“I won’t eat or drink from dawn to dusk, for the entire month.”
This is the most basic declaration of what Ramadan is all about. But there is so much more to this Holy Month. What it means, what has been ordained, what the blessings are like, and how Heaven opens up its doors to us.
Ramadan indicates an opportunity for a spiritual upgrade, a chance for betterment, to increase good deeds and to jointly shun those that do not benefit us, and one of the best opportunities to strengthen our relationship with God.
Ramadan isn’t just about abstaining from food and drink from dawn to dusk and if it is seen as just a daily fast for 29 or 30 days, it can become one that is cumbersome and done without much spiritual zeal. Here are ways to achieve a spiritual boost as the month of Ramadan begins to reel in.
Study Ramadan 101
The first spiritual step in preparing for Ramadan is to start studying it. It’s not just about reading up on Ramadan (which is also necessary), but to understand and reflect upon the meaning of the Quranic injunctions and the Hadith that mentions the importance of Ramadan.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) announced on the last day of Sha`ban:
"Oh people! A great month has come over you; a blessed month; a month in which is a night better than a thousand months; a month in which Allah has made it compulsory upon you to fast by day, and voluntary to pray by night. Whoever draws nearer (to Allah) by performing any of the (optional) good deeds in this month shall receive the same reward as performing an obligatory deed at any other time, and whoever discharges an obligatory deed in this month shall receive the reward of performing seventy obligations at any other time." (Al-Albani)
Prophet Muhammad’s prelude to Ramadan is an eye opener as to why Ramadan is so important. As believers, we are obliged not to merely fast through the month and continue our lives as if it were any other month, but to understand why Ramadan is singled out as an intrinsically Holy month and how the rewards will be heightened over and above whatever has been prescribed throughout the other months. Savoring the blessings of Ramadan allows us to transit into the month with spiritual zeal and excitement rather than dawdling through “obligatory” worship without understanding fully how they benefit our faith.
Step Up on the Good Deeds
There is so much mention about good deeds during the month of Ramadan and pleasing God with an open heart. But there is no time like the present to step up on good deeds in order to cultivate good habits as a prelude to Ramadan. The more good deeds a person engages in, the closer God guides him/her towards the right path, and the good deeds become compounded as Ramadan reels in.
"In Ramadan, Allah looks at your competition (in good deeds), and boasts about you to His angels. So show Allah goodness from yourselves, for the unfortunate one is he who is deprived in (this month) of the mercy of Allah, the Mighty, the Exalted." (Al-Mundhiri)
With more blessings during the month, sincerity coupled with determination to please God, will open a wingspan of Mercy as well as hearts that will continue to accept the Quran.
Take the Opportunity to Perfect Your Faith
In narrations by Prophet Muhammad, Ramadan was a good month to reestablish a strong sense of tawheed (oneness of God). Whether it was about the month, or the Quran, or the moon, or the obligatory fast, Prophet Muhammad would always link it back to the oneness of God and how God had created and decreed all of the above.
When Prophet Muhammad saw the crescent, he used to say:
"Oh Allah! Cause it to appear over us with prosperity, faith (Iman), security and Islam. (Then to the moon): My Lord and your Lord is Allah." (Al-Albani)
Qatadah said that he was informed that Prophet Muhammad used to say when seeing the crescent:
"A crescent of goodness and orientation, a crescent of goodness and orientation, a crescent of goodness and orientation. (To the moon): I believe in Allah who created you." (Three times), and then he would say: Praise be to Allah who has taken away such- and-such month and brought such-and-such month." (Abu Dawud)
In relation to this, a great spiritual step would be to contemplate the oneness of God by reflecting on all of the creations of God how He is the Master of the universes; how God is to be worshiped and worshiped alone in the way prescribed in the Quran and the Sunnah, and reflect upon His 99 Attributes.
Emulate the Generosity of Prophet Muhammad
"Prophet Muhammad was the most generous of all people, and he used to reach the peak in generosity in the month of Ramadan. Prophet Muhammad was the most generous person, even more generous than the strong uncontrollable wind (in readiness and haste to do charitable deeds)." (Al-Bukhari)
Ramadan is a great time for charitable deeds, in order to emulate Prophet Muhammad’s generosity. Engaging in charity helps wash away sins by cleansing earnings and mitigates any form of arrogance (in one’s heart) as one is able to relate to those who are less fortunate. By engaging in charitable deeds as a prelude to Ramadan, there is greater chance that giving to charity during Ramadan will also become easier as charity if cultivated even before Ramadan arrives. Reminding oneself of God’s Mercy and the Prophet’s generosity is a great way to continue in the path of God and to make the best of Ramadan.
Take Time to Make Tawbah
There is nothing like spiritual readiness than a clean heart that is open to the blessings of God as the doors of Paradise are open to the good deeds of believers. Repenting for one’s sins before Ramadan will make the Holy month that more meaningful, especially when the opportunities for repentance are better then. Asking for forgiveness from God on a daily basis reminds how important God is, and how fragile our lives are. It will also act as a basis that moves into an important continuum throughout Ramadan.
Abu Hurairah narrated that Prophet Muhammad said:
"Whoever establishes prayers during the nights of Ramadan faithfully out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah's rewards (not for showing off), all his past sins will be forgiven." (Al-Bukhari)
The reason for repentance is that we can be unaware of our sins on a daily basis. So there is no time like the present to start cleansing our hearts in order to fully embrace the fasting month. It will also encourage us to constantly repent as Ramadan unfolds and keep our intentions clean and pure to engage in the obligatory fast and prayers and all complementary forms of worship throughout the month.
Start Reciting the Quran
Reciting the Quran helps us center ourselves on God’s presence and reminds us of the messages that God has sent us. Try to start reciting the Quran on a daily basis, even if it's just a page a day, as a little consistency goes a long way. During the month of the fast, you may have more time to concentrate on the Quran and that is also a great way to indulge in the blessings of Ramadan.
Zaid bin Thabit said, "We took the "Suhur" (the meal taken before dawn while fasting is observed) with the Prophet and then stood up for the (morning) prayer." I asked him how long the interval between the two (Suhur and prayer) was. He replied, 'The interval between the two was just sufficient to recite fifty to sixty Ayahs. (Al-Bukhari)
Imagine being able to recite fifty to sixty verses of the Quran during the short time frame. Surely these are the benefits of Ramadan and the same benefits may be reaped by believers who fast with sincerity.
Stepping up spirituality for Ramadan is a must for all Muslims as it will make the obligatory fast not only lightweight, but a pleasure for the believing Muslim. It takes a little effort and a lot of cleansing to get there, but with God’s guidance, we try to make the best of this Ramadan, just by taking time to work on our spiritual readiness.