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Ramadan Prep Guide for Busy People | Part 3: Keeping on Track for 30 Days

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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

The Secret Sauce of Successful People

Ramadan is known for its ups and downs.  Moonfighting arguments reach a fever pitch the days before Ramadan (magnified nowadays by social media), then drops like a rock once the fast begins.  Motivation for ‘ibadah also peaks in the first few days like runners taking off at the beginning of a marathon, only to spiral downwards towards the middle, and only pick back up again in the last 10 days before the 27th night.

Rather than jumping up and down, we want consistent spirituality.  When the moonfighting starts, we consciously put shaytaan and our nafs on “unfollow” and we stop retweeting that spiritual muck.  We are calm before, during, and after Ramadan.  The same is true of our worship during.  It will increase, as it must, and it is consistent throughout as much as possible for all 30 days.  When it goes down post-Ramadan, it’s a gentle drop rather than a frenetic effort to chuck all spirituality out the door post-‘Eid.

Some of the ingredients to the secret sauce of success in any endeavor include having lofty yet achievable goals, working smartly by recognizing which actions provide maximum benefit, planning a feasible plan forward, consistently moving the ball towards your goal by achieving just a bit more, persevering through those days when you don’t have motivation, and reviewing your plan to ensure you keep on track.

Within all of those, you must take into account the people who depend on you and how to keep them happy while you also take care of yourself – I can’t underscore this last point enough.  We don’t live in a vacuum where we can do what we want and the rest of the world isn’t constantly demanding our attention.  People who are successful manage their own needs amidst others.  They don’t live in an either / or paradigm, but they look creatively within their situation with an “and” mindset.  For a good example of this in action, take a look at famous athletes such as Hakeem Olajuwon or all the Muslim soccer players in the 2014 FIFA World Cup.  They’re fasting AND they’re playing an intense game of futbal ;)

In the first part, we covered pre-training to get us warmed up for the upcoming Ramadan triathlon of siyam, salah, and Qur’an.  In the second part, we covered goal-setting and planning out how to think about the time each goal will consume on a daily basis.  Let’s now consider how we bring this alive into our daily schedule and keep ourselves riding high for the full month, insha’Allah.

Tools for Ramadan Success

The following are tools I recommend for keeping oneself in Ramadan mode throughout the month:

  1. Calendar / Planner
  2. Motivational Spiritual Talks
  3. Support Groups

1. Calendar / Planner

The calendar / planner should contain your monthly, weekly, and daily agenda.  It should contain the following:

  • Appointments: Events that must happen at a specific time.  This can include meetings, doctor’s visits, car repairs, and most importantly, prayer times at the masjid.
  • Single Tasks: This is anything else that needs to get done in the day.
  • Important Daily Habits:  By important, what I mean are those things which don’t have a time to complete and may not even have to be completed, but knowing if you did them consistently would result in an exponentially better life.  Some of these would include working out to keep fit, giving your kids quality time, qur’an reading / memorization, the five daily prayers, and developing new skills / talents through reading and practice.

I’ve intentionally emboldened important daily habits, as these are the foundation of a successful person generally, and particularly in Ramadan.  To help you understand why, watch the following video

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KPsLnnAse0A[/youtube]

How you decide to deal with Important Daily Habits on your calendar is up to you.  You can do one of three things:

  1. Schedule them like an appointment:  Do them consistently at the same time daily.
  2. Schedule them like a single task: Each day, have the habit tracked somewhere as a task.  Place it in the schedule first before you put down anything else, then put everything else around it.
  3. Hybrid: Place some important daily habits at specific times and others simply keep them recorded, and then decide where you’ll put at the time you plan your day.

Let’s look at an example of a calendar which captures all of this (click the image, it expands :)).

mmpart3cal

I’ve colored coded them so that green is important daily habits, yellow is appointments, and blue is single tasks.  I realize it’s possible that something can both be an important daily habit and treated like an appointment (eg fajr at the masjid), and as well, there may be certain things which are important, but happen only once.  Don’t get too caught up on that, but focus on whether something is important and if it’s scheduled as the highest priority in mind.

The first thing you should fill out are your important daily habits.  Notice that I’ve filled many (but not all of them) at a specific time in the week.  So fajr and isha / tarawih are always at the same time.  Other prayers like dhuhr, asr, and maghrib are also on the calendar at specific times, but because a person may be doing them independently, if they have to manipulate the time a bit to adjust to day to day demands, they can do that during that day.  Sometimes, an appointment may occur at the planned usual time, so move the prayer around it to accommodate it.

One habit to note is the Qur’an reading habit.  This is an important daily habit, but for this hypothetical person, it’s not feasible to do it at the exact same time every day, so notice that it’s placed at the very top of each day (as an all-day event) simply as a means of tracking.  When the time comes to plan the day, the person can choose where best to put in their one hour of Qur’an reading.  In this example, the person decided that after waking up and getting their bearings a bit, they’d read Qur’an for an hour first.  The next day, this hypothetical person decided they would read Qur’an during their lunch break on the job.  Maybe on day 3 they wake extra early before fajr and have lots of energy and decide they’ll take advantage of the time to fill their Qur’an quote, even though they haven’t put it down, but they know it’s coming.

After the important daily habits, on Sunday this person decided to fill their time taking care of the home, doing chores, groceries, and taking the car for a cleaning.  In the evening, this person either rests before iftar or spends quality time with the family, and does this every single day.  On Friday and Saturday, their evening routine is a bit different because of gatherings they plan to attend that week.

Each day, the person will come back to their calendar to look at not only the current day, but what’s coming ahead in the next 6 days as well (a one week view).  They can plan out the most important activities to complete that day, place it in the agenda for that calendar, and then make sure to complete everything on there.  If they go over the time and can’t complete something in the allotted time, they can adjust the schedule as needed to bring down the amount of work they think they can complete in the day, move tasks to be completed later, and then revisit them the next day (or week) if needed.

Because we often underestimate the time to complete certain work, I personally think it’s better to plan out only the current day in detail on an hour-by-hour basis either in the morning of that day or in the evening before bed.

Also please note that I have intentionally added sleep all over this example calendar.  Sleep is important when you’re fasting 16 hours daily and praying late nights.  Since you won’t get all your sleep at night, try to find times during the day to get it, maxing out at 8 hours.  Do not spend all day sleeping as some do, as there is no virtue in this.  At the same time, don’t think you can feasibly neglect it and only have 4 hours of sleep each night.  No matter what you’ve read about other scholars and virtuous people doing this, realize that that lifestyle requires the development of habit over many years, and one should not try something so drastic in an overnight-cold-turkey sort of way.

Finally, you may find that you’re not perfect.  That’s perfectly ok, so long as you have a plan to make up for mistakes.  For example, let’s say you only completed 10 pages of Qur’an on Monday.  You’re officially 10 pages behind in Qur’an reading now, so what will you do?  Adding extra pages during the weekdays might be too much, but can you split the difference and make it up on the weekend?  For those things that can be made up, try to find a way to make them up later in a way that’s doable for you.

2. Motivational Spiritual Talks

It’s truly tragic we debate whether music is halal or not, focusing and (I would say) wasting all our energy on academically discussing the reasons for or against the use of instruments when we all agree that anything with licentious lyrics should be prohibited, full-stop.  Contemporary pop music is nothing more than an automated shaytaan whispering in your ears in full HD, calling you to sex (i.e. the degradation and objectification of women mostly), narcissism, greed, disrespect, and overall heedlessness of the next world in favor of an excessive focus on this one.  And to cement those ideas positively in your head, it’s accompanied with music designed to elicit a positive chemical response in order to hard wire it’s acceptance into your brain.

During this month, let’s drop the music and singing in favor of Islamic talks.  Get your favorite speaker on your mp3 player and where ever you would have normally been listening to music (or if you don’t listen, where there is nothing that consumes your mental bandwidth while working), listen to a good set of talks about Ramadan.  Commit to do it daily.  Automate virtue and spirituality and the call to better adab, manners, living, ethics, and worship in HD in your ears.

Some times to do this would include when you’re doing chores at home, commuting to work, or some other mundane task.  Get a smart phone, a car stereo that connects to devices via bluetooth, and stream your favorite speaker from youtube to your car stereo.  Put some headphones on while you’re grocery shopping.  Find a way to fill your head with virtue and keep virtuous company.  Post-Ramadan start listening to audiobooks and become a better read, more intelligent individual.

3. Support Groups

One method that is known to keep people on track with difficult goals is being part of a support group.  Find yourself a group of close friends who want to achieve big things during Ramadan, and form a group – a mailing list, a discussion forum, a facebook group, a twitter list, whatever technology or means you prefer, but keep a group on hand where you can talk about your goals and share your progress.  It will motivate others as well as keep you motivated to stay on track.  There may be some fear that one can feel their intention getting compromised by sharing progress, but this something you have to fight.  When you feel you may be falling into riyaa, renew your intention and fight that feeling as you keep motivating others while being motivated by them.

What Are Your Techniques?

In the comments below, share with everyone your techniques for staying motivated and keeping on track during Ramadan =)

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Siraaj is the Operations Director of MuslimMatters as well as its new lead web developer. He's spent nearly two decades working in dawah organizations, starting with his chapter MSA in Purdue University, and leading efforts with AlMaghrib Institute, MuslimMatters, and AlJumuah magazine. Somewhere in there, he finds time for his full-time profession as a software engineer in Silicon Valley. He holds a bachelor's in Computer Science from Purdue University and a Master's certificate from UC Berkeley. He's very married and has 5 wonderful children

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Avatar

    M

    June 17, 2014 at 10:45 PM

    Salam, JazakAllah Khair for sharing this. Keeping a calender/planner really helps in keeping track of one’s goal. It’s like a self-evaluation tool. I came across the “Daily Taskinator” chart from Productive Muslim, and made a personalised version of it last Ramadan. It’s really handy. I’ve been using it since then for every month.

  2. Avatar

    Uzair

    June 18, 2014 at 7:49 AM

    Assalam Alaykum.
    Jazak’Allah for the amazing series!

    Wonderful post brother. May I suggest DayScore.net for keeping track of your habits during Ramadan?
    It’s pretty simple and straightforward since you don’t need a separate app. Just type in the habits and bookmark the page. Open it daily while checking email and stuff.

  3. Avatar

    M.S.

    June 18, 2014 at 12:52 PM

    As salaamu aleykum.

    MashaAllah, good suggestions and tools brother Siraaj. May Allah reward you.

    Ok, so I think, I had a good Ramadan last year, Allah knows best. And I would like to share some things I had incorporated into my routine.

    1. Attending all congregation prayers at the Masjid. I tried to attend as many prayers as I could during the work-week, and I made it a habit to pray all the prayers at the Masjid during the weekends. I found out when I did this frequently, it got easier for me to make more dhikr and read a few extra pages of Quran every day.

    2. Giving regular Sadaqah every day. I allocated a budget before Ramadan started, and gave charity in both money and food every single day. Sometimes I would donate to a charity online, other days I would give out a few dollars here and there in whatever Masjid or area around town I found myself in. In terms of food, I would distribute food consistently each day. People would ask me how I could give every day and frankly speaking, once I started it, it became super easy, I never got tired, and it never drained my wallet. I miss it so much, I can’t wait for this year’s Ramadan already.

    3. Have a unique dua list ready to go. (Sensei…oops, I meant Shaykh Muhammad Al-Shareef, may Allah reward him, advocates having a good dua list ready. I used this for both Ramadan and during Hajj. It is awesome.) InshaAllah, write down your dua list today and check it twice. Start practicing those duas every day from now, and as Ramadan gets closer, it becomes easy for you. Then when Ramadan arrives, say those duas after the Adhan, after making dhikr after the Salat, before breaking your fast at Iftar time and even before you go to sleep. InshaAllah, Allah will answer something for you on that dua list.

    4. Every free moment I could find, I worked in some time to recite Quran. During the work week, I would consistently recite Quran after Fajr prayers. The Quran after Fajr, was the key to having a good recitation day. After work, after Asr prayers or before Iftar time came in, I would recite more, to see if I could complete a Juz or even more. At work, I would put on my head phones and listen to Quran, and/or recite along as much as I could. On the weekends, cutting out internet and TV from my time increased my efficiency, it allowed me to recite two, sometimes three Juz in one sitting. AlhamdulilAllah, with the slight changes in habit, I found out that I was able to finish reciting the complete Quran from cover-to-cover many times. May Allah guide me, and all of us to the sweetness of the Quran in this coming blessed month.

    5. Postponing all Iftar dinner invitations to Eid day and afterwards. Sad to say this, but I did turn down a majority of the Iftar-dinner invitations to people’s houses during last Ramadan. I know it is hard for some people to refuse a good meal (including myself), or invitations from important people and/or respected relatives, however try your best to keeping it within 3 to 5 outside Ifar dinner plans. I suggest you make a schedule, mark an ‘X’ on the free nights, and lock it in. (I would suggest picking an even-night on Saturdays or Sundays as one of your wild-card nights for accepting invitations. Although every day & night is potentially very rewarding, you want to have a game plan and avoid being spontaneous in Ramadan. Don’t be afraid to say no, for the sake of Allah.) Once all available space is booked in your schedule, take no more appointments until Eid day inshaAllah. In my case, if a brother kept insisting on inviting me, I would say ‘Sorry brother, I love you for the sake of Allah but I have made plans already”. I learnt to repeat that line over and over again with a big smile. I found out many Iftar dinner parties outside my zip code or held outside my local Masjid, disrupted my chances of catching the Maghrib, Isha and Taraweeh prayers in congregation. Also, most Iftar dinner parties led to over eating on my part. Most of the time the host (i.e., the host’s wife) almost always overcooked, the portions were enormous, and as a guest who didn’t want to disappoint, I don’t know how but I turn into a competitive eater. So minimizing or completely curtailing these Iftar dinner smorgasbords did wonders to my Ramadan activities, and my waistline.

    6. This last point is an extension of the previous – be friendly and nice to people in Ramadan, always seek refuge in Allah from Shaytan, overlook people’s errors even if they hurt you, and try to focus on oneself. So what I am really saying is, be a little selfish in a good way. Focus on yourself and don’t lose sight of the blessings you, as an individual, can earn in this month. Yes, many things practiced in Islam fall into a group activities, group activities have people with personalities & attitudes that will most likely clash with yours. I am not advocating avoiding people but I am suggesting making a few intelligent choices, picking one or two activities with people that will really benefit you, and don’t just buy into anyone’s idea of a ‘super-awesome Ramadan Halaqah Dawah Project Family Gathering’ mash up. AlhamdulilAllah, last Ramadan there were many activities in our local masjid that I would have loved to participate in, but frankly, I declined many of them because I knew there was potential for me to lose focus or burn-out. In one incident, last Ramadan, while I was sitting in the masjid reciting Quran, a brother at our Masjid stood up and made an announcement about a new Halaqah that was starting that same day in the Masjid, and would continue every day after Asr prayer in the month of Ramadan. He was encouraging people to participate, and he actually walked over to me, and invited me to attend. I greeted him, gently declined and he somehow got pissed at me. He insisted it was beneficial knowledge and it is a blessed month to be learning, and I told the brother, I couldn’t and that I wanted to focus on some other tasks. The brother walked away disappointed. Working 40+ hours a week did not leave me with a lot of energy, and I choose to focus on the goals I set for myself like continuously reciting the Quran, upping my GPA average on congregational prayer attendance, and maximizing the reach of my charity in my local community. I think I accomplished those tasks and I ask Allah to accept them of me. But what I didn’t do is attend Tafsir classes, participate in dawah projects and/or take part in distributing the Zakat ul-Fitr charity. I know there were other brothers who took advantage of those activities and I ask Allah to reward them and bless them for it.

    May Allah accept of us all and reward us with Jannatul Firdaus al-‘Alaa.

    Wa salaamu aleykum

    • Avatar

      AA

      January 28, 2016 at 9:31 AM

      Jazaaka Allaahu khairaa for sharing this list. It’s very helpful.

  4. Avatar

    Abdul-Qadir

    June 18, 2014 at 1:18 PM

    Assalamualiakum,

    What I do every year for the past several years is have a create a few goals, and try to meet those few only. If i try to do too much i feel let down and quit.

    1. Dua list for use the entire month especially during the last ten nights.
    2. Quran read/memorize
    3. Chosen Islamic book to read (Dua: weapon of the believer, short tafseer, Aqeedah book, etc.)
    4. Chosen Non-fiction book (marriage, money habits, business, etc.)
    5. 10 hadith from Riyad-as-Saliheen daily.

    I then look at the day and see where i can fit it in. The hadith usualyl happen in the morning, the quran during lunch, the rest after work.

  5. Avatar

    Said Hasan

    June 19, 2014 at 11:16 AM

    JazakAllah khayr for sharing this great article. After reading beneficial Ramadan posts at muslimmatters.org, productivemuslim.com, onislam.net, islamqa.com and youthlyhub.com, I aim to have a life-changing amazing Ramadan in sha Allah.

  6. Avatar

    Shahzad Mustafa

    June 19, 2014 at 12:06 PM

    JazakumAllahu khairan for this series. Lots of great ideas on help us organize our Ramadan. What needs to be said loud and clear, is that once a Muslim’s heart begins to yearn for his/her Lord, truly believing in the reality of the Akhirah, and feeling the urge to maximize his/her time in this world to do good deeds, then all these tools/technique become contextualized. It’s gotta be an “inside out” approach. One of the challenges of spirituality in our community is people get overwhelmed with the “externalities” of Islam (praying, fasting, going to the masjid, jumu’ah, hijab, beard, etc.) while the hearts and minds are not growing. Ramadan in particular can be very “religiously hectic” with the need to pray all that taraweeh, finish reading the Quran, etc. But it’s that internal journey that is ultimately to be sought for, and then the actions will easily follow.

    • Avatar

      M.S.

      June 19, 2014 at 6:01 PM

      As salaamu aleykum

      I support Shahzad’s position on the need to raise the spiritually level of one’s heart in a blessed month like Ramadan. And throughout the year. And I have to agree we have to challenge ourselves to think deeper, to ask intelligent questions about where we stand in our faith and we need to start looking from the inside-out.

      However, if I am reading the post correctly, and I could be misunderstanding what was written, it seems like Shahzad is saying we need to relegate some recommended actions because they are “externalities of Islam” that hinder a community from achieving a higher spiritual threshold. Maybe this is not what you meant but I have to say this line of thinking sounds flawed, and it is weird to imply that the lack of spirituality in people in a community, is a result of burn-out from performing some obligatory actions (or the supererogatory actions). I hate to use the cliché, correlation does not imply causation, but it really applies here. Maybe we need to dissuade people in the community from getting involved in other things that could be degrading them spiritually, for example, discouraging sins, or consumption of impure earnings & staying away from interest, or discouraging them from excessively loving materialism & glamour, and/or warning them about not getting involved in actions of bid’ah which can blemish their thinking and their understanding of Islam. These are just some of the few bad apples I can think of that could really undermine people’s spirituality and weaken their connection to their Creation. As far as the praying of Taraweeh and/or reciting the Quran goes, these are recommended actions and considered some of the best deeds, and it is okay to accept that not everyone is going to be at the same performance level in reading, reciting or attending the prayers. Some people will struggle a bit in Ramadan, others may find a comfortable pace, and yet others will move like well-oiled machines. Some people may even become more generous in Ramadan by them just witnessing other people giving generously. Everyone will agree, this is a good step in the right direction. (Yes, if someone did put in major effort throughout the year in learning Arabic the language of the Quran, for sure, their level of Khusoo’ and comprehension of the recited Quran will be better during Taraweeh prayers in Ramadan. But that doesn’t mean we have to discount the Taraweeh altogether.) We need to encourage people to do more of these actions in Ramadan and after Ramadan, and not discourage them. From what I understand, the intent of the recommended actions done with sincerity, is to try to raise one’s rank in front of Allah and have hope that Allah accepts that extra effort. And we all know there are many ranks for the sincere believers to strive towards, may Allah make us amongst the best. However, to insinuate that a recommended action like Taraweeh prayers takes away from raising the spirituality of practicing Muslims or keeps them away from doing good deeds, is a stretch. Yes there is a problem with lack of spirituality or low spirituality in many of us, no one disagrees, but let’s not use the mentality of the cynical six-phases of a big project that said “Search for the Guilty, Punish the innocence”. This would not work well.

      May Allah forgive me and all of us, may He accept our deeds, and help us improve ourselves and the condition of His creation and the believers.

      Wa salaamu aleykum

    • Avatar

      Saliha

      June 19, 2014 at 7:10 PM

      Shahzad, I see where you’re coming from: we definitely need to focus on spirituality and our hearts. That being said, I agree with M.S. To paraphrase a hadith, Prophet (SAW) said, “None of you truly believe until your desires are in line with what Allah (SWT) commands.” So a major part of the inner journey is doing what we need to do like salah, beard, etc. The goal would be for the feeling of these acts of worship being a burden or overwhelming transforming into positive feelings like enjoyment and relaxation. So, it would have to be the other way around: the more obligatory and nonobligatory stuff we do and the more we’re actually enjoying it, the better and the more sincere our inner journey would be. To use a mundane example, you wouldn’t tell a person that has heart disease to just stop working out and dieting because they find it overwhelming would you? You would instead tell them, “Ok, so incorporate a little of both each time until you’re no longer aware of the fact that you’re eating healthy because it’s so normal for you, and until working out becomes a routine that you actually love.” That would be the ideal, but even if we can’t get to this ideal, we can still keep working at it, right?

  7. Pingback: Ramadan Prep Guide for Busy People | Part 2: Planning and Hitting Ambitious Goals Easily | MuslimMatters.org

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#Life

7 Powerful Techniques For Keeping New Year’s Resolutions

Studies show the most common New Year’s resolutions revolve around finances and health.  Unfortunately, they also show only a relatively small number will keep most or all of them. The rest will mostly fail within the first few weeks. Here are 7 powerful techniques to make sure you’re not one of them.

New Year's Resolutions
Who uses sticky notes on a cork board #stockimagefail
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It’s the end of the year, and I’m pretty sure I know what you’re thinking – after wondering if New Year’s is halal to celebrate, you probably want to lose some weight, make more money, talk to family more, or be a better Muslim in some way.  The New Year for many of us is a moment to turn a fresh page and re-imagine a better self. We make resolutions and hope despite the statistics we’ll be the outliers that don’t fail at keeping our New Year’s resolutions.

Studies show the most common New Year’s resolutions revolve around finances and health. Unfortunately, they also show only a relatively small number will keep most or all of them. The rest will mostly fail within the first few weeks.

Given such a high failure rate, let’s talk about how you can be among the few who set and achieve your goals successfully.

1. Be Thankful to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)

Allah Gives You More if You’re Thankful

You’ve been successful this past year in a number of areas. Think of your worship, career, relationships, personality, education, health (physical, mental, social, and spiritual), and finances. Take a moment to reflect on where you’ve succeeded, no matter how trivial, even if it’s just maintaining the status quo, and be thankful to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) for those successes.

When you’re thankful to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), He increases you in blessings.  Allah says in the Qur’an:

“And (remember) when your Lord proclaimed, ‘If you give thanks (by accepting faith and worshipping none but Allah), I will give you more (of My blessings); but if you are thankless (i.e. disbelievers), verily, My punishment is indeed severe’” [14:7] 

In recent years, there’s been more discussion on the benefits of practicing gratitude, though oftentimes it’s not clear to whom or what you’re to be grateful towards. We, of course, know that we’re not grateful simply to the great unconscious cosmos, but to our Creator.

Despite this difference, there exist interesting studies on how the practice of gratitude affect us. Some of the benefits include:

  • Better relationships with those thanked
  • Improved physical health
  • Improved psychological health
  • Enhanced empathy and reduced aggression
  • Better sleep
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Improved mental strength

Building on Your Successes

In addition to being thankful to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), reflect on why you were successful in those areas.  What was it you did day in and day out to succeed? Analyze it carefully and think of how you can either build on top of those present successes, or how you can transport the lessons from those successes to new areas of your life to succeed there as well.

In the book Switch by Dan and Chip Heath, they note that we have a tendency to try to solve big problems with big solutions, but a better technique that has actual real-world success in solving complex problems is to instead focus on bright spots and build on those bright spots instead. You have bright spots in how you’ve worked and operated, so reflect on your successes and try to build on top of them.

2. Pick One Powerful, Impactful Goal

Oftentimes when we want to change, we try to change too many areas.  This can lead to failure quickly because change in one area is not easy, and attempting to do it in multiple areas simultaneously will simply accelerate failure.

Instead, pick one goal – a goal that you are strongly motivated to fulfill, and one that you know if you were to make that goal, it would have a profoundly positive impact on your life as well as on others whom you are responsible to.

In making the case based on scientific studies, James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, writes:

Research has shown that you are 2x to 3x more likely to stick with your habits if you make a specific plan for when, where, and how you will perform the behavior. For example, in one study scientists asked people to fill out this sentence: “During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME OF DAY] at/in [PLACE].”

Further down, he states:

“However (and this is crucial to understand) follow-up research has discovered implementation intentions only work when you focus on one thing at a time.”

When setting your goal, be sure to set a SMART goal, one that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time Bound.  “I want to lose weight” is not a SMART goal.  “I want to achieve 10% bodyfat at 200 lbs in 9 months” is specific (you know the metrics to achieve), measurable (you can check if you hit those metrics), achievable (according to health experts, it can be done, realistic (it’s something you can do), and time-bound (9 months).

3. Repeatedly Make Du’a with Specificity

Once you lock onto your goal, you should ask for success in your goal every day, multiple times a day.  Increasing in your du’a and asking Allah for success not only brings you the help of the Most High in getting to your goal, it also ensures it remains top of mind consistently.

A few of the best ways to increase the chances of a supplication being accepted:

  • Increase the frequency of raising your hands after salah and asking for your intended outcome.
  • Asking while you are in sujood during prayers.
  • Praying and supplicating in the last 3rd of the night during qiyam ul-layl.

When you make your du’a, be specific in what you ask for, and in turn, you will have a specific rather than a vague goal at the forefront of your mind which is important because one of the major causes of failure for resolutions themselves is lacking specificity.

4. Schedule Your Goal for Consistency

The most powerful impact on the accomplishment of any goal isn’t in having the optimal technique to achieve the goal – it is rather how consistent you are in trying to achieve it.  The time and frequency given to achievement regularly establishes habits that move from struggle to lifestyle. As mentioned in the previous section, day, time, and place were all important to getting the goal, habit, or task accomplished.

In order to be consistent, schedule it in your calendar of choice. When you schedule it, make sure you:

  • Pick the time you’re most energetic and likely to do it.
  • Work out with family, friends, and work that that time is blocked out and shouldn’t be interrupted.
  • Show up even if you’re tired and unmotivated – do something tiny, just to make sure you maintain the habit.

A Word on Automation

Much continues to be written about jobs lost to automation, but there are jobs we should love losing to automation, namely, work that we do that can be done freely or very cheaply by a program.  For example, I use Mint to capture all my accounts (bank, credit card, investments, etc) and rather than the old method of gathering receipts and tracking transactions, all of it is captured online and easily accessible from any device.

Let’s say you wanted to give to charity, and you wanted to give a recurring donation of $5 a month to keep MuslimMatters free – all you have to do is set up an automated recurring donation at the link and you’re done.

Likewise, if you’re saving money for a goal, you can easily do so by automating a specific amount of money coming out of your bank account into another account via the online banking tools your bank provides.  You can automate bill payments and other tasks to clear your schedule, achieve your goals, and keep you focused on working the most important items.

5. Focus on Behaviors, Not Outcomes

We’re often told we should set up SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timebound.  However, one way to quickly fail a goal is by defining success according to outcomes, which aren’t necessarily in your hand.  For example, you might say as above:

“I want to be at 10% body fat in 9 months at 200 lbs.”

This is a SMART goal, and it’s what you should aim for, but when you assess success, you shouldn’t focus on the result as it’s somewhat outside the scope of your control. What you can do is focus on behaviors that help you achieve that goal, or get close to it, and then reset success around whether you’re completing your behaviors.  As an example:

“I want to complete the P90X workout and diet in 90 days.”

Here, you’re focused on generally accepted notions on behaviors that will get you close to your goal.  Why? Because you control your behaviors, but you can’t really control the outcomes. Reward yourself when you follow through on your behavior goals, and the day-to-day commitments you make.  If you find that compliance is good, and you’re getting closer to your goal, keep at it.

Read the following if you want to really understand the difference in depth.

6. Set Realistic Expectations – Plan to Fail, and Strategize Recovery

After too many failures, most people give up and fall off the wagon.  You will fail – we all do. Think of a time you’ve failed – what should you have done to get back on your goal and complete it?  Now reflect on the upcoming goal – reflect on the obstacles that will come your way and cause you to fail, and how when you do fail, you’ll get right back on it.

Once you fail, ask yourself, was it because of internal motivation, an external circumstance, a relationship where expectations weren’t made clear, poor estimation of effort – be honest, own what you can do better, and set about attempting to circumvent the obstacle and try again.

7. Assess Your Progress at Realistic Intervals

Once you’re tracking behaviors, simply mark down in an app or tracker that you completed the behavior.  Once you see you’re consistent in your behaviors over the long-term, you’ll have the ability to meaingfully review your plan and assess goal progress.

This is important because as you attempt to perform the work necessary to accomplish the goal, you’ll find that your initial assessments for completion could be wrong. Maybe you need more time, maybe you need a different time. Maybe you need a different process for accomplishing your goals. Assess your success at both weekly and monthly intervals, and ask yourself:

  • How often was I able to fulfill accomplish my required behaviors?  How often did I miss?
  • What was the reason for those misses?
  • Can I improve what I’m doing incrementally and change those failures to successes?  Or is the whole thing wrong and not working?

Don’t make changes when motivation dies after a few days.  Don’t make big changes on a weekly basis. Set an appointment on a weekly basis simply to review successes and challenges, making small tweaks while maintaining the overall plan. Set a monthly appointment with yourself to review and decide what you’ll change, if anything, in how you operate.

Be something of a Tiger mom about it – aim for 90% completion of behaviors, or an A grade, when assessing whether you’ve done well or not.  Anything below 90% is a failing grade.

(ok, so Tiger Moms want 100% or more, but let’s assume this is a somewhat forgiving Tiger Mom)

Putting it All Together

Set ‘Em Up

  • First, take a moment to reflect and be thankful to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) for what you’ve achieved, and reflect on what it is you’ve accomplished and what you’ve done in the way you worked and operated that helped you succeed.
  • Next, pick one goal and one goal alone to achieve, and use the SMART goal methodology to be clear about what it is.
  • Once this is done, make du’a with strong specificity on a regular basis during all times, and especially during the times when du’as are most likely to be accepted.

Knock ‘Em Down

  • Schedule your goal into a calendar, making sure you clear the time with any individuals who will be impacted by your changed routines and habits.
  • On a daily basis, focus on completing behaviors, not the outcomes you’re aiming for – the behaviors get you to the outcomes.
  • Plan on failing occasionally, especially a week after motivation disappears, and plan for how you’ll bounce back immediately and recover from it.
  • Finally, on a daily and weekly basis, assess yourself to see if you’re keeping on track with your behaviors and make adjustments to do better. On a monthly basis, assess how much closer you are to your goal, and if you’re making good progress, or if you’re not making good progress, and try to understand why and what adjustments you’ll make.

What goals do you plan to achieve in the coming year?

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I Encountered A Predator On Instagram

A predator on Instagram posing as a hijab modeling consultant, going by the name of @samahnation, tried to prey on me- an underage, 16-year-old. We don’t know if the photos on Instagram page have been stolen from a victim. These predators operate under various names.

instagram predator
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It was a Wednesday night in April and as I was getting ready to go to bed, a direct message popped up in my Instagram inbox. A little background; my personal  account on Instagram is private and it is rare that I let anyone, whom I do not know, follow me. But seeing that this was a grown “woman” with a baby and I had at least seven mutual friends, I let her follow me. 

I will say, I was definitely in the wrong to respond to someone I didn’t personally know. Somehow I thought her 105K followers gave her credibility. 

I was gravely mistaken. 

I opened the direct message. 

She had sent me a message complimenting me. This wasn’t new to me because I often get messages with compliments about my appearance from friends — we are teenagers. However, the stark difference was that I didn’t know this person at all. (I came to learn that these types of messages can go under the category of grooming). After complimenting me, she asked whether I had ever considered modeling for a hijab and abaya company. 

Many young women are targeted by predators on Instagram. Here is my story. 'After complimenting me, 'she' asked whether I had ever considered modeling for a hijab and abaya company.'Click To Tweet

I replied, saying that if I had more details I’d consult with my parents and give her an answer the next morning; to which she responded demanding she must have an answer the same night as she had other offers to make. 

I then went to ask my mother. Mama was sick with the flu, quite woozy, but despite her state she said,

“this sounds like a scam to me…”.



I decided to play along with it and test her. 

I told @samahnation to tell me more and how I could verify her and her company. She then sent me numerous copied and pasted answers —hecka long— about how I could trust her; how the company would pay me and how they will still make money in the meantime. 

hijab modeling scam

Thankfully, I was apprehensive during the entire ordeal, but as you can see, this type of manipulation is so real and possible for young women and girls to fall prey. This experience was honestly quite scary and jarring for me. I was so easily distracted by what she was portraying herself as on her profile. She had a GoFundMe for a masjid in her bio and posts of photos depicting her love for her baby.
predator

I began to do some research. I stumbled upon an article about a ‘Hijab House’ model scam. Using the title of ‘consultant director’ for a well-known hijab company, Hijab House, predators were allegedly preying on young girls in Australia. Hijab House has denied any link to this scam. 

Hijab House model scam

 

The predator went as far as to blackmail and pressure their victims into sending nude photos, or doing crazy things like smelling shoes! Eerily enough, @samahnation’s Instagram bio stated that she was based in Melbourne, Australia.


The more I engaged with this predator, the more ludicrous their responses and questions got. And this happened within the span of 24 hours. 

She went as far as to ask me if I would answer questions for a survey, saying all that mattered was honesty and that the purpose of the survey was to make me uncomfortable to see if I “won’t fall under pressure.”

Clearly, this last statement about being a speech analysis specialist was a complete fabrication. Again, may I reiterate that even older people can fall prey. You don’t have to be young and impressionable, these manipulative perpetrators will do anything to get what they want.



As shown below, the situation reached an obscene level of ridiculousness. You can see clear attempts to gaslight me and pressure me into answering or changing my stance on my replies.


This was the last thing I said to the predator before I blocked and reported them in an attempt to get them caught. Observe how as soon as I called this person out they immediately became defensive and tried to manipulate me into thinking that what they were doing and asking me was completely normal- that I was the crazy one for asking for proof. 

Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. They had asked me questions I found too lewd to even answer or take screenshots of.

This bizarre encounter was honestly astonishing. I do not even know if I was talking to a man or a woman.

Alhamdullilah, I am so glad because even if I was a little bit gullible, I was aware enough about predatory behavior that I didn’t fall victim to this perpetrator. I am especially grateful for my mother, who has educated me about predators like this from a very young age; whom even in her drowsy state was able to tell me it was a preposterous scam.

I could have been blackmailed.

Talk to your parents or a trusted adult

I am grateful for having an open channel of communication, that my relationship with my mother is based on trust and I could go to her when this occurred. This is a reminder and a learning opportunity for all of us how these scary things can happen to anyone. We must learn how to take caution and protect ourselves and our (underage) loved ones against such situations.

Sis, please talk to your parents. They love you and will be your first line of defense.

Grooming

Grooming is a very common tactic online predators use to gain the trust of their victim. According to InternetSafety101, young people put themselves at great risk by communicating online with individuals they do not know on a personal level. “Internet predators intentionally access sites that children commonly visit and can even search for potential victims by location or interest.

If a predator is already communicating with a child, he or she can piece together clues from what the child mentions while online, including parents’ names, where the child goes to school, and how far away the child lives from a certain landmark, store, or other location.
Online grooming is a process which can take place in a short time or over an extended period of time. Initial conversations online can appear innocent, but often involve some level of deception. As the predator (usually an adult) attempts to establish a relationship to gain a child’s trust, he may initially lie about his age or may never reveal his real age to the child, even after forming an established online relationship. Often, the groomer will know popular music artists, clothing trends, sports team information, or another activity or hobby the child may be interested in, and will try to relate it to the child.”

These tactics lead children and teens to believe that no one else can understand them or their situation like the groomer. After the child’s trust develops, the groomer may use sexually explicit conversations to test boundaries and exploit a child’s natural curiosity about sex. Predators often use pornography and child pornography to lower a child’s inhibitions and use their adult status to influence and control a child’s behavior.

They also flatter and compliment the child excessively and manipulate a child’s trust by relating to emotions and insecurities and affirming the child’s feelings and choices.

Predators will:

* Prey on teen’s desire for romance, adventure, and sexual information.
* Develop trust and secrecy: manipulate child by listening to and sympathizing with child’s problems and insecurities.
* Affirm feelings and choices of child.
* Exploit natural sexual curiosities of child.
* Ease inhibitions by gradually introducing sex into conversations or exposing them to pornography.
* Flatter and compliment the child excessively, send gifts, and invest time, money, and energy to groom the child.
* Develop an online relationship that is romantic, controlling, and upon which the child becomes dependent.
* Drive a wedge between the child and his/her parents and friends.
* Make promises of an exciting, stress-free life, tailored to the youth’s desire.
* Make threats, and often will use child pornography featuring their victims to blackmail them into silence.”

Gaslighting 

Another interesting observation I made is the clear gaslighting this pedophile was trying to perpetuate throughout my conversation with them. You may ask what is gas lighting? 

According to Psychology Today, gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think. “Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn’t realize how much they’ve been brainwashed. For example, in the movie Gaslight (1944), a man manipulates his wife to the point where she thinks she is losing her mind,” writes Dr Stephanie Sarkis. 

Another interesting observation I made is the clear gaslighting this pedophile was trying to perpetuate throughout my conversation with them. You may ask what is gas lighting? Click To Tweet

Recognizing signs that you may be a victim of gaslighting:

Second guessing. Are you constantly second guessing yourself when talking to this person or questioning your own morals that you wouldn’t have thought twice about otherwise? For example, when this person popped up in my inbox I wouldn’t have thought twice about blocking or just deleting the message if it was a man but, since it seemed to be a woman I was duped into thinking that it was more acceptable or I could trust them more.

Feeling as if you are being too sensitive. Again I cannot emphasize this enough that you must trust your instincts, if you are feeling uncomfortable and your internal alarm bells are ringing- listen to them! Anyone can be a victim of gaslighting or manipulation. 

Feeling constantly confused. Another sign that you may be falling victim to gas lighting is when you are constantly confused and second guessing your thoughts and opinions.

Three takeaways:

1. Trust your instincts (I’m going to reiterate this, always trust your gut feeling, if you feel like you are uncomfortable whether it’s a situation you are in or if you don’t have a good feeling while talking to a certain person I advise you exit the chat or don’t answer in the first place.)
2. Never answer to someone whom you don’t know. I will say this was my first and biggest mistake that I have made: allowing this person’s messages into my inbox, and replying to their ridiculous claims and questions. Now that I think about it I don’t even know if this was a woman or not.
3. Set your boundaries! This is probably the most important tip to take away from this article. Setting up your boundaries from the beginning is so important. Whether it is a friend, partner or colleague, if you do not set your boundaries from the beginning of your interaction or relationship with that person; people will not respect your limits and choices later on. Especially if your boundaries have to do with religion, moral compasses, or even specific pet peeves you have. I cannot emphasize how much boundaries matter when it comes to any daily interaction you may have in your daily life.

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How Grandparents Can Be Of Invaluable Help In A Volatile ‘Me First’ Age

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I grew up in a small rural village of a developing country during the 1950s and 1960s within a wider ‘extended’ family environment amidst many village aunties and uncles. I had a wonderfully happy childhood with enormous freedom but traditional boundaries. Fast forward 30 years, my wife and I raised our four children on our own in cosmopolitan London in the 1980s and 1990s. Although not always easy, we had a wonderful experience to see them grow as adults. Many years and life experiences later, as grandparents, we see how parenting has changed in the current age of confusion and technology domination.

While raising children is ever joyous for parents, external factors such as rapidly changing lifestyles, a breath-taking breakdown of values in modern life, decline of parental authority and the impacts of social media have huge impacts on modern parenting.

Recently, my wife and I decided to undertake the arduous task of looking after our three young grandchildren – a 5½-year old girl and her 2-year old sibling brother from our daughter, plus a 1½-year old girl from our eldest son – while their parents enjoyed a thoroughly deserved week-long holiday abroad. My wife, who works in a nursery, was expertly leading this trial. I made myself fully available to support her. Rather than going through our daily experiences with them for a week, I highlight here a few areas vis a vis raising children in this day and age and the role of grandparents. The weeklong experience of being full time carers brought home with new impetus some universal needs in parenting. I must mention that handling three young grandchildren for a week is not a big deal; it was indeed a sheer joy to be with these boisterous, occasionally mischievous, little kids so dear to us!

  1. Establish a daily routine and be consistent: Both parents are busy now-a-days earning a livelihood and maintaining their family life, especially in this time of austerity. As children grow, and they grow fast, they naturally get used to the daily parental routine, if it is consistent. This is vital for parents’ health as they need respite in their daily grind. For various practical reasons the routine may sometimes be broken, but this should be an exception rather than a norm. After a long working day parents both need their own time and rest before going to sleep. Post-natal depression amongst mums is very common in situations where there is no one to help them or if the relationship between the spouses is facing difficulty and family condition uninspiring.

In our trial case, we had some struggles in putting the kids to sleep in the first couple of nights. We also faced difficulties in the first few mornings when our grandson would wake up at 5.00am and would not go back to sleep, expecting one of us to play with him! His noise was waking up his younger cousin in another room. We divided our tasks and somehow managed this until we got used to a routine towards the end of the week.

  1. Keep children away from screens: Grandparents are generally known for their urge to spoil their grandchildren; they are more relaxed about discipline, preferring to leave that job to the parents. We tried to follow the parents’ existing rules and disciplinary measures as much as possible and build on them. Their parents only allow the children to use screens such as iPads or smartphones as and when deemed necessary. We decided not to allow the kids any exposure to these addictive gadgets at all in the whole week. So, it fell on us to find various ways to keep them busy and engaged – playing, reading, spending time in the garden, going to parks or playgrounds. The basic rule is if parents want their kids to keep away from certain habits they themselves should set an example by not doing them, especially in front of the kids.
  2. Building a loving and trusting relationship: From even before they are born, children need nurture, love, care and a safe environment for their survival and healthy growth. Parenting becomes enjoying and fulfilling when both parents are available and they complement each other’s duties in raising the kids. Mums’ relationship with their children during the traditional weaning period is vital, both for mums and babies. During our trial week we were keenly observing how each of the kids behaved with us. We also observed the evolution of interesting dynamics amongst the three; but that is a different matter. In spite of occasional hiccups with the kids, we felt our relationship was further blossoming with each of them. We made a habit of discussing and evaluating our whole day’s work at night, in order to learn things and plan for a better next day.

A grandparent, however experienced she or he may be, can be there only to lend an extra, and probably the best, pair of hands to the parents in raising good human beings and better citizens of a country. With proper understanding between parents and grandparents and their roles defined, the latter can be real assets in a family – whether they live under the same roof or nearby. Children need attention, appreciation and validation through engagement; grandparents need company and many do crave to be with their own grandchildren. Young grandchildren, with their innate innocence, do even spiritually uplift grandparents in their old age.

Through this mutual need grandparents can transfer life skills and human values by reading with them, or telling them stories or just spending time with the younger ones. On the other hand, in our age of real loneliness amidst illusory social media friends, they get love, respect and even tender support from their grandchildren. No wonder the attachment between grandparents and grandchildren is often so strong!

In modern society, swamped by individualism and other social ills, raising children in an urban setting is indeed overwhelming. We can no longer recreate ‘community parenting’ in the traditional village environment with the maxim “It needs a village to raise a child’, but we can easily create a productive and innovative role for grandparents to bring about similar benefits.

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