1- Be different!
Many of us know that many things we do in Ramadan are incorrect like overeating and rushing through Taraweh, yet we still do them in order to fit in with our families and friends.
My first advice to you for the upcoming Ramadan is that we should not be afraid of being different and strange.
Ramadan is about getting closer to Allah and the first thing we can do to accomplish this is to prioritise His Pleasure above all else.
Be different! Focus on what matters! Don’t have just another cultural Ramadan!
2 – Understand the Maqaasid
One of the reasons many of us go through Ramadan ritually is because we do not understand the Maqaasid (goals, wisdoms and objectives) of the Month of Ramadan and the various acts of worship associated with it.
Ramadan is supposed to be an annual recharge of our Imaan, increase of our Taqwa and reconnection with Allah. We must make this our goal and shape our worship in Ramadan around achieving this goal.
This can be achieved through:
1. Fasting from sin and things that waste time
2. Praying the night prayer with concentration, understanding and connecting with Allah
3. Reciting the Qur’an with understanding and reflection and using it as an opportunity to reconnect with the Qur’an.
3- Set Your Goals…now!
Entering Ramadan without a plan for self-improvement usually means going through Ramadan without any solid changes. Start making your goals and plans from now.
These goals should be for self-improvement and should have a permanent impact on your life. Deciding to grow a beard or wear hijab in Ramadan with the intention to stop on Eid day is not a good goal. We should be honest with ourselves in setting goals for permanent improvement with no intention to revert to our previous state.
Some ideas of goals to set for Ramadan:
1. Give up a sinful habit that you’ve been having trouble letting go off
2. Start fulfilling an obligation that you’ve been neglecting
3. Add some recommended acts of worship to your daily habits
4. Complete reading or studying a specific book or course (perhaps in Tafseer) during the month
5. Improve your understanding of an area of Islam in which you are lacking
Each of us know best what areas require improvement in our own lives. Be honest with yourself and set goals that will help you end Ramadan on a higher level of Taqwa.
4- Fast from Sin
“Whoever does not abandon false speech and acting upon it, then Allah is not in need of him abandoning his food and drink.” [Reported by Al-Bukhari]
This Hadith speaks for itself. For some reason, we seem to think that we can gain an increase in Taqwa (the objective of fasting) by staying away from food and drink while indulging in all forms of sin.
Abstaining from food and drink is supposed to be a training in self-control which in turn is supposed to help us become more resistant towards the urge to sin.
Here are some common sins that seem to pop up during Ramadan:
1) Cigarette Iftaars – Opening your fast with a smoke is extremely disrespectful to the whole concept of fasting
2) Backbiting and gossiping to pass the time
3) Sleeping through Salah times so that Iftaar comes faster (skipping the second pillar of Islam to fulfill the fourth doesn’t make sense)
4) Losing one’s temper and blaming it on the fast (not a valid excuse)
5) Watching extra television to pass the time until Iftaar
Let’s do things differently this Ramadan, and make a firm plan to fast properly, which includes fasting from sin!
5- Have a light Suhoor
When it comes to Suhoor we see two extremes: Those who overeat and those who skip it altogether.
Overeating at Suhoor removes some of the blessings and benefits of the fast and turns it into a ritual sandwiched between two meals of overindulgence.
Skipping the Suhoor deprives one of the Barakah (blessings) of one of the most important times of the day. It is a time of the day in which supplications are accepted so why deprive yourself of it?
“Indeed it (the Suhoor) is blessing (Barakah) that Allah has given to you so do not leave it out.” (An-Nasa’i)
A good Suhoor should be like a combined breakfast of food and ibaadah; a nutritious meal that energizes you, accompanied by some Qur’anic recital, reflection, Dua or Qiyam Al-Layl and followed up with Fajr in the Masjid.
If we do this every morning of Ramadan, we will have a very spiritual experience, very different from the days we overate or skipped this blessed meal.
6- Have a light Iftaar
Breaking the fast after sunset is meant to be a spiritual experience. Sitting in the Masjid or with one’s family waiting for the Adhaan while making dua then opening with a few dates and some Zam Zam water before proceeding for Salah is a very enriching experience.
In many homes, Iftaar is a time of indulgence. Huge three course meals to “make up for skipping lunch” are sandwiched between gossip and missing or delaying the Maghrib prayer, completely destroying the spiritual value of the fast.
Make this Ramadan different and make the Iftaar beneficial by:
1. Engaging in acts of worship while waiting like reciting Qur’an, having a family Halaqa or making dua
2. Having a light Iftaar then proceeding for Maghrib Salah
3. Having a normal-sized meal after Maghrib Salah so you are not lazy and burping during Taraweh
Having Iftaar the right way really helps us experience the spiritual blessings of the month of Ramadan.
7- Focus on the Qur’anic Message
Many of us grew up with the cultural practice of reciting as many “khatams” of the Qur’an as we can in Ramadan without any understanding. These super-speed recitals are ritualized and against the very purpose of the Qur’an.
This year, slow down, recite less, recite with understanding and reflect on what you have recited and its application to your daily life. The results will be life-changing.
Try one of the following methods this Ramadan:
1. Read a Juz of the Qur’an a day with translation
2. Read a Tafseer book cover-to-cover
3. Follow a daily Tafseer lecture series online or in-person
4. Have a family Halaqa to discuss the verses recited that day and its application to your life.
“The month of Ramadan in which the Qur’an was revealed as a guidance for mankind…” (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:185)
8- Pray Taraweh Properly
Taraweh in most countries these days has been reduced to the following scenarios:
1) Superspeed taraweh without Khushoo or understanding
2) Debates all Ramadan long on 8 VS 20 Rakahs
3) Excuse to hang out outside the Masjid and sin (smoke, flirt, etc.)
In all of the above situations, the purpose of Taraweh is lost and many people leave empty not having benefiting at all.
Here are a few tips to make this year’s Taraweh more beneficial:
1) Choose the best Masjid to pray in, and if there isn’t any good one then pray at home or with a group of friends
2) Read the translation beforehand of some of the verses that will be recited that day
3) Ignore the debate on number of Rakahs and focus on the quality of your Salah and connection with Allah instead
4) During the Salah, if you find your mind drifting focus on reflecting on some of the verses that were recited and the lessons you can derive from it and apply to your lives
Remember its not about how much you prayed, but how deep was your connection with Allah when praying and how much did you benefit from it.