Every year, as we sight the crescent of Ramadan, our minds race to formulate a plan for the month. This, I know, is increasingly becoming a common practice among the Muslim youth nowadays most of them make what is called a "Ramadan To-Do list."
This is a good and positive trend. However, the way it happens, as I have seen in my own experience as well as the experience of many others, suggests that lest we reconsider our attitude toward it, it can turn, for many, into another of Ramadan habits, nothing more or less. Two points of the highest concern here is how much thought do we put into creating our lists and what do we choose as the main objective for them.
We pin all our hopes on its 29 or 30 days, expecting that they will make up for the shortcomings of our previous 325 days. And so, we organize our days, and sometimes nights, in order to maximize our productivity and the benefits we stand to reap.
Yet still we find the highlights of our schedule strangely come to be tasks that are not only irrelevant to this month but that limit its magnanimity and disrespect its sanctity.
Somehow, we transform our to-do list into a to-cook-for-iftaar list, or an ‘Eed shopping list, despite knowing Ramadan to be such a short time that is not nearly enough for us to attain all the goodness, guidance, forgiveness and mercy it offers.
Of course, I am not discounting our noble intentions to perform taraweeh, read Quran, and wake up for suhoor. It is sad, though, that we may check off such acts of worship in our task lists for Ramadan, but desist from them otherwise throughout the year.
Yet even during this month, do we ever go beyond the rituals we associate with it? Not just in terms of extra supplication, prayer, and charity, but the realization of the essence of Ramadan.
And an excellent way to ensure that we think about what we want to focus on achieving this Ramadan and actually follow it through is to make a simple To-Do list for it. And if we do, I suggest that we write it down on a handy card that we can keep on us all the time during the month—an effective way of reminding ourselves of what we have chosen and wanted to achieve in it. Keep in mind that this indicates how much goodness we intend to show, to our Lord, of ourselves. So, aside from our typical to-do lists that include customary acts of worship let us consider fulfilling these tasks, too:
Recite the Quran, Not Merely Read It
By this I mean to read the Quran aloud such that you hear every word you utter while paying attention to all the Tajweed rulings you know, and not just reading silently by looking at the verses. As we head home after taraweeh each day, we should reread the passages that moved us during prayer. Let it not be the first and last time in the year that some verses make us cry in awe.
Begin with the Name of Allah Almighty
As sincerely and vocally as we utter bismillaah upon breaking our fasts, so must we thank Allah and remember Him Almighty throughout this month and our daily lives.
Make Ramadan Mine
Let us ensure that while Ramadan epitomizes unity, brotherhood, and society, that it is just as much about the individual and self-reform. So, while Iftaar dinners and gatherings of the Muslim community are great, we should ask ourselves each night: Did I do anything for me? Did this month further my own efforts to reach Paradise?
Truly Celebrate ‘Eed
On the eve of ‘Eed, let us take a moment to reflect in the wee hours of the night, for they mark the beginning of life after Ramadan and will set the tone for the rest of the year. As we admire our new clothes and impatiently wait to get on with the festivities, we must keep in mind that this day comes on the heels of a month of worship and it remains to be confirmed that we are not like one "who obtains nothing from his fasting but thirst." [At-Tirmithi]
Honor Ramadan as an Entire Month
Let us not leave worship till the last 10 days. Of course, they hold mighty significance, especially considering the occurrence of Laylatul-Qadr (the Night of Power) in one of its nights. And no one is advocating a month-long reclusion, when many of our daily activities qualify as ibaadah, if done with the right intention. But we can't deny this whole month—with its every single day—is special, and we should treat it as such. Know my actions of today, tomorrow, and every day for the rest of my life. This may seem puzzling, or redundant, but the reality is that, too often, we are not quite aware of our actions. For instance, maybe we really fast every Ramadan because our family does so and pray taraweeh only because it has become a tradition. And could the real reason we host iftaar dinners be that we want to outdo our neighbors?
Be a Muslim Who Believes
If we find there to be a failing in our observance of Ramadan, it is because we lack conviction in its power. There is a flaw in our belief that, as the Prophet said, "When the first night of Ramadan comes, the devils and demons are chained up, and the gates of Hell are closed—and not one gate of it is opened. The gates of Paradise are opened—and not one gate of it is closed. And a caller calls out: `O seeker of good, come to Allah! O seeker of evil, desist!' Allah will have ransomed some people from the Fire—and that happens every night." [At-Tirmithi]