By: Sadruddin Noorani, Chicago, USA
As an Ismaili Muslims, when we interact with the world around us, we often turn to our faith and Islamic principles for guidance and support.
We have been honoring the spirit of Ramadan by making an effort to better understand the words of Allah (swt) (our Lord/God) preserved in the Qur’an. I would like to take this journey by exploring a verse in Surah 30 know as Ar-Rum or The Byzantines. the central theme of this Surah is the abundance of God’s signs and humankind’s inability to properly reflect upon them. In many verses of this Surah, God reminds us that the signs of creation are something to be read, reflected upon and contemplated. Among these is ayat 22 which reads:
“And of His signs are the creation of the heavens and the earth and the variation in your languages and colors. Truly in that are signs for those of knowledge.”
In this verse, God seems to be pointing to the variety of languages that we speak as well as the range and shades of our skin. In another reading, the Arabic word alwan which is translated as colors can also be understood as the variety of our inner states of being. At the Inaugural Ceremony of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat in Ottawa, Canada in 2008, Mawlana Hazar Imam helped us understand the awe inspiring nature of God’s creation when he remarked:
“As we use our intellect to gain new knowledge about Creation, we come to see even more profoundly the depth and breadth of its mysteries. We reach back over hundreds of millions of years in time… and the more we discover, the more we know, the more we penetrate just below the surface of our normal lives – the more our imagination staggers. Just think for example what might lie below the surfaces of celestial bodies all across the far flung reaches of our universe. What we feel, even as we learn, is an ever-renewed sense of wonder, indeed, a powerful sense of awe – and of Divine inspiration.”
Many of us may experience a similar sensation of curiosity and marvel when we see, feel or think about the vastness and beauty of Allah (swt)’s creation. Its diversity alone is astounding. However, when we extend that diversity to the realm of human life, our responses are often of a different nature. While the response to the diversity of natural world may be awe, our response to human diversity should be one of empathy and understanding as well. Empathy in its most basic sense is being able to put ourselves in the shoes of others so we can experience the world as they might. This doesn’t simply mean feeling empathy with poorer members of society, but also people of different cultures, and races.
To do this is no easy task. Our life experiences can help us improve our empathy. However it requires a conscious effort on our part. The Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.s) has reminded us about empathy and our interconnectedness in a hadith where he is reported to have said:
“The believers in their mutual kindness, compassion and sympathy are just like one body. When any limb suffers, the whole body reacts to it with sleeplessness and fever.”
As we approach Jumu’atul-Wida (the last Friday) of the blessed month of Ramadan and prepare for Eid al-Fitr, let us make an effort to develop our skills of empathy, to imagine what it is like to be in the place of someone who is very different from ourselves, to learn, to wonder, to listen and understand. When we truly listen to the stories of others, let us also reflect upon our own reactions to them. In doing so, we recognize our inner lives as well as better understand that we are all a part of God’s magnificent creation.
In this blessed month of Ramadan—a month in which the Prophet Muhammad (may God’s peace and blessings be upon him and his family) was well-known to have been even more generous than he usually was- So, please be generous.
I pray that, in these unsettled times during Covid-19, we all benefit spiritually from the blessings of Ramadan and the blessings of relative and friends isolation, and reap the reward of those who keep the favors of their Lord pouring forth through their own gifts of self. May we all abide in the refuge of the remembrance of Allah (swt) long after this pestilent trial is behind us.