Friday, September 22, 2006

Should we be 'Ramadhan Muslims'?

The great month of Ramadhan is upon us; the month, during which the gates of mercy are wide open, the gates of hell are shut and the shayateen are chained up. It is a month chosen by Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) as a month of fasting; an act of ibadat that Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) made special to Him. He (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) favoured this month over all other months by making it the month of mercy and reverence for all the believers. This month is the most superior of months in which Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) revealed the Qur'an. Also, in this month were revealed the scriptures of Musa (as), as well as the Zabuur and the Injeel.

It is natural within this month for the Muslims to increase their good deeds in order to gain the vast reward of Ramadhan and get closer to Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala).This is something that has occurred throughout history and is a positive sign that the flame of Islam still burns brightly in the hearts of Muslims worldwide.

All mature Muslims are obligated to fast within this month from dawn to sunset abstaining from food and drink. The hunger and thirst that is felt during the day is automatically connected in our minds to the reason as to why we are fasting, as a worship of Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala).

Unfortunately, for some amongst us, instead of being a month of increasing ones good deeds on top of the obligations we consistently perform, we find today that for many it is a month of only temporary change. Unheard of in the early days of Islam, today we have the phenomenon of the 'Ramadhan Muslim' - one who is Muslim in name but only Muslim in action for one month in the year.

The examples of such individuals are numerous, to the extent that it has become a norm amongst Muslims in the West to find a contingent of 'Ramadhan Muslims' within them. These are Muslims who usually practise little of Islam but suddenly transform in this holy month into actively practising Muslims. They begin to perform their Salah, are careful of their speech, control their tempers, lower their gaze and increase their remembrance of Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala). On top of the obligatory actions, people even compete in the recommended ones such as tarawih salah and recitation of the Qur’an, such that the mosques are full at many times during the day.

Haram (prohibited) actions are also avoided by many during Ramadhan, the talk of which also suddenly becomes taboo. Young Muslim friends would even shun talking to each other about 'clubbing', 'spliffing' or chasing after the opposite sex even though these are popular pastimes for the same people throughout the rest of the year.

Examples of the 'Ramadhan Muslim' can be seen amongst both the youth and the elders alike. Some of the elders put away their lottery cards, refrain from backbiting, and are much more controlled with their temper towards their children or spouses during Ramadhan.

And when Ramadhan ends on the day of Eid, it is unfortunately all too common to see all the good that was witnessed in the holy month to be rapidly reversed. The headscarves come off the women, the 'rizla' and the 'weed' comes out for many youngsters, the tempers flare, the mosques are again empty, the Qur’an is left on the shelf, the clubbing, partying, tribal squabbles, and promiscuity restarts.

This demonstrates clearly that Ramadhan has not truly been understood by many Muslims. It is sad to see Ramadhan treated as people of other religions treat their religious occasions, in a manner which only temporarily alters their actions.

Why?

It is no mystery as to why many Muslims have become like this. This part-time attitude to religion is enshrined in the society in which we live. In the view of the West religion is meant to be a personal matter that is limited to a set of rituals and morals that should not play a part in the rest of our lives.

Many Muslims would openly declare their belief in Islam yet at the same time have adopted this corrupt notion that relegates Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) and the Qur’an to one month in the year or only to personal worship. A Muslim who treats Ramadhan and Islam in this manner resembles the Christian who acts as he pleases and attends the church on Sunday or during Lent expecting to be forgiven.

People who hold this notion will often feel very emotional during Ramadhan and will spend hours during prayer and supplication. Some even cover up the television seeing it as an evil. They often feel guilty for actions throughout the year such as their illicit relationships or interaction with the opposite sex, their backbiting, mortgage on their house, missing of salah, interest based loans, foul language or neglect of their parents or children. Going into a mode of submission during Ramadhan is an attempt to exonerate themselves and is a way to boost themselves with some 'spiritual energy'. The effect is temporary and after Ramadhan the actions and together with them the guilt returns.

The uneasiness and guilt is bound to remain with such people. As to believe on one hand that we have been created by our Lord, Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) and that our clear purpose in life is to worship Him and on the other hand to completely disregard this belief in the rest of life would naturally leave an individual at unease.

This is the true dilemma of the 'Ramadhan Muslim', a mixed, confused personality torn between Islam and the secular Western values. It is a personality lacking distinctiveness and direction.

We need to be true to ourselves and ask the following serious questions:

Do we believe the Qur’an that was revealed in this month by the Creator of the universe is a book of guidance only for this month or partial aspects of our lives?

Do we think that fasting in this month and then returning to the neglect of the Islamic duties will grant us forgiveness? Is this the basis by which we convince ourselves that it is fine to be distant from Islam for the rest of the year?

The true meaning of Ramadhan

Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) says:
شَهْرُ رَمَضَانَ الَّذِيَ أُنزِلَ فِيهِ الْقُرْآنُ هُدًى لِّلنَّاسِ
وَبَيِّنَاتٍ مِّنَ الْهُدَى وَالْفُرْقَانِ

"Ramadhan is the month in which the Qur’an was revealed, a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance and as a criterion (al-Furqan)" [TMQ Al Baqarah: 185]
We should realise that the deen has come to regulate the dunya. Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) revealed the Qur’an within this blessed month so that it acts as al-Furqan, the criterion between right and wrong for all of our actions throughout the twelve months of the year.

Islam is different to Christianity, Judaism and all the other religions, for it is the true Deen, a complete way of life with detailed shari'ah rules and solutions to all of life's problems. Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) has revealed to us not only how to fast, He (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) has also given us details for how to trade in a halal way avoiding riba (interest) and all haram contracts, how to live in the West without becoming integrated into the society and adopting its corrupt values, how to bring up and educate our children and guard them from the kufr culture that the society bombards them with, how the houses of Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) - the mosques should be a centre for Islam that are open to the young and old rather than being places that turn people away. Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) has revealed to us detailed rules for all issues just as He (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) revealed to us how to fast and perform the recommended acts during the month of Ramadhan.

Ramadhan should be a month for us to increase our remembrance of Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) rather than a month of temporary obedience to His (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) orders. Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) says,
"Oh you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you many gain Taqwa" [TMQ Al Baqarah:183]
Taqwa comes from the word 'waqiya', which means to protect. It is protection from the anger of Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) and His (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) punishment. This is why taqwa is used to describe the performing of actions, which pleases Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) and abstaining from all actions that displeases Him (Subhanahu wa ta’aala).

Taqwa in essence means God consciousness, being conscious of Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) in all our actions and affairs. Fasting should aid us in gaining taqwa, as it puts us in an atmosphere of obedience to Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala), every time we feel hunger during the fast or fatigue, we know that we are doing it for the obedience of Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala). It makes us realise our relationship with Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala).

Umar ibn al Khattab (ra) once looked at those praying and said, "The great number of times any of you raises and lowers his head does not deceive me. The [real] deen is being cautious and meticulous in the deen of Allah, and refraining from what Allah has forbidden, and acting according to what Allah permits and forbids."

The son of 'Ali (ra), Al-Hasan (ra) once said, "The people who have taqwa (al-muttaqoon) are the people who avoided whatever Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) has prohibited and have done whatever Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) has ordained."

'Umar ibn Abdul Aziz (ra) once said, "Taqwa is not by fasting the day and not by praying the night. And it is not by mixing between the two of them.But taqwa is leaving what Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) has made haram and by doing what Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) has made fard. After one has done this, Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) will provide good things for that person."

Ibn Juzayy said in his dictionary of terms from the introduction to his tafsir:

"Taqwa's meaning is fear, clinging to obedience to Allah and abandoning disobedience to Him. It is the sum of all good."

To achieve taqwa and avoid the label of the 'Ramadhan Muslim' we must have a solid foundation. We must base our belief on conviction, clearly comprehending the fact that Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) is the Creator of the universe and linking that realisation to our actions. Our belief is unlike the belief of the Christians and other faiths which have no proof for them. The existence of Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) and the definitiveness of the Qur’an are facts to us just as we believe that fire burns. To achieve this belief we must apply the mind that Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) has given us rather than just imitating others blindly without any comprehension.

Ibn Abbas (ra) said, "The light of Iman is thinking".

Contemplating upon the dates which we break our fasts with and the hunger which we feel during our fast is enough to lead us to conclude that we are needy and dependent upon a creator. The entire universe and whatever it contains is proof enough for the existence of Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) and smashes the myths of the theory of evolution or the 'big bang'.

The Qur’an which we recite during this month is not a book like any other, written by men. It is a miracle proving beyond any doubt the truthfulness of Islam. Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) challenges all humanity to produce even one chapter like it which mankind has failed to achieve. Even America with the billions of dollars it spends in fighting Islam, all it has to do is to produce one chapter (Surah) similar to the Qur’an for all the 1.5 billion Muslims to apostatise and leave Islam. It has failed, as will all those who attempt the impossible. For the challenge of the Qur’an has been set by Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala).

Possessing an unshakeable belief allows the Muslim to accept his position as the slave of Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) and enables him to submit completely to all the commands and prohibitions, thus attaining taqwa.

It is linking the realisation of Allah's existence to our actions that shapes the Islamic personality. The Muslim does not consider his own benefit or pleasure as factors in deciding right or wrong, so he will fast the long day, wake up early in the morning for fajr salah, share his food with others, avoid temptations andindecency, avoid Haram and tirelessly engage in the da'wah to resume the Islamic way of life. This selflessness is what completely defies the West who are obsessed with following their lusts and personal desires.

Islam should flow in our veins such that we think and feel according to it. This is what allowed the Muslims to stand firm in the battle of Badr in the second year after the Hijra. On a Friday, morning the 17th of Ramadhan the Prophet (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) led the Muslims outnumbered 3 to 1, 305 believers defeated an army of over 900 kuffar. The Quraysh were humiliated and the Muslims were victorious.

It was this conviction that shaped the personalities of Muslims throughout the ages such that our history is full of examples of strength, courage, determination and enlightenment.

It is this belief and understanding that allowed the Muslims under the leadership of Tariq ibn Ziyad to liberate Spain during Ramadhan, Ninety-two years after the Hijrah. It was also in this month of sacrifice in 1187 (CE) that Salahaddin Ayyubi defeated the Crusaders. On this day the Muslims virtually routed all the local Crusader forces capable of defending the Crusaders establishment in the Near East. With a 12,000 strong cavalry they defeated the Crusaders and re-took al-Quds back into its rightful hands.

Benefiting from Ramadhan

Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) has allowed each and everyone of us to witness again the month of Ramadhan that we may benefit from it by drawing closer to Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala), by making sincere repentance, and seeking His mercy and forgiveness. For those of us who are 'Ramadhan Muslims' we must let this Ramadhan be a time of true change where we completely mould our personalities according to Islam so that we will remain steadfast for the whole of our lives. For those of us who are already practising Islam let it be a time where we redouble our efforts, attain the reward and strengthen our relationship with Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala).

Indeed the one who fails to benefit from the month of Ramadhan is one of the losers, and deserves to be distanced from Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala).
The Prophet (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) said,
"Fasting is a shield with which a servant protects himself from the fire." [Ahmad]
Abu Hurairah reported that the Prophet (salAllahu alaihi wasallam), climbed upon the minbar and said:
"Ameen, ameen, ameen". So it was said, "O Messenger of Allah (salAllahu alaihi wasallam), you climbed upon the minbar and said, "Ameen, ameen, ameen"? So He (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) said "Jibreel came to me and said, 'Whoever reaches the month of Ramadhan and does not have his sins forgiven and so enters the fire, then may Allah distance him, say ameen" So I said "Ameen" [Ibn Khuzaimah, Ahmad & al-Baihaqi].
The Messenger of Allah (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) said,
ر"Ramadhan has come to you. (It is) a month of blessing, in which Allah covers you with blessing, for He sends down mercy, decreases sins and answers prayers. In it, Allah looks at your competition (in good deeds), and boasts about you to His angels. So show Allah goodness from yourselves, for the unfortunate one is he who is deprived in (this month) of the mercy of Allah, the mighty, the exalted." [Tabarani]
The Prophet (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) said:
"He who is amongst those who pray will be called from the gate of the prayer (in paradise) and he who is from the people of jihad will be called from the gate of jihad, and he who is from those' who give in charity (i.e. zakat) will be called from the gate of charity, and he who is amongst those who observe fast will be called from the gate of fasting, the gate of raiyan." Abu Bakr said, "He who is called from all those gates will need nothing," He added, "Will anyone be called from all those gates, O Allah's Apostle?" He said, "Yes, and I hope you will be among those, O Abu Bakr." [Bukhari]
Abu Said al-Khudri reported that the Messenger of Allah, said: "No servant fasts on a day in the path of Allah except that Allah removes the hellfire seventy years further away from his face." [This is related by "the group," except for Abu Dawud]

Abdullah ibn `Amr reported that the Messenger of Allah (salAllahu alaihi wasallam), said:
"The fast and the Qur'an are two intercessors for the servant of Allah on the Day of Resurrection. The fast will say: 'O Lord, I prevented him from his food and desires during the day. Let me intercede for him.' The Qur'an will say: 'I prevented him from sleeping at night. Let me intercede for him.' And their intercession will be accepted." [Ahmad]
Abu Umamah reported:
"I came to the Messenger of Allah and said: 'Order me to do a deed that will allow me to enter Paradise.' He said: 'Stick to fasting, as there is no equivalent to it.' Then I came to him again and he said: 'Stick to fasting."' [Ahmad, an-Nasa'i, and al-Hakim]
Let us ensure that we take heed from the words of our master, Muhammad (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) who said,
"Whosoever does not stop saying and acting upon falsehood, Allah’s (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) in no need for them to abandon their food." [Bukhari]
This narration from our beloved Prophet (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) should serve as a stark warning to all those who stick to Islam during Ramadhan and then abandon it after the day of Eid ul Fitr.

Recommended Actions

For the one who has taqwa sticking to the minimum of performing the obligations and refraining from the prohibitions does not seem enough as he continuously wants to develop his personality in order to gain the pleasure of Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala). The month of Ramadhan is full of opportunities to gain the extra reward by undertaking the acts that please Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala).

The Messenger of Allah (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) addressed his companions on the last day of Sha`ban, saying, "Oh people! A great month has come over you; a blessed month; a month in which is a night better than a thousand months; month in which Allah has made it compulsory upon you to fast by day, and voluntary to pray by night. Whoever draws nearer (to Allah) by performing any of the (optional) good deeds in (this month) shall receive the same reward as performing an obligatory deed at any other time, and whoever discharges an obligatory deed in (this month) shall receive the reward of performing seventy obligations at any other time. It is the month of patience, and the reward of patience is heaven. It is the month of charity, and a month in which a believer's sustenance is increased. Whoever gives food to a fasting person to break his fast shall have his sins forgiven, and he will be saved from the fire of hell, and he shall have the same reward as the fasting person, without his reward being diminished at all." [Narrated by Ibn Khuzaimah]

There are particular actions that have been encouraged within this month like suhur, tarawih salah, performing umrah, qiyam and feeding the fasting people.

There is much reward to be had by the one who partakes in the suhur, the pre-dawn meal, and the one who invites others to break fast with him.

The Prophet (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) said, "Take suhur as there is a blessing in it."

He (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) also said, "Whoever will invite a person who is fasting to break the fast with him will get the same reward as the one who was fasting and there will be no reduction in his reward either".

In the nights of this month there is much opportunity for repentance and supplication, both collectively in the tarawih prayers and also individually in the other prayers such as salat al-tahajjud and by remembering Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) by performing dhikr, and by praising and glorifying Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) with the heart and the tongue.

Abu Hurairah said, "I heard the Messenger of Allah (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) say,
'the one who does qiyam (staying up the night in remembrance of Allah) in Ramadhan with faith and sincerity, all his sins will be forgiven.'"

Ramadhan is the month in which the umrah is equivalent to a single Hajj (in reward). The Messenger of Allah (salAllahu alaihi wasallam) said to a woman from the Ansar, "If it is Ramadhan, make umrah for indeed it is equivalent to Hajj" [Nisaa'i]

Praying with full devotion upon the night of al-qadr is of great reward, for it is a night that is better than a thousand months.

Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) said,

"Verily! We have sent it down in the night of Al-qadr. And what will make you know what the night of Al-qadr is. The night of Al-qadr is better than a thousand months" [TMQ: Al-Qadr: 1-3]

Maintaining Consistency

Remaining consistent post Ramadhan is the true test. As observing the Islamic rules is much easier when the environment is Islamic, when most people in your family and many of your friends are doing similar. However post Ramadhan, when things go back to normal, the atmosphere is likely to change. If one has truly based their belief on conviction and understood the significance and meaning of Ramadhan, he or she will remain steadfast and committed to Islam.

If we feel that life will go back to normal after Ramdhan and that the effect will wear off then we need to ponder deeply as to the reasons why this may happen. By doing so we will realise that we may have fundamental flaws in our thinking such as not being clear upon the proof of the definitiveness of Islam itself, our decision making process may revolve around personal selfish interests instead of the shari'ah and the lack of linking Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’aala) and the afterlife to our everyday actions. If this is the case we need to spend time in resolving these weaknesses by contemplation, thought and asking help from those more knowledgeable than ourselves. This soul searching process is a must for a Muslim who should be a consistent Islamic personality as tomorrow may never come and who knows if we will live to next Ramadhan. So let us work against the tide, remain strong, embody Islam and be a light to guide others to the truth.

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