Now, if My servants ask you [O Prophet] about Me — then, indeed, I am near. I answer the call of the caller when he calls upon Me. Then let them all respond to Me, so that they may be rightly guided.
— Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:186
In the midst of Allah’s prescription and description in Surat Al-Baqarah of the obligatory fast of Ramadan for Muslims, the verses suddenly break upon the hopeful one you’ve just read.
One of two incidents, or both, reportedly occasioned its revelation. People inquired of the Prophet, on him be peace, as to whether God was near or far, so that they should call on Him softly or loudly. Others asked what the best hour was to petition God with prayer, du‘â.
Such questions may sound simplistic to our modern minds of metal. They are nothing of the sort. But the directness of the Transcendent One’s answer is simply breathtaking in its immediacy, assurance, and the immaculate logic of its divine argument: If Allah promises the fulfillment of our every prayer, should we not fulfill our promise to Him — and for the sake of our own souls in this world and the Hereafter, no less?
The answer to the first inquiry about God’s nearness posed to the Prophet, on him be peace, we know: God is closer to us than our most intimate company, and even than our own bodies.
Rather, it is We alone who are, most surely, nearer to the one dying than you. But you do not see (Sûrat Al-Wâqi‘ah, 56:85).
For very truly, We created man [out of earth]. Thus, We know with certainty all that whispers within his very soul. For We are nearer to each one than even the jugular vein (Sûrat Qâf, 50:16).
The Prophet’s well-known admonition to a host of Companions journeying with him makes clear the implications of this Immortal nearness when it comes to voicing our prayers.
The great Companion Abû Mûsâ Al-Ash‘arî said:
“We descended no hillock, nor ascended another, nor entered a valley, save that we lifted up our voices in unison with the shout Allahu Akbar! The Prophet, on him be peace, thus came up from behind the company and said: ‘Restrain yourselves. For you call upon One who is neither deaf nor absent. He to whom you pray is all-hearing and near. Indeed, He is with you’ ” (Muslim, 4:2076, no. 2704).
As for the second question asked of the Prophet, on him be peace, about the most promising hour for God to receive our pleas, this depends upon conditions both within and without us. But certainly Ramadan affords us among the most blessed times, if not the most sustained, in which to make long, copious, and earnest du‘â.
Consider this: For 29 or 30 straight days, virtually all the main factors that enhance the chance for divine acceptance of our entreaties prevail — fasting, spiritual focus, an occasion of holiness, the heightened receptivity of a deliberately subdued nafs, or lower self, the systematic softening of the worshipful heart, the fettering of the satans, vastly increased opportunities for bowing the face down to the ground in sujûd, heightened humbleness, deepened reverence (khushû‘), the natural occurrence of an incessant repetition of our requests, disciplining ourselves to patience, and a steady progression through the days of Ramadan of systematic devotions and repentance leading to inner purification.
And note this: At what point of convergence do all of these dynamics of the successful du‘â culminate? In the most propitious event of the divinely ordained human calendar: Laylatul Qadr, The Night of Empowering Decree — namely, the anniversary of the Quran’s revelation from the Heavenly Tablet to Al-Bayt Al-Ma‘mur, The Haram of Heaven, and then its divine intervention into the world — in a spectacular starburst of a full thousand months and more’s worth of the choicest rewards and blessings, condensing a lifetime of divine favor — 83 and a third years — into a singular earthly night.
If you have found yourself, as your life winds home, searching for a miracle moment for rescue, resuscitation, alteration, illumination, reorientation, vivification of spirit, of purpose, of mission — the waiting is over. Surely, this is the divinely appointed role of Ramadan, and Ramadan is unequivocally, categorically, it!
If You Had Just One Prayer to Make…
How to make it count? That’s the only real question before us this Ramadan, yes?
First, remember the forewarnings of the Quran when it comes to du‘â. Over-impassioned human beings, Allah tells us, are just as likely to pray against themselves as for themselves, unwittingly:
Yet [in anger] man [unknowingly] invokes evil upon himself as eagerly as he invokes good. For man is, indeed, given to haste (Sûrat Al-Isrâ’, 17:11).
Now, were God to hasten on for people the evil they invoke even as they seek to hasten on for themselves good, their term of divine Judgment would come due at once and be irrevocably determined for them (Sûrat Yûnus, 10:11).
And the next verse continues:
For when harm touches a human being, he calls upon Us for relief — lying on his side, or sitting, or standing. Yet when We remove from him his harm, he goes about as if he had never called upon Us concerning the harm that touched him. In this way, what the transgressors do is made fair seeming to them (Sûrat Yûnus, 10:12).
Yet when it comes to knowing what makes for a good du‘â, you need worry not. For your Prophet, on him be peace, is, as the Shaykh Muhammad Al-Ghazali so aptly called him, “a genius of du‘â. No prayers ever uttered by a man are more compelling, complete, and soul-stirringly cogent as the Prophet Muhammad’s, on him be peace.
Moreover, your marvelous Muslim ‘ulama who came before you in a millennia-and-a-half of faith have left no stone unturned to transfer to you the summary of all the knowledge you need to accelerate your own du‘â’s acceptance, and a meticulous record of the Prophet’s utterances of prayer.
…What Might Stand in Your Way?
Answerable du‘â has three internal requirements: That you (1) turn exclusively in prayer to God; (2) be pure of intention in doing so, and (3) have certainty that it will be answered.
Some people are surprised or skeptical about this latter point. Yet this is precisely the promise of God in the verse cited at the beginning of this piece: I answer the call of the caller when he calls upon Me, which is repeated in Sûrat Ghâfir (40): Call upon Me; I shall answer you (40:60).
We ask: Why, when I pray with good intention to God alone, do I not get what I prayed for? The answer, say Al-Qurtubî and Ibn Kathîr, two of our greatest Quran commentators, is twofold.
First, God’s acceptance of our supplications occurs variously, as our Prophet, on him be peace, stated: No Muslim prays, wherein one asks for something that is not sinful, or for the severance of family ties, save that God grants him one of three outcomes:
What one has prayed for in this life
He reserves it for one in the Hereafter
He prevents an evil of like measure from coming to one.
Upon hearing this from the Prophet, on him be peace, one Companion said: “Then we shall surely supplicate plentifully.”
The Prophet, on him be peace, replied: “God is more plentiful in responding.”
Second, the Prophet, on him be peace, further prohibited praying against oneself, one’s children, and one’s possessions, disallowed prayers for one’s own demise, and taught that scrupulous morality — especially in earnings and food — are crucial to the divine acceptance of du‘â.
Pay heed now, for the celebrated sage Ibrahim ibn Adham of Balkh (d. 778) according to Al-Qurtubî was asked the same question we are posing here: Why do our prayers go unanswered when God has promised to fulfill them for us? His 10-part answer, shatteringly instructive, is all too relevant for us today. He said:
You have known Allah but obeyed Him not.
You have known the Prophet, on him be peace, but followed his sunnah not.
You have understood the Qur’an but lived by it not.
You have devoured the blessings of God but offered thanks for it not.
You have known of the Garden of Paradise but sought it not.
You have known of the Fire of Hell but sought to flee from it not.
You have known of Satan but declared war on him not. On the contrary, it is him you have befriended.
You have known death but prepared for it not.
You have buried the dead but learned from it not.
You have known your own failings but busied yourselves with the failings of others instead.
“How, then, shall your prayers be answered?”
Ramadan is upon us. There couldn’t be a better recommendation than these of 10 goals for us to achieve, so that Allah may answer our prayerful supplications, du‘â.
Here are some supplications to remember for your Ramadan:
When Ramadan first comes in, and its crescent is sighted:
“O Allah! Crescent it over us with security, and faith, and peace, and Islam.”
[And then to the crescent moon itself one says:] “My Lord and your Lord is Allah.”
When breaking fast at sunset:
“O Allah! Indeed, for You I have fasted. And in You I have believed. And on Your provision have I broken my fast.” [some add to this between the last two statements: “And on You have I relied.”
After breaking the fast:
“Gone is the thirst. Moistened are the veins. And established is the reward, God willing.”
If you have broken fast as a guest, offer this prayer for your hosts:
“May the fasters break fast with you. And may the righteous eat of your food. And may the angels send prayers of blessings upon you.”
In Ramadan’s last 10 nights seeking out Laylatul Qadr, the Night of Empowering Decree, the Prophet, on him be peace, said to petition Allah with this prayer:
“O Allah! Indeed, You are the All-Pardoning. You love to pardon. So pardon me.”
Fasting can make one edgy. So if another annoys you while you’re fasting, say:
“O Allah! Indeed, I am fasting” Or some say merely: “Indeed, I am fasting. Indeed, I am fasting.”
Here are great du‘âs to make daily:
“O Allah! Indeed, I seek refuge in you from worry and sadness, from frailty and sloth, from unbelief and poverty, from cowardice and miserliness, from overwhelming debt, and overpowering men.”
“O Allah! Suffice me with Your ḥalâl against Your ḥarâm and enrich me with Your favored blessings apart from all others than You.”
“Our Lord! Give us good in this world and good in the Hereafter and save us from the torment of the Fire” (Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:201).
“My Lord! Make me steadfast in observing the Ṣalât-Prayer — and also my children, our Lord. And do accept my supplication. Our Lord! Forgive me and my parents — and all the believers — on the Day the Reckoning arises” (Sûrat Ibrâhîm, 14:40-41).
“O Allah! Indeed, I ask of you pardon and well-being in the world and the Hereafter. O Allah! Indeed, I ask of you pardon and well-being in my religious practice and my worldly affairs, and in my family and my wealth. O Allah! Shield my frailty and safeguard against my fears. O Allah! Protect me from before me and from behind me, from my right and from my left, and from above me. And I seek refuge in Your Magnificence from being undermined from beneath me.”
“O Allah! Indeed, I ask of You beneficial knowledge, and wholesome provision, and accepted works.”
“O Allah! Help me in ever remembering You and thanking You, and excellence in Your worship.” Or. “O Allah! Aid me to always remember You and thank You and to the finest worship of You.”
“O Allah! I ask of You the Garden and I seek refuge in You from the Fire.”
“My Lord! Increase me in knowledge” (Sûrat Ṭâ Hâ, 20:114).
“O Allah! Provide me wealth and children and bless me therein.” Or “and bless me in all that You give me.”
Finally, remember the beautiful supplication of our maturity, at 40 years of age (recall that Hijri years run shorter) that Allah commands us to. The scholars say we are to make it not merely once at the coming of our full maturity, but frequently, even daily, thereafter.
“My Lord! Dispose me always to give thanks for Your grace, with which You have graced me and my parents, and that I do righteous deeds with which You are pleased. And make righteous for me my children. Indeed, I have repented to You. And, most surely, I am of those who are Muslims, in willing submission to God alone” (Sûrat Al-Aḥqâf, 46:15).
Allah grant His people the best of Ramadan and the treasures it holds.