Every year, with Ramadan on the horizon, most of us find ourselves on the receiving end of a deluge of mails, pamphlets, and sermons, reminding us of its significance. Some of the most useful ones are those containing tips on how to prepare for the month ahead. There are ideas ranging from doing all our grocery and ‘Eed shopping beforehand to getting the family in the spirit of Ramadan by performing voluntaryfasts and playing the Quran and Nasheeds in the house.
Yet, this word often thrown about—"preparation"—seems to validate our perception of this month as a guest, albeit a VIP one. Of course, Ramadan, which comes only once a year, is special and distinct, and, readying ourselves for it means we ensure that we appreciate its magnanimity. Thus, as we would before an important visitor arrives, we put our best selves forward.
The downside to that, though, is it implies our reversion back to our "normal" modes after the departure of any outsider, and that we shall do the very same when Ramadan is gone from our lives.
Is our preparation at fault here, then? Are we so consumed by our hosting duties that we miss out on the company of our guest?
We clear up the literal and figurative clutter in our lives and homes as we ready for the month, and plan out our activities reserved exclusively for this time—reading the entire Quran, visiting the Mosque more frequently and feeding the poor. And, as we sight the moon of Ramadan, we offer a gracious and warm welcome that translates into our changed days and nights.
Yet, and we all have noticed this, something happens a week or so later. We start falling back on our scheduled recitation, the rows of praying individuals in the Mosque begin to shorten, and instead of donating generously we find ourselves only calculating the required Zakat.
So, what happens? Do we start viewing Ramadan as a guest that has overstayed its welcome?
Less than a third or so into the month, our anticipation for it begins to die down and our enthusiasm wanes.
We begin to see it as just any other time of the year. Perhaps it is because all our preparations and `hospitality' are borne out of courtesy and tradition, rather than true desire and love. If the opposite were true, we would be like the Companions, may Allah be pleased with them, who would implore Allah Almighty to let them witness Ramadan from six months out, not just a couple of days in advance of it.
Thereafter, they would then truly honor it, such that they could actually spend the next half of the year praying that their worship in it was acceptable to Him Almighty.
As for us, as the month seems to stretch on for days on end, we begin to realize that this guest of ours will stick around a bit longer. That rush to accommodate the special month then begins to dissipate, and we think that everything we decided to do can be put off for another day, if not indefinitely. And so, the extra prayer we wanted to offer will be put off to the last 10 nights. The charity we intended to give will be left to the eve of ‘Eed. The prospect of just a 29-day Ramadan does not give us haste to finish the entire recitation of the Quran before then. And, as for our I`tikaaf vigils, we think there will always be a next year. This is not to negate our very sincere good intentions and pre-Ramadan plans. But, preparations will remain just that if not coupled with concrete action. They will only represent remnants of faith within us that flicker every now and then, to remind us we are still Muslim, if only recognizable on these "limited number of days" [2:184].
Most importantly, we need to start treating Ramadan, not as a passing visitor, but like family. Let it be a month we genuinely handle with love and shower with devotion. And, when the occasion calls for it, without pretense, we lavish it with the special attention it demands. Either way, there is a consistency in our demeanor, in terms of righteousness. Then when the month leaves, we fondly remember it and remain such that it will recognize us when it graces us with its presence yet again.
Only then will we be entertaining this "blessed month that has come" to us, as more than just an acquaintance [At-Tirmithi]. After all, Ramadan, and by extension, fasting, is a part of us and of who we are—"…decreed upon you...as it was decreed upon those before you, that you may become righteous." [2:183].