The countdown to Ramadan has begun. How many of us are beating with excitement?
It’s okay don’t feel guilty now if you aren't. Ramadan is the month for cleansing and renewal. You’ve got a month to turn your life around. This month was made for us to practice discipline in all areas of our lives. So I made a list to solidify my commitment to change and I hope that it will be beneficial to others as well inshallah.
Translation:The month of Ramadhan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur'an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey - then an equal number of other days. Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful. [2:185]
Here’s some tips for a productive Ramadan this year:
1. Renew intentions:
It starts with a change in language and ends with a change in perception. We are never in it to “survive” it. What you perform in good deeds is ultimately a favor you serve yourself. Allah subhanahu wa tal’aa gave you an opportunity to multiply your bank of deeds this month and he opened up his gates of heaven for forgiveness. It’s up to you if you would like to look at Ramadan as a burden. But remember that you are doing yourself a great disfavor by doing so. Think "my ibadah is to save me from hell fire". It does not increase or decrease from Allah’s greatness. Let us change our language from passive to positive. We must perceive Ramadan as the month of bonuses whereby we are granted extra reward for the same deeds we perform everyday. So naturally, we want to load up as much reward as possible in this open window of opportunity, right? This means embracing Ramadan as a month of increased productivity and jihad (effort). So do yourself the favour and don’t deduct from your regular plans. On the contrary, you should add to your usual schedule.
"O son of Adam, I did not create you for my own benefit, but that you benefit from Me as your God, alone, for I am your saviour" (Hadith Qudsi)
2. Set prior goals:
We all want this month to guide us towards becoming the better Muslim we wish to be. We want to pray more, give more zakat, perform more prayers and duas. However, try not to get too caught up with this vague vision which can leave you rather disappointed at the end of Ramadan. You are not an angel. You will still commit mistakes in Ramadan and that is okay. But we’ve got to seek tangible ways to getting us closer to our goals. It can start with a list on your bedroom mirror or a wall calendar. Make sure to be specific and detailed in your goals and to pace yourself in stages. Your list should be tailored to your strengths and weaknesses. We don’t all make ibadah the same way at the same time and so we are different, our goals should be different too. Here’s an example of a Ramadan to-do-list with tangible goals:
1) Read the Quran at least once: make a checklist to track down 4 pages for each salat and increase the number of pages the last 10 days. Make it a priority to read the tafseer for some of the ayat you are reading in order to get the full benefit.
2) Feed the hungry at least twice a week : that could be as simple as preparing suhoor for your own family or volunteering at a homeless shelter.
3) Attend one halaqa every Friday: can’t find any? Watch a 20 minute lecture online or plan a meeting with friends. You don’t need to be a scholar to give forth an Islamic reminder.
4) Pray fager at the Masjid every other day: by the end of the month, you should be going everyday and for other prayers as well (this goal should be mostly set for men).
5) Prepare a Qiyam-Al-Layl regimen twice a week: tailored to how you make ibadah. Be specific and make it your own program. (for example, 20 minutes dua and 10 minute prayer followed by 15 minutes of reading/listening to Quran)
6) Volunteer and give back to the community once a week: Visit your local masjid for iftar, schedule a halaqa or quran reading session. Give zakat as well.
3. Don’t skip Suhoor:
Your suhoor and your iman is your fuel for the day. Give yourself enough time to eat and maybe leave some time before fajr for just a glass of water and dua. Choose your foods wisely. Avoid fried foods and food with plenty of salt. I find yogurt, dates, hard boiled eggs, fruits and vegetables to be best. Carbohydrates from bread tends to weigh us down for some reason. I found this great article with recommendations of specific foods to eat.
4.Balance social and private life:
There are some of us who choose to completely isolate themselves from the outside world during Ramadan. And then there are those who get caught up in the fancy cultural things and indulge themselves in outings after iftar with others. We need to learn to balance. You are not benefiting yourself as much as you think by gluing yourself to that prayer mat and frankly, not others around you either. You are also not benefiting yourself when you get heavily distracted by friends and family. What you choose to feed the guests, that fancy table cloth and napkins will not benefit your deen if it is not directed towards Allah. Similarly the one who limits their ibadah to themselves without serving others and fulfilling his regular duties to the household and the community could be missing out on some other opportunities. Ramadan is also about self-reflection and strengthening your relationship with Allah which is a private matter that we must learn to be alone in order to achieve. It’s all in the intention, if you go to work, for example, with the intention of serving your family and making zakat then you will be rewarded, wa allahu a’lam.
Narrated Abu Salma bin ‘Abdur Rahman: I asked ‘Aisha, “How is the prayer of Prophet Sallallahu Alayhe Wasallamduring the month of Ramadan.” She said, “Prophet Sallallahu Alayhe Wasallam never exceeded eleven Rakat in Ramadan or in other months; he used to offer four Rakat– do not ask me about their beauty and length, then four Rakat, do not ask me about their beauty and length, and then three Rakat.(Bukhari)
Narrated ‘Aisha, the mother of the faithful believers: One night Prophet Sallallahu Alayhe Wasallam offered the prayer in the Mosque and the people followed him. The next night he also offered the prayer and too many people gathered. On the third and the fourth nights more people gathered, but Allah’s Apostle did not come out to them. In the morning he said, “I saw what you were doing and nothing but the fear that it (i.e. the prayer) might be made obligatory on you, stopped me from coming to you.” And that happened in the month of Ramadan. (Bukhari)
Anas said, "Three people came to the houses of the wives of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, to ask about how the Prophet worshipped. When they were told, it was as if they thought it was little and said, 'Where are we in relation to the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, who has been forgiven his past and future wrong actions?'" He said, "One of them said, 'I will pray all of every night.' Another said, 'I will fast all the time and not break the fast.' The other said, "I will withdraw from women and never marry.' The Messenger of Allah came to them and said, 'Are you the ones who said such-and-such? By Allah, I am the one among you with the most fear and awareness of Allah, but I fast and break the fast, I pray and I sleep, and I marry women. Whoever disdains my sunna is not with me.'" [Agreed upon]
5. Quit bad habits:
Studies have shown that it takes a good 21-30 days to break a habit. You've got plenty of time this Ramadan to kick all those annoying habits out of your life. Make sure to pace yourself and set more restrictions as the month progresses; unless you’re strong willed enough to cut off the whole habit from day one. Here are some examples of bad habits we can cut this month:
1) Listening to music : perhaps you’d like to cut off all music, or maybe just listening to nasheed, up to you.
2) Shopping and restaurant visits: Places that distract you from your deen should not be visited so readily. Try not to get too caught up in the Eid gear shopping. What’s the worst that could happen if you pick out an outfit you’ve already got hanging in your closet?
Reported by Abu Hurairah (RA): The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, "The dearest parts on the face of the earth near Allah are its mosques, and the most hated parts near Allah are its markets.''
4) Distracting or inappropriate websites: block them from your internet.
5) Watching television: television is for the brain dead. Catch up on your news through the paper or online. Pick up a book maybe?
6) Skipping sunnah and athkar after prayer: make a checklist and write down your athkar.
6. Get on a sleep schedule:
Don’t switch night to day and day to night. We all know that’s just an excuse to let time fly. Don’t miss out on this great month with sleep. This is a good time to get your sleep on a schedule for 7-8 hours a day. There’s an app you can download to your phone that can help you. Take advantage of the early hours and make dua during sunrise and sunset.
7.Find creative ways to remember Allah:
Who said ibadah had to be so black and white? Find nasheeds, apps that remind you of Allah or counters that keep track of your tasbeeh. Or get creative and write poetry, song or dua and share with your friends and family. Start a club. Memorize the Quran with your friends on a point system or organize a fundraiser for the poor. Use your skills to guide you closer to Allah.