Salaam alaykum and Ramadhan mubarak to all my brothers and sisters in Islam! I pray that Allah will make the long hours of fasting easy for you and give you strength to get through these long, hot summer days (for those of you in the northern hemisphere!).
Ramadhan is a month in which we abstain from food and water to not only purify ourselves physically, but also to constantly remind ourselves to work toward purifying ourselves spiritually. In light of that, I have some goals in mind for this month that have become apparent to me recently.
Goal 1: Speak up with a smile.
I’ve recently been mulling over my concept of “being nice” and have concluded that perhaps my definition is incorrect. Since childhood, thoroughly ingrained into my mentality is the Christian standpoint of “turn the other cheek” and “if someone takes your cloak, give him your shirt also” (Matthew 5:39-40), and therefore now instinctually don’t defend myself or stand up for myself when dealing with others – instead, I just let it go. But, what happens over and over again is that people, acting on instinct, respond by just running right over me and crossing boundaries without hesitation. I’ve realized that as social – and imperfect – creatures, we are constantly bumping up against each other, so it is completely natural to bump back in order to maintain your position and standing with everyone around you. If you offer no resistance when bumped, and instead easily fall down, people will simply step right over you and continue bumping into everyone else. Thus, naturally – and Islamically – we need to assert ourselves and hold firm when others push up against us. Islam is very specific about upholding the rights of God, of ourselves, and of others. We must uphold our own rights. If we don’t, no one else will. Someone once told me that a mo’min (a believer) might let it go the first time something happens, but not the second time (which falls in line with the English saying “fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me”). In reading the Quran and listening to lectures, I’ve been noticing that indeed it is true – prophets and upright companions were regularly met with resistance and would usually SAY something in response. They weren’t rude, they didn’t have an attitude, they calmly spoke the truth. Essentially, my concept of being nice or polite is simply ignoring and avoiding conflict. Defending myself and pushing back is not something I ever associated with religion or as something “good”; I associated it with being dramatic, concerned with trivial matters, and rude. Thus, my current project is attempting to change my mental definition and actively put it into practice. Assert myself, speak up – but with a nice facial expression and calm tone of voice. I need to gracefully look after my rights, while taking care not to tread on the rights of others – A delicate balance which requires great attention and skill.
Goal 2: Use good words
As a Christian, I would never utter swear words or even the words that represent swear words – my family was very strict about this (for instance, we also couldn’t say crap, heck, or dang), so even in college I continued to refrain from bad language. Despite prolonged, humorous attempts from friends to get me to say some of the less offensive words, I refused. Yet, due to linguistic awareness (that words are given power and meaning by the society that uses them and are not inherently ‘bad’ or ‘good’, but are simply means of expression) and the decreasing grip that Christianity had on my life, I began letting some of these words in. Yet as Muslims, we too should refrain from using offensive words and should keep our speech clean and uplifting to others. If we use certain words, people automatically associate certain qualities or characteristics to us that we wouldn’t want to be known for, and we certainly wouldn’t want people connecting those associations with our religion! So, while I still don’t use such words around others – mostly to myself – I still want to make a concerted effort to get rid of them and replace them with something more fitting and appropriate to who I am.
I’ve thought about adding a few more goals, but I think these two will be more than enough to keep me occupied! It’s easy to type something out, but much harder to act on it every single moment of every single day. I pray that God will help me in my efforts to improve myself, and that He will help all of you as well to work toward self-improvement and giving to others during this blessed month.
For more on specific rights in Islam: http://www.iec-md.org/IECE/religious/treatise_on_rights.html