InshaAllah we have no doubts and follow the Quran and Sunnah alone without any extra stuff added. We’re staying away from the major sins, trying to avoid minor sins, staying away from the disliked as much as possible, and not getting so serious into the permissible stuff that it interferes with our worship or living. After all that, you better believe the accursed Satan is still trying to get us.And he does so, as always, though the whispers he and his little nasty buddies mutter into our chests in an attempt to just ever so slightly tweak our hearts and convince us to choose the lesser of two goods.
The lesser of two goods? Absolutely. While Allah azza wa jall wants ease for us, we’re also supposed to work for it, and always choosing the easy way isn’t the best course of action.
This Ramadan, Ustadh Nouman Ali Kahn gives a lecture on a few ayat from Surat al Baqarah for an hour right after Isha’a at the new Bayyinah campus that’s right down the road, and streamed live online at Bayyinah.org.
This Ramada, as every other Ramadan, the masjid that I walk to for prayers less often than I should offers tarawih prayers, 8 or 20 rakats—depending on your school of thought—right after the Isha’a prayer.
At one, I can stand in worship of my Lord for an hour or so with 1000 or so other brothers and sisters. Sure, I’ll understand very little of what is read, but InshaAllah, I’ll catch more this year than I did last year.
At the other, I can watch from the comfort of my own home, from the sofa with my feet propped up and a cold glass of water in hand, and I’ll can understand most every word and learn some lessons from Allah’s book. If I pay attention, I’ll also have the opportunity to pick up some grammar and vocabulary.
At one, I’ll have to sit through an unknown number of fundraisers between the 4th and 5th rakat. This is very annoying, especially on weekend nights, when the fundraisers drag on for a half hour or hour or more. And I get to try to fight my way through the crowd of people who plan to stay for 20 rakat really quickly, because, while they do change imams, there is scarcely a pause between the 8th and 9th rakat, and my movements—and those of several hundred other brothers who don’t follow the minority 20 rakat opinion—cause the brother beside and behind me to have to rush forward and complete the front lines, thus potentially missing the 9th rakat.
At the other, I may need to deal with some lag, and there may be other technological issues, and it’s mediated by technology, and there’s no extra salat.
Sadly, it was not a tough choice for me, and I’ve been happily enjoying brother Nouman’s excellent lectures every night from the comfort of my own home, with my wife often by my side, and a cool glass of water and maybe a snack nearby, and I understand most every word.
May Allah guide me to better action, and give me the strength, patience, and will to deal with the annoyances that go along with participating in groups. Audhu Billah.
Scholars, Imams, and other Muslim speakers often describe large gatherings of Muslims—from the weekly Jumma (Friday) salat on Fridays and the special Eid prayers, to tarawih prayers during Ramadan, Umrah and Hajj—as sorts of rehearsals for Judgement Day, when all of humanity, from all time, will be gathered together awaiting Allah’s judgement.
وَيَوْمَ نُسَيِّرُ الْجِبَالَ وَتَرَى الْأَرْضَ بَارِزَةً وَحَشَرْنَاهُمْ فَلَمْ نُغَادِرْ مِنْهُمْ أَحَدًا
وَعُرِضُوا عَلَىٰ رَبِّكَ صَفًّا لَّقَدْ جِئْتُمُونَا كَمَا خَلَقْنَاكُمْ أَوَّلَ مَرَّةٍ ۚ بَلْ زَعَمْتُمْ أَلَّن نَّجْعَلَ لَكُم
And [warn of] the Day when We will remove the mountains and you will see the earth prominent, and We will gather them and not leave behind from them anyone. And they will be presented before your Lord in rows, [and He will say], “You have certainly come to Us just as We created you the first time. But you claimed that We would never make for you an appointment.”
And if I can’t learn to handle the little annoyances that come with (relatively small) groups here on Earth, I don’t even want to imagine that Last Day.
The dread of judgement day is of a different degree and quality than the dread of navigating the crowds at the masjid on a Thursday night in Ramadan, but then Judgement Day isn’t going to pause in the middle for fundraising…
And so I’m thoroughly enjoying Ustadh Nouman’s Baqara lectures, and InshaAllah I’m learning some things, if only by osmosis. And, again, may Allah guide me to better, and give me the strength, focus, and will to be a better slave to Him.
Speaking of fundraisers, suppose you’ve set aside $100 to give and you have two choices: one provides food and shelter to people in need in the local community; the other goes to pay down the debt on the most recent expansion at the mosque. Both are good, no doubt, but which do you choose? Or, better, one goes to feed people in the local community, the other goes to feed people in the Indian Subcontinent… Again, both are good, but it’s undoubtably better to take care of your neighbors first, and then branch out to the next town over, and then to the county, and then the metropolitan area, and only after the entire nation is perfected do you go to the neighboring nations. Between the US, with all our poor and struggling, and the people in Mexico who are way worse off, it seems doubtful that it would ever be better to send food halfway around the world.
And Allah knows best.
Or suppose you have a free afternoon and decide to go and visit someone. You narrow it down to a) visiting a couple of sick brothers in the hospital or b) visiting your aging father in a (perhaps vain) attempt to reestablish some kinship ties. This is a tough one: it’s a sunnah of the Prophet, peace be upon him, to visit the sick and our brothers have that right over us. But we’re commanded to keep up the ties of kinship.
We have numerous opportunities to do good, every day, in every aspect of our lives. Often, the choice is between doing something good and doing something permitted, or between doing something good and not doing anything at all. May Allah keep us striving toward his straight path.
But when we’re presented with two good options, the little devils plot and whisper to us to choose the lesser good, in hopes that it will lead us further and further away from what is best, from striving for perfection.
This trap is pernicious, difficult, oblique and widespread. Even in faith communities, cultural practices often pull people toward the lesser of two (or n) goods, and I have no real idea of how to counter this in daily life. Dua is, of course, the best and first option, and Muslims plead with God that He guide us to the straight path at least 17 times per day. As with anything, though, in Islam we’re enjoined to “trust in God, but tie your camel.”
So we make dua for guidance, and then try to take some concrete steps, but what can we do to recognize the better of two goods?
First, pray Istikara and then go with one of them. If it’s good for you, Allah will make it easy, and if it’s not good for you, you’ll find some obstacles and slowdowns.
Second, check your ego and your cultural assumptions. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, if not more so, and may Allah guide me to better. Insofar as we’re embedded in our cultural practices, it’s very difficult to see outside and recognize that our culture is pushing us to something less than the best. And checking the ego is hard enough as it is.
Between those three—praying for guidance, praying the Istikara, and checking your ego and cultural assumptions—inshaAllah you’ll find the right option, and may Allah make it easy on us and forgive us when we fail.
May Allah guide and protect us, and keep us steadfast on His religion, Ameen.