A few nights ago, I found myself at a masjid I’d never been to before. It was a new community filled with unfamiliar faces. And as we stood for Taraweh, I soon realized I had made a rookie mistake, a mistake everyone but me knew not to make: I was standing next to “The Burping Uncle.” “The Burping Uncle” is a Ramadan legend in pretty much every community. In larger communities, this honorific title is often shared by a team of uncles. These are the guys who like to use Taraweh prayers as a post-iftari gas-relieving exhibition. These are the guys who hear that the Prophet said, “the breath of a fasting person is sweeter to God than the fragrance of musk,” and think, “Oh, wow. God loves it when I burp.”
In our tradition, we take great pride in our story-telling. We share stories about Adam and Abraham. We tell stories about Muhammad and his companions. We even read stories about our scholars and the great teachers of our history. And from amongst these stories, there is one about a great scholar named Ruwaim who would often sit with his young son. Like any father, this man would try to share what he knew about the world with his son. He would try to tell him those things that he thought would benefit him and help him succeed in his life. He would try to advise him and support him in a way only a father could. And on one occasion, this loving father shared a very special advice with his son, an advice that we still find remembered today: “Oh my son, make your deeds salt and your manners flour.”
The simplicity of the advice was what made it so special, but, at the same time, it was what made it so forgettable. Build your base with good manners before you begin sprinkling on good deeds. During Ramadan, we often find ourselves so focused on our good deeds, so focused on the salts and the sugars of the world, that we forget the flour. We forget what it is that we should perfect first before we move onto to other things. That night at the masjid, I couldn’t concentrate during my prayers. The sound was distracting. The smell was abhorrent. And quite frankly, having someone standing right beside me burping over 15 times—I lost count after 15—was simply disgusting.
Looking back, maybe it was a cultural thing. Maybe it was a medical thing. Maybe it was simply someone unaware of what they were doing, someone totally blind to their taking away another person’s opportunity to engage their Creator during their prayer. And for me, that’s the scary part. It’s that we often don’t even realize what we’re doing. We don’t even understand how we’re affecting those around us. We don’t even recognize who it is we’re wronging.
Abu Darda (RA) reported that Rasulullah ﷺ said, “Nothing is weightier on the Scale of Deeds than one’s good manners.” (Al-Bukhari)
During this month, we rush to our masjids, but do we stop to think who we cut off in the parking lot? We spend our nights praying, but do we stop to think who we lied to during the day? We focus so much on our deeds, but do we stop, even once, to reflect on the state of our manners? For most of us, the answer is no. We don’t. We forget to. We’re so busy with the other things that we look over our manners. We forget that doing good doesn’t equate to being good. Being good is something deeper, something more personal. It’s something that begins with our manners, how we treat those around us.
Ramadan isn’t supposed to be easy. It isn’t supposed to just be about praying more and eating less. It’s supposed to be about bettering yourself, about growing as an individual. And that begins at the most basic level. That begins with adding in the flour before worrying about the salt. As we approach these last few days, reassess where you are not only in your worship but where you are in your manners. Have you become more patient? Have you become more polite? Have you learned how to be more respectful and talk to people with kindness? If we’re not working on these things, we’re missing out on what Ramadan is supposed to be about, because we all know what our deen teaches us: Our deeds are important but so is our demeanor.
“A believer with good characters and manners will get the same reward as one who spends his days fasting and his nights praying.”
We’ve spent days fasting and nights praying, but now it’s time to work on those other things, those things that we often forget. It’s time to work on our manners. It’s time to address how it is we treat each other. One day, our lives will be placed on scales and it’ll be our manners that’ll weigh the heaviest. The question is: Will they weigh for you or against you?