27 September 2006

My last Ramadan

While writing this piece, I was startled. I was recalled by thoughts of yesterday, of my mother preparing spaghetti for our family's sahur (pre-dawn meal). Wonderful memories of myself came to mind, when I was twenty and still getting used to hunger and thirst during Ramadhan. At the time I had just embraced Islam at the hands of brother Nicholas Sylvester Abdullah, an MCIIUM lecturer whom I truly respect. The memories came so suddenly. I wonder why? To remind my forgetful self, I reflect again. Today is 25 Sha'aban 1427. In five days, the time will come. In preparation for meeting the longed-for, blessed month of Ramadhan, I'd like to offer my two cents' worth, as well as verses from the Holy Qur'an and pearls of wisdom from the hadith of Al-Amin. This is directed especially for you who still have the opportunity to live in this world. Take what I have to say to heart.

My brothers and sisters, A year has passed. Year after year passes. Time flies by very quickly and will not return. This means that we are getting older and closer to Him. Time is, in essence, our life. This year's Ramadhan has returned. Whether or not they are aware of it, all Muslims will be students registering at this noble university. Its gates have been flung open for those who believe and who do not yet believe, for them to educate themselves at this exceptional garden of knowledge. For those who are not yet Muslims, this month is not alien to you because you are used to the concept of fasting. You were raised surrounded by the Muslim community who fast from daybreak to sunset when the Ramadhan moon appears.

My brothers and sisters, If you feel that this is an unfamiliar concept, then it is something you should learn from. You should know that they who fast do not do so because it is part of their ancestors' customs. Their fasting is not a way to punish themselves by not eating and drinking all day. They do not fast in imitation of anyone. They do not fast to slim down because they filled their bodies with cholesterol- laden food in the past year. My brothers and sisters, Fasting is an obligation, incumbent upon all Muslims when the Ramadhan moon appears and it is announced that the fasting month has started. The arrival of this month promises a thousand and one rewards, a virtual grand sale for all. Their Lord offers rewards that are multiplied compared to other months. Their prophet, Muhammad bin Abdullah p.b.u.h. said: "Allah says: Every deed done by a child of Adam, (its reward) is for him except for fasting. Fasting is for Me (Allah) and I shall reward it accordingly. Fasting is a shield (that saves its doer from the Lord's wrath)." (reported by Bukhari and Muslim)

My brothers and sisters, Those who fast feel happy because they are promised an especial joy. According to their prophet p.b.u.h: "For the fasting one there are two pleasures. The first is when he enjoys the breaking of fast. And the second is when he meets his Lord due to his fast." For them, this promise is a very effective driving force. You can see it when they break their fast with their families; it is a beautiful and joyous occasion. This is the pleasure that God promises them. Their Lord also says, "Say: 'In the bounty of Allah and in His mercy; in that, let them rejoice'. That is better than (the wealth) they hoard." (Yunus 10:58) My brothers and sisters, The fasting month is a practical month of training. This special university trains them to curb their desire for food and drink. It teaches them to restrain themselves from zina (extra-marital intercourse) and thinking idle thoughts. It guides them to speak the truth and avoid telling lies, and control themselves when challenged to a fight or when insulted by others. They are commanded to seek to be closer to their Lord via good deeds. Performing prayers and reciting doa. Taking sahur (pre-dawn meal). Giving charity. Breaking fast as soon as the time arrives. You will see them controlling their hunger during the day, and when night arrives they get up to perform the multi-rakaat Tarawih prayers, and in the morning they rise early to pray with tears of regret running down their cheeks, offering supplications and performing Tahajjud prayers and fervently reciting the Qur'an. Then they prepare the pre-dawn meal and take sahur with their families. After the call for Subuh prayers, they go to the mosque and then go out to work as usual. That is what they do all through Ramadhan. All those deeds enable them to build their characters in preparation for facing the real tests in their life. The deeds empower their hearts and souls to go through life. They become shields that deflect all temptations and steer them away from paths that lead them astray. The training at this Ramadhan university is ultra-intensive and prepares them to graduate with strength in their inner soul.

My brothers and sisters, You might see some of them eating in the middle of the day during the fasting month. Telling lies. Talking about trivial or sexual matters. Not doing their prayers. Fighting and promoting enmity. Fornicating and sitting together in close proximity (for men and women who are not married). Occupying themselves with never-ending entertainment. Spending their early mornings at The Zouk and Jungle Rumble at Jalan P. Ramlee. Being lazy in their studies. Giving priority to worldly matters and wealth. Pursuing wealth until they ignore their families and real happiness. Being extreme to the point of bombing and killing innocent people in Southern Thailand and Bali . Witness, then, that these people have failed and that their spirits are weak. Their hearts are not touched with faith and their Lord's calling. The hedonistic spirit is in their blood. Their hearts have been obstructed by their doings before the fasting month. They are not thankful for the blessed, special gift for them. If you meet them, tell them that they are losing out during Ramadhan. Do not misunderstand, because Islam and its followers are not necessarily parallel. Some people declare themselves as followers but their lives deviate from what they say. Some of them claim to be Muslims but seek to destroy their own religion. Their minds have been disrupted by the devil called Iblis and also humans who follow the path of that wretched creature. They do not understand their religion. Ignore them. In your heart of hearts forgive them and pray that they may receive true guidance. "Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves." (Ar-Ra'd 13:11)

My brothers and sisters, If you feel that you too would like to enjoy the extraordinary rewards gained by those who fast that I have mentioned, be my guest. You are welcome. The gates are wide open. Your coming and participation will be hailed by these Muslims with enthusiastic delight. If you feel that to improve your lifestyle you fritter away your money for unnecessary and frivolous things, your money can be given to the needy who wait for your contributions. If you feel the beauty of Islam has started to bloom in your hearts or even just in your eyes, do not hesitate to walk a step nearer. Voice your intentions to those you feel are trustworthy enough to guide you. These Muslims will help you readily. If your hearts have been suffering, feeling empty because of the lack of guidance, then those hearts will be filled with new life, releasing you from the meaningless shackles of loneliness. Your souls will shine with light and everlasting tranquillity. Believe me. If given the opportunity, maybe one day we will meet there, the eternal land for those who know their Lord. That is my two cents' reminder for you all, because this is my last Ramadhan.

Ariberto (translated by Khadijah Omar/Zaid Omar)
18 September 2006

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