For some, the month of Ramadan is a month of refraining from eating and drinking between dawn and sunset.
For some, it is the month of reading more Qur’an and more prayers and supplications plus the above.
For a few, it is the month of gaining a sustaining and higher level Taqwa plus the above to help with purification of soul (Tazkiyah).
According to the Qur’an, only the latter group are aiming for what is really the aim of fasting in the month of Ramadan (2:183).
Here is a collection of some practical tips that might help us in getting closer to the latter group (a presentation that discusses the relationship between fasting in the month of Ramadan and Taqwa and also covers some of the following practical tips can be downloaded from here: The Long Journey from ‘not eating’ to ‘Fasting‘
- Having a plan:
We are living in a very busy world where we can easily find ourselves engaged all day and quite tired during the night. In this busy life, the month of Ramadan passes very fast and before we know it we will reach the day of Eid. It is very wise to have some plans to determine and decide what special things we want to and we can do during this month and that how best we can accommodate them in our busy life schedule.
- It does not matter if you cannot fast:
Many people might not be strong enough or healthy enough to fast especially if they are living where the summer daytime is extremely long. There are also those who might need to be in travel during all or part of the month of Ramadan. Sometimes people think that if they do not fast, then the month of Ramadan is not for them and they cannot get any benefit from it. This is wrong. One who has a genuine excuse for not fasting can still benefit from the month of Ramadan. The majority of the points that are given in this article are equally related to those who cannot fast. In fact, having more energy than those who fast, they may even do better in adopting some of these points!
- Cleaning any anger and hatred towards others from our heart:
To attempt to increase our Taqwa for the sake of Tazkiya while holding a grudge and anger in our heart against a fellow human being is like trying to fill up a broken bottle with water. We need to do what it takes to erase any anger and hatred towards others from our heart.
- Deciding what increasing Taqwa means for us and setting it as an aim for our month of Ramadan:
This tip is deliberately underlined to indicate its importance and the fact that it is the core requirement for those who want to attain more Taqwa in the month of Ramadan. If we want to truly aim for the real objective of the month of Ramadan, then we need to carefully study our soul (Muhasiba) in an attempt to recognise its weaknesses. This can be anything: becoming angry easily, offending others, getting offended very easy, being lazy in our prayers, becoming worried very easy, having a bad behaviour with others, not minding about the rights of others, eating a lot, sleeping a lot, wasting too much time, etc… No one can tell us better than ourselves what these weaknesses are. We will then decide that in this month of Ramadan we want to eliminate or improve (not all but) one, two, or only a few of these weaknesses. If we manage to use the opportunity of the month of Ramadan to take the selected weakness(es) out of our system for good, then by the grace of God we have managed to meet the real aim of the month of Ramadan.
This point is really the backbone of the idea behind this article. It, therefore, deserves some elaboration. There are a few points that can help with the above:
- Starting the month with repenting (Tawbah): Since we want to get rid of some bad habits and practices in this month it makes perfect sense to start the month and in fact enter the month after offering a repenting prayer. This simply means to perform two Rak’ah prayers and then to ask God to forgive us for that or those habit(s) or practice(s) that we are now determined to purge out of our system during the month of Ramadan and for good.
- Praying to be successful in our repentance: Obviously, we have general requests in our prayers plus specific requests for others and ourselves. However besides these, we also need to specifically ask the Almighty to help us with our decision and determination to get rid of that/those selected weakness(es), as discussed above. Even when we read the Qur’an, while generally learning and benefiting from it, we will see if we can get any inspiration or guidance from the Qur’an with regard to this challenge that we have decided to face.
- Controlling and monitoring: In order to be successful in our determination to remove one or more of our weaknesses, we need to closely and carefully review our performance every day to see whether we are doing well, whether we need to adjust a few things to assist with our aim and whether we need to correct and rectify any shortcomings in our progress towards the aim.
- Fasting not just in eating: The best way of thinking about how to get rid of some of the weaknesses of our soul is to consider ‘avoiding them’ as part of our fasting. Fasting from food and drink means refraining from eating and drinking during only a limited time of a day in the month of Ramadan. Fasting from what we have selected to correct in ourselves in the month of Ramadan does not have any limits and will become part of our personality by the end of the month of Ramadan, so it will never end.
- Doing proper Tahajjud:
We know that the prophet (pbuh) has advised us that if we cannot do the Tahajjud during its real time, then we can do it after the Ishaa prayer. We also know that during the month of Ramadan, traditionally many Muslims take this offer and do their Tahajjud prayer after Ishaa in congregation (Jama’ah) and that is what gradually was called Taraweeh. Point number five is that let us do proper Tahajjud at least during the month of Ramadan. That is, reading it individually after midnight and preferably in its best time i.e. the portion of the night that is closer to the time of dawn (Suhoor). During our Tahajjud, if we like, and if we have not memorised much of the Qur’an, we can hold the book in our hands and read from it. We can determine how many verses or pages to read in every Rak’ah before doing the last three ones. We do not need to aim to finish the Qur’an by the end of the month and we can be flexible and sometimes read only short Sura of the Qur’an if we are too tired or need to wake up early the day after. Note that this does not suggest that participating in Taraweeh prayer is wrong.
- Praying for others:
It is better if we always start our prayers to God by glorifying Him and counting His blessings in our life, then asking general and specific goodness and help for all and then for those close to us in particular our parents, kin and friends and only then for ourselves.
- Giving charity:
Giving a bit more than normal as charity during this month can have a tremendous effect on us.
- More attention to the quality of our prayers:
We need to use the month of Ramadan to give special attention to the quality of our daily prayers. The key effect of the prayer is manifestation of one of the sentences that we read repeatedly during every prayer, that is, “Only you we worship and only you we seek help from”. Some of the points in this article on the following website can help here: How to Improve Our Daily Prayers.
- Reading the Qur’an while pondering upon the meanings (Tadabbur):
Reading the Qur’an without pondering over its meanings is still helpful but is nowhere near the way that we are supposed to read the Qur’an. There is no need and no obligation to read the Qur’an in haste aiming to finish it in the month of Ramadan. Reading the Qur’an should be in the form of dialogue, in that, we read the message of the Almighty and then we reflect on it with our ‘mind’ and ‘heart’ and where appropriate our ‘tongue’ (like praying for heaven when we read its description, seeking God’s mercy when we read the description of hell, thanking God when we read about His blessings, etc…)
- Talking to God:
Every prayer and every narrated supplication is talking to the Almighty. While these are very rewarding, we should also develop the ability and the habit of talking to God on our own initiative as well. We should be able to talk with Him in private and to say whatever we would like to say to our Lord and Creator. We do not need to worry about what to say and how to say as He is the most merciful and kind and He loves us more than a parent loves his/her child. We do not need to think of a special way of doing this, we can simply open our heart and talk. We might find it difficult at the start but once we get used to it we will be able to enjoy it and see the benefit. Nothing replaces the happy and peaceful feeling of a servant of God who is shedding tears of joy while talking with his Lord where no one else can see him.
- Ponder over God’s names:
There is a reason that God’s attributes are mentioned in the Qur’an. Pondering over these attributes and thinking about them and their effect on us have a great influence on our soul. Calling God and praying to Him by these names (like, for instance Baseer – All Seeing, Aleem – All Knowing, Hakeem – Wise, …) can help a lot in putting us on the right spiritual direction.
- Reminding oneself about death and making it a well-established fact in our heart:
It is easy to ‘know’ that we will die someday and as Muslims, it is also easy to ‘know’ that there will be a hereafter (Akhira). What is difficult is to establish the concept in our heart in a way that it positively affects our relationship with our Lord, with others and with ourselves. If we remind ourselves as appropriate about death and Akhira and its implications, this might help with establishing the concept in our heart. The aim is not to be sad or disappointed, but to be motivated enough to prepare for what will certainly happen, which will also help us to have a happier life in this world.
- Do not go to extremes at the time of Iftaar:
The point of fasting is not to postpone the amount of the food that we were supposed to eat only to have it all in one go during Iftaar (and perhaps adding even more to make it more pleasant!). Iftaar is for us to break our fast so that we do not fall in hardship. There is absolutely no problem with enjoying the food and having what we like to have. However, we need to make sure that we do not go to extremes. After all, how can we have a good pondering over the Qur’an and a good Tahajjud after the midnight and all the other things we want to do for our spirituality if we have filled our stomach with so much food that we can hardly move or stay awake?
- Take care of the tongue!
We did discuss getting rid of bad habits and practices in point 4 above. The tongue of human being however, is such a naughty phenomenon that it deserves a special tip of its own. We will find that during the month of Ramadan, controlling our tongue will become very relevant in attaining Taqwa. We, of course need to talk with our family, colleagues and those around us, however, especially during the month of Ramadan, there is no harm if we also experience periods of silence to keep ourselves immune from the potential problems that our tongue might bring us. We are specially advised not to get involved in arguments in this month.
- Don’t miss opportunities to help others or to be kind to them:
We sometimes use fasting as an excuse to lay back. We should not allow this to take away opportunities where we may be able to help a fellow human being or where we can gain many rewards just by being kind.
- Understanding Islam better:
During the month of Ramadan there can be times that we like to spend for the cause of fasting yet we are not in the mood of offering more prayers, etc… In other words, we might need a break from our ritual worship while still longing to do something related to religion. In this case, a good break will be to learn more about Islam from its original sources and from those who have learned it from its original sources. Having a correct understanding of Islam will help us with being better Muslims.
- Thinking about ourselves:
The previous point described one way of having break from our ritual worship while we still like to do something related to religion. Another thing we can and we should do is for each of us to think about him/herself. This means reviewing one’s life so far, thinking about the person that one has become, the strength of one’s belief, one’s priorities, the way one wants to spend the rest of the life. Overall, this means reflecting on one’s life so far to see where one is heading and whether any adjustments or redirection is needed.
- I’tikaaf (seclusion):
The idea of I’tikaaf is to distance ourselves from the busy day-to-day life and to devote some special time to improve our relationship with our Lord by means of worship, reading the Qur’an and thinking about God and us. The preferred way of doing this is to stay a few days during the last ten days of the month of Ramadan in a mosque. However, if this is not possible for us, we can at least choose to stay for a shorter period in a mosque. Even staying between two prayers can be considered as I’tikaaf. It is important to note that we do I’tikaaf to have some private and quality time with our Lord and not to spend it chitchatting with people.
- Seeking Laylatul Qadr (the Night of Destiny):
There is a reason why we have not been informed about the exact date of Laylatul Qadr by a divine source. If the point were to simply hit the correct night like hitting a target, then we would have been told exactly when that night was supposed to occur. Instead, we have been advised to ‘seek’ it during the odd nights of the last ten nights of the month of Ramadan. Maybe the point is to prepare our heart and make it so powerful that we would get benefit we are seeking any way, even if we do not know which night is the night of Qadr and even if we unintentionally miss it.
- Do not commit Haram:
The most important precondition of all that is mentioned in this article is to not going even near what is made Haram for us. There is no place for Taqwa if Haram is still in the play.
- Encourage the family:
It will help and create a helpful environment if we encourage our family members to join in the plan of attaining Taqwa in the month of Ramadan. As appropriate, we may choose what things to do together and what to do individually. Each (doing things together or individually) have their own benefits.
- Being aware of showing off:
We need to be very careful not to show off in doing any of our acts of worship. For instance, if we find that a prayer feels more enjoyable when we are doing it in front of others then that means we are really enjoying the show off element of it rather than the prayer. If we do something, which is apparently for God, but in reality, it is to show off, whether fully or partially, we are only using the name of God as an excuse to serve our own ego.
- Aiming to have a real Eid:
We will and we should Insha’Allah celebrate Eid because that is when Muslims (who are healthy enough to do so) have managed to follow their Lord’s instruction to fast during the month of Ramadan. However, on a personal level, Eid is complete when we manage to meet the objective of this month, that is, to be able to jump on a higher level of Taqwa. By the end of the month if we were successful in eliminating those weaknesses we selected to work on (as in point 4) and if we have managed to throw them out of our system for good then we will have a very good reason (on a personal level) to celebrate the Eid.
The above points are by no means the only things that we may do to get the most out of the month of Ramadan. Obviously, every individual has his/her own ways of improving his/her Taqwa as well.
May the Lord help us to value the month of Ramadan the way it deserves and to follow the path of His best servants during this month.
It is narrated from the Prophet (pbuh):
مَنْ لَمْ يَدَعْ قَوْلَ الزُّورِ وَالعَمَلَ بِهِ، فَلَيْسَ لِلَّهِ حَاجَةٌ فِي أَنْ يَدَعَ طَعَامَهُ وَشَرَابَهُ
The one who does not leave false (bad) talk and deed (in the month of Ramadan), (should know that) God does not need him to leave his food and drink.” -Bukhari, 1903