BY: USTADH UBAYDULLAH EVANS
“Ustadh, I feel so cheated! I’ve been fasting for the entire month and now I’m not praying on the 27th night of Ramadan.” I was teaching at a mosque a few years ago during Ramadan when a female attendee made the previous statement. I don’t think I had ever heard it put in such stark terms but I was familiar with the sentiment. Many of us think of the month of Ramadan as a time in which we do more for God: The fasting, praying, charity, scriptural readings, night-vigils, service projects, Laylatul-Qadr, etc. The increase in our devotion and worship in the month of Ramadan is undeniable. In fact, I would even go so far to say that for many of us, Ramadan offers glimpses into an ascetic lifestyle. The “even water” running joke among Muslims—which refers to the typical response of people of other faiths (or no faith at all) when informed about Ramadan—is reflective of the real attitudes of many people.
Complete abstinence from food and drink for 14 hours, standing at night for prayers 1.5hrs in duration, waking at 4am to eat a pre-dawn meal. It’s all quite intense. For such a devotional schedule to be embraced by monks and votaries is one thing but to consistently see such commitment from Muslims of varying levels of religious practice—including many who shockingly identify as mildly-practicing—is really amazing. And yet, even with this we must remember: Ramadan is only secondarily about what we’re doing for God. It is primarily about what God is doing for us. “Just be present and be grateful. If God has mentioned Laylatul-Qadr as a gift of immense value, the only thing required of us is gracious acceptance. Call upon your Lord and proclaim your gratitude.” Of course, I wasn’t able to offer that verbatim! I wish! However, I do recall responding to my sister with something to that effect. As we reach the midway point within the month of Ramadan, it’s important to refocus our attention on God’s grace.
In an authentic Prophetic tradition narrated by ‘Ā’isha, the Prophet (upon him be peace) mentioned: “None of you will enter Paradise by virtue of their deeds. Salvation is only attained by God’s grace.” At this, Ā’isha retorted: “Even you?” “Even me, unless God envelops me in His mercy and good favor” was the response of God’s Messenger. Much has been written about this tradition. Imam an-Nawawī’s commentary is perhaps the most thoughtful I’ve encountered. In his famed Sharḥ Muslim, he brings this Prophetic tradition into harmony with the various verses of the Qur’an which mention Paradise as the inheritance of the righteous on account of their good deeds. The Imam’s synthesis maintains that the good deeds of the righteous or more precisely, their ability to perform them and God’s acceptance of them, IS God’s mercy. The brilliance of that interpretation notwithstanding, the Prophetic tradition appears to convey a redirection of focus. That is, it seems to say, “Shift your focus away from your action and toward God’s grace.” Indeed, God’s mercy is more expansive and a greater source of hope for a believing people than their actions could ever be—even in the month of Ramadan, even on Laylatul-Qadr.
As members of a would-be meritocratic culture—it is indeed one of the greatest feats of American cultural mythology that we regard our society as egalitarian or meritocratic—it is easy for us to embrace an ethic of hard work and dedication. And the words of the Qur’an resound: “And man will have nothing except what he strives for.” Yet, that same meritocratic bias frustrates our ability to achieve a different important Prophetic trait: Gracious acceptance of the gifts of God. “And which of the favors of your Lord will you deny?” Interestingly enough, while discussing the subtlety entailed in this Prophetic balance, a friend of mine might have provided a good analogy. “It’s like a friend inviting you to a beautiful dinner. Insisting on taking them to a dinner of similar scale the very next day might belie their generosity by making an exchange out of something that was intended as a gift.” He later concluded that reciprocity is good and mutuality makes gift-giving more lasting. However, by allowing some time to elapse between their gift and your gift, you ensure the integrity of both gifts.
The analogy is not perfect. Simply put, there is no way we can requite God for His gifts. Nonetheless, returning to the comment with which we began the article; if we fail to put any space between what God has given us and what we intend to give God, we risk overlooking His generosity.
4/13/2023 05:31:01 am
جزاك الله خيراً ustadh Ubaydulah
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