Preparing Yourself For Ramadan!

As Salam Alaikum friends! I’ve been away a while and have gotten a writer’s block, unfortunately, but I’m back and I’ve missed you all! 🙂

Today’s post is about preparing for the wonderful month of Ramadan, which is quickly approaching. This year (2012), in the USA, Ramadan begins on Friday, July 20th. Note that most Muslims start observing the celebration the night before at sunset, which would be on the 19th, Insha’Allah.

Although Ramadan is always on the same day of the Islamic calendar, the date on the Gregorian calendar varies from year to year, since the Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar and the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar. This difference means Ramadan moves in the Gregorian calendar approximately 11 days every year. The date of Ramadan may also vary from country to country depending on whether the moon has been sighted or not.

A little explanation about the holy month of Ramadan:

Observance of Ramadan is also mandated in the Quran’s second chapter, verses 183-185.

During the month of Ramadan, adult Muslims engage in ritual fasting from sunup to sundown. This practice, Sawm, which is the same as fasting, is one of the five pillars of Islam, and requires that individuals abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual intercourse. Each evening, Muslims will break the fast at sundown with Iftar, a traditional meal often beginning with the eating of dates — an homage to a practice of Muhammad.

All Muslims are expected to observe the fast once they reach the age of puberty.

In general, the practices of Ramadan are meant to purify oneself from thoughts and deeds that are counter to Islam. By removing material desires, one is able to focus fully on devotion and service to God. Many Muslims go beyond the physical ritual of fasting and attempt to purge themselves of impure thoughts and motivations — anger, cursing, greed, etc. As part of this, service to the community and to those in need is a major emphasis of activity throughout the month.

The holiday of Eid ul-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, takes place on the first day of the following month and celebrates the completion of the 30 days of fasting. On this day, morning prayers are followed by feasting and celebration among family and friends. Eid is a day of great thanksgiving for Muslims — an opportunity to show their gratitude for making it through the month of fasting and a chance to share their blessings with others.

There some exceptions as far as those who are not obligated to fast. People who are ill, pregnant and breastfeeding women (if they feel it would harm the baby), someone traveling, a woman during her menses (but must resume once menses ends), one who is not in a healthy state of mind, children, elderly if they are not healthy. Some of these reasons are only temporary and must be made up before the next Ramadan.

Preparing yourself for Ramadan:

Here are some ideas that may be of use to you as ways to help you prepare for fasting Ramadan.

1. To help condition your heart for this blessed month, intensify your worship before Ramadan begins. Just a small, consistent amount is enough. The Prophet (peace be upon him) told us: “The deeds most loved by Allah are those done regularly, even if they are small.” (Bukhari, Muslim)

For example, say I always pray 2 raka (units )of sunnah (compulsory prayer) after isha’ (the night prayer) from this day until Ramadan begins—and even through Ramadan, let me make the intention that I will now pray 2 extra raka of sunnah after isha’. And every time I pray these extra 2 raka, which are more than what I normally pray, let me remember that I am doing these with the intention of asking Allah (swt) to help me be prepared to strive and exert my utmost effort during Ramadan.

2. Make a Dua list! This is THE MONTH to ask for EVERYTHING, both related to this life and the Next. Let us not wait until the last 10 nights to make special dua, and then once `Eid passes realize that we completely forgot about fifty other things we needed to make dua’ for. Let’s start making our lists now, and add to it as more things come our way. Insha’Allah this should help us remember to make constant dua’ in this month where dua is accepted, and help our hearts pour out to the One Who can make those dua happen, subhanahu wa ta’ala.

3. Write out your objectives for Ramadan. Praying all of your fard (obligatory) prayers? Praying all of your sunnahs? Reading the entire Qur’an? Giving $1 in charity a day? Making itikaaf (a time for reflection and prayer in seclusion) in the masjid? Leaving one serious sin that you’ve been trying to get away from for some time now? Sincerely turning back to Allah (swt)? Write out a list, put it somewhere you will see it, and make dua’ for your success in fulfilling your objectives.

4. Make a plan. Look at your objectives and try to plan out how to realize them in this month. For example, perhaps you are really struggling to pray your sunnah prayers. In this month, realize the enormity of the ajr (reward) of praying the sunnah prayers. Think that perhaps these sunnah will be the deeds that will be heavy on your scale of good deeds when you are intensely in need of them—on Yawm al-Qiyamah, the Day of Judgment. Therefore, fight to keep doing them all throughout Ramadan. If you can’t pray your 2 raka after dhuhr (the afternoon prayer) right away, make sure to do them as soon as you get the chance.

These are just some simple ways to ready yourself this year.

So many Muslims have passed away since last month. So many people have not made it to Ramadan this year. Last year was their very last Ramadan. Will you make it to this Ramadan? Will this be your last Ramadan?

Aim to strive this Ramadan. With a very small amount of effort, such as just making a small intention or adding a few extra acts of worship, we pray that Allah (swt) will help our hearts soften and honor us with making it easy to turn to Him and open up to Him.

May Allah (swt) make us of the successful in Ramadan, and make it easy for us to turn to Him completely and perpetually. Ameen.

Love, Amani

Learning the Five Pillars of Islam part 4 Fasting!

As Salam Alaikum friends!

Its been a while since I’ve posted due to being extremely busy with the kids being off for spring break. But, I’m back! Hope everyone who celebrates Easter had a great holiday. Muslims don’t celebrate it but that’s a whole other post 🙂

So we come to the4TH pillar of Islam…fasting! Many religions fast including Islam, Judaism, Christianity and others as well. Most for the purpose to attain a closer relationship to God. There are a variety of ways people fast and for many reasons. I will only be touching on Islam as that’s what this post is about.

There are an estimated 6 million to 7 million Muslims in America whose unique food practices are guided by religious laws and influenced by cultural differences.

Fasting in Ramadan
Ramadan is the name of the ninth month in the Islamic calendar year, which is based on the lunar cycle and consists of 12 months of 29 or 30 days each. Because the Islamic year is roughly 10 days shorter than the Gregorian one, Ramadan shifts yearly.

Fasting for Muslims means abstaining from all foods and beverages, including gum and water, as well as medication and smoking, from dawn to sunset. The two main meals of the day are suhur (immediately before dawn) and iftar (immediately after sunset). These mealtimes are also related to two of the five main prayers Muslims perform every day. Muslims may consume other meals or snacks at night. Aside from hunger and thirst, Ramadan bestows spiritual peace to Muslims; during Ramadan, acts of worship are highly intensified.

It is impossible to describe typical suhur or iftar meals, considering the high diversity of the Muslim American community. Suhur can be dinner, or iftar, leftovers, typical breakfast foods, or ethnic foods. Social gatherings, many times buffet style, at iftar are frequent, and traditional dishes are often highlighted. A few dates and a cup of water are usually the first foods to break the fast, while fried pastries, salads, nuts, legumes, and breads are common. Traditional desserts are often unavoidable, especially those made only during Ramadan. Water is usually the beverage of choice, but juice and milk are also consumed. Soft drinks and caffeinated beverages are consumed to a lesser extent.

While weight loss is certainly not the driving power behind fasting, it is not uncommon for some to take advantage of it to shed a few pounds. At the same time, many Muslims see no changes in their weight, while others may gain weight. I tend to gain weight, surprisingly due to eating in excess at night…which I do not recommend 🙂 Excess fried foods and desserts, overeating at buffet-style iftar parties, and reduced physical activity can be attributed to weight gain. Many Muslims aim for nutrient-dense foods to optimize nutrition and see fasting as a way to detox and allow the gut to rest.

Fasting and Medical Issues
Fasting does not pose any medical risks to healthy individuals.

Exemptions to fasting are travel, menstruation, illness, older age, pregnancy, and breast-feeding. However, many Muslims with medical conditions insist on fasting to satisfy their spiritual needs, and healthcare professionals must work with their patients to reach common ground. Professionals should closely monitor individuals who decide to persist with fasting.

The main chronic diseases of concern are diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, renal disease, and peptic ulcers. Care plans must be individualized, as many patients with these conditions can fast without adverse events. Compliance with medications may be an issue, especially for those on daily daytime dosages. For patients with diabetes, things to consider are feasibility of adjusting medication and insulin dose, clinical stability, history of hypoglycemia and diabetic ketoacidosis, and the presence of other comorbidities.

It is not just physical hunger and thirst that constitute the Muslim fast, but the nights prior to the beginning of the fast acquire a far more important character and play a central role in the institution of fasting. The Muslims wake up many hours before dawn for individual prayer and the remembrance of God. Also the Holy Quran is recited in every Muslim house much more than in ordinary days. A greater part of the night is thus spent in spiritual exercises which make upso the very essence of fasting.

During the day, apart from restraining from food and water, all is Muslims are particularly exhorted from vain talk, quarrels and fights, or from any such occupation as is below the dignity of a true believer. No indulgence in carnal pleasure is allowed; even husband and wife during the day lead separate lives, except for the formal human relationship common to all people.

In Islam, alms-giving and care for the destitute is so highly emphasized that it becomes part of a Muslim’s daily life. However when it comes to Ramadan, the month of fasting, Muslims are required to redouble their efforts in this field. It is reported of the Holy Prophet that spending in the cause of the poor was a routine daily practice with him which has been likened unto a breeze, never ceasing to bring comfort and solace to the needy. However during Ramadan, the reporters of the Ahadith — the sayings of the Holy Prophet (saw)– remind us that the breeze seemed to pick up speed and began to blow like strong winds. Alms-giving and care for the destitute are so highly emphasized, that in no period during the year do Muslims engage in such philanthropic purposes as they do during the month of Ramadan.

  1. Other obligatory fasting is most often related to the condoning of sins by God. This also includes violation of the obligatory fasts.

The optional fasting is so well promoted that it becomes a part of the righteous Muslim’s way of life. Although a majority of Muslims do not go beyond the month of obligatory fasting, some keep fasts now and then particularly when in trouble. As it is expected that the prayers offered in fasting are more productive, some people keep extra fasts to ward off their problems, but some do it only for the sake of winning Allah’s special favors. There no limit to this, except that the founder of Islam strongly discouraged those who had vowed to fast continuously for their whole life. When the Holy Prophet (saw) came to learn of one such case, he disapproved of the practice and censured the man for attempting to achieve liberation as if by forcing his will upon . He told the person concerned that: ‘Just by putting yourself to trouble or discomfort, not only will you be unable to please God, but you may even earn His displeasure.’ He pointed out that over emphasis on austerity is likely to make one negligent towards one’s wife and children, kith and kin, friends etc.

The Holy Prophet (saw) reminded him specifically of his responsibilities in the area of human relationship: ‘Do your duty to God as well as the creation of God equitably‘ was the advice. To some, after their insistent petulant begging, he permitted optional fasts only in the style of David, peace be upon him. The Holy Founder of Islam told them that it was the practice of David to fast one day and abstain from doing so the next. Throughout his life, after he made this vow, he kept the fast on alternate days. So the Holy Prophet (saw) said ‘I can only permit you that much and no more.’

The institution of fasting is extremely important because it cultivates the believer in almost every area of his spiritual life. Among other things, he learns through personal experience about what hunger, poverty, loneliness and discomforts mean to the less fortunate sections of society. Abstention from even such practices during the month of Ramadan as are permissible in everyday life plays a constructive role in refining the human character.

I hope this post has been beneficial to you and if you have any questions, please feel free to comment 🙂

Salam, Amani

May Allah keep you all happy, healthy and safe. Ameen

p.s. Pillar number 3 will be out of order due to a mistake made and will come shortly insha’Allah.

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