Ramadan (the 9th month in the Islamic Hijri calendar) is here again and more than a billion Muslims are gearing up to observe the various ibadat (worship) of this month. Although fasting is the primary highlight of this month, other Ibadat too, such as salat (prayers), Quran recitation, acts of charity, proactively striving for good deeds, etc., go hand in hand with fasting and will be the focus of everyone’s efforts.
As Muslims, the same Ibadat are at our disposal throughout the year. However, the many additional rewards associated with our worship during this month make the same Ibadat more potent. Even those with little faith and eeman in their hearts join the foray in an attempt to reinvigorate the Taqwa (piety) in their hearts, which is the primary objective of Ramadan1.
During Ramadan, Allah will be opening the gates of His mercy. He has reassured us of the immeasurable rewards of fasting that we can earn only if we rightly espouse the spirit of the month. In Ramadan, He chains the devils2 (that whisper in our heart inviting us to sins) so that we can focus on purifying our souls, which are frequently pushed toward sins. He has provided us one special night during this month, the worship in which is better than a thousand months (Quran: al-Qadar, 3). Allah has raised the reward of Umrah in Ramadan by making its reward equivalent to performing Hajj3. By providing Ifatar to a person who is fasting can get us the reward of feeding the fasting person along with the reward that we would have had for our own fasting4. He has also designated one specific gate in paradise (called ar-Rayyan) that will be used to enter paradise on the Day of Judgment only by those who had fasted5.
The list of potential rewards is quite long. However, it is noteworthy that despite all our fasting and praying, earning those rewards is not automatic and instead requires that that we appropriately engage ourselves (both physically and spiritually) in ways that Allah and His prophet have taught us. The following covers some of those topics.
1) Ensure that your fasting is only for Allah
A critical prerequisite for starting Ramadan and its Ibadat requires that we first purify our intentions. One shouldn’t fast, for example, because it is healthy to do so, or to “go with the flow.” While fasting has numerous virtues and benefits, the primary motivation of fasting should be solely to seek Allah’s pleasure. So, if your intention is tainted with other ulterior motives or you aren’t clear on your intentions, you risk foregoing the rewards of your worship. In a well known hadith the prophet had highlighted the conditions for fasting to be accepted by saying6: “Whoever fasts Ramadan out of faith and in the hope of reward, his previous sins will be forgiven.” “Out of faith” in this context refers to ensuring that your worship is solely for Allah. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said7: “Allah does not accept any deed except that which is done only for Him and to seek His Countenance.” The Prophet also said (in part of a hadith)8: “Allah, may He be blessed and exalted, says: ‘…he who does an action for someone else’s sake as well as Mine will have that action renounced by Me to him whom he associated with Me’”.
Let’s, therefore, remind ourselves that for our fasting to be accepted, it should be solely for the sake of Allah. Anything less risks non-acceptance.
2) Have the eagerness to get your fasts and worship accepted
Referring back to the popular hadith quoted earlier, the second condition for fasts being accepted (and sins forgiven) is the “hope of reward.” It is difficult to hope and wish for something without recognizing its value. So, if we indeed recognized the value of Ramadan and fasting and the associated rewards, then we should feel the eagerness in our hearts for our fasts and worships to be accepted.
Consider that the sahaba and the salaf would be so eager to have their Ibadah accepted that they would pray for up to 6 months after the completion of Ramadan asking Allah to accept their fasts and worships. Using the same standards and recalling last year’s Ramadan, make an assessment of how your heart measured up in terms of possessing that eagerness. If it is nowhere close, then it raises some questions about the value that you place on the rewards of Ramadan in your heart. After all, if the month-long worship and Ibadah that you poured in your heart failed to overwhelm you spiritually, then it’s time to correct your intentions and recognize the value of fasting before you lose that opportunity this year again. Consider Abu’l-Darda’s eagerness about the acceptance of his Ibadah when he said9: “To be certain that Allah would accept just one prayer from me would be dearer to me than the world and everything in it, for Allah says: ‘Verily, Allah accepts only from those who are al-muttaqoon (the pious)’ [al-Maa’idah 5:27].”
Remember, the eagerness for the acceptance of your worship, especially in Ramadan, is a condition for the acceptance of your worship. You can cultivate that eagerness in your heart by reminding yourself about the rewards, virtues, and benefits of Ramadan.
3) Engage intently in worship during Ramadan
This Ramadan, many of us will get involved in various Ibadat such as prayers, Quran recitation, and so on. However, more than just “busying yourself” with various Ibadat, you need to actively engage your heart to make your ibadah more meaningful. It’s no secret that a normal day’s schedule in Ramadan fills up faster than on the usual days. The worldly demands of our time along with an increase in religious activities can pack one’s day’s schedule more than on other days. However, when faced with such packed schedules and as we move from one activity to the other, we tend to merely focus on seeing those activities to completion rather than engaging more intently in those acts of worship. When we do so, we leave the spirituality out of those acts of worship and merely exercise empty rituals. As the prophet said10, “Some who fast obtain nothing from it but hunger and thirst.”
Let’s, therefore, ensure that all our acts of Ibadah during Ramadan are purposeful, absorbing, given due time, and engage our hearts to the fullest. It would indeed be a big loss if we merely earned hunger, thirst, and sleeplessness from our actions at the end of the month!
4) Renewed attitude about rewards and sins
Many of us hear about hasanat (rewards) associated with good deeds without realizing their redeeming value. The prophet said11, ‘Do not look down on any act of goodness, even if it is just emptying your bucket into the vessel of one who wants to drink, or speaking to your brother with a cheerful expression’”. Similarly, we hear about the ill effects of sins without truly comprehending how they chip away at our spiritual and worldly fortunes. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said12: “Beware of sins that are seen as insignificant, for they will keep accumulating until they destroy a man”.
Before we step into this year’s Ramadan, therefore, we should realize that hasanat (rewards) and sins are the basic currencies that will decide our fate in this life and the hereafter. The tilt of the scale that will weigh our rewards and sins on the Day of Judgment will determine our final abode. A change of attitude about this simple principle alone can go a long way in propelling our behaviors in the right direction. Ibn Mas’ood described the attitude of the believer and of the hypocrite as follows13: “The believer sees his sins as if he were sitting beneath a mountain which he fears will fall on him, whilst the sinner sees his sins as if it were a fly passing his nose and he says such-and-such to it” – i.e., he shoos it away with his hand.
Let’s, therefore, direct all our efforts to earn as many hasanat as possible and to stay away from sins. Ramadan provides us a chance of multiplied hasanat but the multiplication is all tied to the sincerity of our worships and the intensity with which we are eager to earn those rewards and erase our sins.
5) Shy away from bad practices
The spirit of the month of Ramadan is not alien to most Muslims. However, many of us erroneously engage in practices that tend to dilute the spirit of the blessed month thus preventing us from capitalizing on the month’s blessings. For example, many make Ramadan the focal point of social events rather than focusing on the worship and Ibadah. Others know Ramadan because of the opportunity to feast on a variety of meals and excessively indulging in eating and drinking. There are others who tend to get lax about the obligatory prayers (e.g. Fajr) for the sake of optional prayers such as Taraweeh and other optional Ibadahs.
Let’s remind ourselves that such practices can divert our focus thus chipping away at our spiritual energies robbing us in turn of the maximum rewards that we could potentially attain in this month. Let’s remind ourselves that since such practices were never the focus of the prophet, the sahaba, or any of their pious followers, they shouldn’t be ours either.
With Ramadan offering a unique opportunity to earn Allah’s pleasure, what more can you ask for and what could be said about you if you didn’t make use of this opportunity? Remember that many who were with us during last year’s Ramadan didn’t live long enough to see this year’s Ramadan. As none of us knows if we would live to see next year’s Ramadan, why not make the most of it now before it is too late? Ensure that you capture as many moments of this month as you can because every moment does count. The Prophet said14: “In every day and every night, during the month of Ramadan, there are people to whom Allah grants freedom from the Fire, and there is for every Muslim a supplication which he can make and will be granted”.
Finally, during the coming month, as you plead your case to Allah to forgive your sins and to fulfill your needs, don’t forget the millions of needy Muslims around the world who are in states of distress far worse than any of us can imagine. Thousands of them die of hunger and thirst daily, while others lack the basic amenities of life, and don’t have even the least of the opportunities that many of us are blessed with. As Ramadan provides us the promise of Allah’s increased mercy, let’s plead their case also to Him.
May all of you have a blessed Ramadan of 2011!
– The IqraSense.com Blogger
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