Imam Khalid Latif is blogging his reflections during the month of Ramadan for the fifth 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.
For those who missed my last reflection, I had started to discuss the profound impact the 100th chapter of the Quran, Al 'Adiyat, had on me. At a time when I felt quite isolated and confused, I found solace in it like I had never found in the Qur'an before and it helped me to read the Quran in an entirely different way. It helped me to understand the human condition, my own condition, in a deeper way. My first reflection discussed briefly my interaction with the first half of Al 'Adiyat and the importance of bringing gratitude into my life deliberately in order that it serve as a catalyst for real contentment. The second half was just as eye-opening, if not more so, as it gave me an insight as to what was possibly preventing me from having that contentment.
wa innahu li hub-il khayri la shadeed
and indeed he, in his love of wealth, is most intense
To me, the connection between my desire for long term contentment and my actual reality of short-lived complacency was made clear through this verse. The word khayr is normally used to denote something that is good and beneficial. Here it is meant to denote wealth that is worldly and is described in such a way that its pursuit is so severe, that the normal good one would attain from it is lost and in turn it brings great detriment. I wasn't experiencing real contentment because I was making my pursuit the material itself, rather than seeing it as a vehicle for something much bigger.
Islam does not prohibit the acquisition of wealth. You have men and women who were the closest companions of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, who were quite wealthy. His wife Khadijah, may God be pleased with her, was in fact a wealthy businesswoman.
"As long as the water remains under the boat, it helps the boat [to sail]; but if the water seeps into the boat, it sinks it." ~ Rumi, a 13th Century Muslim Persian poet.
"Detachment is not that you should own nothing, but that nothing should own you." ~ Ali ibn Abi Talib, may God be pleased with him.
What Islam does recommend is a mindfulness of what the pursuit of wealth can do to you. Giving it an abode in our hearts is very different than simply pursuing it through our hands. One consequence is that it helps breed an unfortunate egocentricity and unhealthy individualism that has permeated much of society. It makes me to what I can to fulfill my own wants, even if it comes at the expenses of my needs or the needs of others. When I read this verse, in the context of the verses prior to it, I felt like I had just woken up. It was and still is quite clear that so many of us 1) put our efforts into getting as much of this world as we can and 2) that so many of us also aren't really happy. I now saw a connection that resonated for the first time deeply.
Something that seemed quite simple but I hadn't really done before that day was ask myself how these verses applied to me and my life. The insight that was being offered as to how humans can potentially be - was I like that? And if the answer was yes, was I going to actually do anything about it?
"True richness is not having an abundance of things from the earth, but true richness is having a richness of the soul." ~ The Prophet Muhammad
I think Ramadan affords a unique opportunity to reflect on what really drives us, what really gives us tranquility and peace and what also causes us anxiety. We as men and women can be quite beautiful, both inwardly and outwardly. But when the focus becomes on the outward alone, an imbalance surfaces that throws us off. And when that imbalance deepens, we begin to consume just for the sake of consumption. For those who are fasting, think deeply about how people can be. No other animal in the world has the potential for selflessness and selfishness as we do. Even when our stomachs are full, we still look to fill them more.
Changing our life necessitates at times changing how we think about life. If you feel like the aspects of human condition that this chapter, al 'Adiyat, discusses, those of ingratitude and love of wealth, find presence in your life, seek to actively change them by starting with your inside. Reflect on it and let ideas take root that will help govern your decision because you live by values that you have firmly established for yourself.
A few practical suggestions to try this Ramadan:
- 1) Put others first by putting yourself last. Be the person who serves food when its time to break your fast, rather than the one who is being served. Give up your seat to someone on the bus or train. Save half of your meal or the money you would spend on a meal and give it to someone in need. Try anything really, so long as it doesn't put you before others.
- 2) Meet new people and learn their stories. An unhealthy pursuit of the world also at times makes us believe that we are at the center of the world and everything revolves around us. By putting yourself in new experiences, learning about new cultures and ideas, and at the same time making yourself vulnerable in sharing your own story will more likely than lead to a lot of personal growth and development. Beyond simply talking with someone of a different race, ethnicity, social class or culture, seek to purposely build a bond. It won't take away from your own importance, but help in recognizing that others are important as well.
- 3) Reflect on where it is that you are going. We get stuck in the past a lot and become more shackled by our flaws when we acknowledge them in comparison to when we didn't know they existed. Who you were is not who you will be, so long as you let yourself move forward.
If you have other suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments so that others can benefit from them.