A REFORM MUSLIM’S GOALS FOR RAMADAN
I look forward to fasting in the month of Ramadan as an opportunity for cleansing my body and spirit, for uplifting my soul and to review my progress in life, to reaffirm my faith in God and in the guidance brought by Prophet Muhammad.
Fasting in this month is something I greatly enjoy. By not taking any food or drink from dawn to dusk my body has the opportunity to cleanse itself. I intend to help my body by choosing healthy eating habits. I plan to eat only in moderate amounts in suhoor and iftar. I know that simple foods are the easiest for my body to digest and I intend to have meals made of simple, healthy and balanced ingredients for my family and myself.
The practice of abstinence from bodily needs makes me more aware of my spirit and its closeness to God. The most dominant attribute of God is love and mercy for his creatures. I want these to be my dominant traits also. I will take time to dwell on the many ways I have experienced the love of God. This will help me grow into a more loving, warm and trusting person. I plan to desist from criticism of my loved ones, friends and colleagues, in their presence and absence.
I will make more than my usual allotment of time for contemplation, to do inner work to raise my consciousness and become closer to my Creator. Prophet Muhammad asked people to devote the beginning part of Ramadan to Love and Mercy, the middle part of the month to Forgiveness and the last part in self-evaluation and seeking closeness of God.
When we feel stuck in any area of life, it usually means we are holding on to past negative experiences. It can be regret, sadness, hurt, fear, guilt, blame, anger, resentment or desire for revenge. Love is always the means of healing our hurts, and the pathway to love is forgiveness. Forgiveness dissolves hurt and resentment. I will spend time to recall painful experiences of the past and to forgive those who have caused me hurt. I wish everyone well. I will seek God’s forgiveness for hurts I have caused others, knowingly and unknowingly.
It was the practice of Prophet Muhammad to spend the last ten days of Ramadan in intense introspection and self –evaluation. I intend to follow his example and review progress in all areas of my life and set higher goals for the next year. I plan to think in detail about where I am in:
- My ability to connect with my Creator in prayer and remembrance
- My relationships with my family members
- My physical health and well-being
- My intellectual well-being
- My financial well being
- My contributions at my work place
- My efforts in uplifting the world through the Muslim Reform Movement Organization
- I plan to write my evaluations and goals for the next year in each of these areas in my journal.
The importance of regular prayer is emphasized repeatedly in the Quran. Prayer or salat is the essence of faith. It is the primary pathway to God consciousness. However, a remarkable fact is that the Quran does not prescribe a format for prayer. The Quran insists that people should pray but consistently avoids prescribing a method for doing it. On the contrary, the Quran points out that insistence on particular prayer rituals are misplaced:
“Goodness is not in turning your face to the east or to the west——“. [2:177]
The Quran teaches instead that God is always with us and asks us to speak to Him directly:
“And if My servants ask about Me—behold I am near, I respond to whoever calls on Me, whenever they call, let them then respond to Me, and believe in Me, so that they may benefit.” [2:186]
It is ironic that teachings in the Muslim tradition have taken a totally opposite view. Adherence to format is considered an absolute must for prayer. Children are introduced to Islam in homes and in mosques throughout the world by indoctrination about form and rituals of body postures. Converts to Islam are advised by clergy that they must learn the Arabic words, the correct pronunciation, the body postures and their sequences, with frequent reminders that any departure from the prescribed routine makes the prayer defective and unacceptable to God. Non-Arabic speaking people are told that it may be better for them to know the meaning of the Arabic words, but it is not necessary; what matters to God is that you utter the words with correct Arabic pronunciation. For Arabic-speaking Muslims also it is not much better because all the importance is given to rote learning of the words and their delivery in the right sequence in the required number of rakaa. With such an emphasis on outward correctness, people when praying often find their attention focused on their own behavior and performance. There is hardly any room left in their awareness to connect with God or to speak to Him with an authentic personal voice or with deep feeling. This emphasis on outward correctness has now been programmed into Muslims for so many generations that prayer is commonly described as an ‘obligation’ and a ‘duty’. The idea that prayer could be spontaneous or joyful is almost heretical. Men and women who have been performing the ‘duty’ of prayer for many years inevitably become bored and uninspiring people. Their personalities contradict the promise of the Quran at the beginning of Sura Al-Muminun:
”Successful indeed are the believers, who are sincere in their prayers “( 23:1-2).
Historically, the great emphasis on the canonical format is based on the Prophet’s saying “Pray as you see me pray”. Our scholars have totally missed the point here by insisting that the outward form is the essence of prayer. They have failed to recognize that the Prophet’s prayer was spontaneous and variable. His method of prayer and his words differ significantly among the many Hadith. It is ironic that the different sects teach different forms of prayer based on particular Hadith but they each insist on total conformity with the method they have chosen for themselves.
It is not the question of whether we should follow Hadith or not, or whether particular Hadith are authentic. It is the defective understanding of generations of scholars in focusing on the mechanical aspects of the Prophet’s prayer habits, and not knowing that attitude and feeling are much more powerful than physical movement. This resulted in the prevailing teachings about prayer that contradict Quran’s wisdom in de-emphasizing ritual and conformity. It is time to reform teachings about prayer such that we give primary importance to its inner dimensions. We should teach how you can experience feelings of love, gratitude and closeness to God in prayer.
The value of any practice is to be evaluated by the results it produces. The main point is that for Prophet Muhammad and his companions the prayer was a means for achieving God consciousness. Their prayer rituals were effective and source of strength for them. For example, it is narrated that, whenever, Prophet Muhammad faced a situation that caused him anxiety he prayed two rakaa, and this released his stress and restored his usual state of resourcefulness. The question to ask is this: “Is my prayer a source of strength for me? Is my practice making me grow in awareness? “If not, “how can I modify my prayer to make it more effective?” It is the results in your life that measure the success of prayer, and not the outward form.
Prophet Muhammad’s postures of prayer, the standing, the bowing, prostrations etc., were borrowed from the customs of the pre-Islamic Meccans, with some modifications. They represented the continuity of the prayer-practice of that region and now through the influence of Islam have spread all over the world. It is very likely that this particular structure of prayer helped many people establish Divine Contact in the past, and suits many people today. But it is common observation that many Muslims who pray in this format do not find it meaningful. Such people should know that there is nothing wrong with them, and there is nothing wrong if they change their way of prayer to try to make it more personally meaningful and fulfilling.
There are others who find it impossible to carry out the prescribed routines of the canonical prayer for practical reasons such as work or availability of private space. People in such situations should be encouraged to pray in a form that is convenient for them.
The Quran wants us to know that God is always near and responds to us without limitations of ritual or procedure.
INTEREST PAID OR CHARGED BY BANKS IS NOT RIBA
Several verses in the Quran and some hadith speak against charging Riba on loans. What does the Arabic word Riba mean?
Let us first consider the definitions of the English words Usury and Interest. The following definitions are from the Random House Webster’s Dictionary (1990)
Interest: the sum paid or charged for the use of money or for borrowing money.
Usury: the practice of lending money at an exorbitant interest rate
Which English word does Riba correspond to: interest, usury or both?
The Quran speaks of, what Riba is in the following verse:
003.130: O you who believe! Devour not Riba, doubled and multiplied; but fear God; that you may prosper.
It is clear that the above Quranic injunction prohibits lending money at excessive rates of interest that would double or triple the lender’s sum in a short period of time. It is evident that the reference is towards usury.
It should be recalled that in pre-industrial times, lending was practiced commonly in the form of usury. When an individual experienced financial difficulty and needed to borrow money, he had recourse only to usurious moneylenders who would exploit his predicament. The borrower usually accepted terms for the loan that he knew could lead to his financial ruin.
This form of lending obviously caused a great deal of harm by ruining many people’s lives, was immoral, and we can understand why a just and compassionate system like Islam would ban it. This is indicated by the following verse in the Quran
004.161: That they took Riba, though they were forbidden; and that they devoured men’s substance wrongfully; we have prepared for those among them who reject faith a grievous punishment.
It is common knowledge that modern banks pay interest on deposits as well charge interest to borrowers but do not practice usury. The great advance of social and economic well being experienced around the world over the past two hundred years has been fueled by pooling of capital by banks. Individuals willingly lend their savings to a bank if some interest is paid to them for the use of their money. The resulting pooling of resources can generate large sums that can be used by others to carry out large projects. During the industrial revolution people realized that establishment of large industries required large investments, which were, in general, beyond the reach of one or a few individuals. If, instead, many investors could be motivated to contribute then large investments could be possible. Banks provided the institutional framework for this process. The bank of-course charges a higher rate of interest than it pays in order to generate income for its stockholders and for its own expenses. Through this process of capital pooling, the bank is able to lend to individuals who need large sums of money, such as when buying a house or a business. The bank’s rate of interest is kept low by competition with other lenders and also by government regulation. It is very clear that banking practice is not usury and cannot be equated to the Quranic term Riba.
However, Muslim scholars have traditionally concluded that any rate of interest is Riba and is therefore prohibited. They base this on the verse:
002.278,279: O you who believe! Fear God, and give up what remains of your demand for Riba, if you are indeed believers. If you do it not, take notice of war from God and His Apostle: But if you turn back, you shall have your capital sums. Deal not unjustly, and you shall not be dealt with unjustly
This verse seems to require a lender to get back only the “capital sum” he has advanced. Thus it may be interpreted to forbid loans with any rate of interest; whether nominal or exorbitant. However, if we recall that the verse was revealed at a time when usury was the standard model for borrowing we can see that, consistent with the verses quoted above, its injunction is to refrain from usury. The modern banking practice in which one can borrow and lend at small rates of interest was not known at that time.
The practice of borrowing and lending money has gone through revolutionary changes as mankind has achieved economic progress. In the modern economic structure lending of money is most often to generate resources to enable the borrower to carry out his plan of expanding his personal or business conditions, thus both the lender and the borrower expect to gain from the transaction.
Traditionally Muslim scholars have maintained that it is good to give loans to help people but it should be “Qard-e-hasana”, that is, a loan in which the lender gets back exactly what he loaned. This, in idealistic terms, is an excellent suggestion but in reality very few people are willing to follow it. It is human nature that most people are motivated by self-interest and not by exhortations of doing good. The modern banking system helps accomplish public good by rewarding people for lending money.
The traditional interpretation of the term Riba as any kind of interest whether small or large has greatly damaged the Muslim Umma worldwide. It has blocked Muslims from developing financial institutions that could finance industrial and social progress. This is one of the factors that kept the Muslim part of the world economically stagnant while Europe and America expanded their economies steadily in the 18th and 19th centuries.
In all Islamic rulings there is a moral intent; a clear purpose to protect or to benefit people. The moral purpose of banning usury is to stop exploitation of people and to save them from financial ruin.
If we interpret the verses above to imply that loans with even small rates of interest are forbidden by Islam, then we reach the absurd conclusion that a bank is doing something immoral when it loans money to a store owner to expand his business, or to a student to help pay his college tuition. These two examples are among a wide variety of situations for which people borrow money, but they illustrate that modern banks do not aim to exploit people in dire circumstances. Their business is to provide opportunities for growth to individuals. This is commendable and moral, and it does not make any sense to say that it is prohibited in a just system like Islam.
SIGNIFICANCE OF EID UL ADHA
Eid-al Adha is the annual celebration of the memory of Prophet Ibrahim who offered to sacrifice his son for God; but God favored him and accepted the sacrifice of a ram instead.
The principle of sacrifice is our willingness to give up something dear to us for a high purpose. The Middle East, the cradle of monotheistic religion, is a desert region where crops are difficult to grow in most places. In ancient times food was scarce and cattle were the principal source of human sustenance as well as wealth. Therefore killing one of your animals and sharing the meat with others was a major act of sacrifice and charity. This was especially the case in the large gathering of Hajj. Sacrificing an animal has been a part of the rituals of Hajj since pre-Islamic times.
In modern times there has been widespread economic progress and food is much more plentiful. Cattle are no longer an important part of personal wealth of most people, even in the Middle East. It is therefore no longer meaningful to seek favor with God through animal sacrifice, at the time of Eid-al-Adha, or at any other time.
We should celebrate Eid-Al-Adha by thanking God for providing our sustenance, reflecting on the principle of sacrifice and by contributing some of our wealth to causes that help humanity.
The ritual sacrificing of animals in public places on Eid-al Adha is still widespread in many Muslim countries. This practice does not raise God consciousness. Moreover, it is unsightly, unhygienic and a waste of precious economic resources .It should be discontinued.
We learn from the Old Testament that sacrifice of humans was practiced in the ancient Middle East. The switching of Prophet Ibrahim’s son by a ram symbolized an evolution of the concept of sacrifice to a less brutal form. This evolution continues into modern times, and we don’t have to kill even an animal to practice the principle of sacrifice.
The Quran points to this principle in the following verse related to animal sacrifice at the time of Hajj:
is neither their flesh nor their blood that reaches God; it is your God-consciousness that reaches Him….”( 22:37)
A PRAYER FOR PEACE
O Allah, we thank you for granting us peace, security and prosperity. We acknowledge Your grace in living in a country where freedom and justice are the common values and where good will prevails among all people.
We pray that the domain of peace, security, prosperity, fairness and justice extend to the lives of all the people of the world. We pray that war and violence of all kind disappear from the world.
We pray that our President and other leaders be guided by thoughts of fairness and kindness and justice.
Thank you for awakening in us the desire to change for the better. We pray that patterns of thinking of past generations that no longer serve positive purpose be released from our collective consciousness.
We pray that Muslims all over the world become thinkers and abandon the easy path of following old idea.
We pray that new generations of Muslims scholars emerge and bring forth interpretations that empower and liberate Muslim people.
We pray that Muslim lands manifest Islam as a way of life that promotes equal rights for all, respect for law and freedom of conscience.
We pray that we and all Muslims in this country serve You by becoming sources of goodness for all of our citizens.
O Allah, You are peace, and peace is from you. We ask You for peace within us and peace around us, and peace in the world.
We ask you for safety. Safety for us, safety for our children, safety for our loved ones and safety for all people in the world.
Thank you for granting us peace and security.