This article first appeared at dreamlife.wordpress.com. It’s republished with the author’s kind permission.
To fully benefit from a great opportunity, you need to prepare for it – and the more thorough the preparation the better. As Muslims, we have an annual event that serves as a tremendous opportunity to gather rewards and effect permanent, positive changes in our lives that will help us draw closer and closer to the Almighty. That opportunity is Ramadan.
Usually, it’s only in the two months before Ramadan that we start hearing about how important it is to prepare. Preparation ensures that, by the time the month arrives, we’re already in the spirit of striving, and we have the momentum to make the most of Ramadan.
But we also hear how the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) companions (may Allah be pleased with them) used to look forward to Ramadan a full six months before it came. And because they are the best generation in our history, we should take them as our role models and try to emulate their attitude towards this great opportunity.
We have, insha-Allah, two months left until Ramadan begins – so if we want to take full benefit from Ramadan, and take advantage of those ‘early bird’ benefits, now is the time to start preparing (if we haven’t already started, that is).
You may be thinking it’s too soon, but it isn’t. Time flies and we get wrapped up in so many other things – so it would be foolish to let this reminder and early opportunity pass you by.
The Early Bird plan
It’s a well-established principle that the way to success is gradualism: doing things little by little, stage by stage, but being consistent in it. So for each of the next months, this series takes at least one aspect of spiritual development and helps us to strengthen in it.
And when Ramadan hits, insha-Allah, we would have made solid starts in at least five important elements of our spiritual lives, which puts us in a great starting position for the beginning of Ramadan – from which, insha-Allah, it’ll be easier to accelerate the pace.
The system being proposed here is open to your suggestions, so please do give feedback if you can contribute anything positive. Also, it’s customisable – you’re not bound to the chosen topic for the month. Each person knows him/herself best, and knows what’s most important for their lives – so focus on what you need to, adopting a structured framework within which to focus your efforts.
The general framework for this plan is:
1. Selection: Pick an area you’d like to work on for this month (e.g. character, speech, fasting, charity); or use the one prescribed in this month’s post
2. Diagnosis: Analyse what your current condition is in the area (quality, frequency, etc), and list your weaknesses
3. Root cause analysis: Get to the root of your weaknesses / problems
4. Solutions: Come up with practical methods to overcome those root causes
5. Planning and implementation: Set up a realistic plan of action to implement those solutions gradually in the coming months, then at a higher pace in Ramadan
Month 1: Salaah
We know the importance of prayer in Islam: It’s the first thing we’ll be asked about on the Day of Judgement, and according to another hadith, it’s a founding pillar of Islam – whoever has established it has uplifted the pillar, and whoever has disregarded it has dropped the founding pillar.
So with that in mind, this first month’s preparation consists of the following:
- Do I understand how important prayer really is, for both my current life and my time in the grave and Hereafter?
- Am I making my compulsory prayers every day?
- Am I generally making them on time, or do I let other things delay me too often?
- Am I striving to make them in congregation?
- Do I have good concentration in prayer, or do other things often distract me?
- Do I perform my wudu and prayer correctly, according to the sunnah?
There are many other points we could ponder on regarding prayer, but for now, we’ll limit the discussion to these alone. Think through each question, and record your answers. Be honest with yourself – and do this either completely in private, without sharing it with anyone (if you prefer it that way), or with someone else (if you think that’s more beneficial). List all your weaknesses or problems.
Root cause analysis:
Now go through each of your listed weaknesses, and write down its outward symptoms that you notice (e.g. losing focus during salaah – what is my mind drifting to?). Then try to find what the root causes of those problems are by interrogating each symptom: ask yourself “why?” that symptom persists, and keep asking “why?” of each answer until you get to the root cause.
With the problems diagnosed, the symptoms identified, and root causes found, now think of practical ways to solve those problems from the root. For example, if your mind drifts to your daily activities during prayer, is it because you spend so much time wrapped up in those activities, and then ‘quickly’ go to make prayer for a short time before you can get back to ‘normal life’?
If so, one solution is to give yourself a buffer of a few minutes before each prayer – a short period where you disconnect from all those activities, sit quietly and alone, and try to let all those thoughts dissipate while you mentally prepare for your meeting with Allah. And after the prayer, take another few minutes to just stay in that moment – before you return to your life’s activities.
Planning and implementation:
With solutions identified, now analyze what your schedule and life is like at this moment, and come up with a realistic plan of how you can implement the solution. Remember that a solution is far more effective if you implement it gradually – in small, manageable pieces, and consistently – rather than trying to make a big change in one go, and burning yourself out.
Set up your plan to take baby steps in this month, knowing that you’ll only be starting small for now – then, if you can manage, further baby steps in the months that follow. Also include, in your plan, the ways you’d like to intensify your efforts when Ramadan comes.
If, after a while, you find that you’ve incorrectly estimated your ability to follow the plan, simply make adjustments as needed. The goal for this month, and the four that follow, is to implement steps that are realistic for you – what you can manage, and not what will overburden you.
To help with this month’s exercise, you can download and use the following document: Ramadan Early Bird worksheet (1st edition).
To help you with this month’s focus, check out the following:
2. A short e-book, “TASTE IT! How to Taste the True Beauty of Salah”, which approaches the topic of salaah quality in a short, piece by piece approach.
3. Muhammad Al-Shareef’s “Shortcuts to concentration”, which is a list of 30 tips to help you concentrate better in salaah.
And the most important resources of all are the right intentions, sincere dua asking for success in this venture, and then consistent effort to do your best.
All the best with this first step in Ramadan prep; and feel free to share your feedback or progress in the Comments section or via email.
Later post(s) in this series are at this link.