In Praise of a Simple Ramadan

All praise and thanks are due to Allah alone, the Creator and Sustainer of the heavens and earth, the Turner of our hearts, and the One who has knowledge of our every heartbeat, breath, thought and action.

Ramadan is a blessed month of fasting and devotion, good deeds and charity, and increased communal bonding.

In this month, the rewards of good deeds are multiplied even more than usual so we are often exhorted to exert ourselves to reap as much benefit as possible. Ostensibly, this is a good thing.

Yet, I am reminded of the hadith of the Bedouin that came to the Prophet (s) to ask about Islam:

Bedouin: Muhammad, your messenger came to tell us you claim that Allah sent you as a Prophet.

Prophet: He has spoken the truth.

Bedouin: Who created the heavens?

Prophet: Allah.

Bedouin: Who created the earth?

Prophet: Allah.

Bedouin: Who created and raised the mountains?

Prophet: Allah.

Bedouin: By the one who created the heavens, earth, and raised the mountains, has Allah sent you (as a Prophet)?

Prophet: Yes

Bedouin: Your messenger also told us five prayers in the day and night have been made obligatory on us.

Prophet: He has spoken the truth.

Bedouin: Your messenger told us charity is due from our wealth.

Prophet: He has spoken the truth.

Bedouin: Your messenger told us that fasting in the month of Ramadan has been made obligatory on us.

Prophet: He has spoken the truth.

Bedouin: Your messenger told us that a pilgrimage to the Kabah has been made obligatory on the one able to undertake the journey.

Prophet: Yes.

The Bedouin then set off and said, “By Him who sent you with the truth, I will neither make any addition to them nor diminish anything from them.”

The Prophet (s) replied, “If he is truthful, he will enter paradise.”

Before the month of Ramadan, many Muslims make fervent prayers that we be allowed to live to see this blessed month. We make resolutions about how much Quran we will read or how many extra prayers we will pray, or how much will give up of tv, movies, social media, and other distractions.

But as the month wears on, our resolve may weaken and we may begin to feel guilty that we weren’t able to achieve our goals. The hadith above gives us hope, Islam is simple, even in doing the bare minimum there is a guarantee from the Prophet of God of a good outcome in the hereafter.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for being a slacker in Ramadan, on the contrary, I believe in taking Ramadan seriously to reap as much benefit as possible. But along with that level of seriousness must be an element of pragmatism. Not all of us will be able to finish the Quran in this month, or pray every night prayer, or even spend a lot of extra time in devotional acts so give yourself a break and appreciate the blessings in what you are able to do.

There’s also hope in the hadith, that “the most beloved of all acts with God are those done most consistently even if they appear small.” Let’s implement this hadith by utilizing this Ramadan to find one deed, which we can do consistently for a lifetime to seek the pleasure of Allah. Can you do it?

This Ramadan, I have chosen to emphasize a single small deed, which I am working to build into my daily life so that, God willing, I can continue it throughout the year and I hope throughout my life.

Ramadan in DC | A Simple but Elegant Iftar

Iftar at the home a friend

Iftar at a friend’s home

This past Wednesday, a small group of sisters and I gathered at a friend’s home for iftar, the evening meal at the end of a day of fasting. We had dates and assorted fruit with water and juice.

Quiet moments of reflection, prayer, and contemplation were intertwined with lively conversation. The conversation flowed easily and we spoke about work, current events, exercise, fencing, the beauty of having an Islamic perspective, and long-kept momentos from our youth.

Afghan restaurant for dinner

We prayed and then went out to eat at a local Afghan restaurant. Our server, a young woman of Afghan descent mentioned she felt faint as she took our orders because she had yet to open her fast for the day. She said they had been very busy that night. We offered her a chair and our own water but she declined and said she would break her fast after putting in our orders.

I’m always stunned by reminders of how much effort we put into working in this life and how much we neglect to put in the same effort or more towards working for the hereafter.

Our host for the night, surreptitiously got up towards the end of our meal to use the restroom or so I thought. When it was time to go, we asked for the bill but to our surprise it had already been paid. When you’re eating out with Muslims and someone drifts away from the group, it’s probably because they’re about to pay the bill and don’t want you to find out.

I love the friendly competition to pick up the tab for meals amongst my Muslim friends. It’s been elevated to a kind of art form, the ability to steal away and pay the bill before anyone notices.

Tarawih

We ended the night praying tarawih led by Sh. Adam at the Westin Hotel in Tysons Corner. Continue reading “Ramadan in DC | A Simple but Elegant Iftar”

Ramadan at the Airport | Muslims at Their Best

When I worked at BWI airport, my shifts often began in the early morning, before the time for fajr prayer. Throughout most of the year, I would pray tahajjud (night prayer) after I arrived at the airport at one of the empty and carpeted gates.

For the early morning fajr prayer, I would retreat to the airport meditation room, one of the few places where the ubiquitous announcements in English and Spanish, “Attention all passengers. Please do not leave any items or baggage unattended. Unattended items will be removed by security…,” were muted. I always prayed alone.

But in Ramadan, the meditation room came alive with many of the Muslims who worked throughout the airport at the Hudson News newsstands, restaurants, for the airlines, taxi and limo drivers, and for TSA. I remember one day, I stayed late working overtime, and at sunset I went to the meditation room to break my fast and pray.

A Muslim woman, who appeared to be of Ethiopian descent, was sitting on the floor eating some food. She didn’t wear hijab so I didn’t know if she was Muslim but she offered me the salams, a warm smile, and her apple. I only had a few dates, which I belatedly offered to her. Her warmth and simple but profound act of generosity still makes my eyes moist. May Allah reward her with an abundance of good. We should never belittle any act, I was still a relatively new Muslim at that time, and her kindness towards me helped strengthen me in my faith.

I loved the experience of praying fajr in the meditation room during Ramadan because the Muslims took over, not that there were really too many others there in those early hours before the airport opened. We’d rearrange the chairs and pray, both men and women, in congregation sometimes as many as ten of us. The feeling and sense of community, absent during much of the year was palpable.

Last year during Ramadan, I had to pick up a friend from BWI airport around time for breaking the fast. As I waited by the checked baggage area, Muslims who worked at the airport kept coming up to me to tell me that a group of them were gathering on the upper level by the large crab sculpture to pray and break their fast together and that I was welcome to join and share the food with them.

These were given to me by a Muslim limo driver at the airport to break my fast

I saw a couple of Muslim limo drivers holding white name card signs waiting for their passengers to arrive. One of these drivers bought me some cookies and a bottle of lemonade from the newsstand to use to break my fast. Again, belatedly, I brought out my dates from my purse to offer to the drivers.

Over the years, I’ve met many Muslims working in the local DC regional airports always ready to help me find the chapel or meditation room and share their food or prayer mat with me. I didn’t always know their names and we didn’t always exchange salams or speak but God knows their names. I pray they will be rewarded for showing me the love and character of a Muslim, magnified by their generosity in the month of Ramadan.

Ramadan Reflection | I Cannot Read the Quran

‘Aa’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) relates that the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم said:

Indeed, the one who recites the Qur’an beautifully, smoothly, and precisely, he will be in the company of the noble and obedient angels. And as for the one who recites with difficulty, stammering or stumbling through its verses, then he will have TWICE that reward.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]

When I became Muslim, I typed and printed up my own salah manual. I included the transliteration and the meaning in English underneath. A simple two rakat of fajr might take me half an hour reading and fumbling through, trying hard to remember and not make any mistakes. Now with practice, the time is shorter but I’m not sure the baraka is greater. May Allah increase us in our steadfastness and khushu, ameen.

My first experience with the Quran was through reading English translations then through transliteration, and eventually through reading the Arabic script. While on a trip to New York, I purchased my first Arabic Quran. It was a red-letter version with each mention of Allah’s name or variation of it highlighted in red.

I carried that Quran back with me on the flight home. Once settled in my seat, I opened the mushaf and began “reading” as I flipped through the pages even though the only word I could identify was the word “Allah,” highlighted in red.  I was so happy to be able to read or rather recognize that one word.

My very first Quran was a red-letter version

When Jibreel recited the first revelation to the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam), “Read,” the Prophet (s) said, I cannot read. The Prophet (s) persisted and did not give up and neither should we if we struggle to read or recite the Quran fluently.

Once, I was in a Quran class and we were trying to come up with a set amount of Quran to read each day. So our teacher asked us how long it took us to read one page of Quran and I said, “half an hour.” She looked at me incredulously and said, “half an hour, thirty minutes, why?”

I can read what I’ve memorized very quickly. I can probably read all of Juz Amma in less than 30 minutes. But for sections of Quran that I’m unfamiliar with, I read the Arabic, verse by verse, trying to implement the rules of tajwid to the best of my ability. After each verse, I turn to my Dr. Muhammad Mohar Ali word-for-word translation so that I can learn the meaning and improve my vocab and then I might re-read the verse or spend some time reflecting on it. So after one blessed hour, I might have only made it through two pages, somewhat exhausted by the effort.

When we struggle to read the book of Allah or perfect our tajwid or get up for our after-fajr tajwid classes at Ilm Summit or be patient with our Quran teachers, let’s remember the great reward promised to us for that struggle.

If you feel shy or embarrassed by your reading or memorization skills, use that emotion to your advantage along with the hadith mentioned above to motivate yourself to learn, ask for help, and read more even if it’s only one verse a day. It will get easier.

Tips: 

Make dua that Allah will open a way for you to understand his words.

Be consistent. Read each day, even if it’s only one line or one verse.

Be humble and open to learning and correction. We don’t like to admit to our own ignorance or weakness. In order to grow and reach new heights, we have to admit we’re at a state below where we want to be.

Know what you’re reciting, reading with understanding will humble you as you apply the verses to your own life.

Get a teacher and recite to them, anyone who knows a bit more Quran or tajwid can help you.