The Prophet (s) said that he was sent to make things easy for the believers. His sunnah in deciding the times of the daily prayers, and the beginning and end of Ramadan, is meant to make things easy so that the people would come together, in good will and trust, and worship together. Worshipping together is beneficial. In the solidarity of worship we encourage one another in what is good, and we encourage the young to have confidence in the togetherness of the community. If father and mother are continually disagreeing, there is no trusted way of life for the children to grow up in. Similarly, when elders in a community are continually disagreeing, especially over matters connected to the obligations of prayer and fasting, what confidence can the young have in their community or their religion? Everybody can see and hear that people are not serving Allah but serving their own will. And everybody knows that nobody benefits by this – nobody at all – so what is the point of the bickering about little things?
Instead of making it easy, we have made the matter hard for ourselves! Even if we leave the different mosques in the same town; even within the same mosque, people find reasons to disagree and split into factions. But the command of Allah and His Messenger is clear – after consultation, whoever is in the position of authority decides and the community accepts that decision. We follow the imam. Otherwise, it is meaningless to have an imam. If we do not follow the imam we are a leaderless community and such a community is brittle and weak.
By all this bickering in Ramadan, we make the authority to take decisions more important than what the decision is for. The point of Ramadan is that, through fasting and prayer, we dedicate our attention to the quality of our relationship we have with our Creator. Should we really be wasting this opportunity in the bitterness of petty bickering? Have we become like the Israelites criticised in Surat al-Baqarah, who fussed so much over the detail of what God had commanded them to do that they almost did not do it? Is Ramadan no better for us than an excuse to pick fights over who has authority in the community? For sure that is not the purpose of Ramadan. Rather, we should be kind and helpful, and eager to give way to one another, for the sake of Allah. In this way we can be steady and focused in our prayers and fasting, instead of being pointlessly distracted.
If, instead of looking forward to Ramadan, people dread it on account of the trouble it brings to the community and its mosques, that is a sure sign that things are seriously wrong with the set of our minds, the direction of our attention.
I urge my brothers and sisters in Islam to focus on what is important. Let your imams consult and take a decision and accept that decision, and do not be anxious that another imam has made a different decision. That is not what is precious and valuable; actually it is of very little value in itself. What is of value is that we dedicate ourselves to worship, to seeking forgiveness, to preferring the needs of others to our own needs – therein lie the blessings of Ramadan. That is the jihad of this month, and victory if we pursue that jihad with right intention.