“I know I am not perfect, but no matter how many mistakes I make, I will not give up, bi’idhnillaah. I know my Lord’s Mercy is greater than any of my faults or sins, so I place my trust in Him. I will strive each day to be a better person than I was before. If I should fall short in any of my goals, I will keep going, trusting in Allah’s Mercy over my efforts. And I’ll get right back up, having full faith that my Lord is Forgiving and Merciful.”
—Ramadan Pledge from THE MONTH OF MERCY, NOT PERFECTION (Ramadan Journal) by Umm Zakiyyah
Unfortunately, so many of us are students of books and classes that taught us to be obsessive about our religious life. Consequently, we learned to be paranoid about nearly everything we do. In our efforts at being religious, we imagine that even the most innocent of worldly enjoyments or pastimes are sinful or in the category of “doubtful matters.” This irrational paranoia leads us to fear even the possibility of doing something wrong. So in the name of being a “good Muslim” we commit to a life of self-denial wherein we don’t allow ourselves even basic pleasantries if we can’t find a fatwa or a sheikh to tell us that the act is “beneficial” in our faith.
Naturally, this mindset cripples us year-round, and when the month of mercy arrives, we feel unable to fully participate because “fully participating” means becoming even more super human—or super Muslim—than we were taught to be during other times of the year. As a result, we forget that Ramadan is about earning Allah’s mercy and forgiveness, not about never doing anything to need the mercy and forgiveness in the first place.
Super Muslims As Our Guide
In our classes, in addition to having been taught that we are helpless, ignorant laypeople incapable of worshipping Allah without a spiritual teacher by our side—and that practically everything we enjoy of this world is “doubtful”—we constantly learn about “super Muslims” of the past who, for all intents and purposes, committed no sins and whose greatest joys in life were praying and reading Qur’an all day and night without fail. We also hear of these same “super Muslims” greeting Ramadan by shutting themselves off from the world around them and spending the entire month in seclusion as they engage in even more praying and reading Qur’an than they normally did.
And while these “super Muslim” stories are indeed amazing and at times tear-jerking in their spiritual beauty, they do very little to encourage the average Muslim to worship Allah and trust that He loves us just as much as (if not more than) many “super Muslims.”
So as we greet Ramadan, we often feel like we don’t even have the right to participate, lest we corrupt the sanctity of the “super Muslim month” or lest we disrespect our faith and Lord with our mind-wandering prayers, grumpy moods, and miniscule Qur’an reading, which we barely fit into our busy, hectic schedules of work, school, parenting, and just living life.
How Do We Benefit from Ramadan As “Imperfect Muslims”?
As I mention in the Ramadan journal, The Month of Mercy, Not Perfection, the first thing we need to do in order to benefit from Ramadan as an “imperfect Muslim” is to focus on what Allah requires of us, then work from there. In other words, do what is obligatory (i.e. fast and pray your obligatory Salaah)—and then assess your own personal improvement needs, instead of looking at “super Muslims” (of past and present) for direction.
For example, if you are in the habit of missing obligatory prayers, then focus on praying all five prayers in Ramadan. If you are in the habit of delaying obligatory prayers, then focus on praying on time. If you are in the habit of not opening the Qur’an throughout the year, then read something from the Qur’an each day, even if it’s only a small section or for a few minutes.
But whatever personal improvement steps you take, don’t imagine you’ll stop being human during Ramadan. As I reflect in my personal journal:
No matter what month it is, you’ll never stop being human and making mistakes. All humans sin…but the best are those who constantly repent. This is what our faith teaches. So remember this: Your success lies in never giving up the struggle, not in having nothing to struggle against.
So repent, O child of Adam. The gates of Paradise are open for you—should you sincerely desire to enter.
Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of twenty books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, and His Other Wife. Join UZ University to learn how you too can find your writing voice and share inspirational stories with the world: UZuniversity.com
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