By Sh. Abdul Nasir Jangda | Transcribed by Abdul Rehman Qazi
Having the Right Perspective of Ramadan
Alhumdulilah, it’s a great blessing and mercy of Allah that we sit literally days away from the beginning of the month of Ramadan—something that we’ve been looking forward to, [and] we’ve been anticipating greatly. Something that maybe we’ve even started to make certain preparations for. But what we have to understand whenever we talk about the month of Ramadan—Ramadan means a lot of different things for a lot of different people—but it’s important for us to understand what Allah has told us about the month of Ramadan. It’s important for us to define our Ramadan through the eyes of the Prophet of Allah . What did he define Ramadan as? What did he see Ramadan as an opportunity for? What did he instruct us and emphasis to us that should be our focus during this blessed month of Ramadan? And whenever we are at the beginning of any great endeavour, particularly a great blessing of Allah , it’s important for us to revisit exactly the meaning, the definition, and the understanding of what is the actual goal and objective and what the opportunity at hand is.
The Importance of Intentions
This is a very fundamental yet profound concept within our deen (our religion) that is called niyyah: the concept of intention. [It is] having an intention whenever approaching any deed. This is a very fundamental value emphasized to us by Allah , and something that we were given very clear instructions from the Prophet of Allah Muhammad Al-Rasoolullah . Of course, we know the very famous hadith of the Prophet , the first hadith mentioned in Bukhari and many other great collections of hadith: that the Prophet of Allah said, “Innama al’amaalu biniyaat”. A lot of times whenever we talk about this hadith and we try to discuss what it implies, what it teaches us, and what we can learn from it, we focus on ‘a’amaal means actions, niyaat means intentions’. But the most fascinating and probably the most powerful and eloquent part of this entire statement of the Prophet is what he used to connect actions to intentions.
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The Prophet connects our deeds to our intentions using the letter ba. This ba in the Arabic language is what we would consider in English a preposition. And in the classical Arabic language, the ancient form of the language, this preposition ba is extremely powerful and very effective. It has numerous meanings that are all built into it. It’s used for a number of different reasons and purposes.
One of the meanings of the letter ba is that the ba implies attachment. It attaches one thing to another permanently, inseparably. So when the Prophet is saying “Innama al’amaalu biniyaat”, one of the implied meanings of this is that actions are attached to intentions. We cannot separate an action from its intention. It does not matter how noble the action may be, but if the intention is corrupt, that action will not hold any benefit for us. Temporarily, from a perspective of materialism, there might seem to be some benefit in this, but if there is not a solid intention behind the deed, it will not hold any benefit for us. This is exactly what the Prophet alluded to, when he said (speaking about the month of Ramadan), “there are some people who fast but attain nothing from their fast except hunger and thirst”.
Why? Because the intention was not there. The intention was not in its right place. The intention was not taken care of. Even about something as powerful as the salah, the Prophet of Allah says, “there are some people who pray, (and when we perform deeds they are lifted up into the heavens and are presented before Allah for acceptance), their prayers do not go further up above their heads”. But it stopped right there and it returned back to them because of the lack of sincerity, purity in intention when performing this deed. Many, many, people in this world make du’aa, but again, if the intention behind that is not proper… there are some prayers of people that are not answered and this goes back again to the purity of the deed. So the Prophet very powerfully tells us whenever we perform any action, the intention is attached to it. It is inseparable. We have to understand that.
Another implied meaning of the ba is that the ba is also used in the meaning of sababiyya. [In that case] the meaning of that preposition ba is that actions are the outcome of intentions. A lot of times when we think about an action (a deed), we think that it is based upon our physical or financial capacity, our intellect. [We think] that according to a person’s capacity, they can perform a deed, but we have to understand is “Wa maa tawfiqiy illa biLlah”.
The great Prophet of Allah said, “my ability to do anything that I do only comes from Allah ”. So more important than my physical, intellectual, or financial ability or potential is whether or not Allah will grant me the ability to perform this deed. That’s very important for us to understand. There were people in the time of the Prophet who were more eloquent, better-off financially, more physically capable, more intelligent than Bilal , Suhaib , and Ammar bin Yaasir [ranhuma]. There were people who were a lot more qualified than these people were from a worldly perspective, but not in the sight of Allah. In the eyes and in the sight of Allah, those people like Abu Jahl, Abu Lahab, Akhnas ibn Shuraykh, were deemed to be unfit. People like Bilal and Ammar and Suhaib and Salman rose to such heights that today all over the world we find people named Bilal, Suhaib, and Ammar. They were accepted by Allah. So actions are the outcome of our intention.
If our intention is to please Allah, to serve Allah, to obey Allah, then Allah will grant us the ability to do what the world would think we are incapable of doing. And again, talking about the month of Ramadan, this is a question on a lot of people’s minds. If we’re fasting this year, and its 17 hours long, it’s a 100 degrees outside, I have a very difficult demanding job, and I work 60 hours a week with my hands, can I fast or not? The question on everyone’s mind is: ‘taraweeh… I understand taraweeh is very important and it’s a great sunnah of the Prophet … but salatul Ishaa will be at 10:30 p.m. …. Can we then pray taraweeh? Can we or can’t we?’ What we have to remember is that the hours in the day become irrelevant and our physical strength and energy is irrelevant.
The only the thing that becomes relevant is whether Allah deems us worthy and he chooses us, approves us, and accepts us for praying and standing before him and [then] we will be able to do so. And we have a long standing history of this. Could anyone have thought that Bilal could have withstood the amount of torture that was put on him? Was Abu Bakr capable of standing at the place of the Prophet , and leading the Ummah after the Prophet was gone? Did anyone think it was possible for Abu Bakr to empty out his whole home and bring everything he could to donate it to the cause of Allah? But he was able to do so because his intention was to please Allah and Allah gave him the ability to do so. So this [all] is one of the meanings of the letter ba, this is subtlety built into the words of the Prophet .
A Good Intention Leads to Stamina in Doing Good Deeds
One of the other meanings of the letter ba is baa-ul-isti’aana: assistance. Meaning that actions are assisted by intentions. We might even start doing the deed properly. We’ll start Ramadan properly; fasting every day, coming for taraweeh prayers, praying five times a day, reciting half an hour of Qur’an every single day. We’re doing it! We’re taking care of business. We’re doing everything we’re supposed to do. Then what starts to happen? A week, two weeks, three weeks in we start to fatigue and slow down. Well, actions are assisted by their intentions and this is why when the scholars were asked “how do we keep our intentions pure”, the people of the past understood that when our intention is solid… [the deeds follow suit]. And this is something mind over matter. Great athletes talk about their games being 90% mental and 10% physical. It’s all a mental game. We know this. This is a reality in our lives, in our world. We see it all around us.
Similarly, the scholars of the past, the people of the past, the pious righteous people who came before us [and] who are our role models and our inspiration, devoted and dedicated their lives to serving Allah and they understood that the same principle applied. It was heart over matter. Not quite mind over matter, but it was heart over matter. It wasn’t 90% mental but it was 90% heart-based. It was the intention. They understood that when we feel like ‘that’s it, I’m breaking down, I can’t do it anymore’, that one of the ways to keep the intentions strong and pure—if the intention is strong and pure, the deed will follow suit—is to remember three things.
How to Keep the Intentions Strong
1) Before we set out on any deed, we check our intention. We sit there. We need some personal reflection. We need some times to put everything away. Turn off the phone, shut off the TV. Close the laptop. Distance yourself. Go and find a quiet, secluded moment and sit there and think. ‘I am sitting two, three, four days away from the blessed month of Ramadan. What do I want to achieve? What do I want to accomplish? What does Ramadan mean to me? What do I hope to be when Ramadan is done? And think about that long and hard until you find that intention and you find that you’re sure about what you want to achieve in Ramadan.
2) Secondly, while we are actually performing the deed, in the middle of the deed, take a little break. Take a few minutes, sit down off to a side and again revisit your intention. Why did I start doing what I’m doing? Because you will start to lose sight of the goal. You’ll start counting the days. The last ten days of Ramadan are for ibadah (worship), are for making the most of this opportunity, but the last ten days of Ramadan for me and you are maybe starting to become more about what I’m going to wear on Eid. What socks are going to match my shirt? Now it starts to become more of an obsession about that so the problem is that now I’m more concerned about shopping that I am for worshipping and praying. Now I start to think about ‘well… we didn’t have them over for iftar yet, and we didn’t have them over for iftar yet and they invited us…and they invited us as well. Can we do two iftar parties in one evening? Are we up to the challenge?’ Then [all of] that starts to become the goal. But If I’m hitting up two iftar parties, what happens to my prayer? What happens to my Ishaa and taraweeh? At that point in time it’s very important to revisit our intention, re-order our priorities, and understand why I’m doing what I’m doing now.
3) The third step of the process was that once the deed is done—then yes it is a moment of celebration…its not to take away the celebration because that’s something the Prophet emphasized. But at the same time it’s important for us to also be able to take a couple of minutes, not a lot, to sit down and reassess. Here were my goals. Here was what I wanted to achieve. This is what I ended up actually doing. How far along did I get accomplishing my goals? And if I did come up short, which most likely I did, that it’s an opportunity to basically say ‘O Allah, I came up a little short. Please forgive me for my shortcomings.’ Istighfaar.
And they [the scholars of the past] said that as long as someone can remember these three steps whenever approaching any deed, then that deed will be accepted. That deed will be blessed. That deed will be such that the fruit of it will actually be reaped. That’s a deed that will pay off. That’s a deed that you will be able to walk away with some level of benefit insha Allah.
Goal of Ramadan
O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous –
Coming to the month of Ramadan specifically, what did Allah tell us that the month of Ramadan is about? What is the objective? “la’allakum tataqoon”. So that you may develop taqwa. Taqwa is to be aware of Allah at all times in everything that we do. Taqwa is not to basically restrict yourself to the masjid, ‘I’m never going to leave the masjid again, I’m going to quit my job, I’m going to abandon my family, I’m going to foreclose my house and I’m never going to leave the masjid ever again.’ That is not taqwa. Taqwa is that I live my life…I have a job, I have a shop, I have a family, I have friends, I have neighbours. I have all these things but in everything that I do I am conscious and thinking about what would please right now. Is this something that will bring me closer to Allah? Or is this something that will take me further away from Allah.
The Prophet spoke about this very powerfully where he says—this is a hadith qudsi where the Prophet says, “Allah has said:…”—“ma taqarraba ilaya abdun bi shayin ahabu mima iftaradhtu alayhi”. There is nothing that brings a slave closer to Me [to Allah] and more beloved [to Allah] than that which Allah has obligated upon us. So the best way to come closer to Allah is to do what Allah asked us to do: five times daily prayer, and fasting in the month of Ramadan. That is the best way to come closer to Allah. But if we pay attention [and] we continue to read on, he tells us, “Wa innahu layataqarrabu ilaya binaafilati hataa uhibahu”. Then he continues to keep coming closer to Me when he does more than what I’ve required him to do. He does things that are recommended for him/her to do [like] doing extra deeds, voluntary deeds. I have to fast. I cannot eat or drink fajr-maghrib for 30 or 29 days—that’s fine. I have to pray the five times a day faraa’idh [obligatory prayers]– that’s fine. But when that slaves starts to go a little bit further in doing good, [like] dropping a couple extra bucks in the masjid donation box on the way out, praying a few extra rak’aat after the prayer is done. Picking up the Qur’an and reading it 5-10, 15 minutes before you head off to work. Making some dhikr and tasbeeh of Allah . Doing an extra good deed. Feeding a poor person even though I don’t have any penalty on me, I don’t have to feed a poor person but still going out of my way to feed a poor person.
Then as long as a person continues to do that, that person continues to become more and more beloved to Allah until Allah says, “Fa izha ahbabtuhu kuntu sam’ahu alazhee yasma’u bihi”. I become the ears through which he hears, through which he listens. “Wa basarahu-lazhee yabsiru bihi”, I become his eye-sight which he sees through. “Wa lisaanahu alazhee yantiqu bihi”, and I become the speech through which he talks. “Wa yadahu alazhee yabthishu bihaa”, and I become the hand that he utilizes [and] goes through his daily activities with.
Three Steps to Develop a Relationship with Allah this Ramadan
1) Allah is telling us that we need to understand the goal and the objective [that] Ramadan is there for me to become a better person, to better my relationship with Allah. If I can get that straight in my heart and in my head, my intention [will be] correct and I can approach Ramadan with that intention.
2) The obligatory things are non-negotiable. We are not looking for any more concessions. We are not a people of concessions. Ramadan is about taqwa. You know there are two words that every Muslim needs to be acquainted with. Two technical terms: taqwa and the word fatwa. The word fatwa most people are already familiar with. The word taqwa seems to be something that we’re not too familiar with. Fatwa is a ruling. If you want a fatwa on whether you have to fast or not, you will probably find someone to give you any fatwa you are looking for.” Do I have to fast? No, you don’t have to fast. Do I have to pray taraweeh? You don’t have to pray taraweeh. Can I combine my prayers? You can combine your prayers.” You will find a fatwa for everything, but that doesn’t make it okay, that doesn’t make it right. Ramadan is about taqwa, not fatwa. We need to stop looking for concessions. We need to stop looking for discounts. We need to stop looking for shortcuts and ways out. Ramadan is a blessing, it’s an opportunity for me to come closer to Allah. I need to seize that opportunity. I need to make the most of that opportunity. My 30 fasts are not negotiable. My 30 fasts in the month of Ramadan is non-negotiable. My five times daily prayer is non-negotiable. My staying away from haram is non-negotiable. I will not negotiate this.
3) The third step of the process is: I will look for every opportunity I can find—even if it’s a couple of minutes—to do whatever good I can do. When I have a lunch break at work and it’s the blessed month of Ramadan I don’t have to eat any lunch so I’m just sitting there at my desk. Rather than wasting time logging on to YouTube or checking my Facebook, what I’m going to do with that couple of minutes I have is instead of opening up any other app on my phone, I will open up the Qur’an app and read a couple of ayahs and their translations. Let me know what Allah is saying to me. Let me get some spiritual food for myself.
When I stand up and pray my faraa’id, when I stand up for my Ishaa, I will stand up and pray a couple of rak’ats more of nawafil. Sunnah[prayers]. I’m going to make a couple of times throughout the day, even if it be 60 seconds each where I will find a quiet moment, I will sit down face towards the qiblah and say ‘O Allah, this is what I need…”. We all have situations and circumstances we’ve been dealing with for the past 11 months. Ramadan is time where you raise your hands and you say ‘O Allah please…”. We wake up for suhoor to eat before we have to fast because it’s a long day. We break our fast as soon as iftar time comes in because it’s a long day. But what I can do is 30-60 seconds before I would normally eat suhoor, [or] 60 seconds before its time for iftar, I’ll sit down and I’ll raise my hands and I’ll say, ‘O Allah, I really need help in this…”. We are taking from Allah but even that is something that brings us closer to Allah.
Getting Over the ‘Ramadan Syndrome’
If we can implement these three things during this next month that is dawning upon us, what is the effect of that? We all talk about “Ramadan syndrome”…Ramadan comes, ‘tis the season right? Everyone is in the spirit of Ramadan, everyone is all excited and happy. The masajid are full. Everyone’s got great energy. Everyone’s all great and happy and spiritual. Ramadan goes and within a week, the masjid is right back to normal. We are right back to normal. Everything goes right back to the way it was a week before Ramadan. How do we counter that? These three steps. Allah is telling us that if we do these three steps when Ramadan is done what will happen. [What will happen is] then even the way that I use my faculties and my senses, even what I listen to, what I look at, what I speak, what I say, what I do with my hands, Allah will be my primary consideration[when doing all those things]. I will think of Allah before I do anything.
Before I look at anything. Before I listen to anything. Before I say anything. And that is the definition of being a better human being. Because that not only spiritual. That’s family, that’s social that societal. Then [if I gain the aforementioned qualities] it doesn’t matter if I’m at work, I’ll be a better person because I think about whether this [anything I’m doing] is pleasing or displeasing to my Lord, my Creator, Allah. Before I say anything to my family members I’ll think: ‘Is this something that Allah would be pleased with or displeased with me for saying this’. That will be the primary consideration. And this all leads right back to intention. We are right here at the month of Ramadan. While we make preparations, while we go through the halal grocery store to buy boxes of dates and all the food items that we need, and while we’re picking out our outfits for taraweeh and for jumu’ah, while we’re trying to figure when I’m going out to iftar, don’t put it off.
Take a couple of minutes today and say: ‘In a couple of days, I got the month of Ramadan coming. What do I want out of the month of Ramadan? What do I hope to achieve in the month of Ramadan? The most mundane ordinary deed, when done with the proper strong intention, can become something that leads us to paradise. That leads us to Allah. One of the scholars of the past said that if someone can reach paradise through worship, if somebody has good adab (manners) with Allah, if somebody is cognizant, aware, and cares about what Allah wants that person to do, [then] forget about paradise. That will take somebody directly to Allah. I can build a relationship with Allah through this Ramadan. That’s my goal. That’s my objective.
You can listen to this Khutbah by Shaykh Abdul Nasir Jangda by clicking here
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