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 so 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(pbuh) companions 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, about 5 dayas 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 time flies and we get wrapped up in so many things – so it would be foolish to let this reminder – and this 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 with this series, what we hope to do is take one aspect of development at a time, and make that the focus for the month – for the next five months. And when Ramadan hits, insha Allah, we would have covered five important elements of our spiritual lives, and be better prepared to step up in those areas to new and amazing heights.
The system being proposed here is open to your suggestions, so please do give feedback if you can contribute anything positive. With regard to topics on a monthly basis, you can choose to go along with what’s suggested, or you can choose your own area to focus on. 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 the project:
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 article
Analyse what your current condition is in the area (quality, frequency, etc)
Look at what your weaknesses / problems are, and their root causes
Think of practical methods to overcome those root causes
Set up a realistic plan of action to implement those solutions gradually in the coming months, then at a higher pace in Ramadan
Stage 1: Salaah
We know the importance of salaah in Islam: it’s the first thing we’ll be asked about on the Day of Judgement, and according to another hadeeth, 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 salaah really is, for both my current life and my time in the grave and Hereafter?
• Am I making my compulsory salaahs 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 salaah, or do other things often distract me?
There are many other points we could ponder on regarding salaah, 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).
Root Cause Analysis
Now go through each of these points and look at what the problems/weaknesses are. List each of the problems, along with 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 salaah, is it because you spend so much time wrapped up in those activities, and then ‘quickly’ go to make salaah for a short time before you can get back to it?
If so, one solution is to give yourself a buffer of a few minutes before each salaah – 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 salaah, take another few minutes to just stay in that moment – before you return to your life’s activities.
With solutions identified, now analyse 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 – and increasing the pace 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.