The month of Ramadan is almost here and like every year before the start of the month, our E-mail inboxes flood with inspiring E-mails reminding us about the countless blessings of this noble month. Ramadan – as most of these reminders emphasize – is the Month of Quran, the Month of Taqwa, the Month of Prayers, the Month of Charity and the Month of Remembrance of Allah. This month provides a system to help us organize, struggle and liberate ourselves from the addictions, temptations and unbridled desires that sometimes drive our lives more than our thought out plans and good intentions. Ramadan is therefore a month for the spiritual and physical rejuvenation of oneself and the wise and fortunate amongst us are those that reap the most of what this month has to offer.
In preparing ourselves for this year’s Ramadan, it may be beneficial to recall last year’s Ramadan to assess how successful were we in aligning our behaviors with the spirit of Ramadan. If we reflect and ponder, we can most likely recognize the many ways where we may have fallen short in fulfilling the spirit of Ramadan and how we can refocus to potentially make this year’s Ramadan better than last.
Getting the Food Mania Under Control
First, let’s discuss what’s hard to ignore in Ramadan – FOOD. Food, as we all know, becomes the center of attention in this month. Walk in any store frequented by Muslims a day or two before Ramadan and Muslims’ food frenzy becomes quite clear. The sight of a Muslim’s shopping cart – packed to the brim with a variety and volume of food offers an amazing as well as an amusing scene. Such a view is common only when people are restocking to get ready for an emergency like an impending hurricane. It just can’t be that everyone’s kitchen shelves become empty immediately at the start of the month. More likely, this can be attributed to a defense mechanism that the subconscious triggers against an impending trauma – a defense to cope with the hunger and thirst while fasting during the day. However, stocking for food isn’t that problematic usually – until that shopping frenzy translates in overeating and other eating disorders and habits.
Barring any health and medical challenges, fasting otherwise is known to provide numerous health benefits. However, overeating during iftar and suhoor, eating fatty, fried and other unhealthy foods, and stuffing our bellies too quickly are some of the major health hazards that potentially can nullify the health benefits gained during fasting. In addition to controlling the size of our portions, we do not have to eat or taste everything that crosses our tables, though our temptations may tell us otherwise. In this Ramadan, let’s strive to substitute unhealthy items with healthy foods. Keeping our food and drink intake to moderate and light levels also provides the added benefit of helping us to stay focused in prayers that follow Iftar and Suhoor rather than feeling physically uncomfortable and guilty of unhealthy eating. Remember, the prophet’s food intake was very light and he (saws) said: “The son of Adam does not fill any vessel worse than his stomach. It is sufficient for the son of Adam to eat a few mouthfuls, to keep him going. If he must do that (fill his stomach), then let him fill one third with food, one third with drink and one third with air.” Narrated by al-Tirmidhi (1381), Ibn Maajah (3349); classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in al-Silsilah al-Saheehah (2265).”
Use Time to your advantage
“Time” in Ramadan, as we all know, passes quickly. The prayers at their prescribed times, Taraweeh prayers, Iftar and Suhoor meals leave little time for other activities. To top it all off, by packing social activities in the remaining pockets, the time goes even faster. The amount of time spent on “food” related activities in Ramadan can become excessive. Add up the time for shopping for food, waiting to eat, preparing food, planning for all social activities related to food (e.g. Iftar) and the time spent socializing during the Ramadan feasts can compromise the spirit of Ramadan.
The theme of Ramadan – we should tell ourselves and others – is not supposed to be food, socializations, lavish iftar parties, and fashion shows. By not dedicating time to Quran, extra prayers, reflection and repentance, Dua to Allah, and so much more, we lose opportunities for personal atonement and heavenly rewards. Good deeds in this month get multiplied manifold. So, why not be careful with our time during Ramdan?
For this Ramadan, we should strive therefore to make a few deliberate and focused changes to collect more blessings and rewards. Rather than merely going with the flow of the family and the community members around us, we can plan to take charge of our time. By substituting self centered and social activities with Ramadan specific activities such as Quran recitations, extra prayers, dhikr, helping the needy, etc. we can hope and pray to get closer to Allah this time. Perhaps, that can help in washing away those sins that we accumulate courtesy of our temptations and unbridled desires.
Atonement for Sins
Ramadan is the month of seeking forgiveness from sins. It helps to ponder on how we accumulate sins, the way sins impact our lives, and how cleansing from them can make our life in this world and in the hereafter better. Sins are those roadblocks that we personally put on our own paths to worldly happiness and in the hereafter. We engage in those sins by the hour – daily, weekly and yearly. Yet, do we repent for those sins? Do we commit ourselves to not commit those sins again? Unfortunately, in many cases we are not even aware of committing those sins. Ramadan provides us the opportunity to ask for heartfelt forgiveness from those sins. The Prophet (may Allah send His blessing and peace upon him) said, “Every son of Adam sins and the best of the sinners are those who repent.” (Ibn Maajah). In this Ramadan, let’s strive not to be amongst those unfortunate ones who barely spend anytime reflecting on their sins and transgressions.
Training ourselves for prayer and masjid etiquettes
Ramadan is the month of prayers and Taraweeh. Through longer prayers and Quran recitation, Taraweeh provides us more time to be closer to Allah and listen to and ponder on Quran. By staying focused in a state of Khushu or piety for that long can be challenging, but longer prayers also provide the opportunity to correct and calibrate those Khushu levels every time our minds lose focus. Taraweeh prayers are not about merely taking credit to stand behind the Imam while he finishes the Quran in melodious recitations. Rather, Taraweeh is about understanding what is being recited and to become closer to the One for whom you made all that effort in the first place. By perfecting khushu levels during Taraweeh prayers we can extend this benefit to other prayers as well. After all, the reward for each prayer is proportional to the quality of our prayers.
According to Ibn Rajab (may Allaah have mercy on him) “The basic meaning of khushoo’ is softness of heart, tranquility, submission and humility. If the heart is properly focused in this manner, then the rest of the body will follow it in focus, because they follow it as the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “In the body there is a piece of flesh which, if it is sound, the entire body will be sound, but if it is corrupt, the entire body will be corrupt. Verily it is the heart.” Narrated by al-Bukhaari (25) and Muslim (1599).” Jaami’ al-‘Uloom al-Hukam (1/35). (Ref: islam-qa.com)
A side note to review some misconceptions about Taraweeh prayers. Although the larger number of people at Taraweeh prayers may make it appear as if these prayers are more important than the obligatory prayers, they are not. Many of us still would rather exert extra efforts to pray Taraweeh than attend obligatory prayers. That behavior needs to be corrected.
As attending mosques is one of the highlights of Ramadan, we should also ensure that our physical presence in the masjid should not in any way be displeasing to other Muslims. Every Muslim should ensure that others in the masjid are protected from the displeasing appearance or smell of his or her clothes, mouth or body in general. Any offensive smells from smoking, garlic, onions, etc. are not permitted according to hadith and many scholars. For example, the prophet (saws) said,“Whoever eats garlic or onions, let him not approach our mosque and let him pray at home.” And it was reported that he (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “The angels are offended by the same things that offend the sons of Adam.” (see Hadith by Muslim (564). Therefore, it is very important that every person is careful not to offend the person standing next to him or her in prayers and at other times.
Remembering not to forget the “Remembrance of Allah”
Ramadan is about remembering Allah. Remembrance of Allah (also known as Zikr or dhikr) extends beyond the obligatory prayers to remembering Him at other times (when walking, driving, sitting, laying down, etc.). The benefits for reciting azkars are numerous but are not part of the scope of this post. Suffice it to remind ourselves, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Shall I not tell you of the best of your deeds, the most pleasing to your Sovereign, those that raise you most in status, and that are better than your giving gold and silver, …………..” They said: “Yes,” He said: “Remembrance of Allah (dhikr), may He be exalted.”Narrated by al-Tirmidhi (3373) and Ibn Maajah (3790); classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Tirmidhi.
While attaining the discipline to attend 5 obligatory prayers may be more common, many of us need to strive further to remember Allah outside those prescribed prayer times. It may be difficult at first to put that discipline in action. The prophet (SAWS) through his Ahadith has prescribed numerous prayers (about thanking Him, praising Him, seeking forgiveness, etc.) that we should recite during the day – outside the prescribed prayer times. But the point is to adopt a discipline to remember Allah through saying of those salutations in the various pockets that we find during the day. (See for a link on the side of this page where you can download a book of Azkar and Dua’s).
So, with a little effort, we can change the theme of this month for ourselves and for our families. Let’s strive to not make this the month of food or month of socializations and to instead substitute that time with activities, which are more in line with the spirit of Ramadan. Let’s make use of this month to achieve taqawa, the ultimate objective of Ramadan.
Allah says in the Quran (interpretation of the meaning):
“O you who believe! Observing As-Sawm (the fasting) is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become Al-Muttaqoon (the pious)” – Quran [al-Baqarah 2:183]
Everything else that we do in Ramadan is just a means to that end. Let’s constantly gauge our hearts and if our actions, deeds, and heart and soul are not attuned to Allah and to the spirit of Ramadan, we may have adopted a theme for this month not sanctioned by our prophet (saws).
May you have a happy Ramadan and that all our good deeds are accepted! We ask you for your dua’s and prayers!
Share with everyone any ideas that you have to make this Ramadan better than before!