The Cloth on the T.V.
Coming from a ‘typical’ South Asian family, I’m sure my childhood memories of Ramadhan are not unique. The first, and most apparent, difference that the beginning of the holy month brings is the absence of the television from the usual spot it enjoys for eleven months of the year. Or, it was the presence of an, often flowery, cloth which is placed over the TV as soon as the announcement for Ramadhan is made, the night of the first Tarawih prayer. Those were the days when children were actually brought up by their parents, when children learned and spoke the language of ‘the people’ in the household and many Muslims preferred not to have a television. Many of those who did have a television did so with a slightly guilty feeling.
Now, in allegedly more enlightened times, when children are brought up by 2D figures on an ever-playing lcd screen, and guests are entertained by being handed the remote, we seldom see the cloth over the box, or the empty top of the cupboard it used to sit on. Apparently, we have got over our naivety. My intention is not to flare a Fiqhi debate regarding the permissibility of owning a television, rather to draw attention to an obvious shift in our general frame of mind and sensitivities.
Sarcasm aside, it is true that in those times there were no Islamic television channels or any Islamic content for us to gain spiritual benefit from. Nor did we have the awareness or opportunity to help worthy charitable causes through the night-time appeals which have become integral to the holy nights. However, looking through the veil of symbols like the TV cloth, the more poignant question is regarding our actual spiritual state during Ramadhan. Can the change in our lifestyle simply be regarded a consequence of us adopting a different, or -more informed-, fiqhi position, or is it also a sign that we have become less observant and mindful? Is there a fear that Ramadhan has become just another month like the other 11 months of the year, except, of course, for the fried delicacies we enjoy at sundown? Despite having more mosques and religious facilities, bigger Muslim communities and more awareness in the workplace, are we spending more time in ritual worship than we once used to? When we were young, many of us will have memories of trying to complete whole recitations of the Qur’an despite our young age. As time has gone by, and our fluency should have improved, has the target number of recitations increased proportionately?
We do, however, see a visible increase in participation and encouragement for social causes which can be argued as a sign of us spending our Ramadhans better. Yes, Islam does encourage and prioritise the social and collective good and all works that contribute to it, but can there ever be a replacement for intimate worship which is seen by Allah only? In an industrialised world, where everyone’s worth is valued by how much money they earn or how productive they are, we run the risk of overlooking some aspects of the holistic religion that is Islam. There is no doubt that we must fulfil our duties to our fellow-humans, something we are, quite rightly, constantly reminded of in today’s society. But, as Muslims, we believe that the sense of responsibility that drives one to fulfil that duty to his brother is derived from his consciousness of his lord. How valuable or reliable can a Muslim’s service to his brother be if he looses this consciousness? One’s devotion to Allah will never contradict or hinder his service to Allah’s creation, nor will his social efforts free him from the need to turn to Allah in solitude.
We can take the analogy of other relationships we hold which are also based on love. Even if we spend the larger portion of our day working, inside the home or outside, for the betterment and progress of our families, can our marital relationships really be healthy without that time spent with our spouses, in their company, giving them time simply out of love and affection? The need to dedicate “time”, for its own sake, to one’s partner is a reality veiled from very few. Similarly, can our participation and sympathy for good causes make up for the intimate time we owe to our creator? Is it not important to devote time, in solitude, for ritual worship, to build or relationship and love for Allah?
The fact that Ramadhan brings with it an increase in two forms of ritual worship, fasting and Salah, shows that it is a month meant to build our relationship with Allah the Almighty. We stay hungry throughout the day, an act none other than Allah can really verify, and then stand perseveringly in prayer by night reciting or listening to his word. Ramadhan is our yearly break from normal life. Throughout the rest of the year, we may merely focus on fitting in the five daily prayers, obviously with our duties to fellow humans. In this month, we are urged to spend those extra hours in devotion to Allah. To make life easier for us, Allah has promised to keep away Shaytaan who is normally present to add to all the other distractions from worship. There is also the wonderful festive, yet spiritual, atmosphere we enjoy in Ramadhan, always reminding us of the specialness of the times we are in and helping us keep focused.
All the above aids are designed to help us reach the target set for us by Allah in the Qur’an. He says “fasting has been ordained upon you so that you may attain Taqwa”. Taqwa is usually translated as fear or piety. It means to stay away from that which Allah dislikes. So, Ramadhan is supposed to be a time when we “recharge” our spiritual batteries to take us through the rest of the year, keeping us in “the straight and narrow”. Most of us feel closer to Allah and saintlier in Ramadhan, but the real test is to see how long it all lasts. This “taqwa”, or constant awareness of ones duty to his lord, is achieved by building a close relationship with him. This relationship, like most other relationships we know, will be improved and strengthened by the time we devote to spending in each other’s company. Here, this takes the form of ritual worship, i.e., Dhikr, Tilawah, Salah, etc.
So, in practical terms, how can we make our Ramadhan fruitful and a real spiritual boost that will see us through the rest of the year? In order to achieve this, the Ulama have advised us to treat Ramadhan as a guest. Ramadhan is a very special guest which brings with it gifts of mercy, forgiveness and emancipation from the hellfire (a reference to the popular Hadith). This special guest, however, comes to stay in our hearts and not in our houses. However, just how we would be preparing and cleaning our home well in advance to receive such an important guest, we should similarly prepare and clean our hearts to receive and host Ramadhan appropriately. We must perform tawbah and repent from sins commited throughout the year and throughout our lives. We must make firm intentions to spend the month properly and begin preparations in advance. It is reported that the Holy Prophet (SAW) used to keep additional fasts in Sha’ban, the month before Ramadhan. This is despite the fact that the Prophet (SAW) was constantly in a state of worship and had more responsibility on his shoulders than any before or after him. Did we make any similar preparations last year? More importantly, what preparations are we going to make this year?
We need to ask ourselves how much we are gaining, as individuals from the blessed month. Once, while ascending the Mimbar, the Sahabah heard the Prophet (SAW) say Amin at each step. On enquiring, they learned that Jibril had made a curse on each step, which the prophet (saw) had said Amin to. One of the accursed was that person who lives through the month of Ramadhan but is unable to get his sins forgiven. It is time to take heed from this incident and make a firm resolve to make a difference, to ourselves first, this Ramadhan. The cloth on the T.V. may now seem a distant memory but is it not time we revived the spirit of devotion it symbolised? And Allah alone we ask for Tawfiq.