Each year, the month of Ramadan comes in all its glory as a reminder for us, to reflect upon the essence of obedience. That is to be connected to Allah, to be conscious of His pleasure, and to seek His approval in all aspects of our lives. Through fasting and refraining from even permissible things during daylight hours, Muslims learn to submit to Allah's commands and obey Him out of genuine love and devotion. However, in doing so, sometimes we tend to steer away from what is important and meaningful, towards that which may become a source of hindrance in reaping maximum rewards.
Therefore, it is important that we are mindful of such things during this sacred month so that we are able to benefit from its bounties and blessings. There are a few common misconceptions that form an integral part of our worship during this month. It is important that we know about them, in order to be able to help retract our focus and attention and, be able to help teach our children too.
1. Completing the recitation of the Holy Quran
Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen, may Allah have mercy on him, was asked: Is it obligatory for the fasting person to complete the Qur’an in Ramadan? He replied:
"Completing the Qur’aan in Ramadaan is not obligatory for the fasting person, but he should read the Qur’an a great deal in Ramadan, as that is the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, and he used to review it with Jibreel every Ramadaan."
(Majmoo’ Fataawa Ibn ‘Uthaymeen 20/516)
As much as we are encouraged to increase our ibadah or worship in the month of Ramadan, there is no evidence suggesting the obligation towards completing the Quran in this month. And, this is so because Allah knows what is manageable for us, hence he does not overburden us with something. That said, this also does not mean that we do not strive to push ourselves to read as much as we can.
Views of other famous scholars like Al-Nawawi, may Allah have mercy on him, when asked about how often the Quran should be completed, are noteworthy, too. He was of the opinion that:
"The best view is that that varies from one person to another. The one who is seeking to understand it and ponder its meaning should limit himself to as much as he can understand fully when he reads, and the one who is busy spreading knowledge or other religious works, or working for the public interests of the Muslims, should limit himself to what will not cause him to neglect his work. If he is not among the categories mentioned here, then he should do as much as he can without reaching the point of boredom." Al-Tibyaan (p. 76)
Therefore, we must be careful when it comes to planning our Ramadan routine, such that we do not overwhelm ourselves by making choices that are not sustainable.
2. Hosting and/or attending iftar parties
For some of us, living in the spirit of Ramadan means making it special by having friends and family over for iftar. But, what usually happens in such instances is that, as hosts or even as guests, such gatherings distract us from the essence of this month. This means not being able to focus, then, or luring away from the opportunities available, specifically in those crucial hours just before we break our fast.
Allah said about those who will be successful on the Day of Judgment:
“Every soul will taste death, and you will only be given your [full] compensation on the Day of Resurrection. So he who is drawn away from the Fire and admitted to Paradise has attained [his desire]. And what is the life of this world except the enjoyment of delusion.”
(Surah-Al Imran, 3: 185)
Therefore, it is important that we are mindful of the spirit of this blessed month when inviting our dear ones, and ensure that all activity in the kitchen is ended at least 30-45 minutes before the time of iftar and that everybody is happy and willing to join in and clean up after. Using such opportunities to engage in the remembrance of Allah and remind each other of Him is more likely to bring more barakah or blessings into your lives, in comparison to merely using iftar invitations in the name of socializing and self-indulgent practices.
3. Spending the whole night in worship
During the sacred month of Ramadan, spending the night in worship is a recommended practice, known as "Qiyam al-Layl." Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, used to stay up for Qiyam al-Layl during the last ten nights of Ramadan, and his companions also followed this practice. However, it is important to note that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, also emphasized the importance of getting enough sleep and rest, as he said;
"Verily, your body has a right over you."
Some individuals may not be able to stay up the whole night due to work, health, or other responsibilities, such as a mother who has to tend to the needs of her newly born baby. Her attention on her baby is rightly justified as we are encouraged to balance our spiritual practices with our physical needs and responsibilities. The more important thing, however, is to make a sincere effort to worship Allah and to seek His forgiveness and blessings, and make the best use of the opportunities that we have within our capacity. In such instances, scholars recommend that you space out your worship throughout the day making clear intentions of engaging in other duties, as a means of fulfilling your duties to please Allah.
4. Accountability for our acts in Ramadan
During Ramadan, we are expected to strive to be more pious and avoid indulging in behaviors that could yield negative repercussions for us in the Hereafter. This is because the reward for carrying out good deeds during this month is believed to be multiplied, while the consequences of immoral acts are also more severe. Allah, the most merciful clearly mentions in the Quran,
“Whoever comes [on the Day of Judgment] with a good deed will have ten times the like thereof [to his credit], and whoever comes with an evil deed will not be recompensed except the like thereof, and they will not be wronged.”
(Surah Al-An’aam, 6:160)
When it is known to us that Ramadan has a great position, then we must also be mindful of the fact that the wrong-doings committed in this month are heavier on the scale (in terms of value) than in any other month.
Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, would deliver a sermon, after Fajr and Asr prayers, reminding people that fasting is:
“... not merely from food and drink, but rather from lying, falsehood, and vain talk.”
(al-Sunan al-Kubrá lil-Bayhaqi 7955)
Hence, we should take advantage of this blessed month by engaging in acts of obedience that will please our Creator and refrain from those which can prove to be otherwise.
5. The act of congregational worship
Ramadan is a month of sincere worship. In it, Allah, the most exalted, opens the door of forgiveness and asks His believers to call upon Him for His mercy and blessings. It is important to note that in Ramadan, there are certain acts of worship that are encouraged to be undertaken in congregation such as the Tarawih prayers, and there is multiplied reward in it. The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“Verily, whoever stands for prayer in Ramadan with the Imam until he is finished, it will be recorded as if he prayed the entire night.”
There is much to learn from the Seerah of our beloved Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, who would retreat to worship in isolation during this month, and especially during the last ten nights. And he encouraged his family to do the same. Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, narrated:
“When the last ten days of Ramadan arrived, the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, would tighten his belt, spend the night in worship, and awaken his family.”
While both forms of worship, i.e. individual and communal, help to develop a strong personal relationship with Allah through their devotion, it is crucial to recognize which one serves a greater purpose.
6. The debate around Taraweeh.
Although there is much controversy around this subject area, in terms of the rakat or number of units of prayers that should be offered, it is important to address the matter in order to steer clear of common practices which are not backed by sufficient evidence.
At the time of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, Taraweeh prayers were performed individually by some people and, in small groups by others. Nonetheless, the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, stressed on its performance as an act of gaining multiple reward, but he himself did not offer them in congregation out of fear that they may be deemed compulsory by his followers.
It is generally agreed that the practice of praying Taraweeh in congregation started after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, under the caliphate of Umar ibn Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him. Much has been written on the topic. Individuals and communities across the globe struggle to practice this Sunnah from an informed position. Refer to your local imam, or trusted scholars, and/or read more about that here.
7. Writing off Ramadan when you can't fast
Ramadan is largely associated with the practice of fasting, and it can be demotivating and serve as a source of disappointment for those who are unable to partake in this cherished aspect of the month.
However, we must also be aware that in some cases not keeping our fast may also be a religious obligation for us. The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, advised:
"Religion is very easy and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way. So you should not be extremists, but try to be near to perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded; and gain strength by worshipping in the mornings, the afternoons, and during the last hours of the nights."
Nonetheless, it is important to learn to focus on what you can do, rather than overwhelming yourself with what you cannot do. Engaging in acts of charity, dhikr or remembrance of Allah, fulfilling our rightful duties, listening to Islamic lectures online, and devoting time to reading and understanding the Quran, are all meaningful and rewarding ways to experience a fulfilling Ramadan, even if fasting is not an option.
Moreover, if you miss out on fasts out of necessity, such as owing to chronic illness, pregnancy, or old age, and cannot make up the days at a later time, you can pay fidyah. Fidyah is typically paid as a donation to feed a person in need for each day of missed fasting. The amount of fidyah is equivalent to the cost of feeding one person two meals a day, or an equivalent amount of money. This donation is intended to provide food and sustenance for the poor and needy, and to make up for the missed days of fasting.
A Final Word of Advice
In its beauty and entirety, Ramadan is a month of self-restrain and of showcasing our love for Allah and strengthening our belief in Him. It is an opportunity gifted to us, to help us seek Allah's mercy and forgiveness in order to attain the best in the Hereafter. Focusing our attention on what we can and must do, in order to develop that closeness, is what really matters.
May Allah help guide us, to make the best use of this blessed month, and accept our sincere efforts in doing so. Allahumma Aameen.
Umm Ahmed is an early childhood educator and mother of three boys. Always on the quest to learn, she is passionate about seeking knowledge and passing it on to others. A writer in the making, she draws inspiration through deep conversations, laws of nature, and her own children. She and her family are currently living in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
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