With Ramadan just around the corner, many of us are looking for ways to make sure that this will be the year we change, writes Nour Merza. With this in mind, here are ten ways to prepare yourself for Ramadan.
1. Make the right intention
Beginning right now, make an intention that this Ramadan will be a time of great spiritual effort and sincerity. To help turn that intention into reality, make checklists of both daily goals for Ramadan (read a section of Quran or a beneficial lecture every day, etc.) and goals for the overall month (visit a home for the elderly, invite two non-Muslim friends for a chance to experience iftar, etc.).
2. Prepare your body
Make sure you are up to par physically by adjusting the amount and quality of your food intake. Start by eliminating snacks and have smaller meals in the weeks leading up to Ramadan. Also reduce your caffeine intake so that the lack of your morning coffee or afternoon tea doesn’t debilitate you in the first few days of the holy month. Of course, if you’re fasting during the month of Sha’baan, you’re halfway there.
3. Review all medical situations before Ramadan
Make sure to get your medical business in order before Ramadan arrives. If you suffer from a particular illness, check with a doctor, preferably one who understands the importance of fasting, on whether fasting is a reasonable option for you. If you are taking medication, ask your doctor if you can take your doses during non-fasting hours instead of during the day. Also, check if there are options to take your medication via injection instead of orally, as in the Hanafi school injections do not break your fast.
4. Observe voluntary fasts
Voluntary (nafl) fasts are a great way to help prepare the mind, body and soul for Ramadan. If you can do it, follow the Prophetic sunna and fast the month of Shaaban, which comes just before Ramadan. If that proves too difficult, try to implement some of these other sunnas: fasting on Mondays and Thursdays, or fasting on the ‘white days’ of each Islamic month: the 13th, 14th and 15th.
5. Increase Quran recitation
Many people aim to do a complete reading of the Quran at least once during Ramadan. If you don’t have a habit of reading the Quran daily, take this as an opportunity to incorporate that habit into your life. This will enable you to read longer sections of the book during Ramadan. Even if doing a complete reading of the Quran during Ramadan is too difficult, making a habit of reading one page or even a few verses a day will bring many blessings during the holy month and afterwards, as the Prophet (pbuh) said: “The most beloved of actions to Allah are the most consistent ones, even if in little amount.”
6. Perform extra prayers
If you have no missed obligatory prayers to make up, start to pray voluntary sunna prayers to prepare yourself for the extra prayers that take place in Ramadan. If you do have missed obligatory prayers, use the time you would give to the sunna prayers to make some of them up. Don’t feel that you are missing out on the opportunity to do voluntary sunnas, because God says in the famous Hadith Jibreel, “My servant draws near to Me by nothing more beloved to Me than that which I have made obligatory on him.”
7. Give charity
Use the weeks leading up to Ramadan to increase your acts of charity, be that in the form of giving money to needy people or worthy causes. These could be anything from sponsoring a Syrian refugee family, to supporting scholars and students of sacred knowledge through SeekersHub’s #SpreadLight campaign. Giving charity is a way to purify your wealth, and you can enter the month of Ramadan in a greater state of purity. It also opens doors for great good in your life, for the Prophet (pbuh) has told us, “Allah says, ‘Spend, O son of Adam, you will also be spent on.’”
8. Engage in service (khidma)
Spend some time before Ramadan to find a local charity or community service opportunity to work with, whether it be in an Islamic environment or in the wider community. If you begin well before Ramadan starts, you will adjust to the environment before you begin fasting, so that you can explain to co-workers why you can’t join them for a coffee break or a meal.
9. Focus on your character
Imam al-Ghazali discusses the inner dimensions of the fast in his Revival of the Religious Sciences , which you can observe before Ramadan arrives. He mentioned that one must learn to fast with all the limbs, from all that harms the heart. You can, for example, avoid certain television shows to keep the eyes from seeing nudity, leave particular conversations to keep the ears from hearing foul language, and control the ego to keep the tongue from argument or backbiting. The inner fast is among the most important aspects of fasting Ramadan and is often more difficult than the physical fast from food, water and sexual relations, so the earlier you begin to practice this, the better.
10. Organize your life to minimize waste, overconsumption and the ills that come with this
One of the major concerns about how Muslims practice Ramadan today is the high level of overconsumption and waste that takes place during the holy month – a reality which is completely antithetical to the Prophetic tradition. Imam Zaid Shakir and others have spoken about ‘greening’ Ramadan as practiced today in the Muslim community, while Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad has suggested that Muslims use Ramadan to support ethical, fairtrade companies.
Imam Zaid’s mosque in Oakland, California offers a great model for doing this. With a little bit of extra organization and commitment, communal iftars are served on borrowed crockery and silverware (from friends, neighbors or a local Muslim restaurant) instead of their disposable variation. Washable handclothes are used instead of paper towels. The amount of trash saved by these actions – especially over the course of the month – is enormous, and embodies the Prophetic example of being, as the Quran describes, “a mercy to all the worlds.”