Ramadan: A portrait of self-reflection

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With Ramadan approaching, many of us eagerly look forward to the impending celebratory meals and visits with family and friends, breaking fast at the Masjid (mosque), and, of course, the ‘Eed celebration that ends this great month.
We rush about making careful preparations by cleaning our homes from top to bottom. Some may even decorate them for an added festive effect. We go from market to market purchasing ingredients used to create elaborate delicacies that are so special and which we enjoy only a couple of times during the year. We shop around trying to purchase the right gifts for our family and friends.
With all of our preparation for the blessed month of Ramadan, we should also take the time to reflect upon where we are regarding our duties to Allah compared with where we were this time last year. Ideally, we should be striving to be better and better each year. In order to do so, we must take an honest assessment of our shortcomings. Ramadan is a great time to really take stock of ourselves and admit any shortcomings we may have when it comes to our worship.

Abu Hurayrah  may  Allah  have  mercy  upon  him narrated that the Messenger of Allah  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) said: "When Ramadan comes, the gates of mercy are opened and the gates of Hell are shut, and the devils are put in chains." [An-Nasaa'i]
While every month of the year is an occasion for worship and obeying Allah, the month of Ramadan multiplies our reward for being constant in these acts.

When you ask yourself where you are spiritually this year as Ramadan approaches compared with last year, what changes do you see? Are you satisfied? Do you think that Allah would be pleased with your progress? Have you grown in faith, or have you fallen short in your worship? What are your personal goals for this Ramadan to attain an even higher level of faith, and earn the pleasure of Allah? Perhaps at the close of Ramadan last year, you successfully completed reading and/or reciting the entire Quran. Maybe you were able to maintain an even disposition during the entire fast, taking extreme care in being patient with others. Or despite a jam-packed school or work schedule, you managed to make most of your prayers at the Masjid.

You may have ended the month last year with a stronger sense of faith, more certain in your servitude to Allah. But what has happened in between that time to today as we await the arrival of this blessed month? Do you continue reading the Quran daily? Do you remain mindful and in control of your temper observing patience in your daily interactions? Are you still making most of your prayers at the Masjid and taking care in being punctual with your prayers?

The strength of our faith goes up and down throughout our lives. The Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) said: “Faith wears out in the heart of one of you just as clothes wear out, so ask Allah to renew the faith in your hearts (i.e. strengthen it).” [Al-Haakim and At-Tabaraani]

Committing to making an effort to improve our worship can only increase our faith, the same way in which succumbing to sin diminishes it.

Self-evaluation

Ramadan is full of the Mercy of Allah and opportunities to please Him through our worship and good deeds. In looking inward recognizing our shortcomings, we should make a commitment to ourselves and Allah to engage in acts such as worshipping in congregation, spreading the greeting of Salaam to our family, friends and neighbors, encouraging one another to continue following the Straight Path, enjoining that which is good and avoiding and forbidding evil.

We should strive to increase remembering Allah, and working to overcome our desires in following frivolous whims. We should recognize all sinful acts no matter how small and seemingly insignificant they are, and make every effort to stop persisting in them. We must have patience for others and patience for ourselves as we immerge ourselves in this process of spiritual growth. Allah showers us with His mercy and forgiveness during this blessed month. Those who repent in sincerity will find Allah Most Forgiving, as He Says (what means): {And whoever does a wrong or wrongs himself but then seeks forgiveness of Allah, will find Allah Forgiving and Merciful.} [Quran 4:110]

Making changes for the better

If we are successful in implementing good deeds and habits of worship during Ramadan, we often find that the true test of our positive changes is in continuing to improve our faith during all of the months that follow. Ramadan is a holy month, and it can be argued that it is easier to repent and make positive changes in our worship since we are all in the midst of fasting and spending increased amounts of time with others also striving to attain the Mercy of Allah. Changes may begin small, but baby steps can make quite a difference in the end. One suggestion is to begin implementing new small acts of worship during Ramadan which you can easily continue from now on. They can act as a protection against becoming stagnant in worship and keep faith strong:

* Try attending some Islamic classes or gatherings weekly.

* Consider joining an evening or weekend Islamic "course" or class. (i.e. Arabic, Quran recitation, etc.). Events like these surround you with like-minded people who offer mental stimulation and help strengthen faith.

* Read a section of the Quran daily, ideally after Fajr. It is a stimulating, positive way to start each day.

* Institute a time each day to have a family class, where you perhaps read from a Hadeeth book at home and have a short discussion. It doesn't have to take long—you could do so after one of the prayers for about five or ten minutes each day.

* Commit to one or more days a month to involving the entire family in an act of charity such as clothing the needy, feeding the homeless, or any other kind of help. There is so much in the world that needs to be done and it is our responsibility to get out and do something about it. It reminds us to be thankful for everything that Allah has allowed on us in this life, teach the lesson of charity to our family while bonding through performing good deeds.

These are only a few suggestions. There are many more ways of making a regular practice of incorporating worship into our lives. Regular worship guards our faith and increases it. It is important that we remember that a decrease in faith leads to neglecting our duties of worship, or becoming involved in sinful deeds. This is something that must be taken very seriously. 

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