O you who believe! Observing al-sawm (the fasting) is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become al-muttaqoon (the pious).
(Qur’an al-Baqarah 2:183)
As the beautiful month of Ramadan approaches this year, there are several things Muslim women can do to prepare themselves spiritually and physically for the month-long period of fasting which is obligatory upon all able-bodied Muslims who have reached the age of maturity.
Giving some thought to the unique concerns that Muslim women face during this month can help us prepare for them and make the month a more successful one. This is especially true for new converts to Islam (because Ramadan is such a new experience) and for married women in general because of the extra responsibility they typically have to make sure that the iftar (the fast-breaking meal served at sunset each day) is ready on time for their families and any guests in addition to continuing to take care of the home, children and other obligations as usual. It is crucial, then, that women take the time to plan for their sleep, health and other concerns before the month even starts.
It is recommended for Muslims to eat a pre-dawn meal (called sahoor in Arabic) each day before the fast begins. The Prophet, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, is reported by Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) to have said,
"Eat a pre-dawn meal for there are blessings in it." (Bukhari and Muslim)
Other traditions report the Prophet (peace be upon him) as saying,
"You should eat [the] pre-dawn meal for it is a blessed nourishment" (an-Nasa'i),
"The pre-dawn meal is blessed so do not neglect it even if you only take a sip of water. Verily, Allah and His angels pray for those who have pre-dawn meals." (Ahmad)
The pre-dawn meal provides energy and other benefits to the fasting Muslim during the day so it makes good sense to plan on getting up early to have sahoor. Of course this is better accomplished if you also sleep early so try to think about how you will arrange your schedule once Ramadan begins. If you typically have trouble waking up for the fajr (dawn) prayer, a new schedule in Ramadan may be the motivation you need to change your habits for the better even after Ramadan has ended. Ramadan is a great opportunity that comes once a year to renew your relationship and commitment to Allah
If you are accustomed to drinking tea or coffee in the morning or during the day, be aware that caffeine withdrawal can cause severe headaches while you are fasting. Take some time before Ramadan to wean yourself from caffeine (perhaps gradually) and decide whether it will be necessary to have any caffeine during the non-fasting hours in Ramadan. It may seem like a funny thing to worry about compared to the greatness of this Holy Month but many Muslims have experienced the phenomena of caffeine withdrawal and know to prepare themselves ahead of time to ensure they do not get sick from it.
Women should also know the times that they are prohibited from fasting, such as when they are menstruating or bleeding after childbirth.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women have special permission not to fast during Ramadan if they feel that they or their babies will be harmed by it, but they are not prohibited from fasting if they feel they can handle it. This is something best discussed with a doctor and depends on each woman's unique circumstances. However, it is very important that pregnant and breastfeeding women take care to eat properly during non-fasting hours if they choose to fast. It is also important that women do not feel any shame or guilt in breaking the fast if they feel they must; no one has the right to put pressure on the pregnant or breastfeeding woman to exceed her body's limits. In fact this allowance not to fast should be considered a mercy from Allah and not a punishment.
Likewise, women should not fast just because they do not want to have to make their fasts up later: health should be the prime consideration in deciding whether or not to fast. Take the fast one day at a time: it is not a competition with others but an act of worship for the sake of Allah Most High.
Of course women who are ill or must take medications during the day need to consult their doctors in order to see if it will be possible for them to fast and to change the schedule of their medications. Discuss the issue with a sheikh if you are not sure about your situation.
Whether a woman misses days of fasting due to menstruation, childbirth, pregnancy, breastfeeding or illness, these missed days should be made up before the next Ramadan comes. Insha’Allah. Depending on her circumstances and on different schools of thought, making up the fast may be as simple as fasting one day for each day missed during Ramadan, or it may require that she feeds one poor person each day either in addition to, or in place of, fasting herself. Women should consult reliable books or scholars to understand their obligations in this regard. Fiqh us-Sunnah by As-Sayyid Sabiq is an excellent source of reliable information on how to make up missed days of fasting.
Understanding and respecting your body's physical needs and limits during Ramadan will help you to have more energy for taking care of your home, family and other responsibilities
Spiritual preparation is also something that needs to be done before Ramadan comes around – it might seem silly really when you consider we should be spiritually “in tune” 12 months a year. We all seem to get caught up with our hectic schedules and all of a sudden you hear Muslims say: “oh no” Ramadan is in 2 weeks and its “panic time”! Some women busy themselves with spring-cleaning their homes but often we forget to warm up and fine-tune our selves in readiness for this mighty month
Cleanliness - Whenever a guest comes, we prepare in advance for his arrival by vacuuming the carpet, dusting the shelves, and scrubbing the sinks. We should do this for our guest called Ramadan. But the scrubbing should not just be of our physical surroundings; it should include the scrubbing of our sins.
Listen to the words of our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), speaking about those people that don't want to clean up for Ramadan,
"Whoever doesn't desist from speaking falsehood and acting upon it, Allah has no need that he desist from his food and drink." (Bukhari)
Fasting in Sha'baan (this Month that we are now in) - The biggest downfall of many Muslims is that they are not properly warmed up for Fasting, some people only do it once a year making their bodies very foreign to going without food and drink.
From here we see the following Sunnah: Umm Al-Mu'mineen Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her)- observes, "Allah's Messenger never fasted an entire month other than Ramadan and I haven't seen him fast more than he did in Sha'baan."
This is a good way to prepare for Ramadan by fasting in the moth before. The Prophet (saws) also fasted Monday and Thursdays every week. We should make fasting something we do all year round not just in Ramadan so it becomes second nature to us.
As for the Prophet (peace be upon him), he used to give glad tidings to his Companions of the coming of Ramadan, like what is narrated from Imam Ahmad and An-Nisaai from the hadeeth of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with them), who said: “Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said to his Companions,
‘The month of Ramadan is coming, the blessed month wherein Allah has made fasting binding on you. In it, the gates of Paradise are opened, and in it, the gates of Hell are locked, and the devils are enchained. In it is the beneficent night of a thousand months (i.e. Laylat ul-Qadr). Whoever denies goodness in it has indeed been deprived.’
Ma’la Ibn al-Fadhl said about the Salaf (the pious predecessors): “They used to call upon Allah for six months until Ramadan reached them, then they would call on Him the other six months that Allah may accept it from them.” And Yahya Ibn Abee Katheer said, “Their supplication used to be,
‘O Allah, keep me safe until Ramadan, and make Ramadan faultless for me, and secure it for me as an accepted (month of virtue).’”
The early generations of the Ummah used to make Du'a 6 months after Ramadan that Allah accept their deeds in Ramadan. And for the next 6 months, they would make du'a to Allah to grant them the blessing of being alive in the coming Ramadan.
Some of the many important lessons we learn from Ramadan are:
v Developing Taqwa
Fasting has been legislated in order that we may gain taqwa, as Allah – the Most High – said:
"O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed upon those before you in order that you may attain taqwa." [Qur’an al-Baqarah 2:183]
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: "Fasting is a shield with which the servant protects himself from the Fire." (Hasan: Ahmad, authenticated by al-Albani in Saheeh ut-Targheeb)
So we should ask ourselves, after each day of fasting: Has this fasting made us more fearful and obedient to Allah? Has it aided us in distancing ourselves from sins and disobedience?
v Seeking Nearness to Allah
"Whosoever reaches the month of Ramadan and does not have his sins forgiven, and so enters the fire, then may Allah distance him." (Ahmad and al-Bayhaqee)
v Acquiring Patience
What is meant by the month of Patience is the month of Ramadan …so fasting is called patience because it restrains the soul from eating drinking, conjugal relations and sexual desires." (At-Tamheed of Al Haafidh ibn Abdul Barr)
The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said:
"O youths! Whoever amongst you is able to marry, then let him do so; for it restrains the eyes and protects the private parts. But whoever is unable, then let him fast, because it will be a shield for him." (At-Tamheed of Al Haafidh ibn Abdul Barr)
So fasting is a means of learning self-restraint and patience. With patience we are able to strengthen our resolve to worship Allah alone, with sincerity, and also cope with life’s ups and downs. So – for example – with patience we are able to perform our Prayers calmly and correctly, without being hasty, and without merely pecking the ground several times!
With patience we are able to restrain our souls from greed and stinginess and thus give part of our surplus wealth in Zakaah (obligatory charity). With patience we are able to subdue the soul’s ill temperament, and thus endure the ordeal and hardships of Hajj, without losing tempers and behaving badly. Likewise, with patience we are able to stand firm and fight Jihad against the disbelievers, hypocrites and heretics – withstanding their constant onslaught, without wavering and buckling, without despairing or being complacent, and without becoming hasty and impatient at the first sings of hardship. Allah – the Most High – said:
"O Prophet, urge the Believers to fight … So if there are one hundred who are patient, they shall overcome two hundred; and if there be one thousand, they shall overcome two thousand, by the permission of Allah. And Allah is with the patient ones." [Qur’an al-Anfaal 8:65-66].
Thus, without knowledge and patience, nothing remains, except zeal and uncontrolled emotions, shouts and hollow slogans, speech that does not strengthen, but rather weakness, and actions that do not build, but rather destroy! So in this month, we should strive to develop a firm resolve for doing acts of obedience, and to adorn ourselves with patience – having certainty in the saying of our Messenger sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam: "And know that victory comes with patience, relief with affliction, and ease with hardship." ( Saheeh: Ahmad, at-Tabaraanee in al-Kabeer, authenticated by al-Hilaalee in as-Sabrul Jameel)
v Cultivating Good Manners
Fasting is not merely abstaining from eating and drinking. Rather, it is also abstaining from ignorant and indecent speech. So if anyone abuses or behaves ignorantly with you, then say: I am fasting, I am fasting." (Saheeh: Ibn Khuzaymah and al-Haakim, who authenticated it.
v Sensing Muslim Unity
As Muslims from all around the world commence Ramadan we realise that we are part of a community our hearts and actions united in pursuing Allah’s pleasure. There are many ahadith mentioning the blessings of breaking the fast together and there is also much reward in feeding a fasting person. So let us unite in this month of Mercy.
So Ramadan – it is that light in the souls of the righteous and the truthful, and in the hearts of the devout and sincere it gives happiness; for it is the month of obedience, and in it there are beautiful reflections for us all. Indeed, it grants victory to the soul over the body and flesh and gives us a wonderful opportunity to straighten ourselves up with our Lord.
During this month of Sha’baan we should find out more about the traditions of the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) related to Ramadan and make a sincere effort to implement them this year. We should also try to purify our hearts and intentions before the commencement of Ramadan to make this fast successful for our families and ourselves. Insha’Allah
Ramadan is also an opportunity to renew relationships that may have been broken during the year and we should try and clear up any disputes or bad feelings with other Muslims so we may start this month a fresh.
So we ask Allah to grant us the ability to change ourselves for the better, during this blessed month, and not to be of those who are prevented from His Mercy and Forgiveness. Indeed He is the One who Hears and He is the One to Respond.