"What makes a revert's approach to Ramadan any different than any other Muslim? After all, Ramadan is an act of worship obligatory for us all: "O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may (learn) self-restraint." (2:183)
However, entering into Islam later in life means you may not have had the benefit of all those years of preparation which many born into Islam have had, and may find your feelings about the approaching month at odds with those around you. As an excitement about the approaching month seems to come upon the Muslim community, you may be silently wondering how you can ever get through a month of fasting. It may be your first Ramadan and although you start off with the best intentions, you may find yourself giving up halfway through, unable to mention your "failure" to anyone else.
So as yet another "Best Ever Ramadan!" email comes to your inbox (and is guiltily deleted before even being read), we thought it may be helpful to set out some beneficial pointers for this Ramadan inshaAllah, especially if you are worried you will struggle your way through this blessed month and come out the other end feeling you could have done so much better.
•Remind yourself of those Quranic verses which reflect on Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala's Mercy towards His Creation: For example: ..."Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful." (2:185)
Also: ..."Allah does not intend to make difficulty for you, but He intends to purify you and complete His favour upon you that you may be grateful." * These two verses alone show us that Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala just wants us to be grateful to Him. Struggle means relying on Him even more – so that can only be good inshaAllah.
•Reflect on last year's Ramadan and see if you can remember the lessons you learned and the thoughts you had at the close of the month. Choose three small goals to improve your month this year, and keep them simple. Remember the Hadith:
"The deeds which Allah loves most are those done regularly, even if they are small."
(Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 3, no. 191)
* Although we are encouraged to read as much Qur'an as possible this month, some of us still struggle over the letters and feel completely inadequate at reading. This can leave us feeling a failure. Instead, seek positive ways to engage with the Qur'an. Read it in English, listen to a Tafsir online, really understand and absorb that particular chapter until you know it and want to live it. Then when you listen to it and try to read it in Arabic, it may become easier for you, inshaAllah.
Listen to any Youtube brief talks by Sheikh Muhammad Mukhtar Ash-Shinqitee for encouragement. eg: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnNLVetc31M
Compile a du'a list and allocate time in the day to make lots of du'a. We often feel our difficult situation will never change, but have we made du'a about it? Have we really made du'a for our non-Muslim families, our husbands, our children, our everyday life? This is the month to really try devoting time to du'a - and by making a list, you can see at a later point that these duas may be answered! If you need some guidance, listen to Sheikh Haitham al Haddad's brief reminder about making du'a: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bi0cZ0eSlKE
- Read on the virtues of Ramadan, the blessings, the reward for fasting, taraweeh, laylatul Qadr, etc. The following short book to read online is recommended: http://www.islamicstudies.info/books/making-the-most-of-ramadan
Some other practical tips:
- Try to avoid eating too much at either suhr or iftar - keep your body and mind fresh for action for Allah. If possible, take a walk in a park or place of natural beauty before Iftar or at any point during the fasting day, to freshen your mind and reflect on what the day is all about.
- Set up a method of learning whilst cooking. Have talks and reminders of Allah at hand so that you can practice remembrance of Allah whilst being in the kitchen. This may be repeating a du'a, listening to Qur'an, choosing an ayah to reflect on for each day of the month etc - think about these things in advance so that you don't end up feeling the month is running away with you and you're still just stuck in the kitchen and not benefitting.
- Try doing the most important things first, such as Quran reading and extra prayers, in the first part of the day when you are more alert. Leave talks and other beneficial reminders to later in the day when you can rest and reflect.
- Choose a Qur'an reading buddy, or encourage a small group of friends to read a juz a day ( English or Arabic). To encourage each other to reach this goal, set a time to call each other to check everyone has done this. If a Juz is too much, set a smaller goal which is going to be achievable. Choose sisters who are at your level, so that you are all encouraged and not discouraged. Or start up a weekly halaqah/gathering with other sisters, to go through the tafseer of a certain surah. Four meetings learning together will be an encouragement to all.
- Arrange to care for a friend's children so that she can go to Taraweeh. If she can do the same for you, both of you can really benefit from this time. If you can't get to the Taraweeh prayer, don't feel guilty, but use that time after Iftar as a special time for extra prayer, reading and reflection.
- Plan different places and ways to have iftar, whatever your personal situation: at home alone, by inviting others, visiting other sisters, meeting at the masjid, eating out in a restaurant for a special treat etc. Enjoy the physical reward for a day of fasting!
- If possible, try to spend as much time as you can in the masjid- break your fast there, and relax before and after each prayer. Enjoy the special sakinah and tranquility of the masjid at this special time of year. Take a du'a book and find a du'a that resonates with you and keep repeating until you have really internalised it (even if you haven't memorized it). This will help you to feel part of the wider Ummah and reconnect with Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala at the same time.
- Buy all necessities; food, new clothes, gifts etc before Ramadan so as to focus more on worship and spiritual development. Everyone in the family, even the kids, can participate, by planning meals, writing a shopping list, and preparing some meals to be stored in the freezer.
- Choose to do one good deed per week (or more if able ) eg. make iftar for others, make time for a sister who is alone, send an encouragement to another Muslim, help to clean someone's home if they are not well, help a sister with shopping, tidy the masjid.
Finally, aim to keep a Ramadan notebook - something you can record your learning, your reflections, your duas. It will be invaluable as a record of what you have achieved, so that you can look back and see what a positive month this has been, instead of feeling a failure compared to everyone else. This month is personal - a time to connect more closely with Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala, a time for reflection, and inshaAllah a time for renewal.
SOLACE for revert sisters in difficulty