The fasting month of Ramadan 2023 is starting on 22 March! The holy month is a much-needed reprieve for Muslims everywhere, as we seek to have a fulfilling month that brings us closer to our Creator. And to help us all get into gear, here are some handy tips to get ready for Ramadan! The underlying principle to most of the tips proposed in this list relates to easing into the good habits you want to do during Ramadan, rather than going from zero to a hundred. Implementing change isn't an overnight process - it takes practice, consistency, and discipline. The key thing to remember is that it's not an all-or-nothing deal - we all need to start somewhere, and so long as we keep at it and have realistic (and achievable!) expectations of ourselves, we can work our way up to becoming better ?
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It's always a good idea to increase our levels of worship no matter the time of the year, but as we head towards Ramadan, now is a great time to set our niat for the holy month ahead and begin implementing more acts to help us ease into a (hopefully sustainable!) change for the better.
1. Repent and pray for a good Ramadan
This is often something that can often get overlooked in its importance. People sometimes see repentance as an act following major sin, where one is required to do prescribed steps for taubat (e.g. seeking forgiveness from Allah and the people we have wronged, vowing to not repeat the sin again, etc.), do extra prayers such as solat taubat or make major changes in their lives. But the fact is, repentance to God is a constant and consistent thing that we all need to do - we are only human, and to sin is inevitable. Repentance is a staple in our daily acts of worship both big and small (from the prayers and dua that we make down to the istighfar we say during zikir), and as we enter Ramadan, it makes sense to amplify our acts of repentance.
It's also worth remembering that we can and should always ask for God's help - make repeated dua to have a Ramadan that changes your for the better, to be more sustainable in your good habits, to find it easy to do extra prayers and good deeds, and to be self-reflective rather than just letting the month pass you by. In addition, we should continue to pray that we all stay healthy during the coronavirus situation and that we are able to adapt and strengthen our worship, even if we have to face challenges (e.g. not being able to go to the mosque).
2. Increase the quality of your current acts of worship
In the thick of Ramadan, we can sometimes get caught up in doing the things that are sunnah (like performing tarawih prayers or reading more of the Qur'an), but we forget that we can and should improve on the fundamentals of our obligatory prayers.
Whether it's waking up to do Subuh on time or making sure we don't delay our prayers, reading a longer surah from the Qur'an when praying, or perhaps even just striving to be more concentrated and present during our solat (as opposed to going through the motions) - these are all ways to improve on our worship and therefore our connection with Allah SWT.
3. Do extra acts of worship
Following from the point of improving our current acts of worship, it makes sense to follow-on with voluntary and sunnah practices. As mentioned with our key principle at the start of the article, it makes sense to ease into this with small changes rather than to do a full sweep of everything. That way, it would be a lot less overwhelming and much easier to maintain and build upon as Ramadan comes and goes by. Here are some ideas for what you can do, which are not ground-breaking by any means, but hopefully will serve as a helpful reminder!
Read more of the Qur'an
Reading the Qur'an is fundamental to every Muslim, and during Ramadan, many people turn to the Holy Book, with some endeavouring to complete a reading of the Qur'an in its entirety. While this is a fantastic achievement, it's also good to remember that that's not the only way to appreciate the Qur'an.
Credit: @rozalirajawali on Instagram
You can reap the benefits of reading more of the Qur'an from now - whether you choose to read a page a day, or read any of the shorter surah, or read and seek knowledge about the meaning behind key surah or verses, it's all great!
#HHWT Tip: For those who love bullet journalling or making study notes, you can also try Qur'an journalling! This recent movement involves studying the Holy Book and documenting your learnings, analysis and reflections of the verses you study in a journal. Check out inspiring Qur'an journalling Instagram accounts like @journallingmuslimah, @arabnicles and @nai.read for some inspiration.
Technology comes in handy in this area too - with a lot of apps these days, you essentially have a pocket Quran with you all the time (equipped with translation and even audio readings), so you can read or listen to the Quran during quiet pockets of time you have during the day.
Do extra prayers and increase your zikir
This is also a no-brainer and one that's pretty easy to incorporate into your daily routine. We can incorporate sunnah prayers such as those before and after obligatory prayers (with the exception of after Subuh and Asar prayers), duha prayers (performed between sunrise and Zohor), tahajjud prayers(done in the middle of the night), and so on.
Another great way to increase your remembrance of Allah is to recite zikir more often, even if it's a simple recitation of the tasbih (subhanallah), tahmid (alhamdulillah) and takbir (Allahuakbar). Carve a little time out of each day to do it, whether it's after prayers, while commuting to work, or before you sleep
Do voluntary fasts and sort out your replacement fasts
It's probably no coincidence that Syaaban, which precedes Ramadan is a month where fasting is highly encouraged. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was said to have regularly fasted for most of Syaaban - though please do note is there are differing opinions of different scholars on whether one should fast in the second half of Syaaban, after Nifsu Syaaban.
While some scholars are of the view that fasting in the second half of Syaaban is not permitted, as it may take a toll on the body ahead of Ramadan, other scholars believe that one can do voluntary fasts in the second half of Syaaban if one has already been consistently fasting throughout the first half of the month or for those who already have a habit of doing voluntary fasts such as those on Mondays and Thursdays.
It's also the time to get your replacement fasts in order (if you have any outstanding days of fasting you missed from the previous Ramadan) so you don't carry it forward into this Ramadan!
4. Be conscious of your actions and try to refrain from negative acts
This is one of those things that is a lot easier to say than to do, which is why it deserves its own spot on this list! While it's easy to look for extra actions or good deeds to do (such as charitable work or helping others), sometimes we overlook the small and seemingly inconsequential acts we do daily that often build up into bad habits.
Things that we sometimes take for granted, such as gossiping about other people, perhaps watching or listening to things that aren't the best things for our minds and hearts, or spending time doing unproductive deeds.
In exceptional times like right now where we are facing challenging circumstances due to the coronavirus, it's also sometimes easy to gravitate towards a negative mindset, which sometimes spills over to our behaviour and actions. It's hard to weed out these habits, and to expect to start Ramadan automatically able to consciously refrain from all of them consistently is somewhat unrealistic.
Hence, we have to practice from now to build awareness about when we do those things and be conscious and active about refraining from them. The more aware and persistent we are in detecting and stopping ourselves from doing it, the easier it'll become and we'll be in a much better position during Ramadan hopefully!
Spiritual preparations are one thing, but it's important not to neglect physical preparations. Even though fasting for Ramadan is something done annually, it can't be denied that even if you're a Muslim who has been doing it for years on end, starting Ramadan can often be a difficult transition physically (cue sleepy afternoons, getting used to the sensations of hunger/thirst, and struggling to keep energy levels up). So it's a good idea to start prepping for the physical demands of Ramadan via a few different methods:
5. Ease into fasting
An advantage of doing voluntary fasts (besides the pahala, of course!) or doing your replacement fasts close to Ramadan is that it is good practice for your body to get used to what it feels like while fasting. Many of us generally eat well and consistently enough to not feel super hungry all that often, or if we do, we have the blessing of being able to remedy that easily with a meal.
So it's not such a shocker that come Ramadan, that first day of fasting can sometimes feel like being hit by a truck (metaphorically speaking ?). Doing voluntary fasts can help get you into gear so that it's not such a huge jolt to the body when Ramadan starts.
6. Be mindful of your eating habits and practice moderation
There are a couple of key points to be made here: the first being the reminder that mealtimes change during Ramadan with the inclusion of sahur, or the pre-dawn meal. Sahur is a meal that can vastly differ from person to person - some people don't have much appetite in the mornings and find it a struggle to eat, while others find it crucial to help them get through the day and there are those who don't even eat sahur and prefer to sleep through it.
But the point is, different people have different needs to what works for them - some need a full meal to be able to function normally throughout the day, while others are more concerned with being able to drink water so they don't get dehydrated while fasting. So leading up to Ramadan, it's good to be mindful of what works for your body and what you need to eat/drink outside of your fasting hours to carry you through the hours that you are.
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#HHWT Tip: It's worthy to note that eating sahur is a sunnah act, as practised by Prophet Muhammad PBUH. It's also good to be mindful of food items that you may depend on for pick-me-ups throughout the day, such as coffee and tea or other caffeinated drinks. Tapering down on such foods before Ramadan may be a good idea, or at the very least you'll know what to expect if you don't have it as you regularly do and can prepare accordingly.
It's also good to practice moderation when eating from now, so we don't go into Ramadan in a state of scarfing down food when it's time to break fast. Being mindful of your eating habits in advance of Ramadan will be a good way to know what quantities you actually need to eat to be satiated without overdoing it, so you can still continue with prayers and other deeds comfortably.
7. Regulate your sleeping patterns
In conjunction with the sahur meals, sleep patterns often get altered throughout Ramadan. While many strive to have a routine during Ramadan where one stays awake after sahur and gets on with the day, it's not always easy to do - it's either hard to not go back to sleep, or alternatively, it's hard not to find yourself nodding off during the day!
Try and start easing into sleeping patterns that will be helpful for your Ramadan routine - you can start sleeping at earlier intervals if possible, and practice moulding your daily routine such that it meets this adjusted sleep pattern. Another great thing can do for yourself is to get enough sleep daily if you can, and practice good sleeping habits - be disciplined about when you go to sleep and wake up and try to get good quality sleep.
8. If you have any medical conditions, check with the doctor on whether it's okay for you to fast, and how to ensure you do it safely.
For those with special medical conditions, be it high blood pressure, diabetes, or other ailments, don't forget to check in with your doctor beforehand and get the a-okay to fast during Ramadan. You should be prepared with the knowledge required on your condition and the possible effects of fasting, and know what signs to look out for that indicate your body is not well and that you should break fast.
Mental preparedness lies at the heart of everything we do ahead of Ramadan and is often the difference between a Ramadan that we are invested in vs. a Ramadan that passes us by. While a lot of mental preparation can come with being more spiritually aware (through the acts mentioned above), there are a couple of other specific things worth doing.
9. Set your intentions and reflect on the purpose of Ramadan
Anything you want to achieve in life requires having a level of focus and intent, and Ramadan is no different. It's good to have a conscious goal in mind of what you would like to achieve this Ramadan - think of a specific, achievable goal you would like to attain this year and what you plan to do to achieve said goal. It's a good way to put conscious thought (and therefore, effort!) into doing the things that will bring you closer to where you want to be. It's also important to take time to reflect on the significance of Ramadan - it's often easy to go through the acts of worship, but neglect the introspection needed to make it a meaningful experience.
Therefore, getting ready for Ramadan is a good opportunity to be more thoughtful about what we're doing and why we do it - ultimately, we are striving to get closer to Allah SWT and become better Muslims, as well as strengthen the sense of community within the ummah as we are reminded about the hardships of the poor and practise compassion towards those in need.
10. Know what's on your plate, and plan accordingly
This may be the last point in the list, but it is by no means any less important. If anything, this is where we tend to get tripped up - when work, school or family responsibilities get piled on, it gets harder to stick to our goals or desires for Ramadan! Which is why prepping beforehand becomes of utmost importance and your responsibilities need to be factored in early. Look at your schedule in the weeks before, during and after Ramadan and see how you can accommodate the things coming up while also sticking to your goals.
Do you have an important work submission during the Ramadan weeks? See how you can plan your workload to space out the burden. Do you have a lot to prepare for Raya celebrations? Write down a to-do list of what you need to do our buy and get it done little by little over the coming weeks.
Don't forget to help set yourself up for an easier and smoother Ramadan by having a good stock of grocery and food items, so it'll be easy to grab a quick meal forsahur in the mornings, or have a stash of food ready for the days you know you'll be working late and may not be able to prepare your iftar meals.
And there you have it! 10 steps to get Ramadan-ready. It's worth re-stating here that it isn't a case of all-or-nothing, and that we all need to strive in our own lanes and do what we can. May we all have a fulfilling Ramadan (even in the face of the current uncertain circumstances) and may it change us for the better, amin!