Ramadan Mubarak to all the lovely Muslims reading this post, and to anyone and everyone here to feed their curiosity on the Islamic culture and the Holy Month.
Ramadan to me is that beautiful month of the year which I patiently look forward to and feel the need to have some specific emotional and spiritual preparation in honor of it. It was quite different for me this year as I was in the midst of my final exams in the first days and was definitely not in a spiritual state, as you can imagine. However, this post has definitely helped in setting me in the right mood and hopefully you reading this as well will feel the same way. I know Ramadan can be quite difficult for some people, including myself, especially during work, hot climates, and countless errands challenging our serenity and patience – and no coffee to save the day! It’s okay however, this will be your guide to a gracious Ramadan experience.
Let’s start with the basics. If you consider fasting as a daunting obligation that you must fulfill as a Muslim -or else you’ll go to hell and spend a lifetime repenting- I would suggest you approach the following days more positively and look at all the incredible rewards you will reap after giving up your usual pleasures. Of course, fasting is obligatory on all capable Muslims but there is more to look forward to in Ramadan than a mere obligation. Although nobody can deny fasting is difficult (unless you’re skilled in the practice and fast 9 out of 12 months a year), fasting becomes much harder when you despise every minute of it, and you don’t need me to tell you that.
“Fasting kills the desire of the self and the appetite of greed, and from it comes purity of the heart, purification of the limbs, cultivation of the inner and the outer being, thankfulness for blessings, charity to the poor, increase of humble supplication, humility, weeping and most of the ways of seeking refuge in God” – Imam Ja’far Al-Sadiq (A.S)
Just think about those rewards you could be forsaking simply by conveying a negative attitude towards a temporary experience that is actually good for you. You’re going to be fasting anyway – wouldn’t you rather do it graciously and with love?
وَأَن تَصُومُوا خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ إِن كُنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ “to fast is best for you, if you only knew.”
Surah Al-Baqara, Verse 184
Here are a few things to remember before you move on to the practical part.
#1 You are not alone – Muslims all around the world are doing exactly what you are doing, with all the benefits and hardships.
#2 Fasting will bring purity to your heart, body, and soul
#3 Your actions (and even thoughts) are recorded to the tee (so beware, but take advantage)
Moving forward, here are 10 ways you can have a gracious Ramadan experience:
Welcome it with open arms Yes, Ramadan has already begun but it’s not too late to change your perspective about this holy month if you went in miserable or waiting for it to be over, or just simply find it too difficult. Constantly encourage yourself to be positive to enjoy the beautiful experience that is fasting and surrendering to the Almighty. Ramadan is a month of spiritual cleansing, reflection, and gratefulness. I would think that those are all incredible things to aspire for as human beings, let alone faithful Muslims. To fast is to temporarily give up worldly pleasures, develop a sense of gratitude for our blessings, help others who are not as fortunate as us and learn more about ourselves and our faith, amongst many other benefits. I promise you, the benefits outweigh the negatives and if you can reflect on why you are fasting, the whole journey will be much more enjoyable
Keep your manners in check
There’s nothing worse than being approached by a rude person at any time, but especially during Ramadan. Your manners reflect your character and your faith. Do your best not to make anyone’s life any more difficult in this holy month, for your sake and others.
“Good manners are your beauty.” – Imam Ali (AS)
3. Commit to Suhoor
If you have voluntarily given up your right to Suhoor, then no wonder you are feeling so hungry and thirsty after only two hours of fast. There are countless benefits to Suhoor that you should commit to it each night even if you’re tired, not in the mood, or just can’t bother. Our prophet, peace be upon him, recommended suhoor and considered it a blessing. The strength you’ll get from eating a bit later in the night will reflect on your energy during the day as well as your commitment to your prayers and acts of worship. Just make sure not to eat anything too heavy, salty, or sugary. An assortment of dates, fruits (especially bananas), nuts, granola, and other light foods is what I would recommend, topped with one or two large glasses of water. Stock up on your water while you still can.
4. Listen to Qur’an – all day, every day
Reading Qur’an is highly encouraged during this month as Ramadan is the month the Qur’an was revealed to us. We all need to strengthen our relationship with the Qur’an and not have it just be a book that we pull out once or twice a year. It’s so satisfying to sit among yourself and thoughtfully recite Surahs. But what about those times you are driving, cooking, cleaning, working or doing any kind of chores for that matter? Why not fill those times, your homes, and working spaces with a recitation of your choice. This will ground you and motivate you. My favorite recitations are by Sheikh Mishary Rashid Al-Afasy, found here. I especially like to listen to him whilst I’m reading because this way I can ensure that I am paying attention and not going too fast.
5. Practice better prayer
Photo by Samer Chidiac
We’re all guilty of rushing during prayer, for waiting too long to pray and not waking up for Fajr. Ramadan is the month you should reflect on such behaviors and seek to change them. Believe me, there’s nothing more rewarding to me than going into prayer knowing that I will be taking my time, mindful of every word and action I am performing, even if I do get distracted. The important thing is that I am aware, not completely out of state. I feel so much better afterward and feel that I have truly created a connection with God my prayer. Who wouldn’t want that?
6. Analyze the Qur’an
I know I’ve said that we should all devote our time to read and listen to the Qur’an, but that’s only stage one. It’s not enough to just swift through the Qur’an, pages on end, without understanding a single word. Reflection is key to receiving the messages our holy book has to offer. Afterall, the Qur’an came to our lives to provide guidance to us. I like to analyze the Qur’an by listening to a recitation and reading an English translation simultaneously. Multitasking at it’s finest, but I promise it’s not as hectic as it sounds. I love this site for English translation. I like to learn about the verses as I am reading and listening to them as this makes me feel so immersed in the words God has carefully selected. You’ll know you’re properly dissecting the verses searching for their meaning when you fall upon a verse that completely enlightens you, that you feel you have to re-read it or write it down. I often find myself grabbing a journal just to record this new verse I have learned and came to love. Also, when you start understanding the Surahs you will start having a lot of questions that you’ll be curious to know the answer to. This is the beauty of actually reading and learning from our holy book. It invites you to reflect, ask, research and discover different things each time.
7. Give your phone a break
Our phones can easily occupy our attention during Ramadan as we often get so bored, hungry, and tired that we just want time to pass. Yet it’s really beside the point to choose to be mindlessly entertained when there are many other useful things we could be doing. Productivity is crucial in Ramadan, and this is something I’ve written all about in another post, here. I’m not saying that you should completely abstain from using your phone, especially since our phones today are useful in strengthening our relationships with friends and family which is especially important in Ramadan and Silat Al-Rahm. However, it will not hurt to leave it behind when you find an opportunity to be productive or engage in a spiritual act.
8. Listen to Islamic lectures
There are specific people I like to listen to all year round, but especially during Ramadan. Those people are Tariq Ramadan and Sayed Ammar Nakshawani. Their insights and intellect never cease to feed my curiosity on different Islamic-related topics and issues. If you have any favorite speakers, now would be the time to indulge to fill up the downtime. Similarly, you can read online about the different stories revealed to us in the Qur’an, or learn about your faith, the Prophet peace be upon him and his descendants. This will help enrich your faith and motivate you throughout your spiritual journey, even long after Ramadan comes to an end.
9. Post-fast rituals
Normally, in this beautiful month, we perform all our good works during the time leading up to Athan (the time we can break our fast). Once our fast is broken and our happiness returns to our faces after having seen the abundance of food on our dining tables (Alhamdulillah), we spend the rest of the night enjoying the fruits of our fast, the late night Ramadan shows and evening gatherings. While there is nothing wrong with joining our family and friends and taking the time to enjoy ourselves after a long and hard day of fast, I do think we also need to dedicate some of that time in spiritual work. One thing that my family and I tend to do, usually after Iftar, is to recite a Du’aa dear to our hearts, Du’aa Al Iftitah. This du’aa was introduced by the twelfth Imam of the Shia faith, Imam Al-Mahdi (ajfs), to recite every night during the whole month of Ramadan. This has been a ritual for more than a few years now, that we almost know this Du’aa by heart. The recitation of a Du’aa is the perfect way of joining the family for a sincere act towards our Almighty, but it need not be the only way. I know different sects in Islam will have different traditions and those should be honored as well. It’s important that you go to bed each night having done your best to get closer to Allah.
10. Go on a journey of self
As cliché as it sounds to “find yourself,” I think there is no better time to do it than in the spiritual month of Ramadan. Our sole purpose in Ramadan is to purify our heart, soul and body. As emotional beings, we are always trying to make sense of the world and ourselves, constantly crowded by our thoughts, worries, fears, and emotions. At times, this can get extremely overwhelming. Take it as a sign to slow down and reflect. Spend time with yourself, thinking about how you feel and why you feel that way, and preferably write it down. Share your emotions and worries to the beautiful and merciful Allah. You will be surprised at how much clarity you can reach by just simply taking the time to think and feel. Getting to know yourself in a kind and self-accepting way will relieve some of the burdens you have been carrying. Never put your journey of self-discovery and growth on hold. Always be willing to evolve as a human, gain more self-knowledge and develop better traits. The more you are at peace with yourself, the more you’ve learned about yourself, the greater you will be willing to enhance your faith and connect with God, and devote your life to Him.
Those were all my tips for a gracious Ramadan experience because any more might be a headache! I do wish that all of you fasting take this opportunity to experience Ramadan with an air of positivity and optimism that this will be your best Ramadan yet. It’s unfortunate to watch the hours and days past without feeling like you did your best to connect with God, learn from His verses, or learn more about your faith. There’s a lot for us to learn and now is the best time to do it.
I pray that your fasting is eased and rewarded by our Almighty and that your devotion to Him purifies your heart and soul. Most importantly, I wish that every day we become more and more grateful for all our blessings and remember the source of all fortunes. I leave you with this beautiful quote…
“Ramadan Is like a rare flower, That blossoms once a year, And just as you begin to smell its fragrance, It disappears for another year.” – Unknown