By Imam Plemon El-Amin
Say: O my Lord! Let my entry be by the Gate of Truth and Honor and likewise my exit by the Gate of Truth and Honor; and grant from Your Presence an authority to aid me. And say: ‘Truth has arrived and falsehood has perished, for falsehood is always perishing.’—Qur’an 17: 80-81
As Muslims, we are thankful and grateful to Allah, The Most High, for once again bringing us Ramadan and carrying us through its rigors and lessons for 29 or 30 days. Hopefully, each of us entered the fast seeking Allah’s Pleasure and now we exit the fast being more regardful of Allah’s Mercy, Forgiveness, and Salvation that is always available to those who believe and do good.
Eid ul-Fitr, the three day celebration and feast after Ramadan, commemorates the victory of completing the fast. Eid means ‘returning or re-occurring,’ and Fitr (fitrah) refers to ‘nature or origin,’ which suggests that a successful Ramadan returns to us our original nature of health, thoughtfulness, and spirituality. Ramadan revives, rejuvenates, and renews our bodies, minds, and spirits. It puts us back in touch with the excellence of our God-given human nature, reality, and potential.
A related verse from Qur’an (34:49) which is frequently recited during the Eid is:
Say: Truth has arrived and falsehood neither creates anything new nor restores anything.
Ramadan brings back the best of human nature and dissipates the false habits and tendencies that had occupied our lives. Weakness has vanished, fatigue has disappeared, laziness has perished, and false worship has died. The verse literally says that falsehood has no ‘eid,’ it doesn’t revive, renew, or rejuvenate anything that is good or natural.
Ramadan reconciles us with our inherent nature and our inherited mission. As Muslim Americans who are also African Americans, we have an inherent flow in our veins and souls that obligates us to seek freedom, justice, equality, and dignity for ourselves and others. We also have inherited an obligation to exemplify and live the best of Islam, and to be a renewed and resurrecting energy in the American life and culture for the benefit all.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
When the month of Ramadan arrives the gates of Paradise are flung open while the gates of Hell are closed, and a caller cries out: ‘Oh you who seek good come forward and you who desire wrong, desist.’
May each of us be of those who continue forward through the Gate of Truth and Honor.
Blessed Ramadan and Eid Mubarak!
Imam Plemon El-Amin is the Imam Emeritus of the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam. He is the former Director of the Clara Mohammed Elementary School and W. Deen Mohammed School of Atlanta. Working as a close aide and supporter of Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, Imam El-Amin has traveled the nation and the world, representing the concerns and interests of Muslim Americans and Interfaith adherents in such places as Palestine, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Syria, Jordan, Denmark, England, Spain, Egypt, Turkey, Malaysia and South Africa.
By Shahidah Sharif
Before thee, also, the messengers We sent were but men, to whom We granted inspiration: If ye realise this not, ask of those who possess the Message. Nor did We give them bodies that ate no food, nor were they exempt from death. In the end We fulfilled to them Our Promise, and We saved them and those whom We pleased, but We destroyed those who transgressed beyond bounds. We have revealed for you a book in which is a Message for you: will ye not then understand?—Surah Al-Anbiya, 7-10
When we think of the concept of struggle, the core of our soul shudders at the thought of enduring hardship. Honestly, who wants to experience the pain of loss, grief, anxiety, unfulfillment, abandonment, or mass devastation? Yet, struggle surrounds us and is hurled directly in our faces on a daily basis. Bombarded by so many challenges, we either want to curl into a fetal position or shake someone into consciousness.
As I was reading juz 17, I thought about the Prophets mentioned and simultaneously how we, as African American people, descend from a history of struggle in this country.
How were the Prophets able to maintain and endure through the difficulties they faced? And what can we learn from their lives?
With their human frailties and their faith in Allah, they pushed through the unimaginable. It compelled me to think of the severe aggravation our people endured by their oppressors, and I realized in essence this thorn kept us awake to our reality; the reality that G-d is the only true reality. As the Prophets were enveloped by the darkness of ignorance around them—they were forced to keep their light of consciousness of G-d with them—so were the enslaved Africans who had to work arduously to keep their faith, stay alive, and gain their freedom.
The Prophets’ journeys given to us in scripture set forth an example for us as human beings in this life’s voyage. Prophet Abraham was said to be burned in the fire by his own people because he defied their ancient practices and beliefs; however, the fire was commanded to be cool because he was upright and sincere in faith.
Our manifest destiny is to be on the path of Abraham and the path of Muhammad, prayers and peace upon them both.
Enslaved Africans suffered not only at the hands of their oppressors but also their own people who served under the authority of their slave masters. Those who were enslaved had to struggle to keep their life and not be killed until it was safer for them to exist under a more humane rule. Even when the opportunity came for them to be free from plantation life and confinement, they had to struggle and strive as sharecroppers.
As Prophets Lut and Noah were saved and spared from their people who rejected G-d and practiced abominations, they had to stomach the loss of their spouses and children. As African Americans endured the pangs of slavery, Jim Crow, and discrimination, they suffered the loss of many loved ones but it kept them awake to their innate desire to be free.
And (remember) Job, when he cried to his Lord, ‘Truly distress has seized me, but Thou are the Most Merciful of those that are Merciful.’ So we listened to him; we removed the distress that was on him, and We restored the people To him, and doubled their number-as a Grace from Ourselves, and a thing for commemoration, for all who serve Us.—Surah Al-Anbiya, 83
We are called to remember Prophet Job, Sulaimaan, Idris, Ishmail, Dhu al Kifl, Zakariya, and Maryam and their struggle to remind us that we are not immune to harm. And Allah calls us to call on Him in our times of desperation and our intense moments of needs. We are instructed to not despair, or lose faith, rather to keep our hope and put our trust and true reliance in Him. While the times of physical slavery are gone to some degree, there is still a need to strive and struggle because we are surrounded by some who do not want the best for us or to see us succeed. We have to want the best for ourselves and push ourselves towards excellence because nothing is guaranteed except death.
We granted not to any human being before thee permanent life (here): if then thou shouldest die, would they live permanently? Every soul shall have a taste of death; and we test you by evil and by good by way of trial. To Us must you return.—Surah Al-Anbiya, 34-35
While we are not Prophets and will not receive revelation, we have been given these human beings who communed with the Divine while experiencing an earthly existence to show us the path to meet Allah on the Day of Judgement. When we encounter struggle as well as those who do not mean well for us, we must accept that this is a part of life and embrace it because it keeps us awake to our real destiny. If it becomes too quiet and comfortable, we might go to sleep. Struggle is the greatest gift because it forces us to turn to Allah for all of our needs because He is truly the only One that can provide for us.
Our manifest destiny is to be on the path of Abraham and the path of Muhammad, prayers and peace upon them both. In order to reach our manifest destiny as they achieved, we have to receive the struggle as a gift with patience and perseverance so we may be cool in the fire.
And strive in His cause as ye ought to strive, (with sincerity and under discipline). He has chosen you, and has imposed no difficulties on you in religion; it is the manifest destiny of your father Abraham. It is He who has named you Muslims, both before and in this (revelation); That the Messenger may be a witness for you and ye be witnesses for mankind! So establish regular prayer, give regular charity, and hold fast to Allah! He is your protector—The best to protect and the Best to help!—Surah Al Hajj 22:78
Shahidah Sharif currently serves on the Board of Sisters United in Human Service, Inc, as the Program Director of the Faith Institute of the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam, and is co-founder and COO of Professional Hajj and Umrah Guides, LLC organizing delegations annually with her husband for the Hajj.
Below is a reflection on Juz’ 14 from Imam Khalis Rashaad who serves as the Resident Imam of Ibrahim Islamic Center in Houston, Texas. His reflection is entitled, “Between Spirituality and a Hard Place.”
Imam Khalis Rashaad serves as the Resident Imam of Ibrahim Islamic Center in Houston, Texas. Ibrahim Islamic Center is a mosque that focuses on both the spiritual needs of its members and the socio-economic issues in the surrounding urban community. He has studied numerous sciences of the tradition, including Qur’anic exegesis, Arabic language and basic jurisprudence under the tutelage of several teachers and scholars. Khalis’ teaching style focuses on empowering others to engage the Qur’an and Prophetic example and apply in their lives in a practical way.
By Donna Auston
We sent not a messenger except (to teach) in the language of his own people, in order to make (things) clear to them. —Surah Ibrahim: 4
Every race of people since time began who have attempted to describe God by words or painting, or by carvings, have conveyed their idea that the God who made them and shaped their destinies was symbolized in themselves.—Bishop Henry McNeal Turner
I took shahada right after jumu’ah, on the first Friday in Ramadan some 25 years ago. I was a high school senior, standing on the verge of adulthood and just coming into my very own political awareness, trying desperately to fuse the two of these things into something that would help me to navigate the world as a black woman.
I come from a family of activists, organizers and agitators for an array of social justice concerns, racial equality, labor rights, and education; my great-grandmother, who was doing activist work into her 80s, was widely known and decorated by governors and celebrities for her advocacy on behalf of elderly people in the state where we lived. I did not fully appreciate the significance at the time, but my activist relatives were also, without exception, deeply religious.
I found Islam through a mixture of mediums: in Public Enemy lyrics, in Baba Malcolm’s memoir, on the tongues of the white-thowbed urban Ansars who hawked perfumed oil and black salvation, brothers who assured me that Ibrahim and Yaqub were proud black patriarchs, who showed me how to make salat right out there on the concrete, who convinced me that giving up swine would elevate my spirit and my intellect. It did.
Once I knew that I could decolonize my spirituality, there remained nothing, in the name of liberation, that was not now possible.
In time, I moved on from their interpretation of Islam, and blackness; in fact they did too. But I never forgot the critical lesson that these believers taught me—a lesson contained in the epigraph that leads this essay. That the ethereal and abstract have to be grounded somewhere—that to know Allah I had to know myself, to know my people, and to have faith in the fact that Allah had given me the means of transforming myself and my surroundings by way of the gift brought by messengers who spoke my life and my language.
Believers who knew exactly what we had all been robbed of, and that we were all on the same journey to get it back. We would draw, step by step, ever closer to the Promised Land through devotion to Him, through arduous self-education in matters of our own history, literature, and political struggles, by working to control our impulses to stinginess and envy and impatience with fellow human beings, all at the same time that organized against anti-blackness and economic exploitation. Once I knew that I could decolonize my spirituality, there remained nothing, in the name of liberation, that was not now possible.
Donna Auston with Imamu Amiri Baraka at a protest in Newark, NJ right after the Zimmerman verdict during Ramadan of 2013.
My reflections on the themes of this juz bring me back to this nexus, the deep, abiding connection between spirituality and freedom struggles, where the quest to make the broader world a better place is always most effective when paired with the search for the Divine.
Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.
The pages of this portion of the Qur’an contain messages of oppression and bondage, separation and exile, depression and despair. Yet beyond all of that, there is hope, there is liberation, there is justice, there is healing and there is reconciliation, all of which are ultimate, if not immediate, rewards for sustained faith and—both in this life and in the next.
This juz also contains portions of the stories of some our major prophets: Yusuf, Yaqub, and their fractured family’s tale of betrayal and imprisonment, our father Ibrahim and Allah’s request for him to leave wife and child alone in a faraway desert for reasons, that at the time, were unexplained. And there is Musa, a man whose family and community had been terrorized by Pharaoh’s murderous regime, and yet having made it through the harrowing passage over water through the mercy of Allah, to subsequently find shelter, care, and eventually the strength to resist—right in Pharaoh’s own home.
Modeling Musa, we face our own past mistakes and internal demons, mustering our courage in preparation for our role as witnesses, as those who must stand in Pharaoh’s presence and speak.
We, Africa’s displaced children, see ourselves in Musa. The very land that engineered our captivity, received the stolen bodies of our ancestors, and continues to enact violence upon us, leaving scars we can see and many more that we cannot, is also our source of strength. It is our home. We are the parable of the goodly tree, the seed of Word and prayer planted by our foremothers and forefathers, a tree whose roots have been firmly fixed, in bitterness and toil, whose branches reach to the heavens (14:26). Through the hard work of cultivation in our individual selves, in the various collectives to which we belong, and faith in a hopeful future that we cannot always see, we are transformed.
Modeling Musa, we face our own past mistakes and internal demons, mustering our courage in preparation for our role as witnesses, as those who must stand in Pharaoh’s presence and speak. Our oppression must be named. James Cone tells us that testimony is an integral part of the black religious tradition; where we stand in front of the community to give account of the hope that we carry within each of us. We live to bear witness for ourselves, and more importantly, for those whose voices were taken from them.
And so, we strive for patience of the most beautiful kind, knowing that whether or not Allah allows us to witness the justice we seek for ourselves and for our fellow human beings, our job is to be relentless in seeking it. To quote from the book of Mama Sojourner’s eternal Truth: “It is hard for the old slave holding spirit to die. But die it must.”
Donna Auston is a doctoral candidate in the department of anthropology at Rutgers University. Her dissertation is an ethnography of Black Muslims and spiritual protest in the Black Lives Matter era. She writes and speaks regularly on race, gender, Islam, and other topics; she has published at Anthropology News, Religion News Service, Al Jazeera.com, and the Washington Post. You can follow her on Twitter @TinyMuslimah.