5 ways to make this Ramadan extraordinary!
Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu,
My dear friends and students,
Welcome to our long-lost friend: Ramadan. How we have missed the days of self-restraint and the nights of mercy and delight! After eleven months of sinning, we now have the opportunity to avail ourselves of a month of mercy and forgiveness. For those whose duas have not been answered, the month of answered duas has arrived. For those who have drifted away from the soothing night prayer, or who have never achieved it, the month of the blessed taraweeh has arrived. Welcome to our Lord's mercy: the month of Ramadan. No doubt each and every one of us approaches Ramadan with a special excitement. Alas for many of us, however: the excitement is met with fear and dread instead.
Will this Ramadan be like the previous ones where I failed to truly take full advantage and mend my ways?
Will this Ramadan only demonstrate to me how far away from Allah I truly am?
Will it be yet another month that passes by without my taking full advantage of it?
If you are feeling this way, know that you are not alone. Many of us feel this way and do not know how to tackle it. As a result, the fear and dread are enough for us to avoid setting new goals and higher aspirations for this month. As a result, we find ourselves at the end of the month in the situation of having failed to benefit from this opportunity and languishing in sorrow at the thought that we will never improve.
I too used to get these whispers and thoughts in my mind. However, I overcame these thoughts with the help of Allah. Here are five things that I have done to tackle these "Ramadan blues". Let me share them with you; perhaps the suggestions may benefit you, and help you to overlook the past and focus on the future.
Good thoughts about Allah: I remind myself that my Lord is most Generous and Kind. He loves me sincerely. The proof is that even when I disobey Him He still provides for me. That is why He is giving me yet another Ramadan; yet another opportunity to get closer to Him again. He loves to forgive, and His best friends are those who seek His forgiveness the most. He has brought me to another Ramadan so that I can have yet another chance at Laylatul Qadr, and yet another chance to make my duas accepted at the time of iftar, and yet another chance to do Hajj with Rasul-Allah (sall-Allahu 'alaihi wa sallam) by doing umrah in this month. He has brought me to Ramadan to sooth the sorrows in my heart with His remembrance, and for me to be reminded of the nights in my grave by the solitude of i'tikaaf; by seeing how it feels to be alone with Him in the mosque. He wants me to lighten the load on my mind, so that is why He has given me the month of the Qur'an: so that I can relive the amazing Word of my Rabb (Lord and Master). The salaf (pious predecessors) would beg Allah for another opportunity for Ramadan, so how fortunate I am that He has given me this chance once again. How fortunate I am that He has given me the chance to know when this month is, so that I can take advantage of it. How fortunate I am that He has given me the yearning in my heart to meet my Lord in this month - and I know that the one who loves to meet His Lord, Allah subhaanahu wa ta'ala also loves to meet him.
Forget the past and focus on the future: I remind myself that past deeds are just that; a matter of the past. I live for the future, not the past. The past will be forgiven insha'Allah if I can mend the future. My concern should be the next deed that I do, because Allah loves to forgive; so I can have every confidence that He will forgive the past because I have nothing but regret for my past sins. The most important consideration for me is what sort of amends I make now. I remind myself of what Imam Ibnul-Qayyim (rahimahu-Allah) said in his Nooniyyah:
By Allah I am not afraid of my past sins,
For indeed they are upon the path of repentance and forgiveness;
Rather my real concern is that [in the next deed] this heart
Might cease to act upon revelation and upon the noble Qur'an.
Evaluate previous attempts in order to plan a strategy to make it work this time: I remember that it is illogical to think that my future chances of success are a reflection of my failures in the past. My past inabilities only show me what to do better this time so that I can increase my chances this time around. So if I tried to pray taraweeh every night but failed, I should look back at what happened in order to learn lessons from those failures. Was it that the Imam's recitation was not good? If so, then let me try to find a mosque to go to whose Imam recites better. If I failed to complete reciting the whole Qur'an last year, let me look at why that was the case and how I can change it. Can I put up reminders to read the Qur'an, or shall I buy a few more copies of the Qur'an and put them in more convenient places, such as one in my car, another in my briefcase and another on my table, so that I have a mushaf always on hand? If I missed getting up for fajr last Ramadan, why did it happen and how can I change it? Perhaps I should buy more alarm clocks, so let me go to the store right now. Perhaps I should SMS my friends to start a fajr prayer-calling group so that each day one of us is responsible for waking the others up. Perhaps I should make my suhur my heaviest meal so that my body feels hungry at suhur-time and so I get up more easily.
Reward, challenge and penalise myself: I can plan and prepare to reward myself if I finish this Ramadan satisfactorily. So I tell myself that if I can make myself pray all my prayers at the earliest time this Ramadan and recite the Qur'an five times this month, then I will buy myself a new laptop; if I can recite it ten times then I will go away with my family for a holiday, or some other significant reward that I know I would definitely like to treat myself with. I warn myself that if I fail to at least recite the Qur'an five times in this month, then I will donate a thousand dollars to charity. I remind myself that even Allah's Messenger sall-Allahu 'alaihi wa sallam used to give worldly rewards to those who excelled in battle: e.g. half the war-booty from the raids to the Muslim knights who had taken part in the raid; he (sall-Allahu 'alaihi wa sallam) would consider it a great sin upon the one who fails to join the obligatory battle. In the same spirit of reward, challenge and penalty, I would do this for my children and my wife as well by helping them with a reward if they do something extraordinary this month, and a penalty if they did not even do the minimum extra level. In this way I can give them an added incentive to do good in this limited time of Ramadan. I remind myself that ultimately we must do it for Allah and never for a physical prize, but associating an emotional desire with an action and fear of a punishment at the non-performance of it will cause that action to be foremost in the subconscious part of my mind. I remind myself that the worst thing about not making this Ramadan special is going to be something worse than the penalty I have stipulated. It will be the disappointment of a Ramadan wasted, and the risk of Allah's wrath.
Create peer-pressure and responsibility: I remind myself that if I make my friends and family aware of some of my goals, then they might help me. So I share some of my goals with them, ensuring that I am doing it to engage their help in performing it, not in a spirit of boasting. I hope that this will give me added support and encouragement to ensure that they help me in achieving the good things I have set out to do. If they do not help, at the very least they should not mind when I excuse myself from their service or company in order to spend some time on working towards my goal.
I hope that some or all of these things will help you to look upon this Ramadan with a fresh outlook. Make lots of dua to Allah that this Ramadan will be special for you, for your family, and for the Ummah of our beloved sall-Allahu 'alaihi wa sallam. I am interested in hearing from you if you have other things that you do to focus positively at the advent of another Ramadan.
Jazaakumullahulkhair and my duas for you and your family for a fantastic and blessed Ramadan, insha'Allah;
wassalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu,
AlKauthar Institute and Mercy Mission World