Interview with Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan – How to have a productive Ramadan


Image Courtesy 

The following interview was conducted by Abu Productive and posted originally as a video interview. You can watch the entire interview here.

Interviewer: Assalamualaikum and welcome to this very special interview with our favourite teacher Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan.

NAK: Walaikumasalam Wa Rahmatullah Wa Barakatuhu

Interviewer: Jazak’Allah Khair for joining us for this interview

NAK: My pleasure.

Interviewer: I really want to talk to you about how you plan to prepare for and spend Ramadan? My first question is: What’s your definition of the purpose of Ramadan? What should we look out for, and try to achieve in Ramadan?

NAK: To me personally, my thoughts on Ramadan are inspired by the only passage in the Quran that deals with the subject. A little past the middle of Surah Al- Baqarah, Allah (swt) talks about the function, the purpose of Ramadan  and what I find probably the most inspiring in that passage- first and foremost- is that Allah (swt) did not describe this month as a month of fasting, nor did he describe it as a month of prayer. He described it as the month in which the Quran was revealed; and then, when He described the Quran, He described in a way as though He was introducing the Quran for the first time- like never before. And, this is a Madni Surah, which means that the Muslims have been receiving Quran through the Prophet (sa) for over a decade now, well over a decade. And, yet Allah (swt) says,

“The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for mankind and clear proofs for the guidance and the criterion (between right and wrong).” (Al-Baqarah 2:185).

As though, it’s like Allah (swt) is telling us what the Quran is for the first time; so what that teaches me at least, and I hope other Muslims too- is that you have to renew the relationship with this Book almost as though you never knew it before, and you have to come at it anew. Hence, it’s a month of rejuvenating your experience with the Quran, so you can experience it like the first generation that was taught to experience it all over again. That’s the first and foremost thing, like this month should be a celebration of revelation itself. That’s what it should be.

Interviewer: Subhan’Allah, that’s amazing. And based on that, what would be your most important goal to achieve in Ramadan.

NAK: I study the Quran throughout the year, but I turn it up a few notches in the month of Ramadan. My memorization goes up; I haven’t finished memorizing the Quran yet; I’m working on it- part time slowly but surely. But, it goes on an accelerator in the month of Ramadan. I try to catch Itikaf every year, and in Itikaf I do a lot of review of Quran. For me personally, the act of memorizing the Quran, is not just the act of memorization- but actually- when you recite the Ayat over and over again, it gives you a chance to reflect on the word of Allah (swt) too; and to think about the same thing over and over again. It brings about opportunities for insight which I really enjoy. So, that’s one thing that’s certainly I look forward to in Ramadan.

The other thing I really enjoy doing in Ramadan is the nightly Taraweeh prayers; but I will be honest with you- many a times, I don’t join the entire Taraweeh prayers; or a lot of the times, I’ll go to a Masjid- which actually takes it easier. Because some Masajid- unfortunately- their big goal is to finish the recitation of the entire Quran, and they rush through the recitation; and there are other Masajid Alhumdulilllah in our area that actually take it easy. They won’t recite a lot, but what they recite, they really enjoy reciting; and this month should not be about quantity, it should be about quality. There is no religious guideline that you have to finish the entire Quran- there’s no such thing.. We impose this upon ourselves, and you find people that pray their eight Rakat, and there’s a mad rush outside the Masjid. It’s just that I got over with it, let me get out of here. But actually, prayer is supposed to be reflective, a spiritual experience where you’re enjoying the word of Allah (swt) in ever Rakat; and that’s really something, I hope to restore every year for myself in Ramadan, and I hope other people do too Insha’Allah.

Interviewer: Insha’Allah. You mentioned about balancing your energy levels- trying not to do too much in the first days- for example, trying to leave some energy for the last ten days. Do you sort of structure the whole of Ramadan that way? You try to sort of spread out your energy so that you can maintain momentum throughout the month?

NAK: You know,  one of my teachers Dr. Madwi, has some pretty interesting insights on Ramadan, and how you should spend your time in Ramadan, and I tend to agree with him.

Ramadan is, actually, not supposed to be a time where you’re not productive in everything else- like you’re supposed to be as fruitful, as productive at your work, and with business and education and everything else as in the other months.

It’s not a time for vacation; in some Muslim countries- for example, people stay up until Fajr almost, and then they pass out until 4 p.m. Just in time for Iftar and start all over again. They become like creatures of the night, or something, because for them that’s what Ramadan is supposed to be.

That’s silly, that’s not the point of this month. As a matter of fact, the nightly prayers, they are just really a manifestation of Tahajjud, -that’s what they are. Lots of Muslims have a struggle even with the five prayers; but if you’re praying your five prayers, and you’re not good at Tahajjud- this is the month to get into it. There is an (Ayat), even the Ayaat for reciting the Quran in slow rhythmic tone; there are Ayaat about the night prayer,  and Taraweeh is actually supposed to be an exercise for the night prayer; so if, you don’t catch the Taraweeh, but manage to get up for Tahajjud, that’s even better for you.

We have to change- shift our mentality about how we make the most of Ramadan. The other recommendation I very strongly have for people is- if you didn’t catch the Taraweeh prayers at night, but you went to pray Isha, and a few extra Rakaat at the Masjid ,and then you came back for Fajr at the Masjid- that’s way much better for you than staying up until midnight doing Taraweeh, and then, barely catching Fajr, or not coming to the Masjid for Fajr. So, you have to be realistic with yourself; what is a bigger priority? I mean the Prophet (sa) instructions are true, and we should believe in them; if you catch the prayer at the Masjid at Isha and Fajr, it’s as though you prayed the entire night. That’s his promise. So, let’s believe in that promise, and especially, get into that habit in this month.

I personally believe, in my personal life, and I recommend it to my friends and students that if you can make a habit of catching Fajr and Isha at the Masjid, then you’re just going to have a productive life. Allah (swt) is going to put some Barakah in your life throughout your day, throughout your night, a lot of good comes of it; and then, this is the month to get into that habit, because you’re going to go anyway, but don’t overdo it in a way that you just totally can’t sustain it after it’s done. You want to use this month as an opportunity to instill habits in your life that you can sustain after this month is over. So, that’s how I see it.

I: You just touched on Barakah there; and I want you to touch on Barakah in particular. How can your fast and spirituality sustain you? How does Barakah of Suhoor and fasting boost your productivity

NAK: It’s pretty amazing because fasting is tough, but, and if you try to fast tomorrow, it’ll be really hard. You’re going to be dazed, you’re not going to be able to focus at work, and things are going to happen. But, what Allah (swt) says about Ramadan is pretty awesome. It’s not a universal statement; it’s actually intended within the month of Ramadan. Allah (swt) intends ease for you; the fasting in the month of Ramadan is actually easier than fasting any other time, and that’s something Allah (swt) instills into this month. It’s special; so nobody is going to be able to say genuinely that they’re having a hard time because of the fasting As a matter of fact, you might even find yourself having more energy than you ever had. Now, if you don’t find yourself having energy, then there are some other causes- not fasting.

What are those other causes? You’re over eating at Iftar; you’re going to town at Suhoor time you’re eating like four times the breakfast you normally eat; no wonder you’re tipped over half the day because you’re dying of how much you ate; the other half you’re dying over your starvation- so, a balanced diet is a big part of how productive you are. A balanced sleep schedule is really important. People have messed up sleep schedules in Ramadan; they’re not supposed to have those sleep schedules. You’re supposed to have a normal sleep schedule in Ramadan- so maintain these things, take care of these things, and Insha’Allah, it’s not going to be a problem. Speaking of the word Barakah, you know, the linguistic meaning of the word is increase beyond expectation.

Pearls of Peace – An extract from Surah Ali’ Imran

pearlIn this Surah we learn a powerful Dua that is a source of our peace, “(They say): “Our Lord! Let not our hearts deviate (from the truth) after You have guided us, and grant us mercy from You. Truly, You are the Bestower.”(Al-Imran 3:8)

After you have been guided, don’t return to your old state. People start offering five daily prayers, and then suddenly drop down to four, then three, to eventually abandoning it. People have been modestly dressed for years but due to peer pressure or Shaytan’s whisperings they abandon the good dress for immodest clothing. Don’t regress. Move forward and earn the pleasure of Allah (swt).

Who can earn Allah’s (swt) pleasure?

As we are talking about earning the pleasure of Allah (swt), let’s learn about the ones who can earn it. Allah (swt) says, “(They are) those who are patient ones, those who are true (in Faith, words, and deeds), and obedient with sincere devotion in worship to Allah. Those who spend (give the Zakat and alms in the Way of Allah) and those who pray and beg Allah’s Pardon in the last hours of the night.” (Al-Imran 3:17) These are the ones who will attain Paradise – the home of eternal peace and contentment. May Allah (swt) make us amongst them. Ameen.

The honour lies with whom?

People search for honour and dignity through various means. Some earn it through their academic accolades and others through their financial status. Honour and dignity is in the Hands of Allah (swt). “Say (O Muhammad (sa)): “O Allah! Possessor of the kingdom, You give the kingdom to whom You will, and You take the kingdom from whom You will, and You endue with honour whom You will, and You humiliate whom You will. In Your Hand is the good. Verily, You are Able to do all things..” (Al-Imran 3:26).

You want honour? Ask Allah (swt), Al-Muiz. When Allah (swt) honours people with respect and dignity; they sometimes become arrogant. Remember if He has given you He can snatch it away at any time. Have little earned from honest living and be content with that. Don’t cheat or look down upon others.

Love Allah (swt) and His Messenger (sa)

The discussion then changes to an important matter. We all claim our love for Allah (swt) but how many of us actually fulfill the conditions of this love? Allah (swt) says, “Say (O Muhammad (sa) to mankind): “If you (really) love Allah then follow me (i.e. follow the Quran and the Sunnah), Allah will love you and forgive you of your sins. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”” (Al-Imran 3:31)

Loving Allah (swt) is one thing but when Allah (swt) loves a person, do you think that person will ever lose contentment? How does one know if Allah (swt) loves me or not? The sign of Allah’s (swt) love is, when one follows the footsteps of His Messenger (sa). May Allah (swt) grant us His love, and may we be among those who are resurrected with Muhammad (sa). Ameen.

Acceptance of Dua – based on strong faith in Allah (swt) and His will

Story of prophet Zakariya (as)

A beautiful incident is narrated from which many people derive comfort. People are married for years without children, and this is the Will of Allah (swt). May He make matters easier for them. Ameen. Allah (swt) mentions the story of Prophet Zakariya (as). Prophet Zakariya (as) and his wife were really old and they didn’t have any children. He was assigned the care of Maryam (as). “So her Lord (Allah) accepted her with goodly acceptance. He made her grow in a good manner and put her under the care of Zakariya (Zachariya). Every time he entered Al-Mihrab to (visit) her , he found her supplied with sustenance. He said: “O Maryam (Mary)! From where have you got this?” She said, “This is from Allah.” Verily, Allah provides sustenance to whom He wills, without limit.” (Al-Imran 3:37)

Witnessing this miracle before his eyes, prophet Zakariya (as) got encouragement to ask Allah (swt) for a child. If He can provide Maryam (as) with off season fruits, then He can certainly provide him with a child.

The hopeful Dua of Zakariya (as)

“At that time Zakariya (Zachariya) invoked his Lord, saying: “O my Lord! Grant me from You, a good offspring. You are indeed the All-Hearer of invocation.”” (Al-Imran 3:38)

Moral of the story

This teaches us an important lesson that is whenever you see the Qudra (power) of Allah (swt), make Due for yourself. That is a time of acceptance of Dua. The next time you see someone bestowed by Allah (swt) or when you look at the mountains, the trees, the fruits and the sea; don’t forget to make Dua for whatever tiniest issue you have. Allah’s (swt) majestic creation should strengthen our Iman in Him.

Build relationships with true promises

One cause of lacking peace in our lives is over committing or not fulfilling our covenants. We fail to honour our contracts and commitments and that results in a great disaster. We risk our reputation and lose crucial relationships. When you promise something then deliver it. If you cannot deliver it do not promise.

Now emphasis is on keeping the promises, Allah (swt) says, “Verily, those who purchase a small gain at the cost of Allah’s Covenant and their oaths, they shall have no portion in the Hereafter (Paradise). Neither will Allah speak to them, nor look at them on the Day of Resurrection, nor will He purify them, and they shall have a painful torment.” (Al-Imran 3:77) Be as truthful and sincere as you can be in honoring the covenant of Allah (swt). We don’t wish to be among those with whom He will neither speak  nor look at them.

Break-free from the love of the material world

What happens when your child drops your S4 and the screen breaks? Does all hell break loose over a cell phone? How do you react when your maid burns your brand new dress while ironing it? Many people beat their children and servants over a small mistake to the point that it results in their death. Allah (swt) instructs us not to attach ourselves to the material possessions of this world.

He says, “By no means shall you attain Al-Birr (piety, righteousness, etc., it means here Allah’s Reward, i.e. Paradise), unless you spend (in Allah’s Cause) of that which you love; and whatever of good you spend, Allah knows it well.” (Al-Imran 3:92)

Your spirituality is your wealth

If your wealth is affecting your spirituality, then share it with those who don’t have it. Your heart will be at peace and make you humble. If our wealth is making us haughty and egotistical, then certainly it’s not worth it. The only time we should be really proud of ourselves is when in the Hereafter, we are handed our book in the right hand and we are given the glad tiding of Jannah. May Allah (swt) make us of those who are pleased with Him and He is pleased with them. Ameen.

Ready for the inevitable?

The various reminders of death in the Quran tell us that we need to be prepared for death at all times. Allah (swt) says, “O you who believe! Fear Allah (by doing all that He has ordered and by abstaining from all that He has forbidden) as He should be feared. (Obey Him, be thankful to Him, and remember Him always), and die not except in a state of Islam (as Muslims) with complete submission to Allah.” (Al-Imran 3:102).

How does one prepare for death? By submitting to Allah (swt); submitting to whatever He has commanded us to do and whatever He has commanded us to abstain from.

Being compassionate is our Deen

Allah (swt) says, “You are the best of peoples ever raised up for mankind; you enjoin Al-Maruf (i.e. all that Islam has ordained) and forbid Al-Munkar (all that Islam has forbidden), and you believe in Allah.” (Al-Imran 3:110).

This means a believer is not selfish. He is not just concerned about his Hereafter but also encourages others to do good and stops them from committing wrong. Similarly, a believer does not make fun of someone who is going through a trial; it is a trait of an enemy to laugh at someone’s misery.

Allah (swt) says, “If a good befalls you, it grieves them, but if some evil overtakes you, they rejoice at it. But if you remain patient and become Al-Muttaqun, not the least harm will their cunning do to you. Surely, Allah surrounds all that they do.,” (Al-Imran 3:120).

Here vs. Hereafter

Why do you want to risk your Akhirah over a temporary situation of this world? If a person is going through distress, we don’t say, “He deserved it.” Why if Allah (swt) makes that happen to us? A believer lives between the state of fear and hope at all times. He is neither too content with his life nor negligent. He certainly isn’t jealous of others. He knows if Allah (swt) can provide a fellow human being with something then He can certainly provide him as well.

May Allah (swt) humble our hearts and not make this world the main focus of our lives. May we be more worried about the Hereafter then the petty issues of this world. May Allah (swt) grant us peace. Ameen.

(Adapted from Mufti Ismail Menk’s “Pearls of Peace” series, Cape Town, Ramadan 2013. The lecture can be listened to at this link.)