Inward and outward transformation. Part I
Change is particularly appropriate topic in Ramadan. May Allah make this month a month for change for ourselves, our families and our communities, so we become better.
Apart from new year resolutions we have ongoing goals and lists. Another year comes and we renew our list. Some years we manage to achieve part of it, at other times none.
Change is not just about theory but practice.
And Ramadan is a month of change, which Allah gifted to our ummah. He gave us this month to reflect. But how do we make the changes we need practically?
Change is achievable
The first point to note is that Ramadan shows us that change is achievable. It is not a pipe dream. In Ramadan we effect change in our lives on a daily basis – we turn our routine upside down, we eat during the early hours of the night, we skip the lunch we have for the rest of 11 months of the year, and we maintain this change for an entire month. This demonstrates that when we set our minds to it, we can change well worn patterns if we want to.
Though it is hard to imagine that we could do this during the year, we manage to leave our addictions. It takes resolve to do this, yet we manage it. So Ramadan shows we have the ability to change. Change is possible.
The Quran initiates change
The revelation of the Quran initiated a remarkable change, transforming a backward nation, steeped in ignorance and controlled by tribal systems, traditions and habits, like any other community into a community that would lead change over vast expanses of the globe over a millennia.
When I went through the verses of the Quran, especially the first revelations I was amazed by the map of change that they revealed. We all know that the Prophet (peace be on him) went to the cave of Hira where he received the very first revelation, which was iqra, (recite). This shows us that the very first step towards change is knowledge. It is not coincidental that the first word was a command to read and that Allah Almighty wanted to propel this community from ignorance to knowledge. This is not new to us, but when we join the dots, we see that it is the starting point in the process of change.
When we connect the early verses we see depth in the lesson they teach us, which created a pattern of transformation for the whole world.
Fuat Sezgin, the Turkish scholar who specialised in the history of Arabic Islamic science and professor emeritus of the History of Natural Science in Germany who passed away in 2018, in his commentary, addressed a congregation of youngsters, and told them not to underestimate the change in a community which went from ignorance to ruling the world in less than a century. Under them knowledge flourished, and they understood how to build on it and utilise it.
In order to attain any transformation in our life, we need knowledge. If we do not have knowledge, we cannot guarantee the end results. It is not enough to have a passion for change. Though we certainly need fire in the belly, our priority is knowledge. This is why Allah sent humanity messengers from Adam to Muhammad (peace be on them).
Foremost, we need essential knowledge about our Creator, His attributes and our duties to our family, and in addition we need specific knowledge pertaining to our career or role in life, the halal and haram in your profession. Start with the basics and then develop beneficial knowledge – both sacred and secular. From an Islamic point of view all knowledge which his beneficial is good, remember that you will be accountable if you do not acquire basic sacred knowledge on the Day of Judgement. And that all beneficial knowledge you leave behind will be sadaqa jariah for you.
When Allah Almighty says you should know there is no god but Allah (47:19), He is asking us to learn. In fact, the command form of the verb iqra (recite) means it is not a request, but a command to learn. We cannot improve our connection with Him or the community without beneficial and relevant knowledge.
`Uthman narrated that the Prophet (peace be on him) said:
The best among you (Muslims) are those who learn the Qur’an and teach it. (Bukhari)
Ensure that you receive it from the right source and have the right understanding. You can’t pass on knowledge which is doubtful.
Allah Almighty sent the next revelation in Makkah in Surah Nun (also known as Al-Qalam) which talks about character and tells the Prophet (peace be on him):
Indeed you have the highest form of character. (68:4)
Transformation means transitioning from having a flawed character towards prophetic character, which is perfection. Qatadah reported:
I said to Aisha, ‘O mother of the believers, tell me about the character of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him).’
Aisha said, ‘Have you not read the Quran?’
I said, ‘O course.’
Aisha said, ‘Verily, the character of the Prophet of Allah was the Quran.’ (Muslim)
Resistance to change
For anyone to change themselves is not easy. We have inbuilt inertia. We see this in the fact that many of us struggle at the beginning of Ramadan, particularly if we have not been in the habit of fasting outside of Ramadan. It requires training.
Very few people are leaders
If we have no drivers or passion or reason to do something, there is zero likelihood we will do it. In general most of us prefer to stay in the back seat and not make life hard for ourselves. Sometimes we are driven to make the change, but very few lead the change.
‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) said he heard the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) say:
‘People are like a hundred camels, among which you can hardly find one that is fit for traveling.’ (Bukhari)
He is talking about leadership here. Not everyone can be a leader. Good leaders have character and charisma. They are motivated and are real influencers, not just social media influencers. They lead from the heart. The majority prefer being in the passenger seat.
External forces of change
Sometimes we are driven by external forces to take positions of leadership. We might go through a test, which forces us to change. So we have internal drivers and external drivers for change.
The people in Makkah they were driven to change, but they were reluctant and averse to change. Yet, the Prophet (peace be on him) was in the driving seat and led the change. Many people resisted it, and fought it. Those who understood the message changed themselves and helped change their community.
The moment you familiarise yourself with how to make the change and you have the passion, the knowledge and the sincerity, then nothing can stop you.
Rely on your Lord
After iqra the next word is bismi rabbika:
‘Recite in the name of your Lord’ (96:1)
Change doesn’t happen by yourself. Your knowledge, networks and drive are good but they are not enough. You need first and foremost to be fully reliant on Allah. With that we can drive miles beyond any normal change. As we saw, the Prophet (peace be on him) go from being illiterate to the master of the literate. By himself he might not have achieved anything, but with the revelation he effected a seismic change. And shifted his nation from a community of selfishness to selflessness.
When you manage internal change, you can mange external change.
Connection with Allah
The next revelation was in Surah Muzzamil where Allah instructed the Prophet (peace be on him) to pray:
Arise [to pray] the night, except for a little (73:2)
Allah Almighty wanted the community to be fully connected to Him. Though we need to do our bit – our preparation and homework, we need to strengthen our relationship with Allah Almighty. This is our vertical dimension.
The beauty of Ramadan is that it brings the vertical dimension of our life into sharper focus, with night prayers and tarawih to help us connect better to Allah Almighty. This gives us a boost from Allah, and light and guidance.
It requires sabr to be able to carry on do what is required. Without this we will give up quickly. Apart from a few of us who are resilient and carry on. Allah Almighty is teaching us to be stronger and move up from one level to the next. Many barriers to change are lifted in Ramadan. In particular we need to improve the quality of our salah. Our connection comes through salah. Without the connection, like New Year Resolutions, many run flat by mid January.
Success comes when you survive the breaking point
Change involves sacrifice and patience (sabr). With change we evolve. We discover our weaknesses. To know if something functions properly or not, you have to test it under pressure. If it doesn’t work, you keep improving it till you fix it. This is the quality control test.
On your journey, you will be tested and challenged to the extent you will feel you want to give up and that you can’t tolerate it anymore. At times, even the prophets reached the point where they wanted to give up, as they were human. Allah Almighty says that when the prophets reached that point, victory would come.
Until, when the messengers have despaired, and thought that they were rejected, Our help came to them. We save whomever We will, and Our severity is not averted from the guilty people.(12:110)
You need support
The next revelation was Surah Muddaththir, in which Allah said, qum fa andhir:
Arise and warn (74:2)
If you want to make a change as an individual, I know many of us are into personal development, you cannot change a community until we change yourself. In order to serve others you need to serve yourself first. As they say in English, charity begins at home. Allah Almighty wanted the prophets to spread the message, but to do this they needed supporters. We can’t do it alone.
The prophet didn’t have many helpers in Makkah, after 13 years he only had 110 people following his dawah (call to Islam) out of a population estimated at 5000. 100 out of 5000 2% is nothing after 13 years! He then migrated to Yathrib which later became known as Madina and then the change began to take place rapidly at a community, national and international level.
The fifth revelation was Surah Fatiha, which is the surah of praise and of gratitude towards Allah. If you want to make change, you have to be grateful for what Allah has given you. If you don’t have this internal gratitude, no matter what you achieve it is not real. It’s a psychological shift and change, from moaning and weeping and being negative, to a positive and active person, who’s grateful and can see not only the half empty part of the cup but the half full as well. When you have real gratitude then you fully taste the sweetness of what you achieve.
Allah Almighty revealed the principles of change in a hostile environment. From the first five revelations we see the five keys are:
- Sacred knowledge.
It is infallible. Focus on gaining this. This is what made the ummah the leaders in the world. When we neglected this, we fell behind. We, as an ummah need to work on building our knowledge.
For any change we need to work on our character. Ramadan is the time to work on our character. Pin point three traits you want to fix and work on them.
- Connection to Allah.
Keep asking Allah to connect you to Him, and remove the obstructions in the way.
You need external support. Good friends and family. Surround yourself with the right people to make the changes and improve otherwise you will slip back easily.
Stop complaining and be grateful. Have a positive mindset.
When you effect change, you have to strive even harder to maintain change. It is easy to drop everything and revert back to business as usual. Keep mindful of the fact that the change makes you better. When you see the overall vision, you will be more motivated. Then ask Allah Almighty for help to keep you firm and preserver what He helped you achieve.
May Allah enable us to effect change and maintain change and be of benefit to our communities. Ameen.
Delivered online on 25th April 2020.
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January 15, 2021