Many of us have experienced a time in our life when we have fallen out with a friend or family member and have not spoken to them for a while because of things that were said.
Most often these arguments last a very short time and we soon make up our differences and carry on as normal.
For some people, though, things happen or arguments take place, resulting in a complete breakdown of the relationship. There are people who stop talking to one another.
There are parents who have not spoken to their children for years, brothers who have not spoken to sisters, and once long-time friends who no longer speak to each other.
It takes a lot of effort, but when these relationships are healed it is like a huge weight being lifted and thrown away.
Ramadan is so special a time for Muslims that it has often been called the month of prayer. It is a time when we renew our commitment to Allah and try to rebuild and refresh the enthusiasm we once had for Islam. It is like a Spring cleaning, where we sweep out the cobwebs from our spiritual house and try to make our life of prayer and worship fresh and new once again.
There are Muslims, though, who in varying degrees have allowed their relationship with Allah to slip through their fingers. Maybe they no longer pray. Maybe their prayers have become for them just a meaningless ritual. Maybe they have turned away from Allah and from Islam altogether.
Just like those people, though, who stopped talking to their brother or sister many years ago, for whom it would be like a great stone lifting from their shoulders if they could start talking again, so returning to Allah would bring joy and relief to those who turned away from Him.
So it is that all Muslims, no matter how strong or how weak their practise of Islam, feel some bond with Ramadan and try, at least in the first few days, to renew their faith once more. The problem is that those who have stopped praying take on too much at the start of Ramadan and give up too quickly when it becomes too much for them.
How is it possible that someone who has hardly prayed at all for a year can suddenly, because it is Ramadan, pray five times a day, recite the whole of the Quran, fast from morning to evening and then pray Taraweeh prayers in the mosque in the evening? In fact, it isn’t possible for many and they very soon give up.
In these articles about prayer we have been trying to show that prayer is more than a ritual. It is more than a routine obligation required of us. Prayer, in fact, is like the very air we breathe. Without it our lives become dry and lose their meaning.
Many years ago, when I visited Cairo for the first time, I went to visit the great bazaar known as Khan al-Khalili. Just like the souqs of Istanbul and Damascus, everything can be found there, from pots and pans to clothes and jewellery.
As I entered the bazaar there was a young man just inside the entrance, standing beside a stall selling jeans. He saw my white skin and, with a smile on his face and outstretched hand, greeted me with “Welcome! I have been waiting for you all day!”
On that occasion I didn’t buy any jeans.
In Ramadan, though, Allah Almighty is waiting for us. He isn’t trying to sell us jeans. He is not waiting to say that He has been waiting for us all day. He is, in fact, waiting to tell us that He has been waiting for us all our lives to come back to Him. All we have to do is respond to His welcome.
Ramadan is a time for us all to come back to Allah, whether we last spoke to Him at Fajr or we last spoke to Him twenty years ago. It is a time to forget the past, to lay ourselves completely before Him and to ask for His help.
Prayer makes us better. Prayer makes us whole and makes us holy. It helps us to cope with all the rubbish life throws at us. It helps us to make sense of our world and all that is happening in it. From our innermost core, prayer makes us better.
Those who have not prayed for a long time should be realistic with themselves. If they haven’t prayed for years it will be difficult to pray five times a day again just like that! So they should take little steps.
Start with two rakah. If even that is difficult, start with any words that come to mind. The important thing is to talk. Speak to Allah – and He will listen. Once the channels have been opened once more, it is only a matter of time before it becomes normal to pray again.
For those who pray regularly, Ramadan is an opportunity to come closer to Allah. It is a time to increase the frequency and the quality of their prayer, concentrating more and more on He who made us.
If Allah so wills, we will delight in His presence and be able, like our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) to spend long periods of time in prayer, especially during the night when all is still and quiet.
Prayer is what Islam is all about. The central message of Islam is that there is One God in heaven, Allah, Who Created us and Wills our good; and that One God has spoken to us down through the ages through Prophets, the last of whom, the Seal of the Prophets, is the unlettered Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
That One God has told us that prayer is essential to our lives. Without it our lives, just like a building being held up by pillars, will fall apart. As one of the five Pillars of Islam, prayer holds our lives and our faith together.
This Ramadan is a chance for all of us, whether we pray or not, to come back to Allah. Our prayers will not only please Him, but will give meaning to our lives. Without oxygen we could not live. It is the same with prayer. Without prayer our lives would become dry and without meaning.
By returning to Allah and renewing our commitment to Him this Ramadan we can become better people, better Muslims.
Prayer makes us better.