“God has created Angels with reason but having no desires; animals with desires but no reason; and man with both reason and desires. Therefore, if one’s reason is stronger than his desires, he is like an Angel; while if his desires are stronger than his reason, he is like an animal.” (Ibn Al-Qayyim)
There’s a war going on inside each of us. A constant battle between our reason and our desires; our higher and lower selves. The above statement shows us the results of that war based on the choices we make.
This internal paradox – the competing forces within – is a natural consequence of the way we were created. In the Holy Quran, Allah tells us:
Surely We created man of the best stature. Then We reduced him to the lowest of the low, Save those who believe and do good works, and theirs is a reward unfailing. (95: 4-6)
Does it Ever End?
It’s important to note that we’re never just one or the other – there’s no permanence. Our state of being – whether angelic or animalistic – fluctuates as we traverse this life, facing different experiences that bring out the best and worst of us.
Sometimes we’ll be strong – feeling an inner purity that helps us rise above the desires we know we must suppress for our own good. But at other times, we’ll feel pathetically weak – unable to withstand the barrage of temptations we’re subjected to… sometimes facing those temptations because we willingly put ourselves in the wrong situations.
For 11 months of the year, our external environment and our daily circumstances subjects us to a never-ending roller-coaster of these inner battles. But when Ramadan comes around, everything changes.
Suddenly, we’re no longer alone in trying to be “good”. Everyone is on the path – striving to be better Muslims…better people. Just like peer pressure can be a powerful negative force, peer support – in the form of the Muslim community around us (either physically or virtually) – can be equally powerful in helping us to strive for self-purification and closeness to Allah.
You see, it doesn’t matter whether you’re already strong in your deen (faith) or not. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a born Muslim or a revert. Across the spectrum, Ramadan unites Muslims of all spiritual levels – because no matter where you are on your journey, Ramadan is the one period in which we all want to be better.
Spring Cleaning for the Soul
Ramadan flips our daily routines – so our changed schedule reinforces the feeling that things are not “normal” this month. Along with that, we suppress our physical desires, and in doing so, our spiritual selves are purified, nourished, and grow naturally.
An even more potent step comes when we indulge in a period of i’tikaf – when we completely divorce ourselves from our normal lives, and isolate ourselves in solitude, connecting with our Maker and disconnecting from everything else.
Even if we don’t get to stay a full 10 days in the masjid, we can still take in small doses of this practice – spending even a few hours at a time secluded either in our local masjid or any other private setting, away from the people and things that usually occupy our thoughts and time.
And without the constant enemy of Satan around, it’s easier to push aside that which distracted us. It’s easier to see things as they really are. The veils dissipate more easily, and our hearts are fertile for the planting of beautiful seeds.
Seeds that, we hope, will take root in this month, then grow into beautiful new habits, actions, mindsets, and character – in the rest of the year to follow.
Make the Most of This Chance
With such a precious opportunity on its way, it’s important that we make the most of Ramadan – starting from now, running through the month, and critically, after it’s left us.
To gather some spiritual momentum, try out the Ramadan Early Bird Challenge – a practical, 5 part series that helps you to take baby steps towards self-improvement in the run-up to the month.
Of course, once Ramadan arrives, it’ll be all systems go, and you’ll want to try your best to build up a mountain of good deeds that will earn you uncountable rewards in the Hereafter.
However, don’t over-exert yourself as you could burn out quickly. It’s usually best to take a slow and steady approach. So if you don’t have the time or energy to go big, rather focus on doing a few things consistently, and with the utmost sincerity. After all, the deeds most beloved to Allah are those that are consistent – even if they be small. (Hadith narrated in Bukhari and Muslim).
Then, as the month nears an end, use the momentum you have and plan how you’ll take the goodness of Ramadan to the rest of the year. Your spiritual fervor will naturally decline after Eid. And though it may be revived during Hajj time (soon after Ramadan), the reality is that for much of the year after that, it’s easy to fall into a spiritual “dead zone” – because the communal spirit of striving isn’t too strong outside of these special seasons.
So, while you’re still in the spirit of Ramadan, take some time to look at your own life. Look at your strengths and challenges. Make concrete plans on how you can boost your post-Ramadan life so that you make some progress in the rest of the year – even if you’re reduced to baby steps once more.
Bring out the Angel in You
The battle between desires and reason rages on inside, but as we rapidly approach the temporary ceasefire called Ramadan, put in the extra effort to make sure that your angelic potential rises, thrives, and hopefully retains the upper hand throughout the months that will follow this most blessed time of year.
(From Discovering Islam’s archive.)