7 steps to do in Sha’ban to get the best of Ramadan

[Following are rough notes of talk delivered by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed on CII on 28th June’2012. It gives a list of 7 practical and spiritual things to do in Sha’ban to prepare ourselves for a life-changing Ramadan]

Ramadan is the best opportunity to make it easier for us to leave sin, to mend our ways, to patch up with our lord. And the easiest way to make it easy in Ramadan is to work hard in Sha’ban. If you want BEST Ramadan, make this Sha’ban better than your last Ramadan. If you do that, then inshaAllah this Ramadan will be a life changing experience for you, it will take you to a point of no-return. Leave sins such that we never slip in it again, get attached to Allah (swt) and Nabi (sws) such that nothing can detach us. So we must work in Sha’ban.

Previously, we didn’t prepare in Sha’ban. So initial 10days of Ramdan were spent in getting used to fasting physically, next 10 days were spent in getting used to fasting spiritually, and in the last 10 days when we were finally getting some effects, Ramadan ended and we lost all the effect of Ramadan within the first few days of Shawwal. So Ramadan had an effect but no after effect. This year we will make it different. Begin the process in Sha’ban.

Westernized Muslims are deluded by two words: ‘balance’ and ‘moderation’. Because of this we miss out on the depth and intensity that Allah (swt) has put in deen. There is so much potential in deen but we lose out on it because of laziness. If a person is hard-working, can work consistently and put in effort (for dunya) then it is such a shame that when it comes to deen they don’t aspire, they don’t dream, they don’t work-hard, don’t put in effort. Take another example. If a person is physically very fit, and off-field they show great athletic capability but when he gets on-field he walks around lazily. Similar is our case. Off-field (dunya) we show our effort, hard-work and potential but when it comes to the real field in our life (which is deen) we have a lazy attitude and come up with words like ‘balance’ and ‘moderation’ to euphemize it.

If you have intention in Sha’ban, and renew it every day, that this Ramadan, I’ll change. This Ramdan I want everything about my life to become according to deen. That’s how strong an intention is needed, because Ramdan is a very strong and intense program. You’ll only be able to benefit fully if you bring an equally intense intention. Like if a person enrolls in a world class university program designed for extreme in-depth study, and says that no I just want to learn a little bit about business or economics then they’ll tell him that look, you wont be able to benefit fully from this program unless you have an intention of really getting into the depth of each subject.
This Ramadan is the month of intense Mercy of Allah (swt). Intense Mercy in two ways: one is that Allah’s mercy is so strong that it is enough to wipe away all of our sins.

Second way is that in this month, Allah sends down intense mercy, karam, fazal and faiz down to us. Allah (swt) makes available to us any and every single aspect of deen in this month, be it tahajjud, sabr, shukr, taqwa, haya etc, all are available in Ramadan. Its like a world class chef has displayed every single award-winning cuisine of the world in a buffet but a person walks in the hall and says no I just want to have some crackers and a glass of water. So you see, we are not getting enough nourishment from Ramadan. And going with the analogy, Sha’ban is the month to whet our appetites, to realize how hungry, starved we are, how spiritually malnourished we are. If we make this realization in sha’ban, then insha Allah we can come out of Ramadan fully nourished.

We should think that I am sick of being on and off in my deen, sick of having surges and dips. So many salikeen have this problem. They have surges, for days and sometimes for months, they do everything right, their ibadat, adab is right, they are staying away from sins and then all of a sudden they crash and lose everything. Miss fajr, isha, don’t want to make dua, lose interest in salah, don’t want to do tilawat, tasbeeh, zikr. They may languor in that state for days and for some for months. And then, if they Allah (swt) wants to guides them, He sends them some difficulty to jolt them out and they come out in shock at themselves. How did I let that happen? How could I fall in such sins? It’s something to think about, we are able to go consistently to work 9-5 for many months without taking off, we are able to study all year round, we have consistency when it comes to dunya, but when it comes to deen we are unable to get even a matching level of consistency.

We don’t want to waver, lapse, slip, be consistent in Sha’ban so that in Ramadan, we can become a wali. Remember, we are not here in Ramadan to fast, to stay away from food,drink and lawful relations from fajr to maghrib. We are here to change our entire life.

So this month is about making intention. Don’t under-estimate it. Niyat is a very powerful thing. So in our tips for Sha’ban,

1. The first one is that we should make continuous niyat.

Now for the more practical tips to do in Sha’ban.

2. Clear out all things in Sha’ban.

Free yourself up by Ramadan. Ideally we must have finished everything by Rajab, so that we would have had all Sha’ban free as well. But even if now we start, we should sort out our tasks into two categories. Those that need immediate attention should be taken care of now, so that you are not stuck doing them in Ramadan.And those tasks that can be delayed, delay them till after Ramdan (to Shawwal). So put things in Sha’ban or Shawwal. And don’t feel bad that I am going to be so busy in Shawwal.

Let me tell you this (we are going to explain this more when to return to this program after Ramadan), but briefly, if you have a very very busy Shawwal then you have a greater chance of retaining your Ramdan. But if you give yourself two-weeks off and relax then you’ll lose Ramadan very quickly. So, you want to be free in Ramadan as much as possible. For those stuck in 9-5 corporate jobs, should also try to keep their weekends as much free as possible, try to spend time in ai’tikaf as much as possible. And if they can, they should delay tasks till Shawwal.

By clearing things out by Sha’ban, I also mean emotionally. If you have any emotional issue going on in life, relationships with parents, friends or any other person, you should sort out any and all emotional issues now. Have those conversations now so that your spirituality is not hampered by emotional sadness, emotional stress and you are completely focused and ready in Ramadan. Take care of all your huquq-ul-ibad in Sha’ban (ideally it should have been done in Rajab), so that Ramadan is free for Huquq-ul-Allah.

3. Muhasabah.

We should bring ourselves to task, should run an antivirus on ourselves to check which files in us are infected in us. What sins do we have? Like Hazrat Ji says:

Apnay mann k darichay ko kholiyay, apni asal taswir ko dekhiyay.

With a fine comb, and devastatingly critical eye, analyze ourselves. Try to read your book of deeds. The chapter of sins, the chapter of ghaflat of failure, volumes of shahwat, volumes of hasad, kibr, ujb, we should scrutinize ourselves. And we should keep doing it this whole month so that you get a feeling “ I need to fix myself”. So that in Ramadan, you do fix yourself.

4. Do nafl fasts in this month.

It comes in a sahih hadith that other than Ramadan, there is no other month in which Nabi (sws) used to fast more than Sha’ban. And ulema have written many wisdoms behind this act of fasting, as to why Nabi (sws) used to fast so much in Sha’ban. Some are :

1. To get back in the groove of fasting physically

2. Also to get back in spiritual groove of fasting. You wake up for suhoor, you pray tahajjud, and make dua for your Ramadan.
-> This is the best way to prepare for Ramadan, to pray in Tahajjud in Sha’ban before that Fajr after which you will have a fast.

3. When you fast, you remember your previous Ramadan. You remember the duas you made, those duas which you may have forgotten during the whole year, those duas that you didn’t become a sabab of fulfilling them by not working on them.

4. Really, we cannot over-state the benefit of fasting in this month. You should make niyat of nafl or Qada and fast as much in this month as possible. Mon and thurs are sunnah, also 13-15th of this month are also sunnah to fast. Plus there is the fast of 15th of sha’ban that we will touch upon more next week.

5. It shows Allah (swt) that we are committed to change, to improve. For many of us, who didn’t come from a practicing muslim family, who didn’t really pray or fast regularly before. So they have a whole list of qada namaz and fasts. Thousands of prayers, and only Allah knows if we will be able to do all of them during our life. But as for Qada fasts, if you sit down and write them out, you’ll see that its actually do-able. So atleast while fasting in Sha’ban, we can do some Qada fasts, and make dua to Allah (swt) that OAllah! I want to atleast repay this debt I owe you of Qada fasts of Ramadan. That will show Allah (swt) that we are committed to fulfill his commands.

Start some of the sacrifices and hard-work now. Hard-work to come on deen, to leave sins. We want to show Allah (swt) that we can do hard-work outside of Ramadan. Don’t wait for Shawwal to show it. Show it now. Do Mujahida.

->For salikeen: show a surge in zikr in sha’ban. Or it could be a surge in mujahida of mukhalifat-e-nafs, to control anger, pride, jealousy, lowering gaze. Start this mujahida now. One way scholars have explained this that:
We have three months Rajab, Sha’ban and Ramadan. So if our Rajab is the month of Mujahida and Sha’ban is the month of muraqaba then Ramadan can be the month of Mushahida. Our goal is to reach ihsan. First level of ihsan is that we do ibadat of Allah (swt) being aware that Allah (swt) is looking at you. This is called muraqaba. Then the second level of Ihsan is that you do ibadah being aware you are looking at Allah (swt), this is called Mushahada. And to get this Ihsan, we need to do Mujahida. Another way scholars have also explained this is for Ramadan itself, that the first 10days are mujahida, second 10days are muraqaba and then third 10 days are mushahida. Although we have passed Rajab, we can work on it now. Allah (swt) has made this a process. First we must do mujahida, after we take the first step, do the mujahida,then Allah (swt) sends His fazal. So we want to start our mujahida earlier, so that we can get the fazal earlier.

So, begin our mujahida now. Don’t wait for Ramadan to change. Like I said, try to make this Sha’ban better than your previous Ramadan. Obviously there are going to be some differences. We aren’t going to be fasting this whole month (its actually makrooh to do so) and we cant be praying tarawih either as they are only allowed in Ramadan. But we can engage in nafl fasts and nafl salah e.g Salatut tasbeeh every night to make it more like Ramadan.

6. The time-table of ibadah that you want, start doing it in Sha’ban. Start gradually (increase it to your ideal level). Give yourself a target and make lots of dua to reach it during Ramadan. This year, get on an early start in Ramadan. Closer and closer we get to Ramadan, the more we feel increase in the barakat of Sha’ban and by 15th of sha’ban Allah (swt) has put all the barakat of Ramadan on the horizon and when the first of Ramadan comes, all the fuyuzat are already there.

Lastly, I want to mention a hadith on remembering Allah (Swt) so that we realize the importance of zikr-ul-Allah. You have heard many talks on this and we have previously mentioned many ayahs on this like:

Ya ayyuhallazina aamanu uzkurullaha zikran katheera,

But now I want to mention some ahadith.

7. Last and final thing: Try to be zakir in Sha’ban, so that you can be Mazkoor in Ramadan. If you do fazkuruni today, Allah (swt) will do azkurkum in Ramadan. Even if last Ramadan you were lucky to touch zikr-e-katheer, think that this time, I don’t want a min level of zikr-e-katheer. I want days, months, years, a whole life of zikr-e-katheer not just moments of it. Even if we just get traces of kathrat in this month, then we can spend the whole of Ramadan in Zikr.

One way to get zikr-e-katheer is to sit in gathering s of zikr.

H: No group of people sits remembering Allah (swt) except that they are encompassed by angels and enshrouded by mercy of Allah (swt) and sakina (tranquility) descends upon them and they keep remembering Allah (swt) in this and Allah (swt) remembers them fi mann ‘indahu (to those who are near and dear to Him).

This can be another tafsir of fazkuruni azkurkum: If we sit with people of zikr, we can also get azkurkum. Note that some say by zikr here means salah, but it can’t be salah because it says they sit in zikr. In salah, that’s the least important posture. It can be represented by qiyam, ruku or sajda, but sitting is not identified with salah. So sitting means, sitting doing zikr of Allah (swt). We need to find such people and attach ourselves to them who sit and do zikr of Allah (swt).

Another hadith in Sahih muslim narrated by Abu Hurairah:

H: Those who are mufradoon (those who have adopted solitude) they have surpassed everyone. Sahabah asked that who are these mufradoon. Nabi (sws) replied they are :az-zakireen Allaha katheeran wazzakirat.

This hadith mentions individual, solitary zikr. So we want to sit in solitary zikr and gatherings of zikr. If we do this in sha’ban and Ramadan, then Allah (swt) will give us zikr for the rest of the months as well. May Allah (Swt) guide us to the best of Ramadan.

Wa-akhiru da’wana an alhamdulillahi rabbil ‘alameen

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