Ramadan: Best Actions (1)

Rasoolullah, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam said that the best of all actions is to pray at the fixed times, and no wonder: Allah azza wa jall wa jall commanded us to pray at fixed times:

And establish prayer at the two ends of the day and at the approach of the night. Indeed, good deeds do away with misdeeds. That is a reminder for those who remember.

وَأَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ طَرَفَيِ النَّهَارِ وَزُلَفًا مِّنَ اللَّيْلِ ۚ إِنَّ الْحَسَنَاتِ يُذْهِبْنَ السَّيِّئَاتِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ ذِكْرَىٰ لِلذَّاكِرِينَ

Surah Hud, 114

These 5 daily prayers give us an opportunity to pause whatever we’re doing and connect with Allah azza wa jall, and if we try a bit, they can also help us improve our character.

As noted yesterday, the best of us is the best to our wives (and, by extension, husbands and families), and one of the best ways to help our spouses and families is to encourage prayer, on time, with kushooh, in jammah, and work with our spouses to improve in those areas. I’m deficient in this respect: correcting people and encouraging improvement was just not a part my family culture growing up. We figured that it’s your life and so it’s your business, and we’ll leave you to it unless or until you ask for help. So I can write stuff here on the blog easily, especially since I know that very few people will actually read any of it, but actually telling someone in person is very difficult for me. May Allah grant me courage and strength.

Prayer, praying together, going to the masjid together, requires all sorts of skills, really: punctuality is just one of many. There are opportunities for interacting with people and with the natural and built environment, and in each of these there are many ways work on our character.

Walking to the Masjid for prayer has some character building: it’s more ecologically sound than driving, especially when you live 200 yards from the masjid and the pathways are often littered with different bits of stuff that seems to slough off people as they move (bottles, candy wrappers, receipts, flyers for events and services, etc. etc. etc.). Having the patience to walk, especially when fasting in North Texas, in late June is definitely a character builder, and happily picking up other people’s filth to beautify the path to Allah’s house can help build humility and consideration. And once you make it to the masjid, opportunities for character improvement don’t stop.

Once you get to the masjid, as in any group, there are other people to deal with—friends, acquaintances, strangers, rivals—different personalities to navigate, and groups of Muslims are no different. Well, we do have the example set by the Prophet, peace be upon him, but so many of us fall short of that, and I’m probably among the absolute worst. Smiling, giving the greetings of peace, moving quickly and with purpose, holding open doors for your elders and others, and all sorts of other little, easy actions.

Community prayers are often crowded affairs, and the mass exit after is a steady stream of several hundred brothers, navigating around random clustered groups of chatting colleagues or neighbors or friends, that usually cluster in the middle of hallways and just outside the doors that lead to the Musallah (the room in which we all gather to pray and listen to lectures). It’s difficult to be friendly and cheerful when all you want to do is go home to your darling, adorable wife, but it’s a Sunnah of the Prophet, peace be upon him, to do so, and we should strive to emulate his character to the best of our ability.

Just a few minutes ago, after Dhuhr salat, I stopped by the office of one of the brothers I respect deeply and would like to make friends with. He was standing in the door and there were brothers gathered around and they were planning something. I waited for a few moments and no one acknowledged that I was there, or really looked at me, so I turned and left. Was that the best I could do? I don’t know. They were obviously engaged in something that was none of my business, so there was no need for me to hang around, and, anyway, we’re not supposed to listen in on conversations that don’t have anything to do with us.

The Prophet of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said

Beware of suspicion. Suspicion is the most untrue speech. Do not spy and do not eavesdrop. Do not compete with each other and do not envy each other and do not hate each other and do not shun each other. Be slaves of Allah, brothers.

رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ‏ “‏ إِيَّاكُمْ وَالظَّنَّ فَإِنَّ الظَّنَّ أَكْذَبُ الْحَدِيثِ وَلاَ تَجَسَّسُوا وَلاَ تَحَسَّسُوا وَلاَ تَنَافَسُوا وَلاَ تَحَاسَدُوا وَلاَ تَبَاغَضُوا وَلاَ تَدَابَرُوا وَكُونُوا عِبَادَ اللَّهِ إِخْوَانًا ‏”

Muttawa Malik

But maybe it would have been better for me to step back and wait a minute for the brother to come free and at least give him my Salams. And Allah knows best. In general, though, I expect I’ve unintentionally dissed this particular brother somehow, and I should ask him about it and seek his forgiveness.

It strikes me now that there is an additional aspect of character, and that’s how we interact with Allah azza wa jall.

There are little duas to make when leaving the house; when opening the door to the masjid; when starting, making and completing wudu; when stepping foot into the musallah and when exiting the musallah and the masjid. There are little rememberances to keep on our tongues as often as possible:

  • SubhanAllah, Alhamdulillah, wa Allahu Akbar (Glory be to God, All praise and thanks belong to God, and God is Greater)
  • Subhanallah wa bihamdihi, subhanallahil AAdheem (Glory be to Allah, His is the praise; Glory be to Allah, the One who is free from imperfection)
  • Astaghfirullah! (God forgive me!)
  • and there are many more

And this may be one of the best ways to improve our character: simply remembering Allah azza wa jall and praising Him at every opportunity. This will help us remember that He is watching and that we will ultimately return to Him.

Alhamdulillah.

Inside the masjid or out, moving through the world and dealing with people gives us many chances to remember Allah and to develop and display the highest character, and the opportunity to fail miserably and seek forgiveness. Mostly, pick up trash on my way to the masjid, deposit the garbage in the garbage, walk in and give salams to any brothers I (accidentally) make eye contact with, deposit the recyclables in the recycling bin, pray, and walk out the same way… I know the dua to enter the masjid, but I often forget it. I usually manage to enter with my right foot and leave with my left, but I sometimes forget that too. I often purposefully avoid making eye contact and try to creep out without talking to anyone. May Allah forgive me.

Our brothers and sisters in faith have rights on us, and giving those rights in the best possible manner requires the highest character, and the highest character requires, in part, the highest faith, and the highest of faith is to move through the world as if you see Allah azza wa jall, and if you can’t see Him, know that He sees you.

May Allah help us to remember Him and fear Him appropriately, and guide us in all our affairs, Ameen.

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