“A student asked his teacher: ‘If the shaytan (devil) is locked up during Ramadan, why do people still do bad things?’ The teacher answered: ‘What happens when you stir a cup of coffee for a long time? After you take the spoon out the coffee continues to stir on its own, right? Shaytan is that stirrer and we are his coffee. Our bad habits continue to stir even when he is away.’” (source unknown)
I heard this quote from a shaykh (religious scholar) quite a long time ago, and it was only until this Ramadan that I understood it.
Although this blessed month of Ramadan is one in which so many opportunities for change and personal growth are presented to us, many of us are still experiencing the same struggles and issues that we faced pre-Ramadan.
That is, we find ourselves trapped in the same unfavourable circumstances (which may in fact be getting worse) or indulging in the same sins and poor habits that we hoped would magically disappear in Ramadan – but which have not. Instead, we find that we have not changed much, or we have changed very little. We may even have started this Ramadan with soaring levels of iman (faith), only to later find ourselves back down to our natural baselines – perhaps even lower, since now we are also disappointed that we have not met our Ramadan goals.
Shaytan had been working on us all year and we expected, just like that, that the month of Ramadan would stop our spiritual coffees stirring. That we would be completely, and immediately, cleansed of the satanic imprint left on our souls.
Alhamdulillah (all praise be to God), I am sure that a blessed few of us truly have been purified this month. Yet many of us have found our spiritual cups of coffee still stirring. We have found ourselves stumbling over our personal spiritual blocks and feeling distant from Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), or completely unworthy of the immense forgiveness He (swt) offers us this great month.
I have often found myself in such a situation, but what makes this Ramadan unique for me is that for the first time I have asked myself: could it be that although the shayateen (devils) are locked up this month, I have always been my own shaytan?
This realization was pivotal, and taking personal responsibility was both humbling and freeing. Humbling because I realized that truly, this month there is no-one to blame for my own unfavourable actions but myself; freeing because I now feel empowered to sit in the front seat of my life and do the hard personal work that is clearly needed.
As such, my perception of Ramadan has slightly changed. I now view it in a more realistic sense; I probably will not have a character overhaul this month, my circumstances may not get better (and may even get worse), I may carry on with the same sins that seem to always hold me back, and I may not feel the taqwa (God-consciousness) that this month is supposed to cultivate.1
Although it may not seem like it, thinking this way has been very healthy for me. Instead of viewing Ramadan as a machine which I enter as my sinful, faulty self and come out completely transformed into the ideal Muslim I hope to be (whatever that looks like), I now view it as a training ground. It is a launch pad from which I will be thrust into the rest of the year with some new spiritual equipment to fight my personal demons as well as those from among the jinn.
My coffee may still stir, but without a doubt, this month has slowed down the rate. Insha’ Allah (God willing), once the devilish spoon is returned, the momentum will be weakened while my grip on the spoon continues to strengthen.
And Allah (swt) knows best.