How did the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) conduct himself in Ramaḍān? How did the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) prepare for Ramaḍān?
The best example
Surely, these are both fundamental questions that every Muslim should have already been asking themselves. Too often, we look to the guidance of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) in very restricted matters of worship, such as which Duʿā’s to recite in given situations, or how many Rakʿāh Sunnah prayers to perform, but when it comes to fundamental aspects of our life, such as marriage, finance, or Ramaḍān, there is a noticeable absence of embracing his guidance in totality.
Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) said in the Qur’ān:
لَقَدْ كَانَ لَكُمْ فِي رَسُولِ اللَّهِ أُسْوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ لِمَنْ كَانَ يَرْجُو اللَّهَ وَالْيَوْمَ الْآخِرَ وَذَكَرَ اللَّهَ كَثِيرًا
“You have an excellent example in the Messenger of God; for anyone who seeks God and the Last Day and remembers God frequently.” 
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) started fasting in Ramaḍān when it was legislated in Shaʿbān 2 AH. As he passed away in Rabīʿ al-Awwal 11 AH, this means that nine whole Ramaḍāns worth of precious guidance were captured by the Saḥābah (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhum).
In fact, even before Ramaḍān was legislated, the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) would fast the day of ʿĀshūrā’ (10th Muḥarram), as was the practise of the Quraysh. They would venerate this day by placing the Kiswah on the Kaʿbah and fasting. When the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) arrived in Medina and found the Jews also fasting this day, he reclaimed the complete legacy of Mūsā (ʿalayhi al-Salām) and the sanctity of ʿĀshūrā’ by ordering Muslims to also fast the day before.
Gradation in legislation
Often in the Sharīʿah, momentous acts of worship, such as Ṣalāh, the prohibition of alcohol, and fasting, have undergone stages in their legislation. This has enabled the Companions (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhum) to fully come to terms with these great acts of worship, step by step.
The obligation of Ramaḍān was legislated in Shaʿbān 2 AH, a month or so after the Qiblah changed from Jerusalem to Makkah. There were three stages to its legislation:
Firstly, the Saḥābah (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhum) could opt between fasting in Ramaḍān, or feeding a poor person in replacement for each day of fasting. The verse which alludes to this remains in the Qur’ān:
أَيَّامًا مَعْدُودَاتٍ ۚ فَمَنْ كَانَ مِنْكُمْ مَرِيضًا أَوْ عَلَىٰ سَفَرٍ فَعِدَّةٌ مِنْ أَيَّامٍ أُخَرَ ۚ وَعَلَى الَّذِينَ يُطِيقُونَهُ فِدْيَةٌ طَعَامُ مِسْكِينٍ ۖ فَمَنْ تَطَوَّعَ خَيْرًا فَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَهُ ۚ وَأَنْ تَصُومُوا خَيْرٌ لَكُمْ ۖ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ
“For a specified number of days. But whoever among you is sick, or on a journey, then a number of other days. For those who are able: a ransom of feeding a needy person. But whoever volunteers goodness, it is better for him. But to fast is best for you, if you only knew.” 
Secondly, this option was abrogated by the following verse, which obligates fasting. The method of fasting, however, was more stringent than what we enjoy today. The Saḥābah (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhum) were only allowed to eat, drink, and have sexual relations until Ṣalāh al-ʿIshā’ or until the time they would fall asleep – whichever was earliest.
There is a narration that one of the Saḥābah, Qays b. Sirmah Al-Ansāri  (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) had been working all day during Ramaḍān, labouring hard on his land whilst he was fasting. He returned home at Ṣalāh al-Maghrib and asked his wife for some food. However, by the time she managed to gather something together, he had fallen asleep due to exhaustion. When he awoke, he had to assume the state of fasting for the next day. The next day, overwhelmed by hard labour and a consecutive day of fasting, he fell unconscious. When he awoke, he went to the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) and Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā), through His Compassion and Mercy, revealed:
أُحِلَّ لَكُمْ لَيْلَةَ الصِّيَامِ الرَّفَثُ إِلَىٰ نِسَائِكُمْ ۚ هُنَّ لِبَاسٌ لَكُمْ وَأَنْتُمْ لِبَاسٌ لَهُنَّ ۗ عَلِمَ اللَّهُ أَنَّكُمْ كُنْتُمْ تَخْتَانُونَ أَنْفُسَكُمْ فَتَابَ عَلَيْكُمْ وَعَفَا عَنْكُمْ ۖ فَالْآنَ بَاشِرُوهُنَّ وَابْتَغُوا مَا كَتَبَ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ ۚ وَكُلُوا وَاشْرَبُوا حَتَّىٰ يَتَبَيَّنَ لَكُمُ الْخَيْطُ الْأَبْيَضُ مِنَ الْخَيْطِ الْأَسْوَدِ مِنَ الْفَجْرِ ۖ ثُمَّ أَتِمُّوا الصِّيَامَ إِلَى اللَّيْلِ ۚ وَلَا تُبَاشِرُوهُنَّ وَأَنْتُمْ عَاكِفُونَ فِي الْمَسَاجِدِ ۗ تِلْكَ حُدُودُ اللَّهِ فَلَا تَقْرَبُوهَا ۗ كَذَٰلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللَّهُ آيَاتِهِ لِلنَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَّقُونَ
“Permitted for you is intercourse with your wives on the night of the fast. They are a garment for you, and you are a garment for them. God knows that you used to betray yourselves, but He turned to you and pardoned you. So, approach them now, and seek what God has ordained for you, and eat and drink until the white streak of dawn can be distinguished from the black streak. Then complete the fast until nightfall. But do not approach them while you are in retreat at the mosques. These are the limits of God, so do not come near them. God thus clarifies His revelations to the people, that they may attain piety.” 
Thus, the third and final stage is the complete fasting we have today, which obligates the fasting of Ramaḍān but allows eating, drinking, and sexual intercourse until the beginning of Ṣalāh al-Fajr. The Saḥābah (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhum) were never delighted like when this concession was revealed.
The Sharīʿah of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) is the most merciful, perfectly balanced and in harmony with human nature, and the most effective in achieving the desired goal of drawing closer to Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā). Consider the extremes of fasting that exist amongst other religions today: from the lent fast that can be as basic as giving up some forms of entertainment, to the strict, monastic fasts that involve vows of silence. The fasting of Muslims globally in Ramaḍān remains, to this day, one of the wonders of humanity and a powerful magnet to Islām. Many converts to Islām begin their journey by joining Muslims in the Ramaḍān fasts.
Looking forward to Ramaḍān
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) would look forward to this blessed month and offer glad tidings:
إن هذا الشهر قد حضركم، وفيه ليلة خير من ألف شهر، من حُرِمَها فقد حرم الخير كله، ولا يحرم خيرها إلا محروم
“This month has come to you, and in it, there is a night that is better than a thousand months. Whoever is deprived of it is deprived of all goodness, and no one is deprived of its goodness except one who is truly deprived.” 
It is not a time to dread or stumble upon unaware. Rather, it is a time to consider the pinnacle of your life.
Fasting the month of Shaʿbān
In preparation for Ramaḍān, the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) would fast virtually the whole of Shaʿbān:
كان رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يصوم حتى نقول لا يفطر، ويفطر حتى نقول لا يصوم، فما رأيت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم استكمل صيام شهر إلا رمضان، وما رأيته أكثر صياما منه في شعبان
“I never saw Allah’s Apostle fasting for a whole month, except the month of Ramaḍān, and didn’t see him fasting in any month more than in the month of Shaʿbān.” 
Ibn Rajab said:
“As to the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam)’s fasting during the year, he used to fast in Shaʿbān more than any other month.”
Ramaḍān is the month of reaping rewards, not preparing – that is to be done in Shaʿbān. Prepare yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually through optional fasts and priming your connection with the Qur’ān, so that on the first night, you enter Ramaḍān with a strong connection to the Qur’ān.
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) further emphasised the virtue of Shaʿbān when he was questioned about his continuous fasting therein, by saying:
ذلك شهر يغفل الناس عنه، بين رجب ورمضان، وهو شهر ترفع فيه الأعمال إلى رب العالمين، فأحب أن يرفع عملي، وأنا صائم
“…That is a month (Shaʿbān) which people neglect between Rajab and Ramaḍān. In that month, the people’s deeds are being raised to the Lord of Mankind, so I love that that my deeds are being raised while I’m fasting.”
Excelling in Good Deeds
عن ابن عباس (رضي الله عنه–) قال: ” كان رسول الله (صلى الله عليه وسلم) أجود الناس وكان أجود ما يكون في رمضان حين يلقاه جبريل، وكان يلقاه في كل ليلة من رمضان فيدارسه القرآن فلرسول الله (صلى الله عليه وسلم) أجود بالخير من الريح المرسلة
“Ibn Abbas (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) reported: The Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was the most generous of people and he was even more generous in Ramaḍān when Gabriel would meet him. He would meet him every night of Ramaḍān to study the Qur’ān. Thus, the Prophet would be more generous than a swift wind.” 
This narration contains the secret of unlocking the full potential of Ramaḍān – strengthen your connection to the Qur’ān. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was, throughout the year, the best of people in his worship and character, but in Ramaḍān he would excel further due to his company with Jibrīl (ʿalayhi al-Salām) and their mutual study of the Qur’ān. What a remarkable sight that must have been – the best of mankind and the best of angels studying the best of revelation.
The Qur’ān is supposed to transform us. In the blessed month of Ramaḍān, we spend the days fasting in order to prepare ourselves, both physically and spiritually, to hear the words of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) in the evening. The Tarāwīh prayer is the culmination of the fast when we stand in awe to admire and be transformed by the words of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā).
This experience should be so uplifting for our hearts that our charity, mannerisms, recitation of Qur’ān, remembrance of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā), Ṣalāh, and all other good deeds reach new heights which could not have been achieved before.
Furthermore, note how in this narration Ibn ʿAbbās (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) prefixes his statement by saying, “The Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was the most generous of people”. Perhaps, without this statement, people might consider the generosity of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) to be specific to Ramaḍān. Our improvement in worship and character is not supposed to be restricted to Ramaḍān but rather, have a lasting impact throughout the year.
The key description used in this narration is “ajwad al-nās” which is often translated as “generous”. It is important to appreciate that this generosity, of course, includes giving charity but, according to the context, it is more comprehensive and includes all acts of kindness. People should notice that our interactions with them improve in this month.
The comparison of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) to a “swift wind” emphasises two important matters. Firstly, the generosity of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was swift without hesitation – there was no procrastination – and secondly, his generosity benefitted all people, in the same way that a beneficial wind encompasses all the people it touches without differentiating between the good and the bad.
This narration also teaches us the importance of seeking out the best company in Ramaḍān to improve your character and increase your aspirations for worship. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was already the best on mankind, so he was blessed with the company of the best of angels – Jibrīl (ʿalayhi al-Salām).
Qiyām al-Layl (The Night Prayer)
Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was devoted to Qiyām al-Layl:
:وعن أبي سلمة بن عبد الرحمن
أنه سأل عائشة (رضي الله عنها) – كيف كانت صلاة رسول الله (صلى الله عليه وسلم) في رمضان؟
فقالت: ما كان يزيد في رمضان ولا في غيره على إحدى عشرة ركعة يصلي أربعاً فلا تسل عن حسنهن وطولهن ثم يصلي أربعاً فلا تسل عن حسنهن وطولهن ثم يصلي ثلاثاً،
فقلت: يا رسول الله أتنام قبل أن توتر؟ قال: يا عائشة! إن عيني تنامان ولا ينام قلبي
Abu Salma b. ‘Abd al-Raḥmān narrated:
I asked ʿĀishah, “How is the prayer of Allah’s Apostle during the month of Ramaḍān?”
She said, “Allah’s Apostle never exceeded eleven Rakaʿāt in Ramaḍān or in other months; he used to offer four Rakaʿāt , do not ask me about their beauty and length, then four Rakaʿāt, do not ask me about their beauty and length, and then three Rakaʿāt.”
Aisha further said, “I said, ‘O Allah’s Apostle! Do you sleep before offering the Witr prayer?’ He replied, ‘O ʿĀishah! My eyes sleep but my heart remains awake!’” 
Many people, when reading this narration, are distracted into a secondary argument about the number of Rakaʿāt to pray in Tarāwīh, whilst the clear focus here is that the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) would perform night prayer of which its length and beauty cannot be described. Ramaḍān is the time to devote oneself completely to night prayer.
The practise of breaking off from the Imām early, half way through the Tarāwīh prayer, is a gross distortion of the Sunnah. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) gave glad tidings of the reward of praying the whole night for the one who stays with the Imām until he has finished.  Why would you not want to stay until the end, to experience the living miracle which is the recitation of the words of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā)?
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) would make Iʿtikāf for ten days every Ramaḍān, and in the final year of his life, he made Iʿtikāf for twenty days and revised the Qur’ān twice with Jibrīl (ʿalayhi al-Salām).  Iʿtikāf is to be performed in a state of fasting and in the month of Ramaḍān. It is the complete seclusion of a Muslim to the worship of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) giving him the chance to focus on Ṣalāh, the recitation of Qur’ān, remembrance of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) and contemplation.
ʿĀishah (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanha) narrated that when the last ten nights of Ramaḍān would approach, the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) would tighten his waist garment,  enter Iʿtikāf, and instruct his family to perform the night prayer. This tightening of the waist garment can signify the stopping of normal marital relations due to preoccupation with worhsip, as well as an increased resolve for worship in the final ten days.
Hastening to break the fast
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) would be prompt in breaking the fast at Ṣalāh al-Maghrib and he would do so with an odd number of Rutab,  and, if not available, an odd number of dates, with water.
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) placed great emphasis on this seemingly simple act of worship by associating salvation of the Ummah  with hastening to break the fast at Ṣalāh al-Maghrib.
Delaying the Suḥur (pre-dawn meal)
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) delayed the Suḥur until the final moments before Fajr and described as a meal containing blessings.
The Companions (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhum) described the time between the ending of the Suḥur meal and the standing for Ṣalāh al-Fajr as the time taken to recite fifty verses. From the customs of the Arabs it was common to approximate time using actions. It is a testament to the devotion to worship of the Saḥābah (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhum) that they chose to estimate time via recitation of the Qur’ān.
The month of struggle and victory
It would be a gross mistake to relegate Ramaḍān to a month of excessive sleeping to ward off the pangs of hunger. The Ramaḍānss of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) were months of great struggles and victory.
A brief glance at the Sīrah of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) reveals a number of platoons dispatched by the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) in Ramaḍān, including the Platoon of Hamza (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) to Sayf al-Bahr in 1 AH, and the platoon of Zayd b.n Ḥārith (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) to Bani Fuzarah in 6 AH and the Platoon of Sa’d b. Zayd al-Ashhali (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) to Mina in 8 AH. Some of the most momentous victories in the Sīrah took place in Ramaḍān, including the first decisive battle, the Battle of Badr on the 17th Ramadan in 2 AH and, of course, the conquest of Makkah in Ramaḍān of 8 AH. The Saḥābah (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhum) marched for Makkah on the 10th Ramaḍān whilst fasting and reached on the 19th, with the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) instructing them to break their fasts on the outskirts of Makkah in preparation for battle. Khālid b. al-Walīd was despatched to destroy the idol al-Uzza, in the al-Nakhlah region, with five days left of Ramaḍān remaining in the same year.
When the rewards are great the endeavour must also be great. There is nothing in life which is of value and worth that can be achieved without some form of striving. The blessed month of Ramaḍān is a gold mine whose stores can never be depleted. Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) has promised in Ḥadīth Qudsī that “fasting is for me, and I will reward it”.  The wider context of this ḥadīth is the promise to multiply the reward for good deeds from ten up to seven hundred times except for the reward of fasting, which is beyond that. By attributing the reward of fasting to Himself, Allah (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) has emphasised its limitless virtue.
As we stand on the eve of Ramaḍān, it really is time for Muslims of high aspirations to return in totality to the guidance of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam).
 Al-Qur’ān 33:21
 Al-Qur’ān 2:184
 Tafsīr Ibn Kathīr
 Al-Qur’ān 2:187
 Sunan ibn Mājah, Hadith No: 1644
 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī
 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 1803, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2308
 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī Volume 2, Book 21, Number 248
 Narrated and classed as Ṣaḥīḥ by al-Tirmidhi (806); also narrated by Abū Dāwūd (1375), al-Nasā’i (1605), and Ibn Mājah (1327)
 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 4998
 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 2024
 ‘Rutab’ – the stage where the date is fully ripe in taste and colour; soft and juicy within a papery thin skin. They are only available for a few short weeks in the summer months before they ripen further to the ‘Tamar’ stage.
 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 1856
 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 1795, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 1151
Abu Haneefah is an educationalist and student of knowledge. He has worked extensively in community projects in the UK. He holds regular study circles on reflections on the Qur’ān and his field of expertise is the tarbiyya of young people.