Hunting for the Ramadan Spirit

MOST people my parents’ age would say that Ramadan is less “family-oriented than it used to be” and it seems to be the time where Arabic TV series and game shows dominate. One thing is for sure, the Ramadan spirit is not what it used to be, that I can say! – a commentator on waleg.com

A New York Times article on the commercialization of Ramadan summed up the sentiment nicely with the headline: “It’s beginning to look a lot like…” Certainly, the month of fasting, prayer and reflection has begun to feel quite like the month of indulgence, entertainment and self-absorption at the hands of advertisers, traders and broadcasters.

Thanks to the Fitrah (the sound innate disposition) upon which humanity has been created, the soul instinctively rebels and strives for purity even in the face of corrupting influences. In recent years, spontaneous online campaigns have been launched by youngsters on Facebook promoting a TV-free Ramadan (dubbed Fasting From TV).

Jeddah-based Islamic speaker Ahmad Al-Shughairi popularized the ‘One Million Good Deeds’ endeavor, encouraging Muslims to seize the opportunities for good deeds throughout the month even if they are seemingly “trivial” – such as feeding the fasting poor, donating clothes and household goods or sponsoring medical treatment for the needy.

What emerges from the success of these campaigns – and similar ones around the world – is that the spirit of Ramadan is revived by self-reflection and taking oneself to account; focusing on fulfilling the rights of Allah, His Messenger and our fellow Muslims, instead of making our own self and its whims and desires the center of our universe.

The Prophet ﷺ‎, his Companions and the generations that followed them in Ihsaan (perfecting good deeds) and Ikhlaas (sincerity) brought the Ramadan spirit to life with their actions. Here’s how we can emulate them:

Acquiring knowledge

Most of us may not have the benefits of an Islamic education from our early childhood, and may still be in the process of learning about acts of worship and the correct manner of performing them.

The good news is that today, there are numerous means besides the traditional Halaqahs organized in Masjids and Islamic centers by which we can acquire authentic information: audio and video lectures, radio and TV discourses, and the internet by the scholars of Ahl-Al-Sunnah. It’s a good idea to utilize our time before the start of Ramadan in learning more about the importance of the month, the acts of worship that are considered most meritorious within it, and the best way to perform them by consulting people of knowledge.

Al-Hasan Al-Basri used to say, “Allah made the month of Ramadan a racetrack where His creatures compete in obeying Him to attain His Pleasure. Some people come first and thus have won; others lag behind and thus lose out. How amazing is the state of the runner who has cause to laugh on the day when the doers of good win and the doers of falsehood lose!”

Being eager to seize every opportunity for good deeds

The righteous actions performed during a single month of Ramadan may raise a person’s rank beyond their own estimation, as is evident from the story narrated by the Companion Talhah Bin Ubaydullah (may Allah be pleased with him):

There were two men from the tribe of Baliyy who came to the Prophet and embraced Islam at the same time. One of them was more active in worship than the other, and it so happened that he was martyred in a battle and the other one lived for one more year. Talhah (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “I saw in my dream that I was at the gate of Paradise and the two men were standing there. Someone came out and gave permission to the man who lived for one more year to enter Paradise, then gave permission to the martyr. He then returned to me and told me to go back for permission had not been given to me yet.”

In the morning, Talhah (may Allah be pleased with him) related to the people what he saw and they were surprised to know this. When the news of this story reached the Prophet, said, “Why are you surprised?” They said, “O Messenger of Allah, the man who was martyred was more active in worship, but the other one entered Paradise before him.”

The Prophet said: “Did he not live for one more year?” They answered in the affirmative. “Did he not fast for one more Ramadan?” the Prophet, continued, “and prayed such-and-such number of prostrations in this year?” They answered in the affirmative. The Prophet said: “The difference between them is equal to the distance between the heavens and the earth.” (Ibn Hibban: Sahih)

Aiming high and going the extra mile

The Prophet said: “Allah sets free from Hell some people at every breaking of the fast, and this happens every night.” (Ibn Majah, Ahmad) Who among us would not desire to be one of these fortunate ones? The Companions of the Prophet used to step up their efforts with the advent of Ramadan – be it in their worship at night, completing the recitation of the Qur’an several times during the month, or even depriving themselves to give food in charity.

One of our righteous predecessors said, “Charity cannot be perfected except with three characteristics: hastening, considering it negligible in our own eyes, and concealing it.” Surely, this is also true of all acts of worship – may Allah accept whatever He guides us to, out of His Mercy.

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