In a Hadith Qudsi, Allah says, “If my servant comes to me walking, I run to him at full speed.”
Omar is an imam. He completes the Quran twice each Ramadan and still has time to revise his memorization for the nightly congregational prayers that he leads at the mosque. In fact, he spends most of his waking hours at the mosque. He teaches religious lessons daily, and he breaks his fast with the congregation.
We tend to think of individuals like Omar as the standard by which Muslims should be judged. How many of us haven’t looked at an imam, scholar or religious teacher and despaired at our ability to ever get to his or her level? How many of us have lost hope at the possibility of ever achieving a similar closeness to God?
Here’s the reality: Not all of us can be like Omar. Not all of us should be like Omar. But all of us can and should work towards becoming closer to Allah.
Fatima has devoted her life to helping homeless young people at a local shelter find employment and housing. She finds it difficult to go to taraweeh prayers regularly because she is drained at the end of the day. This Ramadan her goal is to work with a group of like-minded individuals to organize a support group for troubled teens; develop greater patience to deal with some of her more difficult clients; and read two pages of the Quran each day.
Akram works long hours in the construction industry to feed his growing family. Sometimes he has to break his fast in the middle of day due to exhaustion. His goal this year is to develop a more hands-on relationship with his children and visit his sickly mother more often. He also plans to take a few days off towards the end of Ramadan so he can fast more easily and devote himself to worship.
Zainab can no longer stand going to the mosque. The women’s prayer area is small and noisy, and she feels dispirited and further away from God in the mosque. Moreover, she does not understand Arabic, and the night prayers are long and of questionable benefit to her. Her goal this year is to pray alone at home, spend time reading and reflecting on the translation of the Quran, and update her faith-oriented blog on a regular basis.
Each of these individuals is seeking to deepen his or her relationship with God this Ramadan. But they are doing it in a way that is reflective of their unique disposition, skills and talents. We are not cookie-cutter Muslims – we have different hues and cultures, but also different beliefs and practices. We have different ways of being Muslim, so we should refrain from thinking of Islam as formulaic. Not all of us are suited to being religious scholars or imams, or working in religious centres. Not all of us are suited for intense religious study or devotion. However, whatever our professions, inclinations and gifts, each of us are integral parts of the Muslim community, helping it advance and flourish.
We tend to think of our occupations as separating us from closeness to God. How many of us haven`t said, `”If only I didn`t have to go to work…” or “I wish I didn’t have that exam”? A better approach is to strive to be the best we can be in whatever circumstance we are in. Get the highest grades. Be seen as an exemplar at your workplace. Of course, this doesn’t mean that one must eschew the traditional means of drawing closer to God. But striving for goodness and excellence and contributing to the development of a better society are means of drawing closer to God too.
We live in an achievement-oriented society, and we tend to view Islam with the same prism. Read the Quran from cover to cover in Arabic in Ramadan. Fast every day. Go the mosque. Pray taraweeh. Supplicate to Allah. But for some people, doing these formulaic things does not necessarily bring them closer to God. Perhaps they find themselves unable to complete those acts due to their own physical, mental and emotional limitations. And perhaps some modes of worship are more suited to some people over others, and result in different effects on different individuals.
We should not feel limited by what we cannot do or what does not suit our nature or disposition. When we constantly compare ourselves with others and when we focus our thoughts on our limitations, we become despondent and depressed. Moreover, we relinquish the possibility of becoming closer to God in a manner that makes use of the skills and talents that we already possess.
Whatever we do, we have an opportunity at this time to become closer to God. Don’t feel comfortable in the mosque? Pray at home, or find a group of like-minded individuals to congregate with. Don’t connect to God in Arabic? Read an English translation of the Quran. Don’t have time to perform the night prayers? Use your time on the public transit to reflect on your relationship to God. If your dua (supplication to God) feels empty, make up new ones that come from the heart. Can’t fast? Feed some hungry people in your community, and focus your energy on other acts of worship.
In a Hadith Qudsi, Allah says, “If my servant comes to me walking, I run to him at full speed.” As this month progresses, let’s strive to walk towards God in a way that is meaningful to us and makes best use of the unique gifts God has given us.
Safiyyah Ally is a PhD candidate in Political Science at the University of Toronto and host of a weekly television show called “Let the Quran Speak”