Ramadan 2012: The Early Bird Challenge 4

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



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).



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.)



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.



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



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.

Other parts in this 5-part series are posted here.


Glimpses from Makkah

A collection of a few shots from Masjid-al Haram in Makkah.

(You can view the gallery by clicking, or for larger versions, right click the shot you want and open it in a new tab / window).

Sources: Pictures 1,2, and 6 are from other people, but 3, 4, 5 are mine.

The Playtime Council: Time to Potty

In solidarity with Toddles’ recent venture into the world of potty training,some of the Playtime Council decided to give the strange new plastic contraption a go as well. Click the first image to go through the slideshow – or just select the ones you want to see individually.

For more adventures of the Playtime Council, click here.

Hajj Chronicles Part 5: A little piece of Heaven

Previous parts: Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3| Part 4

The Rawda-tul Jannah in Masjid-an Nabawi


The first 24 hours in Madinah made a huge impression on me and helped me realise why people love the place so much: it felt like the Prophet s.a.w.’s masjid was a piece of Jannah. Of course, quite literally, there is a piece of Jannah in there – the Rawda-tul Jannah (the piece of land which will be in Jannah, as stated in hadith).

But beyond that, many other things made it feel like an other-worldly experience.

The main thing difference between this place and elsewhere was the atmosphere. There was a calmness and tranquillity which I don’t think you’ll find anywhere else in the world – and this was despite the fact that there were so many people present. And the serenity wasn’t just external – it was also internal. It was like this feeling of contentment and inner peace – like this was the place my heart belonged.

The other major point was that this masjid was such a beautiful environment of Islam. It seemed like everyone there was geared towards worship – both the visiting pilgrims and the locals. In the first evening – between Maghrib and Esha – I observed Quran classes going on for kids, with teachers and students sitting together – the kids taking notes as the teacher spoke. Other people were reading Quran; some were in groups having halaqahs (study circles); others were making tasbeeh and dhikr; and some made dua.

It felt like the ultimate environment – absolutely perfect; the kind of place the heart naturally yearns for.

The people were young and old, and of many different nationalities – like the whole Ummah was there: people from Turkey, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Ghana, Thailand, and us South Africans. And these were just the early arrivals. In the days that followed, people from many more countries would come. It was interesting to see how the different nationalities identified themselves: the Turks all wore khakis; the Malaysian women (at least I think they were Malaysian) wore bright pink hijabs; some Indonesians had bright markings on their clothing; and Africans wore what seemed to be their traditional cultural clothing, which was very colourful.

This was really the ultimate advertisement for Muslim unity. I already knew that there are Muslims all over the world, but being in Madinah at that time – where I saw such variety in front of my very eyes – was really incredible. Though everyone identified themselves differently, we all went to the same masjid, read the same salaah, recited the same Quran in the same Arabic language, and we all prayed to the same God. We’re so used to hearing about Muslims having sectarian differences, religious infighting, and racial and ideological clashes – but in Madinah, there was a mix of so many different kinds of Muslims, and none of those dividing factors mattered. It was truly amazing.

And I imagined Jannah is something like this: all different types of people in one place, all united by Islam, all worshipping Allah in the various ways available. Alhamdullilah.

Inside Masjid-an Nabawi

Another striking feature was how zam-zam water was abundant. Anytime I wanted some, I could just go and get it from the many coolers in the aisles. Zam-zam is not only a thirst quencher, but also like a ‘magic water’ – it’s a cure for every sickness, and it is what you intend it to be (as per hadith), which is why it’s good to make specific  intentions and duas each time you drink it.

Also amazing was the benefit of spending abundant time in the masjid. Because of the crowds, if we wanted to get a good spot in the masjid, we had to go early for salaah. And this was literally filled with blessings, because every moment you spend in the masjid – while waiting for athaan – is an act of worship; even if you do nothing at all. (And this applies to any masjid in the world.) In this time, you can make extra salaah, read Quran, make thikr, make dua, or just quiet your mind and take time to reflect. On this point, it’s also useful to plan your activities for this time and go to the masjid with the stuff you need – such as your Quran, books, pen and paper, and even your computer (if it’s small enough – like a Netbook or iPad).

For the fardh salaahs, the imams took their time to read – no rushing; which also helps the quality of salaah. And after salaah, the imam doesn’t make a congregational dua. You’re free to make your own duas and dhikrs – whatever you want to. It’s not like many places, where the imam makes his dhikr and dua over the speaker system, which means that you either follow along, or you go and do your own thing while still hearing him (which isn’t so easy if you need to concentrate).

Added to that was the fact that after almost every fardh salaah there was a Janazah salaah – so there were opportunities to participate in these tremendous acts of worship just by staying put for a few minutes.

Next up, insha-Allah: More experiences from Madinah.


  • When you experience the serenity of Madinah, remember the peace of Jannah and make dua that you and your loved ones will spend eternity there.
  • When considering Muslims of other nationalities, races, and cultures, always focus on the common link – Islam – and use that to boost your perception of the unity within the ummah. While the media (and our experience in our communities) often paint a picture of division, places like Madinah show the reality of the unity we have DESPITE our diversity.
  • Drink plenty of zam-zam, and make intentions each time, and duas with it. And believe with certainty that it has the benefits mentioned in the hadiths. And if you can get zam zam water at home (for those not going in person), do so, and use it as mentioned.
  • Since you’ll probably be spending a lot of time in the masjid between salaahs, plan your time beforehand and take the stuff you’ll need (e.g. your Quran, books, pen and paper, and even your Netbook / iPad / compact computer).
  • Learn how to pray the Janazah salaah so that you can participate in it each day (since you’ll probably get the chance every single day).

What happened next?

Update: The entire series (30 parts) is available at this link – post by post. Alternatively, you can download the complete series as an e-book in PDF format. Feel free to share with anyone you think may benefit.

Note: Another version of these chronicles, written for a non-Muslim, audience is here.

Image sources: Unknown