Ramadhan Mubarak!

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

In the Midst of Ramadhan

Salaam alaykum, peace and blessings to all, and my sincere apologies for not updating my blog in so long!  I’ve been buried at my job with the start of a new semester and am barely keeping up with all of my obligations as it is!  When I come home in the evening, usually right around iftar, I’ve got about 2ish hours to figure out what to eat, make it, eat it, and then do everything else I need to do before the next day begins.  So yes, I’m a bit frazzled!  On the weekends I just want to do NOTHING, and most certainly nothing that has to do with my computer!

Nevertheless, some of my Ramadhan goals are going smoothly, alhamdilulah.  I’ve been fairly successful at reading Quran almost every day during my lunch break, and on the days when I have to work through my lunch break, I just try to read more on the weekends to compensate for it.  I’m learning so much – I feel like I’m reading a completely different book than what I read before!  SubhanAllah, the Quran is truly an amazing book.  InshAllah I hope to begin sharing some of the passages that have really resonated with me with you all.

My goal of being more present-focused is working somewhat.  Mostly I’m just trying to survive my incredibly busy day, trying to get an impossible amount of work done in a short period of time, but I have been stopping myself every now and then to just be still, both physically and mentally, and carefully take in my whole environment and find something positive and uplifting.  I love nature, so mostly all it takes is looking out any nearby window. 🙂

Exercising while fasting has been a challenge, but I’m getting through it, day in and day out.  It’s hard to push myself as much as I’d like to when I have a parched, dry throat from a full day of teaching and from having an intense headache… But I am resolved to take the challenge and fight through it with whatever energy I have left, and I’m making it, alhamdilulah, with the strength of God.

My goal of focusing on akhlaq with students and colleagues is going semi-well – with students, I think I’m doing very well with remaining patient and kind, alhamdilulah (no matter how many times I’ve told them something and someone will inevitably STILL ask me cluelessly about what I just finished explaining).  With my colleagues, I’m not doing such a great job of going out of my way to be kind and helpful though, as I’m usually really tired (and incredibly parched) after teaching and just want to go to my office and focus on prepping for upcoming classes as furiously as possible.  I think fasting is also sapping all of my energy, because sometimes I can barely put two sentences together!  So, with my colleagues I’m being pleasant but pretty quiet.  Alhamdilulah, there are still two weeks left, so all is not lost – I still have time to step up my game somehow!

On to the more exciting part of the post (for me anyway): a verse of Quran that I’d like to share!

Those who spend their wealth in the way of Allah and then do not follow up what they have spent with reproaches and affronts, they shall have their reward near their Lord, and they will have fear, nor will they grieve.  An honorable word with pardon is better than a charity followed by affront.

(Quran 2: 262-263)

When I read this, I see wealth as meaning not only our money, but also anything that we can give.  So anytime we do anything for anyone else, it can be termed as charity.  What we are being told to avoid, however, is following up an act of charity with grumbling or reminding the other person of what we did for them and making them feel indebted or obligated in any way.

It sounds obvious, but in practical application it is not always so easy.  How many times in our lives have we gone out of our way to do something nice for someone, and they didn’t seem to appreciate it or even acknowledge it?  We then may feel compelled to point out what we’ve done in an annoyed or angry manner (or at least silently hold a grudge against them!) – yet in doing so, we’ve lost the benefit of performing the charity in the first place.  Other times we may do something so great for someone else that we (sometimes unwittingly) like to remind them of what we did, making them feel bad or as if we want them to pay us back for it.

God tells us to avoid all of this – once you perform an act of charity, it’s done.  We have to always bear in mind that we give charity for God’s sake, not for any particular person’s sake.  Our reward lies with God, and not with that person.  With this mindset, even if the other person responds negatively, it shouldn’t affect us as we didn’t do it solely for them in the first place!

I think this type of bad habit occurs frequently with family members or those closest to us.  Perhaps a husband seems to be unhappy with his wife for no apparent reason, and she decides to be charitable and let it go and respond positively instead of negatively.  Yet when he continues to berate her, she explodes and, as a weapon against him, points out each specific circumstance in which she was nice even though he was treating her so badly.  In doing so (becoming angry and using her acts of charity against him), her kind acts no longer hold any reward, because she was doing it in search of the reward and recognition of her husband, and not for God.  Further, any good that might have occurred from her initial charity would be completely undone (if not worsened) now that she has blown up in anger and used her charity as a weapon against him – and the situation will inevitably continue to spiral downward.

SubhanAllah, the meaning in this last phrase (an honorable word with pardon is better than charity with affront) is incredibly profound: it is not only referring generally to any situation in which someone has usurped our rights, but also specifically to a situation in which someone reacts negatively to our charity: to pardon them kindly – to simply let it go.




The Coming of Ramadhan

I have been thinking about Ramadhan for the past two months, reflecting on it, remembering it as I eat or drink throughout the day, and recalling its importance and the lessons learned through it. Now, as the final weekend before its arrival is upon us, it is of utmost importance that we begin to prepare ourselves mentally for this holy and trying month, and ask God for the strength to rely solely on Him and to remove our dependence on worldly things.

Imam Zain al-Abideen (Ali bin Hussain bin Ali bin Abi Talib) provided us with a wonderful supplication (prayer) for the coming of Ramadhan. It is a bit lengthy, but it is well worth reading – and using in prayer yourself.

Supplication for the Coming of the Month of Ramadan

Praise belongs to God who guided us to His praise
and placed us among the people of praise,
that we might be among the thankful for His beneficence
and that He might recompense us for that
with the recompense of the good-doers!

And praise belongs to God who
showed favour to us through His religion,
singled us out for His creed,
and directed us onto the roads of His beneficence,
in order that through His kindness we might travel upon them
to His good pleasure,
a praise which He will accept from us
and through which He will be pleased with us!

And praise belongs to God who appointed among those roads His month,
the month of Ramadan,
the month of fasting,
the month of submission,
the month of purity,
the month of putting to test,
the month of standing in prayer,
in which the Qur’an was sent down as guidance to the people,
and as clear signs of the Guidance and the Separator!175

He clarified its excellence over other months
by the many sacred things and well-known excellencies
which He placed therein,
for He made unlawful in it what He declared lawful in others
to magnify it,
He prohibited foods and drinks in it
to honour it,
and He appointed for it a clear time which He
(majestic and mighty is He)
allows not to be set forward
and accepts not to be placed behind.

Then He made one of its nights surpass the nights
of a thousand months
and named it the Night of Decree;
in it the angels and the Spirit descend
by the leave of their Lord upon every command,
a peace constant in blessings
until the rising of the dawn
upon whomsoever He will of His servants
according to the decision He has made firm.

O God,
bless Muhammad and his Household,
inspire us
with knowledge of its excellence,
veneration of its inviolability,
and caution against what Thou hast forbidden within it,
and help us to fast in it
by our restraining our limbs
from acts of disobedience toward Thee
and our employing them
in that which pleases Thee,
so that we lend not our ears to idle talk
and hurry not with our eyes to diversion,

we stretch not our hands toward the forbidden
and stride not with our feet toward the prohibited,
our bellies hold only what Thou hast made lawful
and our tongues speak only what Thou
hast exemplified,
we undertake nothing but what brings close to
Thy reward
and pursue nothing but what protects from
Thy punishment!
Then rid all of that from the false show of the false showers
and the fame seeking of the fame seekers,
lest we associate therein anything with Thee
or seek therein any object of desire but Thee!

O God,
bless Muhammad and his Household,
in it make us attend
to the appointed moments of the five prayers within
the bounds Thou hast set,
the obligations Thou hast decreed,
the duties Thou hast assigned,
and the times Thou hast specified;

and in the prayers make us alight in the station of
the keepers of their stations,
the guardians of their pillars,
their performers in their times,
as Thy servant and Thy messenger set down in his Sunna
(Thy blessings be upon him and his Household)
in their bowings, their prostrations, and all their
excellent acts,
with the most complete and ample ritual purity
and the most evident and intense humility!

Give us success in this month to
tighten our bonds of kin with devotion and gifts,
attend to our neighbours with bestowal and giving,
rid our possessions from claims,
purify them through paying the alms,
go back to him who has gone far from us,
treat justly him who has wronged us,
make peace with him who shows enmity toward us
(except him who is regarded as an enemy
in Thee and for Thee,
for he is the enemy whom we will not befriend,
the party whom we will not hold dear),

and seek nearness to Thee through blameless works
which will purify us from sins
and preserve us from renewing faults,
so that none of Thy angels will bring for Thee
the kinds of obedience and sorts of
nearness-seeking
unless they be less than what we bring!177

O God,
I ask Thee by the right of this month
and by the right of him who worships Thee within it
from its beginning to the time of its passing,
whether angel Thou hast brought nigh to Thee,
prophet Thou hast sent,
or righteous servant Thou hast singled out,
that Thou bless Muhammad and his Household,
make us worthy of the generosity Thou hast promised
Thy friends,
make incumbent for us
what Thou hast made incumbent
for those who go to great lengths in obeying Thee,
and place us in the ranks of those
who deserve through Thy mercy the highest elevation!

O God,
bless Muhammad and his Household,
turn us aside from
deviation in professing Thy Unity,
falling short in magnifying Thee,
in Thy religion,
blindness toward Thy path,
heedlessness of Thy inviolability,
and being deceived by Thy enemy, the accursed Satan!

O God,
bless Muhammad and his Household,
and when in every night of this month’s nights
Thou hast necks
which Thy pardon will release
and Thy forgiveness disregard,
place our necks among those necks
and place us among the best folk and companions
of this our month!

O God,
bless Muhammad and his Household,
efface our sins
along with the effacing of its crescent moon,
and make us pass forth from the ill effects of our acts
with the passing of its days,
until it leaves us behind,
while within it Thou hast purified us of offenses
and rid us of evil deeds!

O God,
bless Muhammad and his Household,
and should we go off to one side in this month,
set us aright;
should we swerve,
point us straight;
and should Thy enemy Satan enwrap us,
rescue us from him!

O God,
fill this month with our worship of Thee,
adorn its times with our obedience toward Thee,
help us during its daytime with its fast,
and in its night with prayer and pleading toward Thee,
humility toward Thee,
and lowliness before Thee,
so that its daytime may not bear witness
against our heedlessness,
nor its night against our neglect!

O God,
make us like this in the other months and days
as long as Thou givest us life,
and place us among Thy righteous servants,
those who shall inherit Paradise,
therein dwelling forever,178
those who give what they give,
while their hearts quake,
that they are returning to their Lord,179
those who vie in good works,
outracing to them!180

O God,
bless Muhammad and his Household
in every time, in all moments, and in every state,
to the number that Thou hast blessed whomsoever
Thou hast blessed
and to multiples of all that, through multiples
which none can count but Thee!
Surely Thou art Accomplisher of what Thou desirest.

May God give us the strength to pass through this time of trial, test, and purification.  May God help us to focus on Him and to cut the chains of bondage of the world that we have allowed to grip us.  May God help us to exert extra effort to be cheerful, kind, patient, and charitable toward others during this time, may God use our hunger to remind us of those less fortunate than us, and to reach out to them, and may God help us to refrain from not only the haram, but also the makrooh, and to engage in more wajib and mustahab acts.

The supplication, along with an audio clip of it, can be found here: http://www.duas.org/sajjadiya/s44.htm

Other supplications of Imam Zain al-Abideen can be found here: http://www.duas.org/sajjadiya/sajjadiya.htm