Imam Khalid Latif is blogging his reflections during the month of Ramadan for the third year in a row, featured daily on HuffPost Religion. For a complete record of his previous posts, visit his author page, and to follow along with the rest of his reflections, sign up for an author email alert above, visit his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.
Two young men came by our Islamic Center at New York University the other day as we were getting things ready for Ramadan to start, one of Albanian/Bosnian descent from Staten Island and the other of South Asian descent from Virginia. I shook their hands and gave them hugs and asked how they were doing. As our conversation continued, a pattern started to develop. I would speak, the young South Asian man would listen attentively, and then he would sign what I had said to his friend, "hear" him through his own signing, and then tell me what he said. We did this because both of these young men were deaf, and I don't know sign language.
We went for a walk together to Honest Chops, an all-natural Halal meat store that I recently opened in the East Village with some people from our community. They had heard about it and went there thinking it was a restaurant, but to their dismay found out it was a butcher shop only upon arrival. As we laughed about it, I told them I'd go back with them and we could get some burgers and other things to sample and grill.
On our walk over, we started talking about marriage. At first I was amused somewhat that these two young men had marriage on their minds like most young Muslims. As we talked, they indicated frustrations in finding a spouse as many would not consider them suitable life partners due to their being deaf. They also ran into a challenge in marrying someone else who was deaf as either their own parents or the other set of parents were against it, their concern being if two deaf people got married, somehow it would increase the chances that their children would be deaf. One of them frustratingly commented on how this was illogical and that his parents were not deaf, yet they gave birth to a child who was.
They then asked me if it was ok for deaf people to sign their prayers. When prayed in congregation, each of our prayers consists of some type of vocalized speech by the one who is leading the prayer. For many deaf Muslims, they end up just standing and following in the motions, but not being able to hear the recitation of the Qur'an or any of the other invocations taking place. These two young men wanted to know if it would be considered religiously permissible to use sign language when leading a prayer so that those who could not hear would be able to be more actively present. Aside from not being qualified to answer the question, it was honestly something that I have never thought about, which was all the more alarming to me. Having this experience literally hours before Ramadan started was of great benefit to me as it helped me realize the world is made up of many different people, all trying to figure out a way to fit into it. I told them I'd ask one of my teachers or a qualified scholar of Islamic Law and get back to them on it.
Oh, Mankind, indeed we created you male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is he who is most deeply mindful of Him; Indeed God is All-Knowing, All-Aware. (-- Quran 49:13)
When we think of this verse, we attribute it a lot to racial, ethnic and cultural diversity. As much as that is a part of it, the world is so much bigger and there are so many more constructs that one can utilize to self-identify. Our knowing of one another has to expand and this month of Ramadan can serve as a tool to achieve that if we are willing to take steps towards those who are different than us with the intention of getting to know each other beyond simple acquaintanceship.
May God make us from amongst the 'Arifeen, the knowers. Ameen.
The experience also made me reflect on my own relationship with my prayer and the Qur'an itself. These young men would do anything to be able to hear the Qur'an, and they even stand in prayer despite not being able to hear it. In these first hours of Ramadan, it seems so easy to justify not praying or engaging in self-reflection because the hours of the day are so long and doing so would make less the number of hours of sleep in nights that are already short. There are people who have a thirst they are trying to quench from wells that you and I can easily drink from every day, but a lack of mindfulness on our part keeps us from realizing what we actually have and no one ends us drinking anything at all.
"O you who believe. Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become deeply mindful." (Qur'an 2:183)
To me, fasting is about gaining a deeper awareness and mindfulness of one's self and, in turn, the world in which one is situated. From the outside it might seem like it's about deprivation of food and drink. But by shifting my focus away from a simple satiation of my stomach and looking more towards the satisfaction of my soul, I realize that are many different ways that I can nourish myself and many different parts of me that need to be nourished that I often times neglect, my heart being a primary amongst those. My fast helps me to be more present and aware, to see my blessings and reflect upon my strengths and weaknesses. It helps me to understand that as much as I have a place in this world, so too do many others whose lives are similar to my own as well as those whose lives have been completely different. It is mostly for my benefit to understand and appreciate their existence, rather than being comfortable living in my own bubble.
As I did in the last three years of writing these reflections, I would like to start the month with a quote from a female Islamic scholar named Fariha Fatima that my wife Priya shared with me before we got married. My hope is that is will offer an insight as to really how deep the practice of fasting can be if we let it be.
There are as many forms of fasting as there are organs of perception and sensation, and each of these has many different levels. So we ask to fast from all that Allah does not love for us, and to feast on what the Beloved loves for us. Let us certainly fast from the limited mind, and all that it conjures up. Let us fast from fear, apart from fear and awe of Allah's majesty. Let us fast from thinking that we know, when Allah alone is the Knower. Let us fast from thinking negatively of anyone. Let us fast from our manipulations and strategies. Let us fast from all complaint about the life experiences that Allah gives us. Let us fast from our bad habits and our reactions. Let us fast from desiring what we do not have. Let us fast from obsession. Let us fast from despair. Let us fast from not loving our self, and from denying our heart. Let us fast from selfishness and self-centered behavior. Let us fast from thinking that only what serves us is important. Let us fast from seeing reality only from our own point of view. Let us fast from seeing any reality other than Allah, and from relying on anything other than Allah. Let us fast from desiring anything other than Allah and Allah's Prophets and friends, and our own true self. Essentially, let us fast from thinking that we have any existence separate from Allah.