Whenever there is a seminal or portentous event, an event that holds personal significance for an individual, they spend a significant amount of time preparing themselves for it. If a person has an interview for Google or a top tier university, they will spend a lot of time getting ready for the interview. He or she will research what is asked in this type of interview, prepare their potential answers, anticipate what type of questions may be asked, and rehearse their answers. The night before the big interview, they may not even be able to sleep at night out of worry-- their minds full of the various possibilities that tomorrow holds. If a person does not prepare, then they will simply look like a fool on the day of the interview. In the same way, if someone wants to hold a graduation party or a wedding, there are usually months of planning that precede the actual event. If there is no planning, then the graduation or wedding instead of being a cause of celebration will become a cause of embarrassment. The reason that planning and preparation are important is that without them, the event is bound to be a marked failure.
We must then ask ourselves what is a more important event than the month of Ramadan, the month of the Quran. Do we want to look like a fool, to be embarrassed before Allah SWT in this month? This is the month in which a sinner can become a saint. This is the month in which the mercy of Allah rains down upon His creation. This is the month in which the Creator of the universe releases people from the shackles that they have placed upon themselves. This is the month in which people are removed from the fires of hell and placed into the gardens of paradise. Because of the great blessings that exist within this month, the one who is deprived of the benefits of this month is truly unfortunate.
Abu Huraira reported: The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, ascended the pulpit and he said, “Ameen, ameen, ameen.” It was said, “O Messenger of Allah, you ascended the pulpit and said ameen, ameen, ameen.” The Prophet said, “Verily, Gabriel came to me and he said: Whoever reaches the month of Ramadan and he is not forgiven, then he will enter Hellfire and Allah will cast him far away, so say ameen. I said ameen. Whoever sees his parents in their old age, one or both of them, and he does not honor them and he dies, then he will enter Hellfire and Allah will cast him far away, so say ameen. I said ameen. Whoever has your name mentioned in his presence and he does not send blessings upon you and he dies, then he will enter Hellfire and Allah will cast him far away, so say ameen. I said ameen.” [Source: Sahih Ibn Hibban 915]
Understanding the importance of this month, it has been said that the Sahabah (R) prepared six months for Ramadan and then afterwards spent six months worrying whether or not their actions performed in Ramadan were accepted. This is one of the reasons that we do not benefit from this blessed month. Since we treat it like any other month of the year due to being too busy with life, Ramadan comes and goes and we do not take any particular benefit. We exit the month in the same way that we entered it.
If we had prepared this would not be the case. Take for example a old car that is driving along the road. Even if there is a Lamborghini parked at the stoplight, if the old car is already driving at 50 mph at the time that the light turns green, it will still beat the Lamborghini. For many of us since we have not prepared for Ramadan ahead of time, and by the time we “get into gear,” the month is almost over.
How does one prepare for the month of Ramadan? They are both practical and spiritual things that should be done in preparation for this blessed month.
1. Leave Sin
The first thing that we should do is become accustomed to leaving sin. Sin serves as an anchor for spiritual progress. Fasting is a shield as long as one does not tear it or destroy it.
“"Fasting is a shield. So the fasting person should avoid obscene speech and should not behave foolishly and ignorantly, and if somebody fights with him or insults him, he should tell him twice, ‘I am fasting.’ By the One in Whose hand is my soul, the smell that comes from the mouth of a fasting person is better in the sight of Allah than the scent of musk. (Allaah says about the fasting person), ‘He has given up his food, drink and desires for My sake. The fast is for Me and I will reward (the fasting person) for it and the reward of good deeds is multiplied ten times.’” [Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 1894; Muslim, 1151]
What can be more foolish or ignorant than a slave disobeying his master, than thecreation disobeying the Creator? Common areas where people fall into disobedience include television, Internet, music, backbiting, taking interest, or transgressing the rights of others. One should try to rectify any wrongdoings made against another person by asking their forgiveness before this month starts. This is the time to “bury the hatchet.” This allows a person to enter into the month disencumbered. A heart that is clean toward his fellow man is indeed a beautiful slate on which to write the story of their Ibadah in Ramadan.
2. Fasting in Shaban
It is important to get into the habit of fasting before Ramadan actually begins. This conditions the body and soul so that it is not shocked by the advent of Ramadan. Fasting in Shaban was the beloved Sunnah of the Messenger (S).
Narrated: Abu Salamah, "I asked Aishah about the fasting of the Prophet (saw). She said: ‘He used to fast until we thought he would always fast. And he used to not fast until we thought he would always not fast. I never saw him fast more in any month than in Shaban. He used to fast all of Shaban; he used to fast all of Shaban except a little.’ [Ibn Majah, 1710]
3. Clear out schedule
Like any other thing that is important, doing it right takes time and effort. This becomes more difficult if we have other competing responsibilities and tasks. The wise person is the one who tries to take care of as many things as he or she can before this blessed month actually starts. This frees up more time so that a person can concentrate on their worship and on their Creator. Take care of the term paper that you have been putting off. Trim the bushes and make that home improvement that has been on your to do list for a while now. Put the bills on auto pay. Do Eid shopping ahead of time. Make a rule that you will check email only once a day. Less things to worry about means more time for Allah.
Also if at all possible a person should try to schedule some time off during the last 10 days of Ramadan. During this time a person should go into seclusion in the Masjid and try to reconnect with their Lord. Making Itikaaf was the sunnah and Habit of Rasulullah (S).
Abu Hurairah (RA) said: “The Prophet (PBUH) used to observe Itikaf in every Ramadan, for ten days. During the year in which he died, he observed Itikaf for twenty days.”(Hadith No. 2466, Book of Fasting, Sunan Abu Dawud, Vol. 3).
4. Create a daily schedule
A sample schedule is provided below. We should practice trying to get on a schedule in Shaban itself, so we can hit the ground running in Ramadan.
- Tahajjud (1-1/2 hr before sehri)
- Lie down
- Fajr in masjid
- Quran, Zikr till Ishraaq
- Sleep or go to work
- Work or Household duties
- Qayloolah (siesta) if possible
- Work or Household duties
- Time with family
- 15 minutes before iftaar (dua)
- Maghrib and Awwabeen
- Isha and Taraweeh
- Sleep right after getting home
One of the mistakes that people make is that they stay up late at night instead of going to sleep. This throws off the schedule the entire next day and compromises the benefit that one can derive.
5. Make Dua
In the end, we are weak and need that succour of our Lord to help us in this life and the next. Without His love and His help, we are lost. We should ask him to rectify our affairs in this month of Shaban and to benefit us from the month of Ramadan by making it a life changing experience. Ameen.