Ramadan, a time of self-indulgence?

So Ramadan is coming along. What are the signs that I see around me? By far the most important of them all – the cleaning of the Haleem cooking cauldrons, repairing of the tandoor ovens and the painting of signs screaming that the Haleem of that particular establishment can’t possibly be bettered in this life. Haleem for the body and soul. And in this case Haleem for Good luck – if you please.
Then is the case of Iftaar parties – those who claim first strike and those given in retaliation – do unto others what they did unto you. Yeah! I know that is poetic license but all is fair in Iftaar and war. And the conversations before, during and after the Iftaar party. Gossip galore. What to say about the political Iftaars that people vie to be invited to so that they can rub shoulders with those that ‘count’?

I shall pass by in silence looking at our women and servants slaving in kitchens cooking food for those who don’t need it sacrificing their own time of Dhikr and dua because the pleasure of their bosses is more important than the pleasure of Allah. Or I should say that the displeasure of their bosses is more visible and immediate than the displeasure of Allah.
Ask our business people and they will tell you that 70% of their business happens after Iftaar in Ramadan, especially during the last ten nights. And of course as you shop you need sustenance and so you eat. Shops are very accommodative and so they remain open all through the night. And the nights of grace and mercy pass unnoticed overhead.
I have deliberately given this article a title which may seem provocative but which I believe reflects our reality – that Ramadan is a time of self-indulgence for us, instead of being a time of self-denial, reflection, introspection and repentance.
Allah ordered us to have His Taqwa – to fear His displeasure and be aware of the fact that one day we will meet Him – when He said:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ اتَّقُواْ اللّهَ حَقَّ تُقَاتِهِ وَلاَ تَمُوتُنَّ إِلاَّ وَأَنتُم مُّسْلِمُونَ
A’al Imraan 3:102.        O you who believe! Have Taqwa of Allâh (fear to disobey Him) as it is His right that His displeasure shoud be feared. And die not except in a state of Islâm (as Muslims) with complete submission to Allâh.
Allah told us that He made fasting Fardh (compulsory) upon us so that we can develop Taqwa. But does that happen to us in Ramadan? Do we develop more Taqwa? Is this reflected in our lives? And if not, is Ramadan anything more for us than a date change? A social event at best; enjoyable time but nothing more in terms of the blessings that it comes with for the one who has wisdom.
Allah said:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ
Al Baqarah 2:83. O you who believe! Observing As-Saum (fasting) is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become Al-Muttaqûn 
As we can see, Allah ordered us to have Taqwa and then showed us how to develop Taqwa – by fasting. Only once a Muslim develops Taqwa then his submission to Allah can be assured and so the second part of the Ayah becomes possible.
وَلاَ تَمُوتُنَّ إِلاَّ وَأَنتُم مُّسْلِمُونَ
And die not except in a state of Islâm (as Muslims) with complete submission to Allâh.
The secret of obedience is to obey without question. It is not obedience without understanding. The understanding when obeying Allah is to understand who Allah is; not what the command is or the logic behind it. This is a major trap that most of our so-called intellectuals fall into. They get lost in trying to understand the logic of the command and forget who is commanding it. That is why Ramadan comes to emphasize the fact that the Muslim obeys because Allah commanded it; not because it makes ‘sense’ to him. Allah made some things Halaal and some things Haraam. But in Ramadan during the hours of daylight, He made even the things which are ordinarily Halaal, Haraam. When the Muslim obeys Allah and fasts he is essentially doing something which makes sense only when one understands whose command it is. It is emphasized for the Muslim that if he obeyed Allah during Ramadan and stayed away even from Halaal then how much more important it is for him to stay away from what Allah prohibited and made Haraam?

That is why it is so critical to know Allah, to be connected to Allah, to be conscious of Allah and to be concerned about His pleasure and approval for all that we say or do because to Him is our return. Ramadan comes to reiterate this to us every year; that we are the slaves of Allah and in being true to that is our salvation. Ramadan comes to teach us obedience. It comes to teach us the meaning of Uboodiya. It comes to teach us the meaning of being Abdullah and Amatullah and to do that because we love AllahYabove all else.
My brothers and sisters, I remind myself and you that Ramadan comes to us every year as an opportunity to change ourselves, our habits, our ways and our lives so that we become people of Jannah. Ramadan is a special time when Allah relaxes the rules and gives us special advantages with respect to our actions so that we get a chance to change. He chains Shayateen so that we don’t have to fight against the odds. He increases the reward for good deeds so that we get a handicap advantage and a much higher return on our actions. He gives us fasting which makes every action we do during it, including sleep – Ibaadah. He gives us Taraweeh in the night where we get from 10-100 rewards for every letter of the Qur’an we listen to. He gives our dua a special place of acceptance, especially duas at the time of Iftaar. He shuts the doors of Jahannam and opens the doors of Jannah. He opens the doors of His Mercy and Kindness and Forgiveness for all those who actively seek it. In the last ten nights He increases all this even more in keeping with His Majesty and Grace.

But what do we do with all these bounties? Do we take the maximum benefit from them or do we squander them in the name of socializing and self-indulgence? I remind myself and you to use Ramadan to change our lives. Allah said about those who will be successful on the Day of Judgment:
كُلُّ نَفْسٍ ذَآئِقَةُ الْمَوْتِ وَإِنَّمَا تُوَفَّوْنَ أُجُورَكُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ فَمَن زُحْزِحَ عَنِ النَّارِ وَأُدْخِلَ الْجَنَّةَ فَقَدْ فَازَ وَما الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلاَّ مَتَاعُ الْغُرُورِ 
A’al Imran 3: 185. Everyone shall taste death. And only on the Day of Resurrection shall you be paid your wages in full. And whoever is removed away from the Fire and admitted to Paradise, he indeed is successful. The life of this world is only the enjoyment of deception (a deceiving thing).
I remind myself and you that it is we who need Allah and all His Bounties like Ramadan for our own salvation and success in this life and the Hereafter. What sense does it make to be reminded year after year about the bounty that Ramadan brings and still ignore it and squander it instead of taking its benefit?
Allah does not need us and can replace us if we don’t pan out. He warned us and said:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ مَن يَرْتَدَّ مِنكُمْ عَن دِينِهِ فَسَوْفَ يَأْتِي اللّهُ بِقَوْمٍ يُحِبُّهُمْ وَيُحِبُّونَهُ أَذِلَّةٍ عَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ أَعِزَّةٍ عَلَى الْكَافِرِينَ يُجَاهِدُونَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللّهِ وَلاَ يَخَافُونَ لَوْمَةَ لآئِمٍ ذَلِكَ فَضْلُ اللّهِ يُؤْتِيهِ مَن يَشَاء وَاللّهُ اسِعٌ عَلِيمٌ 
Ma’aida 5: 4. O you who believe! Whoever from among you turns back from his religion (Islam), Allah will bring a people whom He will love and they will love Him; humble towards the believers, stern towards the disbelievers, fighting in the Way of Allah, and never afraid of the blame of the blamers. That is the Grace of Allah which He bestows on whom He wills. And Allah is All-Sufficient for His creatures’ needs, All-Knower.
Allah created us to teach others how to live. He didn’t create us to live in a way that others can laugh at. That is what is happening today especially with respect to Iftaar parties. They are a spectacle that others laugh at us for. They laugh at our antics of trying to get invited to high profile parties; at our pretensions of piety while gorging on food like there is no tomorrow. Political parties and politicians use Iftaars as carrots for Muslims who are so anxious to be invited to an Iftaar party being given by this or that leader, no matter whether he is Muslims or not, no matter what his own track record of oppression is, no matter anything except that he is temporarily in power. For all power is after all temporary. But we scramble for the invitation shamelessly. It’s time to change before we reach the end of our own line.
So what to do about Iftaar and about wanting to invite family and close friends?
Invite family and close friends. Don’t do anything special. Make sure all activity in the kitchen is ended 30-45 minutes before the time of Iftaar and the people who cook for you are free to wash up and prepare for Iftaar and Dhikr and dua. Remember that Ramadan is for them also and if you give them duties that prevent them from worship you will answer to Allah for that. Eat what you normally eat. When your guests come, remember Allah and remind each other. No other conversation. Then close to the time of Iftaar maintain absolute silence and engage in individual dua. Once the Adhaan is called, break your fast with a date or two and a drink of water and the men go to the masjid for Salah. Make Shukr to Allah for granting you Ramadan and the fast and the food. After Salah return and eat a light meal and go back to the masjid for Isha and Taraweeh.
Be concerned about the poor that they have enough to eat in Ramadan and after it. After all they don’t eat only in Ramadan so I’ve never understood the rush to give hampers in Ramadan and then forgetting about them for the rest of the year. Charity is not restricted to Ramadan. Let us be charitable all through the year.

I ask Allah to make this Ramadan the best Ramadan of your lives and enable you to especially please Him and ask Him to forgive your faults and never be displeased with you.
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