Fifteen years ago was my first Ramadan and since that time I have had Ramadans when I felt like I was on top of the world and as close to Allah as I can get and I have had Ramadans when I felt lousy. This year is kind of in between I guess and I have been going to a few different Masjids with some better than others.
There are two Ramadans that are my favorites: the one year I spent Ramadan in the home of Jaafar Sheikh Idris in Northern Virginia and the one Ramadan I spent with Sheikh Abdul-Rahman in Wichita, KS. Other Ramadans, whether I was in prison or generally not locked-up but feeling down and out, didn’t go well for me and I didn’t feel all that good; but these two stick out because everything just seemed so right.
The Ramadan I spent in the home of Sheikh Jaffar I was the guest of his sons Yusuf and Abdur-Rahman and we would wake-up early in the morning and eat a Sudanese Suhoor and then drive to either Dar al Hijrah or Adams Center for Fajr (at ADAMS, Yusuf would be the Imam).
This was pre 9-11, when Muslims still trusted one another, and there was just so much love in the community during that Ramadan. Dar al Hijrah would be packed and brother Fawaz would fix great iftar meals attended by thousands and we would pray Taraweeh and then stay up later than we should socializing or going out to Afghan kabob joints.
Some nights I would go and sit with Sheikh Ali al-Timimi and he would give talks and all of the brothers would go out afterwards and play volleyball in the middle of the night wearing thobes.
Those were good days masha’Allah; but a lot of those brothers who were around then have left the DC area, have left America or are in prison on trumped up charges.
When I go visit the DC-area now, even with its enormous and activity Muslim community, it just isn’t the same, and it doesn’t seem right. There is no Sheikh Yusuf, no Sheikh Anwar and no Sheikh Ali. I have good friends in the area still; but it feels like I am traveling on the scene of a great tragedy when I go down there.
The Ramadan with Sheikh Abdul-Rahman in Wichita, the man who I believe is better than any African-American Muslim leader in America in taking people off the streets and getting them firmly rooted in the deen in a short period of time, was special because of the brotherhood all of his students in Wichita had was so strong and it was a special group of brothers and Ill never forget those brothers.
Ramadan is also a time to think and as I write two things come to mind and one saddens me and one gives me hope. There is a brother from upstate New York who all of us loved and even looked to as a teacher when we all lived in Northern Virginia. He was an African-American brother speaking the Arabic language fluently when very few were and he would read to us from the books of Islamic Fiqh and Aqeedah. A good brother who loved his wife and young daughter; but was always a little short on cash (and I can’t front because I’m always short on cash my damn self). I don’t know if it was financial problems or what; but the brother ended up involved in a very messy divorce with the sister that took him from England (don’t ask why, that part of the story is too complicated) and back and it took a toll on him.
He still spoke Arabic, he still was friendly and he still prayed; but he had lost that dip in his hip and glide in his slide that he once had. He got remarried and I thought he was doing reasonably well until I was informed recently that he has lost his mind and that he roams the street of a southern American city talking to himself and doesn’t bathe. Please make duah for him this Ramadan Insh’Allah.
Another story gives me hope. At the Masjid in Brooklyn the other night I met a Puerto Rican brother who had just got out of prison. He brought his 6 year old son to the Masjid for the first time with him for iftar and Maghrib before taking his son to the movies and I sat and talked to both of them. The brother had just got out of prison and was living in a group-home and trying to get his life back together and for some reason the site of him with his son gave me some hope for the future for Muslims in this country. Make duah for them as well.
Ramadan is the month in which the gates of Hell are closed and it is a month to wash away your sins. When you have lived the kind of life I have lived you have committed a lot of sins, some of them horrific in nature, and you need to take advantage of every opportunity that you can to wash away some of those bad deeds and some years I have done this better than others.
The best way to do this is to live every month as if it were Ramadan, because going without food during the daylight is easy, it is the acts of ibadah, behavior and mindset that is difficult. If you behave badly throughout the year, like I often do, then it is harder to alter your behavior during one month. This reminds me of being 16 years old and in juvenile detention and we were lectured by a juvenile officer that when we hit 17 we would not be doing petty time anymore, but be going to adult prisons, and we all said “don’t worry when we turn 17 we will change and were not getting into prison or nothing like that”…everyone of them that I have kept up with did, if they lived that long.