Friday, August 21, 2009

"Cleanse" - The Ramadan Experience

Zaara grew up in the perfect Muslim home; her parents were God-fearing and religious and taught her everything they knew about Islam. They were very involved in community work, Da'wah and they always looked for opportunities to fill up their books of good deeds. As Zaara grew up, she followed in her parents' footsteps. In short, she was really proud of being blessed with such good parents, and they were proud to have brought up a daughter like her.

Living Islam and preaching Islam was something that came naturally to her. She didn't need a force that would empower her from within to live the way she did; it had never occurred to her why she did something, or stayed away from something. After she finished High School, she traveled overseas so she could pursue her Duniyawi Ilm. Her parents always reminded her of sticking to the dheen wherever she went. And in a way, she did pay heed to their advice.

But now Zaara felt there was something missing in her life; she felt as though she led 2 different lives. One: the life her Lord Almighty and her parents wanted to live. She still continued to do what she did as she grew up- holding halaqaat, calling people to the truth, encouraging people to practice. In fact, her naseeha and advice made deep impact on the people she spoke to, than on herself. Her words were always profound, made people think and ponder, she spoke with feeling, from deep within- but she always felt that there was some major core of the heart where the "Eman" just didn't touch her. And she felt that this struggle to actually feel close to Allah was her second life.

And then one day, something happened. On her way to school, as she was crossing the street, yes- that's what happened. A reckless driver who had the music system in his car in booming volume (and hence, intoxicated) hit her. Zaara became unconscious, and when she regained her senses, she was in the hospital, and her legs were in traction. She had multiple fractures in her ribs and other bruises. Her eyes felt heavy. And she drifted back to sleep, on effect of the anesthesia. The next couple of days were a blur for her. On the third day, however, she felt her renewed energy level come back to her, and she was transferred to the normal ward.

As she lay in her hospital bed, with her right leg still in traction, and her room lit because of the full moon shimmering through the curtains, she suddenly felt something that overpowered her pain and aches. An emotion so strong that it was as though the moon light had penetrated into her heart, and it reflected back. but this light was brighter than the moon light itself. She suddenly knew why she was there. She felt totally at peace and this brought a big smile on her lips. She whispered out loud: Allahu As-salaam, Huwa Al-Haakim (Allah is The Bestower of peace, He is the Wise). Of course, she always knew the meaning, and she had always said this too. But this time, it was different. She understood it in its profanity, in a deeper and a higher level. Allah SWT had chosen her to be cleansed through her trials. Allah Azza Wajal knew that her soul had been searching for knowing Her Lord more.

All of us have such moments, sometimes in situations of hardships; sometimes when things go perfectly and there is joy around. Whatever the situation, we treasure these moments and crave for more. That is the fitrah of mankind that Allah SWT has blessed him with. We find comfort in being close to our Lord, in knowing Him more, and being His sincere slave in total submission. And that is why we love Ramadan!!! In Ramadan, we experience more "cleanse"-ing moments than at other times. Ramadan burns away our sins and bad thoughts and scars in the soul just as the extreme scorching heat of the Sun burns away matter. We feel that Ramadan just peeps in, and then rushes off. We never seem to get enough of it, SubhanAllah. (Let's do some serious soul search like Zaara, and then Allah will bring us closer to Him, and cleanse our souls. Let's not just think about this in Ramadan; at the same time, lets do our best now- Alhamdulillah He has blessed us with this month now.)

We live in an age where luxury has become necessities of life. We have a lot of everything- our refrigerator is full, our wardrobe is full, every family has 2 vehicles (both the latest models in most cases)- all but lesser time to reflect upon Nature and its Creator. We need to stop ourselves from our daily, busy, monotonous flow of things happening, and really think. Think so that we can cleanse ourselves, and experience the bliss of connecting more firmly with Our Lord.

Cleanse....cleanse your souls of sins, negative thoughts and unnecessary, lingering emotions- But How?! Cleanse the way Prophet Yunus Alaihiwassalam cleansed his soul when he was inside the whale. The way he had repented to Allah Subhanahu wa tha'ala with utmost humility and proved that he was in real need of Allah's Mercy. Cleanse the way we open up to the Majesty of Our Lord Almighty.

1. Pray Qiyamu-al-Layl and make lots of duah:

We have to let go of our ego, really humble ourselves as much as we can, and talk to Allah. Raise our hands and beg Allah. Your Lord is the Only One worthy of this begging. We do not have to beg anyone else to achieve some worldly gain. Let's remember and try to visualize how we will stand before Allah in the Mahshara on the Day of Judgment (and remember that the real picture is nothing like how we visualize.)

2. Count our Blessings- how we should actually show gratitude:

Alhamdulillahi Rabb-il-'Aalameen. Isn't it one of the greatest blessings that Allah Subhanahu wa tha'ala gave us yet another chance to experience Ramadan (May Allah give us all long lives, and many more Ramadan's that will be beneficial for our Hereafter, aameen), in spite of our lack of sincerity and negligence in the other months. We have to really value it, and treat it like the most honored guest of the year. If we do so, then inshAllah we will habituate the art of treating the less honored guests (the other 11 months) also with considerable love and zeal.

3. Remember Qur'an is the theme of this month.

Fasting has been prescribed for you in order that you main acquire Taqwa (Surah Al-Baqara: 183) - so that you may become more conscious of Allah, so that we may center our lives with the love of Allah. And when we love someone, truly love someone- we pay heed to His words. The theme of Ramadan is Quran. The Quran was revealed in the month of Ramadan, and by fasting and other increased Ibadah, we show gratitude to Allah Azza Wajal for revealing the Quran to us. And The Book introduces itself to us that it is a Guidance for those who have Taqwa. (Surah Al Baqara:2)

So, Taqwa and Guidance, and Ramadan and Quran are all connected and intermingled with each other.

4. Ramadan Special goal-setting:

This is the best time to train ourselves to make our whole life surrounded by our purpose in life. It is the best time to start good habits, and make stronger the base of our old habits (the good ones). Allah has blessed this month so much that He SWT chains the devils- so isn't this the best time to get rid of bad habits too.

Set 2 special goals that we can accomplish, 2 things that will help us grow better bi idhnillah; that will raise our level in the Sight of Allah Azza Wajal. If we find it difficult, we have to keep striving. Practice, practice and more practice. What we are, is represented by what we do. Let's imagine it as mountain climbing, and bi idhnillah, if we reach this mountain peak, we have reached our goal. (till you spot another more promising mountain to climb!) We have to do what it takes to get to the pinnacle.

We have to cultivate the habit of journalis-ing our special goals. And keeping a track of it. Seeing is believing and often, a moment of realization. When we see it on paper, the result itself critiques us, it will connect with our souls and provide further motivation.

Make a Ramadan special schedule: Because of how blessed this month is, believe you me, we can do more than we ever did in the other months. Allah SWT has put so much blessing in this time. There is a special blessing in our physical strength and stamina too. Its all about the struggle to get organized and make the best use of our time, especially if one has little kids at home. The keyword is: do jihad, strive and don't give up. Maybe everything wouldn't have gone the way we wanted on the first day of Ramadan, but we learn from experience, and make each day better.

5. Don't carry excess baggage:

"Be in this world as is you are a wayfarer" - Can the one who is traveling carry more than the necessary? Can he afford to have a lot of excess baggage- most probably he will have to pay (duty/excess baggage) for it. So what all can we avoid and what should we carry, especially in Ramadan?

a. Too much food can do harm and prevent us from excelling in our Ibadah- We have to pay heed to the one-third rule- "One-third water, one-third food and one-third air". This is what the Prophet Sallallahu alaihi wassalam advised us. Too much food means too much time wasted in the kitchen- so time subtracted from "Ibadah time". Too much food will make us sleepy, and we cannot stay up late or wake up in the middle of the night to pray Taraweeh or Qiyam-u-layl. Eating too much food especially in Ramadan even opposes one of the purpose of fasting which is feeling for the poor. The generosity boost we feel in Ramadan to feed should not be directed to our own stomach, rather the poor.

Follow the sunnah of Prophet Sallallahu alaihiwassalam of having a lot of dates and water. Water is the elixir of life- the one that keeps us going. Instead of having all those oil-fried items- have ones that are water-filled-like fruits and greens.

b. Over-socialising in the month of Ramadan- Keep your conversations over the phone and or in the masjid after Taraweeh to a minimum. InshAllah, we will keep it for Eid when we will celebrate with our loved ones. Time lost in idle talk cannot be brought back. This is one of the main regrets we have when Ramadan comes to a end- the regret whether we have utilised our time well or not.

At the same time, have company around you who are the bearers of the fragrance of musk. Have a Ramadan buddy with whom you can discuss how well you are doing in your ibadah, so that you can motivate each other. Let the people we are with, be the ones who will take us with them on the journey to Allah SWT.

c. And most of all, we have to develop a good heart, a good soul and a content mind. We have to strive to push away our negative thoughts and emotions and doubts/ suspicions about others. Ramadan is a month of forgiveness, Allah SWT forgives His slaves who ask for it with sincere repentance. We have to forgive and forget others' mistakes. Forget in a way that it is completely erased from our minds. A person who has accomplished this will have the most heart warming smile, a smile that can make someone's day, a smile that is da'wah for others. Now is the best time to bring out the hidden positive attitude inside us.

Let's succeed bi idhnillah, in eliminating unnecessary stuff from our bags and fill it with good stuff that will be allowed to pass through the Siraat-ul-mustaqueem without any repurcussions. Let's hurry and race for good deeds when their reward is on sale. Let's sincerely repent to Allah Azza Wajal and erase all our bad recording with the Mercy of Our Lord. May Allah accept our humble good deeds and our fasting and prayers from us, and forgive us our sins, and enter us all into Jannathul Firdaws without any ihtisaab(questioning). May the gate of the fasters (Ar-rayyan) open to us for us to enter through it (and all the other gates too). May Allah SWT bless us with good health and long lives so that we can do more ibadah and please Our Lord more and more. Aameen...

Inspired by Sr Heba AlShareef (Her "Cleanse" talk on iamsheba radio launch)- may Allah preserve and increase her.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Leaving behind our comfort zone

With less than two weeks to Ramadan, its time we did some serious re-thinking about our priorities and goals. It just so often happens that once upon a time, our goals used to be to establish the five times salah(prayer) consistently, or to start dressing up with modesty, and then that's it!! We get stuck there, and even years down the lane, the goal list is still the same!!! We do not really lose purpose, but we just confine ourselves to the false comfort....Do not we remember that once we used to feel unhappy with ourselves in regards to our relationship with Allah Azza Wajal, and we desired change? And now that, that change has come about, you are happy with yourself! Should we be content and happy, and lay back when it comes to our relationship with Our Lord, whose Ni'mah and Mercy is continually over-flowing upon us? SubhanAllah!!!

Below are few tips that will help us inshAllah, to keep striving for raising our level of emaan, and in attaining Ihsan (Al-Iman-al-Kaamil - The Perfection of Emaan; which is a ray- it has a starting point, but no end point; it keep extending to higher horizons):

1. Have a clear-cut purpose in life:

Allah Subhanahu watha'ala says:

وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالإِنسَ إِلاَّ لِيَعْبُدُونِ - مَآ أُرِيدُ مِنْهُم مِّن رِّزْقٍ وَمَآ أُرِيدُ أَن يُطْعِمُونِ - إِنَّ اللَّهَ هُوَ الرَّزَّاقُ ذُو الْقُوَّةِ الْمَتِينُ
And I created not the Jinn and mankind except that they should worship Me. I seek not any provision from them nor do I ask that they should feed Me.Verily, Allah is the All-Provider, Owner of power, the Most Strong. (Surah Adh-Dhaariyaat: 56-58)

Allah SWT reminds us in the above ayahs that we were created solely for the purpose of worshipping Him alone, in return for ALL the provisions and Blessings from Him, AND Eternal Bliss in The Hereafter...And He balances His Mercy, by reminding us that He is The Owner of All Power, He is Able to do everything, inclusive of being The Owner of the Day of Judgement when He will judge and decide man's fate depending upon his deeds and intentions.

Our ultimate goal is Jannathul Firdaws. To reach this goal, we need to find contentment with Our Lord, and the way of life He has commanded us to live. Being content with Allah means to have no complaints with whatever has been decreed for us, and submitting to Allah's will in obedience, with out questioning Him and His Commands. Being content with your Lord is the belief that He wants only good for His creation (mankind). Allah is also content with His servant who is content with his Lord- it is mutual, and we ask Allah Subhanahu watha'ala for a heart and soul that is content and filled with tranquility.

Allah says:

يأَيَّتُهَا النَّفْسُ الْمُطْمَئِنَّةُ - ارْجِعِى إِلَى رَبِّكِ رَاضِيَةً مَّرْضِيَّةً - فَادْخُلِى فِى عِبَادِى - وَادْخُلِى جَنَّتِى
"O tranquil soul! Come back to your Lord, -- well-pleased and well-pleasing! Enter then among My servants, And enter My Paradise!'' (Surah Al-Fajr: 27-30)

Just like a host inviting an honourable guest into his home, Allah SWT calls the servant with An-Nafsul-Muthma'innah to The Paradise that He created, and prepared for His righteous servants- where rivers flow beneath the gardens, and where there are huge mansions with all the unimaginable beds and pillows, and expensive cups to drink from, the variety of fruits which are like the fruits of this world, yet so different and delicious in taste, the drinks that will be provided for the people of lower level heaven which will be just a flavouring from the actual drink of the people of higher levels....SubhanAllah....

Isn't this life a travel to undertake, worth striving for?!

2. Keep renewing your goals and evaluating yourself: We have to keep using that goal sheet of ours.

Allah SWT says:

لاَ أُقْسِمُ بِيَوْمِ الْقِيَـمَةِ - وَلاَ أُقْسِمُ بِالنَّفْسِ اللَّوَّامَةِ- أَيَحْسَبُ الإِنسَـنُ أَلَّن نَّجْمَعَ عِظَامَهُ
Nay! I swear by the Day of Resurrection. And nay! I swear by An-Nafs Al-Lawwamah. Does man think that We shall not assemble his bones. (Surah Al-Qiyamah: 1-3)

An-Nafs Al-Lawwamah is the self-reproaching soul, that keeps questioning itself, and keeps itself on track. And this is the soul that helps us in consistent work-out to higher grounds. It questions us: "Is that enough?" "Did you do it with the right intention?" "Did you do the right thing?" "Shouldn't you ask Allah to forgive you for your sins?" "Do Isthigfar and don't repeat this mistake!" "How can you be satisfied with doing just this much, when the sahabah used to do much more?!" etc...and so on...This soul pulls you back when you feel proud of yourself, and keeps you on track.

In the first ayah, Allah swears by the Yaum-al-Qiyaamah (Day of Resurrection) and then he SWT goes on, to swear by the Reproaching soul that we must have, which in turn reminds us of the Yaum-al-Qiyaamah. The reproaching soul reminds us each time we do something that we will gathered on the Day of Resurrection and our bones will be resurrected and assembled after our death. SubhanAllah, notice the relationship between the first three ayahs?!!

We ask Allah to be the owners of Nafs-al-Muthma'innah and Nafs-al-lawwamah. We have to develop this reproaching soul within us by constantly renewing our intentions, reminding ourselves by listening to good lectures as often as we can, indulging in only beneficial talk and good deeds and being around people who care about their Hereafter and ours. These are the food and nutrition for the reproaching soul. Feed it! The main food is installation of deep-borne fear and taqwa of Allah and the Hereafter.

We have to set practical goals by carefully prioritising them. For example, if we are habituated to reciting 1 page from the Mushaf daily, lets raise the bar to 2 pages; if we are regular with our salah, then consider starting the habit of Salathul Dhuha and/or Witr. If we feel our weakness is in judging or making assumptions about others, rectify it by listening to the reproaching soul within each one of us- "Isn't Allah the judge over His creation, why don't you judge yourself before you are judged?" If one has a problem in over-spending his money, once again, listen to what the reproaching soul has to say- remember the poor, remember what the Quran has to say about over-spending!

The worst type of soul is the Nafs-al-Ammarah- the wretched soul. Allah says in the Quran:

إِنَّ النَّفْسَ لأَمَّارَةٌ بِالسُّوءِ
Verily, the self is inclined/urged to evil. (Surah Yusuf: 53)

This is the soul that in unattended, neglected or not fed properly. This soul has Shaytan as an ally- sometimes it realises that, sometimes not. Sometimes, the owner of this soul (A'oodhubillah) is so happy about it, and he is the one for whom Allah appoints Shaytan as his Qareen (friend/ partner). Allah says:

وَمَن يَعْشُ عَن ذِكْرِ الرَّحْمَـنِ نُقَيِّضْ لَهُ شَيْطَاناً فَهُوَ لَهُ قَرِينٌ
And whosoever Ya`shu (turns away blindly) from the remembrance of the Most Gracious, We appoint for him Shaytan to be a Qarin (a companion) to him. (Surah Al-Zukhruf: 36)

And this is the soul that, even in Ramadan when the Shayatin are chained and when the gates of Hell-fire are closed, tempts one to fall into disobedience of Allah SWT and sin. The reproaching soul pulls us up when we fall into mud. But the wretched soul pulls us in, like falling into quick sand. It beautifies our sins, makes us feel that it is okay to bend rules and encourages us to the traps of shaytan till we lose sense of what is right and wrong. It magnifies some little good that we may do, and overlooks the voluminous sins we commit. This soul follows its hawa(desires). This soul does not remember Allah often. May Allah SWT show Mercy upon us, protect us from all evil, and guide us always.

3. Reflecting upon Allah's names and attributes:

We should always ponder deeply upon Allah's most perfect names and attributes, His names are perfect in every sense. Very often, we find in the Tafseers of the Quran, that are not really explained as much as it should be. When we say Allah is الْعَلِيمِ, The All-Knower- it should be with such firm belief that it will lead us to be conscious of Him while doing anything, since whatever we do, He Subhanahu watha'ala is aware! He is aware of all our thoughts, so we should purify our intentions. He is aware of what we do in our homes privately, and what we do in public; so we do not be good just to impress the public. If we lie, He is aware; if we backbite, He is aware.

When we say Allah is الْغَفُورُ, The Oft-Forgiving- we have to realise that Allah loves those who seek forgiveness, and so, we should constantly remember Allah, and seek repentence from Him The Almighty.

When we say Allah is الْحَكِيمُ, The Wise- we have to really believe it and knowing that whatever happens is for the best, as it is decreed by Allah, The Most Wise. And that He decrees whatever is most fit to whomever He pleases.

Similarly, we should know Our Lord by All His perfect names, and ponder upon them, call Him by them, and supplicate to Him by calling Him by His names.

May Allah SWT make us among the righteous, Bless us with a Ramadan that we will take the most benefit from, and inshAllah rise our levels of emaan to the next higher level. May Allah accept our humble deeds from us- and verily, a sign of acceptance of our forthcoming Ramadan inshAllah is that even after Ramadan, we keep striving to please Our Lord Almighty....

And Allah knows best.