are upright, we will be upright and if you are crooked, we become crooked.’” [Tirmidhi]
- It was narrated in the Hadith relating the story of Mi’raj (Ascent): “The Prophet (peace be upon him) passed by people with copper fingernails – with which they scratch their own faces and chests. He asked: “Who are those, Gabriel?” It was answered: “Those are the people who eat the flesh of other people and vilify their honor.”
- It was narrated that a man brought two fasting women to the Prophet (pbuh) – for they were dying of thirst. The Prophet (pbuh) turned away, silently refusing to give permission for them to break their fast. So, the man begged him again, mentioning that the women were on the verge of death. The Prophet then said, “Bring them to me and bring along a bowl.” When they turned to him, he turned to one and told her to vomit in the bowl. She complied, spitting up a mixture of vomit, blood, pus and pieces of flesh which half filled the bowl. He then turned to the other and had her do the same. After the bowl was filled, the Prophet (pbuh) reportedly said, “Verily these two have fasted from what Allah has made halaal for them; and broken their fast from what Allah has made haraam. They spent their fast eating the flesh of others.” [Ahmad]
- “… Do not backbite Muslims, and do not search for their faults – for if anyone searches for their faults, Allah will search for his fault; and if Allah searches for the fault of anyone, He disgraces him in the open for everyone to see – even if he hid it in the innermost part of his house.” [Abu Dawud; Tirmidhi, others]
- “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should talk what is good or keep quiet, and whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should not hurt (or insult) his neighbour…” [Bukhari]
- “Whoever guarantees me (the chastity of) what is between his legs (i.e. his private parts), and what is between his jaws (i.e., his tongue), I guarantee him Paradise.” [Bukhari]
Scholar Hasan al-Basri reportedly said:
“I swear by Allah: backbiting is swifter in consuming the religion of a Muslim than a gangrenous infection is in consuming the human body.”
Two particular audio lectures come to mind, when I think of this topic:
- Guarding the tongue (30 minutes) [Stream | Download]
- Truthful and Straightforward Speech (18 minutes) [Stream | Download]
And, for a lighter look at the issue, watch Baba Ali’s video: “Little backbiter”.
If you’d like a printable version of the quotes, you can download the Word document below: