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Ramadan Advice from a C+ Muslim

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I know the lofty goals to which we should aspire in Ramadan. This month is a chance to excel in worship of Allah. It is an opportunity to transform our ordinary condition. However, with several years of Ramadan under my belt, I’ve noticed some troubling patterns in my own practice, both in maximizing the benefits of this month, and in making its impacts last throughout the rest of the year. I’m sure you know the feeling. After about two weeks of Ramadan, you think about fasting two days a week, or even every other day, and it seems so easy. You feel fairly certain that you can manage that in the upcoming year. You make it through the six days of shawwal, sometimes delaying so long that you’re dreading an early moon sighting for Dhul Qi’dah. You manage a few more days here and there. You hit Arafat and Ashoora. But gradually, those little appetites start to take over. That daily coffee, or sweet, or lunch buffet becomes more and more irrestible, and the tranquility of Ramadan fades to a distant memory. The same can be said for qiyaam ul-layl, reading the Qur’an, and the relatively high levels of faith one attains in Ramadan.

As Yasir Qadhi stated during the conference call the other night, it is impossible to maintain the iman of Ramadan throughout the year. And yet, we must try to avoid a total collapse, a return to square one. We should ask, when Ramadan approaches again, do we really welcome it with eager anticipation….or does that indulgent, undisciplined side of our nafs moan and groan? If you’ve experienced Ramadan before, you know that a week from now, insha’Allah, you will love fasting….but how do you feel right now?

When I first became a Muslim, I was intimidated by a few things–namely, fajr prayer and fasting. I was never a morning person, and I always loved to eat. As I embarked on my first Ramadan (which incidentally, spanned the shortest days of the year), I was really dismayed to hear, that in addition to the full day of fasting, there was also this long prayer at night that I was supposed to attend I thought, “isn’t starving myself all day enough?!” Of course, as time passed, I learned to love taraweeh. So change is possible, and there is always room for improvement.

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When you look at the books of spirituality in Islam, there is one common element that is always mentioned as a foundational practice–controlling the appetite. I have to admit, this really scares me. I get so much pleasure from eating food, a lot of food. When I read about controlling the appetite as a necessary step to purifying the soul, I always wish that there was some other way. But what better time than Ramadan to learn this self control? Likewise, there are du’a in which we ask Allah to make the Quran the spring of our hearts. Sometimes, we feel the meaning of that supplication. At other times, it is just poetic language. In Wisconsin, after the long, long winters, one of the most amazing moments of spring is when the light green buds start to burst from the tree branches. At that time of year, you’ve almost forgotten what trees look like with leaves. A desolate landscape suddenly becomes beautiful. How often have you felt the same thing when you embrace the Quran after a long absence? And what better time than Ramadan for our hearts to blossom?

So for us C+ Muslims (and that may include a little grade inflation) who often fall short of the lofty goals, what can we do to ensure that this Ramadan will be different? What are the practical steps we can take to maximize the benefits, and then carry them through the year. I have a few suggestions, and welcome your thoughts as well:

The One Plate Pledge

Do we really learn self control in Ramadan? To some extent, yes (assuming you aren’t hiding in the closet with a Snickers bar). But during the day, a believer knows that he or she is not permitted to eat or drink. What happens when eating and drinking becomes halal, when the sun sets, do we exercise self control then? Unfortunately, the answer to this is often “no.” And this is tragic, because when Ramadan ends, it will be halal to eat and drink for the next eleven months! So it would seem a wise move to focus on self control at the time of iftar. That is certainly a lesson we can take with us for the rest of the year. To this end, I’m proposing the one plate pledge: at iftar, limit yourself to one plate of food. I’m not suggesting that we abandon good food. I’m not suggesting that we don’t eat more later in the evening. At suhoor, eat whatever you like in preparation for the long day ahead. But at iftar, at that time when the food lust wells up inside you, when you turn into “the human tornado”, as one brother described it to me, (thanks, Fuad!), at that time…control yourself! And if you see me at the iftar, and I’m creeping back to the table for another few spoonfuls of Biryani, or make it half a plate…or maybe the kids will want some, I’ll just fill it up…then say, “Musa, remember the one plate pledge.” By the way, I ‘m not suggesting that you we make an oath. Just try…limit it to one plate.

Ramadan is Better

During the day in Ramadan, you might pass your favorite restaurant or cafe, and think fondly of what it will be like to once again indulge yourself freely. And insha’Allah, you will indeed return to those simple, halal enjoyments once the month has passed. But remember…Ramadan is better. Don’t occupy yourself with the small pleasures that lie ahead. Rather, reflect on the treasures that will no longer be available to you.

Modest Goals

Bill Cosby spoke at my college graduation, and his advice was simple, “set goals.” In the past, I know that I’ve entered Ramadan with all sorts of fantastic ideas about what I might accomplish. However, I often ended up a little scattered, not really fulfilling any particular aim. This year, I’m trying to set finite, modest goals, that I can focus on accomplishing. Of course, one has to be reading the whole Quran.

Insha’Allah, with these simple steps, I hope some of us can leave Ramadan as “solid B” Muslims.

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Musa Maguire is from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and accepted Islam after graduating from college. In 2004-2005, he received a Fulbright grant to study in Egypt, and then spent the following year working at Huda TV, an English-language Islamic satellite channel that broadcasts from Cairo.

29 Comments

29 Comments

  1. ibnabeeomar

    September 12, 2007 at 11:32 AM

    good read.. i like the one plate pledge idea

  2. abu ameerah

    September 12, 2007 at 12:18 PM

    excellent post! got any advice for a solid D- Muslim?

  3. Mujahideen Ryder

    September 12, 2007 at 12:31 PM

    i’m a D- Muslim

    greet post bro!

  4. Musa Maguire

    September 12, 2007 at 12:47 PM

    don’t forget the grade inflation, brothers!

  5. AnonyMouse

    September 12, 2007 at 1:44 PM

    Masha’Allah, great post!

    Here’s a suggestion: make a list of what you KNOW are your faults (like br. Musa mentioned, the food thing), and then come up with a simple goal to take one step towards combatting that fault – both during and after Ramadhaan.

    For example, some might have a fierce temper and a quick tongue; others might get distracted by TV, movies, the Internet, novels.
    For the first, enlist the help of friends, family, and maybe even fellow students/ co-workers to help alert you whenever you’re about to blow your top. Come up with something that you can do to stop yourself from making the situation escalate (besides the “innee saa’im” reminder, you can walk away, take a deep breath, make wudhu, etc.).

    For the second, impose a limit on the time you spend on the Internet, listening to music, or watching TV/movies, or novels. Replace those activities with something similar, but beneficial (listening to relevant Islamic lectures, or Qur’an, or read an Islamic book, etc.).

    Basically, don’t just set goals – set up a system on how to accomplish it, step by step. Insha’Allah this will make your goal easier to reach because you can actually mark your progress.

  6. ...Niamah

    September 12, 2007 at 2:31 PM

    i need to make a habit of going to sleep with wuddu (sometimes i get lazy and just go to sleep w/o wuddu =( i really need to change that this summer-

    I really need to start saying bismillah b4 i do ANYTHINGG (i try to say as much as i can however i certainly dont say it b4 i do everything)

    Do dhikr in train instead of staring at fellow passengers =)

    help my mommy in kitcken =(((

    no more samosas/pakoras…eat simple food!!

    Make a habit of doing all the dus (b4 leaving the house, entering the house, bathroom etc etc……most of the time, i forget to say them at their appropriate time)

    memorise additionl duas that i dont know (syed ul istighfar, istikhara dua, safar dua etc)

    no more wasting time (phone, net ..keep it to minimum)

    and finallllllly improve my tajweed…tajweed and tajweeeeeed….

  7. Amad

    September 12, 2007 at 2:33 PM

    alhamdulillah the restaurant scene where I live is so bad, it doesn’t serve the purpose that Musa you describe… so I guess its bad in a way…

    I do find that there is a natural reaction from the body not to allow overeating (usually) because you kind of fill up quickly…

    Also I am wondering if I’ll be able to run in Ramadan? Any fitness geeks online have any suggestions??

  8. AnonyMouse

    September 12, 2007 at 2:44 PM

    Niamah – one way you could do that is delay ‘Isha ’till right before bed (it’s Sunnah to do so anyway), so that almost guaranteed you’ll have wudhu when you go to bed.

  9. ...Niamah

    September 12, 2007 at 3:38 PM

    ya Anonymous i always do Witr salah as last thing b4 i go to sleep- however once i am on bed, i keep turning and tossing and lose my wudu then get lazy to get up from my bed and do it again sooo need to change that=(

  10. AnonyMouse

    September 12, 2007 at 3:56 PM

    Ohhhh, in that case, don’t worry! The main thing is that you went to bed w/ wudhu; whether or not you keep it once you’ve been tucked in doesn’t matter so much.

    (Or at least, that’s what I learnt – if I’m wrong, somebody please correct me!)

  11. abu ameerah

    September 12, 2007 at 5:48 PM

    “Also I am wondering if I’ll be able to run in Ramadan? Any fitness geeks online have any suggestions??”

    You hit the nail on the head Amad. I have been wondering the same thing. It ain’t so bad for you akhi. Between the both of us, I’m the one whose got to do more running!

  12. zaynab

    September 12, 2007 at 7:17 PM

    “Also I am wondering if I’ll be able to run in Ramadan? Any fitness geeks online have any suggestions??”

    I’m no fitness geek, but I can say that running in Ramadan makes you feel amazing! I played basketball all through high school and the season always corresponded with Ramadan. [this was 3 or 4 yrs ago, so the days were a lot shorter]

    We played ~2hrs a day, 5 days a week (practice + games), and it did not hinder my fasting at all. Alhamdulillah, it feels great.

    While running first thing in the morning feels better (releases dopamine and whatnot), you might want to do it in the afternoon because running in the morning leaves you pretty thirsty all day.

    Also, I always drank more than 2 liters (~67 oz) of water at night. I just kept the 2L bottle with me all night and made sure I got through it. (in addition to any drinks at iftar)

    my 2 cents, it obviously depends a great deal on your age and fitness level.

    Allahu alam :)

  13. Rashid

    September 13, 2007 at 1:02 AM

    good Post

  14. aarij

    September 13, 2007 at 4:29 PM

    Ma sha Allah, what excellent and timely advice!!

  15. Jazmine Akhtar

    September 14, 2007 at 1:24 PM

    Do you lose your wuzu when you go to sleep?

  16. ...Niamah

    September 14, 2007 at 3:54 PM

    yes jamine, if u fall asleep then have to do ur wudu again (cuz ur unconscious and dont know whether u lost ur wudu or not)

  17. Jazmine

    September 14, 2007 at 4:29 PM

    I have another question to ask and it is that does the Quran say tht having relationships before marriage is wrong?
    I have tried reading the transalation to help find the answer but i have never come across it.
    Thankyou.
    Allahhafiz

  18. Medinah

    September 14, 2007 at 4:52 PM

    Assalamu Alaikum,
    Its a shame that some people see Ramadan as a burden than a blessing, ya Allah!! Its a spiritual cleansing and a very beautiful and blessed month, subhanallah!! I look foward to it every year, Allah allows me to see it.

  19. AnonyMouse

    September 14, 2007 at 5:24 PM

    Sister Jazmine – yes, the Qur’an says that any sexual relations outside of marriage are forbidden.

    Chapter 17, verse 32: “Nor come nigh to adultery: for it is a shameful (deed) and an evil, opening the road (to other evils).”

    Chapter 24, verse 2: The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication,- flog each of them with a hundred stripes: Let not compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by Allah, if ye believe in Allah and the Last Day: and let a party of the Believers witness their punishment.

    If you mean relationships as in girlfriends/ boyfriends (without neccessarily having sex), then this should help, insha’Allah:

    http://islam-qa.com/index.php?ref=1114&ln=eng&txt=boyfriend%20girlfriend%20relationship

  20. UAS

    September 25, 2007 at 10:26 AM

    JazakAllaho khaiurn for writing this most beneficial article.

    The simple yet crystal clear truth is most of us (I even boast a 97% figure) are “C+” Muslims.
    The fact is, you don’t have to be a new Muslim to feel this way; you just have to be human:)
    This is an is an A+ article, by far one of the best I have read so far on Ramadan, on the diseases of the heart, gluttony. We don’t have enough articles like this catered for our needs.

    Keep on writing; your words will make us all better Muslims inshaAllah.

  21. UAS

    September 25, 2007 at 10:32 AM

    “Also I am wondering if I’ll be able to run in Ramadan? Any fitness geeks online have any suggestions??”

    Not anywhere near a fitness anything,
    but I run for a few minutes right before iftar time as well.

    I of course stop to leave 5-8 minute gap before I eat my date to make duaa ( the best time to make duaa).

  22. ibnabeeomar

    September 25, 2007 at 10:37 AM

    btw br. musa it feels strange to mention this, but your ‘one plate pledge’ was a STICKY idea.

    every time i get dinner and everyone gets up for seconds, i pause, think to myself if i really need more, and then in my mind i remember ‘one plate pledge’ and then stop eating :)

    jazakallahu khayr

  23. Editor

    September 26, 2007 at 2:46 AM

    Was I the only one who clicked on this thinking “Oh, advice from a Muslim programmer?” :-/

    The One Plate Pledge is awesome for self-discipline. We could also follow it according to the increasingly popular healthy diet of eating smaller portions throughout the day rather than three set meals a day (applicable post-Ramadan!). So instead of literally sticking to one plate of rice for example, we could eat smaller portions of the foods available for us during iftar. That means a smaller portion of biryani to make space for that samosa and perhaps a couple spoonfuls of pudding. It gives the impression that we’re eating a lot (much to our heart’s delight) but in actuality we’re still sticking to consuming only one plate’s worth.

    Yeah.

  24. Juwayriyah

    September 29, 2007 at 1:09 PM

    I know this is not abt Ramadan but it is something i wanted to know for ages. Basically my great grandma is over 100 and she still keeps her fast but the problem is she seems to think ppl are out to get her and she tries to kick open the door so she can get whoever wants to shoot her. To start off with she fort my uncle was shot and then she fort someone was guna kill my bruva. She swearz sumtyms when she thinks noone believes her tht sum1s ded. I wish i cud help her….
    Wat is this? Is her time cumin near?
    Am reeealli worried….

  25. Amad

    September 29, 2007 at 2:50 PM

    Juwayriyah, did you all take your grandma to a doctor?

    As you get older, esp. in the really old age, people can tend to lose some of their memories and can take on aggressiveness. My grandmother (may Allah grant her Jannah) could also become aggressive and unreasonable on small issues.

  26. Juwayriyah

    September 29, 2007 at 4:45 PM

    Yes i did take her to the doctor, they gave her stress pills and sleeping pills but she just throws them away. She asked the name of my uncle and told me he was guna die today and stopped eatin food. We hav to keep the keys to stop her frm runnin away.
    I think all she needs is sum care becoz wen u massage her she stops worryin and goes to sleep. She maybe sufferin from dimensia, but im not sure. Inshallah she will get better but i doubt it.

  27. Pingback: muslimmatters.org » Thoughts and Observations on Ramadan 1428

  28. nunu

    September 9, 2008 at 5:01 PM

    What time do you break your fast in Wisconsin ?

  29. Nuraini

    August 3, 2012 at 7:29 AM

    Thank you for being ordinary and posting about the ordinariness of your conversion journey.

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