Familiar with New Year's Resolutions? Try Ramadan Resolutions.
Most of us are familiar with (and are often well-meaning practitioners of) the New Year’s Resolutions. When one year ends, we get panicky about how we haven’t done very much in the past 300+ days, and to make up for it, we turn our attention to the upcoming new year. We solemnly resolve to lose weight, to earn more income, to run a marathon, to gain a promotion, to get married, to have children, to call our parents more often…
We promise ourselves a lot of things, basically, and some of us even manage to keep them too!
For a few of us, it’s our birthday. Rather than the turning of a calendar page, it’s the dawning sense of old age every time we blow our ever-increasing birthday candles that makes us more reflective than usual and over-eager to finally get our act together. So we make birthday resolutions: “25 things to do before I turn 25” (good luck for when you turn 50).
And then there’s Ramadan resolutions.
What are Ramadan resolutions?
Ramadan resolutions are essentially the same as New Year’s resolutions or birthday resolutions, except they take place in the month of Ramadan in the Islamic calendar.
Ramadan is famous for being the fasting month, in which millions of Muslims around the world participate in. We don’t eat from sunrise to sunset and impress our non-Muslim friends with our starving abilities (I don’t know why, but my non-Muslim friends are always more in awe of my fasting than they are with anything else I’ve ever done in my life. “You haven’t had a single sip of water since morning?? Whooooaaaaaa! I can never do that! You’re AMAZING!”).
Katniss got nothing on me
But beyond the food, or lack of it, Ramadan is also extra special for us spiritually. It is the month in which we believe the Quran was revealed, and is meant to be a time for spiritual renewal.
You can think of it this way: Ramadan is to the year what Friday is to the week. On Fridays, Muslims carve time out of their daily tasks to go for the congregational prayer and often dedicate the entire day for more spiritual activities. Similarly, Ramadan is the spiritual breather among the other eleven busy, busy months, and should ideally be carved out and dedicated for spiritual activities as well.
Given the significance and meaning of the month of Ramadan, what better time to make resolutions?
But what kind of resolutions?
There are stories of superstar spiritual figures who basically double their daily rituals in Ramadan - if they typically pray 20 nightly prayers, they would do 40 in Ramadan, or if they recited the entire Quran once a day, they would do it twice a day while fasting. In my case, I decided not to fool myself and to be more realistic with my significantly limited capabilities and willpower.
When I began making Ramadan resolutions 7 years ago, I started off really easy. My first resolution was to cut down on ‘useless entertainment’ during the month of Ramadan - this meant no music (other than nasyeed) and no movies. Again, the intent is to be more spiritually focused, so I replaced the content I would normally listen to or watch with more spiritual ones.
That was easy and did not require much willpower because I was still listening to and watching things, just different things. In later years, I would gradually move on to more difficult ones that actually required dedication, like:
Never missing Tarawih prayer at the mosque each night
Reading a page of Quran after every prayer
Doing dzikr a thousand times a day
Doing Tahajjud prayers every night (on top of Tarawih prayers)
Giving charity every day
Hopefully the above list gives you some ideas on the kinds of resolutions you can make. However, it also depends on your spiritual ‘state’ and what you want out of yourself. You may already be doing some or all of the things I listed above, and are way more advanced than I am, in which case your resolutions will be very different from mine. Conversely, you may want to go a little easier, and aim to just do the five daily canonical prayers as a start - that works too.
The point is to think of areas in which you lack and want to improve on, and to decide on a small ritual or practice that you can do to get going. Just pick one thing, and resolve to do it for the entire Ramadan.
Failure and cheating
It wasn’t always smooth-sailing for me, and sometimes I would find myself cheating: if somebody else turns on music in the car, or if my roommates put on a movie during Ramadan, then I would listen or watch, because, hey, it wasn’t me. I just happened to be there, and the TV was right in my face, and I don’t want to seem anti-social, etc, etc, etc.
I would ‘forget’ to keep small change in my wallet that’s meant for charity, or I would agree to break my Ramadan fast with friends in a mall and skip Tarawih prayers at the mosque so we can chat the night away. I would sleep through the alarm for Tahajjud prayers, or worse, actually wake up and decide: Meh, I’m too lazy/ tired/ sleepy.
Chances are, it will happen to you too. The key thing is to not beat yourself over it, or think ‘ugh, why even bother’ - just forgive yourself and treat the next day as a new start. Try again, and keep trying. If your heart is in the right place, I can promise you that your effort will bear fruit.
From ritual to comprehension
You may have noticed that my list above is all ritual-based - do this, do that, do it X many times, etc. This is a reflection of the kind of spiritual upbringing I had in which the practices, the dos and the don’ts took centre stage.
Over the last few years, I’ve made some effort to seek more understanding, rather than more rituals. Put another way, I’m aiming for quality over quantity, and it has been evident in the changes with my recent resolutions:
Complete an Arabic class each day
Read at least two books on religion (and not necessarily about Islam only)
Enroll in relevant courses
Recite a page of Quran and then translate it on my own for comprehension
Improve focus (or khusyuk) in prayer
Understand everything I recite during prayer
Not really, but I try to
Currently, I’m also trying to incorporate behavioural resolutions - beyond the rituals and the comprehension, there should also be a corresponding change in how I carry myself. So the resolutions are more like these:
Be more patient
Hold my tongue (and my temper)
Be more charitable
Admittedly, those are very hard for me to achieve, and even harder to quantify (what does it mean to be kinder? in what way?), but nevertheless, with a bit of reflection at the end of Ramadan, I can reasonably tell whether I have succeeded or failed. Which leads me to…
Ramadan resolutions should be accompanied by Ramadan reflections. At the start of the month, take a moment to assess yourself, and set that as the ‘initial state’. At the end of Ramadan, pause for another assessment, and compare who you are with who you were just thirty days ago. Notice any difference?
Some Ramadans will be better than others. Sometimes I’m reasonably pleased with my progress; other times I’m keenly disappointed at doing a lot less than I could have. For the latter, I try to figure out why - what stopped me from achieving my resolutions? What kind of distractions did I face and how I can reduce them next Ramadan?
It is also helpful to jot down your observations for this Ramadan in a journal, and to compare that with previous Ramadans - was it better? did you spend your time more wisely? were you able to take better advantage of the month? It will also help with planning for the next Ramadan, should you still be alive to greet it (insya-Allah!).
Of course, you don’t have to stop when Ramadan ends. As they say, don’t be a Ramadan Muslim, who only remembers that he or she is a Muslim when Ramadan comes.
Ain't that the truth
You’re better off continuing the habits you so painstakingly started and maintained throughout Ramadan - after all, you went through all the trouble, why not carry on with them as part of your daily life?
If you are able to do this Ramadan after Ramadan, year after year, achieving (and keeping) one resolution at a time, they will compound and build on top of each other. One fine day, not too far in the future, you will surprise yourself (hopefully in a good way) with how far you've come along.
And all it took was one little resolution for Ramadan that you're going to make right after you read this. Ramadan Mubarak to you!