Making a Case for The “Ramadan Muslim” : Ramadan Spiritual Reflections

I have been blessed to enjoy spending parts of my Ramadan in different countries other than the one I reside in; I have spent parts of my Ramadan in places such as Turkey and the United Arab Emirates thus witnessing how different people in different cultural contexts observe Ramadan. This has been indicative of how the significance of Ramadan can be interpreted and experienced in a multitude of ways. Perhaps another thing I forgot to mention is that I am an interfaith adult and convert to Islam, having been brought up in a home where one of my parents is Muslim and having chosen to convert to Islam at a young age through reason and rational investigation, Ramadan for the past ten years has been a spiritual learning curve.

For me, Ramadan signifies an opportunity to renew and further enhance my covenant with my Creator. As the time for suhoor (pre-dawn meal) approaches, while most of my neighbours may be asleep, I take this time to draw closer to Allah through the recitation of Qur’an when praying with members of my family for Fajr (the early morning prayer). The words of God as seen in the Qur’an resonate within my soul with the hope and determination that they will be implemented in my actions, as there is no certainty that I’ll get to enjoy another of life’s moments. In the midst of strengthening my relationship with God, Ramadan also serves as personal reminder of my mortality. Will I ever get to experience such a spiritually nourishing time period again? Will these lessons and spiritual boost that I’ve acquired bare any longevity or was this just the typical “Ramadan phase” that so many Muslims become ritualistically accustomed to only to be forgotten once Eid-ul Fitr comes around. These are among the plethora of questions that are pondered by many (including myself), but intensely self-scrutinised by few.

Regardless of whether one deems themselves the “worst individual in the world” due to not practicing their faith, the reflective advice I give is to never give up in building that spiritual connection with God. One of the many observations I made upon my conversion to Islam, was that the term “Ramadan Muslim” is sometimes used pejoratively to castigate those who are known for not being as observant of their faith outside the parameters of Ramadan.

Essentially there are two ways one could analyse this term. This term could be interpreted to mean exactly as I described, i.e. those who only decide to confine their practice and manifestation of their Islamic beliefs to only during Ramadan. With regard to the former interpretation, it’s quite interesting that those who apply such a term often fall victim to spiritual pride: a trait that is antithetical to the Islamic principles of humility and piety. In one’s bid to develop a profound spiritual attachment to Islam and, correspondingly a more strengthened relationship with their Creator, denigrating others or asserting a superiority complex over your fellow sibling in faith does little in earn the pleasure of God. By doing so the recipient of this harsh treatment isn’t harmed, rather the one who continues to demonstrate such feelings bears the harm of not seeing their how detrimental their character deficiencies are to their spirituality.
Alternatively, the term “Ramadan Muslim” could be used as example of the sweetness felt by Muslims (especially those experiencing weaknesses in faith) during a time where collectively and individually, people make improvements to strive in pleasing God and bettering themselves. It could be through Ramadan that such individuals use it as a reference point to continue in fortifying their faith – it could be that Ramadan that may change their lives. It is this latter interpretation that I hope has a more profound effect.

The month of Ramadan also serves to enhance the ability of an individual to have self-control and restraint, such a quality is revered bearing in mind the society in which I reside in promotes the notions of hedonism and immediate gratification. It is oh so easy for one to be a slave to their lower self and desires, and significantly harder to abstain from peer-pressure and the temptations of pleasure-seeking. During the hours of dawn, whilst the majority of the residents on my street lay tucked in bed reluctant to hear the sound of their alarm, I couldn’t help but observe and admire the discipline that dog owners have. The ability to consistently get up during the early hours of the morning and walk your dog, come rain or shine, is remarkable. I compared it to the diligence required when performing my prayers at the prescribed times. This made me think about the structure and importance of discipline and self-control not only pertaining to my observance of Islam but also the impact it has upon my everyday life. Perhaps the lessons derived from abstinence and self-control could be beneficial to those who are engulfed in the consumerist, hedonistic and fast paced lifestyle.

Perhaps another feature of Ramadan is that in spite of being entrenched in the everyday routines of work and school, Ramadan serves a purpose of reconnecting family members and the wider community at large. While it is not religiously obligated of me to go the mosque for congregational Friday prayers (although I used to try and make sure I went any Friday I could, maybe I liked the company also), I couldn’t help but notice that during times outside Ramadan the mosque seemed less filled. Community cohesion in religious institutions such as the mosque are one of the hallmarks of the Islam, the care and regard for the wellbeing of your fellow sister or brother in faith and the effort exerted into study sessions and meal preparation for breaking the fast fill me with excitement.

During Ramadan, I relay and reflect upon the stories of the Prophets and lessons to be learned – many of which are beneficial and would ameliorate the many problems and ailments permeating in society.
A time reflecting on relationships with members of my family, my friends and the wider community during Ramadan should provide an impetus for which one should always maintain the bond of kinship no matter how hectic life can be. Perhaps seeing the community cohesion in the mosque serves as a reminder of what society used to be like before the iPhone/Android smartphones, the iPads and the Twitter/Facebook accounts: when we all just used to actually TALK to each other.

As the days leading up to Eid-ul-Fitr go by I feel a sense of loss as with each day passing, the serenity that comes with Ramadan slips away. I just hope that I get to experience another month where the sweetness of faith never felt so good. But most importantly, will the lessons and experiences I’ve acquired be enduring and impacting upon my life permanently? I pray and hope that many sections of society, irrespective of one’s religious affiliation (or the lack of) have the opportunity to experience the spiritual nourishment Ramadan offers.

Godwilling.

Are Muslims Hindering the Spread of Islam?

Precursory Note: I refuse to apologise for exposing the underlying issues that permeate within this ummah, having said this, I don’t and won’t apologise for who I am as a person. If you feel the need to correct me for any inaccuracies and assertions made in the article (or generally in any talks given, personal face to face encounters) please do so in accordance with the Qur’an and Sunnah with the requisite intent.

Assalam Walaykum, greetings! It is the start of the Gregorian calendar and in sha Allah I thought I’d start off 2014 with yet another article that serves to spark off thought and dialogue. By that same token, I realise that the question I’ve asked and the topic itself is something that is contentious and perhaps isn’t often discussed. I delve into this question with the following equipment: my experiences, my observations and knowledge (so far as I’m able) to try and advance ideas to encourage a unified action to help tackle the problem. I call a spade a spade.

Anyway so as to not deviate from the topic at hand, Islam is a religion that gets negative press a lot of the time – you don’t need to be a MENSA member to work that out – and sadly this negative press can hinder some people from wanting to find out more about Islam and become cordoned off from experiencing the beauty of the religion and its wisdom. From my experiences and observations there are numerous examples where Muslims have hindered the spread of Islam from somebody embracing it, and I won’t hold back in highlighting the way in which this is done:

Nationalism is one of the major reasons for the lack of unity amongst the Muslims and sadly this is becoming an ever-increasing concern.

Nationalism is a concept alien to Islam because nationalism calls for unity based on family and tribalistic/ethnic or racial ties, whereas Islam binds people together on the belief in Allah (swt) and His Messenger (saaw). Islam calls for the ideological bond. Grouping the Muslims on tribalistic lines is clearly forbidden. It is narrated by Abu Da’wud that the Messenger of Allah (saaw) said,

“He is not one us who calls for `Asabiyyah, (nationalism/tribalism) or who fights for `Asabiyyah or who dies for `Asabiyyah.”

Unfortunately it has become common and normalised amongst members of this ummah for certain masjids to be well-known as being for one particular ethnicity/race, often to the exclusion of another. I recount the experience of my own sibling who, minutes prior to jummah prayer starting, had to endure the pain of overhearing derogative comments made about the colour of her skin. My race and ethnicity in itself is not the main focal point, but rather the issue is this ignorant view of ethnicity and cultural baggage as being more of a priority than uniting under the banner of Islam. The origins of nationalism are rooted in the idea of superiority, the idea that somehow a pre-determined genetic factor makes you better than another brother or sister? What’s even more heart-breaking is that upon conversion, some new Muslims (and those wanting to inquire more about Islam) can often feel rejected and turned away as a consequence of their experience. On the other hand those inquiring about Islam may feel that the ignorance demonstrated by a minority may be a window reflection on how Muslims in general act…oh and don’t get me started on the Islamophobes, they just add more fuel to the fire that seem to dedicate a special bonfire to tarnishing the image of Islam.

Other ramifications that nationalism has upon members of this ummah, is that when it comes to the time of looking for that special somebody to complete half your deen with, some find themselves being rejected by families that place culture, ethnicity and other desire filled stipulations of greater importance than one’s devotion to the deen. Of course where culture and religion conflict it is religion that takes precedence, but this knowledge at times isn’t being acted upon thus culminating into many heartbreaks and shattered dreams. Linked to this, the intermingling of culture and religion may not exactly make it easy for those looking at Islam from an outsider point. More than often, it is the case that due to some Muslims having an inability to make the demarcation between culture and religion (rather combining it like the pick ‘n’ mix section at Woolworths!) and thus become misinformed as to what Islam is.

Spiritual pride is another factor that impedes the spread of Islam, but what do I mean by this? Okay, I understand that the two words are quite juxtaposed as spirituality is often synonymous with humility and asceticism whereas pride is synonymous with indulgence ….but let me just explain and analyse.

There are some members of our ummah that assume that just because they are or have recently become practicing, that somehow this makes them morally superior to that of another or they feel a need to subliminally scold their peers and loved ones for the actions reminiscent of  pre-practicing days. Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not hating or throwing shade on all people who’ve become practicing – in fact I support your efforts – but the issue is when some Muslims fall victim to spiritual pride. Arrogance isn’t from Islam, and as a matter of fact, is the very antithesis of what Islam propagates. It seems that many have forgotten their roots, perhaps was a time where you weren’t as practicing, somebody or something eventually made you realise the importance of your faith …in other words…YOU USED TO BE THEM. This very much impacts upon the way both Muslims and non-Muslims receive the message of Islam, for example, there have been many cases where this has resulted in many slowly becoming less inclined to come to the masjid or socialise amongst some sisters (or brothers) for fear of being judged. In some cases there are instances of people leaving Islam as a result of negative experiences incurred as a result of the actions perpetrated by a minority.   Likewise denigrating the religion of another person, or insulting non-Muslims who may lead a lifestyle dichotomous to your own does no favours when trying to propagate Islam and serves to limit the likelihood of certain segments in society not being receptive to Islam.

“I’m glad I found Islam at the young age that I did, before I met Muslims. As much as people need to differentiate between what Islam says and what its followers do, the responsibility is also incumbent upon Muslims to not only to have an unqualified affirmation of faith (i.e. iman) but rather actualise this affirmation by letting it manifest in their daily actions and on a spiritual level. One of the ways this can be done is by developing ihsan and taqwa.

It is from this, that many more people will be inclined to come to Islam in their droves through seeing its beauty and wholly encompassing nature: the solution for humanity.”

– N. Lodda 2014