Ramadan is the best time of year, it's truly one of the most beautiful gifts Allah (S) has given us. Allah (S) says in the Quran, "Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, so that you many learn piety and righteousness” (2:183). When Ramadan enters, the gates of Paradise are opened, the gates of Hellfire are closed and the devils are chained (Hadith Muslim). The rewards in Ramadan are plentiful and most of all, if we fast out of sincere faith and in the hopes of receiving reward, all our past sins will be forgiven (Hadith Muslim). Read on to learn about the five practices I implement every Ramadan to make the most of this blessed month!
1) Rid yourself of Distractions
When Ramadan comes around, I do my best to lay off on all worldly distractions. For me, that means no TV, no music, and very limited social media. Instead of watching TV, I replace that with reading Quran (see below), instead of listening to the radio in the car, I brush up on the surahs I've memorized, try to memorize more surahs, do dhikr or simply listen to Quran. Instead of getting carried away on my Instagram/Facebook/Snapchat/Twitter/insertsocialmediaapp, I stand in nightly prayer. Ramadan is a month of intense ibadah' (physical worship) so I make sure that I use every precious moment I can to my benefit and do my best to avoid any time-wasters.
Note that hanging out with family/friends after iftar in social settings can also be a distraction. Instead of getting up and going to pray tarawih, we linger, hang around and talk - often times talk that is not productive or even worse - involves gossip or backbiting. Do your best to excuse yourself from these situations when you can so you can focus on more productive things. Ramadan is only a short 30 days! You can certainly socialize and catch up with friends when the month is over.
2) Abstaining from Haram
Many people pay a lot of attention to the worship aspect in Ramadan, calculating how many times over their donated money is multiplied or how many good deeds they get for praying through the night - but what good are all those good deeds if we're not actively trying to abstain from haram? Take this month to reflect on your behavior and actions this month. Remember, the devils are chained in this month, so any sins you commit are coming from your own nafs (inner soul). Now is the time to assess what habits you've picked up throughout the year that you need to cleanse yourself of.
Are your bad deeds coming from the things you say (gossip, backbiting, cursing, lying)? Things you see with your eyes (haram images, invading someone's privacy, not lowering your gaze)? Things you listen to with your ears (music that glorifies haram, actively or passively listening to gossip/backbiting)? Things you do with your hands? (cheating, stealing, eating/drinking haram things)? Or it your character? Are you stingy? Quick to anger? Ostentatious? Arrogant? Cold towards people? Whatever your sins/weaknesses, now is the time to evaluate your actions and sincerely do your utmost to abstain from haram.
Ramadan is the month of Quran. In Surah Al Baqarah, Allah (S) revealed, "Ramadan is the month in which the Qur’an was sent down as a guide to mankind, and a self-evident proof of that guidance, and as the standard by which to discern the right from wrong" (2:185). Every Ramadan I attempt to finish reading the entire Quran in Arabic. It has helped me so much in my Arabic reading and it literally gives me energy throughout the day. Ramadan without the Quran is like a plant without sunlight - it needs it to flourish; to live.
Don't know how to read Arabic? Reading the English translation is an alternative, however, I suggest you devote the month to learning how to read Arabic. There are some great classes offered online that teach Arabic. Of course, you won't learn it all in one month, but take that step to begin learning. Make the intention that you want to learn how to read Arabic and take small step after small step to realize that intention. Learning Arabic is absolutely vital to anyone who truly wants to understand the Quran and a real responsibility on every Muslim.
4) Eating Habits
I read a disturbing statistic about food wasted in Ramadan in Dubai. In Ramadan, uneaten food makes up half of waste in Dubai's landfills each day during Ramadan. And that number is 15-20% more than outside of Ramadan! Sure Dubai is a city of excess, but this is often the case for many cities and individual homes across the globe during Ramadan. Of course, we want to eat wonderful food in Ramadan, but this is a month where we should be eating less not more! Do not feel the need to keep up with the Joneses by providing 5 or 6 main courses (in addition to the 4-5 appetizers and table filled with desserts) at an iftar because other people in your social circle do.
The Prophet (S) said, "When filled with food, the belly becomes the worst container for the son of Adam. It is sufficient for a human being to have a few bites to keep himself fit. If one must eat, then let him use one-third for food, one-third for drink and one-third for breathing." Please re-read that sentence. It is sufficient for us to have a few bites. Many of us like to focus on the one-third part of the hadith, but don't overlook the fact that we can get by with only a few bites to eat. This is especially true in Ramadan when our stomachs shrink and a few bites are truly sufficient. Filling up on food and drink during iftar makes us lazy and lethargic - it's a deterrent to standing up in night prayers during tarawih and goes against the very essence of this beautiful month.
Of course, prayer is a pertinent component of Ramadan. Not only am I vigilant about praying all my sunnah prayers but I am also very mindful of my nightly tarawih prayers. I try my best to attend every night at the masjid and the nights I don't make it, I make sure I pray them at home. The Prophet (S) said, "Whoever stands (in the voluntary night prayer of) Ramadan out of faith and in hope of reward, his previous sins will be forgiven."
6) Reflection / Dua
In addition to truly reflecting on the haram that we need to abstain from, Ramadan is a time when I rejuvenate my connection and relationship with Allah (S) through intense reflection and dua. Ever feel like you're making dua but your heart isn't in it? If I feel as though my dua is not sincere or if there's some sort of block between myself and Allah (S) - I reflect on this and evaluate why this is. Am I insisting on some sort of sin? Is there a wrong I need to right? I turn back to Allah (S) time and time again until the connection is strong until there is nothing standing in the way of me and Allah (S) and my duas are truly sincere with no static in between.
I also vastly increase my night prayers outside of tarawih (qiyam-ul-layl) as well as prayers in the last third of the night (tahajjud). (The difference between qiyam-ul-layl and tahajjud is that with qiyam-ul-layl you've stayed up at night to pray while with tahajjud, you've slept and woken up in the last third of the night to stand and pray.) One thing I do to help with my Quran reading is hold the Quran during these prayers and read a page or two in each ra'kah. Concentrate during your prayer and make sincere and intense duas during sujood, when you are nearest to Allah (S).
Dua is the weapon of the believer (Hadith) and so incredibly important for every Muslim. Not only do we need to make dua for ourselves, and our families, but for our communities and for the Muslim ummah throughout the world. Make dua with a firm heart knowing with full conviction that Allah (S) will answer your dua. Don't let dua become a ritual, pour your heart out to Allah (S), have a conversation with Him and humble yourself before Him. Some of the sweetest moments in Ramadan have come from prolonged dua.
What additional practices do you implement to make the most of Ramadan? Comment below!