Welcome, Ramadan

“Ramadan will be starting on Saturday”
“I’m sorry, don’t you mean Sunday?”
“Brothers, we will be fasting on Monday!”

Ramadan, the blessed 9th month of the lunar Islamic year: A cyclical guest whose very commencement is, more often than not, a matter of difference and confusion. For most, Ramadan signals the re-enactment of the accustomed tradition of usual conversations revolving around discussions of the controversial beginning date, disagreements over how many rakats of taraweeh should be prayed, and distractions due to new Ramadan-exclusive soap operas (which especially plague the Arab/Asian community).

If we comprehended how majestically significant and blessed a time Ramadan was, our overall feeling would be that of sincere gratitude that Allah had allowed us to live and experience one more Ramadan. If we truly appreciated the purpose of Ramadan, our primary concerns would not be the feasts which lie in wait or the friends which keep us occupied.

The messenger of Allah used to tell his companions at the start of Ramadan:

{ أتاكم شهر رمضان، شهر مبارك، كتب الله عليكم صيامه، فيه تفتح أبواب الجنة، وتغلق أبواب الجحيم، وتغل مردة الشياطين، لله فيه ليلة هي خير من ألف شهر، من حرم خيرها فقد حرم }

{ The month of Ramadan has come to you, a blessed month, in which Allah had prescribed upon you fasting, in it the gates of paradise are opened, the gates of hell shut, the devils shackled, and in it Allah has a night which is better than 1000 months, whoever is denied/deprived its good is (truly) denied/deprived } – Sunan An-Nasa’i

Ramadan is an important guest like no other, and it is important to plan and prepare accordingly so one may reap the utmost benefit and fuel up, in preparation for the rest of the year and in preparation for the afterlife.

Reverence:
The month of Ramadan is among the symbols/rituals* of Allah.

{ ذَٰلِكَ وَمَن يُعَظِّمْ شَعَائِرَ اللَّهِ فَإِنَّهَا مِن تَقْوَى الْقُلُوبِ }

{ That [is so]. And whoever honours the symbols of Allah – indeed, it is from the piety of hearts } Al-Hajj (22:32)

Meaning that respecting, honouring and revering the symbols/rituals/sacred matters ordained by Allah is mark of Taqwa (awareness/consciences of Allah).

For example, you may find that an accustomed act such as a casual cinema trip or gaming night with friends is normal and acceptable on an ordinary day, but the reverence you hold for Ramadan should stop you from committing an otherwise permissible act in the blessed month. Another example would be putting everything aside and coming early for salah out of reverence for it (as you hold Allah in greater reverence and regard than any pre-salah occupation – to honour and revere salah is to honour and revere Allah).

Intentions:
The most prominent and common features of Ramadan are the obligatory fasts and recommended night prayers, both of which present great rewards if done with the right intent. A typical Muslim’s reason for fasting or attending the mosque might simply be the fact that ‘everyone else does it’. This herd mentality is a dangerous one which subjects a person to overlook the greater purpose for which this month was bestowed, and in doing so, neglect Allah**.

عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ‏ “‏ يَقُولُ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ:

{ الصَّوْمُ لِي وَأَنَا أَجْزِي بِهِ يَدَعُ شَهْوَتَهُ وَأَكْلَهُ وَشُرْبَهُ مِنْ أَجْلِي، وَالصَّوْمُ جُنَّةٌ، وَلِلصَّائِمِ فَرْحَتَانِ فَرْحَةٌ حِينَ يُفْطِرُ وَفَرْحَةٌ حِينَ يَلْقَى رَبَّهُ، وَلَخَلُوفُ فَمِ الصَّائِمِ أَطْيَبُ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ مِنْ رِيحِ الْمِسْكِ } ‏”

Narrated by Abu Huraira: The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Allah said: Fasting is for Me and I will give the reward for it: He (the one who fasts) leaves his desire, food and drink for My Sake. Fasting is a screen (from Hell) and there are two pleasures for a fasting person, one at the time of breaking his fast, and the other at the time when he will meet his Lord. And the smell of the mouth of a fasting person is better in Allah’s Sight than the smell of musk.- Sahih Al-Bukhari

Fasting which does not induce Taqwa into the ‘faster’ is flawed. Because fasting is not simply the inhibition of food, drink and desires with the culmination of an extravagant feast to top it all off. The purpose of fasting is attaining Taqwa: the awareness/consciousness of Allah. Being patient in restricting your nutritional needs is an excellent way of gaining self-control and restraint, and the benefits of self-control are innumerable. Food is something that you need AND want, so if you can control yourself in your diet, you can control yourself in anything else. Indeed, “if you can learn self-control, you can learn anything”.

Remember, the health benefits of fasting are numerous, but that’s not why we fast. The social benefits of fasting are numerous but that’s not why we fast. The mental, financial, and emotional benefits likewise, but our fasts are for the attainment of Taqwa.

Keep Allah as your intended motive and all else will follow.

Iftar:
Quality not Quantity! A habit of continuous over-eating is one that will bring you regrets in both the long and short term. The prophet ﷺ said:

{ مَا مَلأَ آدَمِيٌّ وِعَاءً شَرًّا مِنْ بَطْنٍ بِحَسْبِ ابْنِ آدَمَ أُكُلاَتٌ يُقِمْنَ صُلْبَهُ فَإِنْ كَانَ لاَ مَحَالَةَ فَثُلُثٌ لِطَعَامِهِ وَثُلُثٌ لِشَرَابِهِ وَثُلُثٌ لِنَفَسِهِ }

{ The human does not fill any container that is worse than his stomach. It is sufficient for the son of Adam to eat what will support his back. If this is not possible, then a third for food, a third for drink, and third for his breath. }– Jaami’ Al-Tirmithi

Living in an age such as this, we know of people around the world who are starving and lack enough food, and it is only by undergoing a similar experience that we really feel empathy towards them. But to say we share a ‘similar experience’ is not true per se, we spend our final minutes of the fasting day in the presence of fresh, delicious food, knowing for certain that it is just a matter of time before we indulge in it and alleviate our hunger, while many others suffer the unpredictability of not knowing whether they will find anything to break their fasts with. Amidst the cheers and joy of eating at iftar, whether you’re alone or surrounded by friends and family***, spare a thought and a prayer for those elsewhere, and ask Allah to make you truly appreciative and grateful.

Remember that something as common as food or sleep may be an act of worship if done with the right intent and in the right way.

Finally, avoid excessive profusion and wastefulness in your food. Don’t waste excessive food, don’t waste excessive money on buying food, don’t waste excessive time in preparing food. Eating in and of itself is not the aim, but a means.

Dua:
{ وَإِذَا سَأَلَكَ عِبَادِي عَنِّي فَإِنِّي قَرِيبٌ ۖ أُجِيبُ دَعْوَةَ الدَّاعِ إِذَا دَعَانِ ۖ فَلْيَسْتَجِيبُوا لِي وَلْيُؤْمِنُوا بِي لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْشُدُونَ }

{ And when My servants ask you, [O Muhammad], concerning Me – indeed I am near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me [by obedience] and believe in Me that they may be [rightly] guided } Al-Baqarah (2:186)

If the lord of the worlds is telling you he is near and will answer your supplications, what is stopping you from supplicating?

Inactivity:
Don’t make Ramadan a time of inactivity! Just because your days are spent without food and drink and your accustomed routine is no longer in effect, is NO EXCUSE for you to lie around all day idly waiting for sunset. Be productive! As you are fasting, scavenging for food will no longer be on your agenda for the day, so you have one less major distraction, and if you ensure you are well nourished with quality food at iftar and suhoor, you will not suffer as much mental or physical fatigue. Quality rest is essential to go about your day (or night), but the difference between rest and laziness is a vast one.

Laziness is something which plagues us as muslims, no time more so than in Ramadan, yet laziness is something so detrimental, the prophet himself had sought refuge in Allah from it:

كَانَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ ‏ “‏ اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنَ الْهَمِّ وَالْحَزَنِ، وَالْعَجْزِ وَالْكَسَلِ، وَالْجُبْنِ وَالْبُخْلِ، وَضَلَعِ الدَّيْنِ، وَغَلَبَةِ الرِّجَالِ ‏”‏‏.‏

The Prophet (ﷺ) used to say, “O Allah! I seek refuge with You from worry and grief, from incapacity and laziness, from cowardice and miserliness, from being heavily in debt and from being overpowered by (other) men.” – Sahih Al-Bukhari

Quranic contemplation:
Probably the most important paragraph here – Ramadan is the MONTH OF THE QURAN. When mentioning the verse of Ramadan, Allah first associated it with the Quran.

{ شَهْرُ رَمَضَانَ الَّذِي أُنزِلَ فِيهِ الْقُرْآنُ هُدًى لِّلنَّاسِ وَبَيِّنَاتٍ مِّنَ الْهُدَىٰ وَالْفُرْقَانِ }

{ The month of Ramadhan in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. } Al-Baqarah (2:185)

The Quran is the most read book on earth. Unfortunately, only a mere fraction of those who recite it understand or even practice it. What’s upsetting is not that so many people will spend hours in prayer listening to the Quran being recited without understanding it, the upsetting issue is that they will do so without having a concern or a desire to change. Ignorance is bad enough, but being content with ignorance is far worse. And the true benefit of the Quran as a guidance and reminder is not obtained through mere heedless recitation.

All human knowledge is obtained by studying the world. By observing nature and human interactions, we develop the sciences of logic, mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry, psychology, zoology, sociology, economics, politics etc.

The same way the world is the creation of Allah, the Quran is his literal words, and just as so much knowledge and wisdom is derived from studying his creation, so much knowledge, wisdom and guidance is obtained from studying the Quran. And you don’t need a telescope, microscope, laboratory or even a university to do so. What’s necessary is a sincere heart.

{ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَذِكْرَىٰ لِمَن كَانَ لَهُ قَلْبٌ أَوْ أَلْقَى السَّمْعَ وَهُوَ شَهِيدٌ }

{ Indeed in that is a reminder for whoever has a heart or who listens while he is present [in mind]. } Qaf (50:37)

Allah has shown here in this verse that benefiting from the reminder is dependent on:

-The place in which the reminder is to settle, which is a sincere, living heart. A dead person (with a physically dead heart) cannot possibly hear, understand, or be touched by the Quran, but the same is also true for a living person with a spiritually dead heart.
-Directing your hearing and paying attention to what is being said.
-Being aware and present mentally (and in turn emotionally too)

While reciting the Quran, if you truly believed and constantly remembered that these words are from Allah, how different would your attention and concentration be?

While contemplating the Quran, note down and keep a record of the interesting words, points and questions which are bound to appear, flex your mind and ponder over what Allah had sent down to you, and reinforce your reflections with commentaries and books of exegesis, and even seek help from people of knowledge.

{ أَفَلَا يَتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْآنَ أَمْ عَلَىٰ قُلُوبٍ أَقْفَالُهَا }

{ Then do they not reflect upon the Qur’an, or are there locks upon [their] hearts? } Muhammad (47:24)

Manners:
{ عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال : ” الصيام جنة من النار ، فمن أصبح صائماً فلا يجهل يومئذ ، وإن امرؤ جهل عليه فلا يشتمه ولا يسبه وليقل إني صائم …” }

{ The Prophet ﷺ said:”Fasting is a shield against the Fire. Whoever starts the day of fasting, let him not act in an ignorant manner during that day. If anyone treats him in an ignorant manner, let him not insult him or curse him, rather let him say: “I am fasting.’ …” } – Sunan An-Nasa’i

The importance of manners in relation to fasting is paramount, and an end to fasting or Ramadan does not mean an end to the prohibition of bad manners and conduct.

قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم: ‏”‏ رُبَّ صَائِمٍ لَيْسَ لَهُ مِنْ صِيَامِهِ إِلاَّ الْجُوعُ وَرُبَّ قَائِمٍ لَيْسَ لَهُ مِنْ قِيَامِهِ إِلاَّ السَّهَرُ ‏”

The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: “How many a person would fast and get nothing from their fast except hunger, and how many a person would pray and get nothing from their prayer but a sleepless night.”
– Sunan Ibn Majah

Allah has rights upon you, but so do people. Let not your shortcomings towards others be a means of your pious actions becoming dissipated. By rowdily leaving the mosque in a loud fashion and disturbing neighbours late after taraweeh, you are probably causing more harm to Islam and Muslims than if you had not prayed!

Leniency:
Allah has blessed us with an easy religion. If anything, it is we who make it harder for ourselves with our ignorance. In the verses of Ramadan, Allah mentions some examples of exceptions and emphases leniency by saying:

يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ بِكُمُ الْيُسْرَ وَلَا يُرِيدُ بِكُمُ الْعُسْرَ } }

{…Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship…}

Al-Baqarah (2:185)

It may have been sufficient for Allah to just say that he intends for us ease, but the point was further emphasised with the next clause.

If you mistakenly eat and drink before recalling that you are fasting, it’s ok!

If you are sick, travelling, pregnant, breastfeeding, or have an otherwise genuine reason for not fasting, its ok! (provided you make up for it)

عن أم إسحاق ـــ أنها كانت عند رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم، فأتى بقصعة من ثريد فأكلت معه، ومعه ذو اليدين، فناولها رسولُ الله صَلَّى الله عليه وسلم عرقًا؛ فقال: “يَا أُمَّ إِسْحَاقَ، أَصِيبي مِنْ هَذَا”، فذكرت أني صائمة فنسيت، فقال ذو اليدين: الآن بعد ما شبعت. فقال النّبيّ صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم: “إِنَّمَا هُوَ رِزْقٌ سَاقَهُ الله إِلَيْكِ”

Narrated by Umm Ishaq, that while she was in the presence of the prophet, he had bought a bowl of porridge, so she ate with him, and with them was Thul-yadayn, and as the prophet had passed on to her a portion, saying: “Oh Umm-Ishaq, have some of this”, she remembered that she was fasting (and had ate while having forgotten), after which Thul-yadayn had said: Now after you are full?! So the prophet said: “It is a sustenance which Allah had driven to you” – Musnad Ahmad

Regarding the time of imsaak (the suhoor finish time), the sunnah is actually to keep eating till as late as possible, within reasonable boundaries (not eating after you pray).

عن حذيفة قال: تسحرت مع رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم هو النهار إلا أن الشمس لم تطلع

{ On the authority of Huthaifa, he said: I had suhoor with the messenger of Allah and it was daytime except that the sun had not risen. }

– Sunan Ibn Majah

Contrary to our customs of ceasing from food and drink at a set time or even choosing an earlier time out of caution, the ahadith encouraging the lateness of suhoor, even beyond the time of the athaan are many and incontrovertible. If you hear the athaan but still haven’t finished from eating, you should not cease from eating.

عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال:” إذا سمع أحدكم النداءَ والإناءُ على يده، فلا يضعه حتى يقضيَ حاجته منه ”

The Prophet (ﷺ) said: When any of you hears the summons to prayer while he has a vessel in his hand, he should not lay it down till he fulfils his need.

– Sunan Abi-Dawud

——

Everyone will make the nourishment of their bodies a primary focus during Ramadan, but few are those who will busy themselves with nourishing their souls.

Ramadan has begun, Ramadan will soon end, and Ramadan will eventually return. While Ramadan’s recurrence will not disappear, our recurrence will: It is we who may not be around for the next Ramadan. The experience of Ramadan is no different to that of life: a miraculous opportunity too good to be true: a short time in which one may take heed and invest for his real future, or waste time, live heedlessly and suffer the consequences.

You have already lived through Ramadan many times before, but has it really had an effect on your remaining 11 months of the year?

Will you spend more time this Ramadan looking at TV series and films with family and friends, or looking into the Quran?

Will you attend I’tikaf at the mosque because you want to have a good time with friends**** or because you want solitude with the Quran and worship?

Will your fast only keep you away from food and drink, or will it keep you away from backbiting, bad manners, bad words, bad looks, and bad dealings too?

Could this be the Ramadan in which you break your heart’s locks and sincerely set aside time to read the Quran and reflect upon it?

Though it is distressing that you will see the Muslim masses racing to the mosque during Ramadan while neglecting it outside Ramadan*****, we should always appreciate the good in others and make that good, no matter how limited, a possible stepping stone for their improvement, and in doing so, our improvement too.

قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم “‏ إِذَا كَانَ أَوَّلُ لَيْلَةٍ مِنْ شَهْرِ رَمَضَانَ صُفِّدَتِ الشَّيَاطِينُ وَمَرَدَةُ الْجِنِّ وَغُلِّقَتْ أَبْوَابُ النَّارِ فَلَمْ يُفْتَحْ مِنْهَا بَابٌ. وَفُتِّحَتْ أَبْوَابُ الْجَنَّةِ فَلَمْ يُغْلَقْ مِنْهَا بَابٌ وَيُنَادِي مُنَادٍ يَا بَاغِيَ الْخَيْرِ أَقْبِلْ وَيَا بَاغِيَ الشَّرِّ أَقْصِرْ وَلِلَّهِ عُتَقَاءُ مِنَ النَّارِ وَذَلِكَ كُلَّ لَيْلَةٍ ‏”

The Messenger of Allah said: “On the first night of the month of Ramadan, the Shayatin and jinns are shackled, the gates of the Fires are shut such that no gate among them would be opened. The gates of Paradise are opened such that no gate among them would be closed, and a caller calls: ‘O seeker of the good; come near!’ and ‘O seeker of evil; stop! And there are those whom Allah frees from the Fire, and that is every night. – Jami’ Al-Tirmithi

عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ: يَسِّرُوا وَلاَ تُعَسِّرُوا، وَبَشِّرُوا وَلاَ تُنَفِّرُوا } ‏}

{ The Prophet (ﷺ) said: Facilitate things to people, and do not make things hard for them, and give them good tidings, and do not make them turn away } – Sahih Al-Bukhari

And who knows, that individual who attends the mosque less than you do or outwardly appears less practicing, less religious or less conservative, may eventually exceed you in faith, or may be worth more in the sight of Allah than yourself. A shortcoming that induces regret and remorse in the person is better than a good act which induces pride and arrogance.

We ask Allah to make us humble and steadfast, in Ramadan and outside Ramadan, and to make us among those who are granted mercy and forgiveness therein and always.

Ramadan is an opportunity like no other, but the consequences of wasting this opportunity are also severe:

قالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏ “… رَغِمَ أَنْفُ رَجُلٍ دَخَلَ عَلَيْهِ رَمَضَانُ ثُمَّ انْسَلَخَ قَبْلَ أَنْ يُغْفَرَ لَهُ ”

The prophet said: “may a man upon whom Ramadan enters and then passes, before he is forgiven, be humiliated” – Jami’ Al-Tirmithi

*Arabic word: شعيرة

**This ramadan, and always strive to be a muslim with religious integrity, a muslim who is drawn by conviction, not custom or culture – as the saying goes: don’t just follow the crowd.

*** Share the spirit of ramadan with others! Invite your non-muslim neighbours and friends also! Ramdan is an excellent time to exemplify the hospitable and charitable aspects of Islam for others.

****Try to strike a balance between solitude and friends who will encourage you to maximise your Ramadan. Be yourself a sincere friend who encourages others too.

*****Setting aside special times and places dedicated for the worship of Allah is no reason to completely neglect the same worship at other times and places.

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