Ramadan Acts of Worship Connect Us to the Suffering of Others

August 11, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Kari Ansari

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A Muslim prays in the open at the drought-hit Kulaley village in Wajir, northeastern Kenya, August 4, 2011. The drought, the worst in decades, has affected about 12 million people across the Horn of Africa. 

REUTERS/Stringer

For 30 days during the Islamic Holy Month of Ramadan, healthy adult Muslims abstain from drinking a single drop of water or eating a bite of food, from before dawn until after the sun sets in the sky, as a religious obligation to God. Every year Muslims look forward to this test of faith with great longing. Last year I wrote a primer on fasting and Ramadan that can be found here.

Each fasting day during August will be a trial on my body and my spiritual resolve. With a decaffeinated, empty stomach, and a thirst that is difficult to tolerate, this act of fasting connects me to someone else. My fasting draws me to the story of a woman in Somalia who has been walking for miles to reach a refugee center; years of civil chaos combined with a devastating drought have ravaged her land, her body, and her children. The family is traveling through Eastern Africa, walking for miles on foot in brutal temperatures with hot, dust-filled wind blowing in their faces. She’ll thank God if they all make it alive to the feeding center. The baby she is carrying no longer gets milk from her breast; she feels him shrinking in her arms as she walks. The little hands of her other small children clutch at her with less and less strength, and their voices have become so weak it’s almost impossible to hear them above the howl of the wind. I hear her tell them that they must put their trust in God and keep moving. I feel her thirst as she utters words of prayer with every precious drop of water she goes without to give to her children for their survival.

My act of fasting brings empathy for her that is greater than any ordinary day; I can’t forget her story. I remember her when my head is dizzy with thirst after running out on a simple errand in triple-digit heat. I can step back into my air-conditioned home; she can’t. I won’t complain of my exhaustion from too little sleep because I know she won’t find a sheltering place to rest in the harsh landscape on her journey toward help. I’m hungry, but I can break my fast in a celebratory mood when the day is finished; I’ll take a cooling sip of clean, filtered water and literally feel it splash down in my empty gut at sundown. As I feel my body reviving, I remember the Somali woman’s fast has been going on since well-before Ramadan, and it will continue past the 30 days I will observe. She is forced into her suffering by circumstances beyond her control, and she is powerless to change them. She’s not thinking of me, but I’m praying for her.

As I slice up fruit to refresh my family after their 15 hours of fasting, I keep seeing the Somali woman. How can I set a table with food and water when she has none? How can I watch my teenagers laugh and express joy at a simple glass of water without thinking of the Somali woman’s broken heart when she has to tell her children she has nothing for them; the crops failed, the livestock died, and food prices have risen so high she has no way to feed them. The empathy for her suffering created by my act of fasting is only worth something to her — and to me — if I do something about it.

I can help make sure she has the ability to feed herself and the children through our Islam-mandated charity called zakat. Zakat is an almsgiving tax that every Muslim that has the means will pay this month. My husband and I will calculate our savings and pay roughly 2.5% of that savings to a charity we choose. We have decided to give our zakat to aid the Somali woman and her children, and the thousands like her. Our donation won’t make a dent in the suffering, but if every reader who has ever been hot, thirsty, or hungry, and has the ability to cool down, quench their thirst and fill their belly makes a donation to relief efforts in Eastern Africa, there may be some improvement in the situation. Our donations will allow these families to find some relief in the shade of a tent, drink clean water, and begin to revive their bodies with nourishment.

We are sending our donation to Islamic Relief because they have a 4-star rating by Charity Navigator, the largest charity evaluator in the United States, along with many more recognitions. Islamic Relief has been working in Eastern Africa for 20 years. They have medical camps, drought relief, and feeding programs already operating on the ground. You can find other charities that are also working in the Horn of Africa as well. Just make sure they have an established means of delivering food and aid where it’s needed.

Ramadan forces us to slow our lives down and focus on our worship, and our spirit. God has asked me to fast for His sake, but I am the one who needs it, because without it, it would be too easy to distance myself from the suffering of others. My Ramadan prayers go toward the relief workers who labor in unforgiving conditions for very little pay, and my sincerest prayers will go to the Somali lady who is my test from God during this holy month.

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Preparing for Ramadan: Renewing Our Intentions

July 14, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

By Muslema Purmul

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Umar bin al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) relates that: “I heard The Prophet, peace be upon him, saying, “Verily actions are by intentions, and for every person is what he intended…” (Bukhari; Muslim)

In a hadith Qudsi, the Prophet, peace be upon him, tells us that Allah (SWT) said,

“And My servant does not draw near to Me with anything more loved to Me than the religious duties I have obligated upon him.

And My servant continues to draw near to me with nawaafil (extra good) deeds until I Love him.

When I Love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, and his sight with which he sees, and his hand with which he strikes, and his foot with which he walks.

Were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely give it to him; and were he to seek refuge with Me, I would surely grant him refuge.” (Bukhari)

Ibn Al-Qayyim said, “Those who are the closest to Allah are the ones who have their Mubaah (allowed acts like sleep) turned into acts of worship and into a means of approach to Allah, on account of their good intention (Niyyah). They no longer have a Mubaah that is equal on both sides (where doing or abandoning it are the same). All their deeds are leaning to one side, (that is, they always gain a reward).”

Practical Steps

The first thing we need to do in preparing for the month of Ramadan is renewing our intentions, yes all the way from now! One of my teachers in Egypt had mentioned to me that the companions in order to increase the amount of reward they would get for a single good deed, would compete in seeing who can come up with the most amount of good intentions for that deed. Our practical tip for the day in renewing our intentions is two-fold:

1-    The first part is to make a list of all that you want to accomplish in Ramadan. This includes doing acts that are obligatory, recommended, and allowed as well as staying away from discouraged and prohibited acts.

This list should cover every aspect of your life: your spiritual relationship with Allah, your knowledge, your activism and volunteering in teamwork in the community, your relationships (family, bonds of brotherhood, sisterhood, your neighbors, etc.), your speech and character, your career, your finances, everything. And think about making each goal something you seek sincerely for Allah (SWT)’s pleasure. Make your goals challenging but within reach. If they are too easy you will take them for granted and if they are too difficult then they may discourage you. It has to be doable for you.

After you make your list, spend a few minutes making dua that Allah (SWT) grants you success in achieving each and every intended act, and in achieving sincerity in them all. Give yourself at least 15-20 minutes for this tip! Also keep in mind, some of the goals you have will be covered in our Count-Down, and some won’t be. Try to practice in a gradual way the goals you have set for yourself all throughout the Count-Down days, and as such you will have habituated your soul on the good action even before entering Ramadan insha Allah!

Just by renewing your intentions constantly, you will also find yourself speaking to Him more and making more dua

2- The second part is something you can practice today and continue practicing during the count-down. That is try to renew your intention for everything you have to do today as many times as possible.

When you eat, seek Allah’s pleasure by intending to gain energy through the food in order to serve Him better. When you sit down at the internet, seek to gain or deliver beneficial knowledge that would draw you and others closer to Him (SWT). When you send an email, seek to increase your bonds of ukhuwwah (brotherhood) and better the relationship with the other person for the sake of Allah (SWT). When you pray, seek to have the most concentration in order to increase the reward of that prayer, etc. etc. etc.

You will find, insha Allah—the more you renew your intentions, the better each act becomes, and the more blessings you find in them. Even chores will have a sweetness to complete when the remembrance of Allah (SWT) is present in the heart. You will find that just by renewing your intentions constantly, you will also find yourself speaking to Him more and making more dua. Remember and rejoice in Allah’s Generosity! There is reward and Allah’s pleasure just in having good intentions, even if we were not able to accomplish the specific actions we wanted!

In a hadith Qudsi, the Prophet, peace be upon him, mentioned,

“He who has intended a good deed and has not done it, Allah (SWT) writes it down with Himself as a full good deed; but if he has intended it and has done it, Allah (SWT) writes it down with Himself as from ten good deeds to seven hundred times, or many times over.

But if he has intended a bad deed and has not done it, Allah (SWT) writes it down with Himself as a full good deed, but if he has intended it and has done it, Allah (SWT) writes it down as one bad deed. (Bukhari and Muslim)

May Allah (SWT) bless both the quantity and quality of our intentions, and grant us success in them in this life and in the hereafter.

Ameen

From the site:  http://theramadancountdown.wordpress.com

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