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Hitting the Ground Running in Ramadan

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jogging_man.jpgAs a former team athlete, I remember well the preparations our team used to make before big matches. Our coaches used to work hard with us on both physical and mental preparation so that we could best be ready to meet the biggest challenge of whatever team came our way. We wanted to be at peak condition physically and mentally “psyched up” so that we wouldn’t waste a second of the clock scoring points. As we approach Ramadan though, it makes me saddened how much preparation people will put in for a “game”, and how many of us just hit Ramadan, and all of the potential virtue to be had in it, in a sleepy and dry manner. So, with less than a week left we must ask ourselves, “What have I prepared for this great month?”.

As with any great act of worship, how we prepare for it will influence our success in it as well as the reward and blessing we take from it. Take the prayer for example. The act of ablution (wudu‘) is our preparation before this great act of daily devotion and it has been narrated that some of the salaf would become pale as they made their wudu and they were asked what was the matter with them. They would reply, “I know before Whom I am going to stand.” Thus the wudu was the beginning of their preparation for the devotion of prayer as opposed to the last rak’a as many of us are accustomed to experiencing. In the same way, we need to “hit the ground running” when it comes to Ramadan so that we are reaping its rewards and blessings from the first second, as opposed to warming up for the first half in order to be serious for the last ten days alone.

The first step in this regards then is the first step in any act of worship – developing a sincere intention. In Arabic, they say – الصيام عبادة وليس عادة – which means, “Fasting is an act of worship and not a custom.” For so many Muslims, Ramadan has become a cultural facet where people switch their day and night – sleeping much of the day and partying and feasting much of the night. There is no connection to the Quran, to increased devotion or closeness to Allah. What can bring these dead customs to life though is our intention and the purification of this intention for the sake of Our Lord alone.

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In order to succeed in this matter of purifying our intention, we need to know the virtues of this month so that we can build the love and desire for them in our hearts. And Ramadan is so full of virtues which distinguish it from all of the other months subhanAllah such that a number of the salaf used to spend the half of the year before Ramadan asking Allah for the blessing of living through another Ramadan and the next half year asking Him to accept their deeds in it. It is indeed a unique and profitable opportunity for reaping rewards and drawing closer to Allah. Due to their great scope though, I will simply list some of them and with limited detail hoping that it will encourage you to fully look into them more yourselves:

1 – Allah has designated it one of the pillars of Islam as he stated in the Quran:

The month of Ramadan is that in which the Qur’an was revealed, a guidance for mankind and clear proofs for the guidance and the criterion (between right and wrong). So whoever of you sights (the crescent on the first night of) the month (of Ramadan – is present at his home), he must observe fasting that month… [2:185]

and it was narrated in Bukhari and Muslim from the hadith of Ibn ‘Umar that the Prophet (saas) said: “Islam is built on five (pillars): the testimony that there is no god except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; establishing prayer; paying zakah; fasting Ramadan; and Hajj to the House (the Ka’bah).”

2 – Allah revealed the Qur’an in this month, as quoted above, and He also says:

Verily, We have sent it (this Qur’an) down in the Night of Al-Qadr (Decree). [97:1]

3 – Allah has made Laylat al-Qadr in this month, a night whose virtue which is better than a thousand months, as Allah says:

Verily, We have sent it (this Qur’an) down in the Night of Al-Qadr (Decree).

And what will make you know what the Night of Al-Qadr (Decree) is?

The Night of Al-Qadr (Decree) is better than a thousand months (i.e. worshipping Allah in that night is better than worshipping Him a thousand months, or 83 years and 4 months).

Therein descend the angels and the Rooh (Jibreel) by Allah’s Permission with all Decrees,

(All that night), there is peace (and goodness from Allah to His believing slaves) until the appearance of dawn. [97:1-5]

And in the hadith of Abu Hurayrah (ra) who said: The Messenger of Allah (saas) said: “There has come to you Ramadan, a blessed month which Allah has enjoined you to fast, during which the gates of heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed, and the rebellious devils are chained up. In it there is a night which is better than a thousand months, and whoever is deprived of its goodness is indeed deprived.” (al-Nasaa’i; Ahmad)

And Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allah (saas) said: “Whoever spends Laylat al-Qadr in prayer out of faith and in the hope of reward, will be forgiven his previous sins.” (Bukhari, Muslim)

4 – Allah has made fasting Ramadan and spending its nights in prayer out of faith and in the hope of reward a means of forgiveness of sins, as was proven in the two Saheeh collections from the hadith of Abu Hurayrah in which the Prophet (saas) said: “Whoever fasts Ramadan out of faith and in the hope of reward, his previous sins will be forgiven.” And in another narration, that the Prophet (saas) said: “Whoever spends the nights of Ramadan in prayer out of faith and in the hope of reward, his previous sins will be forgiven.”

5 – In this month, Allah opens the gates of Paradise and closes the gates of Hell, and chains up the devils, as is stated in the two Saheeh collections from the hadith of Abu Hurayrah who said that the Messenger of Allah (saas) said: “When Ramadan comes, the gates of Paradise are opened and the gates of Hell are closed, and the devils are chained up.”

6 – Every night in Ramadan Allah redeems people from the Hell-fire. Imam Ahmad narrated from the authentic hadith of Abu Umaamah that the Prophet (saas) said: “At every breaking of the fast, Allah has people whom He redeems.”

7 – Fasting Ramadan is a means of expiation for the sins committed since the previous Ramadan, so long as one avoids major sins. It was proven in Saheeh Muslim that the Prophet (saas) said: “The five daily prayers, from one Jumu’ah to the next and from one Ramadan to the next are an expiation for (sins committed) in between, so long as you avoid major sins.”

8 – Whoever prays qiyaam in Ramadan with the imam until he finishes, it will be recorded for him that he spent the whole night in prayer, because of the authentic report narrated by Abu Dawood and others from the hadith of Abu Dharr (ra) that the Messenger of Allah (saas) said: “Whoever prays qiyaam with the imam until he finishes, it will be recorded for him that he spent the whole night in prayer.”

9 – ‘Umrah in Ramadan is equivalent to Hajj. According to a hadith again in the two Saheehs where the Prophet (saas) said, “… ‘Umrah in Ramadan is equivalent to Hajj.” In the narration of Muslim, “… is equivalent to doing Hajj with me.”

10 – It is Sunnah to observe i’tikaaf (retreat for the purpose of worship) in Ramadan, because the Prophet (saas) always did that, as it was narrated in the hadith of ‘Aa’ishah (ra) that the Prophet (saas) used to spend the last ten days of Ramadan in i’tikaaf until he passed away, then his wives observed i’tikaaf after him.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

11 – It is strongly recommended in Ramadan to study the Qur’an together and to read it a great deal. You may study the Qur’an together by reciting it to someone else and by having someone else recite it to you. The evidence that this is recommended is the fact that Jibreel used to meet the Prophet (saas) every night in Ramadan and study the Qur’an with him.

Furthermore, this a month whose chief distinction is fasting – a deed whose reward is not fully appreciated by many who are unaware of its unique status. Here are a few statements of the Prophet (saas) to remind us of the magnificence of this special act of worship:

  1. Allah the Most High said, “Every action of the son of Adam is for him except for fasting; it is for Me and I will reward him for it (beyond measure).” (Bukhari – Hadith Qudsi)

  2. Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri reported that the Messenger of Allah (saas), said: “No servant fasts a day for the sake of Allah except that Allah removes the hellfire seventy years away from his face.” (Agreed upon)

  3. `Abdullah ibn `Amr reported that the Messenger of Allah (saas) said: “The fast and the Qur’an are two intercessors for the servant of Allah on the Day of Resurrection. The fast will say: ‘O Lord, I prevented him from his food and desires during the day. Let me intercede for him.’ The Qur’an will say: ‘I prevented him from sleeping at night. Let me intercede for him.’ And their intercession will be accepted.” (Authentic – Ahmad)

  4. Abu Umamah reported: “I came to the Messenger of Allah (saas) and said: ‘Order me to do a deed that will allow me to enter Paradise.’ He said: ‘Stick to fasting, as there is no equivalent to it.‘ Then I came to him again and he said: ‘Stick to fasting.”‘ [Authentic – an-Nasa’ee]

  5. Sahl ibn Sa’d reported that the Prophet (saas) said: “There is a gate to Paradise that is called ar-Rayyan. On the Day of Resurrection it will say: ‘Where are those who fasted?’ When the last [one] has passed through the gate, it will be locked.” [al-Bukhari and Muslim].

So now that we are all insha’Allah revved up to make the most of this month, how then shall we prepare ourselves for its blessings? Here are a few points of advice that we can all benefit from insha’Allah to help us make the most of every day of Ramadan starting from the very beginning:

1 – Repent – It is unfortunate that when many of us are reminded with this critically important act of worship that we turn on the defensive. No, this is not only the advice given to the sinners and the disobedient, but in reality it is the beginning, middle and end of every act that each of us hopes will be accepted by Allah. Allah has stated in the Quran:

    And turn repentant to Allah, all of you believers, that you may be successful. [24:31]

Furthermore, the Prophet (saas) himself, who was forgiven his past and future sins, would say, “O people, repent to Allah for indeed I repent to Him one hundred times each day.” (Muslim)

    Hence, repentance is something required of us at all times, and we must rush to it even faster at this time so that we begin Ramadan with hearts clear and pure that are ready to soak up the benefits and rewards it brings.

2 – Knowledge – Brush up on the rulings of fasting so that you can complete the obligations of Ramadan with knowledge and not in doubt or in disarray. Furthermore, brush up on the special actions that you can do that have more virtue so you can practice them. To add to this excellent deed, one should share the knowledge they gain with their family and friends so that they too can approach this month with confidence knowing its rulings.

3 – Clean Up Your Schedule – Attend to any chores that may distract you later in Ramadan and complete them now. This may include writing assignments in school that you have the ability to complete now, paying off bills, yard work, car maintenance, purchasing groceries, etc. You want to clean your schedule as much as possible so that you don’t waste even one minute doing something that can be done at another time.

4 – Plan your Ramadan Schedule – Did you know that reading only 25 pages a day will allow you to complete the Quran easily before the end of Ramadan? “Divide and conquer” is not just a war strategy, but it also an excellent way to break up any task you want to accomplish. 25 pages a day breaks down to reading an easy 5 pages after every prayer – or for those who have too much to do during the day, it can be broken down into 10 pages after Fajr, 5 pages during your lunch break and 10 pages before you sleep. Most people who are accustomed to reading can finish 5 pages in less than 10 minutes, so do you have one hour in 24 to give to this great act of devotion every day in Ramadan?

But let us not be among those who read the Quran but have no idea what it means. Indeed, the true benefit and blessing of the Quran comes only with understanding and application. Try to at least read the tafseer of one verse a day and five verses on weekend days so that you can come away from this Ramadan with a better understanding of Allah’s words and a permanent change in your approach to worshipping Him.

Let us also plan some special deeds for this month like visiting a family member, volunteering at a soup kitchen or nursing home, visiting a Muslim for the sake of Allah (especially if they are sick), planting a tree or flowers (especially by the masjid), attending a lecture or program to increase our knowledge about Islam, etc.

5 – Planning Some Time Off – Every year, we are given a number of days off, days which are often used to just sleep-in and mope around the house. Why not take some of that valuable paid time off and use even one of them at the end of Ramadan to make i’tikaaf? So many people are too tired from their jobs that they lose out on the many special blessings of the last ten days and even lose laylatul Qadr in the same way. Let’s give up at least one day of vacation so that we have the strength to give it our all at the end of this month!

May Allah give us all the strength to reap the rewards of this month and to cause it to be THE Ramadan that changes our lives and makes us into more ideal Muslims. May He bless us to prepare even earlier next year by starting with Rajab and the fasting – or physical preparation – of Sha’baan. Ameen.

See Also: MM’s Ramadan Coverage 

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Dr. Ali Shehata is the author of Demystifying Islam: Your Guide to the Most Misunderstood Religion of the 21st Century. Dr. Ali is an Emergency and Family Medicine physician currently living in an area of central Florida. He was born in Maryland to parents who had immigrated to the US from Egypt. He has studied Islam mainly through traditional methods among various scholars, du'at and students of knowledge here in the US.

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Abu Sabaya

    August 27, 2008 at 2:37 AM

    Jazak Allah khayr for a great reminder.

    This is an interesting commentary by Ibn al-Jawzi: http://iskandrani.wordpress.com/2008/08/25/the-likeness-of-ramadan-and-prophet-yusuf/

  2. mummyjaan

    August 27, 2008 at 6:13 AM

    Jazakallah.

  3. Redwan Ahmed

    August 27, 2008 at 8:54 AM

    Jazak Allah khayr for a great reminder.

  4. MR

    August 27, 2008 at 9:25 AM

    40+ lectures on Ramadan and preparing for this month here:
    http://www.halaltube.com/ramadan

    Also I started my 3rd annual Qur’an reading contest. For those interested here is the info:
    http://www.mujahideenryder.net/2008/08/25/mrs-online-quran-reading-contest-ramadan-20081429/

  5. Amad

    August 27, 2008 at 11:59 AM

    jazakAllah khair Dr. Ali for this wonderful article. Gives us all a break from some of the other bickering :)

    I have a question: I am traveling for nearly 10 days in Ramadan, and will not be fasting. Sometimes while not fasting, we forget that it is still Ramadan. So, first of all, should one fast if he can or is it better not to during travels? Secondly, what is another way of “feeling Ramadan”? I have never traveled this much before during Ramadan, so I am afraid of losing out on everything!

  6. Umm Reem

    August 27, 2008 at 12:28 PM

    Long time ago, I did some editing for Sh. Waleed’s lecture on 101 Ramadan tips, and I remember him mentioning something to the effect that if it is not causing a burden upon a person, then he should fast…wAllahu ‘alam…

  7. Abu Ibrahim

    August 27, 2008 at 1:55 PM

    Jazakhallah for the good reminders.

    Increasing our knowledge is certainly important. I recently wrote an article “What is Ramadan?” and I was surprised at how so many important aspects of Islam are connected to Ramadan. I guess on some level, I always knew this, but it wasn’t until I put it down on paper that the significance of it came to me.

    There are three important events related to Ramadan besides just fasting.

    1. The Night of Power – Few non-Muslims know anything about this great day, and I’m glad you mentioned it above.

    2. Zakah – Ramadan is also the month we pay the Zakat al fitr.

    3. Eid ul Fitr – We only have two real holidays in Islam, and one is to celebrate the end of Ramadan. Amazingly, non-Muslims seem to be very familiar with Ramadan, but generally have no idea about Eid ul fitr.

  8. sisterindeen

    August 27, 2008 at 5:38 PM

    Mukhtasar Sahih al Bukhari, Book of Fasting:

    944

    Narrated ‘Aisha: (the wife of the Prophet) Hamza bin ‘Amr Al-Aslami asked the Prophet, “Should I fast while traveling?” The Prophet replied, “You may fast if you wish, and you may not fast if you wish.”

    945

    Narrated Ibn ‘Abbas: Allah’s Apostle set out for Mecca in Ramadan and he fasted, and when he reached Al-Kadid, he broke his fast and the people (with him) broke their fast too. (Abu ‘Abdullah said, “Al-Kadid is a land covered with water between Usfan and Qudaid.”)

    946

    Narrated Abu Ad-Darda: We set out with Allah’s Apostle on one of his journeys on a very hot day, and it was so hot that one had to put his hand over his head because of the severity of heat. None of us was fasting except the Prophet and Ibn Rawaha.

    947

    Narrated Jabir bin ‘Abdullah: Allah’s Apostle was on a journey and saw a crowd of people, and a man was being shaded (by them). He asked, “What is the matter?” They said, “He (the man) is fasting.” The Prophet said, “It is not righteousness that you fast on a journey.”

    948

    Narrated Anas bin Malik: We used to travel with the Prophet and neither did the fasting persons criticize those who were not fasting, nor did those who were not fasting criticize the fasting ones.

    Allahu ta’ala a’lam

  9. Ibn Masood

    August 27, 2008 at 5:43 PM

    JazakAllahu khairan for the 25 page ideas!

  10. Nirgaz

    August 27, 2008 at 7:51 PM

    JazakAllah Khair for the article!

    I will be keeping these things in mind.

    May Allah grant all our fasts and enable us to do as much ibadah and reflection as possible in this Blessed Month!

    Umsalih

  11. ibnabeeomar

    August 28, 2008 at 12:38 AM

    jazakallahu khayr, that was a great summary

  12. A Nightingale

    August 29, 2008 at 11:55 AM

    That was really well written and organized. Jazakullah khair for putting this together. I think I’m going to show this to my students to motivate them during this next month.

    May Allah make this Ramadan the most beneficial for all of us, and may He accept all our good deeds, and over look our shortcomings, ameen.

  13. Ali Shehata

    August 29, 2008 at 9:24 PM

    Salaam alaikum everyone

    Thank you for the comments and may Allah help us to do our best this Ramadan – ameen.

    Amad – your question was excellent and I see that someone already kindly posted the hadith in regards to part one of your question. I discussed this matter with one of my teachers and he stated in reference to the hadith on the matter, “The person may fast if it is easy for him and will not cause him hardship or he may break his fast and make it up later as we have been given license to do in travel. Yet, if the person is not under such difficulty it is preferable for him to fast and Allah knows best.”

    As for part two, how to keep the Ramadan feeling alive in your circumstances, I asked about this as well and was told, “The person should do as much good as he can with the intention and understanding that his deeds will be multiplied in Ramadan.” And for sure, a person in these circumstances must be sure to make his day different from any day outside of Ramadan. When our work calls upon us in this blessed month it can be easy to slide back into the habits and routine of a day outside of Ramadan and so it would be good for you or anyone else to distinguish his days in Ramadan even if he cannot be fasting or attending the masjid as he normally would. Reading extra Quran, making more athkaar, guarding the tongue to a higher degree and being less talkative are all means to distinguish your days from those days outside of Ramadan and Allah knows best.

  14. Amad

    August 29, 2008 at 9:47 PM

    JazakumAllahkhair Dr. Ali & sisterindeen for the informative answers

  15. Pingback: 3, 2, 1… Ramadan! « Thoughts Unthought.

  16. muslim

    September 4, 2008 at 12:32 PM

    JazakAllah Khair!

  17. Pingback: Open Thread 9-7-08: MM Ramadan Recap | MuslimMatters.org

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