With the ultimate battle of who can invite more people over for Iftar, who can participate in the united recitation of the Holy Qur'an, which woman can cook the most dishes for the Islamic center and, more importantly, who can make it to the mosque every night, it is this kind of positive Islamic competition that also allows us to reinforce the values of our faith alongside the importance of the unity of the Muslim nation. The benefits of such stable Islamic societies which are the result of friendships, trust, and the cohesion among those who are actively working towards submitting themselves to Allah are truly polished during this holy month.
During this month at the mosque, it's great to see the children around the dessert table, the adults gathering for tea, the hungry teenage boys scuffling for the drumsticks, and everyone (including the religious leader) surrounding the date plate! If anyone has ever felt left out or neglected, or if you just happen to be the "quiet type" in the community, Ramadan is the one time when we all unite and let go of any past grudges or resentments which we may have towards others.
However, as food is far too often the main thing on people's minds at Iftar time (and no one can blame us!), we often tend to overlook the miraculous bonding and formation of love for one another which is created due to the sacred Ramadan atmosphere. In fact, with so many blessings and fresh opportunities available to every Muslim in this world, one which we often go by without giving much thought to is that of friendship.
The reason why we need friendship is so that we can establish a sense of companionship within our lives, and this desire of companionship is only natural. Different people establish what we like to call a "bond" at different rates and based on different merits; however, what we really need to understand is that it is the quality of a friend and the quality of being a friend which should be considered the most prominent characteristic in such a companion in order for us to uplift the social cohesion levels amongst ourselves and establish a better and stronger Islamic society.
Imam Ali (peace be upon him) has said that a true friend is one who serves you well and remains committed to you at three stages of your life: when you are in need, behind your back, and after your death.
Irrespective of our gender, race, or religion, a universal issue that every human faces at some point of their lives is that of friendship. It's the one thing which children, teenagers, adults and the elderly all have in common. The Oxford dictionary defines a friend as "a person you know well and like, and who is not usually a member of your family." Now, while the definition of a friend is so very clear and simple, in reality we often find ourselves wondering how many of our friends are really our friends.
Although it is easy for us to pick out the flaws in people, especially when it comes to family and friends, the best way to establish a stronger friendship base is to practice the qualities of a good friend according to the flawless example set by our beloved Imam. Almost every religion has some emphasis on the importance of good friendships and companions, but no religion is like Islam in that it provides the perfect opportunity for us to meet and connect with our fellow brothers and sisters in society on a regular basis. Ramadan is one great example of that.
As Islam is not just another religion, likewise Ramadan is not just another month on the Islamic calendar. It is a month in which the Holy Qur'an was revealed. We only have this opportunity once a year to improve ourselves and lifestyles. It is a time to move forward, let go of the past, increase our Islamic faith and become that better person, a better friend. With the countless blessings in the next few weeks to come, insha'Allah we can all learn to value and respect our fellow friends not just in this holy month but for a lifetime to come, and as Imam Ali said, hopefully our friends will continue to value and respect us after our death.