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

achievement

Image Courtesy blog.iiph.com 

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.

Four Steps to Jannah

stepping-stones‘Abdullah bin Salam (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: I heard the Messenger of Allah (sa) saying, “O people, exchange greetings of peace (i.e., say: As-Salamu ‘Alaikum to one another), feed people, strengthen the ties of kinship, and be in prayer when others are asleep, you will enter Jannah in peace.” (Tirmidhi)

Lessons from the Hadith:
This beautiful hadith encourages us to do three actions that generate mutual love and remove any kind of hatred, evil thoughts and dislike we could have in our hearts for others .and motivates us to do an action that helps to build a stronger relationship with our creator by worshipping Him at a time when everyone around us is sleeping.

All these actions are also connected as they help us grow slowly, step by step to build a stronger relationship with people and ultimately get closer to Allah (swt).

1. Spreading Salaam
The Prophet(sa) said, “You will not enter paradise until you believe, and you will not believe until you love one another: ‘spread salaam’ (the greeting of peace) among you.” [Muslim]

2. Feeding others
A man asked the Prophet(sa) , “What sort of deeds or (what qualities of) Islam are good?” The Prophet(sa) replied: ‘To feed (the poor) and greet those whom you know and those whom you do not Know.”

“‏ تُطْعِمُ الطَّعَامَ، وَتَقْرَأُ السَّلاَمَ عَلَى مَنْ عَرَفْتَ وَمَنْ لَمْ تَعْرِفْ ‏”

[Bukhari and Muslim]

3. Strengthen the ties of Kinship:
A man said to the Prophet(sa): “Direct me to a deed which may admit me to Jannah.” Upon this he (sa) said, “Worship Allah and never associate anything with Him in worship, establish Salah, pay Zakah, and strengthen the ties of kinship.”

‏تعبد الله لا تشرك به شيئًا، وتقيم الصلاة، وتؤتي الزكاة، وتصل الرحم‏

[Bukhari and Muslim]

4. Praying at night

Narrated Abu Hurairah: Allah’s Messenger(sa) said, “Our Lord, the Blessed, the Superior, comes every night down on the nearest Heaven to us when the last third of the night remains, saying: “Is there anyone to invoke Me, so that I may respond to invocation? Is there anyone to ask Me, so that I may grant him his request? Is there anyone seeking My forgiveness, so that I may forgive him?” (Sahih al-Bukhari )

‏ يَنْزِلُ رَبُّنَا تَبَارَكَ وَتَعَالَى كُلَّ لَيْلَةٍ إِلَى السَّمَاءِ الدُّنْيَا حِينَ يَبْقَى ثُلُثُ اللَّيْلِ الآخِرُ يَقُولُ مَنْ

يَدْعُونِي فَأَسْتَجِيبَ لَهُ مَنْ يَسْأَلُنِي فَأُعْطِيَهُ مَنْ يَسْتَغْفِرُنِي فَأَغْفِرَ لَهُ ‏‏‏.‏

[Bukhari]

Thus the Prophet(sa) has urged the believers to soften their hearts by combining the good actions in both words and deeds which is a perfect treatment that sows seeds of love and friendship in their hearts.

Action Points:
Peace of mind, contentment, happiness and freedom from worries and anxiety… this is what everyone wants, and these are the ways in which people can have a good life and find complete happiness and joy in this life and Akhirah. But this can only be achieved when one has the nature of caring and giving.

All actions mentioned in the hadith requires self control and patience and when we are able to conquer this, the path to enter in Jannah with peace becomes easier.

On the other hand we must engage ourselves in remembrance of Allah (swt) as this is the greatest means of feeling content and relaxed and of acquiring peace of mind in dunya and then ultimately in Akhirah as Allah (swt) said in Surah al-An’aam:127

لَهُمْ دَارُ السَّلَامِ عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ ۖ وَهُوَ وَلِيُّهُم بِمَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ
“For them will be a Home of Peace in the presence of their Lord: He will be their Friend because they practiced (righteousness)”

When we are at peace with others, our heart is at peace to worship our creator. And thus we are able to enter Paradise with peace and that is the ultimate achievement, the epitome of success and the greatest of rewards.

اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَسْأَلُكَ الْجَنَّةَ وَمَا قَرَّبَ إِلَيْهَا مِنْ قَوْلٍ أَوْ عَمَلٍ وَأَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنَ النَّارِ وَمَا قَرَّبَ إِلَيْهَا مِنْ قَوْلٍ أَوْ عَمَلٍ وَأَسْأَلُكَ أَنْ تَجْعَلَ كُلَّ قَضَاءٍ قَضَيْتَهُ لِي خَيْرًا ‏
O Allah, I ask You for Paradise and for that which brings one closer to it, in word and deed, and I seek refuge in You from Hell and from that which brings one closer to it, in word and deed. And I ask You to make every decree that You decree concerning me good, Ameen!

Courtesy: Alhuda Canada

Ramadan Spirit – On the Go!

shawwalAs we approach towards the end of this auspicious month, it is high-time to think about the ways to avoid post-Ramadan Iman decline. This month serves as a denotation for all Muslims to use the weapon of prayers and self-control, in order to avoid their souls from falling prey to satanic pursuits.

While we all glorify Allah (swt) and believe in His Divine surveillance; we achieve a devoted state of mind only during the thirty days of Ramadan. In other eleven months, we approach Him only in the phases where we are suffering from distress. There is no point in concealing the inner demon by a counterfeit form of a devoted Muslim during Ramadan and washing away all the good deeds by committing sins in the subsequent months. The basic purpose of creating human race is to test them and their willpowers which can keep them away from following worldly desires.

So now, you are setting feet in Shawwal, and that spiritual balloon has deflated to quite an extent. The motivational factor which pushed you during Ramadan is now wavering. Don’t rock the boat, here are a few measures that would help you sustain the virtues acquired during Ramadan:

1)     Make Supplications
Allah (swt) is the only One who holds the credentials of your virtue-maintenance during Ramadan and only He can help you sustain them for the entire year. So get yourself attached with His being. As Surah Ghafir, verse 60 states:
“And your Lord said: “Invoke Me, (i.e. believe in My Oneness (Islamic Monotheism)) (and ask Me for anything) I will respond to your (invocation). Verily! Those who scorn My worship, they will surely enter Hell in humiliation!”
The initial step to strengthen your relationship with your Lord is to seek protection from Him against the shenanigans of the Satan. His mercy is undoubtedly unfathomable; moreover, it is an absolute reality that Dua has the power to modify fate.

Thereupon, approach to the Almighty with a firm belief that He is always listening to your cries. Beseech upon Him to escort you clean in other months and according to the criterion laid down by Allah (swt) and His Messenger (sa)

2)     Fortify your Relationship with Quran
Ramadan was an ordinary Islamic month, until it was made exclusive with the first revelation of Quran. The significance of this Book ordained the month of its revelation to be a superior one. The message propagated by Quran is immensely poignant. It brings a complete code of conduct for mankind, containing instructions regarding all phases of human life. Allah (swt) pledges to bestow the staunch followers of the Book with gardens of Paradise.
You can gain acquaintance with Quran through Quranic courses being conducted in your area; making sure that whoever you conjugate with is imparting authentic knowledge. With the widespread use of Internet conferencing, many contemporary online courses are being organized by reputable Islamic institutes.

Never let the thirst of gaining Quranic knowledge die within you, alongside pray to Allah (swt) that He makes it smooth for you to understand Quran. The Book will grasp you in its excellence, so much so, that you will feel incomplete when you get distant from it.

3)     Fast round the year
Fasting is one primary habit that triggers a spiritual sense within you. The merit and supremacy of this act inspires a person to withhold himself/herself from the acts of mischief. Hence, it is a special tool to keep the Ramadan spirit alert within you.
For this purpose, you can keep fasts on different days as derived from Sunnah, such as, Monday and Thursday of every week or 13,14 ad 15 lunar dates. You can begin by keeping six fasts in the month of Shawwal and forge ahead with the practice in other months.

4)     Pray during last hours of the night
Tahajjud prayer has an exceptional value in Islam. It is the time when Allah (swt) responds to every prayer made by His servants. It is emphasized in Surah Isra, verse 79:
“And in some parts of the night (also) offer the Salat (prayer) with it (i.e. recite the Quran in the prayer), as an additional prayer (Tahajjud optional prayer Nawafil) for you (O Muhammad (sa)). It may be that your Lord will raise you to Maqaman Mahmuda (a station of praise and glory, i.e. the highest degree in Paradise!)”

And those who stand in prostration during this time have a distinctive value in the eyes of Allah (swt). When all souls are resting and one person is calling upon Allah (swt), the All-Hearer, there is no chance that Allah (swt) would not love that person. So, during those hours call upon Him to bless you with high-levels of reward and make you immune to the worldly greed. Dua made at those hours never misses the target. Indulge into a conversation with your Lord; He is the only sincere friend you can rely upon.

Thus, we can deduce that it is highly essential for a Muslim to persist what he/she did in Ramadan and not wash all those deeds away. We might stumble occasionally while following these steps, but never forget the infinite Mercy of Allah (swt). He is watching all our efforts and treasures all the hardships and patience we demonstrate. It’s about time we stop being heedless and turn to Him; obeying all His rules with steadfastness. The tribulations will eventually go away. Insha’Allah!