By Sadaf Farooqi
Becoming more conscious of God during Ramadan, and seeking closeness to Him is one of the main reasons why fasting was ordained.
Struggling to perform the five daily prayers on time?
Half-consciously putting off the Fajr alarm only to roll over and promptly fall back asleep?
Feeling guilty about not reciting the Quran at least a few times a week, despite wanting to?
Feeling hesitant to donate to a worthy charitable cause despite having surplus savings?
Snapping at the drop of a hat at family members and colleagues on trivial matters?
Repeatedly wiping off beads of perspiration on the brow while inwardly dreading the imminent long, hot thirty fasts of Ramadan?
Does this sound like you?
The glorious, spiritually-charged month of Ramadan comes along each year to pick us up from our slackness, re-charge our faith, realign and re-structure our worship schedule, and give us an encouraging, much-needed “push” back towards our Creator.
Ramadan is a month in which performing righteous deeds becomes easier and indulging in sins becomes difficult, because God chains the devils and opens the doors of Paradise. The entire global Muslim community unites in personal and congregational acts of worship for thirty days, rebinding their mutual love and promoting brotherhood.
In what ways can we inwardly - mentally and emotionally - welcome Ramadan? What should our thoughts focus on right now, to ensure that we are ready to benefit fully from this glorious month once it arrives?
Taqwa - Consciousness of God
Becoming more conscious of God during Ramadan, and seeking closeness to Him is one of the main reasons why fasting was ordained in every Divinely revealed religion:
“O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you adopt taqwa.” (Qur’an 2:183)
Passage of a year makes us go out of the habit of fasting, which decreases our taqwa. The level of our consciousness of God, which should be an effective barrier between us and all actions involving His disobedience, becomes quite low and hence, is in dire need of an uplift by the time Ramadan rolls around again.
We should thus be grateful that God makes Ramadan come upon us once a year to give us the chance to take a temporary break from worldly matters, repent for our sins, and exclusively seek God's countenance once again.
The Month of The Quran
We should renew our intention to improve our recitation, understanding, memorization and insightful, reflective pondering on the Quran.
Ramadan is special because it is the month in which the Quran was first revealed.
“Ramadan is the (month) in which was sent down the Quran, as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment (Between right and wrong). So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting…” (Qur’an 2:185)
Now that Ramadan is imminent, we should analyze in retrospect how our Quran recitation schedule and consistency has been throughout the preceding year and develop a plan to recite this Glorious Book, preferably in its entirety, during the coming month.
Instead of rushing through the recitation inadvertently making mistakes, we should endeavor to recite it as calmly, melodiously and correctly as possible, in order to maximize its blessings in our life, its effect on our hearts, and our rewards for its recitation in the Hereafter.
“...and recite the Quran in slow, measured rhythmic tones…” (Qur’an 73:4)
Our intention should be to continue a consistent daily recitation schedule and a close bond with the Quran, even after Ramadan has passed.
Supererogatory Night Prayer
Preparation of and partaking from suhoor, the pre-dawn meal, necessitates early rising. It provides the perfect opportunity for praying qiyam al layl (the late night prayer). Even the most regular night worshippers among us are snapped into more zealous nocturnal activity with the advent of Ramadan, hoping to revive, lengthen and reinforce their night worship through a more rigorous month-long routine of night prayers.
Our avowed enemy, Satan, however, casts doubts in our minds and makes the impending Ramadan schedule of hot summer day-time fasting, which will inevitably involve enduring greater hunger and thirst, and the dearth of deep night-time sleep, appear to be huge, tasking challenges instead of welcome opportunities for taking a break from the incessant stress of worldly matters and giving our souls a chance to be soothed, nurtured and revived with faith.
In order to look forward to praying more at night during Ramadan, whether in the extra congregational prayers i.e. tarawih or alone at home, we should recall the innumerable sins we have committed since the past Ramadan, the many times we have hurt others or been needlessly nasty, the consistent negligence we have committed in our worship of and obedience to God, and the many chances of repentance that we have missed because of sloth or heedlessness.
When we remember our shortcomings as humans and our shortfalls in our obligations, the invitation of God during the last third of the night, every night, during the forthcoming month of worship, to have all our past sins and misdeeds permanently wiped out from our records and forgiven unconditionally, will seem like an offer to good to turn down!
Cleansing the Heart
Enmity, grudges, hatred, anger, chronic negative thoughts, and recurring insinuations of revenge and/or cutting off of ties: all these feelings are clear indicators of the presence of filth and rancor in our hearts.
As we get ready to welcome Ramadan, we should ponder on our relationships with others, and see which one needs the most work. We should rationally review how we have been behaving with people who deserve the utmost good treatment and respect from us, such as our parents, spouse, children, siblings, neighbors, elderly and sick Muslims, colleagues, and friends. We should then make a mental or physical list of those among them with whom we have been experiencing a distinct sore or emotional distancing in the relationship.
We should objectively and open-mindedly analyze our hearts to gauge how much rancor we have in it for someone, then proactively intend to remove this spiritual “dirt” that is cluttering our heart during the coming Ramadan, and forgive them only for God's sake.
Beyond this step of emotional and spiritual “spring cleaning” and de-cluttering, we should also intend to try and make amends to the relationship, perhaps by using the opportunities of meeting and greeting afforded by the occasion of Eid, to extend a warm invitation towards renewed friendliness and cordiality that can reform the relationship in a manner as if no ill-will-causing damage had ever transpired in the past at all.
Keeping Things in Perspective
Sure, summer fasting is difficult because of the added thirst, strain and fatigue caused by soaring temperatures and longer hours, and since summer nights are extremely short, awaking for night prayer and for preparing and eating the pre-dawn meal seems even more challenging.
Moreover, Muslims who converted to Islam after becoming adults, they might view the fasting of Ramadan especially during summer with more foreboding than those who have been in the habit of fasting every year since at young age, because it is something they are not in the habit of doing.
At times such as this, when hot summer fasts are about to come upon us after some days, we should try to keep things in perspective by making some realistic comparisons.
We should compare the blessings afforded by the right intentions for doing something that outwardly resembles actions that are not done as acts of worship. For example, many fitness enthusiasts stick to their strict diets day in and day out, no matter how hungry or drained they feel; they do not cheat on their diets or workout schedules even when working stringent hours at their jobs. They neither compromise on their fitness regimen, nor their careers, and they do all this for acquiring positive results of their efforts in this world, namely: good health, a toned body, an able and alert mind, and overall personal success.
We should remember how we willingly forego our night sleep for periodic worldly objectives during the rest of the year, such as studying for examinations, traveling for leisure, entertaining our relatives or friends when they visit, shopping for and attending wedding celebrations, partaking in outdoor recreational activities such as camping out, bonfires, and safaris, toiling to redecorate and renovate our homes, as well as for welcoming and caring for an excitedly-awaited newborn.
We should remind ourselves that hard work, toil and sacrifice are spring-boards for rewards, material blessings, and personal benefits even in this world. But when a Muslim undertakes these challenges for the sake of God during Ramadan, his or her motive and goal is much more transcendental than anything the life of this world can offer. The blessedness of the correct intention - that of ultimately gaining the pleasure of God - pervades our lives and activities during the days and nights of Ramadan, bringing ease, tranquility and comfort beneath the outward cover of rigorous worship and gastronomic depravity.
If we put things in proper perspective, we will be able to take the forthcoming Ramadan fasting and night-prayer routine positively, instead of with foreboding and dread. Nay, the extra chances to rush forth in a plethora of righteous deeds will make us excitedly anticipate and welcome the spiritual uplift and the opportunity for repentance, revival and renewal offered by Ramadan with open arms.
Our overburdened and ‘cluttered’ hearts and souls, which have been begging us for a ‘break’ for months, will feel relieved and overjoyed at the prospect of finally getting a breather from the distractions and entanglements of the stress-inducing paraphernalia of the life of this world, and latch on eagerly to the heavy daily doses of spirituality, worship and piety that only Ramadan can provide!
About the Author:
Sadaf Farooqi is a freelance writer based in Karachi, Pakistan. She has a postgraduate master degree in Computer Science and a diploma in Islamic education. She has seven years of experience as a teacher of Islamic education courses for women and girls. She has an award winning blog called Sadaf's Space, and has written for Hiba Magazine, SISTERS Magazine, Saudi Gazette and MuslimMatters.org. Sadaf has also authored a book titled Traversing the Highs and Lows of Muslim Marriage.