I’m all for uplifting messages that inspire us to put forth our best effort in worshiping Allah during Ramadan. However, in lands where people do not have the luxury of time and sleep post-suhoor, getting maximum benefit out of Ramadan requires a bit of doing before entering into the month full force. With this in mind, the following is a series of posts covering:
Part 1 – Training Season: The month of Ramadan can be as physical as it is spiritual, and the body needs time to adjust. How can we “train” ourselves for the physicality of it beforehand? What practices can we take from the Sunnah of the Prophet to help us?
Part 2 – Goal Setting: While we certainly want to push ourselves above and beyond our normal spiritual limits, we also want to be careful of making unrealistic goals, as this can set up unrealistic expectations for what will get done and can cause a rapid loss of momentum, resulting in functioning on a “bare minimum” mindset. How can we set realistic goals that make sense not only for ourselves personally, but as well in the context of the needs of others around us.
Part 3 – Calendaring: This goes hand-in-hand with Goal Setting – how will you schedule your week, given your Ramadan goals and still-running commitments? This article will show you an easy way to do that, and why it’s important to do so.
Part 4 – Miscellaneous Stuff: We’ll cover clearing your schedule, working out, and other items of concern to keep in mind during this month.
Personal and time management articles have a tendency towards coma-inducing detail. I will make every attempt to keep these brief and prescriptive, but beware of conflating simplicity with ease ;)
Training for the Ultimate Spiritual Triathlon
An Ironman Triathlon involves 2.4 miles of swimming, followed immediately by 112 miles of biking, and again followed immediately by 26.2 miles of running. Can you imagine showing up to compete with no preparation, no training, and not even so much as a warm-up before starting? Can you imagine thinking, “I’ll do this event to kickstart swimming, biking, and running more regularly”?
You’d never do something like that. If you wanted to compete, you’d train ahead of time, build up your strength and endurance, and then push yourself to the extreme during the event. Once the event is done, you’d return back to maintenance and training.
Ramadan is the ultimate spiritual triathlon of siyaam (fasting), salaah (prayer), and Qur’an. We fast all day, pray throughout the day, attempt to complete the Qur’an during the month, and pray late evening / pre-fajr early morning prayers. To truly take this month on and reap its full benefits, we have to contend with the sheer physicality of it if we’re to maintain the consistency required to reap the full reward that awaits us.
Ramadan is when you show up with your game face on. Let’s start training for it now.
The Prophet was known for fasting Mondays and Thursdays, recommending fasting the 13th, 14th, and 15th of the month, and increasing his fasting during the month of Sha’baan more so than any other month apart from Ramadan. With this level of consistency, it’s a safe bet he didn’t have the caffeine and fasting detoxification withdrawals that occur with many of us when we return to Ramadan. With this in mind, let’s consider how we can ramp up our fasting this month:
Week 1: Fast One Day
This week, you just want to get over the hurdle of what may be your first fast in a long while. Pick the day that’s easiest for you:
- The Weekend: One day on the weekend may be easier for you because less is going on, and you need your office coffee during work hours. The weekend allows you to sleep more and comfortably ease into fasting. Having said that, since this is one day, you can’t do Saturday, only Sunday, unless you plan on either fasting Friday or Sunday with the Saturday.
- The Weekdays: Or, you might be on the opposite side of the spectrum where working keeps you pre-occupied and helps you get over fasting quickly. Bonus incentive might also involve fasting on a Monday or Thursday.
Week 2: Fast Two Days
- The Sunnah: Hit up Monday and Thursday, as these are the days the Prophet generally fasted year round. If you’re really ambitious, you can combine both Monday / Thursday fasting with the recommended 13th, 14th, and 15th as Thursday falls on the 14th.
- The Weekend: Although it’s not generally recommended, you can fast these days as well if you find it easier. You should still try to get at least one work day in if you can, as this is where the real test begins.
If you haven’t fasted at all in Weeks 1 and 2, do not proceed to fasting Weeks 3 and 4. Although the Prophet is known to have fasted most of the month of Sha’baan, he also prohibited people from starting a new fasting practice in the latter half of the month. Those who fasted before this time frame can fast the whole month, including this latter half.
Week 3 and 4: Fast Four Days, then Three Days
This final stretch will get you close to ready insha’Allah. It’s the fast of Dawud, which alternates days and gets us to right before Ramadan. Because week 4 is shortened, I’ve switched around the number of days of fasting, so Week 3 = 4 days and Week 4 = 3 days.
- Other Sunan: Make sure to eat suhoor, break your fast quickly when the time for iftar is upon you, eat moderate quantities, and avoid arguing, even when you’re not fasting.
- Non-fasting Days: Train yourself to feel and ignore hunger pangs. Eat no more than 4 meals a day, keep the portion sizes medium-sized, and avoid eating calories between meals. For those looking to lose some fat, this is one way to do it.
The Five Daily Prayers
The five daily prayers are the second pillar of Islam and required. Most people are not lazy in and of themselves, they just don’t see the importance and priority of this habit. If you’re one of those who skips the five daily prayers but goes crazy to get to taraweeh, realize that the amount of religious zeal you have towards Ramadan taraweeh vs the five daily should be switched around. If you skipped all of taraweeh forever and just did the bare minimum five daily prayers for the rest of your life, that would be better for you, if you had to choose, as nothing brings you closer to Allah than obeying Him in the duties He’s required upon us. If you don’t have the five daily prayers down, this is where you start, nowhere else.
You can begin with the easiest prayer for you to fulfill in its proper stated time in the first week. From there, start doing two prayers daily in week 2, then three in week 3, and finally four in week 4. By the time Ramadan starts, you should be hitting all 5 every single day, and this will likely be the most singular important habit in your life that you must maintain post-Ramadan, no matter what.
12 Daily Sunan
There are more than 12 Sunan prayers one could complete in a day, but a good starting point is to get 12 sunan prayers in daily with consistency, and these are:
- 2 rakat before Fajr
- 2 or 4 rakat before Dhuhr, and 2 rakat after
- 4 rakat before ‘Asr
- 2 rakat after Maghrib
- 2 rakat after ‘Ishaa
Tahajjud / Qiyam ul-Layl
Since there are likely few masjids performing any type of qiyaam style prayers at night, it’s up to you get started on this. It’s a great time to gather your family, if you live with them, and pray together. I would recommend attempting to complete 1/4th to 1/2 a juz (5 – 10 pages, respectively) within 8 or 20 rakaat (your choice).
If your level of memorization is less than a half juz, don’t sweat it, just recite the same surahs multiple times in each prayer, and recite them in multiple prayers. The point is to stand and pray to Allah with whatever you have, and insha’Allah it will be accepted and rewarded.
Finally, you can do it on evenings of the nights you fasted if you’re already in spiritual beast mode from fasting, or you can do it on non-fasting days to because you’d like to relax on days you fasted – it’s your call to make.
The Prophet would revise the Qur’an every Ramadan, so all of us should have a goal of completing the Qur’an as many times as possible. While it is normally recommended to read with understanding, during Ramadan some scholars recommend focusing on attaining the reward for reciting alone. Minimally, that would entail reading 20 pages / day on average to complete the Qur’an. In order to shake off the cobwebs if you’re out of practice, start with the lower number and ramp to the higher number by the end of the week. So if the recommendation is 2 – 4 pages for that week, start with 2 pages a day, then go to three, and end the week with 4 pages a days:
- Week 1: 2 – 4 pages daily
- Week 2: 5 – 8 pages daily
- Week 3: 9 – 12 pages daily
- Week 4: 13 – 16 pages daily
When Ramadan itself starts, there are many different ways to go about completing the Qur’an, depending upon your time constraints, and in part 2 we’ll review some techniques that can be used to make completing the Qur’an easier in Ramadan, insha’Allah.
Putting It All Together: A Sample Week 2 Schedule
We’ll talk more about this in detail in part 3, but here is what a person’s calendar might look like on Week 2 (click the picture, it expands :):
I consider those items “important”, so they are given their own appointment time and schedule. Prayers are given a full half hour for wudu’, the fardh, and the sunan prayers. The Qur’an is placed after Fajr because it’s generally a good habit to get the most important matters done first, and while reading the Qur’an is spiritually uplifting, knowing there’s one less item to complete is less worry in your mind. And besides, it’s a great way to start the day ;) But if post-Fajr is too much for you, make sure you choose a time when you’ll have mental energy to put in the effort to read.
Another reason to put it in your calendar is because you can set up alerts that sync with your smartphone (if you have one) and can track your day and religious habits right from there, insha’Allah.
That’s it for Part 1, look out for Part 2 next week which will insha’Allah cover setting goals for yourself and along with your family. Feel free to ask any questions you have below:
- It was narrated that ‘Aa’ishah (may Allaah be pleased with her) said: The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) was keen to fast on Mondays and Thursdays. Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, 745; al-Nasaa’i, 2361; Ibn Maajah, 1739; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Targheeb, 1044.
- It was narrated from Jareer ibn ‘Abd-Allaah (may Allaah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Fasting three days of each month is fasting for a lifetime, and ayaam al-beed are the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth.” Narrated by al-Nasaa’i, 2420; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Targheeb, 1040.
- Muslim (1156) narrated that Abu Salamah said: “I asked ‘Aa’ishah (may Allaah be pleased with her) about the fasting of the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), and she said: ‘He used to fast until we thought that he would always fast, then he would not fast until we thought that he would always not fast, but I never saw him fast in any month more than he fasted in Sha’baan. He used to fast all of Sha’baan, and he used to fast all of Sha’baan apart from a few days.’”
- “The first matter that the slave will be brought to account for on the Day of Judgment is the prayer. If it is sound, then the rest of his deeds will be sound. And if it is bad, then the rest of his deeds will be bad.” [Recorded by al-Tabarani. According to al-Albani, it is sahih. Al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami, vol.1, p. 503.