Imam Khalid Latif is blogging his reflections during the month of Ramadan, featured daily on HuffPost Religion. For a complete record of his previous posts, click over to the Islamic Center at New York University or visit his author page, and to follow along with the rest of his reflections, sign up for an author e-mail alert above, visit his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.
As this month of Ramadan draws to end, the moment is bitter sweet. Muslims will be celebrating Eid ul-Fitr, a holiday that takes place on the first day of Shawwal, the month after Ramadan, either Sunday or Monday. The different days are based off of different methods in determining the start and end of months on the Islamic calendar based off of the cycle of the moon, but each opinion has its evidence and would be considered valid. The holiday definitely brings celebration with it, but it also brings a realization that Ramadan is over. Many people think that it is taxing on Muslims to fast for these 30 days, but the reality is that for most of us its a time that is immensely enjoyable and beneficial, and always hard to let go of.
This year I met and heard of a lot of people who are not Muslim who tried to experience Ramadan. Some attempted fasting a few days, others fasted the whole month. My friend Zeba Iqbal referred me to the website of Wes Magruder, an ordained elder of the United Methodist Church serving in the North Texas Conference, who fasted the entire month and kept reflections of his experiences on his website The New MethoFesto.
As I'm trying to reflect on what the last 30 days have meant for me, Pastor Magruder's reflection on day 28 reminds me that it will really be the next few weeks and months that will show me how beneficial this Ramadan was. His sentiment reflects my own and probably many others':
It makes me a little sad that I will be following this routine for only a couple more days.
But I hope that my life is forever changed by the experience, and I hope there are long-term effects of my fast. The whole point of Ramadan is to be changed -- for good. It's not simply a set of exercises that one must endure for 30 days so that you can earn a reward in heaven, or earn a check mark next to your name on the "Good" list.
And living "right" during Ramadan does not give one license to live "wrong" the other 11 months of the year. As one Muslim friend told me, Ramadan is like a spiritual "boot camp," training for the rest of the year. It's intended to make it easier to live in submission to God's will all the year round.
I've heard it explained that fasting is learning how to say "no" to permissible things, in order that it may be easier for us to say "no" to things which are not permissible. I would add that it also helps us to say "yes" to the eternal, spiritual blessings which God offers to us in tiny, subtle ways throughout the day. That is a discipline we all need throughout the year.
Christians make the same mistake, of course. A colleague told me about a parishioner he knew who gave up drinking beer during Lent. On Easter morning, the man loaded a cooler full of beer, and started drinking as soon as the sun came up.
My colleague commented drily, "I don't think he really understood what Lent was all about."
When we view the practice of fasting as something which must be endured in order to earn a reward, then we have entirely missed the point. Fasting is a discipline which forms and shapes us, makes us into people who are more responsive to God.
That's why I don't think I will know how effective my Ramadan fast has been until a few weeks after Ramadan is over. Will I act differently? Will I be closer to my God? Will I be more loving to my family and neighbors? Will I be more sensitive to people in need, to the poor and destitute?
If I manage to complete the 30-day fast successfully, but end up acting selfishly and hatefully on the 31st, or 41st, or 60th day, then my first Ramadan will have been a failure."
I've included at the bottom of this post a letter that was written by a prominent Muslim Scholar named Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali to one his students. It's taken from a collection of letters he writes offering advice to his student, all of which can be found in a book called "Dear Beloved Son." This letter includes the story of a two men who have been companions for 30 years and one then asks the other what benefit he has taken from that companionship. I know this post is longer than most I've written, but I would encourage you to read that letter if you can. It may be beneficial as you try to understand what benefit we've taken from this Ramadan for ourselves.
I would like to thank all of you for taking the time to follow along with my posts this past month. God-willing they were of some benefit to each of you; writing them were definitely of benefit to me, alhamdulillah and I'll definitely keep doing it for myself. I would recommend to all of you to keep a journal as well. It can be a very beneficial experience for a variety of reasons. You just have to be honest and open with your words. Don't write what you think you are supposed to write, but write what actually exists within you. It doesn't have to be seen by any eyes other than your own. It will also give you a means to look back at how far you have come, how you may have taken steps back, or perhaps haven't changed at all. It's helpful to see the way you speak to yourself, how you perceive the world and what kind of things are on your mind. A year from now, I can look back at these posts and see if the year in between brought any change to my life, or if I just stayed the same.
That is, if I am blessed to see Ramadan again next year.
Another Ramadan has come and gone, and to be honest I have no way of being certain that I would see another one. This is not meant to be a morbid thought, but a compelling one. Don't wait to do something tomorrow that you are fully able do to today. Don't let someone else come in and take advantage of an opportunity that's in front of you by letting yourself believe that there will probably be another chance for you later. If you can be something good, then go be it. If you can do something meaningful, then go do it.
The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, offered the following advice to a man: "Take benefit of five before five: Your youth before your old age, your health before your sickness, your wealth before your poverty, your free time before you are preoccupied, and your life before your death."
Our lives are given to us to make use of. Ramadan taught us our potential, we just have to embrace it.
The Prophet Muhammad said, "God is kind and loves kindness and gives for gentleness what He does not give for harshness nor for anything else."
And in another narration, "Whenever kindness is in a thing it adorns it, and whenever it is removed from anything, it disfigures it."
Be good to others and be good to yourself. Be the reason that someone has hope in this world, not the reason that someone dreads it.
If at any point I can be of assistance to any of you feel free to reach out to me. You can be touch with me at my Facebook page or on Twitter. If you are ever in New York please feel free to stop by at an event or a program -- it would be great to see you.
May your noble intentions be elevated and life's objectives be facilitated as you continue to do all that you do. May your lives be free of any worry, anxiety, hardship or pain and may peace be the core of your existence. May you honor the rights of others and others honors your rights. May you be trusted because you are truthful, praised because you are sincere and elevated because you are someone we can all look up to. May you be protected from hearts that are not humble, from tongues that are not wise and from eyes that have forgotten how to cry. Ameen.
Please do keep me in your thoughts -- I will keep each of you in mine.
Letter from Imam Ghazali to his student:
My Dear Son......
If you understand this tradition, there is no need for too much knowledge. There is also another story to meditate and reflect over. Hatim al-Asam was among the friends of Shaqiq al-Balkhi, may God have mercy on them both. One day Shaqiq asked Hatim: "You have kept my company for 30 years; what have you gained in the course of these years?" Hatim replied: "I have gained eight benefits from the knowledge which is sufficient for me. I hope my salvation and safety are embodied in them." Shaqiq asked Hatim to mention them. Hatim al-Asam said:
"The first benefit is that I observed the creation and saw that everyone had a loved one and one passionately desired whom he loved and longed for. Some of the beloved accompany the lover up to the brink of sickness and death and others to the gate of the graveyard. All of them return and leave him there alone. No one goes into the tomb with him. I looked into the matter and said to myself: 'The best beloved is that which would enter the tomb with the lover to console him;' I found it to be nothing else than my good works, so I took this an my beloved, to illuminate my grave fro me and to comfort me in it and not leave me alone.
The second benefit is that I saw that people were following their lusts and hastening towards the desires of the souls. And I mediated on the saying of God the Exalted: But as for whoever has feared the majesty of his Lord and has refrained his soul from lust, truly the Garden shall be his dwelling place (Quran 79: 40-41). Convinced that the Quran was true and right, I began to deny my soul and hurried to combat it and refuse it its passionate desires, until it enjoyed real satisfaction in obedience to God the Exalted.
The third benefit is that I saw every human being is striving to accumulate as much as he can from the wreckage of this world and then holding on strongly to it. I meditated on the verse of the Quran: What is with you must vanish; what is with God must endure (Quran, 19:96). So I gave freely my worldly possesions for His sake by distributing them among the poor so that it would be my provision in the future with Him the Exalted.
The fourth benefit is that some people whom I observer think their dignity and honor lie in the multitude of their family and larges clans. They were fascinated by these things. Others claimed honor and dignity in abundance of wealth and children, and they were proud of it. Some believed honor and power abide in appropriating the wealth of others, doing injustice to them and shedding their blood. Others considered dignity to consist of extravagance and spending wealth in a foolish manner. I meditated upon the saying of the Exalted: The most honored of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you (Quran, 49:13). I chose righteousness for myself, convinced that the Quran is right and true and those claims of the people are all false and temporal.
The fifth benefit is that I found the people slandering each other and speaking ill of one another out of envy of fortune, power and knowledge. I meditated upon the saying of God: It is We who divide their livelihood amongst them in the life of this world (Quran, 43:32). I realized that the process of dividing livelihood is entirely in the hands of God since the beginning of time. Therefore, I never envied anyone and was satisfied with the distribution of God the Exalted.
The sixth benefit is that I saw people becoming enemies of each other for different reasons. I meditated upon the saying of God the Exalted: Verily Satan is an enemy to you, so treat him as an enemy (Quran 35:6). I became aware that enmity with anyone except Satan was not permissible.
The seventh benefit is that I saw everyone working very hard, exhausting themselves to obtain food and sustenance, tempted by doubts and forbidden things. They degraded themselves in humiliation. I pondered over the saying of God the Exalted: There is no moving creature on earth but that its sustenance in dependent on God (Quran, 11:6). I knew that my livelihood is guaranteed by God the exalted, so I engaged myself in worship and cut off my covetousness of all else, other than Him.
The eight benefit is that I saw that everyone relied on some created thing, some on the dinar and dirham, some on wealth and property, some on trade and craft and some on creatures like themselves. I meditated upon the saying of the Exalted: And whoever places his reliance on God, sufficient is God for him. For God will surely accomplish His purpose. Verily for all things had God appointed a due proportion (Quran, 65:3). I therefore placed full trust in God the Exalted, He is sufficient for me and He is the best Disposer of affairs."
At this point Shaqiq said: "May God bless you and grant you success. I looked into the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Zabur and the Quran and have found that the four books revolve around these eight benefits. Whoever works according to them is working according to these four books."
Check out The Huffington Post's Ramadan liveblog updated daily with spiritual reflections, blog posts, photos, videos, and verses from the Quran. Tell us your Ramadan story.
Follow Imam Khalid Latif on Twitter: www.twitter.com/KLatif