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All Judgments Aside – Ramadan and Special Needs

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by Zuneera Masood

First day of Ramadan and you are excited when you see a fellow Muslim. You nod and feel this mutual connection that “we’re in this together” and “you’re not the only one.” But then you notice a water bottle in their hand, or a coffee mug. And dare I say, they take a sip. You check the time to make sure you didn’t miss iftaar. But then again, who are we kidding? There’s no way because every Muslim knows the exact time of Maghrib every day of Ramadan. Then you make sure it really is Ramadan by texting your friends. “Man, hope I’m not fasting and it’s not even Ramadan yet! I would’ve just made a voluntary fast and now I’ll have to starve an extra day!”

After all that checking, you realize it really is Ramadan and it’s only Dhuhr time so you are good. But that Muslim you just saw…shady character s/he must be. A’oodhubillah.

shutterstock_421933732

Hold Up

Did the thought ever cross your mind that that person could be suffering from an incurable disease? Aside from all the excuses that any Muslim could have (i.e. menstruating, nursing, post-birth, traveling, sick).

You don’t know how much our sisters and brothers who have special needs suffer emotionally and psychologically during Ramadan. There are people who come up to us and say, “Boy, aren’t you lucky!” But deep down inside, we are crying. We want to experience that spiritual high and that intensified God-consciousness that the fasting Muslims do.

Sisters and brothers who suffer in silence, whose condition is not visible to the masses like those sisters and brothers whose conditions are physically apparent, suffer even further from the stares and sighs of those that judge them.

Have you ever thought that while you may have the opportunity to enter Jannah through Bab ar-Rayyan, we have one less door to be able to enter into Jannah through? Thinking of it this way would make many people retract their “lucky you!” statements.

But then at least we have our night ‘ibadaah right?

For some of our special needs sisters and brothers, even praying taraweeh or qiyam-ul-layl, or reciting Qur’an is not feasible. An act of standing that we take so much for granted, or even holding the mushaf is a major feat unattainable for so many. The act of salaah and recitation of Qur’an is a daily, year-long challenge. However, Ramadan adds to that difficulty. The reminder that there is one more thing we cannot do is painful.

However, with all this, alhamdulilah for it. Having problems in the world give us the insight into appreciating what is good from what is bad. If everything was good, happy, and perfect, then we would never appreciate any of Allah’s bounty He gives us every second of every day.

But most importantly, we have a problem of epidemic proportions within our community, and on a general societal level for that matter, where we feed off of the apparent faults of others for our own satisfaction. It’s incredibly important for us as Muslims, as being nearly a 1/3 of the world’s global population, to avoid perpetuating this issue of judging others without knowing the truth. The sisters and brothers that cannot afford to fast at the expense of their health already feel bad, they don’t need you to make them feel worse or be that constant reminder of what they can’t do. If Allah has made this their reality, why can’t we accept it? Do we have such low imaan that we don’t realize the test s/he is facing is from Allah and Allah alone?

Let this month be a month of purification for our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls. Purify your hearts and minds to think in the positive alternative. If you see someone not fasting this month, immediately divert those negative thoughts to something positive. Give your sister or brother the benefit of the doubt.

Allah has forgiven them (in shaa Allah) and so should you.

For my special needs sisters and brothers, Allah has given everyone their own challenge when it comes to attaining closeness to Him. Just because we cannot fast does not mean there isn’t any other form of ibaadah that Allah hasn’t favored for us. Regardless of what you do, it will all be multiplied, in shaa Allah.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said,

“Allah the Most High said, ‘I am as My servant thinks I am. I am with him when he mentions Me. If he mentions Me to himself, I mention him to Myself; and if he mentions Me in an assembly, I mention him in an assembly great than it. If he draws near to Me a hands length, I draw near to him an arm’s length. And if he comes to Me walking, I go to him at speed.” [Sahih Al-Bukhari]

We have been raised to get caught up in the fear of Allah to the point it debilitates us in performing our acts of worship with pleasure. From “this is haraam” to “that is haraam,” everything just seems to be prohibited and Allah’s Mercy is not something we remind ourselves of daily like we do other things. But Allah reminds us that He is as we think He is. The more positively we think of Allah, the better it will make us feel internally and the more our worship will feel as valid and as amazing as those who are fasting during this blessed month.

Keep your head up. If people judge you without knowing your circumstance, your reward is still good. Allah is the Most Just.

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Salima Chaudhry

    June 27, 2016 at 2:20 PM

    Mashaa Allah very well written. And Alhamdulillah that you were able to give a beautiful insight as to what many are having to deal with and others take for granted. Love you

    • Avatar

      Usman

      July 1, 2016 at 11:15 AM

      First of all we must not judge others for not fasting and many other things.
      And your opinion about one less gate for Jannah. I think its the intention that matters plus Fasting doesnt only mean to stay hungry its just one part/physical part. Most imp is Takwa. Allah is Reham ur Raheem thats why He gave options for differnet situations so lets not get hopeless for the people who are not able to fast.

  2. Avatar

    Kirana

    June 27, 2016 at 9:10 PM

    Yeah here in Malaysia you can be fined for that, although it is not usually enforced. Many would like it to be though. Social media erupts in censure if someone visibly Muslim eats in the daytime even if she is in fact a practicing Muslim (a practicing Muslim must not fast during menstruation, for example).

    I do understand the value of not having Ramadan lose its character, but not to the extent that we make it practically impossible for those who can’t or shouldn’t fast. When I was traveling (to a place fasting in summer mind you) publicly not fasting on travel days, then fasting in the middle days, gave me the fantastic opportunity to show people that in our religion we are empowered to make these judgment calls, that in the Quran is already prescribed mercy and reasonableness for exception conditions, and that I am free to follow exactly what it says there.

    Of course some discretion is polite in a dominantly Muslim population but discretion does not mean effectively fasting after all.

  3. Avatar

    Omer Riaz

    June 28, 2016 at 7:03 AM

    MashAllah Amazing post!! Thanks for Sharing.
    Online Quran Classes

  4. Avatar

    Shazia

    June 30, 2016 at 8:15 PM

    Beautifully written and what an important reminder for those of us who are fasting – that it is a part of the act of fasting to not judge those who aren’t fasting, for we do not know their struggles.

  5. Avatar

    Roohi Ahmad

    June 30, 2016 at 8:48 PM

    A thoughtful issue and well written: Passing comments and judging others without their circumstances is an ill practice and thought. This can be true for any people. Keep writing.

  6. Avatar

    Husayn

    July 1, 2016 at 5:48 AM

    Excellent write! Jazak Allahu khairan.

    • Avatar

      Husayn

      July 1, 2016 at 5:49 AM

      ****Write-up ***

  7. Avatar

    Sabirah

    July 3, 2016 at 9:00 PM

    mashaAllah please do talk about me when I’m having a drink of water during ramadan (I have a kidney issue) because of course, I would like some hazanat of you fasting people, as long as you give it away so easily! JazakhAllah khair for your kind sadaqa

  8. Avatar

    Zia-e-Taiba

    October 25, 2016 at 8:28 AM

    Everybody should also read this article Six Fasts of Shawwal-ul-Mukarram

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#Culture

Messiah, A Fitnaflix Production

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Netflix released Season 1 of a new thriller series called “Messiah”. The series imagines the emergence of a character claiming to be sent by God, the Messiah, or Al-masih (messiah in Arabic) as he is referred to in the television series. 

This so-called Al-masih first emerges in Damascus at a time when ISIS is about to storm the city. He then appears in Palestine, Jordan and ultimately America. Along the way, he performs miracles and dumbfounds the Israeli and American intelligence officers charged with tracking him and figuring out who is enabling him. The season ends with a suggestion that he is truly a divine man, with the ultimate miracle of reviving the dead.

The entertainment value here is quite limited. Some stretches of the series are just flat or straight out boring, and the acting is not all that great. However, the series does create an opportunity for discussion about Muslim eschatology (the knowledge of the end of times), response to fitnah (faith testing tribulations) and Muslims portrayal in and consumption of entertainment media. 

The series shows some sophistication in the portrayal of Muslim characters relative to what people have been accustomed to with Hollywood. Characters that are situated in the Middle East are performed by actors from that region who speak authentic regional Arabic (including Levantine and North African dialects). The scenes appear authentic. While this is progress, it is limited, and the series falls into oversimplification and caters to typical stereotypes. While several Muslim characters draw the viewers’ empathy, they are not used to provide context or nuance for issues that the series touches on: ISIS, refugees, the Israeli occupation and suicide bombings. The two American Muslim characters are never really developed. In fact, all Muslim characters tend to be “flat” and one dimensional. This is in contrast, for example, to American and Israeli characters which appear multi-dimensional and complex, often dealing with personal challenges that a Western audience is likely to identify with (caring for an aging parent, mourning the loss of a spouse, balancing career and life, dealing with family separation, abortion, etc.). While Muslim characters are shown as hapless refugees, terrorists, religious followers, political activists, a university professor and student, their stories are never developed.

The show repeatedly refers to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. There is also consistent normalization of Israeli occupation and glorification of the occupying forces.  

Islamic eschatology 

Orthodox Muslims affirm a belief in “the signs of the End of Times, including the appearance of the Antichrist, and the Descent of Jesus 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) the son of Mary 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), from the celestial realm. We also believe in the sun’s rising from the west and the appearance of the “Beast of the Earth from its appointed place” [1]. Dr. Omar Al-Ashqar gives a detailed review of the authentic narrations regarding the signs of the end of times in his book Al-Qiyamah Al-Sughra [2]. When it comes to actual figures who will emerge in the end of times, Sunni scholars generally affirm the following:

  • Imam Mahdi, who is a just ruler who will share the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) name. 
  • The False Messiah (Antichrist), or Al-Masjih Al-Dajjal, who will be the greatest fitna to ever to afflict this Ummah. 
  • The True Messiah, Isa ibn Maryam, who returns in the end of days, kills the Antichrist and rules for 40 years and establishes justice and prosperity – close to the time of the day of judgement. 

The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) warned that the fitna of Al-Dajjal will be the most severe ever. In a hadith narrated by Ibn Majah and others, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is reported to have said, “Oh people, there has not been a fitna on the face of the earth, since God dispersed the progeny of Adam, greater than the fitna of Al-Dajjal. Every prophet of God warned his people from Al-Dajjal. I am the last prophet. You are the last Ummah. He will appear amongst you no doubt!”

Al-Dajjal comes after a period of famine and drought. He will be one-eyed and will claim to be God. Believers will recognized a mark or word of disbelief on his forehead. He will perform many miracles. He will endow those who follow him with material prosperity and luxury, and those who deny him will be inflicted with deprivation and suffering. He will travel at high speeds, and  roam the whole world, except Makkah and Madinah, which he will not be able to enter. He will create a heaven and hell, command rain, the earth, animals, and resurrect the dead – all supernatural occurrences that he has been afforded as a trial and test for others. The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) went as far as encouraging us to flee from confronting him, because it will be a test of faith like no other.

Reflections on the series and lessons to be learned

The Prophets and the righteous are not tricksters and riddlers.

The Netflix series portrays the character ‘al-masih’ as someone who speaks cryptically; it is never clear what he is teaching and why. He leads his followers on long physical journeys without telling them where they are going or why. He speaks in riddles and tortures his followers with mental gymnastics and rhetorical questions.

On the other hand, a true prophet of God offers real guidance and brings clear teachings and instructions – the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) spoke clearly to his followers, he taught them how to worship Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) alone, to be just, to uphold the ties of kinship, to look after one’s neighbour, and so on. He did not abandon them in a state of confusion to fend for themselves. Moreover, “al-masih” deceives his followers by concealing his true name (“Payam Golshiri”) and background – something a righteous person would never do, let alone a prophet.

What Netflix got right and what it got wrong

The Al-masih character initially emerges in Damascus (and the Islamic tradition mentions Isa ibn Mariam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) will descend in Damascus). However, the character is eventually revealed to hail from Iran. A number of ahadith refer to Al-Dajjal first appearing in Khurasan, which is part of modern-day Iran. He poses as a righteous person, but it is revealed that he doesn’t pray at all. He quotes religious scripture, but only to service his cryptic speeches. That Al-Dajjal would pose as a religious person would not surprise Muslims, since some hadith mention he will emerge from the remnants of the Khawarij, a heterodox group known for overzealousness and fanaticism [3]. Al-Dajjal travels the world at fast speeds, disappearing from one land and appearing in another, just as the character in the series does. 

messiah

photo credit: IMDb

However, numerous features of Dajjal would make his identity obvious to believers, not the least of which is that the word ‘disbeliever’ will be written – whether literally or metaphorically (scholars differ) – on his forehead in such a manner which even those unlettered would be able to read. Physically, Dajjal is a short man, with a deformity of his legs, and one of his eyes is likened to a “floating grape”, sightless, and “green like glass”. The Prophet is said to have focused on these physical features because they are so manifest and eliminate any confusion.

Al-Dajjal’s time overlaps with that of two other eschatological figures – Imam Mahdi and Esa ibn Maryam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him). Imam Mahdi is prophesized to fill the world with justice and rule for seven years, after which Dajjal will emerge. While the Muslims following al-Mahdi are taking shelter in Damascus, Prophet Esa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) will descend and eventually slay the Dajjal. Therefore, according to the Islamic eschatological tradition, things will get better before they get worse before they get better again – Imam Mahdi precedes Dajjal and Dajjal precedes Prophet Esa [2].

Safeguarding against tribulations

The best safeguard is to have sound knowledge of theology and law, and to have our iman rooted in revelation and reason. For example, the most basic understanding of Islamic theology would lead us to reject any man who claims to be God, as Al-Dajjal will claim. With basic Islamic knowledge and reasoning, we would know that Allah does not manifest in human-like form, much less one that is deformed, as Allah is the all Powerful and Perfect. Could it be that at the end of times even such essential Islamic knowledge is lacking? 

walking on water

Al-Dajjal deceives people by his miracles and supernatural abilities. Our iman should not be swayed by supernatural events and miracles. We should measure people and ideas according to their standing with the Shari’ah. We must keep our heads level and not be manipulated because we cannot explain an occurrence. 

Al-Dajjal also lures people by his miracles and by his ability to give them material prosperity, comfort and luxury. We must tie our happiness and sense of satisfaction to eternal spiritual truths, not to the comforts of this life, and be willing to give up what we have for what we believe. We should live simply and not follow into the path of excessive consumerism and materialism.  

Another important consideration is not to base our connection to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) on another human being (except the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Scholars, celebrity preachers, imams and teachers are all prone to error and sin. We must use the Shariah and the Prophet Muhamamd’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) character and teaching as the filter by which we evaluate them, not the other way around. Despite his obvious deformities, the Antichrist will be a mesmerizing blinding celebrity, but whose falsehood will be uncovered by believers who make judgements based on loyalty to principle, not personality. 

Is it time to live on a remote mountain?

The clearest indication of the nearness of the Day of Judgement is the prophethood of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). The Prophet likened the difference between his time and the Day of Judgement as the difference in length between the index and middle fingers. However, before we sell everything and move to a remote mountain, let’s exercise care in projecting Islamic eschatology on the political events of our times. The reality is that no one knows when these things will happen. Explaining the current phase in our history away by end of times theories or conspiracy theories, are simpleton intellectual copouts that lead our Ummah away from actively working towards its destiny. Anyone who has claimed that this event (remember Y2K) or that event is a major sign of the Day of Judgement has been wrong, so far. There were scholarly guesses in the early centuries of Muslims that expected the Hour 500 years after the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) death. Yet, here we are. No one knows.

The best you can do is stay calm and make salat!

Muslims and the entertainment media

This increased sophistication and the apparent familiarity with Islamic sources exhibited by Messiah producers should lead us to value the importance of producing accurate, authentic and polished material and content about Islam and Muslims and our community’s role as a source of information. 

It is also important for Muslims to produce works for the mass media and entertainment industries. This is no longer the era of the sole MSA Da’wah table. Sophisticated, entertaining and authentic media production is an imperative for modern Muslims.  When we don’t tell the story, someone else will. 

Make it a Netflix Night?

We may refer to it as Fitnaflix, but let’s all admit that we cannot avoid television and the entertainment industry, for better or for worse. We can however moderate, guide and channel its use. Start breaking the isolation in which many of our children and young adults consume media. Families should watch TV together and use it as an opportunity to model how we select appropriate material and to create teaching and discussion moments. Parents should know what is influencing their kids even if they don’t like it. 

Some parts of the series Messiah, despite its flaws (and an explicit sexual scene in episode 9, not to mention profanity), could be used as a teaching moment about trials and tribulations, the end of times and the importance of Muslims engaging in the entertainment industry in a principled and professional manner. 

Ed’s note: Much of the series’ content is R-rated. Besides depictions of terrorism and other mayhem, sexual activity and brief rear nudity are shown. Mature themes include abortion, adultery, infertility and alcoholism.

Works Cited

[1] T. C. o. I. Al-Tahawi, Hamza Yusuf (trans), Zaytuna Institute, 2007. 
[2] O. Al-Ashqar, Al-Qiyamah Al-Sughra, Dar Al-Nafa’is, 1991. 
[3] [Online]. Available: https://abuaminaelias.com/dailyhadithonline/2014/06/23/dajjal-emerges-khawarij/.

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Podcast: Lessons from the Life of Malcolm X | Abdul-Malik Ryan

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One of the things that happens with historical figures who continue to remain well-known and influential years after they can continue to speak for themselves is that others seek to speak for them.  Attempts are made to co-opt their legacy, either in sincere efforts for good or in selfish efforts for ideological or even commercial gain.  This is especially true of Malcolm X, who is not only a historical and political icon but in many ways a “celebrity” remembered by many primarily for his style and attitude.

The only real and meaningful tribute we can pay to Malcolm X is to follow his example. Click To Tweet

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Audio

Podcast: We Are All Slaves of Allah | Hakeemah Cummings

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Once, while in class at college, an Arab girl I was sitting next to said quite loudly to another, “Hey, give this paper to the ‘abdah” referring to a black girl in the class. I wondered if she was even aware of what she was saying in English. Did she think that ‘abdah translates to “black girl” and never thought of its true meaning? Did she think that I didn’t understand?

 

Read by Zeba Khan, originally posted here on Muslimmatters.org.

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