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 email alert above.
Living in New York city, it's hard to find a time when the city is asleep. I love living here for that reason -- because it makes those few hours when it is asleep that much more meaningful. The tranquility of the streets of New York in the late, late, late night and early morning is really a beautiful thing to experience. The hour or so before sunrise when the sidewalks are empty, the cab drivers are still in their homes waiting for the morning rush still a few hours away, and the distractions of the world are at their weakest as the people that they prey upon have yet to venture out. You can actually hear birds chirping at times, which is a rarity in the city that never sleeps. Or at least hardly ever. That moment is amazing as your eyes, free from any distraction, soak in things that your body passed by before but never took a moment to stop and see. And it's only for you.
Moments of solitude are important depending on how we use them. It's very different seeking solitude in order to remove yourself from frustration, anxiety, and irritation of people versus seeking solitude to grow and develop as you reflect upon and contemplate the world around you and how you fit into it. Setting aside time on a regular basis, whether it's daily, even few days, or once a week, is important for all of us.
This aloneness is worth more than a thousand lives.
This freedom is worth more than all the lands on earth.
To be one with the truth for just a moment,
Is worth more than the world and life itself.
A lot of people see Islam as a very ritualistic religion. There are definitely mechanics, but it is far from mechanical. There is a constant theme in the Qur'an that tells its reader to find those moments to think, contemplate, and reflect. To break away from the monotony of our daily routine and seek moments in which we slow down and explore our thoughts and our selves. To distinguish oneself from the rest of creation by using the mind that we are given. Fasting is an example of this.
"Oh you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed on those who came before you so that you might attain consciousness" The Holy Qur'an, 2:183
This verse tells us to fast but also tells us what we could potentially attain from our fast if we deepen its meaning - namely consciousness. But it is a unique consciousness that is rooted in an understanding of the Divine called taqwa in Arabic. You begin to understand your limits, both in terms of your strengths and weaknesses. You see how fortunate you are for all that you have been given, and in the process you are encouraged to think of those that don't have as much and so you give to them from that which is yours. You think. You reflect. The potential is there for you to grow in the moment and the same thing is possible with the rest of the practices we find in Islam. Or it can just be about not eating or drinking and nothing much else.
Your solitude shouldn't be about escaping from the world, it should be about understanding it. Find time for yourself today and every day if you can. Moments of reflective solitude have the opportunity of being times when we are least alone. We just have to at times put in some effort to make them that meaningful.