I wanted to use the holy month to become a devout Muslim. I didn’t quite achieve that, but I picked up some important lessons along the way.
1. I always started off with the best of intentions – but I often fell short of meeting them.
Before Ramadan began, I made a list of everything I wanted to achieve. I wanted to read through the whole Qur’an – and not just read it, but take time to understand the meanings in the process. I also wanted to make sure I prayed regularly, and on time, while abstaining from “luxuries” such as socializing and brunch.
The reality was a little different, as I modified these goals considerably as the month went on. Much of that had to do with long working hours, the daily commute, and the general fatigue that comes with working during the holy month. Naturally, that becomes worse during the increasingly longer days of spring – where I wanted to do little more than sleep until iftar.
Moreover, personal digressions also got the better of me. To pass time at work, I was usually plugged into social media – sometimes, more often than I should have been. Additionally, as my work schedule became more intense, I found myself missing prayer times, or not even making them.
I had to acknowledge that my own flaws limited how much I could realistically achieve during Ramadan. So rather than reading through the entire Qur’an, I chose to read at least one, shorter passage each night/morning. I also tried to listen to verses while, following the English translation at the same time.
For me, this Ramadan was about “niyyah”, or the intention of wanting to improve myself as a Muslim. The concept is a core principle in Islam, and although it can be interpreted in different ways, it reflects a Muslim’s desire to be sincere in worship, regardless of how much they actually pray.
2. Always have suhoor, even if it’s a bit uncomfortable.
This year’s fast was challenging, but not terrible – early rises (at around 4-5 AM) and late finishes (usually around 7:20-7:50 PM).
I’ve been fasting since I was about 12 years old, and I though I understand the importance of the suhoor meal, mostly out of laziness, I chose to sleep instead. But with work increasing, it means more time spent focusing on meetings and speaking with people, these meals were fundamental in order to function.
There are tons of guides on what’s best to eat and drink during this time, and I made a lot of mistakes, best summed up as “carbohydrates”. Even so, without the morning meal, I have been operating at a much lower capacity, and grinding to a total halt by 4 PM. But make no mistake, forcing yourself to eat and drink for the day, especially first thing in the morning, is tough – and what’s worse is the inevitable bloated feeling nearly every Muslim will have in those precious couple of hours you have to rest before getting up again to go to work.
The most important lesson learned: Drink a lot of water, at least a liters worth. Dehydration is the worst.
3. Making small changes to my daily routine brought me a little closer to God.
I haven’t been as observant of Islam in past years, so this Ramadan was an opportunity to explore my own beliefs and, inshallah, become a better practicing Muslim.
But rather than a huge transformation of my behavior , I found that the smaller changes I made to my daily routine – things like listening to a Du’a (supplication) or reading a verse of the Qur’an in English – were helpful in helping me understand my faith a little bit more, especially when I felt I didn’t have a solid grasp of it. It also brought an additional sense of peace and purpose into my world.
There are some Muslims who dedicate themselves to studying the Qu’ran, and spending as much time at the mosque as possible during this month – something I didn’t manage to do. Sometimes that was caused by work, but more often than not, it was because I felt intimidated being in a setting surrounded by people more observant and devout than I. Indeed, during the holiest month of the Islamic year, such outward displays of worship easily made me feel at times like a fraud, and in previous years, deterred me from going to the mosque completely.
But this year, after spending even 30 minutes of my day focusing on understanding my religion better, I realized that although there was still a lot about my faith I needed to learn, I was also more excited than ever to learn about it. I think there’s a lot of value in that.
4. You can benefit from Ramadan, even if you aren’t that religious.
While Ramadan is primarily a religious event, there are things that you can learn even if you aren’t devout.
Fasting for up to 13-14 hours a day showed how far I could push myself in terms of self-discipline, but also made me realize the extent to which I over-consume. Being accustomed to eating and drinking throughout the day without a care in the world, the knowledge that you can, in reality, live on very little, naturally makes you much more aware of the benefits that come with the privilege. It takes all sorts of forms, whether it’s the ability to have more than one meal a day or even something as small as being able to eat with your family every evening.
This Ramadan was not just an opportunity to try be more religiously observant, but also a chance to spend more time with my family and practicing friends – whether that was going to the mosque for iftar and evening prayers with a good friend, or simply enjoying the process of preparing an evening’s meal with the family. It’s during this month that I’m most grateful for how blessed I am.
5. Fasting can play around with your emotions. A lot.
The hardest part of Ramadan for me isn’t necessarily hunger or thirst, as much as those things can make you feel like you aren’t in control of yourself.
Throughout this month, it’s happened on several occasions, and while I’ve usually been able to control it, there are times when certain emotions – mostly anger and anxiety – can become overwhelming. There was one day during which, I had been feeling down. By the time I got home from work, it was so overwhelming that all I could do was get in bed and burst into tears.
It was one of the strongest experiences of this Ramadan – but something that’s more common than you’d think among many Muslims.
There were other times where, through a deadly mix of hunger, thirst, and pure exhaustion, I would get irrationally angry at mundane things: traffic, dogs barking outside, or even, at one point, a dripping tap.
And it wasn’t just me, either – I have spoken to several Muslim friends who have mentioned their struggle to manage their moods during this fasting period. While most said that prayer was vital as a way of reminding themselves why they were fasting, others said that it was probably the biggest challenge they faced during Ramadan – and that by overcoming it, they had passed a test of sorts, set by Allah.
One of the biggest lessons I learned this Ramadan is how easily I lose control of my mouth, and how easy it is to lose control. Sure, the abstinence pushed me to my limits, but this month taught me that I do have the ability to manage my emotions, thoughts and words especially around other people.
6. Everyone’s experiences during Ramadan will be different – and that should be respected.
To many, Ramadan revolves around total abstinence. Food and drink are off the table, sure, but some also abstain from television, music, socializing, and even reading things that aren’t Islamic.
But Ramadan is different for different people. Throughout this month, I’ve spoken to Muslims who choose not to fast, those who are unable to (due to both physical and mental illnesses), as well as newly converted Muslims, who intermittently fast. Some also choose to commemorate Ramadan in other ways, such as giving generously to charity, volunteering in their local communities, and taking time off work to help the needy.
There will always be disputes on how Ramadan should be observed, what prayers should be recited and how to fast according to the Qur’an and sunnah. But here, in the U.S., Muslims from all backgrounds and communities observe the holy month in unique ways.
7. Don’t get intimidated by others’ Ramadan habits (especially as portrayed on social media).
Muslims are really active on Twitter and Facebook, IG and TikTok. I have enjoyed and become accustomed to posts reciting Qur’an verses and messages from the hadiths popping up on my timeline. Social media has become an arena for giving dawah (proselytizing) to non-Muslims curious about Islam and Muslims. During Ramadan, this is turned up several notches.
And while that’s a great thing, I have to admit that the increased frequency of these posts affected me – and often not for the reasons those posts set out to do. This month I have seen posts warning that not praying with the “right intentions” would invalidate my fasts, while others claim only certain du’as would be accepted by Allah for Ramadan prayers.
Worse still, close friends of mine who are more devout than I am, would often write about how they’d spent entire nights in prayer, or claim that they had been “spiritually blessed” in a way that felt unachievable for me. I was constantly comparing myself to friends, and coming up short. There were times when I felt like giving up on Ramadan.
But Ramadan is an individual experience. It should be centered on personal development, as much as it is devotion to Allah – something I now understand, going into the final days of Ramadan.
I heard one imam this month, say: “Having one night where you really believe and are focused on your worship is a thousand times better than spending a month following rituals and praying as if you’re a drone.”
EID MUBARAK TO YOU AND YOUR FAMILIES