Every year before Ramadan starts, we all feel the spiritual vacuum and the withdrawal kicks in. We desperately look forward to Ramadan as we require that dose of spiritual discipline. We want to recharge our imaan, so we say, “Come forth oh Ramadan! For the hearts are indeed ill…”
أقبل يا رمضان، فإن القلوب مريضة
We all notice a significant change in Ramadan, don’t we? There is a sense of stillness and calmness as we gravitate towards the musallahs, mushafs, and masajid with regularity and ease. Many of us plan in advance and take time off work so we can engage with the holy month as best as we can. People report that they feel calmer and less irritated, and it seems that time somehow stretches and allows us to invest in our spiritual growth. Many rekindle ties and also forgive those who have caused heartache and upset, as we seek solace knowing that this is the month for seeking and gaining forgiveness from Allah . The Prophet said, “Be merciful to others and you will receive mercy. Forgive others and Allah will forgive you.” [Sahih; Musnad Aḥmad 6541] God conscious Muslims walk into Ramadan with a renewed and rejuvenated intention to start afresh!
Many of us notice a change within ourselves; of course to various degrees. The change is in the inner dimension, our core, our thinking, our cognition, our perception, and in our priorities. What remains constant and unchanged is everyday life, our reality, our stresses, strains, warts, wounds, roles, and responsibilities. Most of us choose to re-frame our lives in Ramadan, which is great alhamdulillah. As Iqbal says:
اپنے من میں ڈوب کر پا جا سراغ زندگی , “apne man meñ Duub kar pā jā surāġh-e-zindagī” (drown in your soul and search for the meaning of life).
We have to agree that the most sustainable and meaningful change is the internal change, which is dynamic and transformational.
From a young age we all are told that the shayateen are shackled in chains in Ramadan, and hence we always attributed this ease of change in Ramadan to the fact that shaytan is forced to live in a dark gloomy dungeon in this month. This is of course is based on the hadith of the Prophet who said, “When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of the heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained, whoever fasts during Ramadan out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards, then all his past sins will be forgiven.” [Bukhari]
It’s wonderful that there is no negative influence on our soul; that we aren’t polluted or poisoned by the constant whispers of the shaytan, and hence it’s easy to be a better version of ourselves in this month. Nevertheless, the reality is that most of us have chronic issues with our own nafs and deep-rooted negative habits; so although our spiritual practice might increase in Ramadan, we still have relationship issues, we still get cross and angry and say and do things that have negative impacts on our spiritual health and well-being, and it effects the quality of our relationships.
It is so important to use the month of Ramadan to reflect, contemplate, and assess our responses. Realize that we have to learn to respond and not react to people and situations. All our knee-jerk reactions stem from our survival mode. Once we cultivate the habit of objectively assessing our inner state, the state of our heart, we can tell if at any given situation the response is stemming from unresolved issues, trauma from our childhood, or previous relationships. For example, sometimes we feel abandoned or unloved when our spouse might say or do something. Often our feelings and reactions can be very charged, intense, and out of proportion, so we have to assess what is going on internally by becoming objective and curious. Here we adopt the Islamic principle of muhasibah (محاسبہ) or introspection, analysis, and accountability. Making a habit of doing this practice daily in Ramadan will be an excellent way towards self-growth and spiritual development. This allows us to be inquisitive, so that we can explore the root causes of negative behavior or responses. We can look at the situation objectively and ask:
Has this situation reminded me of a relationship dynamic or situation of the past where I have felt weak and vulnerable?
Is this my inflated ego?
Is this a waswasa from shaytan?
Did I lose husan-e-dhan (good opinion of the other person)?
Am I feeling anger or fear; if so, why?
Do I feel entitled?
Am I worried that I might lose control?
All these questions provide a frame work with which to be introspective, and generates personal growth.
As infants we have a constant need to feel safe and secure, so our primary care givers have to meet our needs 100% all the time; our parents mostly and adults generally tend to meet our physical and emotional needs. We all need, attention, affection, appreciation, permission to express ourselves, and acknowledgement. As we grow older, we become independent and learn to meet our own physical, emotional and other needs. Research shows that as adults in relationships, we only need 25% attention from the “significant other”, and the rest can be provided by our inner resources; for example our relationship with ourselves, with Allah , our family, friends, purpose, passion, social structures, hobbies, etc. The neurochemistry -different chemicals of the brain- impact our moods and attitudes on a daily basis. There are several activities we engage with to increase the flow and influx of these chemicals to feel positive every day. For instance, having a good self-care routine and focusing on little successes every day increases dopamine. Practice of mindfulness, walking, or any other form of physical activity increase Serotonin which actually is a mood stabilizer. Showing physical affection to family members or pets increases Oxytocin, which is called the love hormone. Here we recognize that our emotional needs do not need to be met by others constantly, and that we for the most part can actually make ourselves feel content and positive by having a positive and proactive attitude.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t rely on others’ It just proves that Allah has blessed us with the inner resilience and ability to thrive even when things are not exactly how we want them to be. This realization is transformative, Alhamdulillah. We stop controlling things that are not in our control and learn how to submit and surrender. This shift re-frames our inner and mental map as we start navigating our relationships as adults. We learn to live in the present and make a conscious decision to park the emotional baggage from the past. The Prophet , said, “The upper hand is better than the lower hand. The upper hand is one that gives and the lower hand is one that takes”. [Bukhārī 1429, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 1033] This means that when we work on ourselves, we learn how to operate from the adult place where we can serve and support others with meaning and intent rather than constantly having unrealistic expectations from others.
There is no doubt that it is Allah’s mercy that allows our hearts to operate on the different paradigm in Ramadan. Let’s focus on how can we utilize this month to transform our relationships. We have to aim to work on establishing and maintaining healthy relationships which are inter-dependant and not co-dependent. Co-dependent relationship are detrimental, but people struggle to leave them. It’s the same relationship an alcoholic has with alcohol.
Inter-dependant relationships are healthy and they have clear boundaries and balance. People have realistic expectations and they aren’t constantly in need of the other person’s support and validation. Spiritually speaking, this means that we keep our worldly resources, our blessings, our rizk, which includes our relationships, in our hands not in our heart. Working on our spiritual and emotional well-being allows us to function from a resourceful place. We become grounded, independent, assertive, objective, solution focused, and positive in our dealings with others.
May Allah hold, heal, cure, and restore our hearts this Ramadan and make us amongst those who seek and gain his pleasure.
Originally published on muslimmatters.org