After all the anticipation and planning, Ramadan is finally here. Every year before the blessed month begins, I make a list of all the things I want to accomplish or work towards with the intention that these habits will carry me through the rest of the year until the next Ramadan approaches. We all know how hard it is to stick with our goals when we don't have a plan, so I've created a list of some of my favorite goals, hacks, and tips for a successful month that will (inshAllah) be full of blessings.
1. The 3AM Breakfast - It's sunnah and it's good for you. Many people feel better throughout the day when they've had a satisfying suhoor breakfast. Just make sure you eat something healthy that's packed with veggies/fruit and protein.
My husband loves a green smoothie with a couple of scrambled eggs and a serving of ful (fava beans) on the side. My daughter has to have toad-in-the-hole to start her fast. Toad-in-the-hole is basically a piece of toast with a hole cut from its center (use a cookie cutter) in which you crack a whole egg and then lightly fry in butter in a pan. Top with a sprinkle of salt and black pepper, flip it and cook the other side. The yolk stays soft so when you cut into it's gooey center, it's melty and mmm-mmm-good.
2. Natural Energy With A Kick - I'm a little addicted to my coffee, but in Ramadan it can have an adverse effect and make me more tired. So instead of coffee at suhoor I drink Amazing Grass Green Superfood Energy, it keeps me energized throughout the day without crashing and maintains my digestion. I will warn you though - it's an acquired taste (read: blech!) but it's much improved with a little stevia blended in. Or just get yourself some matcha tea (either bag or powder), it's so delicious and will keep you going for hours.
3. Ambiance For Sleeplessness - Ever have insomnia after eating suhoor and praying Fajr? You lie in bed very tired but unable to go to sleep, and dread that you have a full day ahead of you in which you'll be a zombie if you don't get some shut-eye soon. Then you worry you'll never fall asleep so you toss and turn, and just when you've relaxed enough to feel sleepy your alarm goes off. Yeah, I feel you. I hate that too. It sounds strange but listening to ASMR might actually help you relax faster and get you into sleep sooner.
Type in "ASMR sounds" into YouTube and you'll find a whole host of tingle-inducing videos like tapping, scratching, brushing, and more. If you're not feeling in the ASMR mood then type in "Sleep music" instead and you'll find a plethora of soothing music to induce sleep. Put your earphones in and close your eyes. See you in a few hours.
4. Bust A Sweat - Your workouts shouldn't slip just because it's Ramadan. This is the optimal time to reset your body's food and energy requirements. Many people believe that "fasted cardio" is one of the best ways to lose fat quickly, and all it requires is that you do your cardio session on an empty stomach - an easy feat during Ramadan.
If you want to get a good workout in but you're worried that you'll be starving afterward then plan your workout for a couple hours before iftar, that way you won't stay hungry for long and you'll have a delicious meal to look forward to.
5. Staying Busy - Whether you're in the office, working at home, or studying at school, wistful thoughts of food are sure to creep up on you throughout the day. The number one way to combat your hunger pains is to stay busy. Turn off that Tasty YouTube video - you're just making it harder on yourself - and throw yourself into whatever you're doing and focus on the task at hand, you won't think of food and you'll get way more stuff done. So work, study, run errands, chase after your kids, reorganize a space, go for a walk, or read. Just keep that body moving and your mind focused on non-food thoughts.
6. Multi-Task Your Ibadah - Listen to a spiritual lecture, audiobook, or podcast while you drive, tidy, prepare dinner, or get things done around the house. It's amazing how much you can learn while your hands stay busy, and boring tasks (like folding a mountain of laundry) go by painlessly.
7. Naps - I often feel my eyes drooping and having to shake myself to stay awake right around 4pm. I'm in desperate need of a nap, and without one I feel as though I'm walking through sludge to get the day-to-day tasks done. As playful as I am with my kids during the day, I have quite the short fuse when I'm sleep deprived. My kids have learned that a tired Mama is not to be trifled with. And since I'm not fond of Short-Fuse Mama either, I take my naps seriously.
It can be really hard to take a breather with kids around, especially while fasting, but on those days when I'm near comatose I force the kids outside or let them watch TV while I get in a quick 20-30 minute power nap. I pop in my earphones, turn on some meditative music to drown out their whining and float into dreamless sleep. When I wake up, I'm refreshed and ready to take on the remainder of my day.
8. Iftar Rules - We all know the sunnah of breaking our fast with dua'a and a date, but we've seemed to add our own traditional spin on the practice by following it up with pakoras (fried veggie fritters), samosas (fried meat & veggie pockets), kibbeh (fried doughballs filled with minced meat), and roo-hafza (a sugary-sweet rose syrup stirred into milk). Notice a trend? Before you start inhaling all that oil, carbs, and sugar, keep in mind that whatever you eat now will either keep you nourished and energized for the all-important night prayers, or have you crashing in bed early due to a food-induced coma. I'm not saying don't ever have a samosa, just limit it and follow up with proper food, and plenty of fresh veggies. Also, water, water, water! The last thing we want to do is gain weight during a month when we're not even eating. (Me. Last Ramadan. Don't judge.)
9. Give Time - Ramadan is the perfect time to move away from our own wants and needs and do something for others. Give back to your community. Your time and effort are always needed in places like soup kitchens, elderly centers, and your local masjids. Doing an act of good that serves others is a lesson every member of the family can value from, so get your kids and spouse involved too. You might find yourselves making a habit of it all throughout the year.
10. Quran Goals - Don't think that you have to finish the whole Quran twice this month if you're struggling to read fluently. Or that you should only read a page a day if you're more than capable of reading more. Some people read slowly and focus on tajweed (reading rules and proper pronunciation), while more experienced readers might want to work on their maq'am (the tune or melody of the reading, along with tajweed). Everyone's abilities are different. Therefore everyone's goals with reading and/or memorizing Qur'an should be different. Whatever your level is, make sure that you have a goal and strive hard to stick with it.
“Take up good deeds only as much as you are able, for the best deeds are those done regularly even if they are few.” - Prophet Muhammad SAW (Reported by Abu Hurairah)
11. A Blessed Home - There's something about the sweetness of Qur'an that makes it soothing to the ears and heart. It brings peace and tranquility to the home, and a sense of calm and well-being to the self. During Ramadan, aim to have as much Qur'an in the house as possible. I find it easiest to play the Qur'an in the background from my phone while I go about my day. This way my heart feels connected to Allah no matter what I'm doing.
12. Track Your Prayers - Either as a family or on your own, keep track of all your prayers. Doing so really helps to hold yourself accountable, and when you do it as a family it encourages everyone to participate and compete in good deeds.
In our house, we came up with a family prayer chart and incentives to pray all five prayers on time. In all honesty, our ten year old is always the one who has the least number of prayers missed and she's usually the one to call out my husband and I when we miss a prayer. Our seven year old has been so encouraged by the chart that many times she will pray on her own so she can check off her box.
Our Family's Prayer Chart Rules: (for kids 7+)
1. Check the box when you've finished your prayer.
2. Each missed prayer will result in a $1.00 fine.
3. Put your money in the jar when you've missed a prayer, and add a tick above your name.
4. Whoever has the least number of prayers missed at the end of the week, gets all the money in the jar.
5. You are strongly encouraged to donate a third or a half of the money from the prayer jar as Sadaqa.
13. Reflections - At the end of day take account of your actions. Write down (or simply reflect) on three things you did well today like: I prayed on time, I was patient with my spouse, I worked efficiently, I maintained a good attitude, etc. Then write down three things you didn't do well today but want to do better tomorrow, like: I got angry with my kids, I was lazy with my Quran reading, I said unkind words, etc. Doing this has really helped me to act with intention. When I've written down something I'm not proud of, it reminds me to seek forgiveness from Allah and aim to be better the next day. Remember, this is a personal log of reflection. The purpose isn't to spell out the details of every good or bad deed committed, but to acknowledge those deeds and progress our character.
14. Taraweeh Tips - It's really hard to go to the masjid when you have babies with bedtimes who get super cranky the moment you plan to pray. My kids were notorious for having meltdowns in the middle of taraweeh, and I'd have to scoop them up and rush out the door before their cries echoed around the prayer hall and heads turned to stare at us. I've prayed taraweeh at home more times than I could count. My husband and I usually take turns going to the masjid during the week so we can focus on the prayer without our crazy kids.
This year we have an eight-month-old with a strict bedtime and very loud vocal chords who makes it plain when he's tired, so my taraweeh goals are much smaller than they were last year. But again, the point is to have manageable goals that are consistent. Even once a week or once every other week is sufficient. Renew your intentions and do the best you can. Even if you don't get any prayers in the masjid this year, just the fact you tried will (inshAllah) give you the same number of blessings as though you actually did.
15. The Family Halaqa - When kids are small they emulate their parents in every way. They love what we love, do what we do, say what we say, and hold dear the things we tell them are important. As they get older those values and beliefs get tested, and it's our job as parents to allow those ideas to be expounded upon, dissected, and questioned so our kids have a strong foundation of understanding. When they internalize the "why's" of Islam by asking meaningful questions and getting complete answers, they are willing to carry out the "what", or actions, of our deen. They're more likely to pray without being reminded a hundred times, or fast, or proudly state their religion, or stand up for good, because that's what our Islam asks of us. In essence the "why" comes before the "what".
A family halaqa is a good place to start discussion, and relay ideas. My grandfather started this tradition when my mom was very young. He would ask each child to read a verse from the Qur'an and derive the moral or lesson that they could apply to themselves, then they would take turns presenting it to the family. My mom remembers these family halaqas fondly.
My husband and I started doing this with our kids some years ago on when they were really little. He would tell them a story of a Prophet, or from the Quran or Sunnah, and we would all discuss what we learned from it. My kids are older now and somehow much more curious and full of questions and deep ideas. We find ourselves having these discussions sometimes well into lunchtime while we go about the day, and the conversation always reemerges for many days after, each time resurfacing with a different perspective. It's amazing.
This Ramadan, aim to connect with each other once a week in a family halaqa. If you've never done it before then it might take a few tries to get everyone to open up, but I promise you it's well worth the extra effort when you see how deep and fruitful the discussions become.
May Allah accept all of our intentions, acts of worship, good deeds, and duas.