My enthusiasm and expectations are high at the beginning of every Ramadhan. Unfortunately, by the end of the month, I am always disappointed in myself and feeling, well, like a loser. Just last Ramadhan, I finally realised how completely unrealistic I was about maximising my Ramadhan barakah and I made plans to spend the following year prepping to be my best for this Ramadhan.
Every Ramadhan, in addition to the complete upheaval of fasting and how that affects my scheduling and energy, I want to do so much more – too much. I want to read the entire Qur’an at least once (with commentary!); pray taraweeh every night plus tahajjud every morning; make all possible sunnah prayers; say all the du’as before and after prayer in addition to any and all other applicable du’as I have not yet learned by heart (such as when the random braying donkey passes by the house!); and of course I want to make special things with my kids and so on and so on. And although I normally don’t do this, I find myself comparing my performance to what I hear other sisters are doing during the holy month, which only fuels my disappointment. Certainly all this and more are perfectly possible for some people, but, in my case, I am truly being unrealistic. Especially since some of these things are big ‘ibadah add-ons for me, not things I do regularly anyway, and therefore don’t have the Arabic memorised or the habits in place.
Towards the end of Ramadhan 2011, when I was getting into self-pity mode, I had a light bulb moment and made the commitment to slowly add on all the acts of ‘ibadah I wanted to do during Ramadhan throughout the year. Professional time management-type people say it takes about 20 to 30 days of consistent practice to make a new habit a regular habit. Initiating a new habit every 20 days or so, you and I could potentially add on a minimum of 18 new acts of ‘ibadah over the year. Personally, with this new kinder and gentler-to-myself attitude, I set my bar a little lower, and did manage to acquire a few good and regular new habits.
Keep it regular
Narrated ‘A’isha (RA): Allah’s Apostle said, “Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately and know that your deeds will not make you enter Paradise, and that the most beloved deed to Allah is the most regular and constant even though it were little.” (Bukhari)
My goal wasn’t to pile on each and every possible additional act of worship; rather, I just wanted to increase my regular habits so that I could still do an increase in Ramadhan, though a much more realistic increase.
Often after Ramadhan, especially considering what ages and stages I am dealing with from my home-educated children, I am simply worn out and eagerly welcome regular eating and sleeping habits. That Ramadhan, in 2011, I was sure to give myself a little nudge and kept my fasting momentum going and, as is recommended by the Prophet (SAW), I got in a few days of fasting during Shawwal. I had planned to keep right on going and fast regularly on Mondays and Thursdays as I have done in some prior years, but alhamdulillah, Allah (SWT) is the best of planners and soon enough, the tell-tale signs of morning sickness had me snacking on protein throughout the day. Still, I know from prior experience that when I can keep up my regular fasts throughout the year, Ramadhan is much less of a shock to my system.
The early days of pregnancy had me getting up during the night – a perfect incentive to pray tahajjud! I had asked Allah (SWT) to help me in my plan and, subhanAllah, now I physically had to get up during the night! In addition to adding in some sunnah prayers, I also planned to learn some new-to-me du’as said before and after prayers. Again, the pregnancy was a mixed blessing: while some days I felt too tired to do anything, on others I remembered to grab my book of du’as and sat with it after prayers. Remaining seated for dhikr was also easy enough to do when my energy was low.
Planning for success
Admittedly, I’m not much of a strategic planner, and though my goals were specific enough, they were not mapped out to a T. Among my plans were to remain flexible (as a mama of seven needs to be), but to also have end goals and the means to meet them, such as keeping my du’a book in the same place so I could always find it when I needed it and sticking to a regular sleep schedule so that I could get up during the night. There are many Qur’an and du’a apps available for folks who keep their smartphones and e-readers handy. Writing out a plan is an excellent resource for any goal management and while I hope to do so for next year (insha Allah, I’m getting better and better at this!) you may want to try this approach right away.
Throughout this month, make notes of goals you would like to have mastered by next Ramadhan, then write out a practical game plan right after ‘Eid! Then find some pragmatic strategies you think would best work for you. There are many tricks to help you develop new habits. Just as many people use a buddy system for dieting or exercise, find yourself an ‘ibadah buddy. Consider your children, your spouse or another sister; you may need different buddies for different acts of ‘ibadah – maximise the barakah there too! Get back into the school habit: join a class or an online group with one or some of the same goals you have established for the year, such as learning new surahs or performing other acts of ‘ibadah.
In addition to regular acts of worship, regularly take advantage of occasional opportunities, such as greeting your sister with a smile or clearing rubbish out of the road. Consider acts of ‘ibadah that benefit others or your entire community, such as regularly donating food or money to foodbanks or cleaning the mosque. Some years I have wondered, “If it weren’t for zakah, would I remember to help feed others at all?” Next year, when Ramadhan comes around, know that you have been doing your best all year and step into Ramadhan confidently and realistically, ready to really reap your maximum barakah, insha Allah.
In the nearly two decades Brooke Benoit has been Muslim, no two Ramadhans have ever looked much the same to her. This year will be Brooke’s longest fasts insha Allah, and she is introducing a new tradition – an advent calendar for the month, but she hasn’t yet decided how to use it with her seven children.