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Ramadan

Heart Soothers: Hazza Al Balushi

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Aqeedah and Fiqh

Prosperity Islam And The Coronavirus Problem

Hadith: “Hasten to perform good deeds before seven events: Are you waiting for poverty that makes you forgetful? Or wealth that burdens you? Or a debilitating disease or senility? Or an unexpected death or the False Messiah? Or is it evil in the unseen you are waiting for? Or the Hour itself? The Hour will be bitter and terrible.

Islam encompasses all of human experience. We believe in the good and bad from divine decree. The ‘problem of evil’ is not a Muslim dilemma because the abode of this world is a test, and the next life is the abode of recompense. Those who do evil in this world may enjoy comfortable and pleasurable lives. Pious Muslims on the other hand may live in immense suffering and oppression.

One’s state with Allah is not known through worldly position.

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The Quran has lots of mention of suffering in this world and the reward for the pious is constantly in the hereafter. Distance from the Quran distances us from what our Creator told us about living in His world.

Habituation to feel-good religious programs and motivational talks has left us unable to know how to be serious. The Coronavirus pandemic should be all the motivation we need for serious learning and hasten to good deeds.

New-age religion and the prosperity gospel

Modern Islamic discourse intertwines notions of sulook (spiritual wayfaring) with new-age spiritual ideas which make spiritual progression a self-centering endeavor of ‘personal development.’ Missing from this discourse is submission to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), which entails doing what one is obliged to do- even if there is no apparent personal win. A self-centering religious perspective is antithetical to true religion, and ironically a spiritual pursuit becomes a selfish pursuit.

Within this approach, we see our practice of Islam not in terms of fulfilling obligations or understanding we must develop virtues we lack; rather we approach Islam as consumers and form identities around how we choose to be Muslim. This is visible on marriage apps where Muslims will brand themselves around how often they pray, whether or not they eat halal, and how practicing they are. Once this identity is formed, such Muslims are less likely to experience contrition and ultimately improve. The self is then a commodity on the marriage market.

When it comes to worship, for example, giving charity becomes an ‘act of kindness’ to fill the quota of selfless acts to becoming a better person. In other instances, acts of worship are articulated in worldly language, such as fasting in Ramadan being a weight-loss opportunity. One can make multiple intentions, but health benefits of fasting should not be used to articulate the primary benefit of fasting. In other instances, some opt to not pray, simply because they don’t feel spiritual enough to pray. This prioritizes feelings over servitude, but follows from a ‘self’ focused religious mentality.

Much like the prosperity Gospel, Muslims have fallen into the trap of teaching religion as a means of worldly success. While it is true that the discipline, commitment, and work ethic of religious progression can be used for material success, it is utterly false that religious status is on any parallel with material status.

Too many Sunday schools and conferences have taught generations that being a good Muslim means being the best student, having the best jobs, and then displaying the power of Islam to non-Muslims via worldly success and a character that is most compliant to rules. Not only does this type of religion cater to the prosperous and ignore those suffering, it leaves everyone ill prepared for the realities of life. It comes as a shock to many Muslims then that bad things can happen even when you work hard to live a good life. The prosperity gospel has tainted our religious teachings, and the pandemic of COVID19 is coming as a shock difficult for many to process in religious terms. There will be a crisis when bad things happen to good people if we are not in touch with our scripture and favor a teaching focused on worldly gains.

Why it leads to misunderstanding religion

Tribulations, persecution, and events that are outside of our control do not fit the popular self-help form of religion that is pervasive today. Islam means submission, and while we must avoid fatalism, we cannot delude ourselves into idolatry of the self. An Islam that focuses on our individual life journey and finding ourselves has no room for the ‘bad stuff.’ This type of religion favors well-to-do Muslims who are used to the illusion of control and the luxuries of self-improvement. Those who believe that if you are good then God will give you good things in this world will have a false belief shattered and understand the world is not the abode of recompense for the believer.

Islam means submission, and while we must avoid fatalism, we cannot delude ourselves into idolatry of the self.Click To Tweet

Tribulations may then effect faith because it questions the often subconscious teachings of prosperity gospel versions of Islam that we are in control of our own destiny, if we are good enough we will succeed. If this is the basis of a person’s faith, it can be proven “wrong” by any level of tribulation. Having one’s ‘faith’ disproven is terrifying but it should make us ask the question: “Does this mean that Islam is not true, or does this mean that my understanding and my way of living Islam are not true?”

My advice is do not avoid struggle or pain by ignoring it or practicing “patience” just thinking that you are a strong Muslim because you can conquer this pain without complaint. Running from pain and not feeling pain will catch up to us later. Learn from it. Sometimes when we are challenged, we falter. We ask why, we question, we complain, and we struggle. We don’t understand because it doesn’t fit our understanding of Islam. We need a new understanding and that understanding will only come by living through the pain and not being afraid of the questions or the emptiness.

Our faith needs to be able to encompass reality in its good and bad, not shelter us from reality because, ultimately, only God is Real.

Unlearn false teachings

Prosperity religion makes it much easier to blame the person who is suffering and for the one suffering to blame himself. As believers we take the means for a good life in this world and the next, but recognize that acceptance of good actions is only something Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) knows, and that life is unpredictable.

Favor from God is not reflected through prosperity. It is a form of idolatry to believe that you can control God or get what you want from God, and this belief cannot even stand up to a distanced tragedy.

Responding appropriately requires good habits.

Tribulations are supposed to push us towards God and remind us to take life very seriously. Even with widespread calamity and suffering, many of us still have a very self-centered way of understanding events and do not hasten to good actions.

For example, reaching old age is supposed to be an opportunity to repent, spend more time in prayer, and to expatiate for shortcomings. Old age itself is a reminder that one will soon return to his Lord.

However, we see many of today’s elders not knowing how to grow old and prepare for death. Most continue in habits such as watching television or even pick up new habits and stay glued to smart phones. This is unfortunate but natural progression to a life void of an Islamic education and edification.

Similarly we are seeing that Muslims do not know what to do in the midst of a global crisis. Even the elderly are spending hours reading and forwarding articles related to Covid-19 on different WhatsApp groups. This raises the question of what more is needed to wake us up. This problem is natural progression of a shallow Islamic culture that caters to affluence, prosperity, and feel-good messaging. Previous generations had practices such as doing readings of the Quran, As-Shifa of Qadi Iyad, Sahih al-Bukhari, or the Burda when afflicted with tribulations.

If we are playing video games, watching movies, or engaging in idle activities there is something very wrong with our state. We need to build good habits and be persistent regardless of how spiritual those habits feel, because as we are seeing, sudden tribulations will not just bestow upon us the ability to repent and worship. The point of being regimented in prayer and invocations is that these practices themselves draw one closer to God, and persisting when one does not feel spiritual as well as when one does is itself a milestone in religious progression.

While its scale is something we haven’t seen in our lifetime, it’s important to recognize the coronavirus pandemic as a tribulation.  The response to tribulation should be worship and repentance, and a reminder that ‘self-improvement’ should not be a path to becoming more likable or confident only, but to adorn our hearts with praiseworthy qualities and rid them of blameworthy qualities. Death can take any of us at any moment without notice, and we will be resurrected on a day where only a sound heart benefits.

Our religious education and practice should be a preparation for our afterlife first and foremost. Modeling our religious teachings in a worldly lens has left many of us unable to deal with tribulations to the point where we just feel anxiety from the possibility of suffering. This anxiety is causing people to seek therapy. It is praiseworthy for those who need to seek therapy, and noble of therapists to give the service, but my point is the need itself serves as a poignant gauge for how much our discourse has failed generations.

Benefit from Solitude

We should use solitude to our benefit, reflect more, and ponder the meanings of the Quran.  Completing courses on Seerah, Shamail, Arabic, or Fiqh would also be good uses of time. What should be left out however are motivational talks or short lectures that were given in communal events. In such gatherings, meeting in a wholesome environment is often the goal, and talks are compliments to the overall atmosphere. When that atmosphere is removed, it would be wise to use that normally allotted time for more beneficial actions. Instead of listening to webinars, which are not generally building an actual knowledge base that the previously mentioned courses would, nor is it a major act of worship like reading and reflecting upon the Quran. In other words, our inspirational talks should lead us to action, and studying is one of the highest devotional acts.

The pandemic should serve as sufficient inspiration and we need to learn how to be serious. I urge Muslims to ignore motivational and feel-good lectures that are now feel-good webinars, and focus on studying and worshipping. We should really ask if we just lack the capacity to move beyond motivational lectures if we still need motivation in the midst of a global pandemic.  The fact that after years of programming the destination is not the Quran for ‘processing events’ or studying texts for learning is symptomatic of a consciously personality oriented structure.

Muslims struggling to process a pandemic (opposed to coping with associated tragedies, such as loved ones dying or suffering) show the lack of edification feel good talks can produce.

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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I Once Spent Ramadan Semi-Quarantined, Here’s How It Went

Even though it was over 10 years ago, the memory of that Ramadan is seared into my mind.

I’d just taken my first consulting job – the kind in the movies. Hop on a plane every Monday morning and come home late every Thursday night. Except, unlike in the movies, I wasn’t off to big cities every week – I went to Louisville, Kentucky. Every week.

And because I was the junior member on the team, I didn’t get the same perks as everyone else – like a rental car. I was stuck in a hotel walking distance from our client in downtown, limited to eat at whatever restaurants were within nearby like TGI Friday’s or Panera. This was a pre-Lyft and Uber world.

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A couple of months into this routine and it was time for Ramadan. It was going to be weird, and no matter how much I prepared myself mentally, I wasn’t ready for it — Iftar alone in a hotel room. Maghrib and Isha also alone in a hotel room. Suhur was whatever I could save from dinner to eat in the morning that didn’t require refrigeration.

Most people think that with the isolation and extra time you would pass the time praying extra and reading tons of Quran. I wish that was the case. The isolation, lack of masjid, and lack of community put me into a deep funk that was hard to shake.

Flying home on the weekends would give me an energizing boost. I was able to see friends, go to the masjid, see my family. Then all of a sudden back to the other extreme for the majority of the week.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that Ramadan with the prospect of a quarantined Ramadan upon us. I wish I could say that I made the most of the situation, and toughed it out. The truth is, the reason the memory of that particular Ramadan is so vivid in my mind is because of how sad it was. It was the only time I remember not getting a huge iman boost while fasting.

We’re now facing the prospect of a “socially distanced” Ramadan. We most likely won’t experience hearing the recitation of the verses of fasting from Surah Baqarah in the days leading up to Ramadan. We’re going to miss out on seeing extended family or having iftars with our friends. Heck, some of us might even start feeling nostalgia for those Ramadan fundraisers.

All of this is on top of the general stress and anxiety of the COVID-19 crisis.

Ramadan traditionally offers us a spiritual reprieve from the rigors and hustle of our day to day lives. That may not be easy as many are facing the uncertainty of loss of income, business, or even loved ones.

So this isn’t going to be one of those Quran-time or “How to have an amazing Ramadan in quarantine!” posts. Instead, I’m going to offer some advice that might rub a few folks the wrong way.

Make this the Ramadan of good enough

How you define good enough is relative. Aim to make Ramadan better than your average day.

Stick to the basics and have your obligatory act of worship on lockdown.

Pray at least a little bit extra over what you normally do during a day. For some, that means having full-blown Taraweeh at home, especially if someone in the house is a hafiz. For others, it will mean 2 or 4 rakat extra over your normal routine.

Fill your free time with Quran and dua. Do whatever you can. I try to finish one recitation of the Quran every Ramadan, but my Ramadan in semi-quarantine was the hardest to do it in. Make sure your Quran in Ramadan is better during the month than on a normal day, but don’t set hard goals that will stress you out. We’re under enormous stress being in a crisis situation as it is. If you need a way to jump-start your relationship with the Quran, I wrote an article on 3 steps to reconnect with the Qur’an after a year of disconnect.

Your dua list during this Ramadan should follow you everywhere you go. Write it down on an index card and fold it around your phone. Take it out whenever you get a chance and pour your heart out to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Share your stresses, anxieties, worries, fears, and hopes with Him.

He is the Most-Merciful and Ramadan is a month of mercy. Approach the month with that in mind, and do your best.

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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Swallowing Your Pride For A Moment Is Harder Than Praying All Night | Imam Omar Suleiman

Iblees was no ordinary worshipper. He worshipped Allah for thousands of years with thousands of prayers. He ascended the ranks until he accompanied the angels with his noteworthy worship. Performing good deeds was no issue for him. He thanked Allah with his prayers, and Allah rewarded him with a lofty station in Paradise. But when Adam was created and given the station that he was, suddenly Iblees was overcome by pride. He couldn’t bear to see this new creation occupy the place that he did. And as he was commanded to prostrate to him, his pride would overcome him and doom him for eternity. Alas, swallowing his pride for one prostration of respect to Adam was more difficult to him than thousands of prostrations of worship to Allah.

In that is a cautionary lesson for us especially in moments of intense worship. When we exert ourselves in worship, we eventually start to enjoy it and seek peace in it. But sometimes we become deluded by that worship. We may define our religiosity exclusively in accordance with it, become self-righteous as a result of it, and abuse people we deem lesser in the name of it. The worst case scenario of this is what the Prophet (peace be upon him) said about one who comes on the day of judgment with all of their prayers, fasting, and charity only to have it all taken away because of an abusive tongue.

But what makes Iblees’s struggle so relevant to ours? The point of worship is to humble you to your Creator and set your affairs right with His creation in accordance with that humility. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said that whoever has an atom’s worth of pride in their heart would not enter paradise. The most obvious manifestation of that pride is rejecting the truth and belittling someone else. But other subtle manifestations of that pride include the refusal to leave off argumentation, abandon grudges, and humble yourself to the creation in pursuit of the pleasure of the Creator.

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Yaqeen

Hence a person would rather spend several Ramadan’s observing the last 10 nights in intense prayer seeking forgiveness for their sins from Allah, rather then humble themselves for a moment to one of Allah’s servants by seeking forgiveness for their transgressions against him, even if they too have a claim.

Jumah is our weekly Eid, and Monday’s and Thursday’s are our weekly semblances of Ramadan as the Prophet (s) used to fast them since our deeds are presented to Allah on those days. He said about them, “The doors of Heaven are opened every Monday and Thursday, and Allah pardons in these days every individual servant who is not a polytheist, except those who have enmity between them; Allah Says: ‘Delay them until they reconcile with each other”

In Ramadan, the doors of Heaven are opened throughout the month and the deeds ascend to Allah. But imagine if every day as your fasting, Quran recitation, etc. is presented to Allah this month, He responds to the angels to delay your pardon until you reconcile with your brother. Ramadan is the best opportunity to write that email or text message to that lost family member or friend and say “it’s not worth it to lose Allah’s forgiveness over this” and “IM SORRY.”

Compare these two statements:

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “He who boycotts his brother for more than three days and dies during this period will be from the people of hellfire.”

He also said:

“I guarantee a house in the suburbs of Paradise for one who leaves arguments even if he is right.”

Swallowing your pride is bitter, while prayer is sweet. Your ego is more precious to you than your sleep. But above all, Allah’s pleasure is more precious than it all.

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MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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