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The Early Muslims in Ramadhaan & Five Key Areas of Change

بسم الله والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله

In the name of Allah, all praise is for Allah, and may His peace and blessings be upon His final Messenger Muhammad (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wasallam)

Despite the fact that more than a billion Muslims will be fasting this Ramadan, how many are aware of how the Early Muslims (Salaf), those who lived Islam in the best possible way, would observe this sacred month? How they would spend their days and nights and what would change for them during the sacred month. 

The Prophet (sall Allahu ʿalayhi wa sallam) certified the first three generations as being the “best”. He said in the authentic hadith, which is mass-transmitted (mutawatir): “The best people are my generation, and then those who came after them, and then those who came after them”.[3]

As explained by the great Imam al-Nawawi, the first generation were the Companions, the next were the Followers (Tabi’in), and finally the Second Generation of Followers (Atba’ al-Tabi’in or Tab-e-Taba’een ).[4] By declaring that they were the best he demonstrated that as a collective they embodied the best understanding and practice of Islam.  Therefore, if one wanted to experience the best Ramadan, he or she would have to learn how the best people spent it.

Before highlighting the five key areas of change that the Early Muslims would observe in Ramadan it is important to appreciate that this knowledge is meant to inspire the reader, to create optimistic goals in your mind to achieve, and to realise that if this was possible for the Early Muslims then it is certainly possible for us with Allah’s Help and Assistance.

The 5 Key Areas of Change

1 – Recitation of Qur’an (Tilawatul Qur’an)

2 – Night Prayers (Qiyamul Layl)

3 – Charitable Acts (adaqa)

4 – Not overindulging in food (Taqlil Min al-Ta’am)

5 – Safeguarding the Tongue (Hifzul Lisan)

1 – Recitation of Qur’an (Tilawatul Qur’an)

Unknown to many, the word associated with Ramadan in the Qur’an is not Fasting but rather Qur’an. Allah, Exalted is He, said: ‘The month of Ramadan is the One in which the Qur’an was sent down’. This point, along with the fact that Jibril (ʿalayhi al-Salam) would visit the Prophet (sall Allahu ʿalayhi wa sallam): ‘every night of Ramadan to revise the Qur’an’,[5] as Ibn Abbas informed us, was understood by the Early Muslim to mean that they should increase in the amount of Qur’an they should recite. The following narrations give insight into how they would modify their Qur’an reading:

Imam al-Dhahabi narrates that Qatadah, d. 118AH, would complete one Qur’an every seven days but when Ramadan would come he would complete one Qur’an every three days and in the last ten he would complete one every night.

Al-Walid b. ‘Abdil Malik, d. 96AH, would complete one Qur’an every three days and recite the entire Qur’an seventeen times in Ramadan.

In Ramadan, Al-Aswad b. Yazid, d. 75AH, would complete one Qur’an every two nights. He would sleep only between Maghrib and ‘Isha, and he would complete one Qur’an every six nights outside of Ramadan.

It is also reported the Sa’id b. Jubayr, d. 95AH, would complete one Qur’an every two nights in Ramadan.

Is this possible for us?

For most, reading the entire Qur’an once in Ramadan is a challenge, but just how much time is required to finish it in two days? Is it even possible for those with families and jobs to accomplish this?

For those accustomed to Qur’an recitation, one Juzz can be recited in 20 minutes, with each page taking around a minute to recite. Multiply this by 30 and you have a figure of 600 minutes, which equates to 10 hours. This would mean that the Early Muslims would spend around 5 hours a day with the Qur’an in the month Ramadan. Segmenting that over the day: before work, during lunch break, on the way home and a little more in the evening it suddenly seems possible. In fact, a friend recently told me that a female relative of his does exactly this. She reads the entire Qur’an once every two days. She has children, takes care of the home but spends every spare minute opening the Qur’an and reciting.

Can We Recite Quickly?

In his al-Adab al-Shari’ah, Ibn Muflih explains that so long as one pronounces the letters of the Qur’an properly he may recite it quickly.

Shaykh ‘Abdul ‘Aziz al-Tarīfi was asked whether it is better to recite the Qur’an slowly with reflection rather than quickly but in greater quantity. He replied that as for the person who is ignorant of what the Qur’an speaks of, such as what the Qur’an has made ḥalāl and ḥarām, what it has made wājib and so on; then such a person with this basic understanding should not recite at speed. As for those who are generally aware of the key messages of the Qur’an and what it has made ḥalāl and ḥarām then there is nothing wrong with reciting at speed during this blessed month of Ramaḍān.

2 – Night Prayers (Qiyamul Layl)

There is nothing more beloved to Allah, Exalted is He, than performing the obligatory acts of worship such as the five prayers. Whoever can safeguard those prayers whilst also praying optional prayers like the Tarawih and Qiyam should aspire to be like the Early Muslims in this regard.

It is reported by al-Bayhaqi that ‘Umar b. Khattab would instruct Ubay b. Ka’b and Tamim al-Dari to lead the people in prayer during Ramadan. They would read the long surah (al-Mi’in- those whose verses number in the hundreds) and some people would have to use a staff to keep themselves standing. They would finish their Qiyam close to the time of Fajr.

It is reported in the Muwata of Imam Malik that the son of Abu Bakr al-Ṣiddiq, ‘Abdullah, said that he heard his father say that we would finish our Qiyam and hurry to eat our food out of fear that Fajr would begin.

These reports indicate that some of the Early Muslims would spend more time in Qiyam than in the Tarawih prayer. Consider the following narration about Ibn ‘Umar. A report by al-Bayhaqi says that he would pray at home during Ramadan and when the people would leave the Masjid he would grab his leather water-skin and go the Masjid of the Prophet (sall Allahu ʿalayhi wa sallam) and not leave until he had prayed Fajr.[6]

Can I Cheat Sleep?

The narrations about the Early Muslims and their Night Prayers demonstrates that they would reduce their sleep during Ramadan. According to a recent research conducted by a PhD student at Oxford, a Polyphasic Sleep pattern, in which a person only sleeps for a total 4.5 hours a day, can allow for a productive day with less sleep. The science behind this sleep model shows that a 3.5 hour sleep at night with three 20 min naps during the day (which could be at lunch, break and then at home) can suffice a person without compromising on their productivity. Indeed the student conducted the experiment on himself whilst doing the PhD.[7]

3 – Charitable Acts (adaqa)

Ibn ‘Abbas beautifully described the generosity of the Prophet (sall Allahu ʿalayhi wa sallam) when he said: ‘He was the most generous of all people…and when Ramadan came he would become even more generous such that he became like the blowing wind’.[8]

Following in his footsteps we find that Ibn ‘Umar would only ever break his fast with the poor. His family would request him to break the fast with them but he would refuse and reprimand them.

When Ramadan would enter Ibn al-Shihab al-Zuhri would busy himself with only two things: reading Quran and feeding the poor.

One of the Early Muslims, Hammad, would break the fast of 500 people during Ramadan.

4 – Not overindulging in food (Taqlil Min al-Ta’am)

One of Imam al-Ghazali’s top tips for waking up to pray Qiyamul Layl was not to overeat before bedtime. In this regard you find the Early Muslims would eat very little at Iftar. There is a narration about Ibrahim b. Abi Ayyūb that states that he would only have two full meals during the whole month.

When Food Starts Looking at You

For those of you eating indiscriminately throughout the year, it is more beneficial to speak about food quantity as opposed to quality.  You know best-tasting foods will be placed in front of you every day, you know you won’t resist it, and you know if you try to discriminate and eat one item and not another, someone will harass you about it.

Go ahead and eat a little bit of everything, but make sure the quantity stays low. Meaning, take slow, measured bites, and keep checking if you have that gnawing feeling in your stomach you had earlier when you were fasting. If it goes away, stop eating immediately and save the rest of your food for later. Snack a little on dessert, and you’re done.

5 – Safeguarding the Tongue (Hifzul Lisan)

 Fasting has been legislated for a higher purpose, it is designed to make us more religious, God-Conscious and disciplined. The Prophet (sall Allahu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said: ‘Whoever did not give up crooked speech and action, then Allah is not in need of his leaving food and drink’.[9] Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani explained “crooked speech” to include lying.[10] Other narrations add “idol-banter”. Ibn Battal explains that the Prophet (sall Allahu ʿalayhi wa sallam) did not mean by this that one should avoid fasting but rather that fasting whilst behaving in this way will jeopardise the acceptance of the fast.

Mujahid b. Jabr once said there are two traits; whoever guards himself from them will have his fast accepted. They are backbiting and lying.


I pray that we are always in the remembrance of Allah and that our striving to become like the best generations is made easy. There is no time to lose. The bar has been set high and each person will be judged according to their abilities. Growth takes time and all great achievements begin with a small step. The great icebergs are but one snowflake on top of another.

I pray that all our acts of worship are accepted and that there is profound healing and enlightenment before, during and after the blessed month of Ramadan.

Baarakallaahu Feekum.





[3] H. Saḥīḥ al-Bukhari & Muslim

[4] See Sharḥ Muslim by al-Nawawi Vol 16, P. 85.

[5] H. Saḥīḥ al-Bukhari

[6] See Kitāb al-Sunan al-Kubra by al-Bayhaqi

[7] See i-once-tried-to-cheat-sleep-and-for-a-year-i-succeeded

[8] H. Saḥīḥ al-Bukhari

[9] H. Saḥīḥ al-Bukhari

[10] Fatḥ al-Bāri, Kitāb al-Ṣawm by Ibn Ḥajar al-Asqalāni

May 25, 2018 - Posted by | Islamic Months: RAMADHAN | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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