Ramadan diaries: where is your heart?

The best Ramadan I think I ever had was the summer before I started college. I had just graduated high school, was pretty much free the entire summer and could devote myself completely to worship. Since then, I have not been lucky enough to have such an opportunity and if I’m being honest, I probably never will again. As I stated in my previous post, I’m currently studying to retake an exam I did not pass earlier this year. There’s a lot of pressure associated with studying for this exam because if I don’t pass I’ll have to repeat first year, which I would of course like to avoid if possible. So needless to say, my main focus these days is studying the musculoskeletal system and unfortunately Ramadan has been on the back burner.

When Ramadan started this year I wasn’t as excited as I usually am because it felt like an inconvenience in the middle of my studying for this exam. And I honestly have felt really guilty for thinking of such a blessed month in this way. After spending a couple hours reflecting on why I was feeling this way, I realized that unlike previous years, my heart just wasn’t in it. And when I thought about why, it felt like Ramadan was all or nothing. Either I could completely devote myself to worship or I just shouldn’t even bother. But that honestly is really ridiculous. Islam is all about balance and teaches us a way of life. It’s not meant to burden or inconvenience us. Quite the contrary; it makes life easier.

For most of us, a month of complete devotion to nothing but worship is a pretty much out of the question. While that would be wonderful, real life is calling us with its plethora of responsibilities. So over the past few days I’ve thought about ways we can all integrate worship into our daily lives and hopefully maintain these things even after Ramadan has left us. I’ve listed some of these below as a reminder to myself first and foremost and insha’Allah in hopes of helping others who may be struggling.

May Allah accept from us all.

  1. Keep some Islamic reading next to your bed. 
    I currently have my favorite translation of the Qur’an by Muhammad Farooq-i-Azan Malik on my side table. I try to pick this up every night and read the translations of the surahs that I know by heart to review their meanings so I can have more khusoo’ in my salat. Another suggestion would be to read a book on the life of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and one of my favorites is In the Footsteps of the Prophet by Tariq Ramadan.
  2. When you eat, eat well.
    Our body is an amanah from God and we should do our very best to care for it. So make sure you’re drinking enough water between iftar and suhoor. Try to avoid fried and sugary foods at either of these meals. Stick with foods high in fibers/grains and healthy fats (like avocados) that digest throughout the day, keeping you full longer.
  3. If you have friends spending Ramadan on their own, invite them over for iftar.
    For a couple years in college I was living with non-Muslims during Ramadan, and while it was a wonderful opportunity for da’wah, I can assure you that there is nothing lonelier than breaking fasts alone. For those of us who are lucky to be born into Muslim families, we have a herd of people always on the ready to break fast with us. But that’s not the case for everyone. So if you know someone who may need some company, invite them over. This goes for Eid celebrations as well!
  4. Make the intention of ibadah, in all your actions.
    Worship is not restricted to salat or dua’a or reading Qur’an. Every one of our actions should be for the sake of Allah and we should make the intention as such. I’ve spent a majority of the first week of Ramadan studying the human body and while that may not immediately seem like an act of worship, it most definitely is. In the long term, my biggest motivation for studying to become a physician is to one day help God’s people heal and in order to do that, I need to study a bunch. And in an immediate sense, I think the word I mutter most often while studying is “SubhanAllah” because I’m in constant awe of how amazing of a creation humans really are. So make the intention that all you do is for the sake of Allah.
  5. Watch lectures on YouTube.
    When I was in Haiti a few years ago, one of the convert brothers hosting us was learning about Islam and how to read Qur’an almost entirely via YouTube. In the U.S. we are most definitely spoiled with access to so many masajids and opportunities to learn about our faith but we don’t always have the time, energy or money to gain access. YouTube is honestly a great substitute because you can choose which Sheikh you’d like to listen to, the length of the lecture, whether you want to listen to it all at once or break it up into multiple sessions, when you’ll actually be listening. So when it’s that last hour before iftar and you need to do something passive, rather than watching another episode of Orange is the New Black, look up a lecture by your favorite speaker to get you in the spirit of Ramadan. I’ve included a couple potential lectures below:

  6. Reflect.
    Ramadan is a time when our physical state of thirst, hunger and general discomfort forces us to be aware of our faith during all daylight hours so why not use it as an opportunity to ponder what Islam means to us? Reflection is such an important part of our faith. Why do I do what I do? How can I be better? How can I be a better helper of God? And most importantly: where is your heart? is it with God or is it with dunya?
    So reflect in whatever way works best for you: meditation, sitting in the shade under a beautiful tree, write. But take the time to do so because the reflection we do this month is something that pushes us throughout the rest of the year.
  7. Be kind to yourself.
    Allah is the most merciful. He, better than anyone, understands the struggles we all go through. So keep struggling and be kind and patient with yourself. No struggle goes unnoticed.

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