Alhamdullilah, Allah (SWT) has blessed us to witness and reach another Ramadan. The Prophet (PBUH) has called this month – a blessed month (شهر مبارك) and a great month (عظيمهر). In this article we will focus on “How can we fully benefit from this season of blessings”.
The Huge Responsibility Requires Big Commitment
Allah says in Surat Al-Baqara [2:143]
“And thus we have made you a just community that you will be witnesses over the people …” [2:143]
The responsibility of being witnesses over the people is what is at stake here. The higher the goal, the more difficult and rigorous is the training. To become a navy seal, you are required to go through extremely difficult training. To enter into space an astronaut goes through a long and hard physical and mental training before being qualified to take up the responsibility. Similarly, to be a witness over the people, one has to reach a level of piety, maturity and love for Allah and his prophet, which is no small task. You are being prepared to be able to withstand physical, mental and emotional challenges. For this assignment you are required to exhibit amazing levels of selflessness, sacrifice of time and wealth and will be required to endure great hardship. All this only for the pleasure of Allah and attainment of eternal life in Paradise.
It is from the mercy of Allah that opportunities to train for this great task are presented to the believer during their life over and over again. The fact that the believer stands to gain so much from this season, makes the preparation for this ever more important.
What we must understand as we prepare for this season
In the Quran Allah presents some of the most beautiful metaphors and parables which gives us great insight on how to prepare for this blessed season. In Surat Al-Hajj, Allah says:
“… And you see the earth barren, but when We send down upon it rain, it quivers and swells and grows [something] of every beautiful kind” [22:5]
These verses from Surat Al-Hajj and several others use the metaphor of rain, which when falls on the right piece of land produces vegetation of trees, flowers and fruits that benefit everyone. Through this metaphor Allah is inviting the believers to prepare the land (their hearts and soul) for this rain (guidance) that has been sent to them in this blessed month of Ramadan. The month of Ramadan is analogous to the season of spring. In this month, a believer prepares the garden by removing the weeds, seeding the soil and watering the ground in hopes of beautiful flowers and tasty fruits later in the year.
The same goes for the heart of a believer. The more prepared the heart is, the better it is able to receive and retain this divine guidance. A deep understanding of this aspect of purification of the heart goes a long way in attaining our goals during the blessed month of Ramadan.
Now, let us focus on how to achieve this purification and what simple steps can we take to reach our goals. Br. Khurram Murad has presented the following 10 actions in his famous booklet “Ramadan Kaisay Guzareen”. The following 10 tips can be helpful in reaching this goal.
- Intention & Determination – Intention creates the desire, the consciousness and the determination; which in turn produces the required efforts for a task or goal. At the start of this Ramadan, make the intention of attaining the piety (Taqwa) which is the goal of the month of fasting. Have the intention of reaching this level of piety through your fasting, worship (Ibadat) and all the planned special activities during this month. To achieve, this goal, it may be beneficial to dedicate some private time before the first day or on the first day of Ramadan and make Hamd & Istighfar to Allah . Send salutations on the Prophet and ask Allah to assist you in this endeavor. Making Duaa with focus and concentration can help you attain the proper mindset.
- Relationship with Quran – Make special arrangements during this month for recitation, listening, understanding and pondering on the verses of Quran. Spend as much time as possible in the company of Quran. Attending Taraweeh regularly is a great opportunity to complete listening to the Quran at least once during Ramadan. If you don’t understand the Arabic language, you should make every effort to understand a set portion with translation and tafseer. If following the translation for an entire Juz is not possible, dedicate time to follow some portion of a Juz. Alternatively, you can plan to complete the reading with translation within one year and before the next Ramadan. In our day and age, the Internet has opened an unlimited number of opportunities for learning and understanding of Quran from the comfort of our homes.
- Stay Away from Sin – Make a special effort to stay away from any and all types of sins. In this month, believers are given special protection from the devil (Shaytan), which we should take advantage of by promoting and increasing our closeness to Allah. The farther we are from sin, the closer we get to Allah. The Prophet reminded us in his famous Hadith that “Fasting acts as a shield from sins, so use it as a shield. The fasting person should not curse anyone, yell and badmouth anyone. If someone curses him or fights with him, he should move away by saying, “I am fasting. I can’t be part of bad deeds” – related by Bukhari and Muslim. We can gradually and consciously correct our bad habits – for example, we can decide to consciously lower our voice and avoid yelling, screaming or fighting during this Ramadan. Also we should avoid mentioning negative things about people in their absence. Make a special effort to guard your tongue during this month. Make a habit every night to assess your day before going to sleep. Make immediate Istighfar and repent if you have committed a sin during your day.
- Seek Good Deeds – A believer should always be seeking opportunities to perform and engage in good deeds. During the month of Ramadan the reward for every good deed (Nawafil) rises to the level of the reward of obligatory acts (Faraidh). We should seek all such opportunities in worship (Ibaadat) and relationships (Muamalat ). When a believer goes beyond the obligatory acts (Faraidh) and hastens to perform the optional (Nawafil) it shows his eagerness to please Allah. These are the believer about whom Allah relates in the Hadith Qudsi related by Abu Hurayrah (RA) that such people become so dear to Allah that Allah becomes the eyes through which they see; He becomes the ears through which they hear; He becomes the feet through which they walk, and the tongue through which they speak. In this Ramadan decide on any three (3) or more good deeds that you will consistently perform to attain this special nearness to Allah.
- Qiyam al-layl – To stand the night in prayer and recite from the Book of Allah is one of the most effective methods of attaining the consciousness of Allah (Taqwa). Allah praises these believers in Surat Al-Dhariyat [51:18]
“And in the hours before dawn they would ask forgiveness” [51:18]
Taraweeh is considered to be part of Qiyam al-layl. Believers are also encouraged to wake up and pray during the second part or the 3rd part of the night right before dawn. We can be among those who are mentioned in the above verse of Quran by simply waking up 15-20 minutes before Suhoor and performing two rakaat Nafil prayers. Abu Hurairah (RA) narrated that Allah’s Messenger said: ‘In the last third of every night Allah descends to the lowermost heaven and says; “Who is calling Me, so that I may answer him? Who is asking Me so that may I grant him? Who is seeking forgiveness from Me so that I may forgive him?.”‘ [Sahih al-Bukhari, Hadith Qudsi]. This and many of the following verses are a great inspiration for the believers to stand in prayer during the night.
“Is one who worships devoutly during the hours of night prostrating himself or standing [in adoration] and who places his hope in the mercy of His Lord – [like one who does not]? Say: ‘Are those equal – those who know and those who do not know?’ It is those who are endowed with understanding that receive admonition.” [Az-Zumar 39:9]
- Zikr and Duaa – Remembrance of Allah is important throughout our lives, but is even more important during the month of Ramadan. Making a special effort to keep the remembrance of Allah, especially with your tongue is a source of great reward. This act keeps Allah in your thoughts constantly. A constant Zikr of Allah and his praise (Tahmeed & Tahleel) are one of the best of ways of reaping rewards during this month. As we make Duaa to Allah, we perfect our conviction and belief – that He is the only one who can fulfill our needs, wants and desires. Extending our hands in complete devotion any time of the day or night and at specific times such as the time of breaking of fast (Iftar) would be a source of Allah’s mercy and acceptance. Make a special effort to memorize some of the Azkar and Adiyah and frequently repeat them throughout the day.
- Night Vigil on the Night of Power (Laylatul Qadr) & Itikaf – In this night Quran was revealed. The status of this night was clearly stated in the famous verses of Surat Al-Qadar
“The Night of Decree (a.k.a. The Night of Power) is better than a thousand months” [97:3]
In this night Allah forgives those who seek forgiveness and stand the night in prayer. This night is the most important and blessed night of the year. According to the Ahadith, this night is one of the odd nights of the last ten (10) days of Ramadan and believers are commanded to seek this night and ask for forgiveness and the expiation from the Hell fire in this night. This night was given to the Ummah of Mohammad as a special gift which allows them to gain mountains of reward in a short amount of time. Make special arrangements for yourself and your family to earn the rewards of this special night to its fullest. Spend all these nights or parts of it in prayer, recitation of Quran and Zikar. The Prophet taught his wife, Aisha (RA) a short and concise Duaa which we should recite during this night.
“O Allah, You are The Forgiver, You love to forgive, so forgive me”
Similarly, if you have the ability to perform Itikaf, do so during the last 10 days of Ramadan. If you can’t, try doing it for a shorter period. The act of Itikaf gives you an opportunity to remove yourself from the engagements of daily life and dedicate yourself to the remembrance of Allah and acts of worship for a set period of time. This time gives you the ability to reflect deeply on Allah’s creation and His signs and blessings. It is one of the best ways of seeking nearness to Allah. If you are unable to spend ten of few days in the Masjid at least make the intention of Itikat everytime you attend prayers at the Masjid.
- Spend for the Pleasure of Allah (Charity) – Charity is considered the second most important act of worship after prayers. Spending with the pure intention of pleasing Allah from one’s wealth is one of the most noble acts liked by Allah. Allah promises the recompense of seven hundred times of what a believer spends for His sake. Infaq has been described as a key characteristic of Muttaqeen (those who have Taqwa and consciousness of Allah at all times). In this month, open your heart and your wallet. Give for the sake of Allah without any fear of poverty. Give to your relatives, the orphans and poor to the best of your ability. Give without any desire of recompense or worldly reward as described by Allah in Surat Al-Dahr
“We feed you only for the countenance of Allah. We wish not from you reward or gratitude.” [76:9]
- Helping & Supporting People – The Prophet called the month of Ramadan as the month of consolation. During this month make a special effort to help someone. Is there a family in your neighborhood that you haven’t seen in a while? A student in a strange new city? A new Muslim who is fasting for the first time? An elderly couple who can’t get to the Masjid? Why not take a few minutes to make a phone call, drop in for a visit, or invite someone for Iftar. Even the smallest gesture of kindness can make a huge difference in someone’s life. Remember your actions are measured on their quality and not their quantity. Breaking someone’s fast even with modest food can make you worthy of great reward and can be an expiation from the fire of Hell. The Prophet said, “If someone helps break the fast of a fasting person in the month of Ramadan, he will receive the same amount of reward as the person fasting without any reduction in the reward of the fasting person”. He also said, “If someone feeds a fasting person, Allah will quench his thirst from the water of Kawther and he will never be thirsty again until he enters Jannah”.
- Invite Towards The Quran –The struggles of this world will end, but the struggles of those who enter Hell will never end. Therefore, the biggest service to anyone is to save them from the fire of Hell and help them enter Paradise (Jannah). The month of Ramadan was honored by Allah due to the revelation of Quran during this month. So, inviting people to the message of Quran is among the noblest acts we can perform during this month. In this month, we are all focused on reaping rewards and cleansing ourselves, but we should not ignore the highest responsibility of calling people to the Deen of Allah and to the message of Quran. Inviting others to Quran during this month can help our own Tarbiyah and Tazkiyah. In this month, people’s hearts are softer and they are prone to listening with more attention and care. Your invitation might change someone’s life and puts them back on the straight path (Al-Sirat Al-Mustaqeem).
The above 10 actions though are separate, but are linked as a part of the same goal which is the attainment of Taqwah during this month. This Taqwah would enable us to fulfill the responsibility of delivering the message of Quran to the masses. Our individual and collective success in this world and in the Hereafter is tied directly with our treatment for the message of Quran. We pray to Allah to make us of those who are able to benefit from this Ramadan and reap the benefits and rewards of this blessed month (Ameen).
By Javaid Siddiqi
ICNA Vice President, Tarbiyah