By Samuel Gonzalez
Ramadan is a time of great joy for many Muslims throughout the world – for in this month, the Noble Qur’an was revealed to mankind. The function of Ramadan is multiple:
1. To draw our attention away from this world and towards mindfulness of Allah
2. To bring about compassion for those who have nothing to eat or drink
3. To encourage the performance of more good deeds
4. To bring about spiritual renewal
The fast of Ramadan is a mechanism, or a technology, ordained by Allah to facilitate the ascent of our soul. Fasting burns away worldly distraction, desires of the ego, and indulgence. It is a form of continual worship that purifies our intentions and makes us humbler and more grateful.
Fasting is a mercy from Allah.
May every Muslim’s fast this Ramadan be successful, rewarding, and enriching.
Below are a few tips to make the fast easier for us.
Tip #1: Eat less and eat the best.
Of course, the Prophet (pbuh) always advised his followers to take the suhoor meal, which is the pre-dawn breakfast prior to commencing the fast during the daylight hours.
Nevertheless, not all foods are created equally. If you begin the fast with a cup of coffee, cream and sugar, a glazed donut, a bowl of fruit-loops, and some white bread with butter, an inevitable crash will follow, sugar cravings will heighten, and Ramadan will turn into a game of waiting until sundown rather than an opportunity for spiritual renewal.
When done right, suhoor can provide the one who fasts with strength and vitality throughout the day. Doctors recommend a light breakfast rich in slow-releasing carbs and proteins such as whole-grain bread, eggs, fresh fruits, nuts, and oats.
One un-fun fact about Ramadan is that many Muslims who fast tend to eat more, leading to weight-gain.
For iftar, the post-sundown meal, rather than gorging on sweets and carbs and fried foods and treats, it is better to:
1) break the fast with some dates and water (as per the practice of the Prophet (pbuh).
2) eat slowly and mindfully.
3) consume a balanced meal
Eat sweets in moderation; avoid sugary drinks; eat more fruits and vegetables.
Tip #2: Stay hydrated.
For those who fast regularly, fasting from food is not too difficult; what is truly a test is the fast from water.
The human body is mostly composed of water, which is why doctors recommend drinking 7-8 glasses a day.
Nevertheless, during Ramadan, when the days are longer, nights are shorter, and fasting is prevalent, how can we stay hydrated?
For starters, avoiding caffeinated and sugary drinks is a great way to stay hydrated.
During suhoor and iftar, it is also crucial to avoid foods high in fat and sodium, as these two can dehydrate the body overnight.
Drinking soups, natural juices, and teas during the evening is also strongly advised, as these can ease the body, help with regulating its hormonal levels, and will prevent one from gorging oneself on water.
Another common mistake is drinking too much water at once! Rather than drinking as much water as you can as soon as the maghrib adhan is called, spread it out strategically. For instance, if you drink 2 glasses of water during suhoor, 2 during iftar, and 4 between iftar and bedtime, that’s already the 8 glass requirement advised by healthcare practitioners.
Tip #3: Get plenty of sleep.
Apart from breaking away from regular eating and drinking cycles, Ramadan will also challenge you in your sleeping habits. Seeing as how, in the Western hemisphere, the nights become shorter and the days longer, this translates to less time for sleeping and eating. Of course, there are risks in eating too soon before bedtime.
Sudden changes in one’s routine could produce stressful symptoms on the body – the solution is to establish a good, consistent sleeping habit (i.e. going to bed and waking up at the same time), which will, in turn, reduce stress on the body and keep you active and alert throughout the day.
It is sunnah to take some short naps during Ramadan; further, avoid caffeine during iftar and reduce your screen time 90 minutes before bed in order to maximize sleep quality.
Tip #4: Keep yourself busy.
During Ramadan, the hours of the day creep by at the pace of an inchworm and we find ourselves peeking at the clock every couple of minutes, almost attempting to speed up time with our minds. Deprivation of goods, while producing a deeper sense of gratitude for the ordinary, can make an hour seem like days. Nevertheless, when the time comes to break the fast at the end of a long day, you savor the taste of your food in a deeply profound way, becoming more grateful; and these feelings translate as a metaphor for the worshiper’s desire to meet the Beloved Creator.
Hence, during the month of Ramadan, it is crucial to stay busy. Keep yourself moving. Stay productive. Exercise. Go for a walk in nature. Pray. Worship. Purify yourself by reading the Qur’an or other pieces of spiritual literature.
Don’t be among those who remain more sedentary during this month – be intentional about performing good deeds. If you do decide to maintain an exercise routine, keep it light and opt for lower intensity routines. An hour before Iftar is the perfect time to work out in Ramadan as it keeps you busy during the most intense hour of the day, and you can also rehydrate right after.
Nevertheless, if so-called hangriness sets in (i.e. anger or irritability produced as a result of hunger and thirst), withdraw from company and let the feelings pass. Perhaps some salah or dua or even performing some of the supererogatory prayers will help.
Tip #5: Plan. Plan. Plan.
The Honorable Prophet (pbuh) used to fast on certain special days throughout the year; he also specifically prepared for the month of Ramadan two months before its coming. Some of us regularly eat five, ten meals a day with snacks and before we realize it, Ramadan is tomorrow! If Muhammad (pbuh) prepared for Ramadan two months prior, how much more should we be preparing for it!
During the fast, our routines change, our environments change, even our general dispositions and moods change. Planning meals in advance, establishing a light routine for the day, selecting recreational and spiritual activities ahead will make the fast much easier and will keep us busy throughout the day.
During the month right before Ramadan, I tend to plan out particular meals, a meditation routine for the dawn and twilight, a light exercise routine, and a selection of literature to read. I set aside goals and expectations and sometimes even entire days dedicated to furthering these goals.
Stay busy and plan ahead to avoid headaches in the future! The more you invest in your future self, the easier the fast will become for you.
Tip #6: Boost your spiritual regimen.
It ought to go without saying that Ramadan is a time for spiritual renewal. For many people, the fast is simply a test of willpower or a daunting challenge to overcome; while this is indeed a huge part of Ramadan, the real goal ought to be coming to a greater and deeper understanding of our Lord.
Below, I have included several ideas that will increase your worship:
-Be intentional about making salah on time.
-Meditate, or sit in silence.
-Make dhikr by repeating the names of Allah.
-Examine your deeds, disposition, attitude, and manners.
-Tell a friend about the faith.
-Read a book about spirituality.
-Turn off technology.
-Spend time in nature and reflect on the bounties of Allah.
-Learn about great Muslims (i.e. the Companions or theologians)
-Kill off a bad habit.
Regardless of which disciplines speak to you, always remember that Allah will meet you where you are. If you cannot make salah in the masjid, then worship at home; if you cannot read an entire juz, then read half, or perhaps a quarter. Your spiritual goals cannot be imposed upon you by anyone; these goals can be as simple or as large as you would like them to be. Just be consistent and do it with the heart of a servant.
Tip #7: Make sure to avoid. . .
During this month, it is forbidden to eat, drink, have sex, or smoke during the daylight hours. Additionally, avoid sin as much as you can – this includes indulging in gossip or calumny, uttering an angry or irritable remark, lying and stealing, and looking at others with a lustful gaze. Temptation is a normal part of the spiritual path, but remember that conquering it is better than falling prey to the Devil – the fact that you are being tempted means that there is resistance to sin. Apart from this, here are some suggestions on things that one should avoid in order to have an easier, more enriching Ramadan:
-Try to avoid coffee/caffeine. Perhaps reduce your intake a few weeks before in order to prepare.
-Salty foods and fatty foods are a no-go.
-Avoid overeating! A belly full of food is incompatible with fruitful worship.
-Laziness, apathy, and a lack of motivation will draw out the hours of the day and make you less productive. Opt for some light exercise throughout the day. Keep moving!
-Bad company, as this increases your chances of falling into sin or into some unspiritual mood.
Tip #8: Make sure to. . .
What follows is a list of healthy suggestions, or healthy habits to pick up during the fast:
-Eat plenty of lean proteins, legumes, eggs, and hearty carbohydrates.
-Drink isotonic drinks with little sugar and processed ingredients – aim for cleaner, more natural, less processed beverages.
-Brush your teeth and rinse often.
-Never skip out on dates! Dates replenish blood sugar levels, are nutritionally dense, pack some calories, and keep you full for longer, thanks to the fiber and protein in these fruits (even more, breaking the fast with 3 dates is sunnah).
-Cook and prepare the iftar meal with loved ones. Time will fly by and there is blessing in company. Eat with other Muslims if you can!
-Eat a variety of foods during the evening. Now more than ever, your body needs good nourishment to compensate for the stress of fasting.
-Increase your prayer and good deeds, as the rewards for these practices are multiplied.
Tip #9: Celebrate!
When the fast is underway, fast with excellence, remembering the Creator of Mankind, remembering the community established by the Prophet (pbuh), remembering that the revelation of the majestic book al-Qur’an took place during this month.
During Ramadan, my encouragement for the reader is that you fast hard, and celebrate hard. Do what you can to brighten the mood and make the fast a little more celebratory: light lanterns, adorn your house with decorations, plate the iftar meal fancifully, scent your home with incense and candles, share generously with those in need and, during Eid, gift the best gifts.
Breaking the fast at the end of the day is a powerful moment. The food and drink we consume at that time is akin to an internal rejuvenation, that first sip of water awakens all the senses; let this feeling be a reminder of the sweetness of Allah, and how beautiful it will be to receive our reward in the Hereafter. In the fast of Ramadan, our eyes are opened to new spiritual realities.
Share your tips for Ramadan below!