Ramadan is the biggest event in the Muslim liturgical calendar. It lasts an entire month (the 9th lunar month), and there are extra devotional acts performed every day and every evening. It is the month in which we commemorate the revelation of the Quran, providing a special evening (the Night of Power) sought out in the last ten days-a mega event inside a mega event. It is the month of great spiritual benefits, forgiveness, and opportunities for renewal.
However, despite the great importance and benefits of Ramadan, it is easy for us to feel overwhelmed before it starts and wonder, perhaps privately, why does everyone make such a big deal about it and how come I never experience these great wonders?!
You are not alone! Ramadan is special and is indeed powerful, but it takes prep work to get to the point that you are benefiting from it 100%. Rather than preach on and on about the spiritual splendors of fasting, the metaphysical gifts one receives, and stories of the saints whose souls and hearts feasted throughout the month, I want to give you a practical roadmap to get the most out of this Ramadan, even if you are reading this too late! It all revolves around the importance of keeping a Ramadan journal.
Your journal can be physical or digital; it can be on a single piece of paper, or an Evernote file on your phone. It really doesn’t matter, but what does is that you take the time to actually write the following things out. A famous concept in business, usually attributed to Peter Drucker, is “that which gets measured gets managed.” The basic concept behind the Ramadan Journal is that by stating certain things about Ramadan to yourself and committing them to writing, you have a way of holding yourself accountable and can remind yourself every day of the goals you’re driving at.
First, write down 3-5 goals you want from Ramadan. They could be as simple as: pray my five prayers on time, read more Quran, pray extra at night, lose weight, cut down on sugar, etc. And when you write these down, don’t leave them open-ended. Rather, be as specific as possible: how much Quran do you want to read, how many pounds do you want to lose, how much sugar will you cut, etc. The more specific you are, the better your tracking and monitoring will be.
The idea behind goal setting (this is a nice article that speaks to the science behind it) is that you don’t want to start the month and find yourself overwhelmed by fasting, caffeine withdrawal, headaches, and no goals other than to survive each day. This is a sure way to lose out on the opportunities and benefits of Ramadan.
Plan in Thirds
We’ve all heard the hadith that the first ten days of Ramadan are mercy, the second set of ten days are forgiveness, and the last ten days are freedom from the hellfire. Even though this hadith is weak, it has enormous utility, especially for our subject here. By looking at Ramadan in thirds, you are able to create a shorter horizon for your goals and therefore avoid burnout. You might want to think of staggering your goals throughout the month so that you start slow and build up momentum, sort of like a marathon. For others it might be better to divide the goals for each set of ten days. Whatever you choose, remember that a month is a long time and we want to get the most out of it. By looking at ten days by ten days instead of entire 30, you set yourself up for success.
Track Your Food and Sleep
It’s also helpful to make daily notes on what foods help or don’t help with fasting and sleep. I picked this habit up several years ago and it improved the quality of my fasting dramatically. Every year the night before the first day of Ramadan, I take a quick glance at my food and sleep notes from previous years and make sure I follow my own advice. I ensure that what works is what is readily available and what doesn’t work I make a mental note to avoid. I also encourage my family to help me remember this throughout the month, especially when I crave things I know will not help. These notes do not have to be elaborate. A few lines throughout the month will go a long way to improving the quality of your fast year after year.
Write Down Your Duas
Ramadan is the month of forgiveness and the month of dua. Fasting is one of the acts the Prophet (God bless him and give him peace) said cause supplications to be answered. By fasting every day for a month, you are setting yourself up for a special relationship with God. You work off the rust of consumption and laziness and you build great spiritual momentum so that by the end of the month you are in a peak state to ask, ask, and ask. This perhaps is the biggest gift of Ramadan and to meet this, and as I’ve stated above, it starts by writing out what it is you want to focus on.
It’s important to have two sets of dua: one otherworldly (forgiveness, salvation, better faith, etc.) and one this worldly (the issues you are facing in your life). I like to begin the month by writing these down after writing my goals. This helps me focus my dua so that every night when I break my fast, and every morning during suhur, and every night while praying witr these are the things I ask for, in addition to whatever else I’m inspired to say at the moment. It helps me focus on these issues not just vis-à-vis dua, but I start to ask myself why did I write these specific duas down? Why are they important to me? What am I doing throughout the year helping or harming to achieve these goals? These questions are just as important as the dua themselves. In many respects, these questions are oftentimes the answer to the dua in the first place!
Alhamdulilah I’ve kept this practice for over a decade and it has been miraculous and transformative. To see the post-Ramadan results: how easily everything you were worried about is solved and everything you need is provided, not only strengthens your faith but allows you to look forward to Ramadan every year. It starts to become the season that keeps giving; the season you can’t live without.
Plan a Great Eid
Lastly, don’t forget to reward yourself and celebrate the great achievement of fasting. The Prophet (God bless him and give him peace) called the day of the Eid “prize day.” It’s the day when we celebrate our forgiveness and devotion to God. Therefore, we shouldn’t let this be just any other day. Rather, we should squeeze out of it every ounce of joy and happiness by celebrating with our families and loved ones. This is a nice way to conclude your Ramadan journal, a few lines on how this Eid was special. As you write these lines, savor the great accomplishment of fasting and be grateful for the opportunity. This way, inshaAllah, you’ll look forward to it next year!