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:
- Selection of an area: For this month, the topic is Quran
- Diagnosis: Analyse what your current condition is in the area and list your weaknesses
- Root cause analysis: Get to the root of your weaknesses / problems
- Solutions: Come up with practical methods to overcome those root causes
- 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
- 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.