Turning Inward vs. Social Commitments – Finding the Balance in Ramadan

Image source: Pixabay
Image source: Pixabay

This is Day Seven of the 2017 #30Days30Writers Ramadan series – June 2, 2017

By Hosai Mojaddidi

Every year Muslims all across the world usher in the month of Ramadan with hope and excitement. It is a time for deep reflection, spiritual rejuvenation/replenishment and rigorous spiritual works. It is also a time for increased community engagement and activity; many people break fast together with their family and friends and visit the masjid every day to either break fast with their fellow community members and/or pray tarawih (special night prayers during Ramadan).

For some, finding a balance between the pressing impulse to focus inwardly and disconnect socially and a deep desire to strengthen ties and connect with others, can be one of the most difficult challenges during the month. This is especially evident on social media platforms like Facebook, where before Ramadan even begins, many people write posts announcing that they are “deactivating” (i.e., fasting from social media as well as from food and drink) for the month and will be back after the Eid celebration.

While many are able to successfully keep their commitment and wean themselves for the entire month, a great number struggle and eventually reappear after a short hiatus. The former group is usually applauded for exhibiting the strength and willpower to stay off social media for the whole month, while the latter group languishes in self-loathing, conceding to the notion that they are somehow spiritually inferior.  

This vacillation between needing/wanting spiritual intimacy and spiritual cohesion, which I have personally experienced on many occasions and not just during Ramadan, is something that has always fascinated me about the modern Muslim experience and in particular during this blessed month.

I have often wondered why, for so many, it is difficult to justify fulfilling the outward and the inward in Ramadan; and why they feel they must sacrifice one aspect of their nature to reap the rewards in the other?

For example, just a couple of days ago, I was speaking to someone who expressed her need to completely isolate herself during the month. She said that she was so averse to socializing that she wished she could make a public request to her friends/family not to invite her to any iftars; she just wanted to be at home. This is just one of countless examples of conversations I’ve had with others over the years who’ve expressed a similar sentiment: Ramadan is a time for spiritual retreat/isolation and not a time for socialization.

Is this true, though? Are we supposed to cut ourselves off from others and retreat in our homes for the whole month in order to reach some heightened level of spiritual enlightenment? Is “socializing” during Ramadan a categorically blameworthy act? Or are there positive ways to socialize that are also spiritually uplifting and enlightening, and if so, what are they?

And most importantly, what was the practice of our Beloved Prophet (God’s peace and blessings upon him)? Did he isolate himself completely from others for the duration of the month?

When we study the seerah, we find that the Prophet did in fact engage with others throughout the month. He met with people frequently, counseled them, taught them, continued his normal daily affairs and broke fast with them in the evening. There were even major military campaigns, like the Battles of Badr and Tabuk, which took place during Ramadan; clearly suggesting that the Prophet and his Companions didn’t isolate themselves, but carried out their normal affairs.

Of course, we know that during the last ten days of the month, the Prophet retreated in the masjid for i’tikaaf (immersing oneself in worship at the masjid and avoiding worldly affairs), but even then he was in the masjid surrounded by his Companions.

Ramadan is undoubtedly the most spiritually significant time of the year for Muslims. Our time is precious and we should absolutely use it wisely, but we don’t necessarily have to do everything alone. We are after all, a deen of jama’a, and as they say, “there are strength in numbers.”  While there’s no denying the immense benefits of praying alone in a private sanctuary, we can also benefit tremendously by praying with our fellow brothers and sisters and listening to the melodious voices of our gifted and talented reciters.

Eating iftar with our families and loved ones in the comfort of our own homes is without doubt a great blessing, but so is breaking the fast with perfect strangers who share your faith and seek the same reward of pleasing their Lord as you do. And, while withdrawing from friends, whether in real life or virtually, may feel empowering in the moment, just imagine how much strength it takes to engage with others mindfully, purposefully, and completely aware of the presence of your Lord?

And, imagine how much it pleases Allah, subhana wa ta`ala, to see us gathering and communing with our fellow brothers and sisters for His sake.  

The Prophet Muhammad said, “True spiritual excellence is devotion to God as if you see Him; and though you do not see Him, you at least know that He sees you.” (Al-Bukhari & Muslim)

The Prophet Muhammad said, “After obligatory rites, the action most beloved to God is delighting other Muslims.” (At-Tabarani)

The key of course is moderation, and that is the point here. We are a people of the middle way, not one extreme or the other. May we all learn to find the balance between our needs and wants this Ramadan and every day after that. May we strengthen our hearts and our community bonds, and may God accept all of our prayers, fasts, and good deeds.

Ameen.

Hosai Mojaddidi is the coFounder of MH4M (www.mentalhealth4muslims.com), where she advocates for and writes about various mental health related topics tailored for Muslims. She has served the American-Muslim community for nearly 20 years as an activist, writer/editor, mediator, interfaith organizer, and public speaker, covering a variety of topics including women’s issues, marriage/family, education, self development, interfaith bridge building, spirituality, seerah, etc.  She offers monthly self-development and spiritual wellness classes at Ta’leef Collective in Fremont and offers regular educational workshops for students and teachers at local Islamic schools. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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