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The month of Ramadan was a period when the Prophet Muhammad Peace be upon him regularly sought refuge in the mountains of Mecca from the social evils and injustices of Arab society before Islam. The Problem of the Marginalized Sometimes, when I reflect on the misery around us — all wrought by our own hands — I wonder why Allah still keeps the world intact. I often conclude that it is because of the sincerity and devotion of a few that things still move, the few who feel called to withdraw for periods from the world just to pray and contemplate.

Even in this consolation though there is a dark cloud. While in many parts of the world women also frequent the mosque, this retreat of the last ten days of Ramadan is confined to men. Then again, I reflect on the injustice towards women aided and abetted by religion. The minimum amount is fixed and has to be dispensed before one heads for prayers on the morning of the festival that marks the end of Ramadan.

Thus we are reminded that our duty of fasting — while it may have been for our own self-discipline and to incur the pleasure of Allah — was also about our responsibility to those around us. I love this part of Ramadan. For a long time though, I have believed that the major reason many people die because they do not eat enough is that a few people are dying because they eat too much.

I also have to reflect on the nature of charity and kindness, therefore. So often this seems to imply that the poor will always be with us and that we need the poor for our own purification. Connected to this is another curious fact. Many scholars, and certainly many socially aware Muslims, often say that one of the reasons we fast is to empathize with the poor and the hungry.

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Does it mean that we think of Muslims as wealthy or, at least, self-sufficient? Who shapes this discourse whereby the wealthy are the subjects of religion and poor its objects and we, even if unwittingly, suggest that they do not fast or do not have to fast? Quite simply, the human condition. We are unable to sustain the same level of heightened Allah-consciousness throughout the year. If we were, then Ramadan would no longer be Ramadan. The month of Ramadan is the period in which we return to our harbours to repair our weather-beaten souls and prepare for the next lap of our struggle to reach closer union with Allah, with our higher selves, with nature and with other human beings.

Just a few days into the post-Ramadan journey, though, it becomes clear that things are not nearly as smooth as they were when we were in the harbour. It is not completeness that we are out to achieve, it is progress. My goal is not to become a perfect Muslim at least not this Ramadan ; it is only to ensure that the next Ramadan finds me a bit closer to Allah and a somewhat more pleasant person than this one did. Thus let those who witness the month fast. As for others who may be ill or travelling, let them complete it some other time.


On Being a Muslim : Finding a Religious Path in the World Today

Ramadan is thus a month of heightened awareness of Allah, of a more intense struggle to reach closeness with Allah. During this month abstinence from food, drink and sexual activity from dawn to sunset, on the one hand, and increased spiritual devotions, on the other, are an intrinsic part of this struggle. However, there is more to Ramadan than the formal burdens on the flesh! Thus we are to learn discipline, patience, forbearance and sacrifice during this month. While we fast in order to attain the pleasure of Allah, how we conduct ourselves during this month is pretty much about other people and how we relate to them.

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However, is it only about this? Is the search for oneness with Allah really without any fun? Piety is also about rejoicing and I know of few communities who know as much about this as the Muslims of Cape Town. The month of Ramadan is a month of great joy, of togetherness, of vibrancy and sharing. Just before sunset children are seen criss-crossing the neighbourhoods with small plates of cakes or biscuits for their neighbours.

The mosques are filled with men and women — all of us sincerely believing that prayerful activity earns us bonus points in this month.

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Yet we also gather to reconnect with each other, to meet friends. Wishing us well? What do you mean? The struggle for piety can be fun. To return to a theme with which I started: reaching out to others requires a sense of belonging somewhere. In the yearly cycle Ramadan is the spiritual home for the Muslim. Much as I continue to see one of the reasons for my own existence as having to reach out to people of other religious persuasions and even of no such persuasions, I must return to a place called home, to my own to check on the state of my own barometer and my compass, to be sustained by the great warmth and excitement among our people that accompanies the religious quest in this month.

Soon thereafter I may hit the road again. Yet I am aware that all rituals and religious practices can become so social and cultural that they can be stripped entirely of the true awareness of Allah that is meant to accompany them and towards which we are supposed to move, and so there is something beyond all the rituals, religious practices and sense of community. Thus as I set out on my travels again I must be guided not only by my compass but also by the ever present stars above, the Spirit of Allah blown into all of us at the time of the creation of humankind.

I respond to the one who calls unto me. It is imprisonment in one moment of time, confinement in one sharp uncompromising deed or aspect of our selves. Hell is time arrested within and refusing to join the movement of mind and stars. Heaven is the boulder unrolled to let new life out. Laurens van der Post This chapter is about self-renewal and some of the conditions that I have found helpful in the struggle for it, not that the outcome has always been as new as I, or those whom I deal with on an ongoing basis, would have wanted. The struggle for renewal is an infinitely difficult one.

The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life Is the one staring back from the glass. I do not wish to revisit any of these, for I find most of this argumentation rather confusing, even bewildering. I start with the assumption of our freedom to remould our personal and social lives, because this is the only assumption that makes my own life worth living and allows for the belief in a God who is just.

The awareness of this freedom and the awesome responsibility that it places on us to lead conscious lives is the first condition of becoming unstuck and growing.


The second condition that I have found helpful is a critical and honest awareness of oneself and the games that one plays with oneself and with others. Games, at a very basic level, are those interactions that serve to mask the real interaction taking place, whether with oneself or with others. Life is tough; the great perversity of our age is our desperation to make it even tougher on ourselves. There are sufficient numbers of people around who will refuse to recognize us and our worth.

There is no great need for us to add to their numbers. The promise of self-esteem is not a protection blanket against change but a prerequisite for change. It is the acknowledgement that, while we have many inadequacies and may have committed numerous blunders, we need to be our own best friends in the journey of self-renewal. In the same way that Allah never abandons us despite our failings, we too should stick around for ourselves.

Sticking around is the fourth condition for growth. Consistency means making comebacks in our lives, never ignoring all the possible lessons from our previous falls, however difficult it may be to live alongside all the implications of these lessons. In his teens he was a prominent surfer who was permanently and severely physically disabled in a surfing accident. Frankl, a Jewish survivor of the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz, was the founder of what is known as the Third Viennese School of psychotherapy.

Karl wrote to me about how from that hell in Auschwitz he [Frankl] devises a philosophy of hope and strength.

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He says our frail and last freedom which can never be torn away and towards which it behoves us to take responsibility, is the freedom of our attitude to our suffering. And he says something which struck me through and through. I must cease asking what more can I expect from life and ask instead, what might life be expecting from me?

After the deaths of his first wife Khadijah al-Kubra May Allah be pleased with her and his uncle, Abu Talib, in , the Prophet was convinced that he could no longer stay in Mecca. There simply was no hope of security against the persecution to which he and his followers were subjected in Mecca. Before things became too critical, he had to act vigorously to secure an alternative, and he set out for Taif, a city to the north of Mecca. Once there, he went to the three chiefs and tried to explain his message to them.

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  6. After a series of negative responses, he tried approaching some of the ordinary people, but nobody would listen to him. When he realized that further efforts were in vain, he decided to leave the town. It is said that the Prophet was pelted with stones to the extent that much of his body was covered with blood with his sandals clogged to his feet.

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    Unto you do I complain of my frailty, lack of resources and my insignificance before these people. To whom will You abandon me? To one afar who looks askance at me or to an enemy to whom You have given mastery over me? If Your indignation is not against me, I have no worry for Your security encompasses everything.

    I seek refuge in the light of Your Presence, which illuminates the darkness and the light by which the affairs of this life and the Hereafter have been rightly ordered, lest Your wrath descends on me, or Your indignation descends upon me.