Every year in the month of Ramadan, especially among a growing number of Muslim American households, Ramadan iftar parties have become an attractive event. With several different types of snacks and a lavish number of main entrees, the parties offer a spectacle of affluence, extravagance and luxury. Why should it not be like this? After all, we are told that if you help a Muslim break his fast, you get huge rewards from Allah. So, all these parties and functions are for Allah as commanded by His prophet. Our reward increases with the presence of a Sheikh and probably with the increase in the number of dishes.
But wait a minute? Most, I mean all, of the people who come to these parties are people who are well off, affluent and can easily afford to offer meals to others. Didn't the Prophet advise us to focus on those who are less affluent and less fortunate? Didn't Allah want the resourceful people to share their fortune with other less resourceful? Probably, Allah and His messenger might have meant that. But when we invite ordinary people who are not of our status and our class, we usually compromise our positions in the community. How can we, the affluent and less affluent be equal? We worked hard to earn what we have. We are entitled to enjoy the way we want to enjoy. Moreover, they are not aware of the etiquettes to behave in the company of the affluent.
This is how Ramadan is celebrated in some of the Muslim homes who have been endowed with resources. In our Mosques, depending on their size, the situation is different. Huge expenses are incurred by individuals and the management for iftar and meals. Many people justify these expenses saying that Ramadan creates the spirit of brother and sisterhood and bring the entire community together. True! People feel rejuvenated and feel the spirit of the month by coming to the Mosque in large numbers, yet the resources that are spent could probably be used better. What if Mosques offer simple milk, water and dates for iftar and individual families bring extra food to share with those who are unable to afford it? It would require some organization and some serious efforts on the part of the management and families, but it would definitely create stronger solidarity. Rather than throwing lavish food parties at the Mosque, if we follow simplicity and offer nutritious food supervised by nutrition experts, probably, we would utilize our resources better.
We do not have to wait for the entire community to have consensus on these issues. Those who feel that such practices are genuine should follow them.
Let us look at the positive aspects of the month of Ramadan. For an entire month, we live in an environment where we are conscious of our creator every second regardless of where we are, provided we are fasting or aware of the importance of fasting. It is a month where we can train ourselves in some of our behavioral aspects.
Some of our scholars remind us that we should focus on offering extra prayers and extra reading of the Quran. But in addition to these there are two other aspects that were part of Prophet's behavior, yet ignored sometimes.
The prophet was very generous in this month and he spent long hours seeking the protection and forgiveness of Allah. Obviously, the Prophet taught us that the month should be used to evaluate our own behavior and attitude towards ourselves and others and seek protection in the guidance of Allah. In other words besides being generous, he taught us to ensure that we control our anger, egos, arrogance, and show humility, politeness, kindness and forgiveness to others.
Fasting demonstrates our ability not only to conquer hunger but also our capacity to control psychological aspects of our behavior, such as our reaction to things that we dislike. If we learned how to tame our ego, everything that we do will multiply in reward in our life and if we fail, then regardless of the number of nightly prayers and extra reading of the Quran, our fasting would not go beyond an exercise in controlling our hunger.
Here are a few suggestions that we can try to incorporate in our daily Ramadan and beyond.
... not react immediately if we dislike any thing. Rather, we would take time and try to respond in a calm and polite manner.
... ignore those useless talks that serve no purpose.
... ensure that we do not indulge in backbiting or demeaning anyone.
... ensure that we show kindness to youngsters and respect to elders.
... not focus on food and consume things that are not nutritious because Allah asks to be mindful of our health also.
... control our anger, egos, arrogance and rash talking.
... not hurt anyone and if we cross our limits we would immediately apologize.
... maintain quietness most of the time.
... greet everyone with a sweet smile.
... visit mosque with our family at least once a week if possible.
... give our children a feel of taraweeh prayers by praying with them this nightly prayer.
... invite the poorer and the needy families to our homes at least once in the month of Ramadan to honor them.
... be generous in sharing our resources to the poor and the neglected.
... try to read the Quran with translation and understanding if we do not know Arabic and with reflections if we know Arabic.
... spend sometime alone to observe prayers and recite the Quran and reflect on our life.
... focus on some of the suras of the Quran so that we could either memorize them or understand them in depth.
... invite some non-Muslim neighbors or colleagues to our homes to share the Ramadan spirit at Iftar time.
... give the Zakat ul Fitr so that the money could be distributed in an organized manner to the poor and the needy.
... ensure that not a single prayer is delayed.
... give one book on Islam to anyone who wants to learn more about Islam.
... hug our children, our parents and our nearest ones to thank them for their presence in our lives and to remind ourselves of the importance of family.
... ignore the minor or major behavioral issues of people and treat them with patience.
... ensure that we would not visit internet sites that are provocative or that promote immorality.
... help our spouses in home chores and avoid criticizing them for their mistakes.
... always remember that all that we are doing is to fulfill our obligations to our Creator who seeks our wellbeing in this life and the life hereafter.
Writer: Dr. Aslam Abdullah is editor in chief of the weekly Muslim Observer and director of the Islamic Society of Nevada.