Ramadan Reflection: “Being There”

The following is a submission by an anonymous community member.

Last week I was reading the Seerah of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) when my younger brother interrupted to talk with me.

Engrossed in the inspiring story of the early life of the Rasul (peace and blessings be upon him), I responded to him with one-worded answers, mhms and nods. He tried to talk to me again—I don’t even recall now about what—maybe it was about the Olympics or what we would have for suhoor in a few hours or when he should sign up to take his SATs.

I brushed him aside and tried to maintain my focus to the book in my hands. Eventually he took the hint and left, without me really realizing it.

A few days later, I am sitting here continuing to read the Seerah of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and have run into an invaluable lesson. I just came across the story of when in the early days following Revelation, and shortly after the young Muslim community began to publicly profess their faith, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was working tirelessly to watch over the community’s safety and best interests. I reflected on what a huge burden that must have felt like—knowing that even as the number of people taking Shahada was growing steadily, so was the fierceness of their rejection, suffering and persecution from society, and that people looked to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) as their leader and guiding light.

One day, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) decided to ask a powerful leader of the Makhzum tribe, Walid, to protect the small Muslim community. While the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) went to build his case in front of the leader and gain his support, he was interrupted by an old, blind man who had already embraced Islam. The man stopped the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and asked him to recite some verses of the Qur’an for him to listen to. Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), on an important and urgent task, in trying to present his point before it was too late, brushed the man aside exasperatedly and attempted to continue to persuade the chief, but the leader shut him out and refused to even hear his request.

Soon after, God revealed Surat ‘Abasa.

“He (the Prophet) frowned and turned away, because the blind man came to him. But what could you tell but that perhaps he might grow in purity? Or that he might receive admonition, and the reminder might profit him? As to one who regards himself as self-sufficient, you attend to him, though it is no blame to you if he does not grow in purity. But as to he who came to you striving earnestly, and with fear (in his heart), of him you were unmindful. By no means (should it be so). For it is indeed a message of remembrance. Therefore, let who will, keep it in remembrance.” – Qur’an 80:1-12

In these verses, Allah (SWT) taught Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and humanity to never turn away from a human being, regardless of whatever difficult circumstances one might be facing, and regardless of who the person is (e.g.,  someone not seemingly important or who does not bring you any benefit back).

The lesson serves as a reminder to us to never neglect or turn away from a human being, especially those who are seemingly in need and are clearly requesting your help. You should give them your sympathy and sincere attention, and do your best to serve them, even if all they need is someone to speak with.

Without doubt, Ramadan is a time for self-reflection and inward evaluation. But it is also a time to show mercy to all humans, not only in the sense of forgiveness, as we are often reminded to do, but also being merciful and kind in the sense of being tender hearted, compassionate, and available to others.

This Ramadan, without doubt, focus on rectifying your self, on nourishing your soul and soaking up spiritual goodness. God knows we all need to look inwards and care for our hearts. But this Ramadan, go out of your way to spread mercy and kindness as well. Do not feel like you must hide from people because you are so focused on healing yourself. Do not think that your spiritual boost comes at the expense of ditching others. Humans aren’t isolated creatures. We grow together; we are stronger together; we need each other.

Be merciful and welcoming to others, just as you hope that Allah (SWT) will shower you with mercy and receive you with open arms. This month, in your quest for consistent, heartfelt worship and spiritual enrichment, invite others to strive with you. Pray with others, make dhikr with others, and reflect with others.

This Ramadan, go out of your way to make an effort to be there for others. Open your homes for iftars, not just for your closest friends but also for people who could use some company. Don’t rush to the mosque without first checking if your neighbor or acquaintance needs a ride too. Spread salam and greet people you see at the mosque, old and new—especially the new. Check up on those who attend regularly who may have missed a few nights at  the mosque to see if they’re okay.

Go out of your way to be conscious of how people are feeling and doing. Healthy and happy communities aren’t based on how many rows are filled at the mosque or the monetary wealth of the community; healthy and happy communities are communities where people are there for one another and fulfill the needs of one another before even having to be approached or asked to do so. These communities are created by the individual bonds that we form; it is a bottom-up approach that begins with you and me.

This Ramadan, don’t ever think that you’re too busy to help someone—too hungry, too tired or too focused on praying or making dhikr that you reach a point where you feel as though others’ needs or problems aren’t worth your time (a phenomenon Sidi Usama Canon refers to as “spiritual bypassing”) or that what you’re doing is more important than someone else’s worry. Never think that the strengthening of your relationship with God and your service and help to people are mutually exclusive practices. When someone comes to you with a question or request, don’t brush them aside or think that it can wait until after Ramadan for you to respond, or for when you have time. You only have time. 

This Ramadan, be as selfless as possible. Be there for your brothers and sisters. Make them feel loved and welcomed as they deserve to be. Be present and accessible. Without doubt, you will be busy immersed in different acts of worship, but don’t ever forget that showing kindness, mercy and service to others is in itself a hefty kind of worship.

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), had calmly turned someone away just once out of his immense love, devotion and concern for the community. Even then, God reminded him to not do so. Who are we, then, to turn away from others for matters that concern only us?

Mr. Carnegie, meet the Prophet.

You’d be hard pressed to find a book with a more shallow title than Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People.’ It sounds like a great way to boost your self-esteem and learn some manipulative business tricks that Carnegie himself used to get rich. It’s an interesting book written by a prolific personal development author and it’s especially interesting to read its concrete pointers through a ‘Muhammedan’ lens. A book about desirable personal traits is unnecessary to validate what the Prophet taught in terms of perfecting human conduct. It is, instead, fascinating to reflect on how eternal these noble qualities are – a book written in 1936 is the basis of corporate training programs to this day, and the seerah, of the Prophet, the best how-to-guide anyone could ask for, holds weight to this day, and will until the end of time.

Carnegie talks about things we can do to show we actually care about people. He describes our names as the sweetest sound to our ears. If you know people like hearing their names, isn’t it worth expending some effort to remember them of the people we meet? The Prophet’s love for people was so explicit that literally everyone thought they were closest to him. When Carnegie paints the picture of an ideal listener, I bet a Muslim’s first thought is the habit of the Prophet, who would turn his entire body towards those he was listening to. It’s a difficult practice given the amount of distractions we have, but it would be near impossible for the person who is talking to feel like they’re not being heard. Carnegie retold an incident in which he was sure a friend had mistaken a Shakespeare quote for a Bible passage, and was sure of this error, but was advised to not correct his friend in public. The Prophet explicitly described the value of relationships between people, advising against oppressing, humiliating, or looking down upon anyone.

It’s hard to swallow when others dismiss Islam as an archaic (read: ‘non-Western’) way of life. Islam is moral uprightness and impeccable character that was personified by the Prophet, whose example is timeless. It is what could unite endlessly feuding tribes in 7th century Arabia, and is also what can make anyone the coolest kid in school. Not the jerks that stuff kids into lockers (does that actually happen outside of 90’s teen sitcoms?), but the ones who are thoughtful enough to sit with the new kid at lunch. We have only the time of our short lives to treat people well, and to wait for the day to drink from the Prophet’s hands, inshAllah. But rest assured, his legacy lives on in all of the positive attributes we see in people. What mattered most to him still holds all the meaning in the world today, and that’s a connection we can forge with God through him until the day we die.

-Written by Barq (برق), Arabic for ‘lightning.’ This pen name is being adopted by the author to honor the legacy of graduated MSA author Raad (رعد), Arabic for ‘thunder.’  You can view an example of Raad’s past work here.

Caves

By: Hussein Sheikh-Aden

Pondering in seclusion was a man,
who would receive wahi from the One.
He was given a Divine command.
Told to ‘Read!’; but decided to run.

Muhammad(saws), leapt from the cave.
Escaped the darkness; headed home.
Ran to his wife; asked her to save,
him from what he was shown.

He trembled in her embrace.
Told her, his innermost fears.
“A man like you, He shall not disgrace.”
Wisdom from all her years.

The Prophet(saws) gained strength
and accepted God’s call.
To spread the Truth,
of ‘La Illaha Ill Allah’.

Stood up big and tall,
in the face of his society.
Like an unwavering brick wall.
Preaching modesty, piety.

At first unsure and afraid.
Ultimately he accomplished his task.
We know of the sacrifices he made.
Nonetheless, I have a point to ask.

Don’t we all have a role to fill?
For all of us, He has a specific plan.
We could be an instrument of God’s will.

The Prophet(saws) is the highest of examples.
The greatest that can possibly be achieved.
Yet, we can draw parallels.
More than at first perceived.

At first we may not know our role,
our way in this big Universe.
This may put worry in our soul.
But trust in Him, as described in this verse:

Allah – there is no deity except Him. And upon Allah let the believers rely. — (Quran 64:13)

So we may first be confused, bewildered.
But always put your trust in and rely on Him.
And our aspirations will never be hindered.

Like a pious Muslim, we should all attempt to behave.
Putting the Prophet(saws) as our model.
Because in reality, our colleges and offices…
…may be our cave.