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.
A few years ago, I was talking to a friend of mine who worked at the Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at NYU. It was their high holidays time and he was registering people for their main orthodox service. He commented how he didn't realize that when he started working for a Jewish cause, it would effect his relationship with his faith -- meaning he was helping to organize the service, but he wasn't actually in the service itself.
I've lived in NYC for almost the last 11 years and have spent most of my Ramadans with my community at the Islamic Center at NYU. It's always a great experience but can be a little hard to find time for myself. A lot goes into the planning, fundraising and execution of our Ramadan program and what gets left out is time for personal reflection and growth. This year I've tried to incorporate some blocks of time into my schedule for myself, but even those tend to get overtaken by other responsibilities.
"Do you command people to good while you have forgotten your own selves, and you are the readers of the Book? Do you have no sense?" ~ The Holy Quran, 2:44
The activist lifestyle is definitely one that is heavily laden with time consuming tasks, but its also easy to justify not doing things for yourself with the excuse that it's more important to be doing things for those around you. In reality, both are important. If you don't grow as a person, those that you are responsible for will also stop growing. And that can be applied in any role of leadership -- whether you a parent, a sibling, a teacher, a friend, a spouse, or anything of that like. If you don't take care of yourself, you won't really be able to fully take care of anyone else.
Half of Ramadan has passed already and I wonder what I've done with any of it. I know I can do more for my own spiritual and emotional growth -- I am just not sure why I don't. I have a ton of excuses in my arsenal for why I didn't pray more or read more or find more time for myself in these first two weeks. But in the end those excuses won't give me back the time that I lost that could have been spent in a way that I could have benefited from even more.
The 103rd chapter of the Quran is entitled Al-Asr, the Time. It's three verse in length and carries a very deep and beautiful meaning for its reader. The initial verse of the chapter says wal-Asr, translated as "By the time." This construct is found in many parts of the Quran and is essentially understood as an oath that God has taken by something in His creation. For example, we find verses that say "By the Sun and it's brilliance" or "By the fig and the olive and the Mount of Sinai" and many others as such. When those oaths are mentioned in the Quran, they are meant to further emphasize the verses that follow them while simultaneously elevating and distinguishing the object of the oath.
In the commentary on the verse of wal-Asr, we find a story where a Muslim scholar centuries ago in Baghdad is contemplating on the verses of the Quran and begins to wonder why time is so important that God would take an oath by it. He continues to ponder upon this as he walks through a marketplace. In the market he comes upon a man who is selling ice and telling each passerby to be quick in purchasing it from him before it all melts under the heat of the Arabian sun. Upon seeing this, the scholar realizes why that oath is being taken by time. As this man is calling the people to buy his ice before drop after drop it is reduced to nothing, so too each of us are losing the seconds of the minutes of the hours that we have, and we won't ever be able to get them back.
Don't waste your time today and spend it like you will have as many tomorrows as you would like. I can't get the first two weeks of this Ramadan, or any of the first 28 years of my life back. But I can decide how to spend the minutes that I will be blessed to see beyond this very moment. They are mine to use or mine to waste.
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