This Ramadhan, Do It Right
It usually hits me around the 10th night of Ramadan, when the first third of the month, the days of Mercy, have passed. The month is not nearly over, but I find myself looking back and feeling under-accomplished.
The Ramadan “Plan” that I had written up during Sha’ban was a hefty one, detailing every action, every thought and prayer that I have to perform and think and reflect upon to reach the status of the Ideal Muslimah that I have formulated. And I have 30 days to do it… perfectly. Needless to say, after about 10 days of Ramadan, I have fallen short on my (too stringent) plan and I am feeling disappointment and regret.
Whether or not you make too big plans for Ramadan or the first days of it zoom past before you realize it, many of us experience a sort of mid-Ramadan blues. The mid-Ramadan lull is visually obvious in the waning lines at taraweeh prayers. During the first week of Ramadan, pity the person who leaves their house five minutes later than planned. Not only will they have to park in the nether regions of the lot/field/gravel pit, when they finally reach the place of prayer, they will be banished to the basement/babysitting room when they get inside.
SubhanAllah, the lines are so tight, that only prophetic prescribed brotherly love can give the patience necessary to endure so many people in such a small space.
As we reach the middle of Ramadan, however, the parking lot becomes less foreboding as iftar parties become more frequent and last later into the night. We may be struck with a false confidence that Ramadan is long-lasting. Thus we become casual with a short-staying guest that should be held in highest esteem.
It is not until the last 10 days of Ramadan that the severity of this loss strikes us. But by this time, our rush of good works to complete the month are just that, rushed and sloppy, not fortified with the practice of the 20 previous days.
This year, I do not want any regrets during Ramadan. In my (more feasible) plan, I have included “interventions” designed to quell my mid-Ramadan blues and allow me to experience a fulfilling and spiritually uplifting Ramadan.
1. MAKE DU’A
When we meet with other Muslims on this night, we joyously say, “Ramadan Kareem!” This literally means Ramadan is generous. Not only is this a succinct supplication for the retrieving end of the greeting that the blessedness of Ramadan fill their days, it is also a reminder to the believer that Ramadan is a time of limitless rewards that are free to anyone who will work toward them. The first step to not becoming overwhelmed and regretful during Ramadan is to submit to the One who is in control. Too often do we attribute levels of power and control to our selves. Of course, we are bound to be utterly disappointed! A daily Ramadan practice should be reflecting on our relationship with Allah, subhanhu wa ta’ala, as our Creator and Master, the One who answers the sincere du ‘a of the fasting. Our recurring du ‘a should be for Allah’s help and acceptance of our deeds during Ramadan.
2. RENEW YOUR INTENTIONS EVERY NIGHT
Umar ibn Al-Khattab relates that: “I heard the Messenger of Allah, sallallaahu alayhe wa sallam, saying, ‘Verily, actions are by their intentions, and for every person is what he intended” (Muslim). At the end of the night, before we sleep, we should take a moment to mentally prepare our intentions for the next day. This reflection between your soul and its Creator will help clarify and set straight the acts of worship you wish to perform and for Whom, in fact, you are performing them. Insha’Allah, you will begin the next day fresh and with purpose.
3. REFRAIN FROM WHAT IS DISTRACTING YOU
Many of us living in the West find it difficult to change our schedules entirely during Ramadan. Work, school, and other commitments will not be put on hold for a month. There are, however, habits and activities that we consider part of our daily lives that, if left completely, would add to the health of our Ramadan experience. For many of us, we successfully keep these temptations at bay for the first week or so of Ramadan. But we get too casual as the month goes on and slowly these distractions sneak back into our days like they never left. Television, music, and unchecked internet and computer usage can easily be highlighted as main distractions during Ramadan, and they can drain away our limited, blessed time. I once heard that it takes 30 days to form a new habit, or to get rid of a bad one. We should make the intention to utilize Ramadan to purify us from our useless and horrendous habits.
4. FORM ENDURING, EVER LASTING DEEDS
Ramadan should serve as a platform for us to establish practices and behaviors that we will then carry with us throughout our days and months. If we intend to make these changes in our lives permanent, it will be less discouraging than if we feel as though the days on which these acts of good will be accepted are limited. Allah tells us that it was the month of Ramadan during which the Quran was first sent down “as a guidance for all people, having in it clear proofs of divine guidance and the criterion for right and wrong” (Surah al-Baqarah: 2:185). Though initially sent down during Ramadan, the guidance, as with the Quran itself, is meant to be sought after and reflected upon everyday. The Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, would review the Quran with the Angel Gabriel during Ramadan, but it was definitely not left during the months in between. Ramadan is the time to reenergize and reestablish our good deeds and character to sustain us for an entire year, until we need Ramadan once more.
5. BE CONSISTENT WITH SMALL DEEDS
The Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, said: “Convey from me, even if one ayah (verse), for it may be that the one being informed will comprehend better than the one listening (at present)” (Bukhari). It is the steady trickling of a stream that over time will produce large crevices in the hard rocks of the earth. The power of small, consistent deeds has an accumulating power over time, improving the condition of our souls while keeping us motivated. Small acts, like donating a dollar every night at the masjid or consistently praying two or four rak ‘at of the Sunnah of Duha at midmorning will weigh heavy in our Book of Deeds on the Day of Judgment. Allah says, “Whoever does an atom’s weight of good shall see it (Surah Al-Zalzalah, 99:7).” Whatever you do, Allah knows about it. And this is the most reassuring feeling.
6. FOCUS ON WHAT YOU ARE GOOD AT
When feeling discouraged or disappointed in our worship, it is important to build up confidence by focusing on the acts of ‘ibadah that come naturally to us. These are deeds that you find yourself looking forward to and, importantly, the ones that you can complete and repeat everyday. For some of us, giving charity is easy and brings us close to Allah. May Allah make those who give charity indiscreetly among the ones shaded by His Throne on the Day of Judgment. For others, the taraweeh prayer is just the beginning of their long night vigil. If you can stand long hours in the night with just you and your Master, you should focus on perfecting this act of worship. From the hadith and stories from the Salaf, we know that the Companions had particular acts of worship in which they would excel. Khalid ibn Walid knew few surahs of the Quran by heart, but was the leader in jihad. The more wealthy Companions would give massive amounts of charity while the less wealthy were comforted knowing that any little they gave with their wealth or bodies would weigh just as much in their scales.
7. MAKE EVERY DAY COUNT
I have a friend who would struggle with Fajr prayer. If she had missed it, she would find herself increasingly distressed throughout the day and she would miss other prayers in hopes that the next day, she could start all over. Admittedly, there was no logical argument for her actions. She was driven by an emotional letdown that whispered in her heart and caused her to justify these feelings. I believe that this may be common among Muslims, a sort of spiritual procrastination that reflects a level of low iman and that will have both short-term and long-term detriment for a believing soul. The way that acts of worship, particularly that of salah, are distributed throughout the day should be proof to us that regardless of how disappointing and how spiritually unmotivated we may feel, there is an opportunity to lift ourselves up and make the rest of our day count. If we feel as though our last prayer was less than worthy, we have the next fard and countless nawafil that we can perform to bring ourselves back to make the rest of the day count. This is especially important during Ramadan where we find that the days of the month go by so quickly.
8. ASK FOR ALLAH’S FORGIVENESS AND MAINTAIN GOOD WORKS
It may be a misconception for some that istaghfar, or asking the forgiveness of Allah, is to be done only after one has sinned. In fact, seeking Allah’s pardon for shortcomings even after good deeds is the way of the righteous. The constant seeking of forgiveness helps keep us constantly mindful of Allah and our status as His slaves. Along with this, it is inevitable that we have some shortcomings or mistakes in our acts of worship or in something that we say or do. Throughout our days and at day’s end, and during Ramadan and all through the year, we will not feel as regretful or discouraged if we do our best and make a habit of asking Allah’s forgiveness for our shortcomings.
As with anything that you wish to accomplish, make your goals for Ramadan challenging, but within reach. I make lofty goals, fall far when I cannot complete them, and it takes me longer to get back up.
But not this year, insha’Allah. The end of Ramadan is truly a Sign from Allah. We are bound to feel some degree of sadness then, for the blessed days have ended, and we never know if we will be able to benefit from them the next year. But the day of Eid Al-Fitr is a jubilant one. We have fulfilled a commandment of Allah and share good tidings with those in need with Zakat Al-Fitr and with our family.
It is a sign that despite feeling some degree of regret for not doing as much as we could have during this blessed month, we are grateful for the Mercy of Al-Basit for extending to us the opportunity to benefit from this month and its relief from sin and Hellfire. May Allah accept our deeds and our fasting during this month and make it our best Ramadan ever. Ameen.