The least we can do this Ramadan

Last month, I was privileged to join the Hagerstown community at the Islamic Society of Western Maryland for a weekly halaqah, or study circle. After the imam presented the Qur’anic lesson, he turned it over to me to offer a summary of a lesson from Imam al-Ghazzali on the importance of wara, or caution, in our approach to worldly matters. These days, all too many of us “throw caution to the wind,” as they say, in pursuit of profit at any cost. I found al-Ghazzali’s advice beneficial and wanted to share a portion of the lesson with you as we prepare for the holy month of Ramadan.

In short, the imam states that there are four categories of caution that a Muslim can fall into when it comes to how we interact with others in our daily affairs. In order of least to greatest merit, they are:

1.    The Caution of the Just (Wara al-Adeel)
2.    The Caution of the Righteous (Wara al-Saliheen)
3.    The Caution of the God-Fearing (Wara al-Muttaqeen)
4.    The Caution of the Truthful (Wara al-Siddiqeen)

The first category refers to those who want to make sure that their actions do not contravene Sacred Law. Careful not to fall into the impermissible, they weigh their actions in the scale of the Shari’ah and observe the limits that God has placed on us.

The second category, the Caution of the Righteous, are those who take their actions even more seriously and engage in very little of even permissible (halal) actions for fear that they might lead to the possibility, or the temptation, to do wrong.

The third category, the Caution of the God-Fearing, refers to those who actively distance themselves from this worldly life to cultivate a closer relationship with God Almighty.

Those who fall into the fourth and final category, the Caution of the Truthful, abandon everything that does not concern their Beloved Allah, forsaking the world and its trappings and rejecting any thought that does not bind their heart to God.

With respect to our financial transactions, we can draw several lessons from al-Ghazzali’s hierarchy of caution. To me, the biggest lesson is that when we save and invest our money, the very least we can do is make sure that it does not violate God’s commandments. In other words, we should do no harm. Think of it as the Hippocratic Oath for daily living. From an investment standpoint, that means making sure that our investments steer clear of impermissible lines of business that would make us active stakeholders in endeavors that encourage vice in society. We should intend this with every transaction that we engage in. This also means purifying your investments from any unintentional harm that might be done in your name as a shareholder.

I, for one, was astounded when I learned of al-Ghazzali’s categorizations. It is truly humbling to see the stature of the great people who came before us. And when I reflect on the implications of those higher levels of caution, I am again astonished by how much further we have to go as individuals and as a community. But it all starts with making a resolution to do the right thing. As we engage more deeply with our religion during Ramadan, let’s all re-assess our relationship with God and make the intention to remember Him when we conduct our transactions. It’s the least we can do.

Ramadan Mubarak.

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