Although not especially distant, with fewer than 100 days until the arrival of Ramaḍān this year, there is still a significant amount of time before its appearance. As such, we must ask: is it already the topic of any conversation?
If we are consistently reminded that from our many failings as an Ummah is our inability to plan and prepare adequately for future circumstances and potentialities, let this year stand as a proof that change is afoot.
In order to move forward as a nation, we cannot continue as a people who are reactionary, mere responders to events as they occur. Let us instead be proactive, striving to facilitate taking full advantage of the events to come. Let us be proactive in the expectance of our annual guest. Let us be prepared and ready as Allāh, the All-Knowing, All-Wise, instructs:
“O you who believe! Endure, outdo all others in endurance, be ready, and observe your duty to Allāh, in order that ye may succeed.”
The early generations of the Ummah used to make du’a 6 months after Ramaḍān that Allāh accept their deeds in Ramaḍān. And for the next 6 months, they would make du’a to Allāh to grant them the blessing of being alive in the coming Ramaḍān.
The Messenger of Allāh (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) taught us to prepare for that which was to come, his narrations being replete with such examples. In the same manner, he (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) also taught us to prepare for Ramaḍān, beginning months in advance. It has been narrated that upon sighting the moon of Rajab, he prayed to Allāh with the following words:
“O Allāh, bless the months of Rajab and Sha’bān for us, and let us reach the month of Ramaḍān.”
Inspired by this teaching of our beloved Prophet (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam), we find ourselves talking about Ramaḍān as the moon heralding the month of Rajab is above us.
As people who recognise the honour of being from the Ummah of the Messenger of Allāh (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam), we must understand that this du’ā is actually his (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) guidance for us. Therein, the Messenger (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) guided and encouraged us towards knowing and valuing the desire to reach Ramaḍān and capitalise on the blessings in the months preceding it. It is more often than not forgotten that we need such guidance in our times, just as much as those who came before us. It may even be that the need for this blessing, as well as sincere reflection on this du’ā, is more important now than it has been for us in previous years.
In light of this need for reflection, we can see that the Messenger of Allāh (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) is certainly teaching us a number of lessons through this du’ā. One is the need to have a blessed Rajab, followed by a blessed Sha’bān as this was the first request of the Prophet (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam). Undoubtedly, if the Prophet (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) wanted this for himself and his Ummah, we should desire it too. In teaching us to want something, there is the further indication that we are in need of it.
The seventh month of the Islamic lunar calendar, Rajab is no ordinary month. In his final sermon, the Prophet (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) designated Rajab as one of the four ‘sacred months’ in which armed conflict was prohibited.  The famous scholar, Ibn Rajab, mentioned that some scholars regarded Rajab as the most sacred of all the months. Employing a beautiful analogy, the great scholar, Abū Bakr Al-Balkhiyyu, connected the three months: “Rajab is a month of planting seeds, Sha’bān is the month of irrigation and Ramaḍān is the month of harvest”.
Sha’bān is itself a special month. Whilst not being sacred, it carries virtues mentioned by the Prophet (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam). During his time, it was usual to see the Arabs showing special attention to Rajab, neglecting Sha’bān in comparison. Usāmah b. Zayd narrated that he asked, “O messenger of Allāh, I do not see you fasting in any month as you fast in Sha’bān.” In response the Messenger of Allāh said:
“That is a month that people neglect between Rajab and Ramaḍān, but it is a month in which people’s deeds are taken up to the Lord of the Worlds and I would like my deeds to be taken up when I am fasting.”
Let us then consider the following questions as opportunities for self-reflection. Are we going to increase in our devotion to Allāh in Rajab? Are we ready for this month and are we connecting that which is upon us with that which awaits us in five months’ time?
Refer back to the du’ā of the Messenger of Allāh (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam). The second thing he asked for was to reach Ramaḍān; accordingly, our hearts should accommodate this desire as well. If it is found to be absent, we must work to arouse the emotions and feelings associated with Ramaḍān. How can they resist being stirred when Allāh has mentioned it in His Speech, and designated it as the month of al-Qur’ān?
“The Month of Ramaḍān, in which the Qur’ān was sent down, as a guide to mankind and a clear guidance and criterion.”
Recall the virtues and opportunities of the coming months to revive the Ramaḍān spirit and set the mood for righteous deeds. Remember that the Messenger of Allāh (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said:
“When the month of Ramaḍān starts, the gates of the heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained.”
Remember that he taught:
“Whoever fasts during Ramaḍān out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allāh’s rewards, then all his past sins will be forgiven.”
Then remember how he informed and encouraged us with the following:
“Ramaḍān has come to you. [It is] a month of blessing, in which Allāh covers you with blessing, for He sends down Mercy, decreases sins and answers prayers. In it, Allāh looks at your competition [in good deeds], and boasts about you to His angels. So show Allāh goodness from yourselves, for the unfortunate one is he who is deprived in (this month) of the mercy of Allāh, the Mighty, the Exalted.”
Can this fail to evoke the interest and yearning of our hearts? Are we not excited at the thought of this month’s arrival and what goodness it would bring? The Prophet (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said:
“The time between the five prayers, two consecutive Friday Prayers, and two consecutive Ramaḍāns are expiations for all that has happened during those periods, provided that one has avoided the grave (major) sins.”
Surely this is something that every Muslim—in truth every sane human being—would love and strive for. Are we then prepared and are we ready for the blessed month?
Dear brothers and sisters. You will certainly need to prepare for this Ramaḍān, and those we shall experience if alive in the years to come, as they differ in many ways from our experience of Ramaḍān in recent history. These are the years in which Ramaḍān will coincide with the longest days in the Northern Hemisphere (13). Such long days of fasting for the month of Ramaḍān have not occurred here in over twenty-five years.
Even for those of us who are now in our mid-thirties, it is unlikely that we have fasted such long days earlier on in our lives. If we began fasting in our teens, our first Ramaḍān would have been around May; to give an example, the ‘Īd of 1988 coincided with the middle of May. Likewise, census estimates suggest that the population of Muslims in the UK in 1981 was approximately 600,000. By contrast, the 2011 census indicates the Muslim population now numbers closer to 3,000,000. Undoubtedly the vast majority of Muslims in this country are facing long days in Ramaḍān.
For many of the elder members of the Muslim community, this will not seem much of a challenge. We did it last year; the slight added difficulty will not offer any dramatic complications in doing it again. We are resigned to the obligation of fasting and as it is a pillar of our faith, we will uphold it, year after year. Some of our elderly may well remember Ramaḍān in the early 1980s, the sweltering heat of long summer days. Those who were around at the opening of East London Mosque’s then new building will recollect.
The concern however, is with our youth. Returning to the 2011 census, Muslims have the youngest age profile of the main religious groups considered. Nearly half of all Muslims in the UK are aged under 25 (1.3 million), while eight in every ten Muslims (80%) are aged under 50 (2.4 million) (16). The reality then is that a considerable number of Muslims in the UK have never experienced such a Ramaḍān in their lives. We, as parents, leaders and role models, have to take a proactive position and begin by readying ourselves so that we can prepare these youths; as regrettably, it is hard to argue against the conclusion that most will not prepare until it is too late to do so.
Considering that many of these younger Muslims are students it will be either at school, college or university where they will be facing the longer, hotter days of fasting. Schools often host sports days, schedule end of year trips and celebratory events at this time, and these are not unlikely to occur during the month of Ramaḍān. What then should these Muslims do? A spotlight has been shone on the fact that Ramaḍān may align with the exam times of GCSE, A-Level and even University students. Articles have appeared in the media such as The Guardian, where Rebecca Ratcliffe suggests “Teachers fear that Muslim students’ grades will suffer if they have to sit GCSE and A-Level exams while they are fasting.” BBC News likewise quoted the notion that “over the coming years, young Muslim pupils will be at what we believe is a severe disadvantage.” The picture being painted is one of undeniable difficulty and adversity.
The image does not appear much different at university level. The University of Swansea recently posted an advisory notice for students who felt unable to sit examinations on certain dates or times due to fasting during Ramaḍān. It suggested that “some students, in consultation with their religious advisor, may consider that their examinations are sufficient justification to permit them not to Fast, either just on examination days or perhaps for the whole examination period. The period of fasting can often be undertaken at a later time or some other arrangement could be considered.” Similar advice has appeared from other organisations. This however seems to contradict the words of scholars of recent times, for example, Shaykh b. Bāz, who said:
“It is not permissible for an adult of sound mind to break the fast during Ramaḍān because of exams, because that is not one of the excuses permitted in Islām. Rather he has to fast and do his studying at night if it is hard for him to do it during the day.”
This is simply a glance at what are seemingly innumerable instances of conflicting messages, which, as can be expected, are likely to leave many young Muslims confused. Is it per chance that we see this happening now while a climate where religious sensibilities, secular expectations and immediate ephemeral successes are presented as part of an inescapable, over-bubbling elemental conflict? A more important question is whether these prevalent sensational statements about the supposed incompatibility of Islamic practices with a ‘normal’ and ‘healthy’ human life in the contemporary world are leaving us with questions about the hardships of Ramaḍān.
It seems that we must wade through an ocean of propaganda to comprehend the reality behind it. As a matter of principle, it is important to ask where questions about Ramaḍān are coming from, the agendas at play, and to, if necessary, challenge the sincerity of those voices. Such an approach is even more integral in our current context, where a deeply troubling climate of suspicion, discrimination and intolerance towards Muslims and Islām is increasingly palpable across society. Both media organisations and educational institutions have had a disappointing role in oxygenating tensions around easily resolvable or non-existent issues. There is an apparent coalescence of media, politics and the educative infrastructure, not only in the embedding of a deeply prejudiced perspective, but in the pursuit of a flagrantly selective, interrogative and inquisitional approach towards the Muslim community. Universities have themselves been caught up in several rows recently, preventing congregational prayers, banning speakers and organisations and cancelling events based on anything from optional gender separate seating to the illegitimate ‘tip-offs’ of far-right think tanks.
Let us address the claim at the heart of these reports. Is fasting in Ramaḍān really going to be a nightmare?
One of the problems such a question exposes is the idea of Ramaḍān as something that drops into our comfortable, busy lives, out of nowhere. Ramaḍān however, cannot be treated as an unexpected, let alone undesirable visitor. Ramaḍān requires preparation, and to meet this need can make all the difference. We should remember that Ramaḍān has always been a period where great sacrifices were made and these sacrifices left no disappointment nor were they met with dismay. From the Battle of Badr, fought and won by the few against the many during this month, to the student who wakes early for suhūr, spends his day at school, revising or taking exams, before making his night one of standing in prayer; sacrifices have to be made and have been made by billions before us. All that remains for us is to prepare ourselves for those sacrifices.
There are a number of ways in which you can prepare. Start to give charity, for example. Imagine if you didn’t give charity until Ramaḍān began. You may give a few hundred pounds then, but if you were already giving a few hundred in the months before, it is probable that you will find yourself giving a lot more in Ramaḍān. Likewise, making a concerted effort to correct your ill behaviours now will help you with avoiding those flaws in Ramaḍān. Similarly, increasing in optional acts of worship now, especially the night prayer, may turn them into second nature by the time the sacred month arrives. Remember when the Messenger of Allāh (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) informed his companions of what Allāh said:
“…And My servant continues to draw near to me with nawāfil (supererogatory) deeds until I Love him. When I Love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his sight with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes, and his foot with which he walks. Were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely give it to him; and were he to seek refuge with Me, I would surely grant him refuge.’ ”
If you have not already, start by fasting today! It was a sunnah of the Messenger of Allāh (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) to fast two days a week, and not only will you gain the reward of these actions, it will also accustom your body to the longer hours of fasting. Imagine being able to take full benefit. Abū Hurayrah reported that the most the Prophet (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) would fast was Mondays and Thursdays. He was asked about that and he said:
“The deeds of people are presented to Allāh on every Monday and Thursday…” (23)
As the days increase in length, you will probably improve in health, increase your stamina and more importantly than that, taste the sweetness of īmān, because in this action, you are reviving a sunnah of the Messenger of Allāh (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) that the people have abandoned, and in following the sunnah, the Messenger (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) will become dearer and dearer to your heart. The Prophet (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said:
“Whoever revives an aspect of my Sunnah that is forgotten after my death, he will have a reward equivalent to that of the people who follow him, without it detracting in the least from their reward.”
You could even aim to fast on the three full moons of the next few months. Abū Dharr al-Ghifāri narrated that the Messenger of Allāh (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said:
“O Abū Dharr! If you fast three days of every month, then fast the 13th, the 14th and the 15th.”
In truth, the health benefits are secondary at best. Your intention should be pure, in that you want to please Allāh, you want the reward, and you want to be in prime condition to take advantage of the incredible month of Ramaḍān. Reflect on your eating patterns in general however, as the Messenger of Allāh (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said:
“No human ever filled a vessel worse than the stomach. Sufficient for any son of Ādam are some morsels to keep his back straight. But if it must be, then one third for his food, one third for his drink and one third for his breath.”
We must place special emphasis on our youth. Encourage your kids to start this as well. Imagine if the majority of Muslim children in the UK were following this procedure, by the time of their exams, there would probably be a very positive improvement in their levels of achievement and their ability to cope with the pressures of Ramaḍān coinciding with this intense period of their studies.
Do not stop at fasting. Start to read the Qur’ān more often and aim to complete the whole of the Qur’ān, with translation of meaning, before the beginning of Ramaḍān. The Messenger of Allāh (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) declared:
“…The Qur’ān will be a ‘hujjah’ (argument) either for you or against you!”
Without making an effort with the Qur’ān now, it is likely you will find it difficult to find a strong reading pattern during Ramaḍān, and even if you eventually achieve it, you will likely begin to peak as Ramaḍān leaves. We want the entire month of Ramaḍān to be the peak of our connection with the Book of Allāh. Read now and you’ll be reading much more as soon as the month starts. And if you understand what you read it will benefit you immensely, remember Allāh says:
“This is the Book (the Qur’ān), whereof there is no doubt, a guidance to those who are al-Muttaqūn (the pious).”
May Allāh make His book a source of guidance for you! Imagine being able to fully concentrate during tarāwīh prayers in Ramaḍān because you can understand the Qur’ān. Imagine how greatly your connection with Allāh would improve during this blessed month if you could comprehend. A brilliant plan that I would like to encourage you to join in is to memorise the most frequently occurring words in the Qur’ān. By doing so you would have covered more than 50% of the meaning of the Qur’ān in no time, so be proactive and efficient!
We ask Allāh help us all prepare for the blessed month of Ramaḍān in the best way possible and reap its benefits in full. Difficult as they say it will be, Inshā’Allāh it will be better than every Ramaḍān before. O Allāh, make us ready for the sacrifices ahead and grant us success in all our affairs. Āmīn.
Revised from an earlier version posted on 5th May 2014, under the title, Will this Ramaḍān be difficult? The Preparation starts now!
Notes: Al-Qur’ān 3:200  Ahmad and Tabarāni  Bukhāri and Muslim  Al-Qur’ān 9:36  Latā’if al-Ma’ārif  Latā’if al-Ma’ārif  Al-Nasā’i (2357); classed as hasan by al-Albāni in Sahih al-Nasā’i  Al-Qur’ān 2:183  Bukhāri  Bukhāri  Tabarāni  Muslim  http://wwp.greenwichmeantime.co.uk/longest-day/  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/wikileaks-files/london-wikileaks/8304838/UK-MUSLIM-DEMOGRAPHICS-C-RE8-02527.html  Office for National Statistics, 2011 Census: Aggregate data (England and Wales) [computer file]. UK Data Service Census Support. Downloaded from: http://infuse.mimas.ac.uk. This information is licensed under the terms of the Open Government Licence [http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/2]  Office for National Statistics, 2011 Census: Aggregate data (England and Wales) [computer file]. UK Data Service Census Support. Downloaded from: http://infuse.mimas.ac.uk. This information is licensed under the terms of the Open Government Licence [http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/2]  Rebecca Ratcliffe, The Guardian.com, Thursday 17 April 2014 10.30 ‘BST School exam timetables should avoid clashes with Ramaḍān, teachers say’, http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/apr/17/school-exams-scheduled-avoid-clashes-Ramaḍān-teachers  By Katherine Sellgren, BBC News, Manchester, 16 April 2014 Last updated at 17:12, Examiners ‘may accommodate Ramaḍān fasting’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-27050945  http://www.swan.ac.uk/registry/academicguide/assessmentissues/religiousfastingduringexaminationperiods/  Fatāwa al-Shaykh B. Bāz, 4/223. – http://islamqa.info/en/60296  The List of universities that have banned Muslim events is growing, e.g. Damian Thompson in The Telegraph, April 17th, 2014, ‘University of East London bans segregated Muslim event from its premises’ http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/damianthompson/100268072/university-of-east-london-bans-segregated-muslim-event-from-its-premises/  Bukhāri  Ahmad; graded Hasan  Tirmidhī  Ahmad, an-Nasā’i and Tirmidhī; graded Sahih  Ahmad, Tirmidhī, An-Nasā’i, B. Majah  Muslim  Al-Qur’ān 2:2  http://www.quranpda.com/Dict_Grammar_PC/80_Percent_Quranic_Words_English.pdf