This article comes on Day 26 of our special Altmuslim/Patheos Muslim Ramadan #30Days30Writers blog project, in which we are showcasing the voices of 30 Muslim leaders, activists, scholars, writers, youth and more (one on each day of Ramadan) as part of our commitment to own our own narratives and show how we are one Ummah, many voices. To demonstrate how our Ramadan experiences are shared yet unique to each of us.
By Tammy Elmansoury
We the people are spiritually a mess. We are constantly connected to external stimuli and these connections take our energy and time away from what our souls truly long for — the company of our Creator.
And there is no escape from that feeling. In many instances, depression and anxiety are a result of the fitra, our inherent nature, yearning for her Creator. Our father Adam, peace be upon him, was content with the company of his Lord whenever he wished in our original home, but when he was removed from Paradise his heart was heavy and saddened by loss. Over time, humanity became hardened on earth and thought less and less about Paradise, and that connection weakened. But Allah ta’ala created the fitra, and He keeps it burning and alive in some of His servants. Deliberately stomping out that longing, or distracting oneself with other than Allah, is spiritual suicide.
I remember reading an article in the New York Times a few years ago about a Manhattan advertising consultant named Mark Trippetti, who complained of feeling empty and stressed from his fast paced life. He went to a retreat center in Colorado where he was asked to turn over his phone, tablet and computer as soon as he arrived. For the next 30 days, he would wake up at 3 a.m., sip a cup of tea, then sit on his cushion for three hours in meditation. He reported feeling anxious for the first few hours, constantly feeling stressed that he could not check email or send a text.
After a while, however, that feeling subsided and he expressed feeling remarkable clarity and calm. “Each retreat, I go deeper,” he said. “The first one made clear to me that I needed to make gross shifts in my life. These last two have become more and more subtle in terms of seeing the issues that I face, as do all beings, in order to separate the true nature of reality from the habituations of my mind.”
Now imagine this clarity combined with yaqin, certain knowledge, of Allah ta’ala. Such a person is not a slave to any affair of this world and is able to devote him or herself fully to the Creator. We imagine that the good people of the past did not have problems equal to our problems, and because of that they were able to focus only on Allah ta’ala. But their problems were very real and their challenges were enormous.
The great sage Rabi’a al-Adawiyya was born into terrible poverty; it is reported that her parents did not even possess a cloth to wrap her in as an infant. The night she was born, her father watched his wife and daughter fall asleep and soon fell asleep himself in sadness. He dreamt of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, who said, “Your daughter who has just come to earth will be a queen among women and even the angels will envy her for her devotion. The Prophet, peace be upon him, then told him, “Write to the governor of Basra and remind him that he had forgotten to offer salutations upon me the night before, and that he must offer the bearer of the message four hundred dirhams in expiation for this.”
Rabi’a’s father woke and wrote the message as the Prophet had instructed him and delivered it; the governor knew this was truth because no one could have known it and gave her family what was asked.
In this way, Rabi’a grew in an atmosphere of complete reliance on Allah alone; after her parents died she suffered immense hardship but she remained close to Him. She was captured as a child and sold into slavery, spending her days in hard labor but her nights in devotional prayer to her Lord.
Still a small girl, she was out performing an errand for her master and fell on the road and dislocated her hand. Alone on the road and in pain, we can imagine that she felt extremely sorrowful and alone. She called out, ‘Oh Allah, I am a stranger, orphaned of mother and father, a helpless prisoner fallen into captivity with my hand broken. Yet for all of this I do not grieve, all I require is to know that You are pleased with me.’
Allah ta’ala did not abandon her. She was devoted to Him, and He continued caring for her. One day her master awoke to find her praying in another room with the light of a lantern suspended in the air above her head. He returned to his room and sat pensively until dawn. When day broke, he called for her and freed her.
It begins with a small change in our daily routines. It involves removing oneself from “life” to began a journey with immense rewards. Begin the day with a wudu from the heart, then two rakat of prayer as if it was your last prayer, then a quiet room with some incense and a fragrant candle. Orient your prayer carpet towards the Kaaba and sit with concentration and humility. Pour your thoughts and troubles out to your Lord, who states in His hadith Qudsi that He is waiting for His servants to call upon Him. And remember often the beautiful verse where Allah ta’ala tells us, “And if my Servant asks you (Muhammad) about me, (tell him) I am near. I answer the call of the caller if he calls upon Me.” It is His promise that He will be there.
Over time, vary your routine to include readings of the pious people of the past who devoted themselves to the path and were rewarded by Allah ta’ala for their efforts. Search out such people today and keep company with them, people such as these can never be harmed nor defeated by any worldly force. In this way, the spiritual journey we begin in Ramadan will stay with us the course of our lives.
Tammy Elmansoury earned her MPhil in Middle Eastern History at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. She is a History Professor at Union County College in Cranford, NJ.
 On the authority of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him), who said that the Prophet peace be upon him said: Allah the Almighty said: I am as My servant thinks I am. I am with him when he makes mention of Me. If he makes mention of Me to himself, I make mention of him to Myself; and if he makes mention of Me in an assembly, I make mention of him in an assemble better than it. And if he draws near to Me an arm’s length, I draw near to him a fathom’s length. And if he comes to Me walking, I go to him at speed. It was related by al-Buhkari (also by Muslim, at-Tirmidhi and Ibn-Majah).
 Quran 2: 186.