by Na’ima B. Robert
When your newsfeed and inbox first started to fill up with notifications about preparing for Ramadan, you had realised that, yes, it’s been a year. A year since you last pushed yourself to your limits: low on food, low on sleep, high on Qur’an, high on salah, high on iman. Now, with a few days left of Ramadan, with posts and messages on how to make the last few days count, you realise again, Ramadan has slipped past us once more.
This is the situation most of us find ourselves in. We start each Ramadan full of good intentions, full of plans, full of goals we want to achieve. The month begins and we start strong. We’re keeping up, we’re getting there. The moon grows fuller – the middle of the month beckons – and we start to feel ourselves slowing down. We’re slipping. But then the last ten days give us the push we need. We’re tired, we’re stressed, but we’re determined to ride it out, to finish strong. If I sound like I’m using the language of a particularly brutal workout session or a marathon, maybe it’s because that’s what Ramadan can be like, especially for those who seek to truly make the most of the month of mercy: it’s an iman marathon.
But what happens after the marathon? What happens once you’ve completed the race? If you’re like most of us, you find yourself slowing right down. Some of us come to a complete standstill. And, just like that, the “Ramadan Effect” is over.
But what if we did things differently this year? What if we made a conscious decision not to crash and burn? To pace ourselves. To see the month of Ramadan itself as the training ground, and the rest of the year as the marathon. To use this month for growth, for transformation in the long term.
What I am suggesting isn’t new. It isn’t radical. We all hope for positive change during Ramadan. But what I am trying to do this year is take a less short-term approach to my ‘ibadah in Ramadan.
So, in these last nights of Ramadan, I am looking at the month of Ramadan and beyond. Really thinking about it, visualising it. What will I do during Ramadan and how can I continue after ‘Eid? Can I build relationships based on service that will continue after Ramadan? Can I invest in sadaqah jariyyah? Can I create a realistic plan that will enable me to remain connected to the Qur’an throughout the year?
In essence, what seeds can I plant in Ramadan that will flourish throughout the rest of the year?
The first step in planning for a transformational Ramadan is introspection: looking deep inside yourself, with love and honesty, and deciding how you would like to be transformed. You know your weaknesses, your strengths, where you need to make changes, where you need to push harder. So, this is the time to look within, fearlessly, and dare to consider change.
Some of our worst habits are established over a long period of time. In that time, they could have become a part of us, a part of our personality, our character, our trademarks. These are often the hardest to shift because, first, you need to acknowledge that this particular character trait isn’t one you should be proud of.
Maybe you’re always late. Maybe you always have a juicy story to tell. Maybe you’re always tuned in to the latest celebrity scandal. Maybe you have that sarcastic biting wit that everyone (except the victim) loves so much. Maybe you love your food or sleep or social media just a little too much. It doesn’t matter whether the people around you love it or accept it or merely tolerate it. The question you need to ask yourself is this: is this a habit you want to go before Allah سبحانه و تعالى with? Is this something you are proud to present to Allah سبحانه و تعالى ? If not, it’s time to get to work.
Who is this ‘transformed’ you? What does s/he look like? What does s/he do differently? You need to see it to believe it. You have to create this image of yourself in your mind’s eye so that you know what you are working towards. Make it real. Find out what makes it tick.
For example, if I were to ask the transformed version of myself how s/he manages to memorise Qur’an and keep up with studying, s/he would probably tell me that s/he spends less time on social media and says ‘No’ more often to social engagements. Now, this may not be what I want to hear, but if I am serious about transformation, about being a better me, I need to bear in mind what s/he is saying.
So, visualise and bring the transformed you to life in your head, so that you have something concrete to work towards. Make du’a to Allah, bearing in mind what you have visualised. He is capable of all things: ask Him to grant you this vision if it is good for you in this life and the next. And trust in Him.
Organisation & Determination
There are plenty of resources available to help us plan for a productive and transformational Ramadan: use them. Do a search and get yourself organised. Make a list of what you want to achieve, your goals, and make notes on how you will achieve those goals.
If it’s about reading the entire Qur’an, how are you going to go about it? Four pages after each salah? A juz’ during your taraweeh at home? Or in your sunan? Reading and getting ahead in the first third of the month before the lag starts to set in? You think about it and work it out.
If it’s about spending less time in the kitchen, think about how you will go about this. Perhaps you need to cook in batches and freeze some of it. Maybe you need to specifically focus on simpler recipes or less time-consuming cooking methods. You may need to invest in a crock pot (pressure cooker) or extra Tupperware or extra help with cooking. You know your situation so give it some thought and take the necessary steps to achieve your goal, bi’idhnillah.
But all this, you know. You know that the resources are there, on ProductiveMuslim.com and countless other sites like it. My intention is not to repeat what is already out there but to ask you to consider Ramadan as a catalyst for lifelong change. Just as you should not follow a healthy diet or workout programme just be to lose a certain number of inches, you should plan to adopt a healthy and active spiritual renewal programme for life, bi’idhnillah.
So, stick to your training in Ramadan. Don’t give up, don’t cheat, don’t put it off. Keep pushing, keep striving, keep training yourself for the challenge that is yet to come: living a transformed life, after the month of Ramadan is over.