BismIllah irRahman irRaheem
Alhamdulilahi Rabbil Alameen
Our Teachers in Tarim sing, on the first night of Ramadan: “Welcome, O Month of Ramadan! Welcome, O Month of seeking God! Welcome, O Month of happiness.” Wait, happiness? really? in a religious rite?
Yes! happiness. Happiness is an act of worship – it shows appreciation for God’s Blessings, and it spreads happiness and joy to others. Show happiness this month: smile, because you are standing under a shower of blessings, God’s Grace, His Unconditional Love, and His Forgiveness. You don’t even have to work hard for these blessings: He’s giving them out for free.
Intentions > goals
This Ramadan, fast from anxiety and guilt around “Ramadan goals.” God is Greater. Ask Him, seek of Him, don’t work as if He is a tough-to-please employer.
One way to combat the anxiety and stress around concerns about ‘accomplishing’ Ramadan goals is to make intentions instead of goals. Our Beloved Guide, peace be upon him, taught us to make intentions, and that if one makes an intention but does not end up doing the action mentioned in the intention, one still gets the full reward as if one did the action. Think about that for a minute. It’s huge.
And think about how considerate this teaching is of our mental wellbeing. In the Islamic understanding, intentions are never “unfulfilled,” they always have value and can carry us very far with our Lord. On the other hand, a list of unacomplished goals can make us feel like we are an epic fail, leaving us in great despair. Yet, only those who don’t trust in God despair of His Grace (Quran). Trust in Him to value your beautiful intentions. And keep making them, big and bold. It’s not about doing a whole bunch of deeds, but about allowing yourself to want good – and intending that you would do these things, if you could. And if you can, you will. But if you can’t, all is NOT lost. All is recorded with Him, intact and beautiful.
Another way is to combat stress is to cultivate in yourself contentment. Cultivate: it means to grow, to nurture, to take care of – it’s not going to happen at the flick of a switch. It’s something you need to take gentle steps towards, and to keep caring for inside yourself, so that it can grow strong and firm.
One step to take is to begin every action including every act of worship by saying: BismIllah irRahman irRaheem. Alhamdulilahi Rabbil Alameen.Just like Surat al Fatiha. Start in His Name, calling upon His aid and Strength alone. This means knowing that all you will do in this month will be by His Favor, not your ability, and by His Grace, not your own strength, and by His Will, not by your willpower.
And then, thank Him – praise Him – adore Him – exalt Him – exult in Him. These are all the meanings contained in “Alhamdulilah!” Thanking God is one of the ultimate forms of worship.
Help yourself by choosing to start every action, already carrying the feeling of fulfilment and contentment, rather than carrying worry and stress about how it will turn out. A feeling of gratitude is worship. A feeling of worry is not worship. It might even be a sin, depending on how deep it runs, how much you indulge it, and where it leads you to.
You only have this moment in your hands. The outcomes of things are not in our hands; they are in His. Live this moment in beauty, and let Him open up to you doors that you would never have imagined – as you walk forth in trust and hope in Him. And when you falter, remind yourself: here I am, in Ramadan. It’s already a great blessing just to be here! Alhamdulilah!
Who do you Worship?
Don’t let the greatness of the task ahead of you obscure your view of God Most High. He is Greater, and He is your Enabler.
During Ramadan, we can become preoccupied with our worship goals, our actions, our plans – so much so that they turn into menacing idolsthat we worship, causing us to lose sight of the Only One worthy of Worship. Our Ibadah to-do lists cause us to smile or cry, when it is only Him Who should have this power over us.
Don’t lose sight of God Himself. Notice God. Notice the blessings falling all around you, from Him. This is not a sentence you should just read quickly, so let me say it again: Notice the blessings falling all around you from Him.
This is an art. Not many, Allah tells us, thank Him. Be one of the few. This Ramadan, commit to becoming a thankful servant. Here’s a good place to start.
Make it about Him
We need to stop worshipping our acts of worship, and worship Him.
Sometimes we gain a sense of satisfaction from having completed an action on our list – my Teacher calls that throwing a bone to the dog of the nefs (ego), to make it stop yapping. We throw that bone: for example, the fact that we prayed Duha – and we want the nefs that has such high expectations of us to shut up now – to be contented that we did something on our to-do list. This is clearly not doing it for God, but for our own nefs and to fulfil its image of us as good Muslims.
Another reason to be careful with our Ibadah to-do lists is that we can start to rely on ourselves, not realizing that all of what we do is a gift from Him. You can do nothing for Him that is not already a gift from Him. So when you find yourself doing something good, thank Him.
Ask Him for His blessings, don’t believe that you are pulling them down from the heavens with your hard work in worship. You are not asked to achieve, but rather, to recieve.
The Prophet, peace be upon him, said that he feels sorry and surprised at a person who could come through this month and not be forgiven. It’s that hard to not be forgiven – you’d literally have to be trying, hard, to not be forgiven.
Allah also tells us in so many teachings that His Rahma and Grace are flowing down in this month. For example, even the sleep of a person who intends no act of worship by that sleep, is considered to be an act of worship. Even mindless silence, with no intention of worship, is considered tasbeeh. All of this in Ramadan. We are being told again and again: it’s not about your effort, it’s about His Generosity and Grace. What is our role then? To receive, celebrate, and thank Him for this Gift. To be joyful and to seek to be with Him more often, in more of our moments, out of gratitude and appreciation. Not out of stressed-out concern about crossing off our tasks on our Ibadah to-do list. What a difference between the two attitudes and states.
Start your day by thanking Him. Every time He enables you to do a good thing, or even inspires a good intention in you, thank Him immediately. Get used to attributing all good to Him, and not to you. Not to your knowledge, not to your stroke of luck in remembering to do the right thing, not to your great Ramadan planning, and not to your discipline and willpower.
Say no to guilt!
Often we are wracked with guilt or stress because we are not doing all the super actions of Ramadan. We need to not lose our capital(awareness of God) in seeking a profit (good actions that please Him). Don’t lose your basic connection to Him in trying to do things that please Him. Remember that He is the Centre and Goal – not anything else. Any action or good intention is itself a gift from Him, not something you or I have “accomplished” or “made happen.”
Instead of celebrating our actions, or lamenting their poor quality or quantity, let’s use that energy and time to celebrate God’s blessings upon us. Every moment we waste feeling bad because we didn’t do some deed we wanted to do, is a moment we could have been saying: La ilaha il Allah, AstaghfirAllah, Allahumma inni asalukal Jannah wa a’oothoo bika min an-nar. Don’t let your guilt rob you of your joy in being God’s servant and seeker. If you keep looking back, you will fail to see what good lies before you in that moment.
Shaykh Hamdi says: there is no guilt in Islam. It’s a totally counterproductive emotion. In Islam, we have tawba – returning to God to seek His Pardon after we have done someting wrong. It’s simple, it’s quick, it’s real. It’s not an ugly state of negativity and wallowing in self-recrimination and despair. Going on a guilt trip is going on a diversion, leading off the Path. The Path is Tawbah: it leads back to Allah and not into a circular tailspin that finds you obsessing over yourself, and your sins, with no room for Allah.
Ramadan is a month in which the Generous Prophet, peace be upon him, was even more Generous. Be generous in your interactions with others. Last night at the masjid, many a woman walked in to pray taraweeh without even so much as a smile on her face. It was miserable. One asks oneself: Really? Is that all we have to show for our fasting day? Not even enough will to smile in the face of our sister? Is this the image we are projecting to all the nonMuslims around us? Stress because we couldn’t finish our Juz? It’s not okay to indulge our egos like that. Too muchis at stake. Too much is lost when you show the world that Muslims are never happy.
A great deal comes from the attitude and aura you project to your fellow human beings – especially when you live in a majority nonMuslim country. Either you are conveying a good message, or a bad one. There’s no neutral ground here. But when you nurture contentment, everyone around you can see and feel that in you. Spread that inner peace – not with words, but by owning it for real. People don’t want to come to a religion that creates individuals who are stressed out and unhappy – even if you believe you have good reasons to be, you need to wake up and realize these reasons have more to do with ego than God. And if you have any hope of giving daawah, you need to lose that self-indulgent wallowing in guilt or living off of stress and anxiety. It says to the world: I have a Lord I cannot trust, I have a Lord I cannot be vulnerably incapable in front of, I have a Lord Who has no compassion for my human mistakes and weaknesses. Ask yourself if that’s an attractive message, if that is the Message of our Guide, peace be upon him.
Come out of yourself
Do actions that nurture others. You can nurture others in so many ways, from cooking them a meal to open their fast, to cleaning the bathroom in the masjid where they pray. Think of someone you know who might be struggling in some way (with stress or anxiety or guilt?) this Ramadan, and reach out to them with affection. Don’t advise them unless they ask you; just be kind and loving towards them.
This is the month of silet-ar-rahem (nurturing our family ties) – so reach out to your relatives in affectionate ways, and shine some joy on them.
Get back to the Source
The Wisest Teacher, peace be upon him, taught us that this month is divided into three: the first third of it is God’s Unconditional Love and Grace (Rahma); the next third are days of Forgiveness; and the last third are days of being freed by God from eternal damnation. Let’s not change the month into: first part – anxiety about whether we can do all the things in our Ramadan plan; next third – guilt and stress that we have not been able to do a lot of things we hoped to, and time is running out; the last third – sorrow and regret at not fulfilling our plans. This is no way to live Ramadan, and totally man-made illusion. What’s more, the misery it creates, the stress and dis-ease, spread not only to you but to others around you. What a shame.
Connect to the clear guidance given by our Guide, peace be upon him: this month is God’s Rahmah, God’s Forgiveness, and God’s liberation of His seekers from the hellfire. God, God, God. Nothing about you and your plans and your perceptions. So let’s learn to let go of ourselves and hang onto Him.
Fast from stress: Allah will make everything that needs to happen, happen
Fast from guilt: you don’t have time to waste on that – every moment spent trashing yourself is a moment lost
Fast from anxiety: Allah is Enough of a Provider, Giver, and He is too Generous to leave you out of the Grace that is flowing!
It is through sincere intention, not through human deeds, that a person goes to God. It is on the basis of a person’s sincerity that God judges acts, not on the magnitude or notoriety of the deed. The size and quantity of good deeds is unimportant. Even a small deed or one that is unknown to others, if it is done with sincerity, is judged pleasing by God. And if you don’t have sincerity, just ask Him. He promised He would answer your prayers.