Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Lessons From Eid (Raya)

‘And remind them of the days of Allah; in them are signs for the steadfast and the grateful,” as we are told in verse five of the chapter of Abraham. Eid is one of those days of Allah; it is a season of celebration. “Allah intends for you ease and He wishes not hardship for you. That you complete the prescribed period; and you glorify Allah for the guidance He has granted you; and that perchance you might be grateful,” (al-baqarah 2:185).

The celebration of Eid is in three parts: first, gratefulness for blessings received; second, thanksgiving for a fast completed; and third, a celebration of faith. Foremost is the recognition and acknowledgment of all that Allah has given us.

When each one of us – young and old alike – looks to our own immediate moment and appreciate what we have, realising that we actually are better off than so many people in the world; and in this one private moment we are content with Allah. “And if you attempt to count the blessings of Allah, never will you be able to enumerate them. Verily Allah is Oft Forgiving, Most Merciful,” (al-nahl 16:18).

We celebrate the good fortune to have witnessed this Ramadan and to have completed the fast. For many young people this was your first year to fast the entire month – congratulations. The Prophet (PBUH) is proud to see your effort. “And say: work righteousness; Allah will see your work, and His Messenger, and the believers,” (al-tawbah 9:105). For many of you this month was a renewal of faith, the turning of a new page in your relationship with Allah; and this renewed effort reminded you of the enthusiasm of your own first Ramadans – congratulations. We must carry this renewal with us into the year ahead.

Most of all, Eid al Fitr (the breakfast celebration) is a celebration of faith, iman; and of clear guidance, in the revelation of the Quran; and of compassionate leadership in the model of the complete insan, Muhammad the grandson of Adnan. “Is he who was dead and we gave him life and made for him a light by which he walks among the people, like one who remains in the depths of darkness, never to come out?” (al-an’am 6:122).

We can find so much to be grateful and thankful for in a world where 80 per cent of its population currently lives in sub-standard housing. Where over 30 per cent of the world’s adult population still remains unable to read or write. Where 50 per cent of the world is suffering from malnutrition; and 33 per cent of people do not have access to clean or safe drinking water.

If you woke up healthy this morning, you are better off than the one million people who will not survive to the end of this week – and you have much to be grateful for.

If you never had to suffer the danger of war, the isolation of prison, the agony of torture, or the pain of hunger, then you are better off than 500 million people in the world today – and you have much to be thankful for. If you have food in a refrigerator somewhere, a fresh change of clothes and a place to sleep tonight, then you are more comfortable than 75 per cent of the people in the world today – and you have a great deal to be thankful for. If you have any money in the bank or in a wallet, and spare change in your pocket, then you can count yourself among the top eight per cent of the world’s wealthy – and you have so much to be grateful for.

To my young brothers and sisters here; I am reminded of a documentary I listened to just last week of an interview with a 12-year-old boy sitting in the ruins of his schoolhouse in the Burmese delta. After cyclone Nargis they don’t even have the money or materials to rebuild their homes, let alone their schools; but that doesn’t stop the kids from wanting to go back to class. This boy told of how he lost his entire family except for his mother in the cyclone and flooding. His father was swept away and drowned in the flood waters. His grandmother had been left to protect the small children, his grandfather went out to check if she was safe, neither of them was ever seen again. His older brother’s neck had been injured and he couldn’t walk.

Here was this young boy trying to carry his older brother, but he lost him in the flood waters. Then he too was swept away by the river, taking refuge in the air pocket under a capsized boat and carried three days’ journey down river. When he finally made it back to his own village he had no one left but his mother. Today, sitting for this interview in the ruins of his schoolhouse, he said that his greatest aspiration is to study hard; and to eventually become a carpenter’s apprentice, and then build his mother a home where he can care for her in her old age. I believe that we have a great deal to be thankful for.

The point here is that we appreciate the blessings that we have. When you see your family, your brothers and sisters, your parents, appreciate them. When you look into the face of a friend, appreciate that; and know that these relationships are priceless. And most of all, be appreciative of all that Allah has favoured you with; and celebrate that appreciation in these special days. Last year, on this very day, in this very place, we said to ourselves – looking into the future toward this very moment – that when we look back on this year ahead of us, what do we want to be able to say to ourselves? We said that there were four negative trends in our Ummah: reactionary tendencies, sectarianism, politicisation of Deen – meaning the making of religion into an ideology, and a disconnectedness with the everyday world. We said that we wanted to contribute to the reduction of these. Where do we stand today, one year later?

We said that we should be motivated and driven by our principles to embrace the concerns of the human community of which we are a part. We noticed eight symptoms of spiritual crisis in the modern world:

(1) Ecological degradation and environmental discord;

(2) Stark materialism and an audacious consumerism that ultimately ends with making people themselves into commodities or treating them as no more than a means to selfish ends;

(3) The gradual extinction and eradication of traditional organic cultures;

(4) Politically motivated barbarism, whether by individual or state actors, and the attendant desensitisation to human suffering that it engenders;

(5) Inter and intra-religious sectarianism;

(6) Social discord fuelled by the dislocation or compelled migration of populations;

(7) A growing sense of alienation and loss in the lives of individuals; and

(8) A general loss of a sense of the sacred in our experience of reality.

We saw that in order to be effective agents of change and contribute to the amelioration of these issues, it would be required of those would-be agents of positive change to have the constitution of the “Strangers” that the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) celebrated in his famous narration.

That constitution being based on two foundations: first, courage, to stick to one’s principles even in the face of adversity; and second, leadership, to step forward even if alone when others are shy or hesitant. These courageous leaders of positive change are the people that Allah refers to in His Quran when He says: “He who was dead and we gave him life and made for him a light by which he walks among the people.”

Brothers and sisters – there are 1.5 billion Muslims in this world today. Imagine if only half of them were to embrace the primary shama’il character traits of our beloved Mohammed (PBUH): patience and forbearance; generosity and forgiveness; courage and fairness; modesty and humility; truthfulness and reliability; dignity and simplicity; and, of course, mercy and compassion. That would be 750 million catalysts of positive change in the world.

But what, instead, if we began as individuals, in our own lives and the lives of our families, making these characteristics of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) the footing upon which we interact with the members of society around us? I’m certain that would contribute to the wellbeing of the ecology of our human and natural environment, as well as the lived experience of the people that inhabit it.Allah’s Messenger Mohammed (PBUH) was sent for the sole purpose of compassion emanating from a heart of God-consciousness.

This day of Eid al Fitr 2008, in the 1,429th year of the Hijra, is a day the purpose of which is to celebrate the blessings of Allah. Let us take to heart the words of verse fifty-eight of the chapter of Jonah: “Say: In the generosity of Allah and in His mercy; in that let them celebrate; it is better than [the wealth] they amass.”
Jihad Hashim Brown is director of research at the Tabah Foundation in Abu Dhabi. He preached this sermon yesterday at the Maryam bint Sultan Mosque in the city to mark the end of Ramadan

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