Coming soon… Ramadan. Are you ready? Making the most of Sha’ban
Once Sha’ban is here, the countdown to Ramadan has truly started. The Prophet (peace be on him) used to fast regularly throughout the year, but it was in the month preceding it, Sha’ban, when he cranked up his efforts and would fast almost the entire month.
In a famous hadith, the Prophet (peace be upon him) was asked by Usama bin Zayd (may Allah be pleased with him):
‘O Messenger of Allah, I do not see you fasting any month as much as in Sha’ban.’
The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied:
‘That is a month to which people do not pay much attention, between Rajab and Ramadan. It is a month in which the deeds are taken up to the Lord of the worlds, and I like that my deeds be taken up when I am fasting.’ (An-Nasa’i)
There are plenty of lessons for us to learn from this hadith. First, let us spend a moment on Usama bin Zayd. His father, Zayd ibn Harithah (may Allah be pleased with him), had been adopted by the Prophet (peace be upon him) in jahiliya, so Usama was a young companion.
A question always reflects the mind of the one who asks it
When you pose a question, this is a reflection of your concerns. It’s important to get into the mind of the one asking the question. And when Usama asked the Prophet (peace be upon him) this straightforward question, he wanted to learn. This is the question of somebody who’s keen to get closer to Allah Almighty, and to learn from the source: the Prophet (peace be upon him).
The reply reflects a window to the Unseen
In return, we see the Prophet (peace be upon him) answer the question. He doesn’t tell Usama to mind his own business – he’s the messenger of Allah Almighty, he’s teaching and delivering the message to the ummah.
He said, ‘this is a month that people are heedless of.’
What’s important about Sha’ban
We have to understand the context of the time. Sha’ban wasn’t an important month for the Arabs pre-Islam, nor Ramadan. In their calendar Rajab was important, because it was one of the four holy months, which they had known before Islam. But Sha’ban, had no value. This is why the Prophet (peace be upon him) said people did not pay attention to Sha’ban, as it had no value in their minds.
Deeds are lifted to Allah
In his answer, the Prophet (peace be upon him) opened a window to the Unseen. Look at what he said: ‘Our deeds are lifted to Allah Almighty.’ This is the window. Who could have known that? Had he not mentioned it, we would have no clue about this. We cannot penetrate the Unseen with our own minds. The Prophet (peace be upon him) knew the Unseen, and he told us. This is the beauty of learning from the source. Moreover, he said that as deeds are lifted to Allah Almighty in this month, he wanted his fasting to be included in those deeds.
The antidote to ghaflah
The state of ghaflah is a human trait. Ghaflah is part of our structure – being distracted, not clear-headed, oblivious and unconscious. However, it’s not like coronavirus – it is curable. We have an antidote against it. Allah has given it to us, he says in the Quran:
‘O you who believe, remember Allah in much remembrance.’ (33:41)
The antidote is remembrance.
If you want to treat ghaflah you need the dhikr (remembrance) of Allah Almighty. Authentic dhikr: Quran and supplications from the Prophet (peace be upon him); tasbih, tahmid and takbir (subhanallah, alhamdulillah, Allahu akbar), la hawla wa la quwwata – these are the antidote.
Allah Almighty has mentioned many times:
‘Don’t be among the heedless.’ (7:205)
Breaking the pattern of ghaflah
Ghaflah can come from many things, but mainly being engaged in worldly affairs and forgetting about the akhirah. Forgetting about tomorrow, and living only for today. For people of remembrance, ghaflah is little in their life. Not that they have no ghaflah at all – as humans we cannot be in a state of dhikr 24/7. But we can manage our dhikr and minimise ghaflah by how we structure our day and our communication with Allah Almighty. Out of His wisdom and mercy, He made the five daily salat to break the cycle of ghaflah which we tend to get into while we’re going about our business.
Consciousness leads to control
If you don’t think about Allah Almighty and the akhirah, you don’t control your actions. The Prophet (peace be upon him) is telling us in this statement that though other people are not paying attention to akhirah or this month, he is paying attention to this month. He’s teaching us to pay attention, even though it wasn’t the case in the Arabic tradition. In Islamic tradition we do pay attention to Sha’ban. In the narrations of Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her), she mentioned several times that he used to fast a lot in Sha’ban, to the extent that she felt he would fast the whole month.
‘The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) used to fast until we would say, ‘he never breaks his fast (i.e. he never stops fasting)’, and he would abandon fasting (at other times) until we would say that he never fasts. I never saw the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) fast for a complete month except for the month of Ramadan, and I never saw him fast in a month more than he did in the month of Sha’ban.’ (Bukhari and Muslim)
So he wouldn’t fast the whole month, but he used to fast sometimes; it’s like training for a marathon.
Sha’ban is a month of training
Islam is the religion of common sense. If someone is running a marathon, he has to train. He can’t just show up on the day with no training and expect to finish the race. Ramadan is a marathon for the ummah. The Prophet (peace be upon him) is training us that we need to prepare for Ramadan. We’re now in the run up to Ramadan. We have time to get ready. The preparation starts by changing our mindset from ghaflah mode to dhikr mode. We need to change our attitude and our approach, especially now Ramadan is very close.
As long as we are alive, we need to prepare for our responsibilities and duties. We need Allah Almighty more than ever; never know who might not make it to tomorrow. We have seen in the past years a tremendous loss of life, globally and personally. We have all lost a friend or family member or colleague; it might be me or you next, you never know. We need Allah Almighty the most now, and we need to prepare more. Allah Almighty has sent us Sha’ban now, inshallah we can live and witness Ramadan.
Preparing for your viva with Allah Almighty
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said that in this month deeds will be lifted. Imagine that you are presenting your viva or dissertation to your professor: you’ve put in all your effort and reviewed it and corrected it, and finally you’ve submitted it. It takes a lot, if you are keen to pass and get a good grade. Somebody who doesn’t care might leave it to the last minute. He won’t prepare, and he might well be rejected.
Meanwhile, somebody who’s keen to present his deeds to Allah Almighty, works hard to make it good. For those who worked hard, inshallah they will pass and have acceptance. But those who are not preparing, and are consumed by dunya and ghaflah, may Allah Almighty guide us and guide them.
Of course, Allah Almighty knows even before it’s lifted, but this is the procedure the angels follow. Every day deeds are lifted in a certain manner, then every week, and every month and every year; there are different tasks and different processes. But regardless, the righteous deeds will be ascending. Allah Almighty will accept the good words and good deeds, and the rest will be rejected.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) is saying, be careful, you have a chance to polish it up, do a bit extra before your viva, this will boost your grades. Fasting is this extra booster.
Firstly the Prophet (peace be on him) wanted his deeds to be lifted while he’s fasting but secondly we see his humility: he’s shy that his deeds will be lifted. What about us? We have plenty of shortcomings, so let’s do a lot of istighfar. Let’s replace bad deeds with good deeds. If we want bad deeds to be deleted, we can cancel them out by following them with a good deed.
Siyam (fasting) is a passive form of ibadah (worship)
Like the gears of a car, which has reverse and drive, siyam is a different form of ibadah. We do salah on a daily basis, we do dhikr on a daily basis. But siyam is a different form. It’s not about special actions you do. In fact, it’s what you don’t do. It’s abstention, which is its linguistic definition. When you do salah you DO wudu, you DO takbir, you DO ruku. In siyam you DON’T eat, you DON’T drink, you DON’T use foul language. We have different methods of ibadah to use. We have the active form, but there is also the passive form.
The definition of siyam is abstention from eating and drinking and intimate relationship from dawn until sunset with the intention. If abstention is preceded by the intention, it becomes ibadah. Otherwise it’s just diet, so the intention is crucial. In the Hadith Qudsi, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
Allah Almighty said, ‘Every deed of the son of Adam is for him, except for fasting. It is for Me and I will reward it.’ (Bukhari)
Fasting is not just for Ramadan
Siyam is all about boosting sabr. You control yourself, control your desires, your habits, your tongue. It is developing and improving good qualities. This is why the Prophet (peace be upon him) fasted all year round. Not only in Sha’ban or Ramadan, he fasted every Monday and Thursday and the three white days of every month, as we call it in the middle of the month when the moon is full: 13-14-15. It’s diversification in ibadah. Because we as humans feel bored easily. Allah Almighty introduced for us different forms of ibadah – salah we do every day, the highest form of ibadah and connection with Allah Almighty. But we have a different form which is fasting, and we don’t have to wait until Ramadan comes – we can do it on a weekly basis through the year too, and maintain it through the year.
Diversification mitigates risks and loss
When the Prophet (peace be upon him) considered his package of deeds and added Siyam to it, it is as people in finance manage their investment funds, with varying investment goals and risk appetite. The higher the risks, the higher the return, and so on. In these a diverse mixture of assets protects the overall fund against losses, so the prophet (peace be upon him) is teaching us how to diversify our Ibadah.
Let’s talk about our investment in the akhirah. Maybe our salah was not very focused – we have an alternative. Or maybe our fasting was not done well, but we gave in zakat or sadaqah. This diversification fills the gaps and boosts your score.
Get in gear
Sha’ban is our opportunity to prepare for the akhirah. In Sha’ban, scholars give more time to Siyam and recitation, they’ll focus on self-control over their desires, ears, tongue etc. It’s the time to prepare ourselves. Don’t forget that in this month our deeds will be lifted to Allah Almighty. We should feel shy of the shortcomings and try to boost our scores and rectify our bad deeds before it’s too late.
When you are fasting, you have special treatment from Allah Almighty. If your deeds are lifted while you are fasting, Allah Almighty gives you extra reward and extra mercy. This is what we need. We can’t thank Allah Almighty enough for the favours He continually bestows on all of us.
Rajab is the month of planting seeds, Sha’ban is the month of irrigation, and Ramadan is the month of harvest. But if you didn’t plant a seed or water it, how can you get a good harvest?
Clear out your heart
The righteous people used to compete in this month, in recitation and good deeds and ibadah. They tried their best to get rid of ghaflah and give more attention to their hearts. Ghaflah is all about the heart. If the heart is heedless, the body will follow. And if the heart is in constant remembrance, the body will follow. They used to spring clean their hearts: get rid of the clutter, polish, tidy up, clean the windows. We can do this by istighfar and remembrances and quality salah and dhikr. And we also need to have some flavour, by trying some qiyam ul layl (night prayers) inshallah.
Sha’ban is your preparation course. If you focus, you are ready when you hit Ramadan. Don’t wait to peak until laylatul qadr. Be strong from day one.
If we wait for Ramadan to start before we prepare, it’s too late. We need to do deep and sincere tawbah now. Actually, we should do it every day of the year – the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to do 100 every day. May Allah Almighty bless us, and bless Sha’ban for us, and bring all of us to Ramadan.
Just taking fifteen minutes of adkhar out of every 24 hours will help us with our preparation. Even just baby steps will bring us closer to Ramadan – keeping your regular salah and praying on time, doing adkhar on a daily basis, istighfar, fasting Mondays and Thursdays – with two weeks left that’s four fasts inshallah. Quality salah – not just any salah – and night prayers, not necessarily every day, but try to do it a few times. Daily recitation, even just one or two pages, and you can increase your quantity as you come closer to Ramadan. And remind yourself and your family and friends about this, and hopefully we can all receive Ramadan with soft hearts and good intentions and good health. Ameen.
Delivered to the Live Online Halaqa on 9th April 2020. Transcribed by Hana Khan
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