Want to simplify your life? These Ramadan lessons offer practical tips for everyone, Muslims, people of other faiths and no faith.
Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, is special to Muslims as a holy period dedicated to fasting, self-purification, and spiritual attainment.
Whether you’re Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or just a spiritual seeker, you can probably appreciate the goals of Ramadan: a whole-body awareness of God and a humble thankfulness for whatever blessings He has granted.
Achieving those goals is a challenge for anyone. But after 20 years of fasting, I’ve learned some valuable lessons to simplify and spiritualize the Ramadan experience and how to keep that special feeling alive throughout the year, lessons that can help anyone make their life a little more spiritual and uncomplicated.
So check out these tips, whether you’re a Muslim who’s been fasting for years, or just someone looking for more depth in your spiritual life.
1. Take the Remembrance of God Inward
For all: Spending whatever downtime you have to remember God or peacefully meditate is a great idea for everyone. Thousands of hours go by every year in our work commutes and in chauffeuring our kids around. Why not try to use that time to quiet our minds, remind ourselves of a higher being, and appreciate what we’ve been given?
For Muslims: Do dhikr (reciting short du’as, or supplications) silently while you’re driving, waiting in line somewhere, or doing endless household tasks. Keep a thasbi (the equivalent of a Muslim rosary) in your purse or pocket and use it to count off du’as (prayers).
2. Appreciate Technology, Then Tune It Out
For all: Use the technology to do what you need to do for work and family. But then, instead of spending hours surfing the web or TV channels, fight the urge and tune out. Discover your family, and discover meditation and prayer. You can start slow, cut out an hour of web surfing (or one TV program) every week and build up.
For Muslims: In past Ramadans I always went on a sort of technology crash diet–television, music, inane web surfing, and movies were all self-banned for 30 days. All the extra time was designated for reading Qur’an, praying, and reconnecting with my family. Well, crash diets never work in the long term.
So the better thing to do is to use technology wisely: Use your email to stay in contact with friends and family, get the news from television and the Internet, and use your ipod to listen to Qur’anic prayers. And when basic needs have been met, turn the technology off and take the extra time to pray and reconnect.
3. Share Meals Together as a Family
For all: The family dinner is a concept hammered home by family and social organizations. Even some television stations, like Nickelodeon, show spots advising us to “Make time for the family table.” A weekly or bi-weekly family dinner is a great time to reconnect, to learn about each other, and to discuss a designated list of topics that are of interest to your family.
For Muslims: Having iftar (the fast-breaking meal at sunset) as a family is best during Ramadan. Muslims follow a lunar calendar, which moves Ramadan back 10 days earlier each year. This year most iftars will be after 5 pm, Breaking the fast with the family is a great opportunity to appreciate one another’s holy efforts and discuss spiritual topics, otherwise have dinner together.
4. Do New Types of Charity
For all: Recognizing the things you do for family and friends as acts of goodness that are acknowledged by God is a great step toward achieving inner spirituality. But do take a step out of your comfort zone to tackle one small charitable project each month, whether it’s donating a little money each day to your favorite charity or taking charge of your office’s annual volunteer project.
For Muslims: After becoming a parent, I used to get discouraged that I couldn’t properly do those things recommended to Muslims during Ramadan: Go for tarawih prayers or read the entire Qur’an. But my mom and mother-in-law gave me sound insight: Everything you do for the comfort of your family is charity and a way of worshipping God.
That being said, Ramadan is a great time to try new acts of charity and goodness: Put aside a can of food a day and donate it all when the month is up. Cook a few dishes and take them to your mosque for those who come there to have iftar.
5. Get to Your House of Worship and Find Community
For all: If you are religious, try visiting your church, synagogue, or temple outside of regular worship services. You may meet different people and take part in different experiences that can replenish your spiritual well. If you don’t favor any particular house of worship, designate some spot, a park or your backyard at sunset–where you feel some calm, and visit it with family or friends, free of mental distractions, and with a focus on each other.
For Muslims: About the only time most Muslim-Americans go to the mosque is for Friday prayers or for Sunday school. During Ramadan, why not make the mosque an integral part of worship? Go there for as many tarawih prayers as you can, especially the end ones when the Qur’an is being completed. Pick one day a week and go to your mosque for iftar. It’s amazing how good we feel to see others fasting and striving as much as we are.
6. Realize That Faith and Worldly Life Go Hand-in-Hand
For all: Finding and maintaining a balance between spiritual pursuits and life practices is always a good idea. Resolving to remember God more or to be spiritual in other ways can be a soulful way to center ourselves. But I’ve found that only trained holy persons or gurus can be spiritual or religious-minded 100 percent of the time. The rest of us should make time for worldly and spiritual practices.
For Muslims: During Ramadan some Muslims indulge in spiritual extremes, they may try to shutdown all “worldly” aspects of life, like watching TV or playing with kids, and replace it with all spiritually related activities. But man cannot exist on prayer alone. Yes, Ramadan is the month when Muslims are told that God stops the devil from harassing us, and our prayers are more powerful. But though we must ramp up our spiritual practices, we need to keep up our everyday routines.
7. Don’t Wait for Ramadan to Get More Spiritual
For all: If you want to become more spiritual, pray more, practice your religion more closely, or read religious scripture more, working up to it will help you attain your goal and maintain it in the long run. Starting any new practice (or giving something up in small increments) will help you gain a taste for it and work it into your regular routine. Going full blast or cold turkey is rarely the best way.
For Muslims: Imam Zaid Shakir has a popular video about preparing for Ramadan as if you’re training for a big race. You can’t just stand at the starting line and then all of a sudden run the spiritual race. Start by fasting on Mondays and Thursdays in Shaban (the month preceding Ramadan) as prescribed by hadith (verified sayings of Prophet Muhammad). Want to read the entire Qur’an in Ramadan? Then before Ramadan, put aside 15 minutes each day to read the Qur’an.
8. Avoid a Spiritual Letdown
For all: At some point, you’re probably going to work towards a big goal. Maybe you want to lose 10 pounds. Maybe you’re going to kick smoking. So you’ll go all-out to achieve that goal. But once it’s done, avoid the letdown. It’s so easy to go back to old habits once a goal is accomplished. Instead, focus on small ways to maintain that momentum. Making life-altering changes is great. But it’s how we manage small, daily changes that make the real, long-term difference.
For Muslims: One of the biggest Ramadan problems is what happens immediately afterward. Muslims are consumed with fasting and prayer. Then Ramadan ends and we resume the mantle of our everyday flawed lives. What we should be doing is keeping some of our good Ramadan habits throughout the year.
So be sure to engage in a cool-down period afterward with an eye toward maintaining some of your Ramadan practices. Try fasting one day a week. Resolve to keep up a charitable practice. Read the Qur’an for five minutes daily. A little bit goes a long way.
(Adapted from ‘How to Make Your Life More Spiritual’ by Dilshad D Ali, Beliefnet).