By Tariq Touré
How did we get here?
Verily those who disbelieve, neither their wealth nor their children shall avail them aught against Allah, and they themselves will be fuel for the (Hell) Fire—3:10.
Juz’ 3 begins with Surah al-Baqarah (2:253) and ends with al-Imran (3:92).
When I reflected on this ayah, the image of the fear on Mark Zuckerberg’s face when he appeared before members of Congress to “face the music” of Facebook’s piracy of our privacy for the last 14 years came to mind. Why was this billionaire fearful? What was at stake? Well, his freedom. Riches like those of Zuckerberg’s ilk, can push us far off into oblivion — and away from our true selves. For Muslims, the deafening question after watching all this unfurl is, “haven’t we been here before?” And isn’t man’s vainglorious conquest for riches gained at the cost of our souls expressed throughout the Qur’an?
What’s at stake?
I try to approach Ramadan selfishly. Most Muslims do too. There’s an eclipsing window of opportunity we must leverage if we want to enjoy the spiritual cleanse that our holy month brings. At its core purpose, Ramadan is a month of reflection and an annual wash cycle for all things that entrap us in the dunya.
Contemporary stories like Zuckerberg’s, that still are unfolding, aren’t too far from episodes Allah details in the Qur’an, like Pharoah’s. They both ask/answer the question, “How does one get to this point?” I believe souls need periodic cleansing, and when the never-ending lust for more [fill in the blank] comes to a head, sending us into life’s cardiac arrest, it is because we did not acknowledge the plaque building on them.
Like the People of Pharaoh and those who were before them, they denied Our Signs, so Allah caught them for their sins; and Allah is severe in penalty—3:11
I approach being a Black Muslim, father, husband and artist with the same sense of duty. In all three spheres, my obligation is to craft the most potent view of life’s truths. Language, the tool I’m privileged to use, fails me from time to time. But for the most part, figures like Pharoah make my job remarkably easier. I believe Pharoah, like Zuckerberg, like many of us savagely battling a material world that eats its young, started out as people simply wanting to get ahead. Along the way, we lose focus and fall victim to a darkened heart.
A look inward
The fear that settles itself in my mind’s pores isn’t someday that I’ll head a billion-dollar company or enslave a nation of people for profit, it’s that my own lack of self-awareness will mold me into some portion of the monsters we decry. As Black Muslims, the idea of becoming what you despise is not some far off dimension. It is a reality that we faced often. We are too familiar with our brothers and sisters who have found themselves on the oppressors side of the spectrum. And it is safe to say that many started out with healthy ideals of liberation, self-reliance and community. Yet, life’s daily pressures and the corresponding investments/divestments of our timeestments in the uplift for our Ummah removed our soul’s mirror. What better gateway to sin than righteousness, right?
So this Ramadan I intend to cleanse my mirror, sacrifice sleep and the usual lunchtime binges to take notice of how blemished my soul has become. And I doubt anyone would disagree with me saying plainly, that we face a world hellbent on celebrating our outer projections of self, no matter how much it’s costing us in the long run. Ramadan’s freshness, its ethereal ambiance, the stacked prayer lines and bouncing voices of children rounding musallahs should set the stage for introspection. There’s an explosion of tranquility when Ramadan enters, a light lost when it exits. The narrow busied space in between is where you’ll find us surrendering ourselves to his mercy, hoping we conquer ourselves before it conquers us.
“If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?”
-Jalal Ad-Din Muhammad Rumi
Inspired by this inward search for truth, I share with you the following poem, “Ramadan.” May Allah’s Rahma wash over you and quench your thirst like only the waters of Kauthar can.
We forego water
until the sky closes its eyelids
until the hummingbird slows its flight
watching the street lamp gain consciousness
and believers broaden their backs into prostration
Let the light we see and seek supplant
our vices, surrender the ego’s army
Let the faith we irrigate through cotton mouths
restless hands, attuned ears, grow us a garden
in Allah’s garden someday
We know well what a drought do
I done seen a heart’s river lose its
reflection by the rain drop
Ramadan, be for the seeds
be reminding them souls that roots
tell more truth than a crowd
of rustling turning leaves any day
That you gotta dig to destroy the demons
so we stripping ourselves for a moon cycle
undressing the ugly we can’t see in the mirror
watching the sun expose our scars
letting hunger humble us
Tariq Touré is an award-winning Muslim author and advocate born and raised in West Baltimore, Maryland.