We praise Allah (SWT) an abundant praise that He allowed us to live through an entire season of Ramadan, that He made the fasting and the Qiyam in the month of Ramadan easy for us, that He blessed us to spend the day of Eid together with our family and friends.
Now that the month of Ramadan is over, something that we should not loose sight of is that the month of Ramadan essentially is a month of training, which prepares us to meet the challenges we face outside this month. During the month of Ramadan, we see that the faith of the believers translates itself into righteous deeds. So we see the Muslims standing up at night to pray taraweeh. We see Muslims reciting Quran; many who recite three, four or more juz every day. We see Muslims praying to Allah seeking forgiveness for their sins. But such practices should not end with the month of Ramadan, instead they should carry on into the following months.
One of the signs of the acceptance of our deeds in the month of Ramadan, as our scholars relate is that we remain steadfast in our actions and good deeds even after this month is over. That the state of our heart before and after the month of Ramadan is visibly different in the sense that we experience a stronger connection with Allah (SWT) and consequently we are more careful in fulfilling the rights of other people.
1. Implications of Prayers and Fasting
One of the beautiful characteristics of our faith is that every aspect of our faith is tied to certain ethical outcomes. Take the example of the five daily prayers. If a person is praying five times a day his prayer should be connected to certain ethical outcomes and when it is divorced from those outcomes, it means something is wrong with that person’s prayer. Allah says:
Innasalata tanha a’nil fahshai wal munkar.
Indeed the prayer wards off indecency and lewdness.
If we are praying five times a day and yet we are indecent and lewd people then something is wrong with our prayer. Similarly fasting is tied to certain ethical outcomes and the Prophet (SAW) described one such implication as:
Man lam yad’a qawlaz zoori wal ‘amala bihi falaysa lillahi haajatan fi an yada’a ta’amuhu wa sharabuh
He who does not give up uttering falsehood and acting according to it, Allah has no need of him to give up his food and drink.
We should remember that in this month we are not only restraining from food and drink but also restraining from everything that influences our character in a negative manner. And here each one of us should contemplate and think. What behavior do I have that is incorrect and that requires change on my part. We should try to be introspective and see where is it that we fall short? Is it that I lie? Is it that I backbite others? Is it that my love for wealth prevents me from spending freely in charity? We should identify those obstructions that prevent us from drawing nearer to Allah (SWT) and use the month of Ramadan and subsequent months to work on removing those obstructions.
2. Reading the Signs
One of the things we should learn in the process of introspection is to learn to read the signs. Allah (SWT) reminds us of our current state in many different ways and it is only those whom Allah grants true insight and wisdom that they are able to read these signs in a manner to draw them nearer to Allah (SWT).
Imam Abu Hanifa once went to perform hajj. While performing one of the rituals he accidentally stepped on the toe of a young person. That person became furious and said to him “Do you not have any fear of Allah”. When Imam Abu Hanifa heard this he fainted. When he regained consciousness the people surrounding him said “this was only a young person you didn’t have to take him seriously”. What Imam Abu Hanifa said in response was very profound. He said, “I feared that Allah had put these words in his mouth.” In other words Imam Abu Hanifa read it as a sign that Allah was reminding him to have fear of Him. So he read the signs in a very different manner than many of us would have read, in a manner that did not reflect his ego but reflected his inner state of nearness to Allah (SWT).
It is narrated that one day Imam Malik went to Masjid An-Nabawi after ‘Asar. Rasulullah (SAW) had commanded that no one who enters the Masjid should only sit until he first prays two rakaats of Salah, commonly known as Tahiyatul Masjid. But Imam Malik was of the opinion that Rasulullah’s forbiddance of praying after ‘Asar took precedence and so he would teach his students to not pray the tahiyatul masjid if they entered between ‘Asar and Maghrib prayers.
However, the moment Imam Malik sat down a young boy said to him: “Get up, and pray the two rakaats of tahiyatul masjid!” Imam Malik dutifully stood up and began praying the two rakaats. After he completed the salah, the students swarmed around him and asked him if he had changed his opinion. Imam Malik said, “My opinion has not changed, nor have I gone back on what I taught you earlier. I merely feared that had I not prayed the two rakaats as the young boy commanded, Allah might include me in the ayat which stated:
And when it is said to them, ‘Bow (in prayer)’, they do not bow. [77:48]
So again, Imam Malik read the sign in a manner that his heart drew him nearer to Allah (SWT). Now how are these stories relevant to our lives? I’d like to mention another example to relate this to our personal experience. During the month of Ramadan, we follow the hadith of the Prophet to try to seek Laylatul Qadr in the odd nights of the last ten days of Ramadan. There is another hadith of the Prophet (SAW) wherein he said:
Whosoever is deprived of it, is deprived of all good; and none is deprived of its good except an unfortunate person. (Ibn Majah)
Now imagine a person who makes his intention to get up earlier in the morning, sometime before his regular time for suhoor so he could spend some time worshipping Allah (SWT). So goes to sleep on the first night and sleeps through the night and is not able to get up. Then he makes a similar intention for the following odd nights yet misses the worship during the other odd nights as well. Now there are two ways one could look at this. You could have a person who says: well I made the intention yet was not able to get up so there isn’t much I could do about it. Another way of looking at this would be that maybe I’m involved in some kind of practice that is displeasing to Allah (SWT) and because of that Allah did not allow me to benefit from this night. Now this may be a very frightening thought but it is only through an honest assessment of our inner condition with Allah (SWT) that we’ll be able to rid ourselves of the diseases of heart and will be able to take up a course of action that would help us draw nearer to Allah (SWT). This is what introspection is all about; this is what self-reflection is all about.
3. Nature of Change
Ramadan, as you know is considered to be a time for change. But changes that are not sustainable have little or no benefit to them. So for example, if you loose 10lbs and regain them after sometime, you’ve literally not benefited from your effort that helped you loose the 10lbs in the first place. And so I would like to spend sometime talking about the nature of change and it is perceived from an Islamic perspective.
We see that Allah frequently swears in the Quran by various times and many of these times are the times of change or transition:
Wal-Fajr – When the night is beginning its transition to the day
Wad-Duha – When the morning is completing its transition from the night
Wal-‘Asr – When the day is transitioning into the night.
So these times indicate the power of Allah because it takes tremendous power to bring about a change. We find that in our individual lives that its very easy to sustain old habits that we have but its very difficult in many instances to change those habits. We find it in our automobiles that we find it takes great amount of power to get the car rolling but once its moving along, it takes significantly less power to sustain its momentum. So times of transition are the times where power is indicated.
And it’s interesting that when a person challenges the power of Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala, Allah reminds that person of this reality. So in the Quran, when Nimrod or Namrood challenges Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala, what does Allah’s messenger remind him with?
Have you not seen the one who disputed with Ibrahim concerning his Lord, because Allah gave him something of power and dominion? Ibrahim said it is my Lord who gives Life and causes death. He arrogantly said: I can give life and I cause death.
So its related that he summoned two men. He said Kill this one and let this one live.
Ibrahim said it is Allah who brings the sun from the East. You then bring it from the West.
So you change this order that Allah has established.
Thus was the one who rejected faith dumbfounded.
4. Change from Within
The nature of change is that it should come from within as Allah says:
Innallaha laa yughayyiru maa bi qawmin hatta yughayyiruu maa bi anfusihim
Verily Allah will never change the condition of a people until they change it themselves
And we see many examples of this in the Quran. So when Maryam (AS) as is described in the Quran was pregnant with Isa (AS), she was told:
Wa huzzee ilayki bi jiz’in nakhlati tusaaqit ‘alayki rutaban janiyya
Shake the trunk of the palm tree towards yourself and fresh and ripe dates shall fall upon you
Now you could have ten strong men try to shake a palm tree and they wouldn’t be able to shake it, let alone have fruits fall off it. But Allah (SWT) is telling us that we have the responsibility of initiating a change after which we should leave the rest to Allah.
5. Tools for Sustaining Change after Ramadan
There are many ways through which we could sustain the momentum that we developed during the month of Ramadan. I would just like to mention a few of these:
1. Recitation of Quran
2. Reflecting on Allah’s Names & Attributes
We cannot love someone unless we know them. The characteristics of Allah (SWT) are unlike the characteristics of His creatures:
- Difference between ‘Alim and ‘Aleem
In the Arabic language, it helps to know that there are many ways, with shades of nuances, to describe the actor or the doer of something. A person who knows is a ‘Alim but Allah is ‘Aleem. In the Arabic language the structure between the ‘Alim and ‘Aleem or the structure fa’il and fa’eel, is that when you use ‘Alim, the person knows, makes mistakes sometimes, doesn’t know at other times. So a ‘Alim may not necessarily know every single moment but when we use the word ‘Aleem then knowledge becomes inseparable constant quality or characteristic of Allah (SWT).
- Degrees of Knowledge
We know that every characteristic of Allah (SWT) is unlike the characteristics of His creatures. So many human beings have knowledge and we all know that there are grades in knowledge so a person who has a PhD in Physics would understand the law, say W = mg in a much more profound manner than a beginning student in high school who has just started to study Physics. And so Allah (SWT) knows and whatever we know is incomparable to what He knows.
- No acquisition of Knowledge
Not only that but ‘How Allah knows’. As human beings, we don’t know then we know. There is no such a thing for Allah (SWT) that He didn’t know then He knew.
- No evolution in Knowledge
When we know, we know something in this way one day and then we know that thing better the following day. So there is an evolution in our knowledge. But ‘Aleem for Allah (SWT), there is no such evolution in His knowledge. There is no change in His knowledge. So even when things change, His knowledge of them has never changed. And that’s very important to keep in mind.
3. Strengthening Our Understanding of the Islamic Tradition
As human beings, we tend to seek out means and resources that could help us satisfy our needs. And we develop a normative understanding of our environment based on our observations. So if we feel cold, we use something like fire that could help keep us warm. If we experience thirst, we use water to quench our thirst. But part of our belief as Muslims is that this very characteristic of fire to keep us warm and water to satisfy our thirst has been granted by Allah (SWT). So it is not the fire that keeps us warm or it is not the water that quenches our thirst but in reality it is the mercy of the Creator of fire and water due to which we are able to derive certain benefits from them. Now by saying this, in no way are we trying to deny the role of the means but instead of placing our trust in the means, we place our trust in the provider of those means. So while the Messenger of Allah instructed the sick to seek medical treatment, he (SAW) reminded them of the fact that it is Allah who has provided a cure for every illness. And that is why he taught us the beautiful dua which we read when we visit the sick:
Allahumma azhibil b’as Rabbannas, ishfi wa anta Shafi, la Shifa’a illa Shifauk
O Allah remove the hardship, O Lord of mankind, grant cure for You are the Healer. There is no cure but from You.
Dua is a clear sign of one’s iman. When we make dua to Allah whether by whispering or making the dua in our heart, we automatically affirm that Allah can hear us. We are affirming His perfect nature. We are also affirming that He loves and cares about us. We also affirm that He has the qudrah, the power to respond to our dua. When we call out to Allah, we automatically give him certain names and certain attributes that He is deserving of; He is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing, the All-Knowing, the Ever-Caring, the All-Powerful.
We ask Allah (SWT) to accept our supplications, our duas. We ask Allah to purify our hearts from any ills which may cause our dua not to be heard or responded to by Allah (SWT).