By Zaineb Shebani
Ramadan is an incredible opportunity that we shouldn’t lose out on. It is a month full of enormous spiritual wealth and reward. However, many of us often suffer from lack of productivity during Ramadan and not making the most of the special blessed month. With Ramadan starting today, I have put together eight steps that will help us reap the benefits of the special month and allow us to experience a spiritual transformation this coming Ramadan insha’Allah (God willing)
1. Be Prepared for Ramadan
The key to a productive Ramadan is to prepare for it well in advance. Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) encouraged us to fast and do extra good deeds during the months of Rajab and Sha`baan as a means of preparing ourselves for Ramadan. Rajab and Sha`baan can be considered the months of sowing, while Ramadan the month of reaping. If you really want to have good harvest this Ramadan, plant your seeds in Rajab and Sha`baan. Take advantage of those months to train your body to wake up one hour before fajr (dawn prayer); to read more Qur’an during the day; to fast on the preferred days, such as Mondays and Thursdays; and to practice doing extra good deeds. By doing this, you will ease your way into Ramadan and performing those extra `ibadaat (acts of worship) during Ramadan will become very easy for you insha’Allah.
If you haven’t prepared for this Ramadan, make the intention to do it next Ramadan.
2. Be Realistic and Consistent with Your Goals
We usually enter Ramadan with very high aspirations and make promises to ourselves that we often can’t keep due to the impracticality of our goals. If you haven’t trained yourself before Ramadan for the extra `ibadaat you wish to carry out, you will most likely not be able to sustain them. Trying to finish the Qur’an three or four times during Ramadan when you barely read a page a day before Ramadan or wanting to pray tahajjud (late night prayer) every single night when you’ve been struggling with waking up for fajr, will put too much physical and psychological pressure on you. This will most probably result in you slipping after the first week, losing hope and then giving up entirely. The Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) said: “The best deeds are those which are consistent even if they are small.”1
If you don’t want to suffer from lack of consistency this Ramadan and end up feeling guilty about it, then be realistic in your expectations. Stick to a few `ibadaat that you know you will be able to perform and be consistent with them. For example, if you decide to complete the Qur’an only once during the month and pray only two rak`aat (units) tahajjud every night, and actually sustain this throughout the entire month, it will be much greater in the eyes of Allah (swt) than if you put pressure on yourself to do more `ibadaat than you can handle and then find you cannot follow through with them.
3. Don’t Eat Too Much at Iftar
Ramadan is a month of cleansing — cleansing of our souls and body. Fasting allows us to feel a little of the hunger pangs that poor people feel; and gives our overworked digestive system a break from continuous digestion. Unfortunately, it has become very common for Muslims to eat so much food at iftar (the meal after sundown that breaks the fast) time and late into the night that they often find that they have gained weight by the end of the month. If you think about it, gaining weight defies the whole purpose of fasting. Instead of detoxing, we end up toxing; and instead of feeling hungry, we end up waking up the next morning feeling bloated and uncomfortable.
The mistake a lot of Muslims often fall into during Ramadan is making so many different kinds of foods and eating them. While the delicious, unhealthy fried food may be very tempting after a long day of fasting, it will just makes us lazy, sleepy and will most definitely result in an unproductive night. We may even be too tired to pray taraweeh (the night prayer offered in Ramadan) after a heavy meal. Iftar should be kept simple, balanced and healthy. Instead of relying mainly on empty carbohydrates that will fill up our stomach but give very little nutritional value to our body, we should choose foods that will nourish our body and provide us with sufficient energy for that night and the next day. If you’re smart with what you eat at iftar and follow the sunnah (prophetic behavior) of the Prophet ﷺ by filling only a third of your stomach with food, a third with water and allowing a third for air, you’ll immediately notice a difference in your energy level while fasting and after you break your fast insha’Allah.
4. Wake Up One Hour Before Fajr
The secret to a productive day is taking advantage of the times that Allah (swt) put barakah (blessing) in. The Prophet ﷺ taught us that there is barakah in the early hours of the morning. By spending the hour before fajr in prayer, recitation of Qur’an, and in the remembrance of Allah, you will get the spiritual nourishment your body requires for that day. Just like we need to eat breakfast every morning to give us energy, the spiritual nourishment our body needs is equally important. Without it, we will not have much barakah in our time and we will find ourselves getting tired easily and not being very productive. Additionally, having suhoor (pre-dawn meal) gives us barakah. The Prophet ﷺ said ‘Have suhoor, for in suhoor there is barakah.’2 Make sure you wake up every morning before fajr, pray at least two rak`aat, make some du`a’ (supplication), read a bit of Qur’an, and have a bite to eat (even if it’s just a few dates). If you try this, I guarantee you, with Allah’s will, that one hour in which you deprive yourself of sleep for Allah’s sake will grant you so much barakah that day. You’ll find that you will finish your work early and still have plenty of time on your hands for your `ibaadat.
5. Prepare for Eid Early
It isn’t by coincidence that the last ten days of Ramadan are the most blessed and contain the most reward. Allah (swt) purposely chose these days to be the most rewarding to test us because He knew that very few people will be able to maintain or increase their amount of worship towards the end of Ramadan. As Ramadan comes to an end, not only do we become tired physically (from continuous fasting), but we are also preparing for Eid – making Eid sweets, buying Eid clothes and even doing Eid cleaning. Therefore, we find ourselves struggling on those last ten days trying to finish our Eid preparations that we end up not having much time for our `ibadaat. This is why it is extremely important to prepare for Eid early if you don’t want to miss out on the treasures of the blessed last ten nights. The last thing you want to be doing on the 27th or 29th night of Ramadan, which are considered two of the most blessed nights of the month and contain a tremendous amount of reward, is spending your time at a shopping center frantically trying to find a pair of shoes to match your Eid outfit or making those last minute Eid sweets. If you prepare for Eid early (preferably even before Ramadan), you will be able to utilize your time in those last ten days in prayer, recitation of Qur’an, remembrance of Allah (swt) and doing good deeds.
6. Make Du`a’ for Others
We often get excited before Ramadan as we know that the time Allah (swt) will insha’Allah answer our prayers is just around the corner. Some of us even memorize special du`a’ and prepare du`a’ lists well in advance. This is a wonderful thing to do of course, but if we want to increase the effectiveness of our du`a’, we should make du`a’ for others. The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Whenever you make a supplication for another believer and he is not present, an angel will say ‘and same to you.’3 When we make du`a’ for our brother or sister in Islam, we are basically hitting two birds with one stone – praying for others and ourselves.
Due to the difficult time the Islamic ummah (community) is going through at the moment, let’s all plan to make a great deal of du`a’ this Ramadan for our brothers and sisters who are suffering in Libya, Syria, Palestine, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and all the other Muslim countries. Choose times in which du`a’ are answered, such as the last third of the night and when you break your fast, to make the du`a’ with all sincerity and a wakeful heart. Allah (swt) does answer the prayers of those who supplicate him. However, the key to receiving an answer to your prayer is to be sincere in your du`a’ , consistent, and patient. May Allah (swt) answer all our prayers this Ramadan. Ameen.
7. Use Ramadan as an Opportunity to Purify Your Soul
Fasting is not only about abstaining from food and drink but it is also about abstaining from anger, backbiting, jealousy, greed, thinking ill of people; and all the other diseases of the heart. Purification of the soul from the illnesses of the heart is not an easy task and the person who is able to free him/herself from these unhealthy qualities is truly the successful one. Allah (swt) says:
“And [by] the soul and He who proportioned it; And inspired it [with discernment of] its wickedness and righteousness, he has succeeded who purifies it.” (Qur’an, 91:7-9)
We all suffer from the constant annoying whispers of the shaytan (devil) that just won’t go away, thus making the task of purification even more difficult. For this reason, the blessed month of Ramadan is an ideal time to work on purifying our souls. Not only does Allah (swt) lock away all those evil shayateen (devils) during the entire month; but fasting in itself is a form of purification. Fasting softens our hearts, weakens our human desires and instills in us the pleasant qualities of patience and will-power. Unlike the normal days of the year, we feel more inclined to do righteous deeds and to keep away from committing sins. This Ramadan, let us all choose one unwanted quality about ourselves that we wish to change and make a conscious effort to purify ourselves of it
8. Constantly Monitor Your Intentions
The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘The deeds are considered by their intentions, and a person will get the reward according to his intentions.’4 We usually make an intention before we perform good deeds such as fasting or giving sadaqah (charity). However, we often tend to forget to make an intention for the little everyday tasks we normally do. If you really want your hasanat (reward from good deeds) to soar during Ramadan, make a sincere intention for every little task you perform. For instance, if you’re cooking iftar for your family, make the intention that the time you spend in the kitchen cooking in order to feed your fasting family is to please Allah (swt). If you smile at a stranger in the street, make the intention that you are doing it because smiling at others is considered a form of charity, as the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘When you smile in your brother’s face, it is charity.’5 Even if you get into bed early, make the intention that you are doing this in order to be able to wake up early to pray tahajjud and have suhoor. Subhan’Allah (glory be to God), when we make a sincere intention before performing these normal everyday tasks, they transform into `ibadaat and we get rewarded for them — and the reward we get for doing good deeds in Ramadan is multiplied. Imagine the amount of reward we can get simply for sleeping — something everyone enjoys doing! Allah (swt) truly is merciful to His creation.
However, we must keep in mind that sometimes our initial intentions may be sincere but very slowly, due to the tricks of the shaytaan or our nafs (lower self), our intentions begin to change and aren’t so sincere anymore. This is why it is very important to constantly monitor our intentions and check before we perform any good deed to see whether we are doing it purely for the sake of Allah (swt) or to please other people. If you feel that the good deed you’re doing is to impress others, make a conscious effort to renew your intention. If you’re intention is pure and sincere, then Allah (swt) will make performing the good deed easy on you and you will be rewarded for it tremendously insha’Allah.
Ramadan comes once a year, and when it leaves us we don’t know if we will live to see the next one, so let us strive to make the most of this Ramadan. May Allah (swt) grant us all a Ramadan full of barakah and blessings. Ameen.