Another Ramadan is upon us, and as I have said on previous occasions, it is not coincidental that you can measure your life by the Ramadans that you have lived and the Ramadans that remain. How many Ramadans do you have left in your life? By the time that next Ramadan rolls around, where will you be from one Ramadan to another? What will your relationship to your Maker look like? How will the distance between you and your Maker shift? Equally as important, what is the distance between you and your demons? Everything that is satanic in your existence and everything that counters the satanic, what is the distance between you and the beauty embodied in your life? What is the distance between you and the embodiment of ugliness in your life?
We do not know, by the time next Ramadan comes, whether you or I will still be here. Are we going to have another opportunity? Will we remain standing? Will we be able to engage in the speech that we are engaging in now? This is the test. This is the challenge, and only a fool takes things for granted. Only a fool assumes they can just count on the coming Ramadan. God invites us to this one month every year, where we are supposed to pause, to take a step back, and to reflect upon where you have been, where you are, and where you are heading. One month every year, God tells us, "Challenge yourself, ponder and reflect on, to what extent are you dependent on material things? To what extent do you take what you consume and what you drink for granted?”
During this one month, we intensify our prayers, like Taraweeh prayers, not because we are just performing rituals, but because during this one month, we are supposed to make a concerted effort to grow from the previous year. During this one month, we are supposed to enter a boot camp, to make a concerted effort to improve our relationship with our Maker. During this one month, we engage in the art and the challenge of self-denial. During this one month, we are supposed to focus not on our desires, but on what other human beings experience, and to work on developing our abilities to empathize and feel for other human beings.
It is a month of real opportunities for those who are conscientious enough to be aware of those opportunities. One month where you are forced to break with your habits, with what you take for granted during this one month. You are supposed to desire, but not fulfill that desire; to crave, but not to succumb to the craving. To reflect upon where you are and where you are heading and what your faith will be.
As I was reflecting on the blessings and challenges of a new Ramadan, the revelations of Surah Al-A'raf kept playing over and over in my mind. That God has facilitated a truly remarkable experience, a planet that is carefully calibrated to support human life. That God has measured everything in this remarkable planet, and yet we exist in this planet and often pay very little attention to the marvel of how it is readied for our very existence. Here, God reminds us how remarkable everything that was so carefully calibrated to support human life is. We are placed on a planet that is capable of producing an enormous variety of things that can support our consumption, we can consume endlessly on this planet from a wide variety of diverse things. All types of things that on this planet can be easily processed for human consumption, for supporting human indulgence and human will.
But at the same time, God warned us about a very formidable foe. A foe that, from the very beginning, suffered the singular sin of arrogance, of egoism, of the fallacy of independence and supremacy. God warned us in Surah Al-A'raf that this foe in a foreboding, even terrifying sense tells God, “In fact, I will be their close companion in their existence upon this earth. I will stalk them. I will stalk the straight path that you have inspired and encoded within human beings. I will stalk them, and I will come to them from every side and every way. I will come to them from above, from below, from the right, from the left.” Ultimately, Satan promises God that: “At the end of it, most of those human beings that you created, most of those human beings that you believed in, that you entrusted and you gave the earth to, will not be grateful and will not acknowledge you. In fact, they will betray you. The truth of the matter is that they will treat you, as the Maker, as the Giver of gifts, in the most unfair and treacherous fashion. Most of them will betray their own potential, the potential that God has coded within us, the potential for goodness, for beauty, for justice, for morality.”
Surah Al-A'raf is telling us the point is not to think about Satan as a corporal entity. The point is not to reflect as to whether Satan's self, as in Iblis, is or is not actually present with you in the room. What if creation is far more marvelous and puzzling than we ever could imagine? We know that we exist in only 5% of all the material reality that God has created. What if in the same way that at the micro level, reality is created upon observation, what if in reality, all of us are born with the potential energy of our antithesis? What if Satan, as the Prophet said, accompanied you as the flow of blood in your veins? What if in fact, every time you indulge in your own egoism, you indulge in your own selfishness? When you allow yourself to indulge in any of the attributes that are not godly, you in fact create your own Satan that preys upon you, that is no less evil and is no less ugly than Iblis himself.
Think about it. One month each year, the entire thrust of our focus is on an essential question, how can we defeat our demons? How can we resist the temptation to focus only upon the self and its most base desires? The desires of consumption, indulgence, and self-promotion. The desires that, in fact, constitute the ethical melody of arrogance and superiority - every time you consume and do not think about other human beings and the opportunities they may have or not have. Every time you choose to ignore the reality that you exist in this world as a guest, not as an owner, but as a guest. Every time you choose to pay heed to your own emotions and ignore the feelings and the plight of others. Every time you indulge without worrying about moral principles like justice, mercy, and compassion, you are feeding Satan, and this Satan, year after year, can become truly monstrous. It can grow into something that truly controls you.
While you think you are free - that you have autonomy or that you have self-determination - in reality, you have become enslaved by your own Satan a long time ago. Even as Ramadan comes and Ramadan leaves, you fail Ramadan, not because you did not fast or you did not pray, but because you did not challenge your Satan, because you did not recognize the immensity of that Satan's power in your life. Most of the time, we live headlessly. Most of the time, when we are hungry, we eat. Most of the time, we do something that we never notice and never reflect upon. Most of the time, we prey upon each other. In other words, we use a fellow human being, not because we reflect upon the mutual benefit or because we reflect upon the principle of justice in our relationships with other human beings, but we use other human beings to propel ourselves.
We use other human beings as an object in feeding our own ego. We do not reflect very deeply about the way that we use other human beings. We may even convince ourselves that whatever we do in using other human beings is not really damaging to them or really that much of a big deal. But the issue is consistently the issue of pride, of arrogance and of being oblivious to others, of being entitled and assuming that your decisions in life do not build up and have a cumulative effect.
During this month of Ramadan, God demands that we pause and reflect. If you eat, you reflect upon whether others are eating. If you indulge in anything that fulfills desires, you think about how fulfilling these desires reflects upon other human beings, and upon creation in general. During that one month, you are called upon not to take things for granted. Put it simply, you are called upon to confront the enormity of your Satan. To ask yourself the very difficult question of, “How big is my Satan?” If your Satan became embodied in a corporal reality, what would that Satan look like? Would that Satan be enormous? Would it be truly terrorizing? Would it be the worst monster you can imagine?
Often people say, "I do not know why I cannot feel God. Why can I not build a relationship with God?" If you journey towards the Lord, your Satan cannot come along. Your Satan cannot come along. If you want to travel towards your Lord, but your Satan exists and is in your company, how are you going to access the jurisdiction of your Lord? Growing closer to God demands that you first confront your Satan, that you first gain control over your Satan, and you cannot gain control over your Satan unless you first learn that you are not simply entitled to consume whatever you desire to consume, but that consumption is a moral responsibility. That every time you consume, you are engaging the moral question of, “How does my consumption affect creation?”
This is the point of Ramadan. This is why we fast. This is why we pray. This is why God emphasizes self-denial during Ramadan. To train, practice to confront, and control your demons. Perhaps if you gain sufficient control, then your path to your Lord becomes possible. Perhaps if your personal space is not contaminated by your own demons, then you will feel God. You will get the taste of the pleasure of your Lord's company. You will know how it feels to fall in love with your Maker. You will know that any sweet feelings you may have felt towards your mother and your father, multiply that a million times, and these are the feelings that await and embrace you when you come to really acknowledge the presence of your Lord in your life. But first, you must discipline your demon, the demon that you have created through your own indulgences and desires, and the ways that you went about satisfying these desires.
Ramadan comes upon us again, and I know that I am commanded by God not just to look within, but to think about my ummah. If we start talking about the plight of our ummah, we really are opening an endless topic, but I want to focus on two things that I think would be immoral to overlook. For a number of years, and I do not know if this is just coincidence or if God engineered it as such, but right before Ramadan, I start hearing of many testimonials by women who have been taken advantage of by religious figures. In summary, these religious figures typically target the nicest, the purest, and the kindest of women. They hone in on the women that would respond to their deceptions and they take advantage of these women, and it is clear that what they do has everything to do with sex and power. Years ago, in the '80s, Shaykh Muhammad Al Ghazali said something that I have never forgotten.
There was the son of a well-known religious figure who took advantage of a woman, married her in secret, and then eventually just dumped her and cast her away. In the same way that he married her in secret, he left her in secret. And when the matter was exposed, all the leaders of the community, knowing who this person was and knowing who his father was, were not concerned about doing justice by the woman, nor were they concerned about the man's deception, treachery and betrayal.
All the men were far more concerned about covering up the incident and going on flattering each other about their piety. When the father of this girl went to Shaykh Muhammad Al Ghazali and he told him how the leaders of the Muslim community - and these were national leaders, not even local leaders - were acting, Shaykh Al Ghazali said, "I now know that the Islamic Movement in the United States has failed." Ramadan is not about ostentatious displays of piety.
Ramadan is not about an Imam finding an exotic looking kufiya and taqiyah and wearing it. It is not about all the displays of piety that Muslims are so adept at engaging in. Muslims have become so good at putting on a show that impresses only fellow Muslims. If Ramadan does not translate into confronting the demons that plague our community, then it serves no purpose and Ramadan becomes an occasion for God to curse us further, not liberate us. To further doom us to our own follies and failures, rather than the other way around.
The thing that breaks my heart is that these Imams usually take advantage of converts, and if it is not converts, then it is the most innocent and pure women in the Muslim community. They do not take advantage of the women who are rebels, who defy their parents, who basically refuse the authority and the displays of piety by these Imams. God looks at an ummah, and looks at the most underprivileged, most vulnerable in the ummah, and whether God supports an ummah or not does not depend on how the rock stars and the Imams on the podiums are doing, it depends on how we fare vis-à-vis the most vulnerable and the most disempowered. If God looks upon us and sees that there are so many suffering injustice in silence and that as an ummah, we do not vindicate them and we do not support them, then we are cursed. What type of God would support the unjust? What type of God would say, "Oh yes, you take advantage of women. You use them and then cast them away as if they are nothing, no problem." These same men are celebrated as rock stars in Islamic events and Islamic organizations. How much more demonic can you get? What could Iblis possibly engineer to haunt the straight path of God worse than this?
The second issue I must say something about at the beginning of Ramadan. I remind everyone that recently, the UN publicly and officially reminded the world that what is happening to the Rohingyas is a genocide. I remind everyone that the amount of children and human beings suffering in Yemen is unimaginable. As we complain about fasting from sunrise to sundown, and how horrible it feels that we cannot eat and drink when we want, millions of human beings just like us are starving to death in Yemen at the hands of their fellow Muslims in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. And because our government continues to arm the Saudis and the Emiratis, they can continue committing a genocide in Yemen.
I remind everyone that according to just a recent report, 13,000 Afghan babies died of malnutrition just recently in 2022, and that 95% of the country is unable to access food. Every day that passes, 170 Afghan babies die. All of this because of what? Because the United States government has usurped all of Afghanistan's money and refuses to give any of it back. At the same time we are watching Russia commit notorious human rights abuses in Ukraine, our own government is directly responsible for the death of thousands of babies and children in Afghanistan because of the sovereign decision made by our government to take their money and the decision of our government to sell arms to the Saudis. It is within the power of our government to truly command the Saudis, and to not give them a choice, to cease and desist in massacring people in Yemen, but we choose not to, because as I said before, for us, Muslims are the living dead.
For the west, Muslims are the living dead. If you are Muslim, Western governments consider you already dead. Your life is a mere technicality. As we welcome this new Ramadan for the millionth time, we look at Al-Aqsa mosque and Palestine. At this time last year, the Israeli army went on a killing spree against Palestinians, whether the army perpetuated it directly itself, or by protecting armed fanatic settlers who murdered Palestinians. Just this week, in response to the attacks carried out by Palestinians, the Israeli army and Jewish settlers have been going on a killing frenzy against Palestinians.
The articles are numerous, overwhelming and depressing. A 16 year old was shot and killed. A child was shot and killed, but on top of this, the Israeli army gassed a hospital. The medical staff choked and could not breathe, and there was a panic in the nursery, pediatrics and surgery departments, and the babies in the hospital had to be evacuated. All of us heard of the Russians attacking a hospital, as Western media could not stop talking about it. Israelis gassed babies in the hospital, but the response of Facebook and Twitter was to censor any content that brings attention to the plight of these Palestinians.
Itamar Ben-Gvir is an extreme right parliamentarian who Israeli media itself calls a racist. Itamar is a notorious racist who thinks that Arabs and Muslims are nothing better than pigs and animals. According to someone like Itamar, they do not even deserve to live. Even the Israeli media itself calls Itamar a notorious racist. According to Itamar Ben-Gvir, Baruch Goldstein, The Jewish settler who murdered 29 Palestinians during Ramadan prayers in Hebron in 1994, is a hero. That mass murderer, that terrorist, is someone that Israel should celebrate because he murders Muslims and even better, murders Muslims during Ramadan during their prayer.
What does Israel do, right before Ramadan? At the same time that the Israeli Police want to restrict access to the Aqsa Mosque to men over 60 years old, and the Israeli army says we restrict access to Aqsa Mosque to men over 45 years old, Israel allows Itamar - guarded and protected by the Israeli army - to violate the sanctity of the Aqsa Mosque, to walk through the Aqsa Mosque. And what do so-called Muslim countries do?
Morocco, Egypt, the Emirates and Bahrain all meet with the Israelis to coordinate security measures with them. The dictators of the Muslim world, including Saudi Arabia, and perhaps even led by Saudi Arabia, have betrayed all of our causes and still, we gloat about self-declared Imams that go study in Medina, come back to the West and exploit the hell out of Muslim women. How much more demonic can you get?
This is what we do about the Aqsa Mosque. Israel usurps Jerusalem and murders Palestinians at will. A truly apartheid state. And what do we do? The leaders of so-called Muslim countries do not even dare object. They do not even dare say, “We are unhappy.” Instead, according to them, our real danger, our real enemies, are the Iranians. Our real enemies are the Shia. No, do not worry about Aqsa Mosque, worry about the Shia. Let us execute the Shia as Saudi Arabia did to 81 poor souls. Still all of this, and the Emirates props up Muslim American organizations, and we do not have a problem with it. How much more demonic can you get? Do you not hear the laughs of Satan? Do you see that we are far closer to Satan than we are to God? How much more true can it get than when Satan tells God, “I will haunt your straight path and I will approach them from every way, from the left, from the right, from between their arms.”
What is your moral responsibility? When you look at this picture, does this not translate into a personal obligation to gain dominance over your demons? To defeat your demons, to lock up your demons? Maybe you cannot change what Saudi Arabia is doing about the Aqsa Mosque. But surely you can journey closer to God. Maybe if you are closer to God, God will inspire in your heart what you can do to make your life on this earth truly meaningful. Maybe God will guide you to what is truly righteous, truly just, and truly beautiful. Commit to make this Ramadan your starting point.