Preparing for Sha’ban and Ramadan in 2017: Advices from Sheikh Bassam Obeid

As we head into Sha’ban, and Ramadan draws near, it is important to align our priorities and goals before we begin fasting. We asked Sheikh Bassam Obeid, Imam of Islamic Center of Charlotte, for his perspective on how to prepare for Sha’ban and Ramadan this year. With the current state of the ummah and rising political tensions, it is good to have clear game plan for yourself in Ramadan 2017. We wanted to address some common questions as well as questions regarding current affairs as it relates to Muslims around the world.

In Sha’ban, what is the best thing Muslims can do before Ramadan arrives? Is there something that is better than anything else?

There are two authentic narrations of a hadith which says, “The prophet (pbuh) used to fast more in Sha’ban than any other month.” Why did he fast in Sha’ban more than any month? Rajab is a sacred month, which Muslims know. Ramadan is also a sacred month; even non-Muslims know this. Sha’ban is the month between two sacred months; many people do not pay attention to it, but it is very important. The prophet (pbuh) said, ‘Allah will be presented with our deeds  from Sha’ban, and I would like my deeds to have saum (fasting) in it.’ There is also another reason. If someone wants to prepare for an olympic event, what do they do? They train themselves. Fasting in Sha’ban is training for your stomach and your body to anticipate and prepare for Ramadan. When Ramadan comes to you then, it will be easy. On the other hand, people do not fast all year; Then when Ramadan comes, it is very difficult to fast. So I believe, fasting is the best deed you can do in Sha’ban and preparing yourself is the significance of Sha’ban.”

With Ramadan being in summer, what advice do you give to Muslims who work everyday and find it difficult to read Qur’an?

It depends on the nature of work, but for the most part, you will  have some time to read Qur’an. If you can read at your work, do not miss it; otherwise, when you go home, you may be tired, but do not waste the opportunity to read the Qur’an. You can also listen to the Qur’an when possible. You do not get the same reward as reading it, but you are rewarded for listening. The most important thing to focus on is intention. Have the intention to read the whole Qur’an; if something happens and you could not, inshallah, you will be rewarded for having the intention.”

What is more important, reading the Qur’an as much as possible or trying to understand the Qur’an?

“This is an important question; I’m glad you asked. Ramadan is not a time to understand the quran or do thafseer. It is the time of reading quran. The great scholars: Imam Shafi, Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Nawawi, et cetera, when Ramadan comes, they would stop their classes. Ramadan is the occasion of reading Qur’an, not teaching or understanding. This is the best opportunity for reading the Qur’an, there is no doubt in this. Allah says that the month of Ramadan is the one in which he revealed Qur’an (Surah Al-Bakarah: 185), therefore, Ramadan is the month of Qur’an. I would urge everybody to do many khatma (reading the entire Qur’an) in Ramadan. Imam Shafi, for example, would do two khatma a day; Not two a month, two in a day. That means, by the end of Ramadan, he will have read the Qur’an sixty times, cover to cover. I advise myself and my fellow brothers and sisters to read as much as you can.”

Some would say that Ramadan is a time for self reflection and dedication to yourself and your iman, others would say it is a time for being a community and providing iftars for other muslims. To you, what do you think is more important to focus on?

“Ramadan is a time for ibada (worship); it doesn’t mean you should neglect the social life. Just do not focus only on social; you should focus on reading the Qur’an and doing ibada. However, there is a hadith of Rasulullah (pbuh) which says, ‘O people! Spread (the greeting of) Salam, feed others, uphold the ties of kinship, and pray during the night when people are sleeping, and you will enter Paradise with salam.’ This is not only talking about the poor. if you help somebody break his fast, you will receive his reward for fasting without taking it from him. So this is one of the best things you can do in ramadan. ”

What is your advice with Muslims in countries dealing with Islamophobia? Do we try to avoid conflict at all costs, or do we do our best to explain Islam to non-Muslims?

“It depends on the situation; if the person in front you does not wish to be respectful and listen to you, take the advice of the Qur’an: “.. they walk on the earth easily, and when the ignorant address them, they say salam”. It is very important to say salam or peace be upon you, as this shows what the real intention of Muslims are. Do not be harsh, rude or mad. If the person is open minded and ready to listen, it is mandatory to explain Islam to them.”

For organizations such Gain Peace, Why Islam and American Islamic Outreach, who deal with many non-Muslims, is it wise to engage in da’wah during Ramadan?

Doing dawah is one of the great things Allah (swt) has described in the Qur’an. Spreading dawah among non-Muslims is a great thing and very noble. Ramadan is the occasion to do it more and focus on it for many reasons. One reason is for non-Muslims who hear about Ramadan and like to learn our culture. They want to know what Muslims do during Ramadan. I support it, 100 percent, and encourage to do it more in Ramadan. Inshallah, we get more rewards for this.”

What do you believe is the most important thing to focus on this Ramadan?

“Alhamdulillah, our deen is complete. We fast, we pray, we pay zakat (charity) and those of us who can afford it go to Hajj. Everything is available. There are masjid everywhere, in Muslim and non-Muslim countries. Muslims, in any generation, have to focus on what is missing. For our generation of Muslims, we are missing peace. There is bloodshed everywhere. This is a good nafahat (نَفَحات), meaning an opportunity in which dua (supplication) is accepted by Allah. One of the longest periods in which d’ua is accepted, is Ramadan. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, “Allah accepts the dua of the one observing saum”. The Muslim has to live in two dimensions; one, as the individual and the other one as a part of his ummah or nation. There is no doubt, each one of us has needs with himself and his community. You must ask for your needs from Allah, that is understandable. However, you must elevate your rank to the level of ummah. We have to feel that “I am responsible, you are responsible” with regards to the current state of the Muslim ummah. It is my responsibility to invoke Allah to take their hardship from them. In Ramadan, during this nafahat, you must beg Allah for this. Especially after the recent chemical attacks in Syria. We have to take advantage of Ramadan; I urge all Muslims to focus on using this nafahat to beg Allah to help them.”

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