Lecture by Hasan Elwan | Hosted by Br. Abdullah Syed | Transcribed by Sameera[The transcript includes slight modifications for the sake of readability and clarity.]
Many questions come to one's mind when Ramadan is at the doorstep. Some are wondering about the best ways to prepare. Tell me something I can do now so that I'm entering Ramadan with momentum and running and entering in such a way that will allow me to benefit and reap from the fruits of this month optimize my performance in this blessed month that Allāh gives us.
Others are looking for motivation. My heart feels dead and I'm not excited, but I know it should be. “I know Ramadan is such a blessed month but I feel like Ramadan is becoming a routine.” Often times we complain about ṣalāh and that we are doing it and should be excited. Is there something I can do that will change the state of my heart so I enter Ramadan in a state of awe and happiness with Allāh?
Others want to transform. Will this Ramadan be the month I change forever? Will this Ramadan be when I break my habits and become a new person? Will it transform and change me?
Other people are looking in general for happiness. “I just want to be happy. I've been sad for so long and live in anxiety and am looking for happiness.”
The month of Ramadan is the month of happiness, and it is an opportunity. I'm going to share with you something that will allow us to enter Ramadan with a different focus inshā'Allāh. “I want to worship Allāh with khushū'. I want to be able to pray and my prayers have sincerity, and I have tears coming out of my eyes. I want my heart to be present in everything I do in Ramadan.” I'm asking for iḥsān. I want to perfect my performance of worship. I ask Allāh to enable me to do that even after Ramadan.
Can we share something that enables us to do that? How can I prepare? I will share with you a concept I hope you find useful, and it will answer many of those questions. If we internalize it, then inshā'Allāh this will be a blessed Ramadan for all of us.
Did you ever worship Allāh with the 'ubūdiyyah of happiness? Being joyful and elated? I have heard of people worshipping Allāh by being afraid, crying tears, standing, exerting, sacrificing, giving wealth, doing things. All of these are great acts of worship. The worship of being happy is unique. One of the best types of worship we can do before Ramadan is this worship of happiness. Where do I get this from? In Sūrah Yūnus, Allāh says, “Say: With the favors of Allāh and His blessings, let them rejoice and be happy. Indeed, it is better than everything we gather around and collect.” This is the 'ubūdiyyah of happiness.
I'll give an example I learned this from my own kids. It was one Ramadan and 'Īd and one of them said, “Baba, in this 'Īd, I want ten gifts from you and ten from momma.” I decided I would do it, and alḥamdulillāh Allāh enabled me. We collected all the gifts and wrapped them and put them in the living room. The kids were so excited and so happy! As 'Īd approached, they kept asking, “Is it here yet? Can I open them yet?” This attitude of them knowing they would receive a gift is something I personally enjoyed. I was so happy that I was going to give them and to see them happy in me giving them.
I learned something. Allāh is the Giver, Al-Wahhāb. He gives and He gives! How do we receive? Imagine if I give them gifts I prepared for them and they said, “Oh, later. Do I have to come now?” That is so ungrateful. One of the best things they can do is be excited and happy and to show me the excitement and their yearning and that they can't wait, saying, “Can I have it?”
Many scholars tell you that one of the best things we do now is put our heart in it: “O Allāh, grant us Ramadan. Make us reach Ramadan.” We are going to be talking about the gift of Ramadan. How we receive the gift matters a lot. If we show Allāh that we are excited and happy with Him giving, then it is pleasing to Allāh. The key is that I see the gift. If I don't know the value of gift, some people don't open it and put it on the shelf. They've lost so much.
The Gift of Obedience
Muslims sometimes feel happy. Are we happy when Ramadan comes? SubḥānAllāh, I share this concept with you on happiness of the righteous and how to pursue and find true happiness. In Ramadan, I went to a restaurant and was ordering food for my kids. The guy there knows me and said, “Let me get you a sandwich.” I said, “I can't, I'm fasting.” He said, “What does that mean?” I explained to him we fast starting at fajr time and the man said, “You aren't eating at all the whole day from the moment the sun rises until the sun sets? That is so difficult! Let me get you water.” I told him I can't drink either. He said, “You mean you aren't drinking or eating? That is so hard! I can never do this! What day do you do this?” You should see his face when I told him Ramadan is 30 days. He said, “For 30 days you do this? I can never do this!” For him, it seems impossible and a burden. Indeed, by myself it is impossible. Many of us enter Ramadan and Allāh enables us to fast. This doesn't even start to explain why we are happy in the month of Ramadan.
Imagine if I were to tell you the reason I am happy and elated in Ramadan and the reason I yearn every year for this month to come again. When it is time to break your fast, people imagine that you would be resting, but we break our fast and hurry to the masjid. We pray 8 or 20 rak'ahs for one or two hours every night with one or two juz'. SubḥānAllāh, we will read the Qur'an, make dhikr, do more du'ā', and pray tarāwīḥ. How do we do this? The reason we are happy in Ramadan is that it is the month of obedience. It is the month when Allāh allows the likes of us to be able to do all of that.
If I ask many people after Ramadan if they are fasting Mondays and Thursdays, they will say it is so hard. What if I ask them to fast Mondays and Thursdays and stand at night and pray one or two hours? They will say they can't do it. When the month of Ramadan comes, by the Grace of Allāh , the masājid are full with people who one week before Ramadan cannot do this and one week after Ramadan cannot do this, but in Ramadan, they are fasting during the day and obeying Allāh in the day and in the night they stand in dhikr and ṣalāh. The best thing is the last ten nights of Ramadan. In those ten nights, after tarāwīḥ we go home and sleep and then wake up at 2 am or 3 am to go to the masjid again and pray tahajjud. What Allāh enables us to do in Ramadan is a gift. It is the gift of obedience.
Ramadan is an opportunity when Allāh aids us with all our sins and negativity and bestows His raḥmah on everyone. He gives us a gift He doesn't give to anyone: the pleasure of being obedient to Allāh. Many scholars said, “Poor are the people of this world. They went out and lived the life of this world and didn't taste the best thing in it: the remembrance and obedience of Allāh.” This is the paradise of obedience. The Paradise of Ramadan is the ability to obey Allāh.
To understand that more, I'll share with you a true story that happened in Egypt. A young girl in her 20s was born in a Muslim family but was far away from dīn and missed a lot of prayers and didn't wear hijab. She is from a good family and everything is working out for her. One day, she is feeling a little sick and the doctor ran some tests informed her she has terminal cancer (may Allāh protect all of us) and has two months to live. She said, “Since I am going to die, what can I do?” She started praying and fasting and giving charity. She started wearing the hijab and praying more. SubḥānAllāh one, two, and three months passed and she feels better. She went to the same doctor. He ran the same tests and said, “Are you the same person? There is no trace of cancer whatsoever! Where did you go? What did you do? Who treated you?” She said, “When I started doing all the obedience to Allāh, I started praying in the beginning and would put my hand on the cancer and make du'ā' to Allāh sincerely to cure me. I started fasting and would break my fast and ask Allāh to cure me. I started giving charity and wearing hijab. Then I tasted the sweetness of obedience and the pleasure of having focus in ṣalāh. I changed my du'ā' and started then making du'ā' to Allāh to cure me so I can worship Him more and not so that I can go back to the mall. I was sorry I lived 20 years and didn't know what I was missing. I asked Allāh to allow me to live so I can live in this Jannah of this life.”
Scholars like Ibn al-Qayyim and Ibn Taymiyyah said that in this life there is a Paradise and whoever doesn't enter this paradise here won't be admitted to the Paradise of the Hereafter: the obedience and pleasure of obeying Allāh and being connected to Him. Ibn al-Jawzi narrates something similar and said, “A woman from Basrah used to wake up every night and pray. She used to say, 'My dear God, this world I live in is not pleasurable except with your remembrance. The Hereafter is not good except because we get to meet You. How bitter is one hour that passes that You are not mentioned in. O dear God, please don't combine on me that I lose Your Mercy and deserve Your punishment.”
What makes you happy? Do you want to be happy? Sometimes happiness is not good. Would you be happy that your child is happy smoking a cigarette? No. He is happy, but you are not happy. Would you be happy that your son is happy reciting Qur'an? Yes. As a Muslim, I'm happy with what makes Allāh happy. I love what Allāh loves. Allāh in the Qur'an did not say that only believers are happy. In Surah Muḥammad: “Those who disbelieve enjoy and feel happiness…they are like cattle…” When my happiness becomes drinking, eating, entertainment, then this is the happiness of a cow. Am I created to be that way?
Ramadan gives me the opportunity to get a higher form of happiness. There is pleasure in good food, but is that it? What makes an angel happy? Dhikr, du'ā', remembrance. A person who is happy with that has angelic happiness. This is the happiness of the heart and of the righteous. Ramadan is a gift Allāh wants to give us.
We are so happy when someone gives us a gift. It suffices from a reward that you obey Allāh that you are befitting enough to be given that, the fact that He chose me.
When someone gives you a medal, the fact that they recognize you is a novel prize. You have to be someone special. It means you are recognized as special. The obedience of Allāh is not given to everyone. The pleasure of this world a believer and non-believer can have. When Allāh enables us to obey Him, it means He honors us. It means we are special in His Eyes.
The Giver of Gifts
Sometimes when we receive a gift, we look at it and are so consumed by it that we forget about the giver. When I showed my kids all 20 gifts, they started opening the gifts, but what about baba? It was all about the toy. There is something bigger than the gift. What does it mean that I give them 20 toys? There are many toys, but there is a bigger meaning. What am I telling them by giving them 20 toys? I am telling them I love them so much. If they saw the 20 toys and didn't see my love, then they missed out on the meaning behind the gift.
When we see Ramadan coming, Allāh enabled us to pray tarāwīḥ, to fast, to pray tahajjud and work, and it is a gift! What does it mean to you that Allāh gave you the gift? What does it imply? What did Allāh do that enabled me to do this?
By observing the Lord of Ramadan, you see raḥmah from Allāh and His pardoning forgiveness and this opens the heart. If you want your 'ibādah to be with iḥsān, you have to worship Allāh as if you see Him. Without seeing that He is close to us or without seeing His Attributes and raḥmah that surround us, our 'ibādah will be dry and ṣalāh will have no khushū '. If we see what Allāh did for us, then it will empower us and we will yearn for Ramadan.
Abu Hurayrah in Ibn Majah narrated in a sound ḥadīth: The Prophet said, “When it is the first night of Ramadan, all the shayāṭīn are shackled.” We often complain that we want to do good but Shayṭān keeps whispering and we are so tired of this enemy. Allāh takes our enemy away. “…and Allāh replaces this Shayṭān with an angel calling, 'O one who seeks to do good, come forward, and O one who intends evil, stay put.'” Every day, Allāh pushes us and enables us to do good.
Allāh shuts all the gates of Hellfire and opens all the gates of Jannah. What does this mean? This is the month of forgiveness and opportunity. Allāh wants to give us something and empower us and holds our enemy away.
We often complain that we want to obey Allāh but peer pressure is so difficult. One reason we can't fast Mondays and Thursdays is that we go to work and no one is fasting. Sometimes we want to do something good but there is peer pressure. In Ramadan, Allāh commands every single Muslim. Every Muslim fasts. Why is this important? The peer pressure is now for you and not against you. All of your friends are fasting and everyone is going to the masjid and praying tarāwīḥ. You join in. Allāh orders everyone to fast so we can capitalize on the īmān of each other. If we feel tired, we see everyone else and it empowers us. Allāh orders the entire ummah to fast together so that we can capitalize on each other and our strength adds up in the direction of Allāh .
Allāh tells us about the blessings of this month. In al-Tirmidhi: “Whoever does something good in this month, Allāh multiplies it by 70.” If you read Qur'an for five days, it is like you have been reading Qur'an the entire year. If you pray tarāwīḥ for five days, it is as though you have prayed the entire year. If you give $10, it is like $700. You go for 'Umrah and it is like 70 times. Why does Allāh do this? He is pushing us forward and telling us to act. It pushes us to obey Him. Allāh wants to give and is looking for a reason. Allāh is Al-Wahhāb. Allāh loves to give. We have to learn how to receive. It is an opportunity. Allāh wants to help us and is pushing us towards Him.
Even with all this, sometimes we can't do it. The Prophet tells us, “Whoever invites someone for ifṭār and gives him food to break the fast, you have the reward of that person.” You have the reward of all of his siyam, dhikr, tahajjud, Qur'an, and tarāwīḥ. Imagine bringing food for the entire masjid. You have the reward of everyone!
Sisters cook so much in Ramadan. Have the intention! We miss so much because of lack of intention. “Actions are by intentions.” Have the intention that you are going to cook and invite people. Sometimes you feel like you spent three hours cooking while others were praying and reading Qur'an. Giving people ifṭār gives you the reward. SubḥānAllāh, how easy Allāh makes it for us! Allāh wants us to be forgiven in that month.
You need Allāh to forgive you. Often times we ask others to make du'ā' for us that Allāh forgives us. In Ramadan, hundreds make du'ā' for you every day that Allāh grants you forgiveness. In a ḥadīth in the Musnad of imām Ahmad the Prophet said, “Even the fish in the sea seek forgiveness for those who fast until they break their fast.” Can you imagine all the fish in the sea are making du'ā' for you because you fasted?
Allāh says, “Everything in the heavens and earth submit to Him.”
When a person breaks his fast, his du'ā' is mustajab. Don't you need anything? Allāh will give you! You have 30 opportunities to ask for something. Allāh is going to respond to it. We should not enter Ramadan haphazardly. Prepare your du'ā's now. What do you want from Allāh?
In Mission Viejo, it was the first day of Ramadan. Usually people come for tarāwīḥ prayers, but Ramadan starts at maghrib. I was there in the masjid at maghrib, and very few people are there. A brother came in and as soon as the adhān was made, a brother wrote a check and put it in the charity box and started making intense du'ā'. I approached him and asked him what is going on, and he said, “Isn't it Ramadan? I know that everyone is going to be coming to Allāh in 'ishā' and I wanted to be the first. I wanted my charity to be the first and my du'ā' to be the first. I'm sick, and that is why I'm doing this.” When you are sick, you find cure by giving charity. He didn't look sick. I stood beside him and watched him. He started making du'ā': “O Allāh cleanse my heart from everything other than you. O Allāh, cleanse my heart from arrogance, envy, self-admiration, showing off.” He felt his heart was sick! If I have a heart that is not enjoying worship, then I know what I need to ask Allāh for in Ramadan. The brother said he would be making this du'ā' for 30 days after every ṣalāh. Imagine if you enter Ramadan with that focus and insistence in du'ā'?
He thinks he has a sick heart and is asking Allāh to purify it. I think I don't have a heart! Arabic poetry: “I used to have a heart by which I lived and I lost it in one of its flip-flops. O my Lord, return my heart back to me. My chest is imploding in seeking it.” Ask Allāh to give you a heart if you don't have one. Ask Allāh to guide someone in your family. Ask Allāh for Syria, for the ummah, for the US and the West.
The Best Du'ā'
There are so many things we can ask for. What is the best du'ā'? Scholars discuss this. SubḥānAllāh you will be amazed that you know it. For example, if I have kids and tell them I love them and tell them to ask because I want to give them, one of them will ask for candy and the other will ask for $100. One of my kids who is more intelligent says, “I'm a kid and don't know what is good for me, but there is one thing I know. I know you love me and want good for me and are the best person to tell me what I should have. Baba, the best thing for me must be what you ask me to do. I ask you to help me do what I want even it seems hard and means I go to school. Help me do what you want!” This is exactly what we do with Allāh . What is the best du'ā' to ask Allāh? Many scholars say: The best thing to ask from Allāh is what He asks from you. O Allāh, help me to pray and fast.
The Prophet said, “Ya Mu'adh, by Allāh I love you. After every ṣalāh, ask Allāh: 'O Allāh, help me to Your remembrance and to be thankful to You. Help me to worship You.” Ibn Taymiyyah said, “I looked for the best du'ā' and found it in asking Allāh to enable you to gain His Contentment and Pleasure. I found it in Sūrat'l-Fātiḥah: iyyāka na'budu wa iyyāka nasta'īn (we seek help from You to help us worship You).”
The best du'ā' is so important. Many people didn't think about what the best du'ā' is. Allāh made it compulsory on us and put it in Sūrat'l-Fātiḥah. Seventeen times a day you say the best du'ā' ever! Then you understand why Allāh made things compulsory.
Some people look at Ramadan as a burden. Why did Allāh do this? Allāh made it compulsory that they worship Him. He made it compulsory on you to obey and worship Him, and in reality, He is making it compulsory on you to enter Jannah. If Ramadan was optional, many of us would say it is just a Sunnah and not do it and miss on all the benefits. Left to ourselves, we would not do it, so Allāh made it compulsory.
Allāh loves us so much and wants to give us His love. He made it compulsory for you to obey so that when you do it, you enter Jannah in this life and get His gifts. It is amazing that people are being dragged to Jannah with the chains of compulsory, wājib, obedience. In Ramadan, we have so many options.
In a ḥadīth qudsi, Allāh said, “My servant does not draw closer to me with anything more beloved to Me than what I made compulsory on him.” This means that you should be very careful with the farḍ even in Ramadan. You should not making tarāwīḥ and missing 'ishā' or fajr. Doing what Allāh made compulsory on us is the best thing to seek His Nearness and Love.
Allāh wants to grant us His love. Allāh picks the 'ibādah that will bring us closest to Him the fastest and made those compulsory. Whether you like it or not, you will get Allāh's Love and will go to Jannah.
Many of us don't realize the pleasure in it. We have to be dragged with the chain of obedience. Many people ask, “Why are you celebrating 'Īd?” A non-Muslim said to me, “It's because you are done fasting!” I said, “No, we love fasting. We celebrate after major acts of obedience. We are happy because we obeyed Allāh.” Allāh enabled me to fast 30 days and worship Him. Can't I be thankful to Him? When we see Ramadan this way, then we want to do something in Ramadan, and our heart yearns for it. This is the month of raḥmah and forgiveness.
Don't wait – start day one! Scholars say Allāh made His contentment and pleasure in being hasty in obeying Him. When it comes to ṣalāh, when the adhān is called, that is the time of riḍwān. Don't miss the very first second of Ramadan!
A final advice: when we break the fast, don't shatter the fast. Do it gently. It doesn't have to be three dishes or meat. Don't break the fast with vengeance. Start slowly with dates. Break your fast with du'ā'. This will enable us inshā'Allāh to pray with more focus in Ramadan.
One other advice: it is very important how we enter Ramadan and how we exit Ramadan. “O Allāh, make my entrance an entrance of truthfulness and my exit an exit of truthfulness.” How do we exit Ramadan? Often times we enter and start with momentum and then in the last ten nights, we exert every ounce of energy, especially on the nights of the 27th, 28th, and 29th, and then on 'Īd we feel exhausted and that we accomplished something. We then let our guard down. Remember that Shayṭān has been chained in Ramadan, and when Ramadan is over, he is unleashed. Shayṭān then does a counter-attack, furious at what we had accomplished in Ramadan. When he attacks, our defenses are down. I can imagine Shayṭān making fun of us saying, “You gave them thirty days. Just give me one day and he'll be back where he was.” Often times Shayṭān wins. If we find ourselves after Ramadan the same way we were, then what have we accomplished?
In the last ten nights, don't put 100% of your energy to the point where you are exhausted. Save some energy. If you want to change in Ramadan in such a way that it stays with you until the following Ramadan, make it a point that on the day of 'Īd, exert extra effort because the Shayṭān will attack. Pray fajr in the masjid. Try to pray the five prayers on that day in the masjid to break the counter-attack of Shayṭān. If you can't, then pray the five daily prayers in the first moment of their time. Be careful of the sunnah. In the following week, still pray qiyām even if it is not 8 rak'ahs. Retain something. Be very alert and exert extra effort to obey Allāh . The following week, have a goal. For example, if you didn't pray ṣalāt'l-ḍuha before, and you did it in Ramadan, then focus on that for week after Ramadan. If you can retain something from Ramadan 7 to 10 days after, then most likely you can retain it. This way we grow and each Ramadan adds to us.
Many women are heartbroken when they can't pray and feel distressed and wonder if it is a punishment if they can't pray in the last ten nights. Sisters, this is not a punishment! Whenever Allāh opens for you through His decree something that is getting you to know Him with, your acts and deeds do not diminish. This is a decree of Allāh. Allāh is the Compeller, the Invincible. Allāh is getting to know us with these Names, and we comply and get to know Him with these Names. The fact that we are sad and crying that we can't worship Allāh is more beloved to Allāh than our worship is.
A practical advice: Remember that you get the reward of the person you eats your food at ifṭār. Send your husband to the masjid and make sure he prays in the masjid and eats with you at home, so you still get his reward.
The Prophet said, “Whoever's last deed is fasting will be admitted to Paradise.” If I was to die in the month of Ramadan, it is the best month to die in. This month is so special. We ask Allāh to do whatever pleases Him. If I was to die and my last deed was fasting, I'm admitted to Paradise, and my last deed is good. Even death is not bad in Ramadan.
To sum up everything we said, this is the month of true happiness of the believer and the righteous. It is happiness that Allāh gives us this month and enables us to obey Him and can do things we can't do except in Ramadan. If Allāh is doing all of this, He wants to forgive us. What does it mean that Allāh gives? Allāh enables us to worship Him and wants us to taste the sweetness of being close to Him. He wants us to have angelic happiness in this life and enter Jannah in the Hereafter. He wants to offer us forgiveness. Allāh wants to give. May Allāh enable us to receive.[Br. Abdullah Syed]: This really changed my perspective on Ramadan and making happiness a core of belief. It's an important point I haven't really heard from many speakers. Jazākum Allāh khayr. [Ustadh Hasan Elwan]: All thanks and all praise to Allāh who taught us this, and His messengers and scholars. [Br. Abdullah Syed]: Tomorrow Sr. Hanaa Gamal will give us a talk on the fiqh of Ramadan, and after the talk, we'll have an exclusive Q&A for sisters.