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, 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, visit his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.
My parents, sister and I were blessed to visit the cities of Mecca and Medina a few years before I started working at NYU. We were fairly excited and anticipating a spiritually invigorating experience. What we were met with, initially, was a lot of anxiety.
The moment we landed, we found out the our suitcases had been misplaced. After hours of searching and making inquiries and getting no real assistance, we ended up heading to our hotel, not just slightly frustrated. Later on we would find out that our luggage was in fact in a room next to the administrative office that we tried to enter a few times, but were told to come back because everyone was drinking tea.
For the next couple of days, we simply wore the clothes that we had on and each night my mother would wash them by hand in the hotel sink so that they were clean for the next day. To no avail, we reached out for assistance and help but kept hitting dead ends. My father seemed to be the most frustrated of all of us.
On Thursday night, my father expressed a desire to buy a new outfit to wear for the Friday Jummah Prayer service. The hour was pretty late though, and most stores were unfortunately closed. Now, further dejected, we stopped at a local restaurant to get some food for my mother and sister who were back at the hotel.
Our waiter was very friendly and my father ended up venting to him about all of his frustrations and his wish to just have something clean to wear for Jummah. The waiter told my father to wait and that he would bring him something to wear of his. We waited for almost an hour and my father, now even more dejected, said we should go -- that my mother and sister were waiting and it didn't seem like this guy was coming back.
As we got up to leave, the waiter was running towards us with a hanger draped with clothes, saying "Uncle, uncle." Breathing heavy, he apologized when he got to us for the long wait and said, "Uncle I'm sorry it took me so long. It took my wife longer than expected to iron this for you." My dad could only respond with tears, and that one simple yet profoundly thoughtful act wiped away all of the frustration built up in him over the last few days.
Everyone knows that giving is good and the helping people out is good, but we rarely emphasize what the etiquette around that might be and how to do it well. Many of us give, but not many of us give to the best of our ability. We give of ourselves and our possessions, but don't always give a complete thoughtfulness. This man could have simply given my father clothes out of a laundry basket. He could have also just listened and given him empathy for his situation. Instead he took steps beyond anyone's expectations with the result being beyond amazing. That is the kind of character we should all seek to employ in our giving -- one that strives for excellence and go beyond what is merely expected as our giving is not to make us feel better, but to make someone else feel better. And it can be done through simple gestures.
A few days ago, my friend David Coolidge sent my wife, Priya, an email with a quote that I'll copy and paste below. Priya didn't fast last Ramadan because she was pregnant with our daughter Madina and she isn't fasting this Ramadan because she is nursing Madina. We had spoken about how it's tough for her not fasting while everyone else is and how she feels like she's missing out. Not necessarily knowing this, Dave on his own thoughtful accord sent my wife the following quote:
"When she has her first baby, she must manage for another life even more dependent on her personal sacrifices. By the second, third, or fourth child, her days and nights belong almost entirely to others. Whether she has a spiritual path or not, such a mother can seldom resist a glance at the past, when there were more prayers, more meanings, more spiritual company, and more serenity. When Allah opens her understanding, she will see that she is engaged in one of the highest forms of worship, that of producing new believers who love and worship Allah. She is effectively worshipping Allah for as many lifetimes she has children, for the reward of every spiritual work her children do will be hers, without this diminishing anything of their own rewards: every ablution, every prayer, every Ramadan, every hajj, and even the works her children will in turn pass on to their offspring, and, so on till the end of time. Even if her children do not turn out as she wishes, she shall be requited in paradise forever according to her intention in raising them, which was that they should be godly. Aside from the tremendous reward, within the path itself it is noticeable that many of those who benefit most from khalwa or 'solitary retreat of dhikr' are women who have raised children. With only a little daily dhikr and worship over the years, but much toil and sacrifice for others, they surpass many a younger person who has had more free time, effort, and 'spiritual works.' What they find is greater because their state with Allah is greater; namely, the awe, hope, and love of the Divine they have realized by years of sincerity to Him." - Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller
In a month where many of us are focused on our spirituality -- our fasting, our prayers, everything that we have been given -- Dave was able to remember and think of someone else. His fasting yielded not only a consciousness towards a person miles away who perhaps doesn't have food to eat or water to drink that he might not ever meet, but also towards those who are right next to him, yet still have different experiences than his own.
Priya's reponse to him "I think I teared in the first three lines and had to push back tears to read the rest. Thank you for thinking of me and sharing this." Just from an email that took mere moments to write and send, but the impact is far deeper than anyone could imagine.
Little things can make a big difference. As we enter into the second 10 days of Ramadan, let your thoughtfulness of others go full force. It'll be a fulfilling experience unlike anything else.
Priya, Madina and I are going to be in Houston tonight till Saturday morning speaking at programs for the Risala Foundation. I'll be giving the Friday sermon at the Dulles Mosque and doing a late night program there starting at midnight. For those who are in the area, it would be great to see you.