Watching My Weight: Finding The Work/Worship Balance In Ramadan
As Ramadan approaches, with its seemingly long, hot summer days, many of us wonder how much weight we may put on this year, worrying about stepping onto that dreaded scale in the bathroom to weigh ourselves at the end of the month. I would like to draw attention to another scale, which is the metaphorical, ‘work/worship’ scale. This is because finding the ‘work/worship balance’ is another question which enters into the minds of many Muslims during Ramadan, as there are many of us who wonder, ‘will my work suffer this year because of the late nights?’
The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) has informed us in an authentic hadith narrated by Abu Salama, ‘I was informed of (the date of the Night of Qadr) but I was caused to forget it; so search for it in the odd nights of the last ten nights of the month of Ramadan’ (al-Bukhari). As we recall these verses of the Qur’an, and sayings of the Prophet (SAW), we may even question ourselves as to how many odd nights we can really afford to spend in the Masjid looking for this blessed night, when we have work the next morning.
If we find that such questions do arise when we think of the month of fasting which lies ahead, then there is a re-programming of the mind which needs to occur. Mental conditioning is a process which occurs when certain ideas are repeatedly impressed on a person’s mind, which they eventually start to live in accordance with.
Without knowing it, over the years in our working lives, we have been ‘sold’ a concept which is, pardon the expression, ‘Deen-destroying’. This is, ‘we work in order to improve our quality of life.’ We have been told many times by society that we should constantly seek new promotions, and salaries in order to get higher up the layer-cake that is working life, because a higher salary will mean we can afford better homes, better cars. This is a lie. Such an objective lies in direct contradiction with the teachings of our Prophet (SAW), whereby he said, ‘If the son of Adam possessed a valley of gold he would want to have two valleys’ (agreed upon). If we train our minds and souls to become greedy, the end result could only be that we will of course become greed-driven beings who would never be satisfied; contrary to what some may say in capitalist-oriented places such as Wall Street. Greed is not good for it is only followed by discontent and ungratefulness. It is therefore important that we re-programme our motivations for working, making sure that our intentions for working are purely Islamic. We all know the famous hadith collected by Imam an-Nawawi, ‘Actions are only by intentions and every man has only that which he intended’ (Agreed upon). Striking a balance between work, and worship can be a problem if our intentions for working in the first place are driven by desires relating to status, money and material goods. However, if our intentions for working are based on our desire to provide for our families, or in order to sustain ourselves so that while there is still a breath left in our bodies, we can pronounce praises on Allah (SWT), then there is no need to think of ‘work’ and ‘worship’ as two separate entities. Our work becomes our worship, and we acquire reward from the minute we go to work, to when we sit down with our families to eat from the money we have earned. The Prophet (SAW) said, ‘Know that no charity that you give weather small or large, for the sake of Allah, but you will be rewarded for it, even the bite (of food) that you put in your wife’s mouth‘ (Agreed upon).
Of course, there is also the other side to this, which is that although changing our intentions for working can mean that we are rewarded by Allah (SWT) for our work no matter where it may be, we also want to spiritually nourish our souls, and give time purely to Allah. Again, the questions arise, ‘how many nights can I afford to spend in the Masjid, and will my work suffer as a result?’ The reality is that the question we should really be asking ourselves is, ‘will my Ramadan suffer this year because of work?’ The more we think of our loved ones the more we realise that to witness Ramadan really is a blessing, and only the wretched see it as a hindrance. In a frightening hadith, the Prophet (SAW) stated, ‘Jibreel (AS) came to me and said, “if Ramadan comes and a person is not forgiven, he will enter Hell and Allah will cast him far away. Say Ameen‘ (al-Haythami, Majma’ az-Zawa’id). If we ponder on our multitudinous sins, can we afford to sacrifice our Ramadan on the altar of our work? If our work suffers a little bit because we spent 30 days out of an entire working year staying up late praying Tarawih, and raising our hands to Allah asking for forgiveness, then it needs to happen. Better that than the opposite, whereby we are diligent in our work because we sacrificed our Ramadan. If we feel safe in doing the latter then we need to know that we are not safe from the curse of Jibreel (AS), the most honourable of all the angels, and the ‘Ameen’ of the greatest man to have ever walked the earth. How do we find the work/worship balance this Ramadan? By first rectifying our intentions so that our work is in a way rewarded by Allah (SWT), and then making sure that at every juncture, if it’s a case of sacrificing our Ramadan for our work, or our sacrificing work for our Ramadan, we go with the second choice, hoping it is enough to earn Allah’s forgiveness.