Take a break from the ever-spiralling news cycle and refocus your mind back to what really matters right now, and for us Muslims that is the blessed month of Ramadan. We are now in the final third of what has been for many of us a very strange Ramadan experience. At such times to help me get back to basics I often turn to my favourite scholar Shaykh Hamza Yusuf who is, in my opinion, a rare scholar as his worldview is shaped equally by traditional Islamic schooling as well as modern Western academia.
Please find below a few quotes I have recently collected from the Shaykh regarding Ramadan. I should warn you that in one of the quotes below he talks about how Ramadan is an opportune time to “disinfect our hearts.” This is meant purely in a spiritual capacity and in no way shape or form is a reference to President Trump and his expert medical advice on somehow injecting disinfectant in order to rid the body of COVID-19. Please also refrain from following his other advice of somehow getting ultraviolet light into your body. In other words, do not stare directly at the sun. Anyhoo, as best as one can given, you know, all that is going on, enjoy…
In our tradition prayer, while it is communal, it is also solitary. And one of the most important prayers for spiritual development are the solitary prayers that we do, the sunnan, which are outside of the communal prayers. These are extraordinarily important for human development. And then again the taraweeh prayer, according to the Maliki school, is actually preferred in your house over doing it in the masjid, as long as there is a group doing it in the masjid, fulfilling the sunnah kifayah. So that’s an important point that Imam Malik considered, that taraweeh is better in the home as it’s free from the possibility of riyah, or the hidden shirk. So that’s something for people to contemplate. Obviously in the Hanafi madhab it’s a sunnah muakada.
It’s very important for us to remember that this is a time of tawba, of repentance, and Ramadan is really one of the most opportune times of the year to do that. So take this as a time of repentance.
This virus has reminded us of the temporality of our life on earth, that all of us everyday are facing our mortality. The Prophet said in a hadith that Imam Nawawi put as one of the foundational hadith in our tradition, that if you wake up in the morning don’t expect to go to sleep at night, and if you go to sleep at night don’t expect to wake up in the morning.
May Allah keep all of your hearts connected with those that you love and with your communities, even though your bodies are separate. The hearts can still remain connected insha-Allah.
Even though this is a great difficulty for us, many of us have been a great difficulty for the animal kingdom. And I think some of them are actually relieved, and in fact some people have made the argument that this is actually the animals revenge on us for for not being good stewards of the earth. And so it’s very important that we recollect and remind ourselves that God put us here as caretakers, not as overlords, we are caretakers of this place, and He has given us this extraordinary garden, this amazing creation, and told us to take care of it. And many of us have failed to do that, we have not been good stewards. And this is a time I think for us to really think about the trials and the tribulations that are upon us as really important signs, and maybe a message from God that we should think about the madness of modern lifestyles, and the fact that we really do need to change the way that we’ve been living. And this might be a really important wake-up call for all of us.
We were forewarned in the Quran that Allah created this world as a tribulation and a trial for us, and we will be tested. And this is certainly a big test for us in our lifetimes. May Allah give us the ability to see the wisdom in it and to see the mercy in it, and to look with the eye of rahma, the eye of mercy and compassion, and not with the eye nikma, the eye of animosity and anger.
We have been habituated to the daily rhythms and simple pleasures of our lives continuing uninterrupted by the major traumas that afflict so many in other parts of our world and that God, by His mercy, has protected us from. In the current climate, the blessings that too many of us take for granted now feel threatened by the dark cloud of coronavirus that pervades our planet. The best response is gratitude, as even in such times as these, we can discern untold blessings if we look with the eye of gratitude: “And if you enumerate the blessings of God, you will find no end” (16:18). God promises that if we are grateful, God will increase the reasons for our continued gratitude, and when we are ungrateful, God will remind us that the consequences of ingratitude are severe.
The Qur’an reminds us in many ways that tribulations will befall us, and if we respond with patience, prayer, and high moral character, we will see such afflictions as the Divine Surgeon’s knife, which excises our heedlessness and restores our hearts to health. The Prophet ﷺ said, “For some, an epidemic is a grave chastisement, for the believers, a mercy.” The Qur’an says, “For man was created anxious, unhappy when ill afflicts him, and stingy when good befalls him; except the prayerful who are constant in their prayer” (70:19–23). Indeed, sincere prayer abides as our most potent weapon against fear, panic, and despair. If anything troubled the Prophet ﷺ, he hastened to prayer. Let us recall our Prophet’s stillness in the midst of chaos and trials. He never panicked, because he knew in Whose providential care he remained.
This Ramadan, despite the disruption in our lives elicited by the virus, I urge all of us to reflect on the opportunity and the blessing in this tribulation. “Whoever places their trust in God, God will suffice” (65:3). This Qur’anic promise is as true as time. Embrace it. Live with it.
Tribulations test all of us, and we pass the test by placing our hope and trust in God alone.
We are the inheritors of a tradition of hope, and our beloved Prophet ﷺ was the most hopeful of men.
Ramadan is the time to reflect on the Qur’an and to recommit ourselves to the sacred, well-trodden path, the path of the prophets, the path of people who were closest to God. When we fast, we connect ourselves with an unbroken chain of tradition in a deep and sacred bond with every seeker of God, from the beginning of time to the end of time, to rescue ourselves and to allow ourselves to be rescued by God—that is why this is a blessed month.
Imam al-Ghazālī said the real fasting is not the fasting of the tongue or the stomach but the fasting of the heart, whereby we discipline our heart from feasting on prohibited thoughts and on doubt; despair; anxiety; and most of all, fear of losing what we have. Indeed we could lose it all, but if we have God, we haven’t lost anything. Fear and doubt and anxiety plague all of us, and Ramadan is an opportune time to discipline and disinfect our hearts. This is a month of trust in God, of letting light into our hearts. Let us make this month a time of prayer and peace, a time to recite and reflect on the Qur’an, and a time to seek refuge in God.