For many of us, we start Ramadan with a hopeful list of goals and achievements we want to complete by the month. Yet, it's also common that we might fail to achieve some of these or realize midway that we've given ourselves an insurmountable task. And sometimes when we fail to accomplish those goals, it makes us more discouraged to continue.
To help you along in your journey, here are some simple goals you can set for yourself this Ramadan! They may not be monumental achievements compared to someone else's, but if you find meaning in them and come out of it having learnt more about Islam or yourself, then they can be just as life-changing. Remember to start your Ramadan with clear niat (intention) and pray to Allah that He will give you the strength to carry out your goals.
1. Read the Qur'an after every prayer
A common goal for many Muslims is to be able to finish reading the entire Qur'an within the month of Ramadan. However, if you're not confident you don't have to start there right away! Abdullah Ibn Masud narrated that the Prophet (ﷺ) said:
“Whoever reads one letter from the Book of Allah will earn one reward thereby. One reward is equal to ten rewards the like of it. I do not say that Alif-Lam-Meem is a letter, but Alif is a letter, Lam is a letter and Meem is a letter.” [Tirmidhi]
So even small steps bring you rewards. Take some time after each prayer to read a few ayats of the Qur'an. It can be just 1 ayat, or a whole surah at a time, but as time goes on these small efforts will help build your confidence and comfort. Hopefully one day in the future, you can work your way up to reciting the Qur'an not just once, but even twice or more during Ramadan!
2. Recite 1 ayah per day
If you're starting to practice reciting the Qur'an, it can be daunting to try and recite entire surahs at once. However, Allah sees all, and He sees and recognizes your effort. Aishah (May Allah be pleased with her) also reported:
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, "The one who is proficient in the recitation of the Qur'an will be with the honourable and obedient scribes (angels) and he who recites the Qur'an and finds it difficult to recite, doing his best to recite it in the best way possible, will have a double reward." [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
So start small and strive for precision, taking care to pronounce each letter properly and clearly. Rather than rushing through, understand the meaning of the words and aim to perfect even the smallest of recitations. In this way, you'll build your confidence as well as fall in love with the beauty of the Qur'an.
3. Tune in to a podcast, or read more Islamic books
Ramadan is a month for deepening our faith and knowledge of Islam, so who better to learn from than religious teachers and other learned members of the community? You can now find dozens of online lessons and podcasts covering everything from fiqh to the tafseer of selected surahs - and most of them are 30 minutes or less! Put one on in the background while you get ready for your day, or when you're winding down just before it's time to break your fast. A little knowledge goes a long way! ☺️ If you have any books on the Qur'an, hadith, or any aspect of Islam such as fiqh, this is a good time to start turning those pages! You don't have to finish a book a week, but break it down into chapters or even a handful of pages at a time. No matter how you seek it out, knowledge is a powerful tool that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
4. Study the tafseer of Al-Fatihah
Al-Fatihah is the first chapter of the Qur'an and is one of the most important surahs in the book. Muslims around the world say the Al-Fatihah every day when we pray, so Ramadan is the perfect time to dive into its meaning and significance. Though it's just 7 ayats long, countless books and articles have been written dissecting what makes it so powerful. As we say it multiple times every day, it also makes it so much more important to understand the meaning behind the words and how they reaffirm our worship of and belief in Allah. P.S. Other verses you can look at are Ayat Al-Kursi (Al-Baqarah 2:255), Surah Yasin, Surah Al-Mulk, and the '3 Quls' which refer to the last 3 chapters of the Qur'an - Al-Iklhas, Al-Falaq, and An-Nas! These are all popular surahs to recite during prayers and are also some of the most treasured within the Qur'an.
5. Relearn the basics of prayer
There are 5 obligatory daily prayers in Islam, but each of us is in different stages of our journey of prayer. For some who may be starting out, committing to all 5 prayers can be difficult for a variety of reasons; for others who are already in the habit of praying 5 times a day, the challenge may be in maintaining khushoo during prayer instead of letting your mind wander.
No matter what your relationship to prayer is, this is a good time to relearn the basics. Start with making sure you're doing the movements and positions correctly, as well as reciting the fardh recitations such as Al-Fatihah properly without mumbling or rushing. It may add some time to your prayers, but as prayer is a time when we're having a conversation with God, we should strive to perfect it as He sees all. If your struggle is praying on time, see if you can plan your day around your prayers instead, and do your best regardless.
6. Pray Terawih if you can
Terawih prayers this year will be different for one main reason - mosques are currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so Muslims will have to do their Terawih prayers at home. While this may be a shock for some people, we should remember that it is not the mosque itself that allows you to pray Terawih but your intentions to do these sunnah prayers for Allah.
If like me, you haven't prayed Terawih before, this is certainly an interesting time to start. It can be daunting, but there are silver linings to praying Terawih at home too! It gives us more flexibility and ease with timing the prayers and recitation, and we get to pray in a comfortable and familiar location.
It's also a chance to spend time with our family and loved ones, and get closer through the observance of our faith. If you've not prayed Terawih before, you can start small with just 2 rakaat, which is the minimum for sunnah prayers.
8 or 20 rakaat prayers are usually performed in mosques, but any number of units observed is better than none after all! Over the course of the month, you can increase the number of rakaats according to your body's condition. In time to come, maybe one day you'll be able to pray 20 rakaat without even breaking a sweat.
7. Try waking up for sahur
Did you know that there are blessings in waking up for sahur? Some of us may not have the habit of eating sahur, so why not start trying to create this habit this Ramadan! Sahur can be as little as a glass of water, or a handful of dates. As narrated by Ibn Hibbaan and At-Tabaraani in Al-Awsat:
"Allah and his angels definitely send salutations on those who eat Suhoor."
Having sahur can help set the tone for the rest of your day - and you can pray the Fajr/subuh prayer immediately afterwards too.
8. Be mindful of what you eat
During this month, we might feel tempted to eat a heavier meal for iftar, or snack on fried or sweet treats for supper late at night after Terawih prayers. While treating ourselves to something nice once in a while can be okay, these can also result in us feeling groggy the next day or feeling self-conscious of our weight by the end of the month.
This year, try to be more mindful and aware of what you eat. Taking care of your body is also important in Islam, as is the value of moderation. So try cutting down on sugary drinks, and limiting your desserts and snacks. You can also try to substitute healthier ingredients such as wholegrain rice or try meatless meals. And don't forget to practice good eating habits - don't rush through your food no matter how hungry you are!
9. Hydrate yourself when you can
As we're fasting for the whole day, it's important to hydrate ourselves when we get the chance! Too often we forget to drink enough water (whether after iftar or during sahur), and this can affect our energy levels, productivity, and mood for the rest of the day.
By hydrating yourself, you're not only ensuring you have enough energy for the day but you'll be in a better mood and find it easier to practice values such as kindness and compassion. Keep a water bottle by your side after iftar, and sip water until you go to bed. Make sure to have water or other fluids during sahur too! If your lifestyle is very active, increase your water intake accordingly so you won't risk falling ill.
10. Go 'phone-less' for half an hour
One of the values of Ramadan is learning how to resist temptation, and for many of us, the biggest temptation around is our phones! While our phones are essential for communication (or just every part of life) these days, this is a good chance for us to take a step back as well. If we can resist food and water (which are essential to our survival) for over 12 hours, we can surely resist looking at our phone for just a fraction of that time.
Use productivity apps such as Forest which rewards you when you don't look at your phone, or be mindful of your social media consumption by blocking yourself from sites such as Facebook, Twitter, or Youtube - you can do the latter using free software like Cold Turkey or SelfControl.
11. Do small acts of charity
During Ramadan, many of us do acts of charity to give back to our community as well as show gratefulness for what Allah has given us. But giving sadaqah (voluntary acts of charity) doesn’t just need to be monetary! Abu Dhar reported that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said:
“Your smile to your brother is a sadaqah for you. Your commanding the right and forbidding the wrong is a sadaqah. Your guiding a man in the land of misguidance is a sadaqah for you. Your seeing (showing the way) for a man with bad eyesight is a sadaqah for you. Your removing a stone or thorn or bone from the road is a sadaqah for you. Your emptying your bucket of water into your brother’s (empty) bucket is a sadaqah for you.” [Tirmidhi]
Whether that be sponsoring meals for those who need them, donating to fundraisers for illnesses or other causes, or even just checking in with your older neighbours to see how they're doing.
You can also reach out to your friends by surprising them with a delivery of a nice drink (after iftar of course, if they're fasting ?)!
And of course, make sure to practice kindness and love in your own household. We have 30 days of Ramadan to get as many blessings as we can from this holy month. No matter how big or how small your goals are, so long as you stick to them and do them with good intentions and a desire to grow closer to Allah through them, you will surely be rewarded at the end of the day.