I’thikaf: Looking beyond Ramadhan

Man performing I’thikaf during Ramadhan

With the last ten days of Ramadhan approaching it is the ideal opportunity for Birmingham’s Muslim community to permanently contain any rage that could lead to a post festive backlash.

As Birmingham’s Muslim community laid their sons to rest yesterday the sorrow was obvious to see. While the handling of grief that accompanied the death of the three young men has been commendable the real test will come post Ramadhan.

For Muslims the holiest month of the Islamic year is a welcome distraction from the realities of everyday life. It acts as a barrier against the base instincts that accompany most actions throughout the day. On this occasion it has no doubt helped in containing the rage that certain sections of the Muslim community have felt at the killing of three of their own.

Whilst Ramadhan has traditionally been a time for building harmonious relations ‘a season of goodwill to all men’, one might say its last ten days provide the perfect opportunity for individual and collective reflection.

This is predicated through the practice of I’thikaf where following  the example of the Prophet Muhammad an individual spends the last ten days in retreat normally within a Mosque. The time is spent in a mixture of periods of quiet reflection and intense worship. A last stand of sorts against any raging desires that may threaten to spill over once Ramadhan comes to an end.

This year will be my first attempt at achieving that particular goal.

The fast pace of the modern world coupled with an increasing demand for one’s time from  family, society, work and media can leave those with an attachment to religion slightly disillusioned. The dismay can quickly turn to rage against the wider world as a way of advocating zeal for one’s beliefs and rejection and anger can become the order of the day.

From experience the quickest way for any contempt to surface is through one feeling a sense of injustice just as the Muslim’s of Birmingham are experiencing.

It is easy to take a spectators view and lecture or condemn those feeling the anger of losing loved ones in such a horrific tragedy. But Ramadhan is often described in religious circles as the month of patience, a month where this virtue is supposed to be strived for and perfected.

It is said in the classical tradition that the true success of Ramadhan is evident to oneself only after the month. As repeated in many gatherings which i‘ve attended that following Ramadhan if one has improved any aspect of his/her character then that individual has had a successful month.

It may be difficult in the modern age to see the tangible benefits of any religious practice but if we as Muslims born and educated in the West are more inclined to demonstrable and scientific understandings then we should not treat these last ten days any different.

It is exactly how I intend to perform my I’thikaf as an experiment with sincere intentions to change for the better.  In the words of Marcus Aurelius (121-180 BC) “Nowhere can man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul.”

If this is the case then I expect the results to be fruitful on an individual and wider social basis.

For Birmingham’s Muslims such fruits would no doubt have positive implications in wider society where the longer term aftermath of a tragedy is conducted with the same dignity as the immediate response.


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