Posted in General Interest, Islam, Religon, Spiritual, TheBeZine

The Month of Light

Wishing peace and happiness to our Muslim friends and contributors during this holy month of Ramadan. This feature article is by guest contributor Imen Benyoub (Algeria). It is from the February issue (theme: abundance/lack of abundance) of The BeZine. The first illustration is courtesy of American multimedia journalist and novelist (Bagdad Fixer), Ilene Presher. She found it online and shared it on her Facebook page. Ilene hosts a weekly radio show, TLV1Radio, Weekend Edition. The second illustration is courtesy of Russian photographer, Petr Kratochvil, Public Domain Pictures.net. J.D.

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Ramadan is the month of light, the month of reflection, blessings, generosity, devotion, change and sacrifice and a pillar of Islam as Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) said: “Islam is built upon five pillars: testifying that there is no God except Allah and that Mohammad is the messenger of Allah, performing prayer, paying the Zakah (charity), making the pilgrimage to the sacred house and fasting the month of Ramadan.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.  It is called the sacred month because it is observed worldwide by all Muslims as the month of fasting.  It’s twenty-nine or thirty days based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon.

Fasting in Islam means “to abstain.”  When you fast, you completely abstain from food, drinks, smoking and sexual intercourse from the break of dawn until sunset with an intention. This is not, however, all of it.  Real accomplished fasting is when you abstain from every behavior that is considered bad behavior in general.  It is something we share with Christianity and Judaism but with a lot of difference in details.

Who must fast? In general it is obligatory upon every Muslim, male or female, who is adult, sane, not sick or in a journey (traveling more than eighty kilometers). The exceptions to this are women who are in period or post-natal bleeding days, pregnant women and mothers who are beast-feeding.  These women are expected to make up the fast when they are in a condition to do so.  Those who are terribly sick, need constant medications, and those whose illness may be exacerbated by fasting.

When you fast, you will have two essential meals, sahur ( a pre-dawn meal). The Prophet Mohammad talked a lot about the reward and blessing of this meal, preferably left ’till the last half hour before dawn.  This meal will help you resist during the long hours of fasting during the day.  The second meal is iftar or break-fast, you take it immediately after sunset.

Along with exceptions mentioned above, there are a lot of permissible things a person can do that will not invalidate his or her fasting, like swimming in the sea when it’s too hot, with caution of not swallowing water, taking injections, doing blood tests, using toothpaste and eating or drinking unintentionally when someone forgets.

Fasting is a school of wisdom.  It has great spiritual and moral meaning too long to be listed in a few lines.  Beside its health benefits, it teaches patience and utility. It makes us closer to Allah because we are doing it out of love and seeking spiritual reward. It cleanses the soul from grudge and hatred. It teaches self-control and maturity.  Through fasting we learn to be selfless because we feel the pain of the poor and the hungry.

There is a beautiful sense of solidarity and community in Ramadan when everyone is helping, when mosques are filled, when relatives visit each other, when people forgive and start a new page, when a person vows to be good to others and when people stand in one line to pray.

Fasting can truly change a person’s heart when done with utter sincerity. It fills the heart with satisfaction, happiness and light because you’ll be rewarded double fo revery deed of goodness, every charity, every nice word you say, every verse of the Quran you read. When you realize that Allah gave hose who fast a special door in Heaven because of its holiness and significance.

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Every country celebrates Ramadan differently.  Traditions and customs change. The only thing that connects us all together is that magic that everyone feels during the month. The one I truly love is when the family celebrates the fasting of a child, encouraging him and helping him to understand what fasting truly is.  It is like a recharge for the year, a self-nourishing experience and one of the most exquisite a person can have.

Some sayings about Ramadan: on Prophet Mohammad (PBUH):

“When Ramadan enters, the gates of paradise are opened, the gates of hellfire are closed and all the devils are chained.”

“Every action a son of Adam does shall be multiplied; good action is by ten times its value up to 700 times.  Allah says: with the exception of Fasting, which belongs to me, and I reward it accordingly for, one abandons his desire and food or my sake.”

“Whoever observes fasts during the month of Ramadan out of sincere faith, and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards, then all his past sins will be forgiven.”

– Imen Benyoub

© 2015, feature article, Imen Benyoub, All rights reserved; 2015

Posted in General Interest, Islam

Eid mubaraq

We can think of no better way to extend warmest good wishes to our Moslem friends and writers than a reblog of Sharmishtha Basu’s sweet poem and art.
Kul ‘am wa enta bi-khair!

Realm of Empress Musie

7 islam hands that give

May all the blessings of God shower down upon you, your world and loved ones.

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Posted in Essay, Jamie Dedes, Spiritual Practice

COMPASSION AT THE CORE


1st Row: Christian CrossJewish Star of DavidHindu Aumkar

2nd Row: Islamic Star and crescentBuddhist Wheel of DharmaShinto Torii

3rd Row: Sikh KhandaBahá’í starJain Ahimsa Symbol

COMPASSION AT THE CORE

by

Jamie Dedes

“Compassion is the pillar of world peace.” H.H. 14th Dalai Lama, A Human Approach to World Peace

The peaceful path of compassion is at the core of all the wisdom traditions, the conduits by which grace flows into our lives. If our species is to overcome current conflicts and truly be at peace with ourselves, we must tread the compassionate path and we must do it with bone and muscle as well as heart and mind. It must be a path where service and meditation converge.

In the Summa Theologiae, the great work of St. Thomas Aquinas, he suggests just that. He defines mercy (a virtue) as “the compassion in our hearts for another person’s misery, a compassion which drives us to do what we can to help him.” He describes mercy as having two aspects “affective” – or emotional – and “effective,” which is positive action.

We all have something to teach. We all have something to learn ~

People from varied traditions come to Buddhism – not to convert – but to learn the meditative skills that Buddhism teaches. Buddhists also have lessons to learn from other religions:

“…many Buddhists are interested in learning social service from Christianity. Many Christian traditions emphasize that their monks and nuns be involved in teaching, in hospital work, caring for the elderly, for orphans, and so on . . .  Buddhists can learn social service from the Christians.” H.H. 14th Dalai Lama, The Buddhist View toward Other Religions

Meditative practice is central to Buddhism. Along with devotions (prayers and religious observance), action (good works) is central to Christianity and the other Abrahamic traditions, which is not to imply that there are no meditative practices or that inward practice is more important than outward action. Rather, each has its place and they are complementary. Our meditative practices enhance tranquility, ensuring that our good works are appropriate and done in the right spirit.

A compassionate heart is moved to embrace and not to judge. A compassionate hand is moved to work and to sacrifice for the greater good. Selflessness, well-seated in compassion, implies action that both materially and spiritually benefits others. The Dalai Lama and Thích Nhất Hạnh, social activists as well as spiritual leaders, are the very breath of compassion and they and the people in the organizations they lead endlessly provide selfless service and share spiritual solace with all.

Buddhism in the West is a relatively new practice. To my knowledge it is only recently that American Buddhists have organized for relief efforts with Buddhist Global Relief (BGR), which in its short life has implemented quite a number of effective projects. The main mission of BGR is hunger, not simply addressing it in its immediacy but also advocating for changes within our global food systems that will ensure social justice and ecological sustainability. BGR was started by American Buddhist monk and scholar, the Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, calling attention to the “narrowly inward focus of American Buddhism” and its neglect of social engagement. Moslems, Jews, and Christians have long-standing organizations for global relief and social activism.

It is healing grace when social services are delivered on a nonsectarian basis and without the expectation of conversion. The Koran admonishes (2:257): “Let there be no compulsion in religion.”

We’re each born into a path or choose (or forego) one. Our devotion to one religion shouldn’t prevent respect for the others. Abū al-Muġīṭ Husayn Manṣūr al-Ḥallāğ (Mansur Al-Hallaj, 858-922), the Persian Sufi teacher and poet wrote from his own perspective:

“My heart has opened into every form. It is a pasture for gazelles, a cloister for Christian monks, a temple for idols, the Ka’ba of the pilgrim, the tables of the Torah and the book for Koran. I practice the religion of Love. In whatever directions its caravans advance, the religion of Love shall be my religion and my faith.”

Maybe we humans will come as close to peace and perfection as we can when we combine the “specialties” of Buddhism and the Abrahamic traditions ~

Compassion without meditation can result in cruelty and confusion. Compassion without action is insufficient to address concerns of the human condition.

Orthodox Christianity offers us guidelines for corporal (material) works of mercy:

  • feed the hungry
  • give drink to the thirsty
  • clothe the naked
  • house the homeless
  • visit the sick
  • engage in conscientious activism
  • bury the dead

The guidelines for spiritual works of mercy are:

  • share insight with the spiritually curious
  • counsel the fearful
  • provide brotherly support for those who live unwisely
  • bear wrongs patiently
  • forgive offenses willingly
  • comfort those who are suffering
  • pray (unify with the Ineffable) for the welfare of the living and the dead

In the ideal, these guidelines are not simply implemented in the privacy of our own prayers and meditations or with detachment in supporting civic and religious charities, but one-to-one in our everyday lives and in a spirit of unity. Mystical Judaism teaches us that: “Kindness gives to another. Compassion knows no other.”

There are 114 chapters in the Islamic scriptures, the Koran. Each begins with the principled: Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim (In the name of God, most Gracious, most Compassionate). This reminds me of the classical Christian ideal expressed in the Koinḗ Greek agápē, the love of Christ or God for humankind. I suspect it is also – like agápē – a call to action: to live in harmony with the Divine and all creation, that is to live with grace and mercy.

Charity, self-control, and compassion are the central virtues of Hinduism. Ahimsa (do no harm) is part of the Hindu ideal of compassion. This implies action, not just abstinence.

Perhaps this wisdom from an unknown saint or bodhisattva provides us the best advice for our own peace of heart and our species’ survival ~

“The true happiness that man has searched for since the dawn of time, that inner gold that awaits any person who holds compassionately the key of generosity: Do something for your fellow-man … and you shall truly have the gold.”

Gratitude is compassion’s fulcrum ~

“The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness.” H.H. 14th Dalai Lama

Gratitude is also the emotion that compels us to give back by caring compassionately for our fellow humans and providing responsible and loving stewardship of the animals who are our companions in nature and this mother earth that sustains us. This does, of course, preclude war which is a danger to all living things.

Expressing gratitude in some way to those who are kind and caring is what nurtures their gift of compassion so that the giver can continue to give and also learn to receive. The natural law of balance is then honored.

May our compassionate paths be fully human and traveled quietly, without pronouncement, conceit, sectarianism, or self-righteousness. May our compassion be a thing of the heart and mind -yes! – but also bolstered with bone and muscle and seasoned with gratitude. May all sentient beings find peace.

© 2012, essay, Jamie Dedes All rights reserved

 Illustration ~ religious symbols by Rusus via Wikipedia and released into the public domain