Ramadhan 1444H has arrived, Alhamdulillah. It’s the month a lot of us have been eagerly waiting for. A month to reflect, restart and reach up to Our Most Compassionate Creator, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. A month to seek His mercy and forgiveness and, in shaa Allah, change our old ways that take us away from His Path.
Indeed, in an ever-changing, ever-trying world, it takes a lot of effort to stay on His Path. One moment we feel so close to Him, then tragically disconnected the next. Imam Ghazali (may Allah have mercy on him) once said,
“Never have I dealt with anything more difficult than my own soul, which sometimes helps me and sometimes opposes me.”
Relate much? It truly takes a lot of effort to train our nafs (soul) to not give in to acts of heedlessness and disbelief. But, with the blessed Ramadhan here, it will in shaa Allah become easier as the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said ‘the gates of heaven are opened, the gates of Hellfire are closed, and the devils are chained’ during this month (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim).
What do we want to achieve this month? What do we want to change? What kind of servant of Allah swt do we want to be this Ramadhan and beyond?
In his ‘Ihya Ulum-id-Din (The Revival of Religious Learnings), Imam Ghazali talks about six steps of spiritual efforts that a believer needs to implement to come closer to Allah swt and gain success in the hereafter, in shaa Allah. We briefly present them here with the hope that everyone finds them useful in making the most of Ramadhan in particular and in implementing positive change in one’s life in general, in shaa Allah:
- Musharatah. As in any endeavor, we need to first and foremost commit ourselves to making a change for the best as servants of Allah swt. In this step, we are setting a self-development contract in which we list the guidelines, terms and conditions for our thoughts, words and actions. We need to be make sure we base our contract on Quranic guidance and Prophetic example. For this to happen, we need to constantly deepen our knowledge of the deen. What is the purpose of our existence? What does Allah swt command us to do while in this world? How did the beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ live? How similar is our current way of life to his ﷺ? What do we specifically want to work on this Ramadhan and what consequences are we going to impose on ourselves should we fail?
- Muraqabah. This step pertains to guarding ourselves before engaging in any behavior. What is our intention for a word or act? Is what we are about to say or do a reflection of our submission to and love for Allah swt? Mindful living is indeed key to gaining the pleasure of our All-Compassionate and All-Forgiving Creator.
- Muhasabah. While we may try our very best to be mindful before performing an act, it is also part of human nature to forget and behave without careful thought. Hence, we need to develop the habit of accounting ourselves regularly. What did we do today? Were we able to stick to our self-development contract? Were we able to perform our obligatory duties with ihsaan (excellence)? What voluntary or optional acts were we able to perform? What did we fail to do and what lapses or sins did we commit?
- Mu’aqabah. Part of the terms of our self-development contract are the consequences or penalty we’ll impose on ourselves when we fail to stick to the terms of our agreement. In this step, we impose the penalties whenever we commit mistakes or sins. It may sound harsh, but we need to remember that consequences need to be within the bounds of our deen and implemented with the intention of disciplining and purifying our nafs. This is an important step which should not be delayed as delays can lead to the nafs getting used to giving in to its passions and finding it easier to commit sins.
- Mujahadah. It is the constant striving against our lower nafs and worldly inclinations that are not beneficial for our hereafter. It may not be easy, but we try our best to stick to our contract, perform the obligatory acts of worship and increase the voluntary ones.
- Mu’atabah. As a human being, we at times go back to our old ways and abandon the agreement we set for ourselves. When this happens, we need to seek The Most Merciful’s forgiveness, repent and return to His path. Repentance is not just asking for forgiveness, but more importantly doing our best to not return to our old ways.
There we have it; six steps for spiritual efforts. We may even start a journal that consists of our contract, a list of behavior to continue and areas to change and/or improve, daily behavioral logs along with corresponding consequences for lapses, important supplications for seeking forgiveness, repentance and steadfastness on His deen, among others. We can even have a loved one as our accountability buddy to make it easier for us to stick to our contract, in shaa Allah.
May Allah swt make this our best Ramadhan yet, and may He continuously keep our hearts steadfast on His deen. Ameen.
Reference: al-Ghazali, A. H. (1993). Meditation & Introspection. In Fazl-ul Karim (Trans.; 1st ed.), Revival of Religious Learnings: Imam Ghazzali’s Ihya Ulum-id-Din Vol IV: The Book of Constructive Virtues (pp. 334-369). Darul-Ishaat.