Ramadan Lessons: Hope
Based on Lata’f al-Ma’arif, by Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali
Translated by Imam Zaid Shakir
Ramadan Lesson One: Hope
Translator’s note: رمضان مبارك Ramadan Mubarak! May you all be blessed during this blessed month. The month of Ramadan combines fear and hope, hardship and relief. In the following section Ibn Rajab encourages hope by detailing the tremendous manifestations of forgiveness God has opened for the servant during Ramadan. (pp. 377-387)
“During the Month of Ramadan there are many avenues to God’s forgiveness. These include: Fasting the month; standing in prayer during its nights; the Night of Power; all of which have been previously mentioned. These avenues also include:
1. Providing the wherewithal for the fasting person to break his fast;
2. Easing an employee’s burden. Both of these have been mentioned in a prophetic tradition related by Salman.
3. Remembering God abundantly. It is related in a tradition referred back to the Prophet, peace upon him: One who remembers God abundantly in Ramadan will be forgiven.
4. Seeking God’s forgiveness. The prayer of the fasting person is guaranteed an answer during the time he is fasting and at the time that he breaks his fast. For this reason, Ibn ‘Umar, may God be pleased with him and his father, would pray when breaking his fast: “O God! Possessor of the most expansive forgiveness, please forgive me!” A tradition concerning the virtue of Ramadan, related by Abu Hurayra, may God be pleased with him, mentions that the Prophet, peace upon him, said: “Everyone will be forgiven during it (Ramadan) except one who refuses.” They asked: “O Abu Hurayra! Who would ever refuse?” He said: “One who refuses to seek God’s forgiveness.”
5. [Among these paths of forgiveness] are the angels seeking forgiveness for the fasting people until they break their fast.
In that the causes facilitating forgiveness are so numerous during Ramadan, one who misses the opportunity to be forgiven during this month has been deprived –the very epitome of depravation. Abu Hurayra, may God be pleased with him, in the compilation of Imam Ibn Hibban, narrates:
The Prophet, peace upon him, ascended the minbar and proceeded to say: “Amen, Amen, Amen.” He was asked: “O Messenger of God, [What caused] you to ascend the minbar and then thrice say, ‘Amen?’ ” He replied: “The Angel Gabriel came to me and said: ‘Whoever attains to the month of Ramadan and is not forgiven will enter Hell and be distanced from God.’ He then commanded: ‘Say Amen!’ So I said: ‘Amen.’ He then said: ‘Whoever outlives his parents, or even one of them, and has not behaved righteously towards them, and then dies; he will enter Hell and be distanced from God.’ He then commanded, ‘Say Amen!’ So I said, ‘Amen.’ He then said: ‘When your name is mentioned in someone’s presence and he does not pray for mercy for you لم يصل عليك and then dies; he will enter Hell and be distanced from God.’ He then commanded, ‘Say Amen!’ So I said, ‘Amen.’ ” 
Sa’id relates from Qatada that he said: “Whoever is not forgiven in Ramadan will never be forgiven during any other time.” If a person is not forgiven during Ramadan then when will he be forgiven? When will the deeds of one whose deeds are rejected during the Night of Power be accepted? When will one who cannot be upright during Ramadan ever be upright? When will one debilitated with the diseases of ignorance and heedlessness be healthy if not during Ramadan? All fruit not harvested during its proper season, dries on the branch and then is plucked and thrown in a fire. One who neglects sowing during the time of planting only harvests remorse and loss.
The first part of Ramadan is mercy, its middle days are forgiveness, and its latter part is liberation from Hell. Hence, it is related that during it the gates of mercy are flung open. It is related by Imam al-Tirmidhi and others: “God has those that He liberates from the Hellfire during every night of Ramadan.” 
[In considering what is said about the month, we can say that] its first part is dominated by mercy, etc. This mercy is especially designated for the God-conscious individuals who are excellent in their religion. God mentions in the Qur’an: God’s mercy is close for those who are excellent in their religion. (7:56) He also says: My mercy encompasses everything. I have ordained it for the God-conscious who fulfill the right of charity. (7:156) Hence, during the beginning of the month the cloak of mercy and [God’s] good pleasure envelop the God-conscious. The people of excellence are treated in the most gracious and excellent manner.
As for the middle of the month, forgiveness dominates. The fasting people are forgiven even if they are guilty of perpetrating some of the lesser sins—even that does not prevent them from being forgiven. God says in that regard: Your Lord is one who forgives people despite their sins. (14:156) During the latter part of the month, those who would have been damned by their sins are liberated from Hell.
Ibn ‘Abbas relates a tradition from the Prophet, peace upon him, in that regard:
Every night during Ramadan, at the time of breaking the fast, God has a million people He liberates from Hell. During the night of Jumu’ah, or during its day, He liberates one million people every hour.  Everyone one of them deserves to punished in Hell. Then during the last night of Ramadan, He liberates a number equivalent to the number He has liberated from the beginning of the month until the end. 
The festival for the lover of God is not going…
to the place of the prayer until the leader comes.
Rather, the festival of such a person is…
to be with God noble and safe with blessings sure.
In that forgiveness and being liberated from Hell are results of fasting Ramadan and standing for prayer during its nights, God has commanded that He be glorified and thanked upon completion of the month. He mentions [in the Qur’an]: That you complete the designated period, and you glorify God for what He has guided you to, in order that you give thanks. (2:185) Thankfulness for the one who has blessed His servant by facilitating his success in fasting the month, assisted him with it, forgiven him for undertaking it, and liberated him from Hell; lies in remembering Him, thanking Him, and being conscious of Him as one rightfully should. Rightful consciousness has been described by Ibn Mas’ud, may God be pleased with him: “That He [God] is obeyed and not rebelled against; that He is remembered and not forgotten; that He is thanked and his favors [and His Grace] is not taken for granted.”
So you wretched sinners! Hasten to reap the bounteous booty during these noble days! There are no other days that can substitute for these, nor equal them in value. How many people burdened with sins and transgressions have been liberated from Hell during this month? Whoever is liberated from Hell during this month has attained an all encompassing prize and a huge gift.
O You liberated from Hell! Beware at all cost returning to the slavery of sin after your liberation. Has your Lord distanced you from the fire of Hell in order that you draw close to it on your own accord? Has He saved you from it in order that you then fling yourself into it?
Just because God’s mercy is specifically designated for those possessing excellence in their religion, sinners should not despair of receiving it. Just because forgiveness has been ordained for the God-conscious, those who oppress their own souls should are not shielded from it. God mentions in that regard: Proclaim, ‘My servants who have transgressed, sinning excessively, do not despair from the Mercy of God!’ Surely, God forgives all sins. (39:53) Thus, O Sinner!—and we are all guilty in this regard—do not allow your vile conduct to cause you to despair of God’s mercy. How many like you have been liberated from Hell during these days. Entertain a good opinion of your Lord and turn to Him in repentance. Verily, no one is damned with God except one who damns himself.
[A poet said:]
If you are pained by sins then take your medicine
By raising up your hands in pray during the night.
Do not despair of God’s mercy for verily,
Your despair is far graver than your sin.
His mercy to the righteous is generosity,
His mercy to sinners is pure nobility.
 Mundhiri, Al-Targhib wa’l-Tarhib, 2:93, no.10
 Nasa’i, no. 2102
 Tirmidhi, no. 682
 The meaning of Sa’ah in Arabic varies. Here we have translated it as “hour,” which is common modern standard Arabic usage, based on the meaning of the tradition. In other contexts terms such as “a moment” are better.
 Quoted in Lata’if al-Ma’arif, p. 380