Ramadhan is the sacred month when Muslims fast for the pleasure of our Creator; when we set an intention to be disciplined in our fasting and our worship so that we may nourish our souls and rejuvenate our minds and bodies. What is Ramadhan and why do Muslims fast? may be useful if you are not acquainted with any Muslims.
Those coming to learn about Ramadhan in the Gulf may think that Ramadhan traditions are all about the lavish Iftar (meal taken to break the fast) and Suhoor (meal taken before the break of dawn) buffets at grand (and not so grand) hotels and restaurants that are marketed weeks in advance of the start of the holy month. Or that Ramadhan is a time for excessive food waste and extended mall shopping hours.
Advantages of fasting during Ramadhan
- we increase our acts of obedience to Allah
- our sins are expiated
- our desires and lusts are broken
- we increase our charitable giving and acts
- we increase in gratitude to Allah
- we prevent ourselves from committing sins
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him) related that Allah the Almighty said:
All the actions of people are for them, except for fasting. Fasting is for Me and it is I who rewards it.
How to prepare for Ramadhan
Ramadan has 29-30 days and for much of this period we go about our normal routines but with the added element of tiredness, hunger and thirst, often accompanied by detox headaches. To derive the most benefit from worship during this sacred month there are a few things that we can do to maximize our time spent on fruitful activities.
- Don’t wait until the first day of Ramadhan to start new habits but prepare spiritually by starting in the weeks prior. This may include performance of optional prayers, improving manners and attitudes and ridding ourselves of bad habits that drain our time and energy.
- Try to reduce the unhealthy foods in the weeks leading up to Ramadhan so that our bodies are already detoxified by the time the fasting starts, and keep dehydrating foods like caffeinated beverages to a minimum.
- Establish a pattern of early sleeping and rising prior to Ramadhan so that we get sufficient sleep and to minimize the disruption to routines during Ramadhan.
- Try to focus our thoughts on improving our own manners, character and worship by reading more Qur’an and listening to lectures about the religion and faith.
- Engage in the remembrance of Allah during any free time like when driving to work and back, or standing in line in the shops.
- Ensure that the children are included and that they understand the purpose of Ramadhan and why Muslims fast.
- Include the children in the performance of charitable acts and explain to them why it is important to help the poor so that they learn by the example set by their elders.
- Spring clean and re-organize the living space and ensure that the grocery shopping and menus are planned at least for the first week or two. This may include advance preparation of food that can be frozen and will result in less stressful times especially when having guests over for iftar.
- Buy Eid clothes and gifts. Though many leave this until the last week of Ramadhan when most people are tired and grumpy and not in the mood for shopping, it could be done before or in the first week of Ramadhan.
- If the children have completed the month of fasting, plan to reward them with special gifts.
Activities during Ramadhan
The popular saying ‘Failing to plan is planning to fail’ applies to having a successful Ramadhan, as much as it does to successful execution of projects. We may end up wasting precious days during the sacred month if we do not have a clearly defined plan and a set of goals.
- Set the intention for the month by thinking about what it is in our lives that we want to change and what we have to do to have a happier more fulfilled life.
- Set realistic goals for a Ramadhan re-set and break these down to daily tasks, like reading Qur’an every day or praying Taraweeh prayers every night.
- Make a schedule that includes both regular routine activities as well as setting aside specific times for spiritual activities.
- Fasting is not obligatory for pre-pubescent children but it helps to introduce them to fasting with shorter fasts like 1/4 or 1/2 day so that they become accustomed to this aspect of worship. Very often the children ask to fast because they see their parents fasting and want to emulate their example. We make a special iftar when it is time for them to break their fast.
- Observe prayers on time with faith and sincerity as well as performing night prayers at Taraweeh and/or Tahajjud.
- Allow the children to attend the Taraweeh prayers so that they can be part of the congregation and feel the community spirit.
- Engage in repentance and ask forgiveness for our sins and transgressions.
- Reciting, memorization and reflecting on the verses of the Qur’an.
- Increase in making sincere du’ah (supplications) for ourselves, our families and all humanity.
- Increase our charitable acts and feeding the less fortunate. This may include hosting or attending community iftar or suhoor functions.
- Show love and appreciation for our families and gratitude for the blessings that we have.
- Encouraging and motivating ourselves and others to do good deeds.
- Lailatul Qadr, or the night of decree, is the night that the Qur’an was sent down as a guidance for mankind and falls within the last 10 nights of Ramadhan. During the last 10 nights Muslims are encouraged to increase our worship and charity and show exemplary character so that we may derive benefit from our worship, and this includes spending much of the night in prayer and supplication.
- Make arrangements for the Zakat al Fitr to be given on time.
During Ramadhan Muslims are encouraged to increase our repentance and supplication to Allah. The best times for supplication are:
- The last third of the night. This is the time for tahajjud prayer but even a dua can be said.
- Laylat al-Qadr.
- Between Adhan and Iqamah.
- While in sujood.
- After the obligatory (fardh) salat.
- While travelling.
Challenges during Ramadhan
- Broken or insufficient sleep – Waking up around 3:30 am to eat and drink copious amounts of water, praying the early morning prayer and trying to take another nap before it is time to get ready for work at 6:45 am, is exhausting by day 3.
- Feeling too ragged to talk to people first thing in the morning and hoping no one will drop by for a chat.
- Praying that no one tries to pick an argument without the benefit of the morning caffeine fix. Try to be polite and gracious even when provoked.
- Functioning normally while our heads hurt and we are dehydrated by 11 am.
- Cooking without being able to taste the seasoning (may result in too much or too little salt or spice).
- Trying not smell our own fasting breath by the end of week 1, and failing hopelessly.
- Reminding ourselves to engage in supplication or repentance, instead of watching the minutes tick by until the call for Maghrib prayer and breaking the fast.
- Overeating after the deprivations of the day is common at iftar but results in being sluggish for prayers after. Try to eat sparingly and minimize foods that are high in processed carbohydrates as these may result in blood sugar spikes.
- Remembering to rehydrate with sufficient water until an hour before bedtime, so we don’t have to keep getting up in the night.
Suhoor – pre-dawn meal
It is recommended that Muslims eat something for suhoor, even if it is just a sip of water. The best foods to eat for suhoor are those that have a lower glycaemic load and that offer slow release energy. This ensures that the fasting person is able to maintain a semblance of normality during the day without any major energy drops.
- Low carb Almond coconut bread
- Shakshuka poached eggs in spicy tomato sauce
- Almond coconut breakfast pancakes
- Low carb healthy berry smoothie
- 30 day Raisin Bran muffins
Iftar – breaking the fast
Very often our bodies crave fried foods after fasting and instead of shedding weight we actually pile on the kilos during Ramadhan. It is recommended to break the fast with dates and water and to keep the intake of food moderate. During winter stews are good and during summer salads are very cooling and refreshing.
- Vegan Red Lentil Soup
- Creamy Mushroom Soup
- Chicken salad
- Quinoa Salad with pomegranate, walnuts and feta
Do you have any tips on how to make the most of Ramadhan? Please share them with us in the comments. To those who are fasting – Ramadhan Mubarak to you and your families.
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