When somebody really wants to prepare for Ramadan very well, the first basic piece of advice I would give you – some of you are mothers, some of you are students, some of you are employees, and you have different kinds of schedules and obligations, so you have to figure out this piece of advice for yourself – is make time to recite the Qur'an every day. Put everything else down. I'm not talking just about the Qur'an you have memorized. I'm talking about picking a time in the day, preferably after one of the prayers like fajr or 'isha'. This is not after Ramadan starts but from now. Sit with the book of Allh and recite it. If you can't handle a lot, then do at least a couple of pages. You will notice that you get lazy very quickly. You will recite a little bit and then start yawning or feeling like you have to do something else. You are actively doing it yourself and have to put an effort into reciting the Qur'an.
This is really where your personal litmus test is going to come into play. How much time do you really enjoy spending with this book? If you don't get into the habit of reciting it regularly, then the next step I'm trying to advise you of, which is memorizing it, will never even start. The first thing is getting into the habit of reciting the Qur'an every day.
This as a basic, practical starting point in your own personal journey with the Qur'an. It is something that the scholars among us and speakers among us and those who don't know much at all about Arabic or Qur'an or tafsir are in the same boat when it comes to this. This is something we equally have to give importance to. Just because I've been studying or trying to study the Qur'an for the last decade doesn't mean that I'm exempt from having to recite the Qur'an every single day. It is something I need as much as you need and even my teachers need.
It is not something that anybody will graduate beyond. That is the beauty of this book. We are never past it. We can't just say, “Oh, I already recited that page. Oh, I already recited this srah.” It doesn't work like that. Ramadan is a great opportunity for instilling and reinforcing those good habits, in sha 'Allh.
My personal recommended time is after fajr. It is a particularly peaceful time and there is an enjoyment in the Qur'an and barakah in it. You will enjoy the rest of your day. You will feel the effects of the blessings at work, in school, and in whatever you are doing. You will see the benefits of it.
That is the other thing is that Ramadan comes and we go overboard. There's a person who doesn't even pray, or if they pray, maybe they pray at home. In Ramadan, for 30 straight days they come to the masjid and they are there for 8 or 20 taraweeh, exhausting themselves. Halfway into it, they cannot wait for Ramadan to be over so they can go back to normal again. This is unhealthy, actually. I'm not saying you shouldn't make 20 tarawih or 8 tarawih, please go ahead! But get into good habits that you can bring to life before Ramadan starts and you can keep alive after Ramadan is over.
When Ramadan starts, recite a whole juz' every day or two juz' a day if you can. If you can't handle that after Ramadan is done, then start with something far more manageable. What is manageable and sustainable is far better for you. “The best of deeds are the ones that are the most constant.” The most constant deeds are the ones that are the most manageable. They are the ones you wouldn't have to go out of your way to maintain.
We often don't realize the spiritual benefits of praying in the masjid, reciting the Qur'an, and active acts of worship – extra prayers, nawfil. You will know the difference between a prayer that is just a hit and run – you literally bang your head on the floor a couple of times and made sajdah and got it out of the way – or you took your time and prayed peacefully. You will notice a difference not only in the prayer but how you feel that day after the prayer. The day you make it to the masjid to pray fajr and 'ish', you are going to feel different. You are going to be at a peace you haven't enjoyed before. From your past experience, you can already testify to those differences. It does make a difference. These are some of the joys of Islam. One of the joys of our mn is that we get to taste its fruits even in this life. You don't have to be an advanced scholar or zhid to enjoy these things.
Even if you are not in the habit of regularly praying in the masjid or reciting a lot of Qur'an, if you get started now, you will start tasting the sweetness of it right away. It is not something you are going to have to wait for.
Tip #2: A Golden Opportunity - Da'wah
The second bit of advice that I want to share with you about the month of Ramadan – again, keeping in mind there are all kinds of readers and you have different family and social situations that I can't even imagine, but I do want to make an educated guess that a lot of you belong to families where there are significant family members that aren't interested in religion or aren't “religious” and don't are for learning the religion more or learning Islam more or worshipping more. Even those kinds of members of the family when it comes to Ramadan turn towards the dn a little more than usual. The most they will become religious is in this month. I see that as a golden opportunity.
Usually what happens in the khutbah is that in the Eid khutbah or the last khutbah of Ramadan, the khatib is angry at the crowd and says, “Don't just come here every Ramadan and then just disappear. Come here every single night of the prayer. I only see you at the Eid prayer.” Instead of using that as an opportunity to vent your frustrations, it is an opportunity to invite people as guests. These people who don't normally come have come. The fact that the even show up is a favor. It is not something we should complain about. We should look at it the other way. These are people who otherwise have little or nothing to do with the faith. They are barely holding onto the faith. Take it as an opportunity to invite them.
In your family, if you have a hard time bringing up dn or a religious conversation – maybe the beauty or value or prayer, or maybe something you recited from the Qur'an or you heard something explained about the Qur'an that you found particularly beautiful – Ramadan is a good opportunity when you go over for iftar at your cousin's house and get invited to a friend's house or you invite them to your house. When you normally never get a healthy opportunity, now you get an opportunity to talk about the religion. You have a disarmed and non-confrontational opportunity to speak to your friends and family in a way that is not going to create an argument. You don't want to have an argument in the days of Ramadan. Don't fall into those debates, and don't allow those debates to become dominant in your conversation with others.
Ramadan is about getting closer to Allh and maybe doing your part in helping somebody else get closer to Allh.
In Ramadan, you will get an opportunity to talk to folks that you don't normally see the rest of the year. You don't normally get to talk to them about the religion the rest of the year. Those kinds of people have all kinds of interesting and weird opinions about Islam. They are members of your family – it could be your uncle, cousin, grandfather. When you do talk about the din, they will bring up tangents and weird ideas of theirs, and then they will ask you your opinion about them. One of your relatives may start criticizing ahadith saying it is all made up, or someone else may say the Qur'an talks about alcohol but it is not the same as beer, so it's okay. You will be sitting there thinking, “What are you talking about?! Why are you talking like this?” It will make you upset because obviously these are some basic things in the religion and these people are bringing them up almost as a joke, or they are bringing up really absurd and ridiculous understandings of the religion that can boil your blood.
I'm particularly talking to the youth that feel like they have to defend the faith at any cost, even if it means severing family ties. This is the point where you have to put the brakes on your tongue and hold yourself back and allow the conversation to be steered back in a good direction. “I just wanted to talk about getting closer to Allh. I just wanted to talk about how great the recitation of Qur'an was the other night.” Change the subject. Don't go into debates! Don't go into religious arguments. This is not the month to do it. It is not the time to do it. Everyone should walk away with a good taste in their mouth after a conversation about dn in this month.
Yes, those issues should be hashed out and discussed, but find another time to do them. Shaytan is out of the picture right now. These people are ripe for da'wah, and that will entirely depend on your mannerism and your patience and courtesy with them in trying to deliver that message.
The sisters listening right now will have to do that with their husbands who are averse to the religion. There are some husbands whose wives don't really like anything to do with Islam. They think that you have become too religious. This will be the opportunity to soften those hearts. There may be your parents who think that you have become too religious and are upset with you and criticize you all the time. This will be a chance for you to not respond to those things impulsively and become reactionary but rather to become very patient and calm in your reaction to them. Keep the atmosphere positive and good.
Another bit of advice that is tied to this is with friends. All of us have friends who are not very religious. They may be old friends from college or high school. You keep in touch, but maybe you talk about sports or a movie that just came about. You don't talk about dn. This is the month to try to invite one of your friends to come over for iftar and go to the masjid and pray. Hang out with them. Just go for 'ish' and bring them back. You don't have to preach a word. Just try to bring them into that environment. Let Allh do the rest. Being in a masjid after so long will do something to their hearts. It happens!
You and I are not in charge of changing people's hearts, but we can certainly try to bring them to a good, positive environment. If there is goodness in them, and I'm sure there is, it will flourish. Allah will allow it to flourish. This is the time to do that. Mend family ties and help friends come to better company, and for you and me to memorize more Qur'an at the end of this month than we knew going in. We should have recited more Qur'an than we had coming in.
I really hope that you and I do that and we don't get lazy this Ramadan. The worst thing you can do is that Ramadan came to an end and you look back and you say, “Man, another Ramadan went and I didn't fully take advantage of it. I ran out of steam too early.” You don't want that to happen to you this Ramadan. insh'Allh we will get ourselves in gear ahead of time.
Tip #3: Guard the Sunnah Prayers
My parting advice is take care of your sunnah prayers. Pray the sunan before the fard prayers. Pray the sunan after the fard prayers. Pray the sunan in the masjid or come home and pray them. Take care of them! This is a huge part of reaping the spiritual benefits of 'ibdah. It will get rid of laziness from you. You will become active in doing worship. Ramadan is a time of extra worship. If you are even barely making the energy to do the fard (obligatory) prayers, then in Ramadan, you will run out of steam very quickly. You will not have the energy to do much. It is going to be an opportunity wasted. Take advantage of having a little bit more 'ibdah than usual from now on. Make sure to pray the two rak'ahs after maghrib. Make sure you pray your sunnah after thuhr. Finish the sunnah and nawfil after 'ish'. Make sure you take care of those extra acts of worship. Sit and make du‘’ by yourself. Put yourself in that situation so you are trained to really take advantage of this Ramadan.
I pray that you and I are able to learn a lot about the Qur'an and memorize and recite. I pray that all of us are able to worship Allh in a way that we haven't done before or have gotten too lazy to do and that we don't compare ourselves to the person praying next to us. We should at least compare ourselves to own selves from yesterday to today. We should be a better Muslim today than yesterday.
I'm very optimistic about this Ramadan. I think it is going to be a beautiful month for all Muslims, especially for us here in the US in sha'Allh.
I want to extend my salams to all of you and your families and make du‘’ that their fasting and worship is all accepted by Allh and that they make the most of it. Ramadan is going to be late nights all across the country. 'Isha' is going to be late, which means taraweeh is going to be late after that, which means guys, don't hang out after prayer. Go to sleep! It is going to ruin your fajr. What is the point of praying 20 tarawih and you can't even wake up for fajr? It is an exercise in futility. Make your worship, but make sure you have a healthy sleep schedule. Make sure you don't overdo it so that you can stay on course and be productive in sha 'Allh throughout the entire month. These are a few good tips of advice that I wanted to remind myself of and remind all of you of in getting ready for the beautiful month of Ramadan.
May Allah make this a month we are closer to the Qur'an than we have ever been. May Allah help you and I understand this book, enjoy this book, love this book, memorize this book and act on this book as it deserves to be acted on.
Noman Ali Khan is the founder and director of Bayyinah in Texas. For more information visit http://bayyinah.com.