“The month of Ramadan [is that] in which was revealed the Quran, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey – then an equal number of other days. Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you, and perhaps you will be grateful. ” (Quran, 2:185)
From the Quran and Sunnah we can extract two characteristics of the holy month of Ramadan.
The first is that this is a month of blessing, forgiveness and immense opportunity for one’s spiritual progress.
Secondly, this month is an excellent season for training the body, mind and soul.
Though Muslims typically consider this month to be a month of virtue and reward, and rightly so. However, this alone is not what the month exists to represent. Its other significance, which is equally important, has been overlooked, unfortunately, and it is this that I propose to highlight this aspect in this short article.
A Mere Ritual?
When Ramadan comes, the following sentiments typically arise among Muslims: To fast and to recite the Qur’an in abundance; to engage in voluntary prayers, in addition to the five daily prayers; to give more in charity; and to feed the poor.
Of course, all these things are good in their own right. But the question is, after living in a special kind of spiritual environment for thirty consecutive days, and being inclined to good deeds throughout this period, how much are we taking from here for the rest of the year, and indeed for the rest of our lives?
From this point of view, if we look at the good deeds done in Ramadan and then look at our lives from Shawwal to the following Ramadan, we can see that like many other religious rituals, Ramadan has also become a mere ritual for us. By performing this ritual, we feel that all the blessings of Ramadan have been attained, however the object of Ramadan was radically different from this; it was to effect a revolution in our lives. Unfortunately by making it a ritual we expelled the revolutionary spirit from within, as rituals do not and cannot revolutionize lives.
The Quran on Cultivation of Habits
Allah says in the Quran:
“Oh, you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may learn piety and righteousness.” (Quran, 2:183)
The above verse shows that fasting in Ramadan is an important means to create piety. By emphasising the words “(so) that you may learn piety and righteousness” it also indicates that these qualities are to be cultivated rather than just temporarily adopted.
Ramadan is the season for the formation of good habits and elimination of the bad ones. No doubt we engage ourselves in various good deeds, however, considering the object of Ramadan (being conducive to cultivation of positive habits and everlasting qualities) our main focus should be on reforming ourselves for the better even after the passing of Ramadan.
To utilise the significance of anything it is paramount to prepare for it in advance. Ramadan is no different, hence we need to begin its preparation well before its arrival. And as we require some time to adjust to things, this early preparation will only yield spiritual fruits.
A timetable specially designed for Ramadan and its partial application from the latter half of Sha’ban may be an idea worth implementing.
The object of Ramadan
Ramadan encourages us to be less focused on worldly pleasures and more focused on spiritual growth and generosity. It is a time of spiritual reflection and devotion. And it is a time for forming good habits and discipline. Below is a list I have made of some good and bad habits to consider adopting and discarding through the medium of Ramadan. The list is not exhaustive and I am sure many others can be added to it.
Some good habits worthy of being cultivated
- Constant recitation of the Qur’an
- Punctuality in Salah
- Constant display of good character
- Fulfilment of rights of all
- Sympathising with people, especially those suffering and less privileged.
- Contemplating on the transitory nature of this world and the eternal nature of the Afterlife
- Associating with the pious and righteous people
- Taking the time out to study deen
Some bad habits worthy of being discarded
- Sluggishness, especially in deeni activities
- Overindulgence in worldly activities
- Narcotic addictions, such as smoking (or worse).
- Screen addictions, such as mobiles, etc.
- Time wasting, such as in social gatherings
- Idle sins, such as gossiping and backbiting
- Pursuance of constant pleasure-seeking
- Absence or lack of control over the senses, the body and mind
To conclude, Ramadan encourages us to be less focused on worldly pleasures and more focused on spiritual growth and generosity. It is a time of spiritual reflection and devotion. And it is a time for forming good habits and disciplining the mind and soul.