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By the grace and mercy of Allah, the blessed month of Ramadan is here with us once again. Muslims worldwide are going to commence fasting in this sacred month, which is in fulfillment of one of the five pillars in Islam.
In my humble knowledge, I would like to highlight on how Muslims should prepare to welcome this blessed occasion, and how we are expected to comport ourselves as fasting Muslims in the Holy month of Ramadan so that we will achieve our ultimate goal of pleasing Allah and have His blessings. This is because it is reported in Al Bukhari that the Prophet said:
"Allah said, ‘All the deeds of Adam's sons (people) are for them, except fasting which is for Me, and I will give the reward for it."
Ramadan is a spiritual journey for the believer. For the whole month, he travels to get nearer to Allah. On the way he will pass many obstacles and diversions which may hinder and slow his passage. To make sure that his journey is swift and progressive, he needs many items. The following are some of the necessary items for a believer's trip towards Allah.
Muslims should have an attitude of anticipation and enthusiasm towards Ramadan. A believer should look forward to the month of Ramadan with great ecstasy and eagerness. He should enjoy the beauty of spirit that Ramadan begins with, the warmth of carrying out the orders of Allah, the hope of achieving His pleasure, forgiveness and the happiness at being able to obey the commands of Allah. Muslims should be happy when the month arrives and sad when it departs because Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) said:
"When the first night of Ramadan comes, the devils and the rebellious jinn are chained, the gates of Hell are locked and not one of them is opened; the gates of Paradise are opened and not one of them is locked; and a crier calls, 'You who desire what is good, come forward, and you who desire evil, refrain. Some are freed from Hell by Allah, and that happens every night." (Tirmidhi).
Further, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said; Ramadan is a month whose beginning is mercy, whose middle is forgiveness, and whose end is redemption from the Fire.
Believers are expected to devise flexible time and schedule while fasting. Ramadan requires that we set aside more time than normal for worship and prayers. A Muslim should plan his time in such a way that in Ramadan he is not overwhelmed by the demands of the world. He lessens work if possible and cuts down on activities which can be put to a halt for a little while, so that he may have enough time to worship Allah and reap the full benefit and blessings in Ramadan.
Unfortunately, many Muslims come in to this month and they are as a companion of the Prophet, (peace be upon him), said:
"Let it not be that the day that you fast and the day that you break fast be equal." Meaning, one's behavior, attitude and outlook are the same whether one fasts or not, i.e. fasting has no effect upon that person, or the person has not benefited from fasting.
Allah the Almighty says: "Ramadan is the month during which the Qur'an was revealed, providing guidance for the people, clear teachings, and the statute book. Those of you who witness this month shall fast therein. Those who are ill or traveling may substitute the same number of other days. GOD wishes for you convenience, not hardship, that you may fulfill your obligations, and to glorify GOD for guiding you, and to express your appreciation". [Qur'an chapter 2: verse 185].
Since the Holy Qur'an was revealed in the month of Ramadan, as witnessed in the above quotation, it is just appropriate that Muslims should strive to recite the Holy Book much more than they do in other months. Reciting the Quran regularly is an important part of worship in Ramadan. One point to note here is that, the reciter should fully understand what he is reading since there is more blessing in striving to understand the words of Allah and act upon them.
Another benefit of understanding and pondering on the meaning of the Qur'an is that, it will be a proof for the believer to Allah and an intercessor for him on the Day of Reckoning. This important point therefore requires a believer who does not have knowledge of the Arabic language in which the Qur'an is written to make sure he has a translation of the Quran in a language he best understands so that he could reap the mentioned benefits and many more others which Allah in his mercy will bestow on him. Undoubtedly, Allah's blessings and rewards will not be equal for the one who just reads the Qur'an without understanding it and the one who reads, understands it and benefit himself with it.
Muslims are supposed to be more charitable during the blessed month of Ramadan. Ibn `Abaas said, "The Prophet (may Allah send His blessing and peace upon him) was the most charitable amongst the people, and he used to be more so in the month of Ramadan when archangel Jibreel used to meet him on every night of Ramadan till the end of the month…" (al-Bukhari).
Ramadan is the best time to donate in the way of Allah. To feed the hungry or give to the needy is an act of great reward, especially during the holy month. A determination to avoid sins. The Prophet said : "He who gives food for a fasting person to break his fast, he will receive the same reward as him, without nothing being reduced from the fasting person’s reward." (at-Tirmidhee).
Before and during Ramadan, Muslims should consciously prepare themselves of a war against sins. Fasting is not mere abstinence from food and drink, as we have heard many times. It is also staying away from all sins. While fasting, all the organs of the body fast, and refrain from doing anything which would displease Allah. This conscious preparation of a war against sins is a very necessary item in the baggage of a believer in his journey towards Allah.
It is not uncommon knowledge that at certain times during the year, vendors embark on promotional sales of items at their stores where variety of items can be bought at relatively inexpensive prices. An examination of the Holy Quran and hadith reveals that Allah offers Paradise 'for sale' during the holy month of Ramadan through His infinite mercy.
This blessed month is a great opportunity for goodness, blessing, worship, and obedience of Allah. It is a great month, a noble season, a month in which rewards for good deeds are multiplied and in which committing bad deeds is more serious than at other times. The gates of Paradise are opened and the gates of Hell are shut, and the sinners’ repentance to Allah is accepted.
Muslims should therefore prepare very well to 'buy' Jannah i.e. paradise by performing many good deeds and shying away from every bad deed no matter how small it may be. Muslims should not look at how small their sins are, especially during Ramadan but they should look at how great is the one whom they are disobeying. They should not let Allah be the one whom they care the least about of all those who are watching them as they begin Ramadan. Muslim should endeavour to keep away from sin, because the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: 'When any of you is fasting, let him not commit sin' (Reported by al-Bukhari).
Ramadan is also a month of struggle and sacrifice during which Muslims need to persevere against their nafs i.e. self desire, and earn the blessed fruits of this month. If Muslims fail to overpower the nafs throughout the year, they need to try their utmost during Ramadan when the rewards are so great and Allah’s mercy ever so abundant. This is the month for renewing our commitment and re-establishing our relationship with our Creator.
The blessed Ramadan month is a period when we have to take stock of ourselves as Muslims. As believers, we have to take stock of ourselves during Ramadan by recognizing our shortcomings in living up to the two Shahadahs (Testimonies of Faith, i.e., there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah), or our shortcomings in fulfilling our duties, or in not keeping away from the desires and doubts that we may have fallen into.
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “The smart man is the one who takes stock of himself and strives to do that which will benefit him after death, and the helpless one is the one who follows his own whims and desires and engages in wishful thinking, (assuming that Allah will forgive him regardless of what he does and that he does not need to strive to good deeds).” (Reported by Al-Bukhari)
Muslims should appreciate the fact that fasting is a shield for them, which protects them from Shaytan and Allah's punishment. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said; 'It (fasting) is a protection and a strong fortress that keeps a believer safe from the Fire'. (Reported by Ahmad). In another narration, He said; 'Whoever fasts one day for the sake of Allah, Allah will remove his face seventy years distance from the Fire'. (Reported by Muslim).
However, one needs to make sure the 'shield' is not damaged in any way. Otherwise it will not be effective in doing its job. The actions that damage this shield and render it useless are sins like backbiting, lying, evil glance, swearing, nonsensical conversation, arguments, slander, haram sustenance, and every other evil while fasting. The Prophet said, "Whoever does not give up false statements (i.e. telling lies), and evil deeds, and speaking bad words to others, Allah is not in need of his (fasting) leaving his food and drink" (Bukhari).
A Muslim should make sure that his food, his drink and his clothing are from halal means, in order that his actions be accepted, and his supplications answered. The believer should also beware of observing the halal while fasting but breaking his fast with the haram.
I think justice could be done to this topic if a little analogy is drawn between how businessmen, students and other professionals prepare themselves when they are approaching their respective bumper seasons and how Muslims should comport themselves just before and during the blessed month of Ramadan.
Businessmen, vendors, grocers, and all sales professionals have a specific season that they prepare and work hard for. When their season for sales arrives, they set themselves aside, excuse themselves from all non-essential engagements and focus solely on the season at hand. Moreover, they pay less attention to eating and sleeping properly because they remain so absorbed in their trade and stay focused on how to take advantage of their particular season in the best manner. These people value this time and embrace hard work because their chance to make huge profits comes only once a year, after which they know they can afford to relax a little.
The same can be said about students when examination season is approaching. We see a drastic change in the lives of serious students when the examination time sets in. Some of them are seen totally cut off from nearly all habitual or societal activities and acquaintances. Before or during examination seasons, serious students adopt lots of strategies like drinking coffee, submerging their feet in buckets of water, chewing cola nuts, etc just to prevent them from sleeping so that they could have much time to focus on their books and make sure that they pass their impending exams with distinction.
Likewise, the holy month of Ramadan is a season for righteousness for all those who wish to draw nearer to Allah and have their sins forgiven. The fasts of such people who remain restless for Allah’s sake are not only limited to abstinence from food and drink, but their eyes, tongues and all other parts of their body also remain in a state of fasting.
Just like how businessmen and students maximize their preparation and become more focused, vigilant and committed before and during their seasons as above analogized, Muslims are expected to endeavour and put in more effort to make best use of the days of the Ramadan month. Muslims are not expected to lead regular life styles by going about their normal and habitual routines without apportioning any time to focus on fasting and executing special tasks like the ones aforementioned and others which are in
conformity with fasting and Islam and would surly fetch them Allah's blessings and rewards.
The Prophet said, "Paradise has eight gates, and one of them is called Ar-Raiyan through which none will enter but those who observe fasting." (Bukhari).
Ramadan is definitely an amazing month. There is a flow of blessings and rewards from Allah to those who truly want to reap the full benefits from these thirty days. Probably the best thing about Ramadan is the fact that each and every action is done truly for Allah and each serves to strengthen our faith in Him. Ramadan is not just a month in which we only refrain from food and drink for a few hours. It is a chance to make up for the time lost around the year in other work and revert to Allah, beg forgiveness for the sins done around the year, and finally, a chance to better the life awaiting us in the Hereafter.
The sacred month is a very special time for Muslims, and if the lessons learned during Ramadan, whether in terms of dietary intake or righteousness, are carried on after Ramadan, it is beneficial for one’s entire life. The feelings and lessons we experience during Ramadan should stay with us throughout the year.
In the Qur'an, Muslims are commanded to fast so that they may "learn self-restraint" (Qur'an 2:183). This restraint and devotion is especially felt during Ramadan, but we all must strive to make the feelings and attitudes stay with us during our "normal" lives. That is the true goal and test of Ramadan.
May Allah help us all to make every fast this Ramadan a shield in the Hereafter and an intercessor in the grave. May Allah not make us one of those who do not get anything from their fasts except for hunger and thirst. May Allah accept our fasting, forgive our sins, and guide us all to the Straight Path. May Allah bless us all during Ramadan, and throughout the year, with His forgiveness, mercy, peace, and bring us all closer to Him and to each other. May Allah further guide us towards making this Ramadan a source for gathering numerous blessings and making it possible for us to be among those who would be alive and welcome the next Ramadan. Ameen.
The author; ALHAJI IBRAHIM YAHAYA – YABRE, is a senior English Lecturer at Academic British Centre, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He was formerly the Headmaster of Nana Khadijah Islamic Girls' Secondary School, In Agona Swedru, Ghana.
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