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As the beautiful month of Ramadan approaches this year, there are several things Muslim women can do to prepare themselves spiritually and physically for the month-long period of fasting which is obligatory upon all able-bodied Muslims who have reached the age of maturity.
Giving some thought to the unique concerns that Muslim women face during this month can help us prepare for them and make the month a more successful one. This is especially true for new converts to Islam (because Ramadan is such a new experience) and for married women in general because of the extra responsibility they typically have to make sure that the iftar (the fast-breaking meal served at sunset each day) is ready on time for their families and any guests in addition to continuing to take care of the home, children and other obligations as usual. It is crucial, then, that women take the time to plan for their sleep, health and other concerns before the month even starts.
It is recommended for Muslims to eat a pre-dawn meal (called sahoor in Arabic) each day before the fast begins.
The pre-dawn meal provides energy and other benefits to the fasting Muslim during the day so it makes good sense to plan on getting up early to have sahoor. Of course this is better accomplished if you also sleep early so try to think about how you will arrange your schedule once Ramadan begins. If you typically have trouble waking up for the fajr (dawn) prayer, a new schedule in Ramadan may be the motivation you need to change your habits for the better even after Ramadan has ended. Ramadan is a great opportunity that comes once a year to renew your relationship and commitment to Allah
If you are accustomed to drinking tea or coffee in the morning or during the day, be aware that caffeine withdrawal can cause severe headaches while you are fasting. Take some time before Ramadan to wean yourself from caffeine (perhaps gradually) and decide whether it will be necessary to have any caffeine during the non-fasting hours in Ramadan. It may seem like a funny thing to worry about compared to the greatness of this Holy Month but many Muslims have experienced the phenomena of caffeine withdrawal and know to prepare themselves ahead of time to ensure they do not get sick from it.
Women should also know the times that they are prohibited from fasting, such as when they are menstruating or bleeding after childbirth.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women have special permission not to fast during Ramadan if they feel that they or their babies will be harmed by it, but they are not prohibited from fasting if they feel they can handle it. This is something best discussed with a doctor and depends on each woman's unique circumstances. However, it is very important that pregnant and breastfeeding women take care to eat properly during non-fasting hours if they choose to fast. It is also important that women do not feel any shame or guilt in breaking the fast if they feel they must; no one has the right to put pressure on the pregnant or breastfeeding woman to exceed her body's limits. In fact this allowance not to fast should be considered a mercy from Allah and not a punishment.
Likewise, women should not fast just because they do not want to have to make their fasts up later: health should be the prime consideration in deciding whether or not to fast. Take the fast one day at a time: it is not a competition with others but an act of worship for the sake of Allah Most High.
Of course women who are ill or must take medications during the day need to consult their doctors in order to see if it will be possible for them to fast and to change the schedule of their medications. Discuss the issue with a sheikh if you are not sure about your situation.
Whether a woman misses days of fasting due to menstruation, childbirth, pregnancy, breastfeeding or illness, these missed days should be made up before the next Ramadan comes. Insha'Allah. Depending on her circumstances and on different schools of thought, making up the fast may be as simple as fasting one day for each day missed during Ramadan, or it may require that she feeds one poor person each day either in addition to, or in place of, fasting herself.
Understanding and respecting your body's physical needs and limits during Ramadan will help you to have more energy for taking care of your home, family and other responsibilities
Spiritual preparation is also something that needs to be done before Ramadan comes around - it might seem silly really when you consider we should be spiritually "in tune" 12 months a year. We all seem to get caught up with our hectic schedules and all of a sudden you hear Muslims say: "oh no" Ramadan is in 2 weeks and its "panic time"! Some women busy themselves with spring-cleaning their homes but often we forget to warm up and fine-tune our selves in readiness for this mighty month
Cleanliness - Whenever a guest comes, we prepare in advance for his arrival by vacuuming the carpet, dusting the shelves, and scrubbing the sinks. We should do this for our guest called Ramadan. But the scrubbing should not just be of our physical surroundings; it should include the scrubbing of our sins.
Fasting in Sha'baan is one way. The Prophet (saws) fast in Sha'baan more than other months.
This is a good way to prepare for Ramadan by fasting in the moth before. The Prophet (saws) also fasted Monday and Thursdays every week. We should make fasting something we do all year round not just in Ramadan so it becomes second nature to us.
'The month of Ramadan is coming, the blessed month wherein Allah has made fasting binding on you. In it, the gates of Paradise are opened, and in it, the gates of Hell are locked, and the devils are enchained. In it is the beneficent night of a thousand months (i.e. Laylat ul-Qadr). Whoever denies goodness in it has indeed been deprived.'
Some of the many important lessons we learn from Ramadan are:
- Developing Taqwa
Fasting has been legislated in order that we may gain taqwa, as Allah - the Most High - said:
''O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed upon those before you in order that you may attain taqwa.'' [Qur'an al-Baqarah 2:183]
- Seeking Nearness to Allah
- Acquiring Patience
So fasting is a means of learning self-restraint and patience. With patience we are able to strengthen our resolve to worship Allah alone, with sincerity, and also cope with life's ups and downs. So - for example - with patience we are able to perform our Prayers calmly and correctly, without being hasty, and without merely pecking the ground several times!
- Cultivating Good Manners
- Sensing Muslim Unity
As Muslims from all around the world commence Ramadan we realise that we are part of a community our hearts and actions united in pursuing Allah's pleasure. There are many ahadith mentioning the blessings of breaking the fast together and there is also much reward in feeding a fasting person. So let us unite in this month of Mercy.
So Ramadan - it is that light in the souls of the righteous and the truthful, and in the hearts of the devout and sincere it gives happiness; for it is the month of obedience, and in it there are beautiful reflections for us all. Indeed, it grants victory to the soul over the body and flesh and gives us a wonderful opportunity to straighten ourselves up with our Lord.
During this month of Sha'baan we should find out more about the traditions of the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) related to Ramadan and make a sincere effort to implement them this year. We should also try to purify our hearts and intentions before the commencement of Ramadan to make this fast successful for our families and ourselves. Insha'Allah
Ramadan is also an opportunity to renew relationships that may have been broken during the year and we should try and clear up any disputes or bad feelings with other Muslims so we may start this month a fresh.
So we ask Allah to grant us the ability to change ourselves for the better, during this blessed month, and not to be of those who are prevented from His Mercy and Forgiveness. Indeed He is the One who Hears and He is the One to Respond.