Goodbye, noble guest
Last night, it was the final night of praying Taraweeh for this year.
We feel the pain of parting from this dear guest, Ramadan, who came and stayed a month, and gave us so much love and care, so many opportunities to be good.
Last night was the last night in the company of this noble guest. By this evening, at sunset, the guest will be gone.
Think about a beloved guest who comes to stay with you. How do you feel as the final hours in his or her visit wind down?
How do you spend the last moments of togetherness?
Think about a visit from your grandmother, or from a shaykh — a person of God whom you love. You try to draw out the last night, staying up all night perhaps. You try to savour each moment. You stay alert as to his or her travel arrangements. And right up to the end, you are there. You don’t shift your attention for a moment. You help to gather up his luggage, you walk as far as you can, following the car or train that takes him from you, waving as long as you can, trying to keep him in sight for as long as possible.
We must revive this sort of feeling about Ramadan. It’s sad that in many Muslim countries and communities, the last three days and nights of Ramadan find the mosques deserted. It’s as if after the 27th night, Ramadan is over and gone.
Yet the true lover of the gifts and guests of God stays holding onto them as long as possible. May we be of those who appreciate what God gives and keep concentrated with love as long as we are given that capacity by God.
This blessed guest Ramadan came and brought so many gifts to distribute to us all: the last ten nights, the Night of Power (Laylat al Qadr), Angels, the recitation of Quran, the chance to give in charity, the amplification of each and every small good deed. We must honour such a generous guest, and not ignore him at his departure.
RAMADAN: A SERVANT OF GOD
Ramadan should be considered a servant of God. Indeed, time is a creation of God, not a vacuum for us to fill. It has its own existence, and will speak to God about how we dealt with it. The Apostle of God may the light of God continue to nourish his soul and our connection to him said: Fasting and the Quran will intercede for a person on the Day of Reckoning. Fasting will say: O Lord, I kept this servant of Yours from food and fulfilling his desires all day, so allow me now to intercede on his behalf. And the Quran will say: O Lord, I kept this servant of Yours from sleeping at night as he recited from me, so accept my intercession for him. And so fasting and the Quran will speak on your behalf and God will accept their intercession for you.
The Prophet, may the light of God continue to nourish his soul and our connection to him, also spoke to us of how a person’s good deeds come to him in the grave. A man with a handsome face comes to a person in his grave, wearing beautiful clothes, and smelling of a beautiful perfume. He says to the person in the grave: be gladded! I bring you good tidings of that which will make you joyful. This is the day that was promised to you. And the person in the grave will say: Who are you? You have a face that brings goodness! The handsome man will answer: I am your good deeds.
These Prophetic Teachings invite us to use our imagination to think about these witnesses that will come before God to speak on our behalf. In this spirit, one can imagine Ramadan — one of our good deeds — coming before God to speak for us. Use your imagination then, to think about Ramadan this way — as a handsome elder, with a white beard and a look of sweet gentle compassion in his eyes.
Indeed, Ramadan has been nothing but gentle, sweet, and compassionate to us. Ramadan has been a servant sent from God’s Presence, to help us out. To give us gifts from our Lord, to open up new opportunities to be with God, and to make things easier. This is why in many cultures, Ramadan is actually called “Sidi Ramadan” — ‘Sidi’ being the title one gives to a man one respects.
The most important thing in this whole teaching is love. All that I’m referring to here is having love for Ramadan, having love for this gift and guest from God. When you have a guest over, the truth is that the quality of that guest’s experience does not lie in the colour of the dishes you take out, or the money you have put into the meal you serve, or the decorations you have hung.
Rather, it’s in the way you feel about having that guest over. It’s in the way you looked forward to that guest’s arrival, the way you felt special that that guest had come to you, the way you felt happy at his or her presence, the way you felt sad at his or her departure. That’s all love. But if you spend your guest’s entire visit avoiding meeting his eyes, or ignoring parts of the conversation, you have missed out on what’s actually essential. In that case, it would be better to offer your guest water and bread, and give him all your attention with heart and soul.
SO HOW WAS YOUR VISIT?
How we have experienced the visit of Ramadan is not to be determined solely in light of the actions we fulfilled during this month. It’s not in the number of times we completed a recitation of the Quran, or in the sum of the donations we gave, or in the number of rakaat we prayed. It’s in the quality of our inner interaction with this holy experience — the appreciation, the humbleness, the awe, the longing, the love, the attachment and feeling of having been blessed and honoured by Allah in a way we cannot even respond to properly.
Love is what matters. Do you love this month, a servant from amongst the great servants of God — who came to teach you what you needed to learn at this time?
WHAT TO DO NOW?
It’s actually very simple. If you love, show your love. And if you don’t find love in you for Ramadan, then behave like a person who has love anyway. That’s not “fake it til you make it,” it’s seeking to become better, with an intention, and being willing to learn from and adopt the behavior of those who have the love you want to have.
Secondly, use your imagination. Imagine Ramadan in that beautiful form described above. That old and noble man, with a white beard, a handsome face, and eyes full of care for you. Imagine his eyes filling with tears for you, out of compassion. Out of concern at your holding onto the peace he was sent by God to give you. Dive into those eyes.
Think about how every year, this noble guest has come to you, and never once reminded you of how you seem, each year, to have lost the gifts he left you with last time. He never reproaches you for this, nor decides to not give you gifts anymore. Rather, each year, he again gives you gifts….
Love Ramadan. And decide now to accompany Ramadan with the best of what you’ve got, in these final moments, and to bid farewell in the sweetest, most beautiful, most loving way.