Every year during Ramadan, I put too much pressure on myself thinking about post-Ramadan life and psych myself out. I tell myself that this will be the year that I finally get my life together. This will be the year that I can be more than just a Ramadan Muslim. And then invariably, something goes wrong in my life and I find myself doubting my faith and slipping into bad habits all over again.
It hasn’t always been this way. Growing up, I looked forward to Ramadan as the time of year when I’d get to wear salwar kameezes, put on jewelry and stretch the boundaries of what amount of makeup my mom would let me wear for the Saturday night iftar potlucks in the basement of the local church (given that in our town, we didn’t have a masjid of our own). Even though it was hard, I was always excited to answer questions from my classmates about why I wasn’t eating lunch with them. I even took pride in answering the 50 million ~shocked~ variations of “Not even water??”.
But then life started to happen. The older I got, the more I was exposed to a world that involved abuse, stalking, attempted rape and sexual assault. As a result of this exposure, I developed eating disorders and PTSD, along with major depression and anxiety. Especially towards the latter part of high school and when I moved to college, Ramadan stopped being a fun affair for the whole family and started to feel more and more like a burden. It was more than just the novelty being gone and the usual crankiness that comes with not eating and being dehydrated for hours. It was that Ramadan messed with the effectiveness of my medications and made me feel unstable. I worried constantly about slipping back into my anorexic tendencies — the deliberate abstention from eating felt too similar to how I used just to not eat at lunch and come home and hide my food to avoid getting in trouble with my parents in 7th, then 8th, 9th and 10th grade.
I became mad at myself.
And I became mad at God.
And that is where I was wrong.
It took a conversation with a friend that I met last summer to remind me that to struggle is not to be weak and that even weakness is not a sin. In the middle of a Starbucks in D.C., as we waited for sundown, he reminded me that Islam is a religion of mercy and how much of our faith is reliant on individual intention. Most importantly, he reminded me that while I should always strive to improve my deen, I need to stop being so self-critical that it creates disillusionment with Islam, despite Allah SWT’s repeated emphasis on mercy. I need to remind myself to hold myself to a high standard, yes, but that at the end of the day, only Allah can judge you, which means no one else can — not even yourself.
So this year, I’m focusing on this month alone, and not daunting myself with expectations of what’s to come. This year, here are five ways you can prepare for Ramadan, even if you’ve written yourself off as a “Bad Muslim.”
- If Ramadan is a painful or unhealthy experience — physically or mentally — abstain from fasting.
Ramadan is meant to be a test of our patience and our empathy, not a test of our ability to be neurotypical.
- Set tangible, realistic goals.
Maybe reading the entire Qur’an during the month (while it should be encouraged and is very admirable) isn’t even imaginable for you. Rather than getting frustrated and giving up completely, set smaller goals, such as aiming to just pray at least Maghrib and ‘Isha every day. Mecca wasn’t built in a day, and neither are good habits — but with a little effort, visible progress is a possibility.
- Find other ways to worship.
One of the most beautiful things about Islam is how many actions count as little acts of faith. Volunteer service and zakat are always fool-proof ways to contribute to both your community and your deen. Even just being less petty (something I know I myself need to work on!) and smiling more can count as sunnah!
As I wrote last year, remember that “the deen is ease.” Go easy on yourself, and while a little guilt now and then is a good catalyst for change, don’t let yourself become consumed by guilt. Instead, leave more room in your mind to focus on loving Allah however you are able, and becoming closer to Him and His Mercy.
- Be honest in your intentions.
Even though being overly self-critical is wrong, looking for an easy out is just as bad. Ramadan isn’t supposed to be a full-on life-or-death trial, but it’s still supposed to be a test, and it’s still an opportunity to improve yourself and your deen — which means intention is everything. If you know you’re doing something wrong (as I often do), instead of giving up on Islam, actively try to give up the habit. You’re going to mess up, but that’s okay. It’s all about honestly trying in the first place.
Whether you see yourself as a traditionally “Good Muslim” or a “Bad Muslim,” Ramadan Mubarak. May Allah keep us all in His Mercy.