For most of the Muslims I know, the month of Ramadan is their favorite time of the year. The longs fasts, the drowsy suhoors, the warm iftars, the family gatherings, Taraweeh prayers that flow into the night, and even the feeling in the air. I cannot pinpoint what part of Ramadan makes it what it is, but I can testify that it truly embodies every meaning of the word holy.
You can, therefore, imagine my surprise when last year, Ramadan came around and I simply didn’t care. Sure I recognized its significance, and partook in it as a religious obligation, but needless to say something felt missing.
By the grace of God, I somehow worked through the month and have been blessed to witness Ramadan this year with higher spirits. I have also since learned that feeling disconnected from the spirit of Ramadan is not an uncommon reality. It is something many Muslims — especially those of us living in the West — grapple with on an annual basis. Many of us are also first and second generation children of immigrants, and so most of our extended family members are “back home”. This makes Ramadan a little lonelier. So without further ado, below are five handy tips that have helped me navigate the murkiness of last year and that I plan on applying this year too:
1) Make a list!
This includes a list of goals, prayers, habits to take up/give up and anything in between. This can be as dedicated as an agenda or as effortless as a note on your cell phone. Although you might feel unenthused about Ramadan, making a list and referring to it often will keep you on track. And slowly but surely, it will also help uplift your faith and spirit.
2) Do something different
The rewards gained during this month are quadruple the number of rewards on a regular day. Go out of your way to abundantly give charity to a cause that is near to your heart, volunteer for a not-for-profit, or take your non-Muslim friends out for iftar. Ramadan is about more than just fasting, it’s about generosity and selflessness.
This tip is something you can tailor to your lifestyle and schedule and is something you wouldn’t do on a typical day. The feeling you get after volunteering your time for the sake of Allah or sharing a meal with the purpose of educating your friends will remind you of the beauty of Ramadan.
3) Love Ramadan
Decorate your house out with fairy lights and lanterns. Make special plans with your friends and family, and give dates to all your neighbours. The Ramadan spirit is infectious, and by spreading the joy, the joy of it will inevitably come back to you.
4) Put in the effort
Ramadan isn’t supposed to be easy. And this disconnect is perhaps a test we have to pass. So yes, we have to try a little harder than most people. Amid the everyday blur of your life, make it a point to take some time out of your day to renew your intentions and doing at least one task for the sake of Ramadan (refer back to Tip #1). This could be reading a chapter a day of the Quran, or going to Taraweeh prayers after a long day of work. By the end of the day, you’ll feel the blessings of Ramadan. Because despite the 10-hour shift, the two papers you had to write, and having to cook iftar all by yourself, you still did something just for your creator and that makes all the difference.
At the end of the day, reflect on how your day went. Reflect on the little blessings, the stranger who wished you a Ramadan Mubarak, the bus driver who smiled back, and the employers who respect your fasting needs. Reflect on the work you put in for iftar or the essay that you wrote, and make a note to do everything intentionally for Allah. To take care of your family, to pursue your education all the way down to the mere act of getting up in the morning. By recognizing the small blessed opportunities in your daily life, you will see that you’ve been observing Ramadan all along.
Last year, I didn’t feel spiritually prepared for Ramadan and eventually ended up dreading the day it would start. Not because I didn’t want it to begin, but because I didn’t want this holy month to come and go just like any other month. I wanted to make it worthwhile, but mostly, I wanted to feel worthy of it.
I wanted to feel deserving of something I knew to be special but was unable to rightfully give it its due.
At the end of the day, remember that Ramadan isn’t only reserved for the prepared or for the righteous and pious Muslims. For some of us, Ramadan is a beginning. It’s for the unprepared, the disconnected, the misguided and the confused souls who feel like they can’t reconcile the spirit of Ramadan with their daily lives. Ramadan is not a problem we work towards solving and dread getting the wrong answer. It is, simply put, a solution.
So here we are. With all our guilt and misguidance. With all our confusion and unreadiness. With all our problems and whirlwind days. Ramadan is a new beginning.
In Arabic, Ramadan Kareem, like Ramadan Mubarak, is a common holiday greeting. It translates to “Ramadan is generous.” The correct response is Allah Akram, meaning “Allah is more generous.” So if you’re feeling a little low because Ramadan isn’t starting the way you would have liked, remember that Allah is generous, in fact, he is Al-Kareem; generosity defined. You’ve been given the most generous of chances.