Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Spiritual Harvest of Ramadan

On my Twitter account, @jihadijew, I asked my Muslim friends to share with me what they had gained from their experience of Ramadan. Here are their answers in the order in which I received them. I have edited them a little to fill in words left out for twitteresque brevity or corrected grammar for a few non-English speakers. I didn’t edit the content at all.

I asked the question to encourage people to inspire each other but also as a way of helping me think about the Jewish month of reflection (Elul) which begins this week. I can only hope that in a month’s time, with the help of God, I will be able to report a few wonderful gains myself.

Here is what folks said:

I learned to have more patience

I learned that praying in the House of God and listening to beautiful recitation, brings peace to your heart like nothing else can!

I learned to to remember Allah every moment of my life, and be patient enough til I meet Him.

I learned that taking out one or two hours just to focus on your spirit (whether through reading/meditation/prayer) is really rejuvenating.

I learned about “unity.” We rarely see this atmosphere in our daily life. Everyone is busy with their own life but in this month you feel the difference

I learned that God is always on your side, so be on His

I learned that fasting is not just about depriving your body of food and drink but more significantly about reaching the state taqwa (piety)

I learned to take my time in doing things that I would like to achieve. I am trying to persevere with patience.

I learned that faith isn’t a physical destination but a spiritual state that transcends and emanates from wherever you travel.

I learned to appreciate waking up each day. Life is really short so we have to take advantage of every little minute we can breath without difficulties.

I learned to learned help family first and to train our selves to remember Allah so that the soul feel happy and the nafs (lower self) doesn't go astray

I learned more patience and spiritual insight! Also the need for loving all humans.

Allah says be merciful to my creation and I will show you mercy!

I learned to praise Allah for every blessing even if it was little because there are people fasting but they don't have anything to break their fast

When we abstain from the bounties that Allah provides us during Ramadan, Makes us realise how merciful Allah actually is!

For me Ramadan represents the act of attaining contentment through the exhibition of gratitude to Allah for all that we have

In Ramadan I focused on the equality aspect in Islam.We all stand side by side in prayer humbling ourselves to God

Im starting to go to the mosque more this Ramadhan. Hearing the azan and not showing up on time makes me feel bad.

that my community in Toronto is flawed and united; which is, in fact, a beautiful thing.

I learned to talk to Him again and I realised that nothing is possible without His help and guidance. That fact made me happier

I noticed our ability for sself control,people around the world sit in front of food and don't touch it until the maghrib prayer .

I learned that fasting for a month in summer is no joke! More importantly I learned to filter bad thoughts and actions by fasting.

I learned patience, not sweating over the petty things

I have been thinking bout what I've gained in this holy month. I definitely learned a lot but its challenging to keep it up for the other 11 months. Inshallah, G-d give us the strength!

I increased my love for the Qur'an as well as my daily adkhaar (remembrance of Allah) in the morning and evening.

I learned that my desires can be controlled.

That the Path leads to the Oasis. Our sights must be set on the Oasis - not the dust on the Path. (a paraphrase of Shams Tabrizi)

I spent more time and money for the cause of Somalia. The satisfaction and closeness to G-d I felt, will make me do it all year long.

In Ramadan I decided I won't enter into endless arguments whether I was right or not.. Time is better spent trying to get close to G-D!

I began writing a diary. When I looked back at how hard times passed (during some days of the revolution in Egypt) I thanked G-d.

We need to forgive and set things aright with others around us. Helping others as much as we can, we take this spirit along with us . And there is hope in every human being to change for the better. If they choose to do it, there's no stopping them!

I have been taking care of every single word I say, making sure that it won't harm anyone's feelings.

I learned, strangely enough, the importance of sleeping in the night as opposed to during the day. I used to stay up eating and then sleep because I wasn't working but I was tired all the time. I realized that the night was made for rest.

I learned that you should give your heart to God instead of people

We're all hungry- for love, for peace, for contentment. Keeping away from food curbs unchecked hunger for lesser priorities. Just as Ramadan ends so will the blessing of Life. Stop procrastination with regards to giving Life, every bit of energy we have.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

In the Mood of Mourning

[According to Jewish tradition, the month of Av is a month of morning and serious reflection particularly on the destruction of Yerushalayim / Jerusalem. The 9th of Av is a 25-hour fast commemorating the ultimate destruction of our Holy Temple and many other disasters of the Jewish people. This is a reflection on my experience of Av]

I sometimes imagine Al-Quds and Yerushalayim as transparencies projected on the same blank piece of land. They are different worlds inhabiting the same time and the same space originating in two realities. I know that I don’t fully appreciate either. I am very much an outsider to both. Al-Quds, I see from a distance, the dots of worshippers at Al-Aqsa seen from a “safe” distance, Arab children puzzled as I slip by the gate few Jews slip by, or the gold dome overhead as I pray by the ruin of the wall.

Yerushalayim, I know a little better. “Yerushalayims” I should say, the tourist center, home of the fancy institute I attended for a few summers, the somewhat dour religious neighborhood where I stayed, the synagogues tucked into corners pumping out prayer services, places to shop and look cool and be kosher in an outdoor cafĂ©.

There is the Yerushalayim of Zionist triumphalism that I don’t know so well. When I saw the videos of the Jerusalem Day parade this year, I was acutely aware that I did not understand the pride of ownership and entitlement to G-d’s city.

Right or wrong, my Yerushalayim is the Yerushalayim of the month of Av. It is the Yerushalayim of the old time Jew of the Diaspora. My Yerushalayim is an orphan. My Yerushalayim embodies the brokenness of the world. Like the homeless beggar who has found a fancy fur coat, the external beauties of Yerushalayim only make it look more pathetic. Each new luxury high rise offering the wealthy the authentic Jerusalem experience seems to me, in the mindset of the month of Av, to thinly veil the fragile spiritual city wasting away beneath the fancy garments. The squabbles over Jewish land grabs, the violence that simmers barely beneath the surface where Yerushalayim and Al-Quds inevitably rub shoulders, speaks to me. It reminds me again and again. “This is not it.”

The Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred.
-Talmud Bavli (Yoma 9b)

Mourning is a strange mode of service of G-d. Mourning Yerushalayim means projecting the transparency of our ancient destroyed city over its modern successor. More importantly, it means piercing through all the transparencies and laying bare the human reality that in Yerushalayim, the center or our world, we are still ruled by baseless hatred. That hatred was the force of destruction that marred our connection to G-d, that destroyed our Holy Temple and sent us to the ends of the earth, as if shoved from the table of our Father. That hatred still corrodes the heart of the world. The channels that once conveyed the light of Yerushalayim to the rest of the world convey a darkness and entropy that is felt in every corner of the world. The un-rectified Yerushalayim is not just a Jewish tragedy it is a universal, even cosmic, tragedy

There will be those who will see “baseless hatred” in narrow national terms. Hatred between fellow Jews caused the destruction. As they say, “you have what to depend on.” It’s true that is certainly how most commentators have probably understood it for most of our history. We have been very inward looking. That has made us very introspective and in many ways extraordinarily attentive to each other’s needs. It has also made us myopic. It is time to consider that maybe baseless hatred is a bigger problem.

Rabbi Yehoshua said: An evil eye, the evil inclination, and hatred of others (lit. of the creations) remove a person from the world.
-Pirkei Avot 2:16

Rashi glosses hatred here as “sinat chinam” – baseless hatred. The very same baseless hatred mentioned in the Talmud, not just of fellow Jews but also of all others.

As Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch points out here, the term for “others” is simply “briyot” creations. It’s a word that points to the lowest common denominator in mankind, our being creatures. Our respect for human beings originates in the creation of man by G-d as the pinnacle of His creation. We need no other reason not to hate and beyond that no other reason to love.

If we were destroyed, and the world with us, due to baseless hatred, then we shall rebuild ourselves, and the world with us, with baseless love — ahavat chinam.

-Rav Kook (Orot HaKodesh vol. III, p. 324)

Ribbono shel Olam,
Please give us more than vain tears. Let us really feel the brokeness of Av and help us transform that pain into a drive to repair, to really believe that we can repair what is destroyed. May confronting the rule of hatred in ourselves and in our world motivate us to initiate and cultivate the rule of love.