"When the month of Ramadan begins, the gates of Paradise are opened and the gates of (Hell) Fire are closed and the devils are chained."(Bukhari) With fantastic imagery this hadith informs all Muslims that the month of Ramadan is a special month unlike others. During the 30-odd days of Ramadan, which falls in February of this year, Muslims all over the world will join together and strive to worship Allah. One way in which many will consciously try to improve their Islam in the month is through prayer, since there are rewards and invocations for doing so. For example, relates Abu Huraira "Whoever establishes prayers during the nights of Ramadan out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah's rewards, all his past sins will be forgiven." Muslims will also fast during the month from dawn to sunset. "Oh you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye many learn piety and righousness" (TMQ 2:183) Allah adds,"...And it is better for you that ye fast, if ye only knew." (TMQ 2:184) Indeed the benefits of fasting are many. We learn Taqwa (God-conscousness) and self-restraint, we know what it is to feel hunger and deprivation, we unknowingly increase our health as doctors have proven and so on... Ramadan though is not just about fasting and praying in themselves. These are the first steps in trying to purify one's soul and increasing one's Im'aan, which is the real goal. Forgetting school or work problems, and concentrating on oneself and improving one's relationship with Allah is the true purpose. "Ramadan is the (month) in which the Quran was sent down, as a guide to mankind and a clear guidance and judgement (so that mankind will distinguish from right and wrong).." (TMQ 2:183) We actively learn this right and wrong by controlling our thoughts, our speech, our behavior and by avoiding evil. Each Muslim along with praying and fasting, must also refrain from hurting others, from swearing, from taking in harmful things, etc. Along with being a strong personal Deen for the individual, Islam is also practical and designed for the people as a whole to satisfy their needs and promote happiness. This is why Muslims pray the Tarweeh prayers in Jama'ah, why Mosques hold special community dinners inviting everyone, and why the Day of Eid is so special. You can feel the love of Allah between Muslims all through the month. Nowhere is brotherhood so much a part of worship. If you visit the mosques late at night during Ramadan and see all the devoted people standing together praying to the Almighty, you would never have cause to doubt the power of Islam. Unfortunately though, we sometimes deviate from the true meanings. The designation of the first day of Ramadan is argued upon endlessly by different groups,to the extent that Muslims in the same community will start fasting on different days and thus celebrate Eid at different times. We ignore the Quranic injunction to "...hold fast altogether, by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you), and be not divided amongst yourselves." (TMQ 3:103) Iftar dinners also divide the communties. There are the `Pakistani' Iftars, the `Arab' Iftars...new Muslims and young members of the community (ie. college students) are often excluded. At community dinners those who don't come to the mosque regularly just sit and watch the various cliques and contribute only `Salaams'. We should remember all the Muslims and remember the true purpose of these events we hold. "O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other..." (TMQ 49:13) Our culture is Islam first. Let us not forget this and wipe out any kind of racism or prejudice that exists within ourselves. Ramadan, as opposed to something that divides, can even be used as an effective Daw'ah tool for Muslims and Non-Muslims alike. An atmosphere of warmth, food and piety can truly go a long way! When the long-awaited Eid arrives, it is almost always celebrated by everyone in the community. Mostly it is a joyous time of celebration and thankfulness. But Eid too can deviate into a display of fashions and cars. For a few Muslims it is the only occassion they come to the mosque (except for the other Eid) and it is looked upon as a ritual duty. The Eid Khutbah is never heard as people leave or get up to socialize. In growing up, Ramadan was a time when all the Muslims in our community would come together and share Islam. We would play outside after the dinners and even try to catch fireflies for each other. We would marvel at these little sparkling bugs together, one of Allah's most fascinating creations. Perhaps somewhere along the way we have lost this true remembrance of Allah in all that we do. The need to learn about Islam and to strive has been lost to culture, bid'ah and straying. Communties need to recognize these problems and develop effective target solutions for them. They are not residual effects, but are symptoms of growing problems that will get worse. Would we be following Islam as we do if the Prophet (SAW) was with us today? As a community or as individuals? Would we spend Ramadan in the same way if we knew it was our last (Audhu'billah)? Would so many of us remain ignorant of our deen and our own souls? Or would we ask forgiveness and start again? May Allah forgive us and guide us all. Ameen. "When My servants ask thee concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them):I listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he calleth on Me: let them also, with a will, listen to My call, and believe in Me: that they may walk in the right way."