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Wednesday, May 28, 2014








[Aiming for an Awesome Ramadan Series - Part 1] – It’s Time To Change Your Life

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Productive Ramadan
[Aiming for an Awesome Ramadan Series - Part 1] - It's Time To Change Your Life | Productive MuslimPhoto by GollyGForce: flickr[dot]com/photos/see-through-the-eye-of-g/
Ramadan can be one of the most dramatic, life-shifting 29 to 30 days of a Muslim’s life, if we know what to do with it. Throughout this five-part series, In sha Allah I will share with you many tips and techniques to make this your most awesome Ramadan ever! In today’s post, I hope to demonstrate to you that Ramadan is worth preparing for, as early as possible!
Ramadan can be the most rewarding time of the year, if we know how to maximize it. Let’s do a little math to put the amount of blessings that are up for grabs in perspective. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: Whosoever tries drawing nearer to Allah by performing any virtuous deed in this month, for him shall be such reward as if he had performed a farḍ (obligatory observance) in any other time of the year. And whoever performs a farḍ for him shall be the reward of seventy farḍ in any other time of the year”� �[Ibn Khuzaymah & Bayhaqi].
Imagine getting a multiple of 70 times the good deeds for doing something you normally do, for example a simple prayer like Maghrib. Now, combine that amazing fact with the following hadith: “… Every good action is rewarded by ten times its kind, up to seven hundred times” [Muwatta Malik].
Depending on the level of your sincerity and khushu’, you can get a reward of up to 700 times for doing the same act [Sahih al-Bukhari]. This, of course, has to do with the sincerity of the act. In Ramadan, this is much easier to achieve, since the devils (shayateen) are chained, as the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of the heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained.” [Sahih al-Bukhari]
Combine those two multipliers with the following for maximum impact: The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “The prayer in congregation is twenty-five times more virtuous than the prayer of anyone of you on his own” [Sunan Ibn Majah].
So if you pray those 3 raka’ahs for Maghrib in jama’ah (which is very likely during Ramadan), they are worth 70 x 700 x 25 = 1,225,000! Over a million times more! Look at the Mercy of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)! Let’s work hard to get ready to reap the amazing rewards of this month!

The Hidden Blessings of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), the Sublime, Cannot Be Quantified

There is another dynamic at play besides mathematics. It is a hidden gift from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) that He gives preference to certain days, nights or months. Knowing that Ramadan, for example, has such amazing rewards associated with it encourages us to strive harder than ever during this month. Suddenly on the first day of Ramadan, we are able to do so much more than we have done all year.
This characteristic of our deen helps us realize during this month that we have so much more potential than we may have thought. Allow me to explain. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) hangs the massive reward in front of us and we put in more work than ever before to achieve those blessings. This demonstrates to you and I (because Allah already knows) how much each one of us can truly accomplish! My dear readers, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) believes in us more than we do. The gift of Ramadan allows us to see it for ourselves. He subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) shows us that we can change. Our behavior can be different in this month than it is all year. It does not hurt that He has chained the devils to give you that added boost either.

Ramadan Is Synonymous With Change

The first step to change, is to believe that we can change, and Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) makes that clear during this month. In fact, the word Ramadan comes from the root “Ramada”, which means intense heat. As a former engineer, I can tell you that intense heat can be used to bend and shape the strongest of metals. How is this related to Ramadan in our deen? It is a time for us every year to reshape our lives into whatever shape we like. No matter how set you are in your bad habits, the heat of Ramadan can change you for the better, In sha Allah.
This is why Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says in the Qur’an that the purpose of fasting is to achieve taqwa: “O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous” [Qur'an: Chapter 2, Verse 183].
If Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) gave us Ramadan so we can have taqwa, then what is the real definition of taqwa? Unfortunately, I’ve been to too many lectures or khutbahs (Friday sermons) where it has been mistranslated as God-consciousness. That is an effect of taqwa, but it is not the fundamental definition. The word comes from the root “waqa”, which means to shield or protect. The proper definition of taqwa is to protect yourself from displeasing Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He  ), by doing what He has commanded and avoiding what He has prohibited.
Fasting in Ramadan helps you reform your behavior to be in line with what Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) wants for you. It is no coincidence that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) made Ramadan a month long. Psychologists, neuroscientists and personal development experts agree that the minimum time required to make (or break) a habit is between 21-28 days: About one lun ar month. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has given us an annual free pass to create change in our lives. When you take a long-term perspective, you are able to build from one Ramadan to the next, striving each year to become better and better (more on this in a later article, In sha Allah).
Thus, we can understand when we hear that the companions of the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) would prepare for Ramadan six months in advance and enjoy its effects six months thereafter. Their entire year revolved around Ramadan: First preparing to reap the maximum rewards and later enjoying the benefits of their hard work. In this series, I hope to help you shift your calendar to do the same, In sha Allah.

How Exactly Can We Do This?

Every successful initiative, Ramadan or otherwise, has three important P’s:
  • Planning - Written instructions and procedures to achieve the intended outcome. We will spend a lot of time describing how to do this properly.
  • Preparing - Collecting all the materials and systems necessary to execute the plan. Later posts will have plenty of action steps and resources to help you prepare.
  • Practice - Begin executing the plan during a period prior to the real thing. It seems unlikely this applies to Ramadan, but “The Messenger of Allah did not fast in any month of the year more than he did in Shaban. He used to fast all of Shaban” [Sunan an-Nisa'i]. It’s like weightlifting: When you practice during Sha’ban and the other months, it is like lifting much heavier weight. But when Ramadan comes, the devils are chained and the burden is lightened, making it much easier to lift the same weight, and even increase your maximum capacity!
Starting this process as early as possible will give you ample time to plan, prepare and practice, so you can have the most awesome Ramadan ever!

Ideas for Goals This Ramadan

This Ramadan, make a commitment to your goals and targets for the month. Be careful, while Ramadan is about getting closer to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and reforming yourself, it is not time to be a monk (that is only in the last 10 nights!). Instead, try to diversify your goal portfolio and create a launching pad for new habits that you can carry forward throughout the year. Here are some ideas for areas to set goals for this Ramadan.

Prayers

  • Fard: Five times a day, an absolute must! This is a great time to focus on Fajr prayer if you are having difficulties with it.
  • Sunnah: Try to hit as many of the 12 sunnah raka’ahs in a day as possible.
  • Duha: This pre-noon prayer is a great habit to develop this Ramadan.
  • Taraweeh: Nothing more relevant in Ramadan than praying taraweeh! Just remember that the priority is to pray the Isha prayer in the masjid, even over taraweeh.
  • Witr: The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) never left this prayer, even when he was traveling. With the imam usually leading this prayer after taraweeh, it is a great way to begin to incorporate these prayers into your life!
  • Tahajjud: In the last 10 nights, many offer the extra night prayers to try to catch laylat ul-qadr. This could be a great chance to begin incorporating tahajjud into your routine outside of Ramadan as well.
  • At the masjid: This Ramadan, see if you can attend prayers at the masjid regularly, especially the fard prayers.
  • Nafl: Do not limit yourself to the prayers I have mentioned above. Feel free to offer as many voluntary prayers as your heart desires!

Quran

  • Read it in your language: The most important thing with the Qur’an is to understand it so you can feel the effect it can have on your heart. If that means reading it in your language, I advise you to prioritize this. It can help you understand what is being recited during taraweeh. But do not neglect learning Arabic so you can understand it in the language in which it was revealed.
  • Read it in Arabic: Even if you cannot fully comprehend it, there are countless blessings in reading the Qur’an in Arabic, not to mention the reward. It may even inspire you to continue your studies of the Arabic language!
  • Listen to it in Arabic: Everyone has his/her favorite reciter and this is the perfect month to try to listen to as much Qur’an as possible. Personally I try to do at least one khatmah (full reading) of the Qur’an just by listening in the car or at work, for example.
  • Memorization and/or review: Many people study and memorize the Qur’an outside of Ramadan, but all will agree Ramadan is one of the best times for reviewing and memorizing more of the book of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Feel free to mix in this goal with the rest of your Qur’an goals.

‘Ibadah (Worship)

  • I’tikaf: The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) would go into the masjid and would not come out during the last 10 nights to maximize his productivity and ibadah. This is a unique act of worship that is not typically performed outside of Ramadan, so be sure to take advantage of it.
  • Dua: When prescribing the fast for us in surah al-Baqarah, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mentioned a verse (186) that almost looks out of place (God forbid). While in the middle of describing the fast, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) suddenly switches gears, saying “And when My servants ask you, [O Muhammad], concerning Me – indeed I am near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me [by obedience] and believe in Me that they may be [rightly] guided”  [Qur'an: Chapter 2, Verse 186]. This shows the connection of dua to this blessed month. In a later article, I will be sharing the 8 duas you need to be making this Ramadan, In sha Allah.
  • Dhikr: There are plenty of types of adhkar to be made, including those of the morning and evening, before bed and after rising, istighfar, tasbeeh, etc. The important thing is, you pick a goal and stick with it.
  • Tafakkur: Spending time in tafakkur during i’tikaf might be a great way to hit two birds with one stone and spend some time pondering the overwhelming Might and Power of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).
  • Da’wah: Although Ramadan is not really a month of da’wah, it can be a great opportunity for those of us not living in Muslim-majority countries to explain this beautiful month and the traditions we practice.

Social

Ramadan is an undeniably social experience. From group iftars to group prayers in the masjid, every night you are seeing people. Use this as a time to connect with your family over iftar so they feel the blessings of Ramadan. Try to reach out to old friends as well.

Physical

I got the help of my wife, a nutrition and fitness expert, to write this section:
  • Hydration: The number one challenge in Ramadan during summer is that long days do not allow for enough time to get hydrated. Many people mistakenly focus on the feeling of hunger so they binge eat without realizing they are actually thirsty. Set a target amount of water to drink every day, and carry a water bottle of known amount with you everywhere you go to make sure you drink at least that much during the non-fasting hours.
  • Rest: Long fasts can really drain you, especially if you are dehydrated. Therefore, you should set targets for the amount of rest you get each day and night. Perhaps you should plan to take naps, or adjust your schedule to accommodate a different sleeping pattern.
  • Diet: The types of foods you eat will have a dramatic impact on the amount of long term energy you have throughout the day and night. Do not overdo it during iftar as it will  make you feel less energetic and more bloated.
  • Supplementation: It is challenging enough without Ramadan to get all the nutrients our bodies need. Consider taking supplements and vitamins to help bridge the gap, after checking with your doctor if necessary. I have also recently picked up juicing. It is an efficient way to get lots of nutrients in a short amount of time. It also gives a lot of energy! I highly recommend it!
  • Fitness: Some say Ramadan is a time to maintain or expect losses in the fitness department. Many actually gain weight during Ramadan because of all the night-time binge eating. But real fitness experts like Rehan Jalali actually say that Ramadan is the time to make massive gains! What fitness goals do you have this Ramadan?

Fasting

Believe it or not, you can have goals even for the type of fasting you are doing. Imam al-Ghazali raḥimahullāh (may Allāh have mercy upon him) said there are three levels of fasting. Which one are you targeting this year? Don’t worry, you can always build on that for next year, In sha Allah!
  1. Level 1: Fasting from food, drink, and sex during the daylight hours.
  2. Level 2: Fasting from performing evil actions and deeds.
  3. Level 3: Fasting from having evil thoughts.

Finances

  • Sadaqah“The Prophet was the most generous of all the people, and he used to become more generous in Ramadan…[he] used to be more generous than the fast wind” [Sahih al-Bukhari].
  • Sponsor iftars: A great way to reap the rewards of someone else’s hard work is to feed the one who fasted. Do you have a target for the number of iftars you would like to host in your home? What about sponsoring iftars at the local masjid?
  • Zakat al maal: Many people use Ramadan as a time to remember to give their zakat al maal. Certainly this will be a goal that requires preparation and planning!
  • Zakat al fitr: Everyone must pay this zakat in one way or another, so make the intention from now and be sure to pay it as early as possible.
  • Umrah: What a wonderful goal, praying taraweeh at the Ka’bah and performing umrah at the same time! I have not had the honor of doing this during Ramadan before, but I pray I can one of these days, In sha Allah.

Akhlaq (Character)

Last but not least, Ramadan is a great time to review your character and see which areas could use improvement. You could set goals for certain character traits like truthfulness, humility, kindness, patience, modesty, trustworthiness, mercy, or something else I did not list. You could also set goals for controlling your anger or even visiting the sick.

Action Steps

  1. Write out your intention statement to put in the work necessary to have your most awesome Ramadan ever!
  2. Schedule 30 minutes with yourself to think about these goal areas and create your list of at least 15 goals. The next article will show you what to do with it.
  3. Share this article with friends and family and begin a discussion with them about your goals for this Ramadan.
How do you feel about Ramadan now that you will be starting it well-prepared? Confident? Challenged? Please do share your expectations for this Ramadan below!


About the Author:
Kareem Elsayed is a consultant, life coach, corporate trainer, public speaker, blogger, and former engineer. After a successful career designing innovative medical devices and seeking deeper meaning and fulfillment in life, Kareem shifted careers in 2012 to establish his company’s corporate university where he currently serves as the Director of Global Education.
He is the founder of TrailblazerUprising.com, where he teaches young people to break away from society’s expectations and blaze their own trails. He finds deep fulfillment in helping people achieve their ambitions by sharing his message of hope and possibility – that life doesn’t have to be the way “they” say.
www.twitter.com/kareemelsayed | www.facebook.com/elsayedkareem

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