Linda Sarhan has taken several college level courses in Islamic studies and is an experienced Islamic studies writer.
“Rajab is the month to sow the seeds; Sha’ban is the month to irrigate the crop, and Ramadan is the month to reap the harvest.”
— (Abu Bakr b. al-Warraq al-Balkhi)
The month of Ramadan is obligatory for every believing Muslim. It is considered the month of the Qu’ran, as it is believed that it was during this time that the Qur’an was first revealed to Prophet Muhammad, sallahu alayhi wa sallam, (may Allah honor him and grant him peace). However, according to the Qur’an, it is revealed that Ramadan is also the month of fasting.
“The month of Ramadhan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur'an, 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.” (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:185, Sahih translation)
Ramadan is a month on the Hijri calendar that every believing Muslim spends 30 days fasting from sun up to sundown, giving alms, releasing bad habits, and engaging in more concentrated acts of worship, such as extra prayers and studying the Qur’an. The month preceding Ramadan is Sha’ban. This is a time that many Muslims prepare themselves for the rigorous practice of Ramadan to not only make the month of Ramadan easier but freeing more time to engage in more acts of worship. Although, Muslims around the world should consider practicing these tips to prepare for Ramadan all year long, the month of Sha’ban allows Muslims to condition themselves spiritually, physically, and in their daily lives.
Ramadan is a time to strengthen your iman (sincere faith). Muslims around the world take extra care to perfect their ibadah (submission to Allah and worship) during Ramadan. Muslims focus more time on salah (prayer), reciting dua’a (an invocation prayer) and studying the Qur’an. As Muslims work to perfect their ibadah, they grow spiritually as a person and are offered the chance to be forgiven by Allah of their past sins of the year. Although all Muslims should focus on perfecting ibadah all year long, Ramadan is there to remind us and prepare us for the rest of the year.
Read the Qur’an
Although all Muslims should make it a habit to read or listen to the Qur’an and reflect on its meaning every day, all year round, consider adding more time to read and contemplate the meaning of the Qur’an. This will help establish the habit in your schedule and help give your iman a jumpstart in Ramadan. If you can read and understand Arabic, that is fine, but if Arabic is not your first language or you are not proficient in it, reading the translation in your home language is fine, too. Try to not just read the words but to contemplate on each ayat (verses) meaning. This will help give a stronger foundation in taqwa (devotion to Allah), iman, and ibadah. Don’t worry if you find difficulty in reading the Qur’an or stumble as you perfect reading the Qur’an in Arabic as it was narrated from Aisha, radhe Allahu-an (May Allah be pleased with her) that the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said:
"The one who is proficient with the Qur'an will be with the noble and righteous scribes (the angels), and the one who reads it and stumbles over it, finding it difficult, will have a double reward." (Sahih Sunan Ibn Majah 3779)
Make a List of Dua’a
Although Muslims should be in a habit of making dua’a on a daily basis throughout the year, you should consider reciting even more during the month of Ramadan. Instead of wasting valuable worship time during Ramadan search for just the right dua’a, make a list of dua’a you would like to recite during the holy month of Ramadan. This could be dua’a specific to global and humanitarian causes, repentance and forgiveness, or even new dua’a you would like to memorize. There are plenty of dua’a examples given in the Qur’an and through hadiths, but you are allowed to write your own as well.
- Dua’a jar: Although this is a great exercise for children, adults can benefit from this as well. Simply take a jar or other container and decorated it. This could be from a festive Ramadan design to simply writing the words “Dua’a”. Next using index cards, or other paper, write down the dua’a you want to recite and/or learn during Ramadan. You should have at least 30 to 60 dua’a. Each day of Ramadan, you can pull out a dua’a from the jar and recite it throughout the day. Another variation could be creating a Ramadan advent calendar with pockets to draw from each morning at suhoor (meal before sunrise morning Fajr prayers).
Set Ramadan Goals
Again, Ramadan can be overwhelming for even the most seasoned practicing Muslims. Taking time in the month of Sha’ban to outline your goals will help reduce the overwhelming feeling most have during the month of Ramadan. Setting clear goals also help keep you focused and on track in your ibadah.
- Create a schedule. Although some Muslims watch the clock for when it is time for the iftar meal at the end of the day, the focus should be on increasing your ibadah and iman. Consider creating a schedule planner for each day, filling it with acts of worship and the best times to practice each action. In your planner, include salah times, more time to read Qur’an, make dua’a, attend community iftar (breaking fast in the evening at Maghrib prayers) and taraweeh (extra prayers performed at night in congregation), attending i'tikaf (period of staying in a mosque for a certain number of days, devoting oneself to ibadah during these days and staying away from worldly affairs), and listen to Islamic lectures. Personalize your Ramadan schedule and experience with the intent of strengthening your taqwa with Allah. Creating a schedule could be in an hourly format or simply creating a checklist so it reminds you to stay on track.
- What do you want to focus on improving? For many Muslims, they use Ramadan as an opportunity to increase their knowledge in specific areas of Islam. This could be becoming more familiar with the story of the prophets, studying the tafsir of Qur’an or hadiths, memorizing the Qur’an or hadith, or becoming more familiar on specific aspects and belief in Islam, such as refraining from sinful acts, understanding how shaitan (devil or evil spirit) tries to influence the ummah (Muslim community) and how to stand against it, and how to strengthen your dawah (invite and educate others to Islam) skills. As long as it is something that will help you grow as a practicing Muslim with the intent of glorifying Allah, the choice is yours.
- Create a Ramadan journal. As you decide what it is you would like to focus on during the holy month of Ramadan, consider starting a journal to track your growth. Include topics, scholarly sources, reflection thoughts, and anything else you would like to make a note of. At the end of Ramadan, you can also include your spiritual goals as you go through the year.
Although there are many health benefits of fasting during Ramadan, sometimes Muslims haven’t prepared throughout the year, thus feeling the toll on their bodies and willpower. Even if you haven’t fasted throughout the year nor made good health choices, take the opportunity of Sha’ban to prepare your body both physically and mentally. This will help make Ramadan a little easier for you.
Consult Your Doctor
If you have health issues such as, but not limited to, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, or other health issues, consider consulting your doctor before Ramadan to make sure that fasting and less sleep will not have an adverse effect on your health. Allah intended Islam to be easy for us. If you are pregnant or have health issues prevent you from fasting or other physical aspects of Ramadan, you are exempt in the eyes of Allah. However, it is suggested that you feed the poor. This could be with provided food or monetary donations to help an organization feed the poor. This is called fidyah (feeding the poor when fasting would be detrimental to health).
Fasting in Sha’ban
It was narrated from Jubair bin Nufair that a man asked 'Aisha, radhe Allahu-an, about fasting and she said:
"The Messenger of Allah used to fast all of Shaban, and he made sure to fast on Mondays and Thursdays." (Sahih Sunan an-Nasa'i 2186)
During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims are supposed to fast from sunrise to sundown as one of the five pillars of faith. As previously mentioned, it is commanded to do so in the Qur’an by Allah. The month of Sha’ban is the month before Ramadan and is designed to prepare Muslims spiritually, mentally, and physically for fasting and other acts of worship in Ramadan. Of course, if you missed any fasting days of last Ramadan due to illness or menstruation, the month of Sha’ban is a favorable time to make up those fasting days.
It was narrated that 'Aisha, radhe Allahu-an, said: "I would own fasts from Ramadan and I would not make them up until Sha’ban came." (Sahih Sunan an-Nasa'i 2319)
Make Healthier Diet Choices
Let’s face it, many people do not make the best food choices in the 21st century, especially in the West. Now is a good time to wean yourself off the junk food and large meals you may enjoy throughout the year. Making better food choices will help give you more energy, especially as you prepare to fast for 30 days.
- Eat healthily. Eating healthy foods is good advice for anyone regardless of whether it is Ramadan or not. However, it is a good idea to prepare your body for fasting by choosing more fresh fruits and vegetables and reducing or avoiding the consumption of salt, sugar, foods high in fat, and processed foods.
- Eat smaller portions. Fasting from sunrise to sunset doesn’t mean you should eat large, gluttonous meals. If you practice eating smaller portions, it will help you maintain self-discipline during fasting as it will reset your "appetite thermostat" so you won't feel as hungry, according to Dr. Mark Moyad, MD.
Narrated Abu Huraira:
A man used to eat much, but when he embraced Islam, he started eating less. That was mentioned to the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, who then said, "A believer eats in one intestine (is satisfied with a little food) and a disbeliever eats in seven intestines (eats much). " (Sahih al-Bukhari 5397)
- Drink plenty of fluids. Staying hydrated while fasting will not only keep you healthy but help your body during the long hours of day obligatory fasting. Most people often are quick to drink juice or carbonated beverages. Both are high in artificial sweeteners, sugar, and additives. This is counterproductive to the cleansing benefits to your body during fasting. Water is the best option. There is no need to chug down several glasses at suhoor and iftar because this will cause you to urinate the necessary fluid out of your body. Drink slowly with normal size sips. Also, consider smalls sips through nights at the mosque. You should keep a washable water bottle by your bed so that you can take small sips throughout the night if need be.
But, how much fluid does your body need while fasting?
Honestly, it varies depending on your weight and activity level. If you tend to sweat a lot due to activity or the hot weather, you are losing hydration. When it comes to determining how many ounces your body needs, it depends on the formula you use. Some people simply take their weight and divide it by two to determine how many ounces of water their body needs between fasting. Others will take their weight and multiply it by 2/3 (67%). The results vary but you can always use the findings as a range to go by. If doing math isn’t something you look forward to doing, below is a chart of the estimated number of ounces you will need per your weight.
Regulate Your Sleep
Although you should already wake up early to pray Fajr on time each morning, if you are the type to sleep in and pray when you get up, you might want to consider benefiting from the month of Sha’ban to get used to waking up early to eat suhoor and pray. After all, you cannot eat after the sun rises until the sunsets. Eating a healthy meal and drinking plenty of fluids before the sun rises will help give you energy and reduce the feeling of hunger throughout the day.
Also, many Muslims around the world participate in taraweeh and other acts of night worship. If you plan to implement these in your Ramadan schedule, it is a good idea to prepare your body for sleeping less. Several hadiths mention that “prayer is better than sleep” in reference to the Fajr prayers. Some extend this concept to the night prayers before Fajr prayers.
It was narrated that Abu Mahdhurah said:
"I used to call the Adhan for the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and in the first Adhan of Fajr I used to Say: 'Hayya 'ala al-falah, as-salatu khairun minan-nawm, as-salatu khairun minan-nawm, Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar, la ilaha illallah (Come to prosperity, prayer is better than sleep, prayer is better than sleep, Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest, there is none worthy of worship except Allah).'" (Sahih Sunan an-Nasa’i, Vol. 1, Book 7, Hadith 648)
Prepare the Home
Taking care of the home and family is no easy task regardless of your faith. It is a time-consuming act of love to ensure your family is feed and have a clean home to abide in. Considering fasting is obligatory for all healthy and mentally stable adults, caring for the home and preparing meals can be a daunting, yet rewarding task, especially on those fasting and performing extra acts of worship. Consider these tips to help make things easier during the month of Ramadan.
Regardless of what time of the year Ramadan falls in the Gregorian calendar, it is a good idea to get in some extra cleaning before Ramadan starts.
- De-clutter. Go through your home and closets to get rid of the excess things that you no longer need or want. Donate what you can to charity and recycle what you can. By doing so, you will be helping others and the environment.
- Organize. Organize your drawers, cabinets, and living spaces. This will not only allow you to find everything you need when you need them, without having to feel stressed or anxious trying to find things.
- Extra Cleaning. Wash the drapes and upholstery, freshly disinfect all areas of the house from the kitchen and bathroom to the living area and bedrooms. Although this should be done routinely several times throughout the year, this gives an extra clean appearance as you prepare meals for your family and potentially entertain visitors coming to your house.
Shop Ahead of Time
- Grocery Shopping. Although fasting is obligatory from sun up to sundown, preparing food is a tradition throughout the holy month of Ramadan. Whether you are preparing suhoor, iftar, or feeding the poor, having a pantry already filled with basic staples makes things easier when you are fasting. You won’t have to be tempted by making trips to the grocer or market during the days of Ramadan. Consider filling your refrigerator, watching expiration dates, with the things you may need throughout Ramadan. If you have a deep freezer, consider filling it with the staples that can be frozen, allowing you to have the food you need during Ramadan without having to spend time at the grocer. After all, less time at the grocer or market could mean more time to engage in more acts of worship.
- Prepare Meals Ahead of Time. Some foods can be prepared ahead of time and stored in a freezer. This is especially helpful for some of those who celebrate Ramadan alone, as they won’t have to worry about food preparation. This will help cut down time in the morning, waking up for suhoor, or preparing meals in the evening for iftar. However, this could be a practice for anyone. The point is to make things easier during Ramadan so you can focus on strengthing your taqwa (oneness with Allah) and iman (sincere faith).
- Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr Clothing. Eid al-Fitr signifies the end of Ramadan. Many families attend Eid prayers and plan feasts. Sometimes this can last for three days. Many Muslims buy new clothes for Eid al-Fitr salah (prayer). Consider buying your new Eid garments before Ramadan starts. This eliminates the stress and worry of what to wear on the day of Eid.
- Eid al-Fitr Gifts. Although many families reserve gift giving for the children, if you plan to give Eid gifts to family and friends, it is best to try to buy them before Ramadan starts so that you can focus more attention on your fasting, worship, charity, and spending time with family.
- Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr cards have become a trend over the decades, as well-wishers and blessings are given to those in the community. Some people like to make their own cards, but others prefer to purchase them. Because some Muslims consider writing kind notes to one another as an act of charity itself, it makes Ramadan easier to already have the cards and personalize them before Ramadan starts. This opens more time for extra prayers, Qur’an reflection, and other acts of sincere worship.
For some, Ramadan can seem intimidating especially if you are new to it. As with anything, being prepared lays a good foundation for a successful Ramadan filled with ibadah, taqwa, and a stronger sense of iman. By being prepared and sincerely practicing the obligatory and voluntary acts of worship in Islam, you are well on your way to continue building a solid structure of faith and submission to the only one worthy of worship, Allah.
© 2018 Linda Sarhan
AishaWrites on May 13, 2018:
JazakAllah! Thanks for this article.