by Amer Haleem
Listen to this:
O You, humankind! Be ever God-fearing, conscious of your Lord, who created all of you from a single soul—and from it created its mate, and from them both spread abroad a profusion of men and women. Then fear God, in whose Name you ask of one another—and be, therefore, especially dutiful to kindred! For, indeed, ever is God vigilant over all of you. [The Holy Quran, 4:1]
COULD THERE BE a more
concise, a more humbling and emotional, reminder to us that we human beings, after all, are family? What a wondrously beautiful and diverse drove of brothers and sisters we are! Seed spilled from the same, singular father. Children conceived in and born ultimately out of love’s foremost womb, one venerable mother.
What ceaseless blessing! What richness and abundance! What gladness upon us! What joy and love thrive within us. What gratitude should burst our hearts.
And how profound the mutual
responsibility and faithfulness that lays heavy in our hands.
No wonder the Prophet, peace be upon him, used often to begin—from the holiest lips—his public pronouncements with the hallowed utterance of this verse, this sign (ayah) from the Speech of God—uttered from the miracle of miracles, no less, the Heaven-sent Quran.
One could contemplate this single verse for a lifetime and never plumb its depths—yet enter God’s Garden, nonetheless, forever and ever…if only one’s heart could house it. Then beat with it. Then live it through with passion, with might, and with limb.
What keeps us, then, from its miracle secret, from the searing realization that pierces flesh and soul with its call? For in just three words—Yâ, ayyuhan-nâs! O You, humankind!—it echoes our divine selection for grace and elevation, our summons to honor among creation.
Allah hails us by this name, “an-nâs” (which He Himself gave to us individually and communally). In this way, He reminds us of the indelible truth about our special creation, and the perennial measures of what it means.
This is not a mere mention of us to get our attention. It is no generic call to a collective name: O you, humankind!
Think about this. We have seen it before.
It is the kind of “naming” Adam does at the command of Allah, before God’s angels and the Heavenly Assembly, after God breathes life into him and announces his appointment to Steward of God on Earth. When angel-kind questions the substance of such a being for so lofty a grade, God asks man to demonstrate his difference and the difference he makes.
And so Adam, of a lowly earthen matter, but a higher order knowledge from God, “names” what the angels cannot.
Not a simple tagging or titling, this kind of naming speaks to a thing’s truth so profoundly that it not only identifies it, it reveals its fitrah, the primordial nature upon which God originated it, and the unadulterated character with which God has vested it for its divinely intended purpose.
For God to “remind us” with our “name,” an-nâs, then, is to drive home to us the kind of creation we necessarily are in accordance with His decree for us to be! That is to say, it highlights and brings into full relief our innate human disposition and conduct as they were meant to be, if we are to remain true to the nature and divine intent for our creation, and if we are to retain our ordained stature in creation’s hierarchy.
So what is this quintessential truth about us imprinted in the interstices of our being and that our very name shouts, speaks?
It is “humanity.”
We are the creation whose content is conscience, compassion, love of learning, and, above all, benevolence.
We are the creation built to do right, forbid wrong, uplift the downtrodden, lower the wing of mercy over the vulnerable and weak, show kindness to the suffering, give sustenance to the needy, succor the sorrowful, and follow the path of knowledge—come what may—to the truth.
This is the defining meaning of human being, of being human, of humanity.
Then, in truth, I ask you, what ails us, we of Islam in the hollow of God’s Hand? Where, for the sake of God, is our humanity?
Have our eyes not beheld enough tragedy, enough suffering, enough wanton slaughter and killing? Can our ears no longer harken to the cry of the infant that knows not why she is bombed, burned, and buried beneath the rubble? To the children shrieking amid the drone-lightning and missile-thunder.
How much hunger among the destitute, the persecuted, the utterly devastated will suffice us and this by-standing world of ours? How much?
How much life force must ebb away in city streets, spill upon village land, over sand, and rock, and soil to quench our raging hearts and greed-driven nations? How much?
How much life must be senselessly spent? How many bones must be splintered? How much flesh locked up?
How many homes turned to rubble? How many fruit trees uprooted? How many lives shattered, hopes crushed, dreams turned to dust? How many? How much is enough?
Sufficient is Allah for us, and the very best of guardians.
We stand now upon the threshold of two spaces, one of place, the other of time. As for our place, we live on the edge of a world that shows every sign of looming cataclysm—and not from one or two angles, but from every point circling the periphery. All that was solid, that we once could assume and depend upon, has suddenly vanished into air.
From the seasons, to our climate, to ice, sea, and land; from civility, to neighborliness, to family, marriage, and gender; and from the wholesomeness of our food to a basic good will toward children.
All of us can see, and we all know in our hearts, that our world is hurtling toward the abyss. One shudders at the thought of the unimaginable magnitude of what man seems about to face.
Yet in the midst of man’s headlong rush toward darkness comes a cyclical light burning bright to catch his attention and give him pause to reorient himself. This brings us to our second threshold, that of time. Ramadan is upon us, and not a moment too soon, an incomparable month of possibility and promise.
Flush with hope and lush with blessing, Ramadan is a divinely designed intervention to turn forgetful, confused men and women back toward God with mindful focus, and thereby to return them to the common senses of their own humanity.
Ramadan’s essence is consciousness of God. Its mechanisms are a tandem of maximal self-restraint accompanied by intensified striving. The first device is a stringent regimen of well-defined abstentions from the rudiments that sustain and animate us, or fasting. It prevents the indulgent ‘self’ from food, water, and the passions that whelm over it, from dawn to sunset. This is siyâm.
Its second instrument is manifest acts of pure worship, chief among them standing in salâh, or ritual prayer, particularly in the night and specifically beyond the obligatory requirements. For salâh requires us to tune out the noise and diversions of the world and enables us to tune into the speech and instruction of God in an intense, systematic review of the Quran all the month long. This is qiyâm.
Ramadan’s third structure is almsgiving, which brings its first two mechanisms to tangible fruition. It does this by providing us unrivaled incentive to invest in the poor (in the form of a windfall of divine reward in return) and through the Quran’s incessant exhortation of us to depart with something of our too-beloved wealth and possessions in charity, to cleanse our souls and untether them from the world. Most of this is voluntary giving, as it must be to build our human character and brace our hearts to sustain their humanity. But some of it is mandatory.
These payments to the poor, of both types, work untold wonders within us, and something on the order of miracles without. They immeasurably fortify good and gain in the human community against a debilitating and depleting evil, bolstering hope against corrosive despair. They purify our wealth. They verify the sincerity of our will to recapture our personal humanity, and solidify our determination to do so, saving us, in the process, from the avarice of our own souls. This is sadaqah, including the universal payment of the Fast-Breaking Charity, Sadaqat Al-Fitr.
Ramadan’s methods are such because it is in the deliberate, self prompting remembrance of God, by way of these three simultaneous practices, that we may return ourselves to humanity, and return humanity to ourselves.
By these means does Ramadan provide the space wherein our humanity is restored; our human purpose (to worship God and serve as His steward on Earth) re-commissioned; and our care, compassion, and kindness recalibrated in a morally resuscitated conscience.
Note also that Ramadan is a full month long. That is a sufficient term, capable of altering a person’s outlook and changing his or her behavior to activate that renewed vision.
nothing is more needed now in the world, yâ, ayyuhan-nâs, than eyes that can see humanity.
…and hands that will change things and give.
is the perfect time for us to renew our humanity and to express it by giving generously to our brothers and sisters—from a single father and first womb—who are in dire need.
said the Prophet, peace be upon him, who alerted us to this, saying: “The most excellent charity is in Ramadan.”