RAMADAN IS UPON us and the Internet is almost overflowing with excitement. But some of us feel a sense of anxiety mixed with our enthusiasm for Ramadan – maybe even dread.
Sure, we know what a blessing Ramadan is. It’s a chance to be forgiven, to get a much-needed boost in spirituality and practice. It’s a golden opportunity for us to rid ourselves of bad habits and reorient our purpose towards our Maker. It’s a pillar of Islam.
But on the flip side, especially if you’ve had difficulty fasting in the past, you might feel stressed out and worried. You can’t help but run down the obstacles you know you will face: your whole schedule will be turned upside down, you’ll be faced with fatigue and weakness, unable to sleep a full night, and the usual daily responsibilities will remain unchanged. This year, if you live in the northern hemisphere, the fast can last 16-21 hours or even more.
Perhaps you don’t feel totally healthy and strong. You may fear juggling a strenuous work schedule, prayers and the strain of fasting. Maybe you’re afraid of going all day without coffee. Whatever it is that causes your anxiety about Ramadan, it’s not too late to tackle those fears once and for all.
Below are some tried and true, and most importantly – simple – pointers to help get your mind, body and soul in harmony so that you can make the most of the best month of the year.
To Fast or Not to Fast
First, you should establish that it is safe for you to fast. Not everyone is required to. Those who are travelling, sick, or some women who are pregnant or nursing can forgo fasting and make up the days when their condition permits. People with chronic illness or severe weakness can feed the needy one meal per day without having to make up the days. If you aren’t able to fast this year, the following tips can still be helpful. Read on.
Mind Over Matter: The Power of Optimism
Research shows that when you have a positive frame of mind, you are more likely to see positive results in life. The positive thinking that typically comes with optimism is a key part of effective stress management. (Mayo Clinic) Managing stress effectively produces numerous health benefits, like improved immune health.
If you tend to be pessimistic about Ramadan, don’t despair — you can learn positive thinking skills that can help you ease into Ramadan and truly get the most out of it.
Thinking optimistically about Ramadan doesn’t mean ignoring its challenges, or pretending it’s going to be a piece of cake. It just means that you will approach those challenges in a more productive way: Imagine the best is going to happen, instead of the worst.
For example, instead of thinking, “It’s going to be hard getting up so early for suhûr, then working all day, then praying at night – I won’t get anywhere near enough sleep!” A more positive way to think about that scenario is this: “I know I will be sleeping less at night, and that working during Ramadan will be a challenge, but I’m sure I can find a solution.” Then, find ways to take a good nap after work, or after Fajr. Don’t be stubborn!
Your Body is an Amana
We need to understand that Allah has given us these bodies to carry us through this life. They’ve been given to us as a trust (amâna), and how we care for them is a matter of fulfilling that trust. On the Day of Judgment, you don’t want to feel regretful for having trashed the vessel Allah gave you. Here are some simple ways to care for your fasting body properly:
It’s just a matter of fact: Your schedule will need alteration in Ramadan. I detest sleeping during the day, but for me, napping when the days are long, is a must. For mothers and others with highly demanding jobs, it may sound impossible, but remember – think positively! Try speaking openly with your spouse, or other family members and friends to ask for a little help so that you can get some sleep.
You Are What You Eat
Are you a UFO – an Unidentified Fried Object? Yuck! We live in a time overrun with processed, fried and low-nutrition food. Obesity and cancer are reaching epidemic levels. Being more conscious of what we consume and how it affects our overall health can cure much of our illness and lethargy inshâ’Allah. This Ramadan, follow these simple guidelines:
(1) Hydrate. Allah said,
We made every living thing from water. [Sûrat Al-Anbiyâ’, 21:30]
Our bodies are over 70% water. Therefore, staying hydrated is crucial to staying healthy and makes fasting easier. For Iftar, drink water – avoid sugary drinks and shakes. I’ve found that water with the juice of ¼ lemon is perfectly refreshing. Think about how much water you would need to drink on a normal day and realize you will need to consume that much water overnight in Ramadan. Dehydration can be dangerous. Make water your first priority.
(2) Eat Suḥûr. I once thought eating suḥûr was like cheating. I was wrong. Prophet Muhammad said,
Eat suḥûr; indeed, there is a blessing in suḥûr. [Bukhâri and Muslim]
Need I say more?
(3) Nutrition. You have less time to eat, so you’ve got to make it count. Every bit of food you put into your body should have a purpose other than pleasing your taste buds. If it’s not going to boost your energy and provide essential nourishment, skip it.
Ramadan is about self-control. It makes absolutely no sense to control yourself so well all day, only to go crazy eating empty calories and unhealthy junk all night.
I’ve found a simple way to ensure I’m eating what’s best for my body: eating simple, whole foods: fresh fruits, raw or simply prepared vegetables, grilled meats, soups, and simple grains. The Prophet said,
How excellent are dates for the believer’s suḥûr. (Abû Dâwûd)
Dates are a great source of nutrition and also help maintain hydration, and they require no preparation! So keep it simple this Ramadan and be sure to eat healthier choices first.
(4) Eat Less. Do you over-compensate for not eating all day by eating a huge iftar meal? Don’t! Studies have shown that some Muslims eat more calories, fat, carbs and protein causing significant increase in body weight despite reduced meal frequency in Ramadan. (Pub Med) Manage your portions and stop before you feel full. This is in line with the prophetic approach of eating less overall while fasting.
(5) Vitamins. For those of us with health issues, incorporating vitamins into our daily routine can help us feel healthier and more energetic. I’ve found a combination of vitamins that I take regularly during Ramadan helps me stay stronger all month long.
Fasting has been prescribed for you, as it was before you so that you may attain taqwa. [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:183]
This month, strive for consciousness of Allah in all you do. We don’t want to be the ones who get nothing from our fasts other than hunger and thirst, but that is exactly what we risk when we allow our lives, and the unnecessary stress we feel about Ramadan to overwhelm us and distract us from remembrance of Allah.
Although fasting is physical, its significance lies largely in displaying gratitude to our Lord for having guided us. Take advantage of His providence and read, absorb and ponder over the Quran –plenty– this month.
While your stomach is growling, remember the One who provides you with every morsel of food, every drop of water. Without the sustenance Allah provides so graciously — even when we’re ungrateful, even when we forget Him — How fragile and pathetic we are!
Tell me, if all your water were to disappear in the depths of the earth, who then, will bring you pure running water? [Sûrat Al-Mulk, 67:30]
No Need to Stress
The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the Criterion (of right and wrong) … Allah intends ease for you; He does not desire hardship for you; and wants you to complete the period, and that you magnify Allah for having guided you, and that perhaps you may be thankful. [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:185]
Our Lord wants ease for us, and He wants us to succeed, to return to Him pleased and happy. Ramadan is not a burden or an affliction. It’s no less than a blessing –a much needed opportunity for us to improve ourselves and advance in this test of life.
Overcome your fears and anxiety by taking my advice: think positively, take extra care of your body, connect with the Quran, be grateful and aware of Allah. And don’t forget to make duʿâ’!
There are three people whose duʿâ’s are not rejected: the fasting person until he breaks the fast, the just ruler and the duʿâ’ of the oppressed. (Tirmidhi)
The Almighty is able to help you. Fast with sincere intent and call upon Him throughout the days and nights. By Allah’s permission, you might just have the best Ramadan ever. Then inshâ’Allah next year, instead of fearing the approach of Ramadan, you’ll be with the ones saying, “Oh Allah let us reach Ramadan!”