Ramadan is almost all gone. There’s only a week left. And after the first day of fasting, I already started to see more of the real me. And I didn’t like all that I saw.
I saw Elsa. Ice cold. Anxious. Afraid. With himm…fear over the future based on failures of the past which makes me dangerous and able to throw icicles into pure hearts. I am working on breathing so as not to isolate myself in a room of coldness. Or spread my tyranny so far as to close the gates or run away into an ice castle with a guardian ice monster to protect me in it. It’s always warmer in my heart when I breathe. The cold does bother me, it was just a front and act of denial to say “the cold never bothered me anyway.”
So, on the first day of Ramadan, I gave myself a personal project in dhikr and fikr to habituate incorporating more warmth into my life. I’ve focused on one of the Asmaul Husna and its meaning each day, whilst trying to see how it manifests itself in my life that day. On the first day of Ramadan, I recognized and was thankful for “ar-Rahman”. The Entirely Merciful Benefactor that loves believer and disbeliever alike and gives from His bounty no matter what. I started thinking, since He envelops me and all of creation in His Mercy, then what right do I have to not be merciful to myself? It’s easier to have mercy with other beings, but for myself, I am more of a slave master. I treat myself like a workhorse. And it makes me mean and mad and icier and colder. And no, no one asks it of me, but feeling that things must be done, I keep pushing the charge. I just don’t want to push the charge so far that everyone around me is stuck in an eternal winter. I’m learning to thaw.
I guess the thing about Ramadan is that we see ourselves for what we are. And we have to be honest enough to say: “I don’t like what I see.” But we also must be able to say, I need to find the meaning of the place where I’m at. Alhamdulillah, I’m at the place of reviving old awrad and adding some much needed ones of dhikr and fikr. We must be merciful and forgiving of ourselves. Because only in forgiving ourselves, can we do the work needed for Allah to forgive us. Instead of building a snowman or ice castle, I realize that what I really do need to build in my heart is a masjid. And inside that masjid needs to be a mirror, reflective of The Best Attributes, wherein I tell myself, “Mirror, Mirror on the wall. The only fairest one of them all..is Allah.” Al Hakam. Al Adl. The One Who Orders. The Bringer of Justice, Truth, and Destiny. The Judge. The Harmony. He it is who I will learn from. And even though I feel the pressure of the waning of Ramadan, and often feel like I’m cramming for an exam, I’m starting to believe that the lesson for me this Ramadan is not in how much lip-service I give in dhikr or how much reading of the Qur’an I can do, but how reflective I am of what has been read…what is known. What action plans have been enacted? Has my character become Qur’anic? I am honestly not where I want to be in the Qur’an right now, but my Qur’an reading and memorizing doesn’t mean a thing if it doesn’t leave a lasting imprint in my heart, changing me to become a walking Qur’an…an example of the sunnah of the Prophet (saws). How can I say I love Allah or that I even know Him, if I don’t try to reflect His Attributes to the best of my being? How can it be considered a reading if what is read–His Speech–isn’t reflected and imprinted on the heart?
Last minute studying is so stressful. That’s why Ramadan is not for cramming. It is a spiritual sail that we must take advantage of, yes, but not in a way that is temporal. The effects of Ramadan should be long-lasting. Ramadan is a reminder of how we should be throughout the year. Ramadan is a mirror…so we can see what work we need to do to improve our inner appearance, which will undoubtedly improve our outward appearance. Ramadan really needs to be entered into with a plan! And it needs to be ended with a plan…all rooted in action for the better.
The Prophet Muhammad (saws) said, “Only if you act can you receive that which was destined for you.”
I keep telling myself that I want to write this story, this book, this article, this curriculum, this pattern. I want to do this and that. But it’s all fantasy and dreamwork until I actually practice the art of writing. Until I actually do something. So here I am. I am writing. I am acting, because I want to write. I do believe it is my destiny, inshAllah. I pray one day I will manage my time, space, and energy enough to put the novels in my head down on paper. I’ve already started on a few, but what I lack is consistency. There was definitely poor time management this Ramadan, but all is not lost. I did learn a thing or two about consistency. Speaking of which, one of my consistent practices this Ramadan has been watching and listening to cartooned clips of Nouman Ali Khan’s lectures and this one on Qadr (decree, predestination) really struck home. In it I learned the meaning of “nasta’een“–one of the oft-repeated words contained in Surah Al-Fatiha which we recite daily in each ra’ka of our prayers. We have to help ourselves in order to receive help. We have to help ourselves for Allah to help us. VERILY, Allah doesn’t change a condition of a people until they change what is within themselves (Surah Ra’d 13:11). As much as I say I want to write my novels and I want to do this or that, all of those ambitions, dreams and goals are not going to materialize until I act and put forth some effort.
I love the wisdom of Shaykh Tosun Bayrak in The Name and The Named (Fons Vitae, 2000) as he explains the Beautiful Name: Al Hakam. He counsels that there is no need to live in the future or the past, in anticipation or regret. Our destiny is on the way and there is no stopping it. Instead of overthinking everything, we should “Accept, and you will be rewarded with satisfaction and peace. Instead of questioning Allah’s judgment, be a true judge of yourself. Neither tyrannize yourself nor excuse and pamper yourself.” We shouldn’t be concerned with past or future, or even really the present. Our aim is to be totally occupied with Our Lord. (p. 89).
On Allah’s name, Al ‘Adl, Shaykh Tosun writes, “Out of respect for the beautiful name of Allah, al-‘Adl, we must learn to exercise shukr, tawakkul, and rida’–thankfulness, trust in God, and acceptance. We must be thankful for the good, and accept, without personal judgement or complaint, whatever falls to our lot that does not seem to be good. In so doing, perhaps the mystery of Allah’s justice will be revealed to us, and we will be happy with both the joy and the pain coming from the Beloved.” (p. 92). This is the mystery of Al Latif. There is nothing to be stressed about, depressed about, or anxious about. We must find the calm in the storm. The beauty in the ugly. The delicate in the rough. It’s a bit like figuring out a puzzle, but inshAllah with practice, we will become closer to Perfect in our very imperfect states. We are perfectly imperfect and we must accept that, and move upward and onward. I have time management issues. I have distraction/attention issues. I have anxiety issues. This whole Ramadan I feel like I’ve been on the brink of panicking from the weight of my own goals and my inactivity (rather than inability) in accomplishing them. But Alhamdulillah for my imperfections, and being able to see them as such so that I can work on them. Alhamdulillah for the mirror of Ramadan, who has said, “So here’s looking at you, kid.”
…And the best part is….Ramadan’s not over yet!!! There’s still time!
Ibn al-Jawzi said: “When the race horse knows that it is nearing the end of the track it exerts all of its effort to win the race. Do not allow the race horse to be more clever than you. For verily, deeds are judged by their conclusions. So if you didn’t do well with welcoming Ramadan then perhaps you will do better bidding it farewell.”
Ibn Taymiyyah said: “The lesson lies in perfection of the conclusion of a thing, not in the shortcomings of the beginning of it.”
May we be honored to witness the presence of Laylatul Qadr this Ramadan and be forgiven for our sins, elevated in rank, and earn freedom from the fire. May each Ramadan we experience be successively better than the last. And may the mirrors of our souls become cleaner and more reflective of our Divine Origin each Ramadan. Amin!
Hasan al-Basri said:
“Improve your performance in what is left (of time) and you will be forgiven for that which has already passed. So take special care of the time you have left because you do not know when your soul will be turned over to Allah’s Mercy.”