In today's HuffPost Jummah, I would like to briefly discuss a very timely matter with you. In a few days a very special guest, a guest of God to Muslims will start. Holiest of the holy period in Islamic calendar will start with the start of the month of Rajab, followed by the month of Shaban and the grand finale with the month of Ramadan in eight-weeks time. Many mosques around the world will mark the start of this holy season and invite believers to start preparing themselves for the Islam's holiest month: Ramadan. As every other important thing in life, Ramadan's success also significantly depends on our ability to do what we need to do as pre-work before Ramadan.
Ramadan requires serious preparations individually and collectively in order to get the best out of this spiritual feast. How can we proactively prepare ourselves for this holy month of Islam in these coming eight weeks? How can we bring ourselves to be in a state of mind and heart that is ready to receive the very many rich blessings of this sacred time?
God is beyond time and space. God is Semi and Basir as God Almighty tells us in Holy Quran. God is all hearing and seeing in all times. God Almighty says in Holy Quran (40:60) "Call me with your duas and supplications. I will respond to them, I will answer them," any time and anywhere. However, God also says in the clearest terms, and the prophet of Islam beautifully exemplifies this, that God made this month of Ramadan, this specific time, Holy, and God pays very special attention to what God's servants do or say in this month. God grants special blessings and spiritual opportunities for this month. The worship and good work are rewarded so many times more than the very same act some other time of the year. In the words of Prophet Muhammad: "The gates of Haven open in Ramadan and the gates of hell are closed and the satans are chained." The moment the month of Shaban ends and the month of Ramadan starts very special types and kinds of Mercy and blessings start pouring down on the earth for those who are able to receive them. To be able to receive the special treasures of Ramadan requires serious preparation. It requires enabling our hearts and minds to receive what Ramadan could offer.
In what ways can we prepare ourselves to Ramadan? I think we can put these preparations into two categories. First: physical, technical and logistic preparations. Second, and more importantly: internal, mental, intellectual, emotional and spiritual preparations. Ramadan is all about our internal growth, our ability to feel the presence of God in our lives and improving ourselves in upholding the ethical and moral ideals of Islam and all the dos and do nots of Ramadan and physical preparations are there to enhance and expediate that expected internal growth.
In the first category of preparations, we will have to start training our bodies for the types of spiritual disciplines and worship practices that we are asked to do during Ramadan. Gradually introduce the type of discipline that our bodies need for less eating, less drinking, less sleeping, etc. So that when Ramadan starts, we will not waste anytime for adjustment and avoid certain health challenges which may prevent us enjoy the spiritual pleasures of Ramadan. Prophet Muhammad fasted during the month of Rajab and Shaban very frequently and advised us to do the same. Even if we cant fast for the whole days, gradually reducing the amount of food and water we take daily might be a very wise thing to do and since you do that with the intention of preparing yourself to the Holy Month of Ramadan, these mundane acts will be also recognized as acts of worship.
Again in this first category of preparations there are some technical things that we believers can do to enhance our Ramadan experience. Observing Ramadan requires dedicating significant amount of quality time for Ramadan activities. Making that time is another important technical preparations as pre-work for Ramadan. One of the beauties' of living in American society, at least in its ideal, you are encouraged to live an organized life. You don't live your life on a day-to-day basis. We all have schedules and plan things in advance. So let's make sure Ramadan will gets its lion share in our calendar from July 20 to August 20. Let's do some serious work on our schedules for those dates. If there are some tasks, assignments and projects that we can finish up, if there are travels that we can do before then, if there are social responsibilities that we can fulfill in these short eight weeks prior to Ramadan, let's do it so that we will have less distractions during those sacred and holy days.
Let us strive and pray and be creative with our external preparations for Ramadan. However, the real preparation needs to be done internally in order for Ramadan to yield a major internal, spiritual, ethical and moral growth every year. All the practices and external disciplines that we put ourselves into is to enable such growth. Ramadan is many things but clearly it is not just being hungry and thirsty for number of hours. As it has been beautifully exemplified in the practice of Prophet Muhammad, Ramadan is the month of self-auditing. Reviewing our lives annually and we where we are in our relationship with God and with God's creation. What are our pluses, minuses? If we die today, what kind of book should we expect to receive from the scribing angels?
When our supervisor, academic adviser or boss calls and says, "Let's meet in eight weeks time and review what you have done so far," no reasonable soul responds, "Sure, see you then," and does nothing in those eight weeks. All of us would go and seriously reflect on the work that we have done, try to improve it as much as we can. We would identify the areas of strength and find out the areas weaknesses and the areas that need significant improvement. We should do the same in our preparations for Ramadan. Let us use these eight weeks in front of us to prepare ourselves for this audit and review as best as we can.
To me, there are three main areas in this required deep internal reflection on our lives which all again requires serious mental preparation before Ramadan:
The first area is thanksgiving and gratitude (shukr and hamd). Ramadan is a time when we thank God from the bottom of our hearts for the countless blessings that God has given us. And glorify God's names as God deserves. In order to do that we should deeply reflect on what are the things for which we are grateful to God. Going through the list of blessings that God grants us --health, wealth, success -- without feeling bad about them. There is nothing wrong to be healthy, wealthy and live in peace as long as we are in a constant state of gratitude toward God.
God says in the Holy Quran: "Thank me and I will increase my blessings onto you." The continuation of these blessings partially depend on we being grateful and thankful in response. The criterion in Islam whether or not you are thankful to God is easy. As again Prophet Muhammad says: "People who are not thankful to their fellow human beings, cannot be thankful to their Lord." We have eight weeks to bring ourselves to be in a state of gratitude and thanks to God Almighty.
The second area is asking forgiveness and repentance (afv and maghfirah). Ramadan is the time when we seek forgiveness from God more intensely than ever for the sins and mistakes that we have committed in the past. It is a great opportunity to purify ourselves through our repentance (tawba) . Ramadan is a season of tawba. In the Quran God says, "Repent, ask forgiveness from God with the tawba of nasuh." When Prophet Muhammad explains to his companions what this tawba-i nasuh is, he says it has three major qualities: 1) feeling really sorry, remorse in your heart for the mistake that we do 2) doing something to correct that mistake and 3) develop a sense of discipline not to repeat the same mistake again. Who doesn't want his all sins to be cleaned away with such tawba-i nasuh in this coming month of Ramdan, when every dua and appeal for afw and magfirah (forgiveness) receives very special attention from God. So we have eight weeks to prepare such powerful repentance. To mature those tawbahs into a required level before the season of forgiveness starts.
The last area is asking help and guidance (inayah and hidayah). When you get the special attention of someone of huge importance for a limited amount of time, what do you do? You share the most important and pressing issues with him or her. Ramadan is a time when you are expected to hammer out important issues for yourself. Looking back to your life finding out patterns of failures, soft spots growing edges. Who doesn't have the long list of things that we should do but we do not do and sometimes even a longer list of things that we shouldn't do but we end up doing over and over. These are the times our will fails us or not strong enough to do what needs to be done. Ramadan is the time to built those necessary ethical, moral and spiritual muscles in order to strive to do the ideal in life. It is a month-long lab where you can correct and fix things for yourself. For example if it is lying, money, fame, jealousy, doing enough charity, etc., do you see yourself keep failing over and over? How can I built the required strength against these universally condemned mistakes?
May we all have a blessed and rewarding Ramadan in eight weeks. May we use these remaining time as best as we can to be ready to receive God's numuerous blessings in this months of mercy, compassion and forgiveness. Amin.