Whether we reminisce over the past twelve months during Ramadan, or with the global community during the December break, introspection and reflection are vital if we are to make the most of the tomorrows that lie ahead.
Personal evaluation - on a daily basis - is part and parcel of a Muslim's life. The five times of engaging in prayer and contemplation, standing before God - The Creator and Sustainer of all, is itself a time of stillness and quiet during the day's activities. Hence the end of a year becomes an even greater landmark for thinking about where our lives are really going.
Beginnings and endings are common themes in everyone's lives. So too in the life of the last Messenger of God - Muhammad, may God's peace and blessings be upon him. He described himself as one travelling, and that the transience of this world made it merely a place of shelter whilst on his journey to the permanent hereafter. In the sixty-eighth year of his life, the Prophet performed the Hajj - the pilgrimage to the holy sanctuary in Makkah. On the ninth day of that month, he ascended the mount of Arafat to address the Muslims who came to hear his speech. This speech, which has come to be known as the 'Farwell Sermon', was his final address made to his Ummah (followers) at the end of his blessed life. Below is an extract:
'O people! Listen to my words, for I do not know if I am ever going to meet you again on such an occasion after this year!
O people! Your lives and your property and your honour are inviolate until you meet your Lord, just as this day and this month are.
O Lord, have I conveyed your message? Those present shall convey this message to those absent. Perchance those to whom this is reported will be more diligent and mindful than those hearing it.
You are surely going to meet your Lord, and He will question you about your deeds.
O people, surely your Lord is One, and your father is one. You all belong to Adam, and Adam was created of clay. No Arab is superior to a non-Arab or vice versa, and no white man is superior to a black man and vice versa. God has said 'Surely the noblest amongst you are those who are the most God conscious amongst you.'
I am leaving you with what, if you hold fast to, you will never go astray: The Book of God and the Sunnah (way and teachings) of His Prophet.
O people, think well about my words, and understand them well. You no doubt know that every Muslim is a brother unto every other Muslim, and that Muslims are indeed one brotherhood. Nothing is lawful for him of his brothers save what he gives willingly. Do not therefore do injustice to yourselves. O Lord, have I conveyed your message?'
The Prophet's end was squarely focused on the deliverance of his message to humanity; a message of equality, sanctity of life and morality. It looked to the future - our meeting with God, our Sustainer, and it looked back - at ending all practices that were unjust and debased the human soul.
While the world is in a reflective mode, we have within us the ability to recheck our focus and consider where our lives are heading. World events may well exasperate any individual with a conscience, yet we hold the reins to the conduct of our own selves to take a better direction. While nostalgic TV programmes and clippings are a characteristic way of winding down the year, we must delve far deeper and ask ourselves what we've done, on all fronts, with the last twelve months that were placed in our hands?
A little help from the second Caliph Umar after the Prophet Muhammad's death (may the peace and blessings of God be upon him) may begin the process. Umar (may God be pleased with him) said:
'Hold yourself accountable before you are held accountable
and weigh your deeds before they are weighed for you'.
May the next twelve months bring us peace, health and the ability to set our sights and hearts on the right destination.