City of Brass

Image credit: Nitish Meena

Image credit: Nitish Meena

This is a guest post by Nabeel Azeez.

A well-known hadith of the Prophet SAW is, “”Whosoever fasts and prays Ramadan with Iman and Ihtisab, will have his past sins forgiven.” This hadith is quoted every Ramadan as motivation, without fail. Many of us understand the meaning and implications of the condition of Iman while fasting and praying. However, many of us do not understand the condition of Ihtisab, myself included.

The word is usually translated as “seeking/expecting/hoping for Allah’s reward” and left at that. As someone who’s interested in practical application of these concepts, that’s not very helpful. So I asked my teacher to explain the meaning, implications and application of Ihtisab. I have paraphrased what he told me and added some of my own thoughts.

What is Ihtisab?

The root of the word is from hisab – to calculate, reckon, count. Ihtisab is to expect an outcome from something or someone. Allah the Almighty says (paraphrased),

وَيَرْزُقْهُ مِنْ حَيْثُ لَا يَحْتَسِبُ ۚ وَمَن يَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ فَهُوَ حَسْبُهُ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ بَالِغُ أَمْرِهِ ۚ قَدْ جَعَلَ اللَّهُ لِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدْرًا

“And (Allah) will provide for him from where he does not expect (min haythu la yahtasib)…” (65:3)

Ihtisab in fasting and prayers is to be sincere in your worship, hoping for Allah’s acceptance and reward.

How is Ihtisab Achieved?

Ihtisab tip #1: Having a peaceful, pleasing state of mind when performing the act

One should be hopeful of Allah’s reward, and in a peaceful and pleasing state of mind while performing the act. This is achieved by:

  • not thinking of fasting as burdensome or heavy
  • not thinking about the length of the fasting day, or seeing it as long

Ihtisab tip #2: Hoping for Allah’s reward and fearing His punishment

Ibn Rajab Al-Hanbali (d. 795 H) writes that one need to have love, hope and fear when worshiping Allah without leaving out any of them:

“It is known that worship is built from only three sources: fear, hope, and love. Each one is an intrinsic duty, and gathering the three is an obligatory injunction. Because of this, the Forbears censured whoever devoted oneself to one while neglecting the other two. [After all,] the innovation of the Khawarij and those resembling them came about from emphasizing fear while avoiding love and hope; the innovation of the Murjiʿah [those who hold that belief guarantees the unrepentant safety from punishment for grave sins] came about from clinging to hope alone while avoiding fear; and the innovation of many advocates of free-thinking [ibahiyyah] and divine indwelling [hulul] who ascribe themselves to devotion, came about from singling out love while avoiding fear and hope.”

(Credit to Musa Furber for the translation.)

Ihtisab tip #3: Holding ourselves to a higher standard, one worthy of Allah’s Majesty, when performing acts of worship

Allah is Tayyib (pure, wholesome) and he accepts only that which is pure and wholesome. Are our fasts and prayers pure and wholesome in a way worthy of Allah’s acceptance?

Imagine that one of your parents is exacting and accepts nothing less than perfection from you. If he/she asked something of you, knowing that only a certain standard is acceptable, how will you perform the requested task if you want to please her/him?

Suppose that acceptance and rejection are based on the sincerity and perfection with which prayers or fasts were performed. How would yours fare? In fact in a single masjid, or even a single prayer-row, how would you feel about your prayers if you knew that only one prayer from that row is going to be accepted?

Ihtisab, then, is to strive to perform our worship with a level of sincerity and perfection worthy of the Allah and His acceptance, not just to fulfill an obligation.

Ihtisab tip #4: Getting our priorities right

These aren’t specific to worship but relate to life in general:

  • Getting to know the nature of Allah and what He deserves from us
  • Trying to always be aware of life’s purpose and optimizing our lives around that purpose

Ihtisab tip #5: Constantly evaluating and improving ourselves

Ihtisab also means to calculate or evaluate something exhaustively. We should make notes, mental or otherwise, on the shortcomings of our prayers and fasts, review them before the next occurrence and try not to repeat them.

We should also evaluate ourselves daily, checking to see if we’ve improved from the previous day. We should also evaluate our overall performance after month concludes, make a note of the good and bad, and set goals to do better next Ramadan, God willing.


Knowledge without action is just information.

It also works against our favor on the Day of Judgement

So, it’s up to us to implement these tips in our lives.

What is correct is from Allah and what is wrong is from myself and Satan.

Allah, exalt the mention of our Prophet Muhammad, as many times as the mindful remember him, and as many times as the heedless forget.

Nabeel Azeez is a blogger, public speaker, and founder of Becoming the Alpha Muslim. He writes and speaks on men’s issues, masculinity, and self-improvement for the modern Muslim man.

Summer Solstice Strawberry Moon (June 20, 2016) by nate2b on Flickr

Summer Solstice Strawberry Moon (June 20, 2016) by nate2b on Flickr

Last night was the first full moon coincident with the summer solstice in 50 years. The last time this convergence happened was in 1967, and it won’t happen again until 2062. For comparison, Halley’s comet last arrived in 1986 and will return in 2061. Yesterday was the longest fast for the vast majority of the world’s Muslims – though our Australian m8s enjoyed the shortest fast ever.

This kind of convergence is rare because it requires two totally separate geometries to line up perfectly – the earth and the sun (for the solstice) and the earth and the moon (for the full moon). Spiritually, the Moon is reflecting the light of the longest day, which means it is the mirror in which we see our longest ibadat reflected at us, and we marvel at its beauty. But it’s our beauty, after all.

Related: Why a Muslim welcomes the summer solstice, and my contribution to the moonsighting debate.

dumbbell, foam roller, and tasbih

dumbbell, foam roller, and tasbih by aabde on Flickr

The overwhelming priority of most people during Ramadan is to decide what to eat and when. However, for those with an active lifestyle, food is just half of the equation. Professional athletes have long balanced Ramadan and training – from Kareem Abhdul Jabbar and Zaid Abdul-Aziz (basketball), to Husain and Hamza Abdullah (football), to Kulsoom Abdullah (weightlifting), to Ibtihaj Muhammad (Olympic fencing). In fact, Mrs. Abdullah wrote a guest post here at City of Brass a couple years ago discussing the challenges for the athlete in Ramadan.

However, what about us normal folk who aren’t athletes? Let’s leave aside cardio and consider weight training. The bottom line is that during Ramadan, if you don’t binge (which is very common, due to large post-iftar meals and fat/carb-heavy suhoor, coupled with a general sense of abandon), you are going to lose some muscle due to catabolism. Ramadan is the perfect time for a cut – (reducing caloric intake below TDEE to lower bodyfat percentage) and lends itself well to a “leangains” philosophy. The biggest problem is figuring out when to workout, juggling the requirements of real life (jobs and family) and the additional burden of our ibadat (going to masjid, extra prayer), not to mention the fact that we are fasting during the majority of the day (especially right now, while Ramadan falls squarely in summer, at least in the Northern hemisphere).

Unfortunately, most of the workout advice for Muslims who fast in Ramadan is flawed in this regard. Nabeel Azeez, founder of the Becoming the Alpha Muslim motivational program, has a great writeup about Ramadan workout recommendations, and critiques most of the better-known versions you see. In a nutshell, most of the advice out there is not applicable to someone who is not a professional athlete, has a normal day job, and also wants to actually prioritize ibadat in Ramadan. Further, most of the nutritional advice out there is “broscience” or anecdotal. My friend Aamer Jamali MD (a frequent contributor to City of Brass) has been lecturing for years about nutritional requirements in Ramadan, which can insufficiently be summarized as: complex carbohydrates good, simple carbs bad, protein good, sugar bad.

Here are a set of recommendations for weight training in Ramadan, based on Nabeel’s guidelines, nutritional advice from Aamer, and my own research. In general: stretch before training, and train before breaking your fast. Eat, pray and sleep at night. Eat complex carbs and protein for suhoor, drink a lot of water and get enough sleep.

  1. Workout window: The ideal time to train is around 2 hours before breaking your fast. You will be working out in the fasted state – this is essentially a modified Lean Gains routine. In most of the United States, Maghrib is around 8pm, so this means you’d be working out around 6pm. This is compatible with coming home after work and hitting the gym (or the garage, as the case may be).
  2. Stretch: You are dehydrated, which means you are at higher risk of injury. Therefore, stretching out is critical. Get a decent foam roller and roll your joints, especially your hamstrings, glutes, and back. Do some basic flexibility stretches every day, pre-workout or just after you awake in the morning to get blood flowing. If yoga is your thing, keep it up. Note, core exercises do not count. If you are going to train during Ramadan, this is not an optional step.
  3. Workout routine: Dial back. You are aiming for maintenance; hypertrophy is out of the question. Drop cardio. Aim for 75% of your usual weight, higher volume (3×5 or 5×5). Supersets of opposing groups (antagonists) is the most time-efficient, since you don’t have energy for a long workout. I also would recommend focusing on bodyweight exercises rather than free weights, since there is less chance of injury. Examples: Dips and chinups (for biceps and triceps), pushups and pullups (for chest and back), squats and lunges (quads and hamstrings). As usual with supersets, there is no rest period between the exercises, but you must rest at least 3 minutes between supersets. Add some dumbbell accessory work to round things out.
  4. Iftar: Keep this small, with full meal to follow an hour later. Dates are favored for iftar because they are high in fiber and glucose (the form of sugar that requires least processing for use). Some fat intake is ok here to replenish stores, but avoid sugars. Drink water!
  5. Dinner: Eat a healthy meal but do not binge. Concentrate on complex carbohydrates and proteins. Avoid processed and fried foods due to high fat and simple carbohydrate contents. Fats should be from healthier sources like avocados, nuts, and olive oil. Drink water!
  6. Water: Too much at once can overwhelm the kidneys, so it is best to drink water in small, regular doses, especially with food. Obviously, during Ramadan the water window is shortened, which is why it is critical that you don’t neglect water during iftar, suhoor, and dinner.
  7. Sleep: Maximize your sleep at night. Moving the workout to pre-iftar keeps your evenings open for ibadat and rest. Remember that muscle isn’t built during a workout, it is built during the recovery period, which is why adequate rest is an essential component of fitness. If you have time and opportunity, get a nap in during the day as well.
  8. Suhoor: Avoid simple carbohydrates (sugars, white bread, baked goods). These will cause fatigue in the late morning/early afternoon, and hunger starting at noon. Also, too much fat will fill you up, but not provide the energy you need during the day, and will simply be diverted to storage. Avoid fruit juices, which have high acidity and sugar; water is best. Favor whole wheat and whole grain bread, minimize syrups and jelly. Maximize complex carbohydrates (fiber) and protein for maximum sustained energy and minimum hunger during the day.

The above should not be considered medical advice, but is probably the best distillation of the good advice out there, and provides a simple and reasonable outline for weight training during Ramadan. Of course, modify as needed with what works for you.

Related: Fasting for Ramadan with Diabetes, and The Athlete in Ramadan: working out, training, and diet.

shake shack dubai ramadan by Krista on Flickr

shake shack dubai ramadan by Krista on Flickr

This is a guest post by Taher Suratwala.

Ramadan is here and life is turned upside down. No breakfast, no coffee in the morning, strange and totally different sleep schedule, falling asleep at work, fasting breath, no working out and lots of sitting. It’s as if someone picked up my routine and gave it a vigorous shake.

I love it.

All the changes are to accommodate the fasting and to ultimately get in touch with a more spiritual side.

Eleven months of the year, I’m stuck in my ways and pretty stuck to my routine. If I don’t have coffee in the morning it’s a tough day! But Ramadan comes and I’m reminded I am capable of changing everything to meet some goal. I even quit coffee (for Ramadan) to convince myself I can.

People are capable of so much with the right motivation. Here’s to a good shake up this year!

Taher Suratwala is a husband to his beautiful wife, a father to his two wonderful children, and a son to his wise parents. During the day, he makes use of his math, statistics and economic background as an actuary and occasionally writes on his blog, B Like Water.