Mufti Taqi Usmani :
The ninth month of the Islamic calender 'Ramadan' is the most meritorious month of the whole year. Since there are many specific rules peculiar to this month, we would like to deal with its characteristics in a rather detailed manner.
The Holy Qur'an has expressly told us that the basic objective for which man is created by Allah is that he 'worships' Him: "And I did not create Jinn and human beings except that they should worship Me." (56:51)
The word used by the Holy Qur'an for the worship is 'ibadah' which has a much wider sense than 'worship'. In English, the word 'worship' normally indicates to some specific acts or rituals meant exclusively to show one's reverence to his/her Creator. But the word 'ibadah' is not restricted to such acts or rituals; rather, it embodies any act done in submission to Allah's commands and to seek His pleasures. Therefore, many acts which seem to be mundane in nature are included in the word of 'ibadah' like earning one's livelihood through halal (permissible) means and in order to fulfill one's obligations towards his dependants.
However, 'ibadah' is of two kinds. At the first place there are acts meant exclusively to worship Allah, having no worldly objective, like Salah, fasting etc. These are direct acts of 'ibadah' while the other kind of 'ibadah' includes the acts which are primarily mundane, but they are converted into an 'ibadah' when they are performed in full conformity with Shari'ah and with an intention to discharge one's obligations. Therefore, these acts are treated as 'ibadah" in an indirect manner. It is obvious that the direct acts of 'ibadah' should be superior to the indirect ones.
Now, while prescribing very few acts of direct 'ibadah in one's daily life, like the Salah which is performed five times a day, Islam has left its followers mostly with the indirect acts of 'ibadah like eating, drinking, earning the livelihood and association with one's wife, children, parents, relatives, friends and other human beings. But the primary nature of these acts being mundane, one becomes so absorbed in their worldly pleasures that their material aspects prevail on their spiritual aspect. Therefore, these acts have less spiritual strength than the direct acts of worship.
Since the direct acts of 'ibadah are very few in one's daily life as compared to the indirect ones, his spiritual progress becomes slow visa-vis his material progress. The month of Ramadan has been designed to maintain a balance between material and spiritual aspects of the human life. This month is meant to maximise the direct acts of 'ibadah and to minimise the pure' mundane activities, so that one may accelerate his spiritual progress to make up the distance and to repair the spiritual loss one may have suffered through his/her deep involvement in the mundane activities during the year. The days of Ramadan are designed to keep fast which is an act of 'ibadah for the whole day, and depriving oneself from any material food for many hours, it lessens the bad spiritual effects, if any, of the material pleasures. The nights of Ramadan, on the other hand, are spent in offering Tarawih and waking up for Tahajjud and Suhur, reducing the time of one's sleep much less than in the normal days. Moreover, apart from the prescribed acts of worship, one is supposed to offer as much optional (nafl) 'ibadah in this month as he can. In this way the level of one's spiritual activities in this month is raised up much higher than in other days of the year.
This philosophy of the month of Ramadan makes it clear that this month should be devoted to the direct acts of worship as far as possible. That is why the reward of the virtuous acts in this month has been multiplied. This is to encourage the Muslims to the maximum possible acts of 'ibadah.
The Holy Prophet has mentioned the merits of Ramadan in a large number of Ahadith. Some of them are reproduced here :
Salman Farsi (Ra) has reported the following: The Holy Prophet addressed us on the last day of Sha'ban wherein he said: "O men, a great, blessed month has cast its shadow upon you. It is a month which contains a night far better than one thousand months, a month Allah has made it obligatory to fast therein and made it commendable to stand up praying in its nights. If someone seeks Allah's nearness by offering an optional act of worship in this month, it will be as rewarding as to offer an obligatory worship in other days, and if someone performs an obligatory act of worship in this month, it will carty as much reward as the reward of performing seventy obligatory acts of worship in other days. It is the month of ,patience and the reward of patience is Jannah (Paradise). It is a month of sympathy, a month in which the provision for a believer is increased. If someone provides another person with food to make Iftar (terminate one's fast by eating or drinking something) it will cause forgiveness to his/her sins and freeing his/her neck from hell and he/she will be awarded the same thawab as the fasting person will be rewarded for his fast, without decreasing his/her own thawab.
The companions of the Holy Prophet (Sa) said, "0 Messenger of Allah, every one of us does not have enough food to offer for Iftar to another fasting person." The Holy Prophet (Sm) said, 'This thawab will also be given to a person who offers to a fasting person one date or a drink of water or a little milk for his/her Iftar. And this is a month the first part of which is mercy from Allah, the middle of which is the forgiveness from Allah and the last part of which is liberation from hell. If someone relaxes the burden of work from his/her servant in this month, Allah will forgive his/her sins and will free him/her from the Fire. In this month you should do four acts frequently. Two acts are such that you will please your Lord through them and two are such that you can never claim, to be need-free of them. As for the two acts you please Allah through them, they are: to bear witness that there is no god but Allah, and to seek forgiveness from Allah. And the two acts you can never be need-free of them are: to pray Allah to give you the Jannah (the Paradise) and to seek refuge to Allah from the Fire. And if someone serves a drink to a fasting person, Allah will make him/her have such a drink from my canal (the Kauthar) that he/she will never get thirsty after it until he/she enters the Jannah."
This Hadith gives us a detailed account of the peculiar merits of the month of Ramadan and of what we should try to do in it. The upshot of the Hadith is that one should not restrict himself to fasting in this month; rather he/she should maximise the number of his/her virtuous acts and take this opportunity to seek forgiveness for his/her sins and to secure as much thawab as he/she can, by offering the nafl acts of worship including charitable acts.
In another Hadith, reported by Abu Hurairah (Ra) the Holy Prophet (Sm) has said:
"My Ummah has been given five characteristic honours in the month of Ramadan which have not been given to any other Ummah before.
1. The smell coming out from the mouth of a fasting person is better with Allah than the smell of musk.
2. Fishes (in the water) keep praying Allah to forgive the fasting persons until they make Iftar.
3. In every day of Ramadan, Allah decorates the Jannah and addresses it saying, "It is not too far that my righteous servants shall throw away the burdens (of the worldly life) and shall proceed towards you."
4. The rebellious satans are shackled in this month, and they cannot do in it what they do in other days (i.e. instigating men and women to commit sins.)
5. In the last night of this month, they (the fasting persons) are granted amnesty."
In a Hadith narrated by 'Ubadah ibn al Sarnit (Ra), the Holy Prophet is reported to have said:
"Ramadan has come to you. It is the month of blessing in which Allah envelops you (with His kindness). He makes His mercy descend upon you, He forgives your sins and accepts your prayers. Allah witnesses you when you race one another (in virtuous deeds) in this month and becomes proud of you before His angels. Therefore, show Allah the best of deeds from your side, because unfortunate is that person who deprives himself from Allah's mercy in this month."
These Ahadith are sufficient to explain the great merits Allah has invested this month with.
The month of Ramadan is the season of Divine blessings. It is the month of purification, it is meant for annual renovation of the inner spiritual qualities. It is a golden opportunity for every Muslim to strengthen his/her Iman, to purify his/her heart and soul and to remove the evil effects of the sins committed by him/her.
This month invites a Muslim to minirnise his/her other mundane involvements and maximise the acts of worship. One should plan his/her schedule for this month, before-hand, so as to spare maximum time for 'ibadah.
Here is a brief list of the acts which should be carried out in Ramadan with due care:
1. To offer every prayer with Jama'ah in a Masjid.
2. To rise up a little earlier than the exact time of Suhoor and to offer the Salah of Tahaijud. There is no prescribed number of the Tahaijud prayer. Yet, it is better· to pray 8 rak'at.
3. To offer the Nafl prayers of Ishraq (two rak'at after sunrise) Duha (Four rak'at which may be performed at anytime after Ishraq before noon) and Awwabin (six rak'at after Maghrib).
4. The recitation of the Holy Qur'an. No specific limit is prescribecL But one should recite as much of it as he can.
5. Zikr or Tasbeeh. Apart from reciting Tasbeeh at a particular time, they may also be continued frequently throughout the day, even if one is engaged in some light work, when walking and when in bed
6. Prayers and supplications: No particular prayer is prescribed. One can pray for everything he needs both in this world and in the Hereafter. However, the supplications of the Holy Prophet are so comprehensive that they encompass all that a Muslim can need in his life and after his death. It is, therefore, much advisable to pray Allah Almighty in the Prophetic words used by the Holy Prophet.
There are several books where these Prophetic supplications have been compiled. Here is the name of two books which should be kept by the Muslims in their home and be used for praying daily:
(i) Al hisnul Hasin by Allama Aljazri.
(ii) Munajat-e-Maqbool by Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi.
7. Sadaqah (charity): Apart from paying Zakah, which· is obligatory, one should also pay optional Sadaqah in Ramadan according to his/her best ability. It is reported in authentic
Ahadith that the Holy Prophet used to pay special attention in Ramadan to look after the poor and to help them financially. Therefore, a Muslim should give as much money in Sadaqah as he can afford.
All sinful acts should be avoided completely during the month of Ramadan. Although the sinful acts are totally prohibited in Shariah, whether in Ramadan or at any other time, but their prohibition becomes more severe in this month. It is evident that every Muslim avoids certain lawful acts, like eating and drinking, during the fasting time. If he/she continues to commit sins in Ramadan, it will be a mockery to avoid lawful things and yet be engaged in unlawful acts never allowed in Shari'ah. This, the abstinence from sins becomes all the more necessary in this month.
Specially the following acts should be avoided totally:
1.Telling a lie.
2.Gheebah or backbiting i.e. condemnation of a person in his absence.
The Holy Prophet has particularly forbidden from it when one is in the state of fasting. He has directed us that, if someone wants to quarrel in Ramadan, one should tell' him/her that I am fasting, hence I am not prepared to indulge in any quarrel.
4.Eating unlawful things.
5.Earning through unlawful means.
6.Any act which may harm a person without a valid cause.
7. Burdening one's servants or employees with a toilsome Job beyond their ability, without providing them facilities to carry it out.
In short, one should try his best to refrain from all kinds of sins, and protect his/her eyes, ears, tongue and all other organs from indulging in an unlawful activity.
Once a Muslim spends the month of Ramadan in this way, he/she will Insha'allah, find himself/herself equipped with a spiritual strength which will facilitate for him/her to conduct a good Islamic life in accordance with the pleasure of Allah.