By Nabeel Nasir
Many Muslims approach Ramadan much like Ramadans in years past. They slip into similar habits and routines, and their ibadah from one Ramadan to the next is predictable. They may have the same tarawih schedules, read similar quantities of Qur’an or perform similar types of ibadah. And they end up coming out of Ramadan very much like they did the year before.
Imagine if your best friend came up to you after Ramadan and asked, “How was your Ramadan?” And the first response that came to your mind was, “I had the best Ramadan EVER.” And what would be meant by the statement, is that you accomplished everything you set out to complete during the month. This should be the goal of every Muslim – to maximize their Ramadan and extract as many blessings from this month as we can.
Here are some tips on how you can make this Ramadan, your BEST ever!
1. Treat this Ramadan like it is your last – really!
Try approaching this year’s Ramadan as if it was your last. There is no guarantee that you will see Ramadan next year, so prepare for this year’s Ramadan accordingly. This is the final time you will be able to fast this blessed month, pray tarawih in jama’at and complete reading the Qur’an.
This type of mindset creates urgency. And with urgency comes focus and determination. Your priorities will shift knowing that this is your final opportunity to take advantage of this blessed month. The quality of your ibadah will surely increase if you have this understanding. The khushoo’ in your salah will improve. Your approach to understanding the ayah of the Qur’an will change.
To illustrate this point further, imagine a scenario where a close relative of yours who is living abroad, is planning a trip to visit you. And this relative of yours tells you that this will be the final trip made to your city. I would imagine that you would plan the stay of this relative with more care, understanding the value of time. You wouldn’t take this opportunity to spend time with your relative for granted. You will cherish the moments you spend with him/her.
Treat your Ramadan that same way.
2. Set goals for Ramadan
Goal-setting is something we all do. Whether it be personal resolutions, performance targets for our jobs, or planning a better life for our children. Surprisingly, many Muslims do not set goals or plan out their ibadah for the month of Ramadan. With so much up for grabs during this month by way of hasanah (good deeds) and istighfar (forgiveness) from Allah for our past sins, we don’t map out a plan or set goals for ourselves. If you don’t set goals, you can’t measure yourself.
It was the practice of the Muslims in the early generations of Islam to think and reflect over what they wanted to achieve – ahead of Ramadan. And during the month itself, they would track their progress along the way and make tweaks to their lifestyle if they fell behind. They understood their end goal at the end of the month, and they followed a plan to realize their goals.
Take the time now to set some targets in terms of what you want to achieve during this month. And from these goals, come up with a small plan to describe how you plan on fulfilling them. For example, if your goal is to complete recitation of the Qur’an cover-to-cover during Ramadan, maybe your plan is to split the portions up to roughly 1 juz per day. And maybe on a daily basis, you read 20 minutes after Fajr, another 20 minutes before Dhuhr, and another 20 minutes after Maghrib. And maybe on the days you have a little more time, you do some extra reading to make up for days in which you fell behind.
Try goal-setting and planning at that level and you will see a noticeable difference. As they say, failure to plan is a plan for failure.
3. Warm-up for Ramadan
If you ever show up early for a baseball game, you will see the pitchers warming up in the bullpen. You will see the pitchers working on the different pitches in their repertoire, trying to get into a comfort level before the game. When the game begins, the pitchers are warmed up, their muscles are relaxed and they’re ready to go.
When it comes to Ramadan, we should approach it in the same manner. During the month of Sha’ban, increase in your ibadah. Perform some nafl fasts, increase in your recitation of the Qu’ran, give some extra sadaqah and improve your overall ibadah. When Ramadan comes, you will already be warmed up and you will hit the ground running.
Many Muslims have this light-switch approach, where they flip on the switch on Day 1 and go into ‘Ramadan mode.’ This is analogous to sprinting during the first legs of a marathon. You will have a lot of energy and motivation at the very beginning, but after a few days you will realize that this pace is not sustainable.
Evidence of this can be seen at our local masaajids for tarawih prayers. The first couple of days, the masaajids are packed with Muslims, masha’Allah. But by the second week, the crowd markedly dips and this continues right through to the last ten nights, where it starts to pick-up again.
Try to ease into Ramadan on an upward slope and maintain your consistency throughout.
4. Remove distractions
To attain the goals you’ve set during this blessed month, it will most certainly have to come with sacrifices and tradeoffs. An area that we should consider doing away with, are the many distractions we have surrounding us. This includes minimizing our viewing of the television, idle conversations with our friends, and usage of social media.
Distractions consume our time and take us away from the remembrance of Allah. And during the month of Ramadan our time is at a premium. Our schedules are altered with early morning suhoor, the occasional nap during the day and late night prayers. If we allow our everyday distractions to continue throughout this month, we shortchange ourselves from the immense blessings that are there for the taking.
Try to create an atmosphere in your home that will encourage you to achieve your goals. This can include cutting out television, movies and video games. Perhaps you alter your schedule at home so that the family has time to read Qur’an together or praying tarawih together at your local masjid.
5. Feed the needy
For those in the West, a lot of focus is given to the long summer hours this year that we have to endure. To make up for the duration, some Muslims take it upon themselves to load up at suhoor and iftar times. This type of excessive eating goes against the spirit of Ramadan. The purpose of our fasting is not mere abstinence of food and drink. Allah has prescribed fasting as a means of attaining taqwa.
Part of attaining taqwa is being mindful of our consumption as well as providing for those who are less fortunate. Feeding needing people is a noble act and follows in the spirit of Ramadan. Rasullulah (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was known for his generosity, and he was especially generous during the month of Ramadan.
So let’s be more conscious of those who are needy and strive to feed them from the abundance we have. And cut back on the lavish iftar parties we host. Our fasting should build our empathy for those who fast not because they want to – but because they have no other choice.
6. Last ten nights – step your game up!
If your ibadah in the last ten nights is the same as the previous twenty or so, then you are not doing enough. There is one night (Laylatul-Qadr) amongst these ten that are greater than 1000 months of continuous worship – or in other words 83+ yrs. Many people will be freed from the hellfire and many others will book their ticket to jannah during this night.
Laylatul-Qadr is an immense blessing that is available only once a year. We should make a strong effort to increase our ibadah, especially during the last third of the night in which Allah (glorified and exalted be He) descends to the lowest heavens asking for those who seek His forgiveness. It is this portion of this night when Allah (glorified and exalted be He) is more merciful.
Try your best to keep your ibadah consistent during these ten nights. Some common practices that Muslims engage in are, praying qiyam-al-layl, reading more Qur’an, giving extra sadaqah and of course, lots of du’a. Create a master du’a list of all the things you would like to ask your Lord. And make that du’a each of the last ten nights. If you keep your ibadah consistent every one of these ten nights, you are guaranteed to catch Laylatul-Qadr. This beats cherry-picking a few nights of the ten, and risking not catching Laylatul Qadr.
Lastly, try to arrange for all of your Eid shopping prior to Ramadan. This will free up more time for you in the last ten nights to focus on what matters the most.
Ramadan Mubarak to you all. May Allah (glorified and exalted be He) make it easy for you to achieve your goals this Ramadan, ameen!
[Article originally published July 6, 2013]