Thursday, October 14, 2004

Ramadhan: A time for spiritual reflection

Assalamu ‘alaikum wa rahamatullahi wa barakatuhu:

(2:184) O ye who believe! fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may guard against evil.

Throughout our lives we’ve picked up habits – some good, some bad. Those habits that we’ve adopted, not consciously, but through subtle habitual practices from childhood to wherever you are in life creates perceptions that may or may not be true.

How many times have you had someone walk up to you with knowing eyes and say, “I’ve heard about you, or I’ve been told you were like this, or I expect you to act in such a manner from what I’ve heard about you.”

Think about it. These accumulated habits are like a heavy chain wrapped around our necks that follows us throughout life. Some of the links in our chain are light and veryreflective of goodness and then there are the bad habits, which drag us down by their heavy and troublesome weight.

In a world, increasingly amoral, perception is considered reality. How one appears to the world (friends, family and coworkers) has overtaken the substance of who we really are. In many instances, social barriers and annoying stigmas are created as the result of how you are perceived by others.

Take the case of a man who was known by all to be thief in his past. Because he was a thief and his habits indicated that he was a thief, people could only assume that he was a thief. Yet, somehow by the Grace of God, he turned towards God and a moral transformation took place in his life, but most people continued to think of him as a thief. Their perception of him because of his past was a reality.

Impressions, whether real or fake, are given more credence than they deserve. Though name, image and reputation are what we perceive of people, character is the essence of the “real self”. Islam teaches us that Taqwa is in reality character development coupled with God-consciousness – a fear and love of God.

Character is not only the face in the mirror, but the real person behind the face. Character evolves from conscience; is sustained by conscience and is developed, piece by piece, with every thought, with every choice, and maintained with consistency and determination. Throughout life, a believer is taught that if he or she is obedient and complies with the laws of Allah, anything is possible:

[5:9] O ye who believe! be steadfast in the cause of ALLAH, bearing witness in equity; and let not a people's enmity incite you to act otherwise than with justice. Be always just. That is nearer to righteousness. And fear ALLAH. Surely, ALLAH is Aware of what you do.

[7:27] O children of Adam, WE have indeed send down to you raiment to cover you nakedness and to be a means of adornment; but the raiment of righteousness - that is the best. That is of the commandments of ALLAH, that they may remember.

The pursuance of piety begins by making our reputation a reflection of our character. In many people, reputation precedes the character and there is a distinction to be made ...

  • Reputation is what you lead others to believe you are, character is what you really are
  • Reputation may be reflected in the combination of your name and your image, character is the essence of your being
  • Reputation is the wrapping, character the content
  • Reputation is the outer reflection, character the inner reality
  • Reputation is made in a moment, character is built in a life time
  • Reputation may be reflected in what people write about you on your tombstone, character is what angels report about you to Allah.

The renowned philosopher, Aristotle, once said; “You are what you repeatedly do.”

Habits are conditioned responses, formed through repetition, until the actions or reactions become second nature; they end up as unconscious behavior, automatic reactions in a particular situation; (eg. The way you sign your name, cigarette smoking after a meal...) It was the English writer, Shakespeare, who said: “First we make our habits, then our habits make us.”

Thinking in a particular pattern creates a mental path, the mental path affects our attitude and our behavior, and these reflect our personality and character. In other words, our thoughts affect our attitudes, which affect our actions, which determine our habits, which reflect our character, which could determine our destiny. The Roman poet Naso Ovid rightly said, “habits eventually become character.”

According to Islam, habits are classified as virtues or vices, as repeated actions that are in conformity with or contrary to the rules of morality. Virtuous character emanates from good habits and good habits emanate from resisting negative temptations. Good habits, unfortunately, seem so much easier to give up than bad habits.

Bad habits are like a comfortable bed; easy to get into but difficult to get out of. The chain of bad habits are generally too light to be felt until they are too strong to be broken. Remember though, that every habit; whether good or bad, is acquired and can be developed or disowned.

Habits decrease or disappear by abstaining from exercising them and then replacing them. In the words of Roman orator, Cicero, “consuetudo consuetudine vincitur - habit is overcome/ conquered by habit.”

Ramadhan is an ideal training period for filtering out bad habits and developing virtuous character. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is reported to have said: “There comes to you the blessed month of Ramadhan, a month in which Allah has made fasting obligatory on those who are able; whosoever denies himself of the benefits of that month denies himself many virtues.”

[2:184] O ye who believe ! fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may guard against evil.

It has been said that one who fasts during Ramadhan in a state of belief (Iman) and whilst sincerely appraising oneself will have all their past sins forgiven. At this time in his life, a believer should assess and consider which bad points to shun and which virtues to adopt.

As we undertake the physical and spiritual responsibility of fasting in the blessed month of Ramadhan, we reflect on the words of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) who said: “Your practice of faith will not be correct unless your actions are correct, and your actions will not be considered correct unless your heart is correct.”

Now, let us this blessed month as a chance to better ourselves spiritually, morally and increase our knowledge. This month let us all strive do the Taravih prayers incongregation with utmost sincerity.

Ramadhan Mubarak, Hasan

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