Last Friday in nearly every masjid across the world, the khateebs reminded their respective communities about a special guest coming into their home. Remember the basic tag line, 'it's coming, don't waste time, read Quran, pray Salah and do lots and lots of Ibadah.' The basic message of 'take advantage and multiply your rewards' was a repeated theme in many masajid. For most of my life, the days leading up to Ramadan have served as reminders of its immense benefits. As a child I use to sit with my calculator and multiply every act of Ibadah by seventy and record it happily in my journal of good deeds. The calculations included 30 days of fasting x 5 obligatory prayers x 8 sunnah prayers x 6 nafl prayers plus the recitation of 6236 verses, add the 20 rakahs of taraweeh, some tahajjud x dhikr, all multiplied by a glowing 700....yup... I felt like I was really 'banking it' in Ramadan. It was a month of depositing points into my 'Ibadah bank.' As I grew older, somehow this zeal of recording 'Ibadah points' started to fade and I no longer sat there with my calculator. I desperately searched for the meaning of Ramadan in my life beyond banking in on the 'Ibadah points.'
While I began this quest for finding meaning in Ramadan, I had some sharp views about how the community spent time. I would despise "Iftaar parties" where aunties from the community spent hours preparing food. I would get up for Tahajjud and hear my mother washing the dishes and preparing a meal. In the morning and evening our whole family would come together for meals, eat quickly and then head to the masjid for prayers while my mother cooked, cleaned and then tried to find time for taraweeh. Similarly, the aunties in the masjid made Iftaar for nearly five hundred fasting persons and cleaned up after people and came late to Taraweeh . Even the Khateebs on Fridays seemed to support my sentiment that as a community we were spending time on 'insignificant' things in Ramadan. One Khateeb even remarked, "Sisters, please don't waste time making chutney and read the Quran." I immediately went home and tried to convince my mother to stop 'wasting' time on making samosas for Iftar and instead read the Quran with me. There was only one problem, everyone loved samosas and you simply cannot eat samosas without chutney.
What does Ramadan mean to nearly 1.7 billion Muslims around the world? Is it the aroma of freshly cooked fried bajhyaa, samosas and falafel; smooth yogurt lassis, or the melt in your mouth kunafa or colored water renowned as roohafza? While I didn't want my Ramadan to be reduced to these ethnic foods, I couldn't detach these colorful condiments from the portrait of Ramadan in my memory. These remained vivid delights of how Ramadan has a home with millions of families across the globe. These delights bring individuals, families and community together. Even more so, these delights raise the greater concern for how we view the time we spend in Ramadan with each other and make it a rewarding experience for this life and the next. In order to understand how we can maximize our time, we must first understand the concept of "Ibadah" and "Mu'aamalaat."
Before Ramadan, I heard many Khutbahs about maximizing our "Ibadah" or acts of worship but seldom did I hear about the significance of "Mu'aamalaat" or our relationships with human beings. In fact, we know that majority of our Fiqh (jurisprudence) books focus on the importance of 'mu'aamalaat.' We also forget that while certain Ibadaat remain exclusively in acts of worship such as praying and fasting, indeed there is great reward in nurturing relationships in Ramadan and we learned this from the Prophet Muhammad (s) himself.
It was in the month of Ramadan in which our beloved Prophet Muhammad (s) sat knee to knee with the Arch angel Gabriel (a) and recited the entire Quran. Gabriel (a) was the link between the Quran and the Prophet (s). It was this unique relationship that brought the sacred recitation to life. The Prophet (s) revived this sacred link by reciting the entire Quran with Gabriel (a) once every Ramadan and twice in the year which he passed away. The story of the Quran begins with the relationship of Gabriel and Muhammad (a) and continues until the very end of revelation and the life of our beloved Prophet (s). During Ramadan, the Prophet (s) strengthened this relationship with Gabriel (a). In essence the Prophet (s) honored the relationship that brought the Quran and in doing so he reminded the Ummah that Ramadan is about honoring relationships.
In fact, the story of the Quran signifies the deep relationship the Prophet Muhammad (s) had with his wife Khatija (rd), who supports him even when he doubts himself. She brings him close to her body, covers him and reminds him of why he need not be afraid. This critical bond at the beginning of revelation gives our beloved Prophet (s) hope and rejuvenates him throughout this life. When revelation completes with the end of the Prophet (s) life, he lays in the lap of his wife Aisha (rd) who provides him love and support. Revelation started with a link between Gabriel (a) and the messenger (s), grew stronger in arms of his beloved and came to rest in the arms of his last wife.
Ramadan is special because the Quran was revealed in this month, but we cannot dismiss that this month continued to remain unique through the extraordinary relationships that helped cultivate and motivate the messenger of Allah (swt).
This is why our beloved Rasullah (s) placed so much importance on not backbiting, slander or harming others in Ramadan because while a person was fulfilling an act of worship through fasting, he/she was breaking ties and dishonoring 'mu'aamalaat.' While backbiting doesn't invalidate the fast, it does take away the reward of fasting because how does one expect to remain true to the relationship with God while disregarding and humiliating His creation?
Ramadan is about all about relationships. Ramadan started and continued upon the significance of relationships. The most significant relationship of course is the one between the believer and his/her Lord. The reward of fasting in Ramadan is the exponential pleasure of God, as stated in a al-hadith Qudsi, "Fasting is for me and I am its reward." Interestingly, breaking a fast due to an excuse requires one to feed the creation of God, thus returning us to relationships with humanity. So how can we maximize Ramadan through fulfilling both Ibadaat and Mu'aamalaat? Let's start with some practical suggestions:
First, Ramadan is a time to reconnect with family and friends and remove ill feelings or grudges. Many of you know the hadith of Anas bin Malik (rd) where he said: The Messenger of Allah (s) said, "Do not desert (stop talking to) one another, do not nurse hatred towards one another, do not be jealous of one another, and become as fellow brothers and servants of Allah. It is not lawful for a Muslim to stop talking to his brother (Muslim) for more than three days." [Al-Bukhari and Muslim].
So the best way to bring hearts together is to give the person a gift. Start by giving them something special and write them a note that is meaningful. It may not resolve all the issues, but our beloved Prophet (s) advised us to give gifts and speak soft words and this should help alleviate some of the conflict.
Second, spend meaningful time with the closest person(s) in your life. Going to the masjid, praying taraweeh, standing up for Qiyaam is great, but make time to help your mother/father, wife/husband and family. This may allow them more time for Ibadah and you inshAllah you will receive the reward. Furthermore cultivate these relationships. Remember, the wife of our beloved prophet (s) believed in him even when he doubted himself. We need to bring our relationships to that caliber of trust, love and mercy. Give your spouse special attention, cook for your mother/father bring gifts for your siblings. Cultivate these relationships.
Third, explore time to learn and share the experience of Ramadan with our non-Muslim friends. Many of our friends want to understand the significance of Ramadan and would like to participate in the diversity and richness of Muslim life. As Muslim Americans we have the responsibility and pleasure of sharing our rich tradition and Ramadan Iftaars are an awesome start.
Fourth, give time to community activism. Choose a cause, small or big and give some time to serving the creation of Allah (swt). Whether its volunteering in the masjid parking lot, local food bank, serving Iftaar to the needy. Give time to the people who need it most in your community. Select one simple task, like cleaning the masjid after taraweeh and stick to it.
Finally give time for self-care and developing your relationship with God. To deepen our perspective and bring a sense of seriousness and direction, our predecessors taught us that one way to connect with our soul is to visit the graveyard. The great sage Rabiah al-Adawiyah (rh) had her own grave dug out and visited it every day. At least once in Ramadan, we should visit the graveyard to reconnect ourselves with the deepest part of our soul. We should not forget self-care, the prophet (s) said in a sahih hadith that even the 'sleep of a fasting person will be rewarded.' This doesn't mean we sleep all day during the fast but rather we give our body its rights so that we can perform at our peak. Exercise, eat right, sleep well and stand in Qiyaam.
So after all, it's not that women need to stop 'wasting time on making chutney and read Quran' but rather we need to help each other prepare these delights so that they can join us in the Ibadah and share the glory of both spectacular samosas and the glorious recital of Al-Quran. The days of Ramadan are, "ayaamam maduddaat" (limited number of days) like short sprints, but these days give us the impetus to renew relationships with God and creation and continue the marathon of life with honor and dignity.