Solitude. Seclusion. Divorce from the stresses and rigours of life, with an escape to the true reality of existence. Moments that are so rare, yet so precious. Moments that you need to force yourself into, because if you don’t push for them, … Continue reading
With each Ramadan, you (hopefully) feel a sense of hope. A renewal of imaan. Another chance to reset and delve deep into your inner being – your soul, your heart, and your relationship with your Creator. The culmination, for many, is Laylatul Qadr, wherein you have the ultimate opportunity to beg for anything your heart desires.
But all of this doesn’t just fall into place instantly. To hit the ground running, and make the most of Ramadan, you need to start prepping well in advance.
We’ve gone through an extended period of trial in our family recently; and that – along with my own weaknesses – has sapped me of enthusiasm and time to do even the basic groundwork which I consider an annual necessity.
But there’s still 2 weeks, insha-Allah. So I hope to get into gear and finally put down some goals and plans – even if they be haphazard and modest.
As for you, my dear reader, how has your runway to Ramadan been so far? Have you planned? What are your goals and schedules like?
Share your thoughts in the comments section, and insha-Allah you’ll inspire others (including me) to strive harder in the coming weeks.
On behalf of myself and my family, I’d like to wish you and your loved ones Eid Mubarak – wherever you are in the world, and whichever day you celebrate(d) on. May this day be one of beautiful celebration, togetherness, and happiness – all within the boundaries of halaal, of course :). And may the spiritual gains from this Ramadan be ingrained into you so that you can take them forward into the coming months and at least maintain your spiritual levels, if not improve upon them as this blessed month fades into history.
The primary objective of fasting in Ramadan is to attain taqwa – sometimes translated as consciousness of Allah. The next big event in our Islamic calendar is Hajj, wherein the best provision for the journey is the very same taqwa.
So for those going on this blessed journey, Ramadan serves as a means of building up taqwa – which you’ll need to maintain and build even further as you near the biggest 5 days of your life – i.e. Hajj.
The e-book is provided absolutely free, for the purposes of promoting the Hajj and educating others about it. I encourage you to share it with those who are interested in the journey of Hajj.
Of course, the content is obviously copyrighted – so don’t steal my work ;). If you want to use parts of it for commercial purposes, please contact me to discuss it. Otherwise, you may use parts of it for your own personal or academic purposes, but reference it properly, and link back to this blog.
I hope you enjoy the book and benefit from it. And if you have any feedback or queries, feel free to email me.
(This article is also posted at www.ramadan.co.za)
Ramadan is a month in which many of strive in our worship; and we hope that these high standards will be carried over to the 11 months that follow. And, like a re-run that just won’t go away, each year, it’s very likely that we fail to live up to those standards – and end up falling back into bad habits and laziness.
As mentioned in part 1 of this series, if we want to stop this trend, we need to make a conscious, planned effort to beat the post-Ramadan slump we often fall into. And that planning starts right now (or, if you read part 1, hopefully it will have already started).
Recap: essential principles
Once again, always bear in mind the hadith that tells us:
‘The deeds most loved by Allah are those done regularly, even if they are small.’ (Bukhari and Muslim)
The key concepts are:
- Being realistic: Don’t set such high standards – such intense expectations – which you know you won’t realistically be able to achieve. Take baby steps: set small, achievable goals; things that are realistic for you – given your spiritual level, physical condition, psychological state of being, and time constraints.
- Consistency: Don’t have one day of major, intense spiritual activity; and then follow that with a long period of nothing / very little. Do what you do consistently. Do not procrastinate, and do not be lazy. If you’ve set small, realistic goals – which you know you can achieve (albeit with at least some struggle), then you should be able to work consistently at it – every single day / period you’ve set for the activity’s frequency.
Challenge number 2: Salah
Hopefully, you’ve already planned how you’ll take part 1’s challenge – fasting – through to the rest of the year. The next challenge is one absolutely critical to your life as a Muslim: salah / namaaz / prayer (whatever you want to call it).
Salah is the pillar of the religion. If you uphold it, you’re well on your way to upholding your religion. But if you’re negligent or destroy it, then you have a lot to worry about. Especially since salah is the first thing you’ll be asked about on the Day of Judgement.
So ask yourself: am I striving to make my salah better this Ramadan? And if so, am I going to take that commitment forward after Ramadan?
Whatever your answers, if you want to improve your salah now, and carry that through after Ramadan, you’ll need to work at it.
Resources to help:
I recently came across a good, short e-book which covers this exact subject. The free, 45-page book is entitled “TASTE IT! How to Taste the True Beauty of Salah”, is compiled from a series of lectures in Kuwait in Ramadan 2008. It consists of short, easy to read chapters that aim to help you taste the sweetness of salah, and experience the true beauty and tranquility of our daily meetings with our Lord.
You can download the e-book here: “TASTE IT! How to Taste the True Beauty of Salah” (502Kb) (Right click and choose “Save as…” to download).
To set you up for this book, there are two short audio (MP3) lectures which can also be beneficial, insha-Allah. Both are by Chicago based scholar Hussein Abdul Sattar,
- “Focusing on our salah” (12 minutes) (Right click and choose “Save as…” to download).
This talk basically talks about how important salah is, and encourages its listeners to really pay due attention to it. It’s a good reminder to us all, and is short enough to put across the message without being boring.
- “Putting Khushu’ Into Our Salah” (17 minutes) (Right click and choose “Save as…” to download).
This talk is also very short and to the point. It deals with issues around khushoo (concentration in salah), and will hopefully help its listeners to understand the concept of khushoo better – so that they can try to improve this aspect of so important an act of worship.
Note that all these resources are free downloads– so don’t worry about violating copyright issues by downloading them. (And you can share them – but obviously don’t go and try to make a financial profit from them).
The way forward:
After reading and listening to these resources, start working on how you’ll improve the quality of your salah. Each person’s task list will be different, but some possible questions you might ask yourself are:
- Is my salah acceptable in the eyes of Allah? Am I really devoting my entire heart, mind, and body to Him whenever I make salah?
- If not, why is this the case? What distracts me? What do I think of during salah – and how often do these distractions get to me? What is the root cause of my problem?
- How to I minimize and eventually eradicate these issues – so that I can eventually come to the level I want to be at in salah?
- How can I break this goal into small, manageable pieces? (Remedies that I can slowly but surely introduce over time so that I can build towards being better in my salah.)
- How can I consistently, systematically implement these pieces over the coming months, so that I’m improving in my salah each day / week – and not slipping back into bad habits?
This month, we spend more time on personal reflection. We give more attention to our acts of worship. We strive to be better, and we find that it is much easier to be better in this month – compared to the rest of the year.
So now, in these precious days and nights, let’s take the time to analyse our salah and look at where we can improve, how we can improve, and then put our plans into action. And remember to make dua for success in this endeavour; and to regularly renew your intention in this – so that Shaytaan doesn’t destroy it for you later on.
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.
You know who.
That annual visitor,
who comes around
to remind you of how strong you really are.
Who brings with him
an abundance of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Whose presence marks a period
of tremendously increased reward;
where each good deed counts many times over,
and every bad one brings more guilt than it would at other times of the year.
You think you’re weak,
and your actions
over the last 11 months
certainly attest to that perception.
Yet it’s nothing but an illusion –
a figment of your imagination –
which you’ve made real
by letting yourself go,
because you no longer had the motivation
to keep up the pace you set when this visitor was last here.
But now he’s back;
and you’re ready for him:
you’ve made your plans,
and you know he holds the key
to bringing you out of your helplessness.
With his presence,
you can bring forth the best of what’s inside,
and discard that which has poisoned you for so long.
It’s time to reset yourself:
to admit your failures,
and move on to a new chapter;
a training period which –
you hope –
will see you emerge
more able to cope,
with the barrage of temptations and traps
that await you in just 30 days’ time.
Make the most of this blessed time,
and strive now –
for this limited period –
because although this visitor will be back next year,
you never know if you’ll be around to see him again.
Ramadaan mubarak to you all, and your families. May this month be the greatest of your life, and the one which will set you forth on a an unshakeable path to Allah’s Pleasure – the ultimate success in this life and the next.