Ramadan and the Power of Faith and Unity

Ramadan and the power of faith and unity

 The below is a reproduction of this article first published 10 March 2024 on Al-Jazeera English


Government authorities and other institutions aim to influence populations through whatever means are available to them, be it the force of the state or more indirect avenues such as the press, education, or popular culture. This is often met with an anti-establishment reaction. In recent times, in fact, there has been a trend on college campuses and among activist groups which may be described as anti- authoritarian. Students now often look askance at educators and schools as nothing more than an exercise of their power and authority over others. College students are now often very skeptical about any kind of didactic teaching. As a result, influencing others from a position of authority and expertise is much more difficult now than it has ever been. The anti-vax movement could be an example of this resistance to expertise – a movement largely based on distrust in traditional institutions and structures of knowledge.This is one of the reasons many people abhor organized religion and are now more agnostic and even atheistic than ever before. Modern man doesn’t like the idea of a referee in his life – not even through established institutions and “norms”.  Against this backdrop of global agnosticism, it is difficult to believe that religion can have any influence on a large group of people. Religion or faith in the Unseen is seen as impotent and an archaic artifact that should not even be excavated. Faith in religion is jettisoned by almost all in favor of material success and progress. Moral anarchy and liberalism is what people celebrate.

But what if religion does motivate a billion people to give up their most basic human needs like food and water throughout the day for a whole month?

What if faith in the Unseen does motivate a billion people to worship Him religiously for a whole month as if that’s the only thing on their minds – especially at night?

What if faith does influence a billion people and inspire them to feed the hungry after fasting themselves the  whole day?

What if religious conviction did cause a human society to become more altruistic and spend on welfare and charity for a month?

What if the practice of a faith did inspire a billion people to become forgiving of each other’s mistakes and overlook their trespassing?

What if a noble civilization of over a billion people dispelled the myth that human beings cannot live without violence; looting; robbing and killing?

What if organized religion advocated unity amongst a billion people to the degree that they all perform deeds in unison and find no reason to fight over religion?

Yes. What if indeed!

Muslims reading this know they are the beneficiaries and witnesses of this great phenomenon in the month of Ramadan. They unite in the worship of their Creator. They all seek Allah’s forgiveness and blessings. In Ramadan, a switch is turned and Muslims become like a different species. The month of Ramadan is a month in which the Holy Quran is revealed for guidance for all people. If all people could observe this spectacle in Muslims, they would certainly see guidance in action. That is guidance toward unity in worship in a community. Muslims don’t need to beat the drums of outward unity in Ramadan as they are united – in the worship of the Divine.

Muslims engaged in political and social activism must appreciate this wonder and use it as a platform to build more trust amongst each other; more cooperation; more respect; more  optimism and a better outlook for each other. Ramadan provides a framework for the Muslim that is predicated on the idea of voluntary change absent the force of the state and other institutions. If a Muslim can give up the most basic of human necessities and maintain that abstinence entirely without external material force, then engaging in the external world – in activism in service of justice – is a minor effort in comparison.

This religion does not preach an anti-authoritarian anarchism, rather it causes the believer to understand his own potential within a larger cosmological framework of self-discipline and understanding of ultimate Divine sovereignty. This month shows that true power extends not from the long arm of temporal governmental authority, but from the voluntary acquiescence of the individual to Allah’s ultimate dominion over Creation.

Muslims who observe Ramadan must thus extend their unity and trust in the Divine to all other months of the year. Ramadan is a living month. It is alive and it gives life to an otherwise “sleepy” community. The Quran is a living Book. It is alive and Muslims should see it as life giving.

Governmental power and institutional authority over others now has competition. But it’s not any form of human competition.  It’s a competitor who proves every year, without fail, a good religion and faith in the Real Power is still very alive – despite the claims and disdain of its adversaries.

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1 month ago

In this article, Shaykh Amin highlights the failure of government and secular institutions to unify it’s people, leading to a lack of direction and resulting unease among the populace. Shaykh praises the miraculous unity and devotion of the Muslim community during Ramadan, attributing it to Allah. We are reminded that Allah is the One who brings our hearts together and gives us our sense of purpose, color, and place of belonging. The absence of this is shown in the deterioration of our country’s mental health. The answer to our plight is demonstrated in Ramadan. Ramadan offers a framework for society to become more cooperative, respectful, and optimistic; these bounties springing from submitting to Allah, respecting those that have wilayah over us, and, finally, recognizing our role and partaking in the cosmological framework. Finally, after reading, I was awe-struck by Allah’s bounty and generosity for allowing me to witness another Ramadan, the living month, and to resuscitate my sleeping heart.

Tariq Yusuf
1 month ago

Jazakullah Khair for the wonderful article. I find it topical that this comes at a time when the very soul of faith is questioned even by Muslims. It reinvigorates the true spirit of Ramadan that sometimes is lost in our actions. It’s confirms how I’ve often talked about the month of Ramadan with non Muslims and a lot of those who are rediscovering true spiritual connection with their faith.

Of particular note is how Ramadan aligns practice that comes from something other than our collective selves. The strength of the tradition that lines us with such a rich course of actions is a miracle I have not appreciated as deeply as before. It’s given me a lot to digest as I reflect about what the power of operating in the collective truly means for one’s concern over their own salvation.

Wassim Hassan
1 month ago

Shaykh Amin’s latest Al Jazeera article is succinct yet dynamic and encompassing in the variety of audiences and topics it addresses. I usually would expect a strong grasp of the new zeitgeist to be limited to the youngest generations, but Shaykh Amin captured the sentiments expressed among the younger generations well. The article juxtaposed the popular (and often performative) opposition to authority with Muslim civilization’s submission to the Ultimate Authority, effectively establishing that authority is not in and of itself a nefarious concept. Rather, there is both mundane and spiritual utility in a Muslim’s submission to Allah as demonstrated in the month of Ramadan. Any man-made force of coercion and suggestion is no match with Islam in terms of bringing about a staggering level of social change. Muslim readers were left with an encouraging message to promote further unity amongst each other and to ultimately understand the larger lessons that come with Ramadan.

Zahed A. Haseeb
1 month ago

In the face of widespread dejection over the apparent ability of those wielding earthly power to enact injustice with impunity, Shaykh Amin reminds us that true power is in submitting to the All-Powerful. He exhorts us to recognize this power in ourselves as we welcome another Ramadan, undertaking–with great excitement–a month of intense worship and self-mortification in hopes of aligning ourselves with our Creator.

A skeptic may question the relevance of ritual worship when the problems of the world seem to demand “practical” solutions. The successes of past generations of Muslims in building wondrous civilizations and overcoming monumental difficulties provide an easy answer to this critique. Their submission to their Lord was not merely coincidental to their various worldly accomplishments; indeed, it was the key. If we are serious about effecting positive change in this world, we ought to take from the shining examples of our predecessors, beginning with the Prophet ﷺ and his Companions. It was them who came together many Ramadans ago as a ragtag group to deal a stunning defeat to the idolatrous Makkan army at Badr. Their victory against the odds demonstrates the superiority of worshipping the Creator and the fruitlessness of worshipping creation. If we ignore Allah’s command as we pursue political, economic, and social change, we risk following the example of the losers at Badr by serving idols of our own making.

I hope to take Shaykh Amin’s cue and approach Ramadan with a sense of renewed optimism. In doing so, I look back at what is possible for those whose action begins with submission and look forward to pursuing these possibilities together as an ummah.

Noman Zaheer
1 month ago

Subhan Allah

The article is full of life, radiance and positivity in times of difficulty and darkness surrounding us. The article itself brings to light that Ramadan and the Quran are alive!

May Allah accept protect and continue to guide the Ummah.

1 month ago

I think sometimes we have the tendency to believe false narratives about our own community—narratives about the weakness of Muslims or the Muslim community, the lack of faith within our ummah or the world at large, and the lack of love and respect for the Qur’an and Allah’s command.

What I really loved about this article is that it calls us to stop looking at ourselves and our community from the eyes of outsiders. If we take an insider’s view, the ummah is very much alive and committed, and there is no greater proof of that than the yearly participation in Ramadan that galvanizes Muslims around the globe across all socioeconomic, ethnic, and national backgrounds, and it unites people regardless of what their commitment to Islam is during the rest of the year. Additionally, the tools that we have during Ramadan are available all year round— we have the guidance of the Qur’an, night prayers, spending time engaged in contemplation and Islamic thought. If we build indigenous models of activism rooted in our own tradition and the tools it provides, we can accomplish a lot — because we already do accomplish a lot, as Ramadan shows us. Ramadan changes our relationship with consumption, time, productivity, and our priorities in large. Instead of cabining these perspectives to just one month, it’s wise to recognize that Allah opens the doors to His fadl and mercy to us everyday, throughout the year, and if we build foundations of activism, social and intellectual engagement, and professional responsibility upon these pillars, we’ll be able to think creatively and accomplish a lot, with Allah’s permission and grace, for His sake.

Edward Moad
1 month ago

Sheikh Amin’s recent article responds to the question of the hour. In a world stagnant under the stubborn weight of exploitative and violent structures, how can we muster the collective empowerment needed to bring about lasting positive change? On my reading, the Sheikh implicitly compares three competing modes of collective action: anarchic, statist, and Islamic.
The coercive power of the state, in its several forms, appears pervasive, unstoppable, and unresponsive to the range of crises we face, except insofar as they affect an increasingly exclusive class of short term interests. The ‘anti-authoritarian’ or anarchic response is seemingly disempowered by its instinctive rejection of hierarchy as such, which precludes the organization and concerted action required for lasting change. Aside from the Covid-related anti-vaccination movement, mentioned by the Sheikh, we can add some other examples. The Occupy Wall Street movement was also a ‘leaderless’ movement which utterly failed to change the regulation of the financial industry, even after the state paid it’s gambling debts with the inheritance of a generation. Then came the ‘Arab Spring, the avowedly ‘non-ideological’ movement that went running back to the same oppressive regimes they previously sought to overthrow.

In light of these and other examples, we should consider the extent to which the ‘anti-authoritarian’ tendencies actually serve to reinforce and exacerbate the authoritarian power of the state. Plato’s Republic famously describes the ‘Democratic’ phase of a city, in which all hierarchy is rejected, as the precursor to that of the Tyrant. Nowadays, we are in a position to consider the prospect of a modern, institutional tyranny, as opposed to the pre-modern personal sort he imagined.

The third model is Islam, which the Sheikh introduces as the ‘religious’ mode of collective action, based on ‘faith in the Unseen.’ He does so to specify rather than generalize. That is, not to include the whole mess of whatever falls under the category ‘religion’ as commonly used, but to exclude current notions of ‘Islam’ bereft of its essential reference to God and the Hereafter. For indeed, the communal action that occurs in Ramadan, as well as in Hajj and countless other areas of daily Muslim life, are organized around a vertical axis leading to Allah and the Prophet (saw). These practices have been maintained for centuries independently, and sometimes in defiance of, state power.
As the Sheikh writes: “Ramadan shows that true power extends not from the long arm of temporal governmental authority, but from the voluntary acquiescence of the individual to Allah’s ultimate dominion over Creation.” Muslim activists should therefore see this as a model for organizing effective movements for social justice. For while fully voluntary and independent of state coercion, it nevertheless articulates a clear notion of justice rooted in God’s wisdom and the order of His creation. Therefore it does not depend on the whim of whichever group controls the state apparatus. Nor is it reduced to subjectivity in an anarchic epistemology. People fighting for justice under such a framework know what they are fighting for and why.

This invites the question, then why have we been unable to organize ‘politically’ with the same framework under which we organize ‘religiously’? Why can we organize in Ramadan to suppress our appetites while fighting the hunger of others, but we are unable to organize to remove the systemic structures that suppress so many and render them needlessly hungry? The answer no doubt, involves the effect of historical and cultural changes of the last few centuries. There is a term for this collective Muslim action for justice, directed by God and motivated for the Hereafter. Because of its abuse and misrepresentation, unfortunately, we avoid it. It was, naturally, the basis of Muslim society, just as state action for ‘justice’ as defined by the state, even under the guise of ‘anti-authoritarianism’ is the basis of secular society.    

1 month ago

When I read this article by Sheikh Amin, I couldn’t help but feel a powerful sense of optimism. Reading about the marginalization of expertise, authority, and knowledge of morality made me think about the signs of the end of times. So many narrations allude to a degradation of authority and knowledge, and the fact that this was prophesized over 1400 years ago by our beloved Messenger ﷺ gives me a tremendous sense of confidence in the Islamic tradition. Moreover, it’s encouraging to see how so many Muslims today value traditional scholarship and lean on institutions like Darul Qasim to help them make sense of the world in light of the teachings of Islam.

Kareem Haydar
1 month ago

It is clear that a society lacking in a common religion or moral compass will crumble. Just look at America today; mental and physical health is plummeting. There is no shortage of radical movements, each one blatantly ignoring anything that contradicts their views. Parental rights over children are being stripped away. Religion is the glue that binds us together individually, and societally. Without it, we are just aimless beings, and it is at this point that ideas like nihilism are born. This Ramadan should serve as a wakeup call to the Muslims around the world. It is time to abolish the nation state and establish a khalifate like the Muslims of the past.

Sufyan Baki
1 month ago

This article by Shaykh Amin highlights what wonders Ramadan brings. By abstaining from indulgence
of the nafs in the form of fasting, and recognizing the power of Allah, the Ummah becomes a
community throbbing with life kindled by the Quran. Through this abstinence, we as a group gain self-
discipline that shows globally. We become united not out of necessity, but by the love of Allah and
adherence to His commands. What Shaykh Amin writes in the last paragraph in particular is huge. Political and governmental frameworks are no match for what Allah has given us in the month of Ramadan, and we as Muslims should realize this. Insha’ Allah we can take advantage of Allah’s blessings and mercy in the month of the Quran.

Ch Kamran Aslam
1 month ago

In this piece, one of our community’s mentors addresses three ideologies that undergird confused, unjust social ordering, calling us to a higher ethics.

Understanding the context where activism has become unmoored from a connection to the metaphysics of the Sufis, a context where power structures are seen as inherently bad, the author connects us back to the Divine source of sovereignty and power. Power is not inherently bad, power wielded by the oppressive is. To regain power, the Sufis advocate a tried and tested method, gaining nearness to the source of all power, the One and only Mighty God. And throughout, adhering to our best humanly efforts to understand His standards of justice.

For example, as many of us heard last night fitna (civil strife) is worse than qatl (state-sanctioned violence). But what is our reference point? Is that reference point in the same sources of revelation the anchor to which we tie our efforts for justice and prosperity, for certainly civil strife is worse than violence?

The unifying force of the shariah to quell civil strife is unmatched. Any member of the community knows this, as do our neighbors in those Muslim-dense areas of Chicago confess, every Ramadan. That this message now spreads globally through AlJazeera’s platform at this critical moment is perhaps another of sign of the much good to come this month.

Ahsan Arozullah
1 month ago

Assalaamu alikum. Sharing my reflections on Shaykh Amin’s article. Shaykh Amin described this article as re-presenting Islam. This begs a couple of questions — why does Islam need re-presenting and to whom is he addressing this re-presentation? The most obvious answer to both questions was myself! I am in constant need of having Islam re-presented to me since I have not studied the original presentation of Islam, in short, I am not an Alim. Based on the predominance in my mind of the superiority of human actions over Allah’s fadl as the path to ‘success’, I will always default to seeking a solution through human means such as activism, anarchism, or whatever ‘ism’ until I realize that true power rests in submitting to Allah and human power can only be maximized by following the best of creation, Rasulullah (saw). I may no longer qualify as one of the ‘younger’ anachists, but do I actually ask Allah first and seek guidance from the Sunnah first when faced with a challenge? Shaykh Amin describes Ramadan manifesting in over one billion Muslims giving up their basic needs based on belief in the unseen and clearly challenges any of those ‘isms’ to compete. Interestingly, Shaykh Amin re-presents Islam through one of its five pillars, through its actual practice in human beings, and its incredible tangible impact on the world around us. Perhaps this is the formula we need to follow as members of Al-Amin Ethics — study the original presentation of Islam through those who can re-present it for us, practice upon what they teach us, measure its tangible and positive impact and in that process become vessels through which Allah sends shifaa for all of our ills, individual and collective.

1 month ago

SubhanAllah. Shaykh Amin goes straight to the heart in this article. He begins with a no-nonsense laying out of the issues that divide us. You only have to reach the mesmerizing train of what-ifs to begin to see the light, that despite our differences, be they rooted in reason or our baser instincts to rebel, a religion that can downplay them and get a billion people to worship in unison through a jurisprudence that is organized, not despite, but owing to its unlettered origins, can only be true.

Sara Alattar
1 month ago

I’ve continued to reflect on Shaykh’s words when he says that “Ramadan provides a framework for the Muslim that is predicated on the idea of voluntary change…” especially when considering past moments where I perhaps passively waited for an experience of spiritual elevation to come to me rather than to work towards it. I’ve been vulnerable in the past to the concept of awaiting our “spiritual highs” and fretting when we reach lows, as if we are simply responding passively to waves of good and bad spiritual times while our own worship and actions are not in the picture. Or that we can motivate or “think” ourselves into closeness to Allah and that closeness inspires more worship. Rather, voluntary change is the key— we work towards closeness to Allah through our obligations and voluntary acts of worship, we pursue guidance from our Shaykh rather than wandering aimlessly, and through that Allah may bring us closer. Ramadan reveals to us our own potential through fasting days on end, standing in prayer at night, waking up at night to seek salvation, sacrificing our rizq, and we see the fruits as our potential becomes reality throughout the month. I must pursue voluntary change throughout the year instead of passively waiting for closeness.

Asim K. Babar
1 month ago

In a time when society seems as lost as ever, the answer to all that plagues us has remained tried and true eternally. We, particularly in the west, have just been conditioned to avoid it for so long. Even though we’ve been generically taught that “Islam is a way of life,” we previously failed to emphasize that Islam is the BEST way of life. The secular sciences we are accustomed to studying as the “truth” are plagued with flaws and fallacies, and ultimately fall short, leaving us feeling lost and empty. 

However every year we are remined of the potential of turning inwards, and connecting with our Lord. If we could harness our efforts from this blessed month more broadly, to the rest of the year and in all aspects of the world in which we live, there is no limit to what we could accomplish as an Ummah. Rather than trying to fit Islam into our lives, we must fit our lives into Islam. In this facade of a “democracy” that we have so long been convinced to value, we can only find real guidance and perfect authority in our Creator. But we can’t just romanticize about it, as Shaykh Amin reminds us, we must take real action. 

It will take time, but by learning to open our hearts, we can then rewire our minds. As Shaykh also reminds us, before we can lead, we must first learn to follow. His efforts at Darul Qasim are providing the framework of re-presenting Islam by following the Quran, through the example of the Sunnah—it’s time for us all to step up to the challenge.

Saaleh A. Baseer
1 month ago

What if Muslims were to see their existence as an axis of multiple realms (multaqa al ‘awālim)? Shaykh Amin has proposed a question that seeks to challenge our fundamental notions about ethics, religion, and survival. That is: How will the human race continue to hold breath in a world so incredibly disenchanted it cannot even witness itself? More consequently, how is it that Muslims– more than a billion tall– continue to mobilize around a single doctrine, a singular wellspring? How do Muslims, despite mounting death tolls, continue to unfold beauty, in the dust of their own hands, and within the afterlives of those that precede them? In other words: How are Muslims surviving, Shaykh Amin asks. Never mind prospering.

While one end of Muslim discourse is so politics-enchanted (uncritically seeing the modern state with its coercive control as “natural”) that it is forbidden to see the reaches of the ego, the other end (the ‘anti-egoists’) of the axis–with a great deal of irony– naturalizes the miseries of the modern world as simply another spiritual battle to overcome. Shaykh Amin rightfully tempers us, in a fashion akin to Khwaja Baqi Billah and his successor Ahmad Sirhindi, the two foremost Naqshbandis in Hindustan, who reconstituted the moral order for the nascent Mughal society, nearly five hundred years ago.

Shaykh’s expertise as a Qadi of that same society comes to life here in his prosecution of the current moment– there is a supremely curious element in the life-force of Islam: au contraire to the Lutherans and its tribes, the ritual and the legal is in fact an incredible driving force for the ethical. Shaykh’s eyes (chashm-i hayrat) oscillate within sociology and theology: he wants Muslims to meditate on the aporia of the ‘modern’ Mulim. Notwithstanding the material and philosophical assaults launched against Islam, in almost every direction (sans above?), how does one month bring a billion humans within a united rhythm? Shaykh Amin, elliptically, is suggesting there is no Akhlaq without Iman nor Iman without Akhlaq– and indeed we should see the breaths of Ramadan as ones of absolute reckoning. For there is no moral order, liberal or paraliberal, that could offer such cooperation (ta’āwun and tahāwur), such singular intra-discourse, such anchored perseverance in the face of live-streamed death other than the one handed by Prophet ‎ﷺ. innaka la’alā khuluq ‘ażīm! wa al-yad al-‘ulyā khayr min al-yad al-suflā

Ethical values do not age (do they not only only become refined over time, like the fairūz in the river-bed?)– and Ramadan, Shaykh Amin reminds us, is one of our highest values. Ramadan is alive and we must be alive to the constant life-giving it streams on us every year– how does Ramda, that is, intolerable heat, provide so much healing and renewal for Muslims? For Allah is al-Muhyi and Al-Mumit.

To engage in a final istidrād, Shaykh Amin urges Muslims to twin their activism and mobilization with wonder (tahayyur; hayrat)– in almost all Muslim spaces across America, we have lost our ability to unleash our most foundational value, and only a master seasoned in the three sages (‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jeelani, Shah Waliullah, and Ibn ‘Arabi) could resurrect this eternal virtue. Our engagement and activism cannot meet the Abu Lahabs without the heaven-shattering wonder of Sayyiduna ‘Abu Bakr and Sayyiduna ‘Umar. For all besides the Prophet ‎ﷺ is Abu Lahab.

The mirror-holder is the same and the rays that burst forth. I hope you will allow me to present a Persian couplet I penned:

hamā āinā mulattakh wa man chē qadar ranjūr
ze chasm-i aīyna āyad suratgar-i digar

the mirror became smudged and how grieved I was
from the eyes of the mirror another form-maker arrived

Yasir Akhtar
1 month ago

Shaykh Amin, yet again, tactfully, tastefully and elegantly goes straight for the jugular of secularism, liberalism, capitalism and Kufr in general. These dajjali frameworks give us false hope of utopia when the real success and salvation of mankind lies in deen of Allah. The Shaykh challenges the notion of any political theory that can discipline and unite the muslims the way submission to Allah’s Will can. He subtly hints at the fact that only Islam is capable of bringing justice and peace on earth where all these other constructs have failed over centuries. This article is a wake up call to those who think western ideologies will bring about peace and prosperity to mankind. He continues to fight to wake up the colonized minds of the Ummah who don’t realize that the solution to their problems was always in front of them.

1 month ago

The power of the Ummah united under the banner of Islam is an unrivaled force, but we rarely accept it as such. When Ramadan comes around, however, the fact cannot be disputed. Shaykh Amin brings forward that this precious month can help us to become more unified on a daily basis. Seeing the miracle of unity in Ramadan makes this clear, and shows that it is undoubtedly feasible. Ramadan is received only once a year. Inshallah, we will make the most of it and succeed in making its effects last permanently.

Juwairiyah Qaisar
1 month ago

Shaykh Amin’s article brings to light the blessings that Ramadan brings as we collectively desist from sins and the secular desires of the nafs. Ramadan humbles us Muslims and makes us conscious of and more grateful for all the bounties bestowed upon us by Allah (SWT). Our deen is our only guidance in this world, and without it we would be lost and wouldn’t be able to see any clear purpose in life. This blessed month helps us to restore our faith and direct our focus away from worldly distractions and back to Allah (SWT). In today’s world, no legal administration or ideological movement will be able to amalgamate a group of people the way Islam does. Ramadan is a time of liveliness, spirituality, and closeness to Allah, and this article reminds us of the sacred values and virtues and of the month. May Allah guide us all and help us to make the best out of this Ramadan.

S. M.
1 month ago

Shaykh Amin’s article points out that this world makes you believe that nothing, especially not religion, can influence large groups of people. He proves, however, that over just one month, 1/8 of the entire world population can abstain from their worldly desires and increase their worship solely by the command of their Lord. He further shows that any person capable of voluntarily changing because of Ramadan is also capable of creating change in the broader world.

Ramadan is a time of healing and rejuvenation of our souls. It gives us the means to be stronger Muslims. Through our improved attitudes, behaviors, and good works, Islam can help us make the world a better place.

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