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 orvisit his author page, and to follow along with the rest of his reflections, sign up for an author email alert above.
Last night after I broke my fast at sunset, I led members of our community at NYU in our fourth prayer of the day called Maghrib. Once the prayer was completed, or so I thought, I turned around to find everyone looking at me confused. I had made a mistake while leading the prayer.
My initial inclination was to ask why no one corrected me. Then a flurry of excuses as to why I messed up went through my mind -- ranging from sleep deprivation to maybe the 200 people praying behind me were the ones mistaken and I had actually performed the prayer correctly. But then I wondered where those excuses were coming from. It was rather obvious that I had made the mistake. Why was my initial reaction to look to blame someone else? Why was it so hard for me to accept that I had done something wrong?
Responsibility can be pretty heavy but we make it that much heavier by not knowing how to deal with failure. It's not possible for any individual to be right all of the time yet for some reason we try so hard to prove that we are not wrong. Especially in those instances when we actually are.
In the Arabic language, most words are derived from trilateral roots. Words that share a root also share a meaning. For example, the words Muslim, Islam, and salaam are all derived from the trilateral root sa la ma and it is easy to see what they have in common. The Arabic word for human is insaan. The word insaan is derived from the root na sa aa, which means to forget. The idea being that inherent to human nature is that we will forget -- we will make mistakes. Ironically, this is the one thing that we have forgotten.
When I had made the mistake in my prayer, my initial reaction was to defend myself. Once I had gathered my thoughts, it was clear that there wasn't anyone there that I had to even defend myself to. I didn't need to make an excuse for myself because excuses were being made for me. So if everyone else was making excuses on my behalf, why was I reacting the way that I was? It would have been better for me to acknowledge what the reality of the situation was so that I could learn something from it. And that is what Islam is about -- reality.
His Airness, the great Michael Jordan, once said "I have taken more than 9000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times I have been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I have failed over and over again in my life; and that is why I succeed."
Fasting teaches us to be self-critical, not self-deprecating. But it won't work if we are being too self-centered to admit that we can and do make mistakes.