A Season for the Soul - Month of Sha'ban - Realising Hope
by: Batool Haydar
The month of Sha'ban is the ideal time in which to develop our relationship with our Creator and gain His Pleasure and Love, says Batool Haydar

"Rajab is the month of God, Sha'ban is my month and Ramadhan is the month of my Ummah." - Prophet Muhammad(s)

The month of Rajab presented us with the opportunity for a spiritual revolution and hopefully, we have done what was within our ability to begin this revolution within us. With the start of Sha'ban, our focus shifts towards achieving a practical spirituality.

While we were the guests of God, we worked on mending our relationship with Him. Now, as the guests of the Prophet(s), we can emulate his purpose and begin to develop a deeper connection with our Creator.

Blessings for the Picking The month of Sha'ban is unique from all the months of the year because it is the only month in which there are no known occasions of martyrdom or sorrow to commemorate. Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib(a) has said that Sha'ban was so named by God because His Blessings and Favours are scattered (sha'aba) everywhere during it. It is a month filled with hopefulness and joy.

The Prophet has been quoted as saying, "It (Sha'ban) is a distinguished month and it is my month...it is a month in which sustenance for the Believers is increased and it is the month of performing deeds..."

Just as Rajab was the time to seek forgiveness and cleanse ourselves of some of the unsavoury habits we may have had, Sha'ban presents us with an opportunity to follow the recommendation of the Prophet(s) and start to mould the positive aspects of our character.

The four D's of Development
Armed with motivation and encouragement, Muslims should be eager to start gathering up all the benefits they can in the coming weeks. However, all projects require a plan of action if they are to succeed. With that in mind, here are some suggestions to help you along.

1. Decide
As Muslims, we often aspire to reach great heights of faith and piety. However, the only way to realise these dreams, to turn our hopes into reality, to begin the process of changing thought into practical action, is to first make a decision.

It is time now to make a firm resolution to continue with the journey you began last month. Just as you took the time to target negative habits you had, figure out what good habits you feel are lacking in your life.

Do you know people who are polite and possess attractive personality traits? Then try to emulate them. If you look up to people who are always there for others, helpfulness may be a quality you also seek. Study the Qur'an and traditions for traits that describe the Believers and pick those that appeal to you. This will give your decision a more personal feeling because you will be able to connect it to a direct message from God.

Ideally, select simple habits that will not require too much of a lifestyle change. The aim is to learn how to incorporate spiritual deeds into life, but as seamlessly as possible. You don't want to run out of steam a few days in! Imam Ali(a) has said, "Do good and do not underestimate it at all, for verily a little good is actually a lot and a small amount of it is much."

2. Do
The simplest and hardest step in any process of change is the actual implementation of your plan. Whereas last month, we were catching ourselves and curbing bad habits, this month we have to initiate good acts based on our aims.

It requires presence of mind and willpower to put aside whatever else may be calling for our attention, but it's not impossible. Make a schedule so that you have set aside specific times for what you are going to do. That way you have nothing else slotted in at the same time that could become an excuse or a distraction.

Keep in mind that the Prophet says, "He for whom a door of goodness is opened must seize the opportunity for verily he does not know when it will close."

View every single day of Sha'ban as an opportunity - every sunrise is an open door and every sunset, the shutting of that door. Develop a sense of desperation to grab whatever you can, because it's impossible to exhaust the infinitely abundant blessings that are easily available during these days.

3. Devote
The Prophet was once asked, "What deeds are loved most by God?" He said, "The most regular constant deeds even though they may be few."

In any new change we wish to adopt, consistency is the key. Repetition is necessary to instil a habit until it becomes voluntary and part of our subconscious. In the beginning, the change may seem cumbersome, especially in the case of spiritual habits.

This is because there is the additional challenge of battling Satan who is forever trying to prevent you from doing anything that takes you closer to Allah.

This is why you must dedicate yourself with mind, body and soul. You must be determined to achieve the goals you have set yourself. If you happen to slip up and fall in the beginning (and we all do), just dust yourself off and keep on going. Remember, this is a journey towards the Love of your life. It may not be easy, but every step and stumble will be worth it.

4. Du'a / Dhikr
People often say that to take something from ordinary to extraordinary, you need to have optimism or attitude or a special trait that gives you an advantage over others.

In reality, the magic ingredient that infuses an action with Divine blessing and takes it to greater heights of success is du'a (supplication) and dhikr (remembrance of God). Time and again, we see in history that ordinary people perform seemingly impossible feats simply by including God in the equation.

Imam Ali(a) says, "The root of reforming the heart is in occupying it with the remembrance of God" and likewise, "Remembrance of God is a repellent of Satan." Based on this advice, as we strive to move forward on our spiritual path, what better company to keep than the constant remembrance of our goal?

Falling in Love with God
There is an atmosphere of positive energy in this month. With every day of Sha'ban that passes the heartstrings of Muslims throb with anticipation at the thought of Ramadhan approaching. In this month, it is as if we are standing at the shores of the immense sea of Love and Mercy in which we will immerse ourselves with the start of fasting.

There is perhaps no more beautiful supplication to reflect this mood than the recommended Munajat al-Sha'baniyya - a masterpiece of poetic prose in which we reach out despairing to God, much as a bereft lover would reach out to his or her Beloved. The words of this invocation bring to mind the distance between us and God and the intense yearning that must exist within us to close this 'gap' in our spiritual disconnection from Him.

At the start of the supplication, we establish our utter reliance on God by stating: "My Lord, I see as if I am standing before You protected by my trust in You." And then we move to understanding how desperate our situation is: "My Lord, my apology to You is the apology of him who cannot afford his apology not being accepted."

The hope and optimism that is infused in the unique relationship between Creator and created is brought out in the statement declaring: "My Lord, if You had wanted to disgrace me, You would not have guided me; and if You had wanted to expose my faults and vices, You would not have kept me safe and sound."

And finally, we present the deepest desire of our hearts: "My Lord, make me one of those whom You call and they respond; when You look at them and they are thunderstruck by Your majesty. You whisper to them secretly and they work for You openly".

The flow of this supplication takes us within ourselves and shifts our perspective to the correct angle. By reciting it daily, we begin to comprehend exactly where we stand, where we are headed and who can get us there.

It is the best motivator to remind us why we have undertaken this journey towards God and the perfect balm for the days in which our struggles do not succeed as well as we had hoped. May the Almighty bless us all with success and sincerity in our endeavours.

Originally published in islam today magazine UK, issue 20 vol.2 | June 2014. It has been republished here with permission.