With the last ten days of Ramadan approaching, many will be settling in for increased levels of ritual worship. In fact, the mantra for Ramadan is customarily to forget everything and focus on ibadah. Although the sentiment is virtuous and the sunnah undeniably points to alone time with God, the Prophet’s practices would always respond to circumstances; for instance, the battle of Badr was fought during the middle of Ramadan where it was deemed necessary that ritual worship gave way to ibadah on the battlefield. What this teaches us is that worship is of varying types, and even in Ramadan where ritualism usually takes precedence there can be departures from the norm.
So, given the worrying state of affairs we find ourselves in, this Ramadan shouldn’t only be about ritualism but also about dealing with those things affecting us. Some might assume this to be self-evident, yet I put it, perhaps controversially, that Muslims are sound asleep. They may occasionally stir, but as the tumult subsides or the disturbance moves on, they return quite naturally to the land of nod. This condition is not limited to politics or society, but also to our religious expressions. Although the Prophet would enliven his nights in the last ten, our slumber continues throughout – our worship is lifeless, performed sluggishly like someone who’s been awoken prematurely, or with a sense of disinterest simply compelled by peer pressure. Our reading of scripture is performed with lack of meaning, enthusiasm, or enquiry; God tells us: “it was in the month of Ramadan that the Quran was revealed as guidance for mankind, clear messages giving guidance and distinguishing between right and wrong” yet those clear messages are disregarded, guidance is neglected, and to distinguish between right and wrong, even amongst Muslims, has become a supposed indication of radicalisation.
In the realm of politics, those passionate about Muslim interests decry the government’s undertakings, whether they be directed at British Muslims or foreign policy, but beyond private protest, group messages on What’sApp or posts on social media, our actual ability to help the poor Gazans or ourselves for that matter has been non-existent. Yes, charity helps to provide for the material needs of the suffering but it doesn’t actually stop Israeli bombs raining down from the sky or help in gaining the independence the Palestinians seek. For all of our big talk about foreign policy, we remain unable to actually put ourselves in a political position where we’re of help to anyone. For our own sorry state of affairs (as I wrote elsewhere) we organise testosterone-filled events where we rant and protest amongst ourselves, beating our chests merely to appease our deflated egos in the face of intimidating rhetoric from the government. The government are a group of people chosen by voters, who themselves were rallied by activists and supporters, but beyond tapping our fingers on keys and forwarding on those ineffectual messages, the real slog isn’t something we’re interested in. In fact the idea of good old-fashioned elbow grease completely evades us, we think we shall effectively spread the faith by throwing money at organisations who claim to do it on our behalf so as to placate our own inactivity, overlooking what they actually do with it as well as what we’re really meant to. Across the board we have become stunted by rampant corporate attitudes: pay someone else to undertake your responsibility, and they only undertake those things that create profit.
The simplistic mindset that informs our attitudes has meant that instead of acting in a learned fashion that is mindful of important factors or paying regards to the directives of the learned (who I accept are particularly difficult to find these days), we simply become binary about everything. If we do theology it either relates to 11th century polemics or an attempt to civilise religious belief in accordance with the dictates of militant atheism rather than providing robust solutions for the modern world that inspire godliness. If we do fiqh it relates to minutiae rather than the glaring issues, or legalising only those matters secular liberals seem to have a problem with. If we talk about women then either we’re Liberal feminists or staunch conservatives. If we talk of culture, either we mistaken it for permissiveness or must demonstrate our anti-western credentials. It’s so uninspiring, unimaginative, and lifeless.
Beyond the only two things Muslims tend to have an opinion on: foreign policy or sexual ethics, who is aware that “Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband and David Cameron are going to railroad surveillance laws through parliament in just three days. Apparently it doesn’t have time to discuss this properly. Yet parliament went into recess a week early in May because we were told there was no need to debate further legislation. Something isn’t right about representatives of the people being told by their party leaders to pass laws that they’ve barely read, let alone properly considered. The bill was published in draft form a few hours ago. It’s pointless attempting to scrutinise it because, thanks to the secret deal, we know it will be law by the end of next week.” These powers allow security services access to personal tracking data generated by a person when browsing the web, sending one another emails or texts or call each other on the phone, as well as location data for mobile phones, which means it could be used to track movements over the past 12 months. In fact they can also be accessed by 600 public bodies including local authorities and the Royal Mail. What’s interesting is that these powers have meant that they can access it for a wide range of purposes including “economic wellbeing” of the country and “any other purpose the secretary of state prescribes.” Given that the home secretary has already used her powers rather arbitrarily on unsuspecting Muslims, the fact that all Muslims are under scrutiny with this government regardless of their levels of religiosity, the snooping charter which has actually been in force since 2009 should be of concern to us all.
Or what about the NHS which is on the brink of collapse and how the government has been slowly privatising it over the past few years? Or that a bill is to be read in parliament proposing the legalisation of assisted suicide? Or that there is an irony in the fact that a government full of millionaires has been unwilling to do anything about dramatically rising house prices that is severely affecting the poor? Or that Conservative government minister Iain Duncan Smith has continuously misled parliament on the Universal Credit scheme and squandered hundreds of millions of tax payers’ pounds yet the government blames the poorest in society for the struggling economy? Or that the education minister Michael Gove insists that there should not be a public inquiry into a possible cover-up of paedophile politicians in Westminster having gone to town with the Muslim community over a doctored letter?
Now it might be asserted that in any given society, the politicised and informed are far and few in-between, in fact the vast majority of people aren’t expected to be aware of what’s happening on various fronts, let alone all of the time. That is true but only insofar as that reality pertains to societies, not minorities within society. In fact, due to being a minority and one constantly targeted it becomes the ardent duty of all to mobilise, to become ambassadors of goodwill, activists of the righteous cause, helpers to the oppressed and poor. We must be informed about those things affecting society, and galvanise against those who maliciously seek to target the community and cause of God. To expect this of every British Muslim is to assume that the quality of Islam brings about the best in people, to do things in the most appropriate of ways and to the best of one’s ability – and yes I concede that there are others on different points of the spectrum, God informs: “We gave the scriptures as a heritage to our chosen servants: some of them wronged their own souls, some stayed between right and wrong, and some, by God’s leave were foremost in good deeds.” Simply put, the current situation desperately requires the latter from us all.
But why must we all get involved, surely others can carry the burden? The many who claim leadership have cowered from the force of the current offensive, neither do they have the vision nor the knowledge in how to proceed. Rather than whine (which has been the current trend) the Muslim community is in need of purposeful and well thought-out expressions. We must re-establish ourselves as committed to both the immediate world around us and the Abrahamic monotheism that informs us. We need to infuse a sense of godliness in our undertakings, making perfection and its attainment a habit rather than an abstract attempt. We must emerge as a righteous and sensible section of society, contributing to the material and spiritual upliftment of those around us. Noah told his people:
“Ask forgiveness from your Lord: He is ever forgiving. He will send down abundant rain from the sky for you; He will give you wealth and sons; He will provide you with gardens and rivers.”
We must inspire confidence and friendship in wider society, a sense of activism and common purpose in achieving good. God says: “Help one another to do what is right and good.” We must learn to deliberate and look beyond our own narrowly constructed orthodoxies; we must scrutinise our own understandings before we judge others to have misunderstood.
“Do not say falsely, ‘This is lawful and that is forbidden’ inventing a lie about God, those who invent lies about God will not prosper.”
Not only do we need leaders but we also need sincere and dedicated supporters, those committed to working together, dedicated to the cause, and in it for the long-term. If scholars are the inheritors of the Prophets then where are the modern equivalent of their apostles?
“You who believe, be God’s helpers. As Jesus son of Mary said to the disciples, ‘Who will be helpers in God’s cause?’ The disciples said, ‘We shall be God’s helpers.’ Some of the Children of Israel believed and some disbelieved: We supported the believers against their foes and they were the ones who came out on top.”
However, by supporting and following the righteous I don’t mean that we should secede our intellectual autonomy but understand that in togetherness lies steadfastness. “Obey God and His messenger, and do not quarrel with one another, or you may lose heart and your spirit may desert you. Be patient for God is with the patient.” As for the narcissistic amongst us who covet the limelight the philosophy of righteousness dictates, as the Prophet put it, “We give position neither to those who request it nor those who desire it.” In the famous hadith of Abdul Rahman b. Samurah the Prophet directs: “Do not seek leadership, for if you are given authority on your request then you will be held responsible for it, but if you are given it without seeking it, then you will be aided (by God).”
We must galvanise support and consolidate our strengths “in lined formations, for His cause, like a reinforced edifice” and not only politically – in fact it is nigh impossible for us to do so without a basis that is theocentric, built on the highest moral standards, judicious reasoning and inspiring conduct. We require a revolution within, one that isn’t built on empty rhetoric around a caliphate or imposing a shar’i judiciary on society but the way we develop our relationship with the divine which then acts as a catalyst for productivity and reform – not an activism built on a misguided loathing of the west but on love and veneration of God.
This is not liberal religious sentiment, modernism or progressive Islam like puerile detractors often retort but true orthodoxy: to engender God-consciousness, to have a positive impact on those around us through hard work rather than entertain ourselves with futile rhetoric on matters we have little impact on (and won’t do anytime soon), and through our conduct to exhibit the highest moral standards God wants for humanity.
For many Ramadan is a time for change, and a time for new resolutions. Who will ready themselves to come out of Ramadan prepared to commit to the hard work needed? Allah the Most High asks you:
“Believers, what is with you that when you are asked to march forth in God’s cause you cling to the earth? Do your prefer this world to the life to come? How little the enjoyment of this world is, compared with the life to come!”