By: Altaf Husain*
Among so many aspects of Ramadan that are noteworthy, perhaps one particular aspect always poses a challenge, especially when you are young and trying to get accustomed to fasting: Achieving spiritual concentration. Here are some practical ways to achieve spiritual concentration during Ramadan, through being charitable with your time, energy, skills, talents, and perhaps also money if you have some to your name.
I know you must be thinking to yourself, isn't charity about giving to others and so after giving up food and drink, how much more am I supposed to sacrifice? Well, not much more, but enough so that the focus of your fasting shifts from you, yourself and you, to someone else. If the focus of the fast remains on you, let's face it, there will be several times in a day when you might think about eating and drinking, knowing full well that you are not supposed to be doing either. You might also be counting down the hours until you can break your fast. You might be trying to stay as still as possible throughout the day, afraid to lose a single calorie and end up feeling hungry or thirsty. Worse yet, you might turn to sleeping through most of the day and waking up exactly in time to break your fast. Once you shift the focus of your fasting from you to others, you will achieve a spiritual transformation that not only eases the burden of your fasting, but also allows you to draw closer to Almighty Allah through service to others.
Understand the Impact
Among the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) is the emphasis he has placed on giving charity and on being charitable in general. Most people minimize their charitable efforts by saying that it really is not much or that they are not sure their efforts will really make a difference.
Almighty Allah has enjoined upon us to be charitable and promises every single person who gives charity and who engages in charitable conduct a great reward. Indeed, an atom's weight is actually mentioned in the Qur'an to signify that there is nothing of a person's deed that goes unnoticed.
Indeed, our very existence on this earth is in itself a test given to us by Almighty Allah to gauge which of us is best in conduct and consistent in doing good deeds. We read in the Qur'an, (That which is on earth We [Allah] have made but as a glittering show for the earth, in order that We may test them, as to which of them are best in conduct) (Al-Kahf 18:7).
From this conduct, Islamic teachings emphasize the importance of being charitable. There is a tremendous reward for those who give charity and are themselves charitable as stated in the Qur'an, (The parable of those who spend their substance in the way of Allah is that of a grain of corn: It grows seven ears, and each ear has a hundred grains. Allah gives manifold increase to whom He pleases. And Allah cares for all and He knows all things) (Al-Baqarah 2:261).
Practice Makes Perfect
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) encouraged us to begin training ourselves for Ramadan by observing fasts, by praying more voluntary prayers, and by increasing the amount of charity we give.
Essentially, it is possible to practice being charitable in Sha`ban, just as one can practice fasting in Sha1ban. `A'ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) narrated that, "The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) did not observe fast in any month of the year more than in the month of Sha`ban, and he used to say, 'Do as many deeds as you are capable of doing, for Allah will not become weary (of giving you reward), but you would be tired (of doing good deeds)'; and he also said, 'The deed liked most by Allah is one to which the doer adheres constantly even if it is small'" (Muslim).
What charitable deed is most convenient for you to perform regularly? Do you already volunteer your time? What types of volunteer activities do you prefer?
Explore opportunities to be charitable with your time and energy during Sha`ban so that when Ramadan comes around (next time, that is), you will have already established a routine and can efficiently set your plans into motion.
Charitable, Not Irritable
The first thing to do when we are fasting is to be nice to others.
There is actually no gain for the one who engages in charitable activities but is constantly complaining or showing a sense of impatience and frustration. Instead of focusing on trying to keep the volunteering opportunity clear of any impurity of intention or conduct, we sometimes become vulnerable to praising ourselves and other times in following charitable acts with injury.
The Qur'an explicitly warns us against this type of behavior, and Almighty Allah addresses the believers, (O you who believe, cancel not your charity by reminders of your generosity or by injury, as those who spend their substance to be seen of people but believe neither in Allah nor in the Last Day. They are in parable like a hard, barren rock, on which is a little soil: On it falls heavy rain, which leaves it (just) a bare stone. They will be able to do nothing with aught they have earned. And Allah guides not those who reject faith) (Al-Baqarah 2:264).
Stated in such plain terms, the importance of being charitable without being irritable is impossible not to be comprehended.
Refine Your Spirituality
The absence of spiritual concentration is sometimes idle talk, useless debates, and worse, gossiping and backbiting.
In Ramadan, there is absolutely no excuse for anyone to strive for anything less than almost perfect spiritual concentration.
As we mentioned above, focusing on increasing charitable activities with sincere intentions is a means of purifying actions and thereby having a clearer understanding of why we are fasting, praying, and trying so hard to please Almighty Allah.
This Ramadan, choose to spend your time wisely, and most of all, try as much as possible to engage in the remembrance of Almighty Allah even in the midst of volunteering your time, energy, skills, and wealth.
As young people, you are blessed with what seems like an endless source of energy and strength. Use those blessings wisely and do your best to be sources of comfort and assistance to those in need. You already know much about the zakah (Arabic for: obligatory alms) associated with Ramadan, Zakat Al-Fitr.
We close with a beautiful reminder from the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). The beloved Companion of the Prophet, Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him), "The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) made Zakat Al-Fitr compulsory so that those who fasted may be purified of their idle deeds and shameful talk (that committed during Ramadan) and so that the poor may be fed.
Whoever gives it before the Feast's prayer will have it accepted as zakah, while those who give it after the prayer have given merely a charity, not Zakat Al-Fitr. Therefore, mind when you give out this obligatory alms.
This Ramadan, let's strive to be charitable as a means of attaining spiritual concentration.