Ramadan is known for its ups and downs. Moonfighting arguments reach a fever pitch the days before Ramadan (magnified nowadays by social media), then drops like a rock once the fast begins. Motivation for ‘ibadah also peaks in the first few days like runners taking off at the beginning of a marathon, only to spiral downwards towards the middle, and only pick back up again in the last 10 days before the 27th night.
Rather than jumping up and down, we want consistent spirituality. When the moonfighting starts, we consciously put shaytaan and our nafs on “unfollow” and we stop retweeting that spiritual muck. We are calm before, during, and after Ramadan. The same is true of our worship during. It will increase, as it must, and it is consistent throughout as much as possible for all 30 days. When it goes down post-Ramadan, it’s a gentle drop rather than a frenetic effort to chuck all spirituality out the door post-”Īd.
Some of the ingredients to the secret sauce of success in any endeavor include having lofty yet achievable goals, working smartly by recognizing which actions provide maximum benefit, planning a feasible plan forward, consistently moving the ball towards your goal by achieving just a bit more, persevering through those days when you don’t have motivation, and reviewing your plan to ensure you keep on track.
Within all of those, you must take into account the people who depend on you and how to keep them happy while you also take care of yourself – I can’t underscore this last point enough. We don’t live in a vacuum where we can do what we want and the rest of the world isn’t constantly demanding our attention. People who are successful manage their own needs amidst others. They don’t live in an either / or paradigm, but they look creatively within their situation with an “and” mindset. For a good example of this in action, take a look at famous athletes such as Hakeem Olajuwon or all the Muslim soccer players in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. They’re fasting AND they’re playing an intense game of futbal 😉
In the first two parts, we covered pre-training to get us warmed up for the upcoming Ramadan triathlon of siyam, ṣalāh, and Quran, and we covered goal-setting and planning out how to think about the time each goal will consume on a daily basis. Let’s now consider how we bring this alive into our daily schedule and keep ourselves riding high for the full month, inshā’Allāh.
Calendaring – Tools for Ramadan Success
The following are tools I recommend for keeping oneself in Ramadan mode throughout the month:
- Calendar / Planner
- Motivational Spiritual Talks
- Support Groups
1. Calendar / Planner
The calendar / planner should contain your monthly, weekly, and daily agenda. It should contain the following:
- Appointments: Events that must happen at a specific time. This can include meetings, doctor’s visits, car repairs, and most importantly, prayer times at themasjid.
- Single Tasks: This is anything else that needs to get done in the day.
- Important Daily Habits: By important, what I mean are those things which don’t have a time to complete and may not even have to be completed, but knowing if you did them consistently would result in an exponentially better life. Some of these would include working out to keep fit, giving your kids quality time, qur’an reading / memorization, the five daily prayers, and developing new skills / talents through reading and practice.
I’ve intentionally emboldened important daily habits, as these are the foundation of a successful person generally, and particularly in Ramadan. To help you understand why, watch the following video
How you decide to deal with Important Daily Habits on your calendar is up to you. You can do one of three things:
- Schedule them like an appointment: Do them consistently at the same time daily.
- Schedule them like a single task: Each day, have the habit tracked somewhere as a task. Place it in the schedule first before you put down anything else, then put everything else around it.
- Hybrid: Place some important daily habits at specific times and others simply keep them recorded, and then decide where you’ll put at the time you plan your day.
The first thing you should fill out are your important daily habits. Notice that I’ve filled many (but not all of them) at a specific time in the week. So fajr and isha / tarawih are always at the same time. Other prayers like Dhuhr, ‘Aṣr, and Maghrib are also on the calendar at specific times, but because a person may be doing them independently, if they have to manipulate the time a bit to adjust to day to day demands, they can do that during that day. Sometimes, an appointment may occur at the planned usual time, so move the prayer around it to accommodate it.
One habit to note is the Quran reading habit. This is an important daily habit, but for this hypothetical person, it’s not feasible to do it at the exact same time every day, so notice that it’s placed at the very top of each day (as an all-day event) simply as a means of tracking. When the time comes to plan the day, the person can choose where best to put in their one hour of Quran reading. In this example, the person decided that after waking up and getting their bearings a bit, they’d read Quran for an hour first. The next day, this hypothetical person decided they would read Quran during their lunch break on the job. Maybe on day 3 they wake extra early before fajr and have lots of energy and decide they’ll take advantage of the time to fill their Qur’an quote, even though they haven’t put it down, but they know it’s coming.
After the important daily habits, on Sunday this person decided to fill their time taking care of the home, doing chores, groceries, and taking the car for a cleaning. In the evening, this person either rests before iftar or spends quality time with the family, and does this every single day. On Friday and Saturday, their evening routine is a bit different because of gatherings they plan to attend that week.
Each day, the person will come back to their calendar to look at not only the current day, but what’s coming ahead in the next 6 days as well (a one week view). They can plan out the most important activities to complete that day, place it in the agenda for that calendar, and then make sure to complete everything on there. If they go over the time and can’t complete something in the allotted time, they can adjust the schedule as needed to bring down the amount of work they think they can complete in the day, move tasks to be completed later, and then revisit them the next day (or week) if needed.
Because we often underestimate the time to complete certain work, I personally think it’s better to plan out only the current day in detail on an hour-by-hour basis either in the morning of that day or in the evening before bed.
Also please note that I have intentionally added sleep all over this example calendar. Sleep is important when you’re fasting 16 hours daily and praying late nights. Since you won’t get all your sleep at night, try to find times during the day to get it, maxing out at 8 hours. Do not spend all day sleeping as some do, as there is no virtue in this. At the same time, don’t think you can feasibly neglect it and only have 4 hours of sleep each night. No matter what you’ve read about other scholars and virtuous people doing this, realize that that lifestyle requires the development of habit over many years, and one should not try something so drastic in an overnight-cold-turkey sort of way.
Finally, you may find that you’re not perfect. That’s perfectly ok, so long as you have a plan to make up for mistakes. For example, let’s say you only completed 10 pages of Quran on Monday. You’re officially 10 pages behind in Quran reading now, so what will you do? Adding extra pages during the weekdays might be too much, but can you split the difference and make it up on the weekend? For those things that can be made up, try to find a way to make them up later in a way that’s doable for you.
So far, we’ve talked about preparing for Ramadan using the Sunnah of the Prophet to get ourselves warmed up and ready to go for an all out ‘ibadah assault in a few days. We’ve also talked about planning and calendaring. Could there possibly be anything else left to organize, prioritize, or calendarize? Absolutely. Let’s move on to:
Clearing the Decks!
2. Motivational Spiritual Talks
It’s truly tragic we debate whether music is halal or not, focusing and (I would say) wasting all our energy on academically discussing the reasons for or against the use of instruments when we all agree that anything with licentious lyrics should be prohibited, full-stop. Contemporary pop music is nothing more than an automated shaytaan whispering in your ears in full HD, calling you to sex (i.e. the degradation and objectification of women mostly), narcissism, greed, disrespect, and overall heedlessness of the next world in favor of an excessive focus on this one. And to cement those ideas positively in your head, it’s accompanied with music designed to elicit a positive chemical response in order to hard wire it’s acceptance into your brain.
During this month, let’s drop the music and singing in favor of Islamic talks. Get your favorite speaker on your mp3 player and where ever you would have normally been listening to music (or if you don’t listen, where there is nothing that consumes your mental bandwidth while working), listen to a good set of talks about Ramadan. Commit to do it daily. Automate virtue and spirituality and the call to better adab, manners, living, ethics, and worship in HD in your ears.
Some times to do this would include when you’re doing chores at home, commuting to work, or some other mundane task. Get a smart phone, a car stereo that connects to devices via bluetooth, and stream your favorite speaker from youtube to your car stereo. Put some headphones on while you’re grocery shopping. Find a way to fill your head with virtue and keep virtuous company. Post-Ramadan start listening to audiobooks and become a better read, more intelligent individual.
3. Support Groups
One method that is known to keep people on track with difficult goals is being part of a support group. Find yourself a group of close friends who want to achieve big things during Ramadan, and form a group – a mailing list, a discussion forum, a facebook group, a twitter list, whatever technology or means you prefer, but keep a group on hand where you can talk about your goals and share your progress. It will motivate others as well as keep you motivated to stay on track. There may be some fear that one can feel their intention getting compromised by sharing progress, but this something you have to fight. When you feel you may be falling into riyaa, renew your intention and fight that feeling as you keep motivating others while being motivated by them.
Finish Up Last Minute Projects
We’ve spent a lot of time on our planners during this series – I hope you’re making use of one outside of Ramadan. Look at your non-critical projects and complete them to the furthest extent possible and close them until ‘Īd. If you’re working out, it’s time to go into maintenance mode and put your focus on ‘ibadah. If you can do more without compromising your ‘ibadah, then go for it but remember ‘ibadah is the ultimate goal this month. Clean out your non-critical commitments and be focused.
Put Your Peers on Notice
Whether you’re on the job or part of a club, let everyone around you know that you’re fasting the month of Ramadan, sunrise to sunset. For some of us, it may be a great opportunity to open up a discussion about Islam itself with those who may not be in the know. On the job, it may help with planning team events. Letting everyone know in advance also helps head off awkward situations where you have to explain you’re fasting while in the middle of fasting, and your co-worker feeling embarrassed and apologizing, not knowing if they offended you or not.
Get Festive, Not Feisty
The coming of Ramadan is a major undertaking of worship, but it’s also a huge blessing and reward for all of us who put our best selves forward. It’s a time to aim to be forgiven for sins. This is not the time to argue with people. I can’t emphasize this enough – do not begin the month arguing with people about different opinions, no matter how right you think someone is, or how wrong you think another is. As mentioned earlier, focus on ‘ibadah, and arguing is not ‘ibadah in this context for 99.9% of us. And don’t come back and tell me you’re the 0.1%
Post-Ramadan Resolutions to Keep
Towards the last week of Ramadan, you’ll start hearing about Ramadan momentum, Ramadan spirit, and so on and it’s in one ear out the other. The reason is because with all that worship you did, your brain will overload thinking of maintaining all of that, so it will maintain none of it. Do yourself a favor and think of which goals you have mind mind for Ramadan, and then commit to maintaining some small aspect of that which you can maintain 99% of the time. As an example, you may read 1 juz each day of Qur’an, but can’t sustain that every day. No problem, how about 1 page a day? Then make that your post-Ramadan goal.
The other goal to steel yourself for is fasting the 6 days of Shawwaal. Make sure you have a plan to either do six days in a row, or weekends, or whatever strategy you have in mind, just get it done and get the reward for fasting the whole year =)
Chime in the comments section below with your Ramadan Ready tips
The original and expanded version of this Part Three post appeared in Muslim Matters. The original version of the Part Four post also appeared in Muslim Matters. Siraaj is a software engineer whose interests lay in the intersection of personal development and practical Islamic living, particularly with respect to time management and physical fitness. He remains an incorrigible news junkie and lives in the bay area with his family.