Bilal ibn Rabah has been a guiding force in the history of Black American Muslims, possessing an illuminated combination of humility and humanity.
Sometimes people explain fasting as designed to sensitize believers to the plight of the poor. This is undoubtedly one of the things that Ramadan brings. But there is something else vital: the discipline of obedience to a divine directive.
As I grew older, somehow this zeal of recording 'Ibadah points' started to fade and I no longer sat there with my calculator. I desperately searched for the meaning of Ramadan in my life beyond banking in on the 'Ibadah points.'
The attainment of inner freedom requires struggle over the course of a lifetime. It requires a spiritual practice that disciplines the ego and moves the soul toward higher purposes. And this is where the spiritual discipline of fasting is related, intimately, to freedom.
This week is a special one for Muslims, one in which we celebrate the most potential spiritual paradigm in Islam: the Prophet Muhammad's ascension to meet God face to face, and the choice to return home so that other beings can have their own ascension. And so here we are as Muslims, still aspiring to ascend -- and return.
Muslims have no trouble seeing the blessings in food, we know the good when we see it. We see the light of God in it and we share that light. It is like all things, a sign of God for us to read. It is a taste of Paradise in this world.
The companions of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, approached him on one occasion asking which person is the best. He responds by saying, "Every one that has a heart that is makhmoom and a tongue that is truthful." They said, "What is a heart that is makhmoom?"
In order to realize spiritual epiphanies, sometimes we need to immerse ourselves in self-inflicted agonizing torment. If one can establish a disciplined regimen following P90X or Insanity, interval-training for the soul is definitely manageable.
In woundedness, we can either recoil and strike back, or stretch outward and be healed. We either circle inward and turn on our own to define ever more restrictive definitions of who is "authentically" an American, or we can stretch outwards till we embrace the whole of humanity.
During these times in which extremists from many different sides seek to divide us as a nation and as a people with fear tactics, we must resist. And we must not allow fear to take over the best within us and what we have to offer.