It is known that our early Muslim scholars used to spend the six months leading up to Ramadan asking Allah to let them witness it with life and faith, and the six months following it praying for Allah’s acceptance of all the good they tried to do in it. So much depends on this one month of beauty-so much in terms of reaching our full potential with the support of Allah to purify our faith and practice. For with all the focus packed into this “spiritual intensive,” we cannot-cannot possibly-afford to let it go without having tried our very best. Before Ramadan’s thin crescent appears, we need to practically and spiritually prepare ourselves as much as we can so that we do not lose any ounce of benefit when this portal of Heaven does actually open for us. To be in such close proximity to Allah, His Books, His Angels and His Worship, when we can truly be born anew, is of inexplicable worth.
Practical preparation for Ramadan entails different things for different people. Some working full-time may have the option of arranging for a few days off, preferably in Ramadan’s last third. Others will want to create a get-home-early schedule. And the opposite-starting work late after a night of salah-may work best for those resolved to keep the late-night vigil. There are other logistics to arrange in advance. Think through a thorough iftar-suhoor grocery list prior to Ramadan and stock up on as much of it as you can before the month’s intense cycles and rhythms set in. Consider coordinating with others to get to and from taraweeh. And plan out special trips to mosque you don’t normally attend- especially with communities you don’t normally pray with (or exactly like) to get that sense of the wonderful diversity and togetherness of our Ummah. The point is Ramadan has many practical arrangements to be made, so do as much of the background work as you can before we step into Ramadan so we’re not under-utilizing precious worship moments then.
There are psychological preparations that are even more important, like getting yourself and your family into the Ramadan mood. Keep the smalls ones excited about the new routine. Explain to them the joy of Ramadan. Needless to say, when we are joyous and excited about something our kids effortlessly pick up that energy from us. Talk with your spouse about how the two of you will coordinate your individual spiritual striving. This is especially important if the children are smaller and mother is taking care of them all day. In my own case, we all went to the masjid for taraweeh. One of the more obvious practical measures we should take before the first sunrise of Ramadan blazes is fasting in the month preceding it. This was the routine of the Prophet, and it makes perfect sense. Especially with the advent of Ramadan in summer, we need to train ourselves for the fast in the weeks before fasting becomes incumbent.
Think about it, you can spend the first week or more of long fasting days barely able to function from lack of physiological adjustment-in which case you will not be able to do the many things you have planned and hoped for (and a bad start can seriously throw off your whole Ramadan). Or you can fast as much as you can in the preceding month, and in this way get your energy levels and capacity to fast up, all the while consciously psyching yourself and training for all that you wish to achieve spiritually in the blessed days ahead. Another necessary preparation is picking up our recitation of the Qur’an, by which I mean both increasing our reading of it as Ramadan approaches in order to sharpen our ability and striving to memorize as many new surahs and ayahs as we can, so we can use both during this month of mercy and forgiveness.
Once Ramadan arrives, focus as much of your mind as you can on two things: acts of worship and qualities of character. Many a time we home-in on worship, such as how much Qur’an to read and what portion of it we will recite in taraweeh. Yet we pay no mind to the personal qualities we need to change and the habits we need to eliminate or develop. This too is a family project. Engage the young and old in helping each other build your ‘ibadah. The more worship and good manners we acquire in Ramadan the better. But we need also remember the Prophet’s advice that the best actions are those that are constant, even if they are small. So this Ramadan centre yourself on acts whose habits you will continue once the month is over, those we have been too lazy or unmotivated to inculcate in our lives in years past.