With the Name of Allah, the extremely Merciful at this very moment, and the extremely Merciful at all times.
USMLE Step 1: every medical student’s nightmare. If you go to an off-shore school, Step 1 basically determines if someone can become a physician stateside. For this reason, many of my classmates started to study as soon as they landed on the island (“Gunners”). Others started 1 year in advance (Still Gunners). And even the worst procrastinators started at least 8 weeks in advance.
We go through great lengths to prepare for important tests and occasions, especially if they involve things that determine our future. If you had to take one test that would single handedly determine how you spend the rest of your life, you would probably start preparing months in advance. Similarly, if you have a job interview, personal statement for college, or a big game, you take time to prepare well in advance- because it would be a serious loss if you didn’t do well.
Ramadan 2012 is about 5 months away. For us, that’s a long time, but for the Companions, they would already be “behind” in their preparation, since it has been narrated that they used to prepare for Ramadan 6 months in advance!
The companions knew the importance of this month, and since this was like that test-you-need-to-take-that-will –determine-the-rest-of-your-life for them, they took great care in preparing well in advance for it so they could reap as much benefit from it as possible.
But keeping it real, no matter how many articles come out about preparing for Ramadan, I’m usually never prepared for it. We hear over and over that we need to be prepared for Ramadan, but many of us are at a loss for how exactly we need to prepare for it.
This year I want to try something new. The “Lessons from the Cave” series inshaAllah is meant to be a preparation tool for myself, and for anyone who wants to join me, for Ramadan 2012. This post is a brief explanation of the goals of the series leading into Ramadan.
Don’t be like this guy
Using the theme of building a habit of reading Surah Al Kahf every Friday, each week we will take a part to reflect on. *This is not a tafsir series.* Instead, the intention is to make ourselves more connected to the Arabic language by taking common words used in the Qur’an each week and adding them to a list to memorize and learn. In the beginning, this list may be long, but by the end of the Surah, we will see many repeated words, solidifying what we’ve learned from the beginning. Consequently, the more we learn the shorter the list becomes.
Why did I choose this technique? Because I believe it works. It’s one that I’ve been using for a few years and has greatly improved my comprehension of Qur’an.
And how does it help in getting ready for Ramadan? A couple of reasons:
1.) Getting into the habit of reading Qur’an on a consistent basis
When Ramadan starts, many of us are energized to read a bunch of Qur’an. Many of us have the intention of finishing the Qur’an during the month, but how many of us ever actually reach our goals? It’s as if we walk into the gym having worked out with 10 lb dumbbells weekly for the whole year and expect to bench 200 lbs every day. Not a recipe for success.
Instead, we should be building towards reading more Qur’an on a consistent basis, so that when Ramadan hits, we hit the track running. Many of us are on different levels. If you are on the most basic level, try a weekly regimen for a while as detailed in the “Prologue.” If you are more advanced, figure out a daily regimen that’s right for you, and build on it. Maybe its 5 verses, 10 verses, or 3 pages a day. The point is to start with something and build on it so that we don’t walk into Ramadan thinking we can read 20 pages a day for a month when we’ve been reading Qur’an once a week for the past year.
2.) Getting into the habit of reflecting on the Qur’an on a consistent basis
We might have time to read the Qur’anic Arabic, but how many of us engage the meaning of Qur’an on a consistent basis? This is surely something I’m guilty of. Starting with a weekly reflection of Qur’an in advance helps so that when we hear the commentary of the chapter before Taraweeh during Ramadan we are more ready to take a lesson from it, because we’ve built up that habit for the last 5 months (albeit on a weekly basis).
3.) Getting more out of Taraweeh
By learning a few common Qur’anic Arabic words every week for the next 5 months, even if it is just 1 word a week, it will help us to concentrate when standing for Taraweeh during Ramadan. Many of us complain that our minds wander during Taraweeh because we don’t understand what is being recited. When you pile on the fact that many masajid recite about 1 chapter per night at lightning speed, this is a recipe for disaster for someone who has no familiarity with the language (I’ve been there). Telling this person to have concentration in prayer is like telling an American to enjoy a Bollywood movie without subtitles (or at all): it’s just not happening.
It’s my belief that if we learn even a few words of Arabic each week it will help us remain focused on Taraweeh when we get to Ramadan. We may not be able to understand 100% of what’s recited, but we’ll be able to piece the gist of it, and if you couple that with a daily preparation of what’s being read each night during the day in Ramadan, then inshaAllah our Taraweeh can become more enjoyable. You can always figure out where you are by simply recognizing the few words we learn.
4.) Memorizing the Surah
Nowadays, people push more for understanding rather than memorizing Qur’an. I would argue that both are crucial and important, but that’s a different story.
There are 110 verses in Surah Al Kahf and about 140 or so days until Ramadan. If you have some familiarity with Qur’an, 1 verse a day until Ramadan, with weekly revision on Fridays, will enable you to completely memorize this Surah going into Ramadan. Now you might stop me and say: “Some verses are like 5 lines though.” Then take it line by line. There are about 169 lines in Surah Al Kahf in the standard “Madani Mushaf.” That doesn’t come out to 1 line per day, but if one were even to memorize 1 line per day leading to Ramadan, they would have memorized all of Surah Al Kahf by the middle of Ramadan. Imagine being able to stand for Qiyaam at night and use Surah Al-Kahf in it, or be able to follow the sheikh when he recites it in Taraweeh!
For the beginner reader who is not currently memorizing any Qur’an, a beautiful goal to work towards is memorizing the first and last 10 verses of Surah Al-Kahf. This is 20 verses for 5 months. If one were to memorize 4 verses per month, or 1 verse per week, they would have memorized the first and last 10 verses of the Surah by Ramadan, which is important because:
Imam Ahmad recorded from Abu Ad-Darda’ (ra) that the Prophet (saw) said: “Whoever memorizes ten verses from the beginning of Surah Al-Kahf will be protected from the Dajjal (Antichrist).” (Also recorded by Muslim, Abu Dawud, An-Nasa’i and At-Tirmidhi.)
There are also other reports that report virtues for the last 10 verses. For us, it’s probably better to be safe and do a little bit extra and get more reward.
So whether you are advanced or a beginner, commit to a realistic goal and try to reach it. Even if it’s 1 or 2 verses memorized before Ramadan, it’s still a beautiful accomplishment. Don’t be afraid to memorize, InshaAllah, I plan to post efficient ways to memorize Qur’an that have helped me so far that may help in reaching our goals.
Preparing for Ramadan is no easy task, so it’s my intention to try and start preparing from now. I’m extending this invitation to you the reader to follow me on this journey with Surah Al Kahf each week in an effort to get ready for this momentous month. By the will of Allah, this series will have about 21 parts and end on the eve or first couple days of Ramadan.
Let’s get the most out of Ramadan, the most out of Taraweeh, and increase our knowledge of Qur’an together. As the saying goes: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” It’s true for that midterm coming up next week, and it’s true for that special occasion in 5 months.
May Allah allow us to live to witness another Ramadan and make it the best we’ve ever experienced, ameen.
*NOTE: I’m not a Bayinnah graduate or have the most extensive handle on Arabic myself. These posts are also a learning tool for me and meant to be very basic. However, if you are more qualified than I am I would love to have guest articles in this series. Please contact me if you’re interested.