It is known that our early Muslim scholars used to spend the six months leading up to Ramadhan asking Allah to let them witness it with life and faith, and the six months following it praying for Allah's acceptance of all the good they tried to do in it.
So much depends on this one month of beauty-so much in terms of reaching our full potential with the support of Allah to purify our faith and practice. For with all the focus packed into this "spiritual intensive," we cannot-cannot possibly-afford to let it go without having tried our very best.
Before Ramadhan's thin crescent appears, we need to practically and spiritually prepare ourselves as much as we can so that we do not lose any ounce of benefit when this portal of Heaven does actually open for us. To be in such close proximity to Allah, His Books, His Angels and His Worship, when we can truly be born anew, is of inexplicable worth.
Sensible Steps to Readiness
Practical preparation for Ramadhan entails different things for different people. Some working full-time may have the option of arranging for a few days off, preferably in Ramadhan's last third. Others will want to create a get-home-early schedule. And the opposite-starting work late after a night of salah-may work best for those resolved to keep the late-night vigil.
There are other logistics to arrange in advance. Think through a thorough iftar-suhoor grocery list prior to Ramadhan and stock up on as much of it as you can before the month's intense cycles and rhythms set in. Get those ginger-garlic pastes ready, the qitayyif patties and their cheese or walnut and raisin stuffings prepared. We don't want to waste time peeling and chopping when we could be reading Qur'an and making thikr.
Consider coordinating carpooling with others to get to and from taraweeh. And plan out special trips to masajid you don't normally attend- especially with communities you don't normally pray with (or exactly like) to get that sense of the wonderful diversity and togetherness of our Ummah. The point is Ramadhan has many practical arrangements to be made, so do as much of the background work as you can before we step into Ramadhan so we're not under-utilizing precious worship moments then.
There are psychological preparations that are even more important, like getting yourself and your family into the Ramadhan mood. Keep the smalls ones excited about the new routine. Explain to them the joy of Ramadhan. Needless to say, when we are joyous and excited about something our kids effortlessly pick up that energy from us.
Talk with your spouse about how the two of you will coordinate your individual spiritual striving. This is especially important if the children are smaller and mother is taking care of them all day. In my own case, we all went to the masjid for taraweeh. My husband would say the first eight rak'ahs as I looked after the kids. Then in the transition of the next two rak'ahs, he completed witr and took over watching the kids from me. Now it was my turn to do the next eight rak'ahs in congregation.
This worked marvelously. We both got to focus in salah individually knowing that the children were in safe hands and it felt like such great teamwork, the way a family ought to be. In the last 10 nights, we took turns with alternate odd nights for our personal qiyam.
This is not about equality as much as wanting to share the growth of Iman (faith) in the family. And there is a precedent. Take, for example, the Companion who used to wake for the first third of the night for salah. When he finished, he would wake his wife up for her tahajjud. When she completed her third, she would awaken their daughter, so that all night the house was in salah and the lamp of worship was ever lit within it.
One of the more obvious practical measures we should take before the first sunrise of Ramadhan blazes is fasting in the month preceding it. This was the routine of the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, and it makes perfect sense. Especially with the advent of Ramadhan in summer, we need to train ourselves for the fast in the weeks before fasting becomes incumbent.
Think about it, you can spend the first week or more of long fasting days barely able to function from lack of physiological adjustment-in which case you will not be able to do the many things you have planned and hoped for (and a bad start can seriously throw off your whole Ramadhan). Or you can fast as much as you can in the preceding month, and in this way get your energy levels and capacity to fast up, all the while consciously psyching yourself and training for all that you wish to achieve spiritually in the blessed days ahead.
Another necessary preparation is picking up our recitation of the Qur'an, by which I mean both increasing our reading of it as Ramadhan approaches in order to sharpen our ability and striving to memorize as many new surahs and ayahs as we can, so we can use both during this month of mercy and forgiveness.
Ready or Not
Once Ramadhan arrives, focus as much of your mind as you can on two things: ibadah and 'adah, acts of worship and qualities of character. Many a time we home-in on worship, such as how much Qur'an to read and what portion of it we will recite in taraweeh. Yet we pay no mind to the personal qualities we need to change and the habits we need to eliminate or develop.
This too is a family project. Engage the young and old in helping each other build your 'ibadah. The more worship and good manners we acquire in Ramadhan the better. But we need also remember the Prophet's advice that the best actions are those that are constant, even if they are small. So this Ramadhan center yourself on acts whose habits you will continue once the month is over, those we have been too lazy or unmotivated to inculcate in our lives in years past.
Among the best of these kinds of acts is the athkar that the Prophet taught us, simple duaa for eating, drinking, sleeping, waking, greeting, entering or leaving the house, the masjid, the market, the bathroom, getting in a vehicle, etc. Write or print them out and affix them near the appropriate places so we remember to say and memorize them.
In this category also are the athkar after the five salahs, the special ones at dawn and dusk, on Friday mornings, and so forth. Integrate these into your Ramadhan practices. (There's another pre-Ramadhan preparation activity for the whole family. Before it arrives pick up a good book on these remembrances and see the beauty of the Prophet's life, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, saturated with the mention of his Lord- in rain or drought, fear or happiness, at moments of sickness, birth, and death, upon looking into a mirror, and in refuge from every evil under the sun, from sloth, to debt, to animal attack.) These athkar truly fill our lives with the strong presence of Allah and His Messenger, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam. So get the family together on this mission, and get the duaa ready, written, and mounted before Ramadhan sets in.
And what of the all-important Ramadhan (and life!) 'ibadah of sadaqah, charitable giving. Encourage your children to put some sadaqah aside for the needy each day. Make food and share food with those around you, particularly diose who need it most, Muslim or non-Muslim. Be sure to incorporate a wider vision of sadaqah into your life. It's not just money, but clothes, bedding, shoes, all the things that people need, including a happy attitude displayed toward others, for the sake of Allah. Remembering to smile, greet others with peace and guidance-all of it becomes a charity that ire need to get in the habit of practicing. The Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, was the most charitable of people always, but he was more giving than a free-flowing, salubrious wind in Ramadhan.
The Book of Allah
At last, we come to the Qur'an, the Revelation that this month celebrates for humanity and the inhabitants of the earth. Ramadhan is the month of Qur'an, therefore, iqra'bismi rabbika! Read the Qur'an in the Name of your Lord. And read it on multiple levels- of recitation, understanding, and explanation. And with a mind to implement as much of it as you are so able. For that, after all, is the purpose of the Qur'an.
Use Ramadhan to get in the habit of reading a bit every day, of opening ourselves to conversing with Allah, and getting into a deeper study of Qur'an and hadeeth. Keep a record of its commandments and exhortations, and create a checklist for their implementation to the extent you are able.
This brings us to another serious check. We need to become mindful of the correctness of our salah, and the sincerity widi which we perform it. If you are praying taraweeh alone, incorporate the recitation of the Qur'an into this as much as you are able. If you've memorized new surahs this will make your salah flower all the more. Sometimes we recite the same surahs day after day in our salah without paying heed to how purely mechanical our recitation of them has become. Mindless recitation does not engage the heart. The Qur'an is more proclamation than recitation, and it can only become that if we focus on what is being said.
Lastly, make use of Ramadhan's three divisions-mercy, forgiveness, and escape from Hellfire. Beg Allah for His mercy in the first 10 days, for His forgiveness in the next, and for protection from Hellfire in the last.
Likewise when it comes to 'adah, get the family together in helping each other overcome bad qualities. Be careful not to be vague in what we attempt to correct, but neither belittling. I seriously suggest writing down the character qualities we need to enhance and extinguish when it comes to our 'adah. If you're prone to gossip put that on the "stop" list. Write about it and tell your family to stop you if they catch you doing it. Whether its anger, futile resentment, laziness, too much Facebook or Youtube whatever habits you need to alter the need to be pinned down before you can consciously amend them.
A good place to begin our character corrections is with our senses. Let us learn to protect our tongues from foul and idle talk, our eyes from looking upon what they should not, our hands from approaching what they ought not, our ears from listening to what they should not, and, yes, even our noses, from putting them in affairs that have nothing to do with them.
Nothing is more wasteful than these vices. Getting a friend or family members geared with you on this self-correction project would be a great blessing.
But it is not all about negating. It is also about inculcating. If the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, said to be kind to your house-helpers, surely he would want us to be gentle with our own children, spouses, parents, and siblings. So say a kind word to all around you. Let your eyes look upon the things that bring you wholesome joy and remembrance of Allah, including relations of the womb whom you might have missed for long whom you need to join up with again with warm embraces.
Allah will overlook our sins if we pass over those of others. He will have mercy on us if we have compassion for others. So, in the first 10 days focus on attaining mercy as an attribute. In the next 10 concentrate on overlooking and forgiving that has passed. And in the last 10 bring your vision inward to yourself, preventing yourself from every alluring ill that beckons you to the Fire. Protect your real life in the Hereafter.
In addition, if it is the love of Allah we claim we seek in Ramadhan, then clearly it is His Messenger, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, that we must ardently follow. Commit yourself to consciously inculcating 30 new sunnahs in your life. Every day chalk out one new practice that you can add to your life. Begin with the big sunnahs, that is, the ones that are most basic-your salahs, your dealings with people, and so forth. Then work toward more refined character qualities. Reviving a forgotten sunnah in a time of trial holds benefit like dying the death of a martyr.
Prepare each spiritual event of your Ramadhan life before the month sets in, whether it falls in the category of ibadah or 'adah.This means we must start now.
May the new moon come upon us with tranquility, and faith, and peace, and Islam. O crescent! Your Lord and Mine is Allah.
Article provided by Al Jumuah Magazine, a monthly Muslim lifestyle publication, which addresses the religious concerns of Muslim families across the world.
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