Ramadan: Distractions, and overcoming them (2)

All praise and thanks be to God for allowing us to witness another Ramadan, and may He guide us to be better slaves in this beautiful month.

Here partway through the second half, just beginning the last 10 days and nights, many of us (me included) have gotten distracted, lost some of our early enthusiasm, and we’re lagging a bit. InshaAllah, with a bit of work, we can pick ourselves back up and get refocused.Yesterday, I focused on prayer, and with deepest thanks to Sheikh Yaser Birjas, may Allah preserve him. Today, let’s try and work on our character some.

Since Ramadan began, I’ve noticed increasing ease in avoiding acting like a jerk, increased patience with people and situations, increased willingness to just accept what Allah has ordained for me in this blessed month, from multiple unexpected and expensive expenses, to multiple social engagements that should’ve—but didn’t—deplete my limited social energies.

Allahu Akbar.

That said, there are areas where I need to work, and the biggest, I think, is taqwa, having the appropriate fear, respect, understanding of Allah azza wa jall, and this lack points to some deficiencies in my Ihsan.

So to recap, or maybe for the first time, there is Islam, Iman, and Ihsan. Islam is made up of the well-known 5 pillars of Shahada, Salat, Zakat, Saum, and Hajj (testifying that there is none worthy of worship except Allah, prayer, charity, fasting, and the pilgrimage). Ihsan is made up of the 6 beliefs we all must have, belief in: Allah, His Angels, His Messengers, His Books, the Last Day, and His Decree. And then Ihsan is to see Allah, and if you can’t see Him, know that He sees you.

Anyway, the goal of daily activity, I think, is precisely this Ihsan. The aim is to make everything I do be a form of worship to Allah subhanahu wa t’ala, from the moment I wake up, until the moment I go to sleep at night. Loads of people attempt this, some by attempting to adhere strictly to the practices and lifestyle of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and despite the various technological and social changes in the intervening 1400 years. Others try to use analogy and principles of equivalence to find ways of movement in this present world that come as close as possible to what was practiced by the Prophet and the earliest generations of believers. After all, insofar as the people of the past were living in and navigating their own societies, it seems reasonable to think that we might try to live in and navigate through our own. To each his or her own, as long as we all try to follow the Quran and Sunnah to the best of our ability.

So how to do it. First, Itaqillah, fear only Allah and know that He is watching. Know that He loves us to be patient, kind, generous, forgiving. Look into the Prophet’s character, peace be upon Him, and ponder on some of his statements.

For example:

I asked the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ): “Which act is the best?” He (ﷺ) said, “As-Salat at their fixed times.” I asked, “What next?” He (ﷺ) said, “Being dutiful to parents.” I asked, “What next?” He (ﷺ) said, “Striving (Jihad) in the way of Allah.”

Riyad as-Saliheen

I know, I know, there’s that word ‘Jihad’ in there, but they’re not talking about that stuff that people perpetrate around the world: what they’re doing is not Jihad. Sure, Jihad is Fighting, but it’s also striving, struggling, etc. Consider the following:

The Prophet (ﷺ) said: The best fighting (jihad) in the path of Allah is (to speak) a word of justice to an oppressive ruler.

Abi Dawud

Or this:

“The Messenger of Allah said: “The one who strives to sponsor a widow or a poor person is like the one who strives in Jihad in the cause of Allah, the Mighty and Sublime.”‘

Sunan An-Nasa’i

But I didn’t set out to talk about Jihad, I’m trying to improve my own character, and, maybe, point to some ways you could improve yours, assuming of course that your character needs improving too.

So the best deeds are, in order:

  1. prayers at their fixed times
  2. being dutiful to parents
  3. striving in the path of Allah

Let’s take each one of those, quickly…

Praying at the fixed time requires some time management skills and punctuality, both excellent character traits, to be sure. If you’re one of those who has difficulty with time management or one who is always late, try praying precisely on time for a few weeks or a month and you’ll probably find that those 5 or 10 or 15 minute breaks at precisely scheduled times help you to structure much of the rest of your day. I know I write these posts better when, like now, I know that the time for Maghrib is coming along shortly, and I know that I’ll need to pause maybe 10 minutes ahead to fix myself some drink and make dua before breaking fast and praying, and so I’m typing like a madman, and thoughts are flying onto the page lickety-split.

Being dutiful to your parents requires compassion, generosity, empathy, and patience, at least. I’m not very good at this, to be honest. My mother, who I’m closest to, lives 6 hours away and it’s really a case of out of sight, out of mind. My dad and I haven’t been close in over 25 years, and I make feeble little attempts to reconnect with him, but it seems like too much time has passed or something: he’s busy with his stuff; I’m busy with mine.

May Allah forgive me on both counts, and guide me to be better, Ameen.

And striving in the path of Allah requires obedience, willpower, self sacrifice, taming of the nafs (the desiring self), and all sorts of other highly desirable character traits. They teach many of these in the Army, for example, but there are numerous other avenues to take to develop them too, if we take the time to learn them. Many are sadly lacking in our communities today, or seem to be.

I’m not suggesting that people go off to war: the wars worldwide today are in no way ‘striving in the path of Allah.’ Most are for economic or political reasons, or for revenge, and none are led by a Muslim leader like, say Umar Radiallahu ‘anhu or any of the other righteous predecessors. There is currently, as far as I understand, no group fighting in the path of Allah, so those of us with understanding have to wait and try to develop these skills in some other way. But how?

In another saying, narrated by Aisha,

the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: “The best of you is the best to his wives, and I am the best of you to my wives, and when your companion dies, leave him alone.”

Jami at-Tirmidhi

Marriage is undoubtably a gift from Allah: at its best, marriage provides companionship, cooperation, mutual uplift, and many other mutual benefits and in addition, it offers many chances to build character: tenderness, kindness, playfulness, generosity, self sacrifice, punctuality, nafs-taming, and many many other traits. In some sense, it’s all of the above rolled into one.

That’s probably why this hadith about marriage completing half your deen keeps making the rounds.

Anas ibn Malik reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Whoever Allah provides with a righteous wife, then Allah has assisted him in half of his religion. Let him fear Allah regarding the second half.”

Source: al-Mu’jam al-Awsaṭ 992 (retrieved from Daily Hadith)

There is weakness in this, and it’s not in any of the Sahih collections, and while it’s well intentioned, I’m not going to base a series of posts around it. Usually, I only post ahadith from Sunnah.com, as it has the major hadith collections all in one place and is easily searchable. The hadith above comes out of At Tibarani’s al-Mu’jam al-Aswat and is, as far as I can tell, not authentic. Alhamdulillah, I planned to write three posts about how the institution of marriage combines, in a sense, all of the above. But without some sound backing, I’ll just leave it.

Coming up, InshaAllah I’ll dive into the three best actions in some more detail.

Edit: I got a bit off topic in the above, so tl;dr: strive to make every action, every moment of every day, some form of worship to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala: Pray, Fast, give Charity, and don’t be a jerk.

May Allah guide us to be better slaves to Him, better spouses, better children, better neighbors, better friends, better coworkers, better employees, and to act as though we see Him, and if we can’t see Him, know that He sees us, Ameen.

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