Originally Published August 2011
As the last ten nights of Ramadan are upon us, many of us are still in shock at the speed with which Ramadan has passed. Our goals may not yet be realized, our habits may not yet have changed, and our hearts may not yet have felt the sweetness of this beloved month. Disheartened, many of us may have already given to despair, feeling that our Ramadans have not been as fruitful as we had wished and planned. To make things more uncomfortable, we sometimes pray in mosque where the Imam or those around us begin to cry, weeping loudly when they hear verses of the Qur’an or when the Imam makes the du`a’ (supplication) during witr. Everyone else seems to be touched by this blessed month; everyone else’s hearts seem to soak in sweetness of this faith, the tears soaking their cheeks as they beg for mercy, provision, and forgiveness.
What about me? What about you? How can we, too, be of those whose hearts are softened?
I once heard a khatib (lecturer) say, “If you have approached the end of Ramadan, and you do not yet feel it in your heart, keep knocking on the door of Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He). Keep knocking, keep knocking, and Allah will answer.”
Ask Allah (swt) in all of the blessed times to make du`a’ to break the hardness of your heart and allow sincerity and gratitude to gush through. Ask Him to soften your heart, to fill it with an awe-inspiring realization of Him, to exchange your bad deeds for good deeds and let your heart tremble in awe of Him as your actions show love for Him.
Sit Alone, Think about Your Sins, and Ask for Forgiveness
Take a few minutes every day to sit and say, “AstaghfirAllah (I seek forgiveness from Allah).” Every time you make this request of Allah (swt), remember something you’ve done that may have displeased Him. Remember that time you yelled at your mom when all she was trying to do was help you? Remember that time you cheated on your exam? Sit and ask Allah (swt) forgiveness for every single thing you’ve done, great, small, intentionally, unintentionally, asking Him to replace the hardness of your heart with softness and replace your sins with forgiveness and good deeds.
Allah (swt) tells us in Surat al-Furqan:
“Except for those who repent, believe and do righteous work. For them Allah will replace their evil deeds with good. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful” (Qur’an, 25:70).
Ibn Kathir, in the tafsir (exegesis) of this ayah (verse), cites a hadith (tradition) in which Abu Dharr (radiAllahu `anhu – May Allah be pleased with him) relates that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ (peace be upon him) said, “I know the last person who will be brought forth from Hell, and the last person who will enter Paradise. A man will be brought and it will be said, ‘Take away his major sins and ask him about his minor sins.’ So it will be said to him: ‘On such and such a day, you did such and such, and on such and such a day, you did such and such.’ He will say, ‘Yes,’ and he will not be able to deny anything. Then it will be said to him: ‘For every evil deed you now have one good merit.’ He will say: ‘O Lord, I did things that I do not see here.’” He (Abu Dharr) said: “And the Messenger of Allah ﷺ smiled so broadly that his molars could be seen.” (Muslim)
Ibn Kathir further explains, “…those evil deeds that have passed are turned into good deeds by way of the true and sincere repentance itself. This is because every time that person remembers what he had done, he regrets it, feels remorse, and seeks Allah (swt)’s forgiveness. In this way, the sin becomes an act of obedience.”
Allah (swt) is always ready for us to turn back to Him and can easily turn our bad deeds into good deeds on our scales! But how many of us are begging Him for this? To soften our hearts, be forgiven, and increase in our good deeds, let us sit and make istighfar, begging for Allah (swt)’s forgiveness and for Him to turn our bad into good.
Sit Alone, Ponder Your Blessings, and Thank Allah (swt)
Watch this and contemplate:
How many of us have been blessed with parents or others who love, mentor and care for us? We have been given trillions of blessings that so many have never tasted. How many people are ungrateful and forgetful of all they have been blessed with?
Sit and think of every blessing He has given you- the Qur’an, eyesight, clean water, literacy- the blessings are uncountable, as Allah (swt) tells us in Surah Ibrahim (14:34). Let us show gratitude, for when we are grateful, Allah (swt) increases us, “And [remember] when your Lord proclaimed, ‘If you are grateful, I will surely increase you [in favor]; but if you deny, indeed, My punishment is severe.’ (Qur’an, 14:7).
Let us sit, contemplate blessing after blessing, and continually move our lips in gratitude to Allah (swt), saying, “AlhamdulilLah (praise be to God),” asking Him to write us amongst those who are grateful to Him, asking Him to soften our hearts and allow us to be moved by gratitude for His Favors.
Contemplate the Qur’an
Allah (swt) poses this powerful question:
“Then do they not reflect upon the Qur’an, or are there locks upon [their] hearts? (Qur’an, 47:24)
How can we be of those whose hearts are not locked? We can make massive du`a’ that Allah (swt) opens our hearts, and we can contemplate the Qur’an. Listen to the Qur’an with a recitation which penetrates your ears and overwhelms your heart. While listening, go through the translation and work to understand the Qur’an.
When you go through the words, sit and really think about the meaning and the ways in which it applies to your life. Think about the meaning of the Qur’an and allow yourself to be captivated, head-over-heels in love with the powerful words of the Creator of the Universe- the One Who created you- the One Who revealed these words for your personal guidance. Allah chose you to be Muslim; He personally planned for you to be of those who want to come back to Him and read the Qur’an. So go back to the Qur’an, be grateful for His favor upon you and sincerely seek to understand His Words.
The Prophet ﷺ has told us that, “Sadaqah extinguishes sins like water extinguishes fire” (Tirmithi). The sins we commit continually build up and rust our hearts. Without polishing, this rust will take over, covering the beautiful jewel beneath it. This jewel, when polished, gleams internally and externally, becoming a means of benefit for the person whose body it houses, and spreading light to all those around, bi’ithnillah (with the permission of Allah). With charity, we can help polish our hearts. Let us give in charity, asking Allah (swt) to soften our hearts, to remove the buildup of rust, and to purify our hearts and souls, bringing us back to Him `azza wa jal (the Almighty and Majestic).
Increase our Good Deeds
Allah (swt) tells us, “Indeed the mercy of Allah is near to those who do good” (Qur’an, 7: 56). God has also told us, “Indeed, good deeds remove the evil deeds. That is a reminder for those who remember” (Qur’an, 11:114).
Allah (swt) has made our religion so adaptable that we can worship Him through anything good we do, when done sincerely and correctly. Let us constantly renew our intentions; when we take out the trash, let it be an act of worship to keep our homes tidy and to please those whom we live with. When we smile at a passerby, let it be to spread the joy of the character of the Prophet ﷺ. All the while, let us seek the mercy of Allah (swt), begging of Him to soften our hearts, while we do good for His pleasure.
Live in Paradise, Sprint Away from Hell
When you read Qur’an or standing in prayer, and you come across words indicating Paradise, such as Jannah (Paradise); Imagine it. Imagine being in Paradise, standing by a river which flows beneath you, near waterfalls, near enormous palaces. Imagine yourself in awe, in immense joy, in euphoria- when suddenly, you feel a tap on your shoulder. In that moment when you turn around, imagine who it may be. Your mother? Your father? Your spouse? Your child? Your grandparent? Your best friend? The Beloved, the Chosen, the Teacher, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ? How would you feel in that moment? How would you feel, seeing the person who meant the most to you in your life, seeing the person who may have already passed years before and whom you yearn for constantly, how would you feel coming to the realization that you are going to be here, with the people you love, forever. You will never die and you will never fear all the things which brought so much worry and difficulty to you in the dunya (world). At that moment, you’ll understand what Allah says when He describes the believers in Paradise saying,
“And they will say, ‘Praise to Allah, who has removed from us [all] sorrow. Indeed, our Lord is Forgiving and Appreciative”
“He who has settled us in the home of duration out of His bounty. There touches us not in it any fatigue, and there touches us not in it weariness [of mind].’” (Qur`an, 35:34-35)
And then, when you hear a word describing Hellfire, such as Naar (Hellfire); Imagine it. Imagine the intensity of the Hellfire; imagine the pains of being burned to the point where you have no skin and it is recreated for you, only to continue the agony; where you want to die, but will never die, where you yearn to have just a cold drink of relief, but are given a drink which boils your insides and experiencing boiling water poured upon your head. Is this the end that you want? Is this what you want for those whom you love?
Would you prefer garments of fire (22:19) or garments of silk (22:23)? When you go into sujood (prostration), beg Allah for what you want for yourself and those whom you love. Beg Him from the depths of your heart and allow your tears to pour to Him.
Have an Objective
In every salah (prayer), have an objective. Whether obligatory or extra, make the objective to come out of that prayer purer than you did when you were born. Ask Allah for `afiya - for your sins to be forgiven and wiped away, so that it is as if you never even committed them. Focus like someone who aims to be forgiven, recite Surat al-Fatiha like someone who will be forgiven, make sujood like someone who yearns with their heart and soul for their sins to be wiped away and replaced with righteous deeds. In the next prayer, make your objective Paradise. Concentrate like someone of Paradise; beg of Allah in sujood to be of the people of Paradise. In every rak`ah (unit of prayer), have a unique purpose and beg of Allah to make those desires realities.
There is still time to come back to Allah (swt) and really feel the weight of this blessed month! Allah (swt) loves when we go back to Him with sincerity and humility, carrying the burden of our sins to Him, with hopes of having them obliterated and being completely forgiven.
Let us go back to Him, asking for His forgiveness and pleasure, for Him to open our hearts and soften our limbs to His command, asking Him to replace the burden of our shortcomings with the blessing of His Mercy. Once we’ve done so, let us go back to Him, feeling light, overflowing with hope and pumped with energy to seek His pleasure through working passionately for His sake, feeling immensely optimistic that He will forgive us, reward us and answer us inshaAllah (God Willing).
Keep knocking on the door. Allah (swt), the One Who Answers, will undoubtedly answer.