As we approach the latter part of Ramadan, here are some reflections – clothed in the words of the 14th century hadith master and pietist, Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali – to spur us on to the fruits of Ramadan with renewed zeal:
1. Let us recall how the path to goodness has been facilitated for us in Ramadan. Ibn Rajab reminds us that:
The Devil has been shackled in Ramadan, the fires of passions quelled by fasting, the ego’s desires isolated, and authority has been turned over to the restraining intellect which rules justly. So the sinner, now, has no excuse. O clouds of heedlessness, disperse from over the heart! O rays of piety and faith, arise for this new dawn! O pages wherein righteous deeds are recorded, rise up! O hearts of those who fast, have reverent fear [of God]! O feet of the devoted strivers, prostrate to your Lord and bow down to Him! O eyes of those who spend their nights in prayer, sleep not! O sins of the repenters, return not!
2. While we certainly do worship a Generous Lord, we should not become complacent about the acceptance of our deeds. We must not take for granted that our fasts will be accepted. Instead, we should seek to eliminate the defects in our fasts, by seeking to improve our intention, sincerity, quality of our fasting and depth of devotion in them. Ibn Rajab wrote,
The pious predecessors (al-salaf al-salih) would strive tenaciously to complete an action well and to perfect it. They would then be concerned if the act would be accepted, fearing it may be rejected. They were of those who give what they give while their hearts tremble. [23:60] It is related that ‘Ali said: “Be more concerned with your action’s acceptance than with the action itself. Have you not heard God, majestic is He, saying: God accepts only from those who fear Him. [5:27]” … One of the salaf declared: “They used to call upon God for six months that He allow them to reach Ramadan, then they would beseech Him for the next six months for Him to accept their deeds from them.”
3. More than anything else, Ramadan is about hope and goodly anticipation. Ibn Rajab again:
The month, all of it, is a month of mercy, forgiveness and freedom [from the Fire]. This is why it says in an authentic hadith that the gates of mercy are flung open during it; and in a hadith in al-Tirmidhi and others: “Indeed, God frees [people] from the Hellfire every night [of Ramadan].
Be that as it may, the first part of [the month] is dominated by mercy – particularly to the God-fearing who act with excellence (li’l-muhsinin al-muttaqin). God, exalted is He, says: Surely, the mercy of God is near to those who act with excellence. [7:56] And: My mercy embraces all things, therefore I shall ordain it for those who fear [God] and pay the zakat. [7:156] Thus, at the month’s commencement there is an unbounded outpouring of mercy and good pleasure upon the God-fearing, whilst the people of excellence are treated with grace and eminence.
As for the middle of the month, forgiveness dominates it. During it, those who fast are forgiven, even if they are guiltily of committing some minor sins – for even that shall not bar them from being forgiven. In this respect, God, exalted is He, said: Truly your Lord is forgiving to people despite their evil-doing. [13:6]
As for the latter part of the month, those whose evil deeds and major sins would have necessitated residing in the Hellfire, are freed and liberated.
4. Those sinners who continue to lead wayward lives and neglect their duties to God, even in the blessed month of Ramadan, even they needn’t despair:
Just because God’s mercy has been specified for the doers of excellence, it doesn’t mean sinners should despair of receiving it. Just because forgiveness is ordained for the God-fearing, those who wrong themselves [through sinning] are not veiled from it … Say: “O my servants who have transgressed against their own souls! Do not despair of God’s mercy! For God forgives all sins.” [39:53] So, O sinner – and we are all sinners – do not let your evil deeds make you despair of God’s mercy. How many like you have been liberated from the Fire during these days. So entertain a good opinion of your Protecting Lord and turn in repentance to Him. For no one is damned with God, save he who damns himself:
If sins pain you then take your medicine;
by raising your hands in the depth of the night.
Despair not of the Divine Mercy; for surely
Despair of it is worse than the sin itself.
His mercy to the doers of excellence is generosity;
While His mercy to the sinners is pure benevolence.