By: Nourdeen Wildeman
With two weeks remaining till the first day of the Ramadan, the entire worldwide Islamic community is preparing itself for the best month of the year.
First Ramadan as a Muslim
Even though the month of Ramadan is not the beginning or end of the Islamic lunar calendar, for many of us it is the best time to have an annual moment of reflection: Where am I today compared to the end of last Ramadan?
For some of us, we look back at changes in our personal life; we've switched jobs, got married, had the joy of the birth of new life or the mourning of the loss of our loved ones.
For most of us, we look back at our development in regards to practicing Islam; did we read the Quran regularly, did we memorize more, did we intensify our prayers or did we spend more time in the mosque?
But some of us don't compare this year's Ramadan with that of the previous year. They look back at the day on which they accepted Islam by declaring the Islamic testimony of faith. They are looking forward to their very first Ramadan as a Muslim!
It is our duty as a faith community not only to welcome new Muslims but also to support them to perform their acts of worship, of which the fasting during the month Ramadan is one. However, we don't always live up to our responsibilities to do so on a correct way, either because we fully neglect our responsibility or because with the best intentions we don't do the right thing.
Don't Overemphasize on 'How' We Fast
One of the easiest and most common made mistakes when it comes to preparing a new Muslim for his or her first Ramadan is to spend a lot of time on explaining 'how' we fast.
Don't be shocked; I'm not saying that understanding the rulings of practicing Ramadan are not relevant! They are, without a doubt. But with the quality of books, leaflets, instruction video's and websites such as OnIslam.net available, any new Muslim is most likely able to get at least 95% of that correct by himself or herself. If there are any questions left, those will surface in a natural way and can be addressed by the person who also handles any other question any other month of the year.
As we practice Islam, we aim to follow in the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as much as we can. We aim to always remain within the limits set by our Islamic jurisprudence. Basically, we want to color within the lines. But when we want to support a new Muslim, we must make sure we also focus in our conversations on the color, and not only on the lines.
Inner Change: the Objective of Ramadan
Every time I see or hear a Muslim saying that we fast during the month of Ramadan because this makes us feel compassion for those who have less fortune in their lives, my heart breaks a little.
When I hear a new Muslim giving this explanation, it breaks a little more. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with feeling compassion for those who live in hardship, but this is not the objective of Ramadan.
The reason why God makes us fast the entire month is not to motivate us to improve the lives of others but to help us improve ourselves. It is the inner process of purification, focus and growth that is addressed by combining the physical fasting with the spiritual acts of worship, such as the prayer of taraweeh, the extra supplication, the reading of the Quran and - when feasible - staying in the Mosque for a few days in the last third of the month.
Whenever you are supporting a new Muslim who is about to perform his or her first Ramadan, put a lot of emphasis on the inner process of purification of the soul. Read the Quran together, especially 2: 183, 185 where God explains that Ramadan should lead to more God consciousness and an increase of gratitude. Have an open dialogue on self-assessment of character and personal obstacles and how to address these challenges.
Never forget that Umar ibn Al-Khattab did not change from being a terrible suppressive person to one of the greatest leaders of the Islamic community simply because he started to strictly follow the rules of Islam. It was the supplication of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) asking God to soften his heart, that made him the best person he could be. It is the inner change, not the checklist. The rulings are the preconditions of fasting, not the objective.
Eat Together During Ramadan
Another advice is as easy as obvious but often forgotten. Your support to new Muslims should not be limited to theological advice, answering questions or praying together. You have invited them to Islam and they have accepted it. Now, it's time to invite them to the dinner table.
In my personal experience, the only thing worse than breaking your fasting all alone some of the days is to get used to breaking your fasting all alone most of the days.
I am aware of the fact that more and more organizations which are active in the field of dawah are also organizing iftars in mosques and community centers for new or single Muslims, to make sure no-one breaks their fasting alone. This is good and these initiatives should continue and expand.
However, to sit in someone's house with his family, having personal conversations and really getting to know one another is much better and will make a much more profound impact in someone's life than to gather in larger groups.
I wish each and every one who intends to perform the fasting of Ramadan this year a blessed month.
May your worship be sincere, accepted and rewarded.