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Archive for the ‘Ramadan preparation’ Category

Guess who’s coming?

Posted by Yacoob on March 3, 2014

Masjid Al-Aqsa - seen through festive Ramadan lights (2009 - AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Masjid Al-Aqsa – seen through festive Ramadan lights (2009 – AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

In the Islamic calendar, two major events stand out: Ramadan and Hajj. Both of them are seasons of barakah, wherein the sense of community is high, and on a personal level, our good deeds can be multiplied exponentially.

In terms of timing, these seasons are close together – occurring in the 9th and 12th months of the lunar year. Outside of that, there’s an 8 month gap wherein it can be especially difficult to stay motivated and strive to better ourselves. It helps to be surrounded by good company, but even with that in place, the grind of day to day life can wear down even the best of us – weakening our resolve and making it easier for us to fall into bad habits (both spiritual and worldly).

Coming alive in the dead zone

At this moment, we find ourselves in the midst of that ‘dead zone’ – more than halfway between the last Hajj and the next Ramadan. In times of difficulty, it’s good to look for inspiration, and for the Muslim ummah, we need only look to the best generation among us: the sahabah (r.a.).

Their connection with Ramadan was so deep that it’s reported that they looked forward to it 6 months in advance, and once Ramadan was over, they’d spend the next 6 months asking Allah to accept the deeds they did in that month.

The work starts now

We may not have the same enthusiasm and level of commitment as our pious predecessors, but that’s no reason to be despondent. Each of us knows our own level of spirituality and connection to Allah, and with ample time left until next Ramadan arrives, we can slowly but surely start building ourselves up to the coming month. Early preparation will, insha-Allah, enable us to hit the month of Ramadan already on a spiritual high – which will better equip us to make the most of the amazing opportunities ahead.

To give you a practical roadmap to your Ramadan prep, check out the Ramadan early bird challenge. The series, which is built upon the foundation of gradual change, gives you a personal, step-by-step path to looking at your own life and improving – little by little.

Each instalment focuses on a particular area, and you can choose the one(s) you feel most pertinent to you, working at your own pace to identify your challenges, come up with viable solutions, and ultimately overcome your weaknesses in small but consistent steps. Also included are valuable resources – such as audio and video lectures – that can help you in your path to improvement.

So if you’d like to make the coming Ramadan your most productive one yet, give the series a try. Areas covered are:

May Allah fill the coming months with barakah, help us to take advantage of the time available to us, and bring us to the coming Ramadan in the highest state of eman and taqwa.

Posted in Ramadan preparation | 1 Comment »

Ramadan 2013 is almost here

Posted by Yacoob on July 8, 2013

Masjid Al-Aqsa - seen through festive Ramadan lights (2009 - AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Festive Ramadan lights in Jerusalem (2009 – AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

OK, so admittedly, I haven’t posted much in the lead-up to Ramadan. The truth is, I’ve had a lot of other things occupying me, and with a new baby due near the end of the month, chances are I won’t be too active on this blog during Ramadan. (Other than the Hajj Chronicles series, which is actually finished, and scheduled to be published every 2 weeks or so.)

But since we’re on the doorstep of Ramadan, I’m recycling from last year ;)

Take whatever benefit you can from this post, and I make dua that this month is spiritually, physically, and emotionally uplifting for each and every one of us. And every night when we break our fast – which is a time when dua is readily accepted – let us consistently make a dua for our brothers and sisters suffering in Syria, Palestine, Burma, Guantanemo, Egypt, and every other place facing trials; as well as the Muslims who are so severely restricted / targeted during Ramadan (and outside it) – in China, Russia, and elsewhere.

If you’re in Cape Town, try to get to Gatesville this year, where Mufti Menk will be leading taraweeh insha-Allah; with his tafseer series this month titled “Pearls of peace from the Noble Quran”. Insha-Allah it’ll be posted online as well for those who can’t make it.

The Ramadan prep bits follow below:

Although the Ramadan 2012 Early Bird Challenge focused intensely on specific areas of preparation, it’s also important to do more general planning for the month – such as outlining the kind of schedule you’d like to keep, along with listing other areas you want to work on and actions you’d like to take forward beyond Ramadan.

With this in mind, I’ve updated the Ramadan planner template – which is a compact 2-page template you can use to help you prepare. It’s rather amateur – but it’s only a template, so you can customize it according to your own needs (including making it more visually attractive if you want).

Download: Ramadan planner template v2 (50Kb)

Resources:

1. The Fasting and the Furious

I highly recommend listening to Muhammad Al-Shareef’s “The Fasting and the Furious” – which contains many important lessons for the month, and especially the middle of the month (when we lose momentum).

Follow these links for the video and the MP3 audio. (Note: If the links don’t work, just search the Internet. The talk is quite popular, so you should find it easily).

2. Ramadaan inspiration

One of my favourite Islamic speakers is Shaykh Hussain Abdul Sattar of Chicago – who has a knack for using easy to understand analogies to help make the listener understand some spiritual aspect.

His website contains a treasure chest of awesome audio material; including an in-depth series on purification of the heart, which I started writing about (kind of a transcription) in this article.

Anyway, for this month specifically, you can find hours of Ramadan-related talks in the Ramadan section.

All the best for the coming month. May it serve as a means of purification for our hearts, minds, and bodies – and benefit us in ways that will stick with us for the rest of our lives.

If you’ve found the template, any of these resources, or the Early Bird series beneficial, please share them with others. A person who helps spread goodness gets a piece of the reward – so be generous to others and think of what you yourself can also gain from sharing.

JazakAllah

Yacoob

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Ramadan reminder

Posted by Yacoob on March 18, 2013

Masjid Al-Aqsa - seen through festive Ramadan lights (2009 - AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Masjid Al-Aqsa – seen through festive Ramadan lights (2009 – AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

There are just a few months left until Ramadan. Last year, this blog hosted the “Early Bird Challenge”. While it’s not being repeated this year, the series isn’t really time-specific, so for those looking to get an earlier start on Ramadan prep, feel free to browse through the series and use whatever will benefit you.

Last year’s themes were:

  1. Salaah
  2. Dua
  3. Unhealthy habits
  4. Quran
  5. Speech

May Allah allow us all to prepare for this blessed month, and see the fruits of it – both in this world and the next.

Posted in Ramadan preparation | 2 Comments »

Ramadan 2012 planning: Downloadable template and resources

Posted by Yacoob on July 9, 2012

Masjid Al-Aqsa - seen through festive Ramadan lights (2009 - AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Festive Ramadan lights in Jerusalem (2009 – AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Although the Ramadan 2012 Early Bird Challenge focused intensely on specific areas of preparation, it’s also important to do more general planning for the month – such as outlining the kind of schedule you’d like to keep, along with listing other areas you want to work on and actions you’d like to take forward beyond Ramadan.

With this in mind, I’ve updated the Ramadan planner template – which is a compact 2-page template you can use to help you prepare. It’s rather amateur – but it’s only a template, so you can customize it according to your own needs (including making it more visually attractive if you want).

Download: Ramadan planner template v2 (50Kb)

Resources:

1. The Fasting and the Furious

I highly recommend listening to Muhammad Al-Shareef’s “The Fasting and the Furious” – which contains many important lessons for the month, and especially the middle of the month (when we lose momentum).

Follow these links for the video and the MP3 audio. (Note: If the links don’t work, just search the Internet. The talk is quite popular, so you should find it easily).

2. Ramadaan inspiration

One of my favourite Islamic speakers is Shaykh Hussain Abdul Sattar of Chicago – who has a knack for using easy to understand analogies to help make the listener understand some spiritual aspect.

His website contains a treasure chest of awesome audio material; including an in-depth series on purification of the heart, which I started writing about (kind of a transcription) in this article.

Anyway, for this month specifically, you can find hours of Ramadan-related talks in the Ramadan section.

All the best for the coming month. May it serve as a means of purification for our hearts, minds, and bodies – and benefit us in ways that will stick with us for the rest of our lives.

If you’ve found the template, any of these resources, or the Early Bird series beneficial, please share them with others. A person who helps spread goodness gets a piece of the reward – so be generous to others and think of what you yourself can also gain from sharing.

JazakAllah

Yacoob

Posted in Ramadaan, Ramadan preparation | Leave a Comment »

Ramadan 2012: The Early Bird Challenge 5

Posted by Yacoob on June 24, 2012

With just one month to go until Ramadan, insha-Allah everyone is gearing up to welcome this blessed annual visitor. If you’ve been with this series so far, insha-Allah you’re well on track to make the most of the coming month. But if not, there’s still time to put in some prep work. You can still make use of past posts in this series – but just amend the exercises to suit your current timeframes. See the list of previous posts at the end for quick access to these exercises.

The organ that will make or break you

If you had to consider which part of the body is most important, which would you choose? The eyes? Ears? Hands? All of these are important, because on the Day of Judgement, each of the will testify as to what we used them for (as laid out very creatively in this poem).

But the one organ which is most critical is the tongue. It’s so small, yet it holds such tremendous power. By uttering a few words, one can enter Islam. But with that same tongue, other words can take one out of Islam. And with that tongue, one can perform such immense good deeds in the world – kindness to others, speaking out against wrongs, and so much more; yet that same tongue can be used for negative purposes – gossip, backbiting, slander, complaints, threats, abusiveness, foul language, and more.

How many times have you said something you later regretted? Something that caused great pain to a loved one? Something that broke a dear friendship, or insulted someone who didn’t deserve your wrath? How often have you complained when things weren’t to your liking, or when someone else got something you believe you should have received?

There are a number of hadith in which the Prophet s.a.w. advised us to be careful of how we use our tongue – telling us the dangers of it (such as how it can take us to Jahannam) and the rewards of being careful of it and using it properly (such as entering Jannah).

The Early Bird way to improving your speech

If we honestly look into our own lives, it should be very easy to realise that one of the very best of qualities we can inculcate is to be cautious of our tongues: using the tongue correctly and protecting it from all kinds of mis-use.

So if you’re committed to improving your use of your tongue, you need more than just good intentions. Often, we hear an inspiring talk or read a motivational article and we feel such passion for implementing the lessons learned – yet not long after, that enthusiasm fades, and we fall back into our usual habits.

If you want to succeed in any area – and of course this most critical area of character – you’ll need to take practical steps. As explained in previous posts, our approach in this series is to follow a five-step process to gradually solve the problem:

  1. Selection of an area: For this month, the topic is speech / use of the tongue
  2. Diagnosis: Analyse what your current condition is in the area and list your weaknesses
  3. Root cause analysis: Get to the root of your weaknesses / problems
  4. Solutions: Come up with practical methods to overcome those root causes
  5. Planning and implementation: Set up a realistic plan of action to implement those solutions gradually in the coming months, then at a higher pace in Ramadan

 

Diagnosis:

Ask yourself:

  • Has my speech / things I’ve said cause major problems or pain in my life – either for me or other people?
  • Am I aware of the Islamic teachings related to speech / use of the tongue?
  • Do I speak more than I should? Or too little?
  • Am I too curious about the affairs of other people or things that don’t concern me?
  • Do I gossip, listen to gossip, or encourage other people to gossip?
  • How often do I speak about other people? And when I do, is it really necessary? (This applies to celebrities and public figures too – not just people you know.)
  • When talking about others, would they be pleased with what I say about them?
  • If I have a habit of backbiting or slandering others, do I have enough good deeds to give away to them on the Day of Judgment? (As a compensation for my harm to them.)
  • If I’m guilty of backbiting or slander, do I know how to rectify it Islamically?
  • When I’m upset with my children / disciplining them, do I make threats I know I wouldn’t carry out? Do I make statements that I know I don’t mean? Am I conscious of the effect this could have on them?
  • When I’m trying to get my children to do something, do I bribe them / make them offers I know I won’t fulfil? Am I conscious of the effect this could have on them?
  • When I’m angry, do I know the proper Islamic etiquette of quelling my anger?
  • How often do I complain about things?
  • How often do I express gratitude for things? (Both to Allah and to people.)
  • How often do I encourage or say good words to people?
  • How much do I occupy my tongue with the remembrance of Allah? (whether through Quran, dua, or any form of verbal dhikr.)

Using this month’s worksheet, think through each question and record your answers. Be honest with yourself – and do this either completely in private, without sharing it with anyone (if you prefer it that way), or with someone else (if you think that’s more beneficial).

 

Analysis:

First, consider your answers, then identify and list your weaknesses or problems you feel you need to address.

Next, write down each issue’s outward symptoms that you notice, and try to find the root causes of the issue by interrogating it. Look at the issue or the symptoms and ask yourself “why?” Keep asking “why?” of each answer until you get to the root cause.

For example, if you talk about other people too much, ask yourself why this is. Ask yourself what needs or desires in you are satisfied by this habit. Or if you lie to your children to get them to do what you want, ask yourself why you have to resort to lies. Don’t focus on the child’s resistance to doing what you ask of them – but focus on your strategy of persuasion, and delve into your reasons for using deceit.

 

Solutions:

With the problems diagnosed, the symptoms identified, and root causes found, now think of practical ways to solve those problems. Brainstorm and list practical ways to solve the issues from the root – meaning that your solution doesn’t only address the outward symptoms, but the root causes too.

While doing this, remember to apply realistic expectations to yourself. Don’t aim for a solution you know will be impossible. Aim for what’s within your grasp, and know that as you successfully implement one solution, insha-Allah you’ll be better equipped to aim higher and go even further after that.

For example, if you’re too quick to criticise, complain, or threaten others, know that you’ll need to learn to hold your tongue – or have sabr when if comes to issues that trigger you to speak in such a way. To build sabr in your trigger areas, you can use the methodology outlined here. You can also try to implement the old Sufi tradition which advises us to speak only after our words have managed to pass through four gates:

  • At the first gate, ask: “Are these words true?” If so, let them pass on; if not, don’t say them.
  • At the second gate, ask: “Are they necessary?” (Again, yes means go, no means stop.)
  • At the third gate, ask: “Are they beneficial?” (Again, yes means go, no means stop.)
  • At the fourth gate, ask: “Are they kind?” (or – to modify slightly – ‘Am I planning to say them in an appropriate way?’ Because sometimes a harsh or firm tone is actually needed – but you need to use it with wisdom – not out of anger).  And only if your answer is yes, then go ahead and say it.

 

Planning and implementation:

With solutions identified, now analyse what your life is like at this moment, and come up with a realistic plan of how you can implement the solutions over a period of time. Remember to plan this in ways that are realistic – achievable – for you, even if it means you’ll be taking tiny steps over a long period of time. Doing things gradually – in small and consistent steps – is the best way to achieve sustainable, permanent solutions.

For example, if you criticise a loved one too often, you can’t expect to go from being overly-critical to nice and complimentary overnight. You’ll need to take it step by step: first find the things that trigger your criticisms or complaints, then learn to have sabr when those triggers arise, then learn to withhold your negative words (or re-phrase them in a positive way), then change your attitude towards them (if that’s a root cause in this issue), and then speak good words rather than reacting negatively.

If, after a while, you find that you’ve incorrectly estimated your ability to follow the plan, simply make adjustments as needed. The goal for this month is to implement steps that are realistic for you – what you can manage, and not what will overburden you.

Because this month’s area can be extremely far-reaching in your life, don’t feel pressure to solve all the issues this month, or even this year. You should take this at whatever pace you know will be best for you – knowing that as long as you’re improving, you’re on the right track.

 

Worksheet:

To help with this month’s exercise, you can download and use the following document: RamadanEarlyBird worksheet (5th edition).

 

Resources:

To help you with this month’s focus, check out the following:

  • Audio lecture: “Speech” by Mufti Ismail Menk –  part of a Ramadan tafseer series in which the speaker expands on specific verses of the Quran relating to the use of the tongue
  • Audio lecture: “Guarding the tongue” by Shaykh Hussain Abdul Sattar  – on the importance of being careful in our speech
  • Document – A printable one-page collection of hadiths, quotes, and the relevant Quranic verse about backbiting.
  • Methodology – A 6-step methodology to help you build sabr in any area – including mis-use of the tongue
  • E-book: “The many dangers of the tongue” – an in-depth analysis of the harm we can do via the tongue (Contents page here, and a good general chapter to read here)
  • Image: A backbiting reminder from Hannibal Lecter

And remember that the most important resources of all are the right intentions, sincere dua asking for success in this venture, and then consistent effort to do your best.

A word of thanks:

Lastly, jazakAllah to you – the reader – for being a part of this series. I hope it’s been beneficial, and I ask that you make dua for me, my family, and everyone who participated in it and promoted this series. I wish you the very best for the coming Ramadan. May Allah accept all your preparations and enable you to enter the month in a high state of spirituality, then help you build to greater and greater levels throughout it, and enable you to maintain your commitment on Eid day and beyond.

Previous posts in this series:

  1. Salaah
  2. Dua
  3. Unhealthy habits
  4. Quran

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Ramadan 2012: The Early Bird Challenge 4

Posted by Yacoob on May 22, 2012

Ramadan is almost here, and by now, your local ulama and others might have started reminding you of the need to prepare early for it – so that you can start the month in full gear already (or at least better than starting from zero). But if you’ve been with the Early Bird series so far, you should be way ahead already – gradually improving so that you’ll be well equipped to start the month in an already-habitual state of striving.

Three months ago, we started this series by covering salaah, followed by dua the following month, and then unhealthy habits. Next up, we focus on the greatest source of guidance to come to us – the Holy Quran.

This post can’t come close to being comprehensive enough, or fitting of the subject matter – but it’s an attempt to at least try to help in this most immense of areas.

A light in our dark days

Like Prophets before him, Muhammad (s.a.w.) came with numerous physical miracles. But the main miracle he was sent with was our Holy Text – Al-Quran. And the purpose of this Book?

As stated in the opening verses of Surah Baqarah (translation of the meaning):

“This is the Book whereof there is no doubt; a guidance to those who are conscious of Allah.”

In a world that has become so confusing and morally corrupt – and is degenerating further and further – who can say that they aren’t in need of guidance? Humanity has tried to put forward various ideologies as the ways to curing our world, and success – but which of these has truly proven successful?

The answer is: none. And it’s easy to know why. Our fellow creations (i.e. other humans) – despite how intelligent they are, and how much they’ve achieved in this world – do not and cannot know everything there is to know about this world. And despite the progress made via scientific discoveries and technological advances, still no (sane) human can claim to know it all.

Conversely, the One who created us does know everything. Absolutely everything. Both of this world and the realms we cannot perceive via our senses. So it’s only logical that we follow the One with more knowledge – the One that knows what’s best for us – not only because of that knowledge, but because He created us.

And this Quran, coupled with the Sunnah (since the Prophet s.a.w.’s ‘character was the Quran’ – as per Aisha r.a.’s statement) is our roadmap to success – both in this life and the next.

The religion of Islam (which is based on these two primary sources) teaches us exactly what’s best for us – and explains where we came from, who we are, and what our purpose in life is.

As Muslims, the Quran is our primary source of spiritual fulfilment and our greatest means towards spiritual progress.

So no matter where we are in terms of our spirituality, the Quran is our means to advance.

And with Ramadan being the month of the Quran, it’s only fitting that we start strengthening our relationship with the Quran in preparation for it.

Strengthening the link the Early Bird way

How many times have you heard speakers criticise those who make the Quran an ‘ornament’? Something that sits on the highest shelf of our homes – collecting dust; and only being picked up and read on certain occasions.

Maybe that description doesn’t fit you. Maybe you read the important surahs – such as Surah Yaseen and Surah Mulk regularly, or Surah Kahf on a Friday – because you know about the virtues and rewards of reading them. But is that all you read? Aren’t there 111 other surahs worthy of your attention?

Or maybe you do read a lot more of the Quran regularly. But do you understand what you’re reading? Allah is speaking to you directly – and do you know what He’s saying?

And are you giving the Quran its proper rights in terms of etiquettes? Do you recite with proper tajweed? Or are you assuming that the way you learnt to recite as a child is in fact correct?

Or maybe you’re a hafidh, and you know what the reward of that is – for both you and your parents on the Day of Judgement. But do you actually live the teachings of the Quran? Memorising is one thing, and understanding is another. But actually following is a much, much higher level.

Or maybe you can’t even read Arabic at all – due to whatever circumstance in your history. Don’t you feel it’s worth trying to learn? Or are you “too old” to start learning now?

No matter what stage we’re at, each of us has a relationship with the Quran. And if we want to improve that relationship, we need to start with sincere intentions, then follow that up with regular and consistent effort.

As explained in previous posts, our approach in this series is to follow a five-step process to gradually solve the problem:

  1. Selection of an area: For this month, the topic is Quran
  2. Diagnosis: Analyse what your current condition is in the area and list your weaknesses
  3. Root cause analysis: Get to the root of your weaknesses / problems
  4. Solutions: Come up with practical methods to overcome those root causes
  5. Planning and implementation: Set up a realistic plan of action to implement those solutions gradually in the coming months, then at a higher pace in Ramadan

 

Diagnosis:

Ask yourself:

  • Do I understand the importance of the Quran in this life?
  • Do I understand its importance when I die, and in my Hereafter?
  • Can I read the Quran in Arabic? Or do I just rely on translations of the meaning in my own home language?
  • If I read in Arabic, is my tajweed correct?
  • How often do I read Quran? (in Arabic and in your own language, if you don’t speak Arabic)
  • When I read, how much time do I spend per reading?
  • Am I reading only certain surahs or sections? Or do I read widely?
  • What are the correct reasons to be reading Quran?
  • Why do I read it?
  • If I don’t understand what I read (either in Arabic or translation), do I make an effort to find out and get a deeper understanding? (e.g. via asking scholars, reading tafseer)
  • When I understand, do I try to implement this understanding in my life?
  • Do I teach others what I learn of the Quran?

Using this month’s worksheet, think through each question and record your answers. Be honest with yourself – and do this either completely in private, without sharing it with anyone (if you prefer it that way), or with someone else (if you think that’s more beneficial).

 

Analysis:

First, consider your answers, then identify and list your weaknesses or problems you feel you need to address.

Next, write down each issue’s outward symptoms that you notice, and try to find the root causes of the issue by interrogating it. Look at the issue or the symptoms and ask yourself “why?” Keep asking “why?” of each answer until you get to the root cause.

For example, if you don’t recite Quran regularly, ask yourself why. Maybe your answer is simple: “I don’t have time” or “I’m too busy”. Go beyond that – ask why. What do you spend time on? Do you really not have even 10 minutes per day to give to Quran? Can you not cut down on another, less important activity to give Quran some time at least? For example, do you really need to read the news every day? Or do you really have to watch every TV show you like when it airs? (You can use last month’s Early Bird Challenge to help with such time management issues.)

 

Solutions:

With the problems diagnosed, the symptoms identified, and root causes found, now think of practical ways to solve those problems. Brainstorm and list practical ways to solve the issues from the root – meaning that your solution doesn’t only address the outward symptoms, but the root causes too.

While doing this, remember to apply realistic expectations to yourself. Don’t aim for a solution you know will be impossible. Aim for what’s within your grasp, and know that as you successfully implement one solution, insha-Allah you’ll be better equipped to aim higher and go even further after that.

 

Planning and implementation:

With solutions identified, now analyse what your life is like at this moment, and come up with a realistic plan of how you can implement the solutions over a period of time. Remember to plan this in ways that are realistic – achievable – for you, even if it means you’ll be taking tiny steps over a long period of time. Doing things gradually – in small and consistent steps – is the best way to achieve sustainable, permanent solutions.

For example, if you struggle to read Arabic, don’t set yourself an initial target of reciting 10 pages of Quran per day (unless you have the time). It’s not about quantity. And the person who struggles to recite, according to hadith, gets more reward than the one who recites fluently. So start with one page. Or even just a few verses per day. You may think that’s too little, but the deeds most beloved to Allah are those that are consistent, even if they be small – so it’s better to read a small amount, which you can keep up with, rather than start big and then quit when you can’t sustain the pace.

Also apply wisdom. Don’t just dogmatically follow a path set down by others. Do what’s right for you – what you think will be most beneficial for you personally. For example, some people are rigid about quantity – they say you “have to” read a whole khattam in a certain number of days / weeks (e.g. ‘You must finish the whole Quran at least once in Ramadan’).

To meet that target, are you going to read like a bullet train (or some rapper with a fast style)? Does Allah want quantity, or quality? Is it better to read the Quran three whole times in a month – without understanding, or read it once – with understanding?

Make your plans realistic and wise. Your relationship with the Quran is your own – it’s personal. And in your grave, and on the Day of Judgement, it’s that relationship which will either benefit or harm you. So keep that in mind and aim for solutions that will stick and will benefit you most in this life and in the next.

Also include, in your plan, the ways you’d like to intensify your efforts when Ramadan comes.

If, after a while, you find that you’ve incorrectly estimated your ability to follow the plan, simply make adjustments as needed. The goal for this month is to implement steps that are realistic for you – what you can manage, and not what will overburden you.

 

Worksheet

To help with this month’s exercise, you can download and use the following document: RamadanEarlyBird worksheet (4th edition).

 

Resources

To help you with this month’s focus, check out the following:

  • Audio lecture: “Our Belief in the Quran”  by Shaykh Hussain Abdul Sattar  – very short lecture on the key ingredient in benefiting from the Quran
  • Audio lecture series: “Reasons for revelation” by Mufti Ismail Menk – Ramadan tafseer series in which the speaker explains the context around the revelation of specific verses of Quran
  • Website: Islam 101’s Quran resources page – includes Pickthall translation of meanings, recitations, and more.
  • Video: “The purpose of life” by Dr Jeffrey Lang – the story of how an atheist Maths professor came to realise the truth and purpose of life via his reading of the Quran and the use of logic.
  • Institutes specialising in Quran: Darun Na’im (Cape Town), Bayyinah Institute (USA, and online after this Ramadan) – includes free audios of tafseer

And remember that the most important resources of all are the right intentions, sincere dua asking for success in this venture, and then consistent effort to do your best.

Posted in Ramadaan, Ramadan preparation | 3 Comments »

Ramadan 2012: The Early Bird Challenge 3

Posted by Yacoob on April 23, 2012

With just three months left until Ramadan, if you’ve participated in this series so far, your journey towards improvement should be well underway – even if it’s going very slowly (and that’s OK!). We began with salaah in part 1, then moved on to dua in part 2. While those are both very spiritual topics, this month’s challenge deals with something much more worldly – our unhealthy, time-consuming habits. It may be painful, and it may take a while to do, but if you succeed in this month’s area, insha-Allah you’ll make giant strides in bettering your own self and your relationship with Allah.

 

Habits

Compared to the past, today’s modern technology makes our lives easier and saves us great amounts of time. Take the simple example of laundry: 200 years ago, it was a whole day job, and now you can get it done and dried in a couple of hours – with minimal effort on your part.

With so much time freed up, shouldn’t we be happier because we have more time to do what we want? The answer is “no”.

The paradox of today’s world is that we have so many time-saving gadgets, and everything is so convenient, yet more than ever, we feel like we don’t have free time. We’re under more pressure and always seem to need more hours in the day (or night) to finish all the things we have to / want to do. Added to that is the entertainment we consume to ‘relax’ and ‘unwind’ from the stresses of life.

And then add the relatively new phenomenon of always being ‘connected’ to the world and your friends via technology. For many people, today’s life is filled with e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, mobile phone messages, and a never-ending stream of information: breaking news, alerts, updates, and other bits of information we think we need. The information flood is so rampant that many people seem to spend more time in the virtual world than they do in the real, physical world. (By the way, does anyone else see the connection to ‘The Matrix’ in this?)

Whether we pursue these things or they pursue us, it seems that many of us have become slaves to the technology and leisure-time activities we love so much.

 

The vessel

But we know that any extreme is unhealthy. So by consuming and being involved in this much information, communication, and entertainment, we’re bound to suffer negative consequences at some point – whether it’s mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual.

American scholar Shaykh Abdullah Adhami sums up the danger in this beautifully simple yet profound quote:

“Every vessel – every container – will only pour out what is contained in it, and that’s very obvious…Your tongue is your ability to express what lies in your spirit: television, the movies, the friends you hang out with, the music you listen to. Everything around you is environmental forces that shape how your being is and how your heart is. And when you open your mouth to speak it’s like your heart is a sponge that absorbs all of this material from around you. Essentially what you’re doing is squeezing what is in you and what comes out is going to be what has been compiled in your mind and in your memory. Obviously you can only express in your heart what has been placed in it. And so in order for the outcome and the output from the tongue to be positive, the input in that needs to be positive: in spirit, in silence, in talking…and throughout our lives.”

The quote basically means that what we take in – what we consume – is what will fill our hearts, and ultimately what will come out from us. And if we fill our time with habits that are poisonous or not beneficial, those poisons will corrupt our inner beings.

As others have pointed out, the human brain only has a limited capacity – it can only hold so much information. And if we keep filling it with things that aren’t actually important, there won’t be much space left for the things that really are important.

 

Kicking the habit the Early Bird way

You may already know that you have a Facebook problem. Or a Twitter addiction. Or that you obsessively check your email every few minutes. Whatever your habits, if you’ve gone to an extreme, you already know you should take some kind of action to bring back the balance. But living in the environment you live in, it’s not easy to disconnect completely and be free of your poisons.

So, as explained in previous posts, our approach in this series is to follow a five-step process to gradually solve the problem:

  1. Selection of an area: For this month, the topic is ‘Unhealthy habits’
  2. Diagnosis: Analyse what your current condition is in the area and list your weaknesses
  3. Root cause analysis: Get to the root of your weaknesses / problems
  4. Solutions: Come up with practical methods to overcome those root causes
  5. Planning and implementation: Set up a realistic plan of action to implement those solutions gradually in the coming months, then at a higher pace in Ramadan

 

Diagnosis:

Ask yourself:

  • What technologies and websites do I use most in my personal life?
  • How do I entertain myself? (e.g. movies, TV, music, games)
  • What communication habits fill my time? (e.g. phonecalls, text messages, BBM)
    (see worksheet 3 for further examples of all these)
  • How many times do I use it per day?
  • On average, how long do I spend on it per day?

Now for each item on your list, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Whose resources (e.g. computer, bandwidth) do I use for this? (e.g. work? school? parents?) And if it’s someone else’s, am I allowed to be using their resources for this?
  2. Why do I do it as often as I do?
  3. When I use it, why do I spend this amount of time on it?
  4. How does using it make me feel? And how long does that feeling last?
  5. Do I neglect loved ones / people that are right in front of me while I do this? Do these things cause me to spend less quality time with them?
  6. What time do I switch these things (e.g. mobile phone, computer) off for the day?
  7. For the entertainment-related items, what is the main message of the music / movies / games? And is this something admirable or meaningful?
  8. What are the benefits of this thing? (Break this up into worldly and Hereafter categories)
  9. What are the risks / dangers of this thing? (Break this up into worldly and Hereafter categories)
  10. Does this harm my ibadah and relationship with Allah? (e.g. do I delay my salaah for these things? And in salaah and other worship, do I think about these things?)

Using this month’s worksheet, think through each question and record your answers. Be honest with yourself – and do this either completely in private, without sharing it with anyone (if you prefer it that way), or with someone else (if you think that’s more beneficial).

 

Analysis:

First, consider your answers then identify and list your weaknesses or problems you feel you need to address.

Next, write down each issue’s outward symptoms that you notice, and try to find the root causes of the issue by interrogating it. Look at the issue or the symptoms and ask yourself “why?”. Keep asking “why?” of each answer until you get to the root cause.

 

Solutions:

With the problems diagnosed, the symptoms identified, and root causes found, now think of practical ways to solve those problems from the root. Brainstorm and list practical ways to solve the issues from the root. While doing this, consider the following questions to help you come up with solutions:

  1. If I give up / reduce my usage, what benefits could I gain?
  2. What would I like to achieve in life that I haven’t / haven’t tried – because I feel I don’t have the time?
  3. What small steps could I take towards fulfilling those ambitions, if I were to have more free time?
  4. What safety mechanisms and physical steps can I take to cut down on these things?
  5. Can I arrange my time to be more self-disciplined in these habits?
  6. Can I use any technology applications to block my usage of websites I’d like to leave?
  7. Can I set aside a day or two per month to live completely without these things?

For example, in question 4 (safety mechanisms / physical steps), when you need to do something important, you could move your computer / other distractions to somewhere not so accessible. And in step 5 (time management), you could set specific times in the day when you’ll check email – and stick to it. Or set times each day where you ban yourself from using the Internet / the medium of distraction.

 

Planning and implementation:

With solutions identified, now analyse what your life is like at this moment, and come up with a realistic plan of how you can implement the solutions over a period of time. Remember to plan this is ways that are realistic – achievable – for you, even if it means you’ll be taking tiny steps over a long period of time. Doing things gradually – in small and consistent steps – is the best way to achieve sustainable, permanent solutions.

Also include, in your plan, the ways you’d like to intensify your efforts when Ramadan comes.

If, after a while, you find that you’ve incorrectly estimated your ability to follow the plan, simply make adjustments as needed. The goal for this month, and the four that follow, is to implement steps that are realistic for you – what you can manage, and not what will overburden you.

 

Worksheet

To help with this month’s exercise, you can download and use the following document: RamadanEarlyBird worksheet (3rd edition).

 

Resources

To help you with this month’s focus, check out the following:

  • Article: From Facebook to God’s book
  • Technology blockers: To block sites you want to avoid, use LeechBlock for FireFox; StayFocusd for Google Chrome; or in Internet Explorer just add the in your blocking-settings.
  • Your contribution: If you know of any good Islamic resources (e.g. lectures, applications) that are freely available online, please suggest them in the comments section.

And remember that the most important resources of all are the right intentions, sincere dua asking for success in this venture, and then consistent effort to do your best.

All the best with this step in Ramadan prep; and feel free to share your feedback or progress in the Comments section.

Posted in Ramadaan, Ramadan preparation | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Ramadan 2012: The Early Bird Challenge part 2

Posted by Yacoob on March 24, 2012

Following up from part 1, we now continue our journey to prepare early for Ramadan 2012. At this point, we have – insha-Allah – about four months left until the whole (Muslim) world begins this most auspicious month. But if you’re taking up this Early Bird Challenge, you’re eager to get a head start on the rest of the ummah.

Last month, we took the ‘pillar’ of the deen – salaah – as our point of improvement. This month, we take another critical element – one which, according to hadith, is the ‘essence’ of worship: dua (supplication).

 

The ticket to everything you want

Humans – by their nature – have been created to want, and want more, and more. And while sometimes this is good, many times it isn’t – because we too often focus intensely on the material things we want, while neglecting the spiritual things we need.

Regardless of this, the fact remains that we want – whether what we want is material, spiritual, or both. And when we want, we need to seek what we want from the source of that thing.

As Muslims, we know that everything comes from Allah. So anything we want – be it material sustenance, freedom from hardships or debts, cure from illness, that dream job, marriage, children, knowledge, achievement, spiritual purity, or anything else – we need to ask it from Allah (as long as it’s not haraam, of course).

 

Renewing the link

Unfortunately, in our fast-paced lives of today, we often fall victim to thinking that we’re too busy to make dua. With so much to do, so much demanding our attention, and almost constant time pressures, it can be rare that we get a moment to stop and make a really intense, in-depth, and heartfelt dua.

Or maybe we do make duas often, but confine these to our ‘automated’ duas – the ones that we mechanically repeat in Arabic and/or English as part of a routine, without really feeling much sincerity when we make them.

Or maybe we always rely on the imam to make the dua, and simply repeat our ‘ameen’ after him – thinking that that’s enough for us when it comes to dua. And while there certainly is virtue in making dua behind an imam, the reality is that that imam isn’t you – so he can’t make the personal duas that are most important to you; your heart’s deepest needs and desires, which are kept between only you and Allah.

The link with Allah is the most important aspect of a Muslim’s life, and dua is the means by which this link is maintained and nurtured. Allah loves for us to ask from Him, and actually gets angry if we don’t ask (as stated in a hadith).

So it’s clear that dua should really be at the core of our lives, because it’s the essence of our life’s purpose (i.e. worship) – and the means by which we can attain anything we need (or want).

 

The Early Bird solution

As explained in the first post, our approach in this series is to follow a five-step process to gradually improving ourselves:

  1. Selection of an area: For this month, the topic is dua
  2. Diagnosis: Analyse what your current condition is in the area (quality, frequency, etc), and list your weaknesses
  3. Root cause analysis: Get to the root of your weaknesses / problems
  4. Solutions: Come up with practical methods to overcome those root causes
  5. Planning and implementation: Set up a realistic plan of action to implement those solutions gradually in the coming months, then at a higher pace in Ramadan

 

Diagnosis:

Ask yourself:

  • Do I really understand how important dua is in life?
  • Do I make time each day to make dua(s) to Allah?
  • If I do make duas, are these automated duas, or those of the imam alone?
  • Do I take time out to think about what I truly need and want, and make specific duas for that?
  • Do I believe that my duas have to be in Arabic only?
  • Do I truly believe that Allah will answer my duas?
  • What actions cause Allah to reject duas?
  • Am I doing anything – intentionally or out of forgetfulness – that would cause Allah to reject my duas?
  • When are the best times to make dua (i.e. the times when they are accepted)?
  • What actions cause Allah to readily accept duas?
  • Am I carrying out these actions on a regular basis?
  • Do I know the etiquettes of dua?
  • Aside from personal duas, do I know duas from the Quran and Sunnah? (Either in English or Arabic.)

Using this month’s worksheet, think through each question, and record your answers. Be honest with yourself – and do this either completely in private, without sharing it with anyone (if you prefer it that way), or with someone else (if you think that’s more beneficial).List all your weaknesses or problems.

 

Root cause analysis:

Now go through each of your listed weaknesses or problems you need to address, and write down its outward symptoms that you notice (e.g. I don’t put enough effort into making personal duas consistently). Then try to find what the root causes of those problems are by interrogating each symptom: ask yourself “why?” that symptom persists, and keep asking “why?” of each answer until you get to the root cause.

 

Solutions:

With the problems diagnosed, the symptoms identified, and root causes found, now think of practical ways to solve those problems from the root.

For example, if you don’t put enough time and effort into tailoring your duas to your most dearly-held needs and desires, one solution is to take time out from life to sit and write down the areas that are important to you (this month’s worksheet can help with that), and the duas you’d like to make in those areas. Let your imagination run wild – without getting into haram, of course J – and then find a period each day to make some of those important duas.

 

Planning and implementation:

With solutions identified, now analyse what your schedule and life is like at this moment, and come up with a realistic plan of how you can implement the solutions over a period of time. Remember to plan this is ways that are realistic – achievable – for you, even if it means you’ll be taking tiny steps over a long period of time. Doing things gradually – in small and consistent steps – is the best way to achieve sustainable, permanent solutions.

Also include, in your plan, the ways you’d like to intensify your efforts when Ramadan comes.

If, after a while, you find that you’ve incorrectly estimated your ability to follow the plan, simply make adjustments as needed. The goal for this month, and the four that follow, is to implement steps that are realistic for you – what you can manage, and not what will overburden you.

 

Worksheet

To help with this month’s exercise, you can download and use the following document: RamadanEarlyBird worksheet (2nd edition).

 

Resources

To help you with this month’s focus, check out the following:

  1. Mufti Ismail Menk audio lecture on ‘Supplication’ – from Ramadan 2009
  2. Shaykh Yasir Qadhi video lecture on dua

And again, the most important resources of all are the right intentions, sincere dua asking for success in this venture, and then consistent effort to do your best.

With four months left until Ramadan, now is the perfect time to start strengthening this critical area of life. Ramadan is a time when duas are even more valuable, especially so for the night of Laylatul-Qadr.

All the best with this step in Ramadan prep; and feel free to share your feedback or progress in the Comments section.

Posted in Ramadaan, Ramadan preparation | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Ramadan 2012: The Early Bird Challenge

Posted by Yacoob on February 23, 2012

Picture source: Twitter Earlybird

To fully benefit from a great opportunity, you need to prepare for it – and the more thorough the preparation the better. As Muslims, we have an annual event that serves as a tremendous opportunity to gather rewards and effect permanent, positive changes in our lives that will help us draw closer and closer to the Almighty. That opportunity is Ramadan.

Usually, it’s only in the two months before Ramadan that we start hearing about how important it is to prepare. Preparation ensures that, by the time the month arrives, we’re already in the spirit of striving, and we have the momentum to make the most of Ramadan.

But we also hear how the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) companions (may Allah be pleased with them) used to look forward to Ramadan a full six months before it came. And because they are the best generation in our history, we should take them as our role models and try to emulate their attitude towards this great opportunity.

We have, insha-Allah, five (Islamic) months left until Ramadan begins – so if we want to take full benefit from Ramadan, and take advantage of those ‘early bird’ benefits, now is the time to start preparing (if we haven’t already started, that is).

You may be thinking it’s too soon, but it isn’t. Time flies and we get wrapped up in so many other things – so it would be foolish to let this reminder and early opportunity pass you by.

The Early Bird plan

It’s a well-established principle that the way to success is gradualism: doing things little by little, stage by stage, but being consistent in it. So for each of the next five months, this series takes at least one aspect of spiritual development and helps us to strengthen in it. And when Ramadan hits, insha-Allah, we would have made solid starts in at least five important elements of our spiritual lives, which puts us in a great starting position for the beginning of Ramadan –  from which, insha-Allah, it’ll be easier to accelerate the pace.

The system being proposed here is open to your suggestions, so please do give feedback if you can contribute anything positive. Also, it’s customisable – you’re not bound to the chosen topic for the month. Each person knows him/herself best, and knows what’s most important for their lives – so focus on what you need to, adopting a structured framework within which to focus your efforts.

The general framework for this plan is:

1.       Selection: Pick an area you’d like to work on for this month (e.g. character, speech, fasting, charity); or use the one prescribed in this month’s post

2.       Diagnosis: Analyse what your current condition is in the area (quality, frequency, etc), and list your weaknesses

3.       Root cause analysis: Get to the root of your weaknesses / problems

4.       Solutions: Come up with practical methods to overcome those root causes

5.       Planning and implementation: Set up a realistic plan of action to implement those solutions gradually in the coming months, then at a higher pace in Ramadan

Month 1: Salaah

We know the importance of salaah in Islam: It’s the first thing we’ll be asked about on the Day of Judgement, and according to another hadeeth, it’s  a founding pillar of Islam – whoever has established it has uplifted the pillar, and whoever has disregarded it has dropped the founding pillar.

So with that in mind, this first month’s preparation consists of the following:

Diagnosis:

Ask yourself:

  • Do I understand how important salaah really is, for both my current life and my time in the grave and Hereafter?
  • Am I making my compulsory salaahs every day?
  • Am I generally making them on time, or do I let other things delay me too often?
  • Am I striving to make them in congregation?
  • Do I have good concentration in salaah, or do other things often distract me?
  • Do I perform my wudu and salaah correctly, according to the sunnah?

There are many other points we could ponder on regarding salaah, but for now, we’ll limit the discussion to these alone. Think through each question, and record your answers. Be honest with yourself – and do this either completely in private, without sharing it with anyone (if you prefer it that way), or with someone else (if you think that’s more beneficial).List all your weaknesses or problems.

Root cause analysis:

Now go through each of your listed weaknesses, and write down its outward symptoms that you notice (e.g. losing focus during salaah – what is my mind drifting to?). Then try to find what the root causes of those problems are by interrogating each symptom: ask yourself “why?” that symptom persists, and keep asking “why?” of each answer until you get to the root cause.

Solutions:

With the problems diagnosed, the symptoms identified, and root causes found, now think of practical ways to solve those problems from the root. For example, if your mind drifts to your daily activities during salaah, is it because you spend so much time wrapped up in those activities, and then ‘quickly’ go to make salaah for a short time before you can get back to ‘normal life’? If so, one solution is to give yourself a buffer of a few minutes before each salaah – a short period where you disconnect from all those activities, sit quietly and alone, and try to let all those thoughts dissipate while you mentally prepare for your meeting with Allah. And after the salaah, take another few minutes to just stay in that moment – before you return to your life’s activities.

Planning and implementation:

With solutions identified, now analyse what your schedule and life is like at this moment, and come up with a realistic plan of how you can implement the solution. Remember that a solution is far more effective if you implement it gradually – in small, manageable pieces, and consistently – rather than trying to make a big change in one go, and burning yourself out. Set up your plan to take baby steps in this month, knowing that you’ll only be starting small for now – then, if you can manage, further baby steps in the months that follow. Also include, in your plan, the ways you’d like to intensify your efforts when Ramadan comes.

If, after a while, you find that you’ve incorrectly estimated your ability to follow the plan, simply make adjustments as needed. The goal for this month, and the four that follow, is to implement steps that are realistic for you – what you can manage, and not what will overburden you.

Worksheet

To help with this month’s exercise, you can download and use the following document: Ramadan Early Bird worksheet (1st edition).

Resources

To help you with this month’s focus, check out the following:

1.       A very unique talk about salaah by Abdul Nasir Jangda. If you’re not able to watch or download, a transcript is available here.

2.       A short e-book, “TASTE IT! How to Taste the True Beauty of Salah”, which approaches the topic of salaah quality in a short, piece by piece approach.

3.       Muhammad Al-Shareef’s “Shortcuts to concentration”, which is a list of 30 tips to help you concentrate better in salaah.

And the most important resources of all are the right intentions, sincere dua asking for success in this venture, and then consistent effort to do your best.

All the best with this first step in Ramadan prep; and feel free to share your feedback or progress in the Comments section or via email.

Later post(s) in this series are at this link.

Posted in Ramadaan, Ramadan preparation | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

 
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