The first week of Ramadan has flown by, and quite soon, we’ll be saying goodbye to the opening 10 days – which is the period of Allah’s Mercy. By now, we should be feeling that mercy; and embracing it by taking advantage of these precious moments we have in a month unlike any other.
Whether we’ve upped our commitment to salaah, the Quran, improving our character, or strengthening our intimate bond with Allah through dua – there’s no doubt that there’s no time like the present to do ‘more’ for our spirituality.
So, while the momentum is here – and while it’s hopefully building more and more each day – I’d like to propose that we start planning how we’re going to keep the goodness of this month active for those perhaps-dark days that lurk – those 11 months that follow Ramadan.
A recurring problem
Many of us know what it’s like to have high hopes for maintaining our standards of ibadah after Ramadan. And we also know what it’s like to then fail to keep those standards soon after the month is gone. It’s difficult – tremendously difficult – to maintain the willpower, strength, and motivation to keep going on a high level when Ramadan is over. After all, we no longer have the communal spirit – where everyone is fasting, everyone is going for Taraweeh, and everyone is trying to be a better Muslim.
And as much as we want to keep up our spiritual exertions – for we’ve tasted the sweetness of striving in Islam – it just isn’t easy. Life resumes its hectic pace, and we’re soon sucked back in to all the ‘important’ things that need to take priority over our spiritual wellbeing.
A way to break the cycle
Consider this early start the first step towards breaking that (perhaps) annual cycle of disappointment.
I intend this to be a “Looking forward” series – in which I hope to cover a few areas where we can start building a personal plan to take Ramadan into the other 11 months of the year. And in this entire endeavour, there’s two concepts which you need to bear in mind at all times. They’re captured beautifully in the Hadith that tells us (roughly quoting):
The most beloved of deeds in the sight of Allah are those that areconsistent, even if they be small.
The key concepts here are consistency and being realistic.
You can plan to do a million and one things, and hope that you’ll maintain tremendous sincerity and intensity – but the stark reality is, you’ll probably burn yourself out soon; and then you end up doing nothing (or, very little).
So, with this series, we’ll aim to approach these areas in baby steps – so that we can set realistic, achievable targets; and remain steadfast on those actions so that we may attain Allah’s pleasure, and grow spiritually, insha-Allah.
Challenge number 1: Fasting
The first area is one which you’re well acquainted with in this month: fasting.
We often hear of the virtues of fasting 6 days of the month of Shawwal (which immediately follows Ramadan); and while it is a noble objective to aim for, we should go beyond just Shawwal.
There are various specific days on which the Prophet s.a.w. fasted outside of Ramadan. Among these were Mondays and Thursdays, as well as the middle three days of each month (by the Islamic calendar).
The Prophet s.a.w. informed us that our deeds are presented to Allah on Mondays and Thursdays – so the sunnah of fasting those days is because he loved to be in a state of fasting when his deeds were presented.
If you’re not already fasting these days, consider starting immediately after Ramadan has gone. And if you know you’ll find it difficult, then don’t commit to every one of those days. Start with just one day a week: either Monday or Thursday. Give yourself a few weeks to just settle into that rhythm. One day – that’s all.
And when you’re doing it, let that fast remind you of Ramadan. Let that abstention remind you that, not long ago, you fasted every single day for a month – because Allah commanded you to. Remember that you abstained from food and drink and sexual relations. Remember that you were careful of what you said and did. Remember that you tried to be conscious of your Lord at all times – because taqwa was the goal of your fasting.
And remember the reward you hoped for from Allah – the reward you hoped to attain by fasting properly.
But with Ramadan gone, can you still attain reward?
Most definitely – you can.
Consider the Quranic advice: if you love Allah, follow the way of the Prophet s.a.w. . By following his sunnah, Allah will love you and forgive you your sins(Surah Al-Imran; verse 31).
Keeping the sunnah fasts – even if it’s just one day a week – is a way to gain Allah’s love and forgiveness. And if you struggle to keep just that one day, then maybe lessen it to once every two weeks. Allah knows your capability – and if you just make the sincere, committed effort to do this for His sake, insha-Allah He will help you to get stronger and one day you’ll look back on your former weakness and be thankful that you kept going.
Of course, fasting outside of Ramadan also has health benefits; as well as financial benefits – because skipping lunch (and other snacks) can save you money – especially if you’re the kind that likes to indulge on a daily basis.
So, in this month of fasting and personal reflection, take some time to think of what your fasting means to you; and what fasting could mean for you if you’re able to keep it up after Ramadan has left you.