Category Archives: Dawa & Outreach

The Fasting of Ramadan: A Time for Thought, Action, and Change!

By Taha Ghayyur & Taha Ghaznavi

“Fasting in Ramadan develops in a person the real spirit of social belonging, of unity and brotherhood, and of equality before God. This spirit is the natural product of the fact that when people fast they feel that they are joining the whole Muslim society (which makes up more than one fifth of world’s population) in observing the same duty, in the same manner, at the same time, for the same motives, and for the same end. No sociologist or historian can say that there has been at any period of history anything comparable to this powerful institution of Islam: Fasting in the month of Ramadan. People have been crying throughout the ages for acceptable ‘belonging’, for unity, for brotherhood, for equality, but how echoless their voices have been, and how very little success they have met…” says Hammudah Abdalati in Islam in Focus.

“What is fasting?” “How does the fasting of Muslims in Ramadan differ from the fasting of other faiths?” “Why should one ‘torture’ one’s body in the first place?” “What do you really gain from fasting in the end?”…These are a few questions that a number of non-Muslim friends and colleagues often ask us, usually out of fascination with this spiritually-uplifting practice of Islamic faith, and at times out of pity and sympathy for us, thinking, why should anyone suffer from hunger and thirst like Muslims? I wouldn’t be surprised if many of us shared the same negative perception of Fasting.

It is important to note that Fasting in Arabic is called, “Sawm”, which literally means ‘to be at rest’. Fasting in the month of Ramadan (the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar) is one of the Five Pillars upon which the “house” of Islam is built. During this month, every able-bodied Muslim, is required to fast, everyday from dawn until dusk

12 Reasons To Fast!

1. Fasting is an institution for the improvement of moral and spiritual character of human being. The purpose of the fast is to help develop self-restraint, self-purification, God-consciousness, compassion, the spirit of caring and sharing, the love of humanity and the love of God. Fasting is a universal custom and is advocated by all the religions of the world, with more restrictions in some than in others. The Islamic Fast, as opposed to mere starvation or self-denial, is an act of worship and obedience to God, thanksgiving, forgiveness, spiritual training, and self-examination.

2. Ramadan gives us a break and provides us with a rare opportunity to think about our own selves, our future, and our families. It is a time to give our selves a mental break and to temporarily forget about the hundreds of worries and stresses we are constantly bombarded with. In hectic times, such as ours, and in places like the West, this valuable time to think about our lives, on individual basis, is a luxury and is desperately needed! It is a unique month of self-analysis, and of taking stock of one’s moral and spiritual ‘assets and liabilities’.

3. Fasting indoctrinates us in patience, unselfishness, and gratitude. When we fast we feel the pains of deprivation and hunger, and learn how to endure it patiently. The meaning of this powerful experience in a social and humanitarian context is that we are much quicker than anybody else in sympathizing with the oppressed and needy around the world, and responding to their needs. “It is the month to visit the poor, the sick, and the needy to share their sorrows. It is the month where the food, sustenance and the earnings of a believing Muslim increases and they are blessed,” says the Final Prophet of God, Muhammad (peace be upon him), a man who was known for his noble humanitarian causes, for social justice, and for being the first to respond to other’s needs, despite the fact that he himself lived a very simple and humble life. It is only during such a trying time as Ramadan that we can reflect on the condition of those in this world who may not be as fortunate as us.

4. Fasting in Ramadan enables us to master the art of mature adaptability and Time-Management. We can easily understand this point when we realize that fasting makes people change the entire course of their daily life. When they make the change, they naturally adapt themselves to a new system and schedule, and move along to satisfy the rules. This, in the long run, develops in them a wise sense of adaptability and self-created power to overcome the unpredictable hardships of life! A person who values constructive adaptability, time-management, and courage will appreciate the effects of Fasting in this respect as well.

5. It cultivates in us the principle of sincere Love, because when we observe Fasting, we do it out of deep love for God. And a person, who loves God, truly is a person who knows what love is and why everyone on this Earth should be loved and treated justly, for the sake of God.

6. Fasting elevates the human spirit and increases our awareness of God. It strengthens our will-power as we learn to rise above our lower desires. The institution of fasting is both unique and a shared experience in human history. From the very beginning of time, humans have struggled to master their physical and psychological selves: their bodies and their emotions. Hunger is one the most powerful urges that we experience. Many, through over- or under-eating or consumption of unhealthy foods, abuse this urge. Thus, when a person purposefully denies something to their own self that it craves, they are elevating their mind above their body, and their reason and will above their carnal passions. “A fasting person empties his stomach of all the material things: to fill his soul with peace and blessings, to fill his heart with love and sympathy, to fill his spirit with piety and Faith, to fill his mind with wisdom and resolution,” says H. Abdalati in Islam in Focus. The person who can rule their desires and make them work, as they like, has attained true moral excellence.

7. With the clarity of mind and absence of distractions, also comes a greater focus. As students, the period of fasting, especially early during the day, serves as a tool to focus our minds on our academics. In the month of Ramadan, many Muslims try to avoid watching TV, listening to music, and some other leisure activities, which spares them more time and energy to be spent on more productive activities such as academics, intense study of Islam, voluntary prayers, social and humanitarian causes, and a quality time with the family, to name a few. It is a reminder of our duty to God, our purpose and higher values in life, as God Himself describes the purpose of fasting as follows, “O you who Believe! Fasting has been prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may develop consciousness of God” (Quran 2:183).

8. Fasting has numerous, scientifically proven, benefits for our physical health and mental well-being. The time, length and nature of the Islamic Fast all contribute to its overall positive effect. One of the medical benefits is a much-needed rest to the digestive system. The reduced food intake during the day allows the body to concentrate on getting rid of harmful dietary toxins accumulated as natural by-products of food digestion throughout the year. The length of the Islamic Fast itself (around 12-14 hours) is in sync with the ‘transit time’ of food from the mouth to the colon of the large intestine, ensuring that no stimulus reaches the stomach or digestive system while it remains in homeostasis. Therefore, for the vast majority of healthy individuals fasting poses no medical risks but in fact provides many health benefits, such as: an increase in serum Magnesium, essential for cardio-vascular health and prevention of heart complications; improvement in the quality and depth of sleep; improvement in memory and slower skin aging over time; increased production of growth hormone, etc. Also, as a general note, it has been observed that underfed animals live longer than their heavily fed counterparts and suffer fewer illnesses during their lives.

9. The month of Ramadan provides us with a sort of “Boot camp.” It is a month of intense moral training. Since we know that Fasting is a special duty prescribed by God, we learn that any sins may spoil our record of fasting with God, so we go through great lengths making sure we are on our best behavior. Many people who experience fasting in this month, feel the impact that this intense training has on their habits, and realize the power of this transformative tool designed to make us better human beings- the ultimate goal of any spiritual exercise. The entire Ramadan atmosphere provides the driving force for this positive change.

10. It makes us realize the reality of life and death. Fasting makes us realize how dependant our lives are on things that we often take for granted, such as food and water. It makes us think about our dependence on God and God’s mercy and justice. Moreover, it reminds us of the life after death, which itself has a great impact on our character and our world-view.

11. Ramadan is a blessed month for a special reason: It is actually the month in which God first revealed His final message and guidance for mankind to our beloved Prophet Muhammad. This message has been perfectly preserved both orally and textually in the form of a Book, called the Qur’an (The Reading/Recital). Therefore, Muslims try to do an intense study of the Quran in this month especially, and evaluate their lives according to the standards and guidance contained in it.

12. After the month of Ramadan is over, Muslims celebrate one of the two most important holidays in the Islamic year: EID-UL-FITR, or the Festival of the Fast Breaking. It is a day to thank God for the blessing and training that He provides us with throughout the month of Ramadan. EID-UL-FITR is marked by praying in a huge congregation at an Islamic center or mosque, and by giving a small donation to the poor in the community. The adults give the donation on behalf of their children as well. Dinner parties, family outings, fairs, carnivals, and great joyous celebrations follow the prayer and charity.

In a nutshell, even though the real purpose of the dynamic institution of Fasting is to discipline our soul and moral behavior, and to develop sympathy for the less fortunate, it is a multi-functional and a comprehensive tool of change in various spheres of our lives, including: social and economic, intellectual and humanitarian, spiritual and physical, private and public, personal and common, inner and outer —all in one!

Originally Published in The Medium, University of Toronto at Mississauga. Re-published by &

Leave a comment

Filed under Dawa & Outreach, Personal Development

Helping Parents Come Closer to Allah

A guide for young Muslims in their ‘Super-Muslim’ phase

By Taha Ghayyur

I have spent several sleepless nights praying to Allah to guide my parents,” is what Karima, 15, once wrote.

My parents are so corrupt that I just hope they could make it to Paradise!” is how Tariq, 19, vented his frustration over his parents’ un-Islamic practices.

Perhaps in every home today, there is a Karima or Tariq, a youth who is concerned about their parents’ moral condition.

This phenomenon involves a youth whom, perhaps not so long ago, Allah has blessed with Guidance and they are struggling to revolutionize their life-style in the light of this new-found faith.

In this energetic ‘Super-Muslim’ phase of our journey to Islam, we find two types of youth:

A- The model of Karima– who is constantly seeking Allah’s help in making her parents understand and live Islam; humble and sincere, but simply over-whelmed.

B- The example of Tariq- who is sincere in his relationship with Allah, striving to change himself for the better.

In the process, however, he has become a bit arrogant; even though he desires his parents to change and reach Jannah (Paradise), he is often frustrated and confrontational with his parents.

The stress and grief a concerned Muslim youth experiences at the spiritual and moral state of their parents is only natural. Inviting our culturally-oriented parents or elder siblings, closer to Allah is perhaps the most pains-taking and distressing task a young Muslim would have to undertake.

How could we rest in peace? They have, after all, spent their whole life caring for us at times when we were too young to even recognize and appreciate their compassion towards us. At the same time, we could only do so much to help our parents change their lifestyle. It is Allah who is ultimate changer of the hearts.

Before we embark on a ‘crusade to save’ our parents from the clutches of Hellfire, let’s consider the following tips:

1.  Before anything else, thank Allah to have guided you and empowered you with the beautiful message of His Deen! Ask yourself: “What and where would I be today, had Allah not blessed me with His Message and Mercy? What makes me feel that I am the only chosen one?”

2. Your task:  simply convey the message of Islam through your actions and counselling, while expressing your sincere love, obedience, care, and wisdom. It is ultimately their decision to choose to come closer to Allah.

3. Avoid preaching to your Parents. i.e. Help them realize their ‘opportunities for improvement’  through non-verbal, and non-confrontational means. Perhaps, by now you have begun growing a beard as a brother or observing Hijab as a sister, memorized a few Arabic words and Hadiths, and you are all puffed-up to become a ‘Super-Muslim’. These dramatic changes in your appearance and style of speech may be shocking enough to your parents. Parents do not want to listen to their children lecturing them on how and why they are wrong and sinful.

4.  Emphasize strengthening relationship with Allah through understanding and studying the Quran. Ultimately, after our death, it’s our intimacy with Allah that really matters.

5. Adopt flexibility, give up rigidity. Using wisdom means, doing the right thing, at the right place, the right time. Often, due to our desire for the well-being of our parents, we become stubborn and fail to realize who we are speaking to; respect is disregarded in the name of ‘establishing the Truth’. How often we come across young Muslims making a great fuss over their parents celebrating birthdays  (which is often part of family custom) to the extent that emotions run high, party is boycotted,  and parents/elders are branded ‘ignorant’, ‘corrupt’, ‘people of innovations’…etc.

While such celebrations are not considered Islamic, we need to evaluate and set our priorities straight: What would you gain by using such offensive language and by boycotting a function that is so dear to them? The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once advised his companions: “Make Islam and its affairs easy for people, and do not create hardships for them (through your behaviour). Spread the glad tidings, and do not make people run away” (Bukhari.) Sometimes, it is better to remain silent in the heat of the moment and discuss the Islamic perspective in greater detail at a later stage.

6. Change comes gradually. Let’s try not to pick the fruits before they are ripe. You can’t expect your mother to observe Hijab right after a two-day intense Islamic conference. Nor should you suppose your father praying 5 daily prayers on time the day after his friend took him to a Masjid! There are no ‘quick-fixes’ in the area of faith and guidance. However, parents do change over time, as they feel embarrassed to see their children striving hard to serve their parents and maintaining their Islamic identity.

7.  Help them distinguish between “Islam” and “their Culture”. It is indeed very challenging for parents, grown up in a certain Muslim culture, to realize the difference between Islamic values and their cultural practices. For instance, in the case of choosing marriage partners for their children, parents’ criteria are naturally more inclined towards cultural influences, than Islamic principles. Moreover, there are parents who believe that speaking the mother-tongue is a tenet of Islamic faith, an oft-debated issue among the elders and youth in the West. It is not necessarily the fault of parents; it’s the way they were brought up and were taught Islam.

8. Discuss Islamic alternatives because mere criticism without any solutions is usually harmful. For e.g. suggest some Halal entertainment to replace cinema trips. Demonstrating Islam’s relevance to the contemporary social issue helps a great deal in orienting our parents’ thinking towards Islam.

9. Dealing with Inferiority-Complex: Due to the sense of inferiority to the Western lifestyle in the sub-conscious of our parent’s generation (since most of them have experienced and lived under prolonged western colonial rule in the past), it is difficult for them to understand how Islam could be ‘modern or relevant enough’ to face today’s challenges. To many parents, due to this inferiority-complex, any religious expression seems to be an obstacle in the way of financial and academic progress. Many elders still think Islam is just about rituals, dealing only with ‘rewards and sins’ in the next life, i.e. Islam has no constructive role to play in one’s social, academic, personal, political, and economic spheres of life. Be sensitive to their cultural.

10.  Fulfilling your parent’s dreams: How often do we hear our parents say, especially to those children showing signs of religious-orientation, “The only thing I want for you is good career and education. Once you are done your school and establish yourself financially, you may go ahead and spend as much time as you like calling humanity to Islam.”

While you may consider such wishes as insignificant, it is extremely essential to pay due attention to your parents’ genuine desires, especially if you desire their reform. No doubt, most immigrant Muslim parents exhaust their time, energies, and finances to get their kids the best level of education. Learn to show some gratitude and concern. You cannot necessarily always fulfil their academic dreams for you by becoming either a doctor or engineer, but you can certainly excel in a professional field that you are passionate about and could specialize in. What could be of greater joy to a parent to see their son or daughter a winner in BOTH worlds?  Your ‘success’ in academic career and Islamic activism will In-sha-Allah leave a profound imprint on their thinking, hearts, and perception of Islam

11. Abu Hurairah’s success story: Keep Obeying and Serving your Parents and be Respectful. Obey them as long as they do not ask you to disobey Allah as the Prophet (pbuh) has advised us, “There is no obedience in the disobedience to the Creator” (Bukhari). Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him), a companion of the Prophet (pbuh) who narrated the greatest number of Hadiths, would often become upset at his mother’s stubbornness in rejecting the message of the Prophet (pbuh). Abu Hurairah would engage in verbal confrontation with her because she constantly accused the Prophet (pbuh) of being a magician. One day he went to the Prophet (pbuh) and described his situation in pain, “O Messenger of Allah! I have always been trying to make my mother accept Islam, but she always refuses to accept it… But today, when I asked her to believe in Almighty Allah, she became extremely angry and started insulting and rebuking you, which I could not stand and tears began to flow from my eyes. O Messenger of Allah! Please pray to Allah that may He open the heart of my mother to Islam.” Abu Hurairah has perhaps echoed the voices of many distressed religious youth today going through the ‘Super-Muslim’ phase.

Interestingly, the Prophet (pbuh) advised him to be kind to her, as Allah would soon open her heart to Islam. Then he prayed, “O Allah! Guide the mother of Abu Hurairah.” As Abu Hurairah returned home that night, he realized her mother had just taken a bath and was ready to declare Shahadah, Al-hamdulillah!

12. Maintain a light sense of humour. A pleasant environment and good sense of humour win many hearts and develop a healthy dialog. The Prophet (peace be upon him) was big on light, decent jokes that made others feel special and closer to him.

13. Spend quality time with parents: It is strange that so many practicing Muslim brothers and sisters could hang out at Islamic events or simply chat over the phone with friends for hours, yet they have no time to spare for parents. Ever wonder why your parents don’t feel the need to listen to you and ‘your’ message any more? Such an attitude indeed reminds us of the reality of Prophet’s (peace be upon him) statement about the coming of the Day of Judgement: A time will come when people will greet their friends warmly, and approach their parents with cold attitude (Bukhari).

14.   Biggest Mistake: attacking your parents in front of other family members! Very often we loose our credibility by simply ridiculing, or even politely pointing out the mistakes of our parents in front of others. It only makes matters worse for your Dawah and generates tension in the family. Perhaps we do it thinking if we discuss ‘the fault’ in other people’s presence, our parents may decide to rectify themselves due to the embarrassment.However, exactly the opposite happens! Don’t forget, in most cases, even if they realize their mistake, at that very moment they would make sure to defend their stand. Last thing your parents would want to do is to admit to their young ones that they were wrong and sinful!

15. Give a gift:When was the last time you presented a sincere gift to your parents? Are you aware of the Prophet Muhammad’s words, “Exchange gifts to reinforce love and intimacy”? If your parents like reading books, give them a thought-provoking and appealing book on Islam or on the purpose of life.If they like watching or listening, there are numerous tapes available from the Islamic media today to assist you.

16. Be extra caring and concerned in their difficult times: such as illness, financial problems, depression, etc. This is the phase of life when they need you and are more willing to listen to you; they may finally come out of their superficial world of comfort and taste the reality. In fact, most people change their lifestyles and beliefs around in the low phases of their lives. Your presence, physical help, and religious counselling are crucial at this point. Remember, on the other hand, your insensitiveness and indifference to their trying situation, would haunt them for the rest of their lives. Don’t delay your service to them. The Prophet (peace be upon him) once warned us, “May he be disgraced,” repeating it three times, “who finds his parents, one or both, approaching old age, and he does not enter Paradise by serving them.”

17. Have your meals together as a family whenever possible! Sharing food together brings people’s hearts together, coupled with Allah’s blessings. It’s a proven way of effective communication and of increasing affection.

18. Arrange an exquisite pot-luck: Organize a one-dish party, where all your close friends and their parents are invited. Make sure the parents have minimal involvement in cooking and logistics. Parents should come as guests, and you, the “religious” kids, should serve that evening! At first, your parents may laugh at the idea even. However, when they come together and see your love and dedication as a group, they cannot but help understand your desire for their guidance. Moreover, it will help them realize that their ‘kids are in safe hands’ and that they are ‘fun-loving’ people. It will give the parents a sense of belonging in a more religious setting.

19. Consult your parents’ religious friends. Sometimes finding a religious friend or relative of your parent, who has some influence on them, could also help. It’s been observed that some people just change and return to Allah as soon as they find a good environment and a role model that they admire.

20. A simple thank you: How often do you say simple “Thank You” or “Jazakallahu Khayran” to your parents for daily favors? And what about their perseverance in raising you as a good Muslim? Don’t forget, most likely they are the first ones to have taught you “La-ilaaha illallaah…” (There is no God but Allah), the first pillar of Islam that we claim to live by today. You owe them a big Jazaks, every breath of your life!

21. Involve parents in decision-making: When was the last time you consulted your parents regarding your academic goals? Did you ever update them on school grades (apart from the reason that the grades may be floating ‘below the C level’, hence not too impressive!)? Do you discuss with them the Islamic criteria that you wish to use in selecting your marriage partner? Simple acts of mutual consultation or ‘Shura’, gives everyone opportunity to ‘open up’, share, and listen.

22. Do not stress yourself out. We know even the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was warned by Allah in the Quran to not to be so distressed over the state of his beloved uncle, Abu Talib, after the Prophet (pbuh) had exhausted all the efforts to remind him about Allah’s message, promises, and punishment. Allah says, “Perhaps, you would kill yourself (O Muhammad) in grief (and concern) over their footsteps (for their turning away from Allah), because they do not believe in this narration (Quran).” [18:6]

23. Don’t give up the Dua! Sincere Dua (supplication) to Allah can change many things. Therefore, make Du’a as your primary tool in helping your parents come closer to Allah.

Leave a comment

Filed under Dawa & Outreach, Family, Muslim Youth