By Amal Stapley
Ramadan is just around the corner and, if you’re a new Muslim and haven’t experienced it yet, you’ve probably got a million-and-one questions going around your head about it and you’re possibly wondering how on earth you’ll manage.
You may be wondering: How will I adjust to those long summer days without food?
How will I manage to do all the things I usually have to do on a daily basis when I’m not eating and drinking?
And on top of that, how will I be able to fit all those extra activities in that people are telling me about?
As a new Muslim, you’re probably keen to please God as much as you can and you want to get your fasting right. But how will you cope if you’ve never done it before?
And also, how will your friends, family, and co-workers react to you fasting?
The major comfort you can take is that millions of people have done it before you and survived and received the blessings of this special month, and millions will do it after you. Whatever challenges you will face, someone else has managed the same challenges.
God guided you to Islam and He knows what you can bear and He never tests you with something you can’t cope with. And fasting is the only thing He asks you to do for Him:
“Allah said: ‘Every deed of the son of Adam is for him except fasting; it is for Me and I shall reward for it…’” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
So how will you manage?
Like anything new, the best thing to do, to make it as easy as possible, is to prepare for it. Below are some ideas that may help you that others have tried in the past.
Preparing Yourself Psychologically
The thought of fasting will probably seem quite strange to you at the moment unless you have had contact with other people fasting previously, so you might feel a bit nervous and apprehensive about it.
You can reduce these feelings by finding out more about fasting and what it entails. Some of the ways you can do this are:
- Talk to Muslims who have fasted before: It will be particularly helpful if you can meet up with or talk to other new Muslims to find out about their experiences.
- Read introductory information about Ramadan: Reading information such as A Beginner’s Guide to Ramadan and other information will help to dispel a lot of worries.
- Listen to talks about Ramadan: There are lots of talks that you can access the internet now. This would be a good starting point. You may also find that there will be talks at your local mosque or university Islamic society that will help to prepare you.
- Start getting rid of bad habits now: If you are someone who is prone to swearing, lying, backbiting or any other bad habits, become more aware of what you’re doing and try to curb the habit before Ramadan. And, if you typically waste many hours in front of the television, start gradually replacing this with more beneficial activities.
- Free-up your diary for Ramadan: Try to clear your diary as much as possible during Ramadan, so you can spend more time concentrating on spiritual matters. Reschedule non-urgent activities before or after Ramadan.
Preparing Yourself Physically
Physically, the major change during Ramadan is the change of routine, you’ll be eating at different times and probably waking much earlier than you’re used to. So rather than wait until Ramadan arrives and suddenly expect your body to cope with the changes, if you start getting into training now, it will be much easier when you actually have to do it.
Here are some suggestions:
- Consult your doctor if you’re taking regular medication or have health issues: It’s always wise to have a chat with your doctor before you start to fast, to make sure that it won’t harm you. The scholars have said that if you are sick, it’s disliked to fast if it will be very difficult for you, and it is forbidden to fast if it will harm you. So if a trustworthy doctor says that you can fast, you should do your best to do so.
- Start adjusting your sleeping pattern now: This will make it easier for you to wake up on time to eat Sahoor (the pre-dawn meal) before the Fajr Prayer time when Ramadan arrives. So now, instead of leaving it to the latest time to pray Fajr, start praying towards the beginning of the time. You could even try getting up and doing a few units of Night prayer before Fajr to get your body used to get up early. (You can always go back to sleep after you’ve prayed!)
- Start having an early breakfast: Some people say that one of the most difficult things for them is to have a good breakfast at the start of the fasting day, as they aren’t used to eating a lot in the morning. Practice having a nourishing breakfast as early as you can before Ramadan comes to get your stomach used to it. If you’re not sure what to eat, click here to get a good guide to healthy eating while fasting:
- Reduce your caffeine intake: If you habitually drink a lot of tea or coffee, it’s a good idea to start reducing the amount you drink before Ramadan, so you’ll avoid having headaches when you’re fasting. Maybe even substitute decaf versions in increasing amounts.
- Get rid of bad habits in advance: If you’re still smoking, work out a plan so you can stop before Ramadan. Likewise, if you regularly chew gum, take this opportunity to stop before Ramadan arrives.
- Practice Fasting: The first three days of fasting are usually challenging for most Muslims until their body adjusts to the routine, but as you have probably never fasted for a full day, let alone for 18 hours, it will help if you do some practice fasts beforehand.
- How about trying a half day fast without food and drink at the weekend and then gradually increase the time as you get nearer to Ramadan?
- Or maybe try to fast on Mondays and Thursdays like the Prophet (peace be upon him) did. Some people find it easier to fast when they are at work where they are busy rather than at the weekends when they are home and tempted by food in the kitchen!
Preparing Yourself Spiritually
Ramadan is not only a month to control your physical desires; it’s also a month to focus on spiritual matters too. If you can start preparing from now, it will give you a head start when the blessed month finally arrives.
- Focus on your prayers: If you aren’t yet praying all the five daily prayers in full, make a concerted effort to learn them before Ramadan comes. In this way, you’ll be able to get the extra reward for the prayers during Ramadan and you’ll also find it easier to join in with Tarawih (the special Ramadan night prayers) and also the other congregational prayers.
- Get in the habit of spending time with the Qur’an daily: Even if you can’t read Arabic yet, just spend some quiet time with the Qur’an on a daily basis, contemplating its meanings.
- Learn some Ramadan Dua’ (supplications): Try to learn some of the special Dua’ related to Ramadan, such as those said when breaking the fast or when you’re invited to break your fast at someone else house.
Preparing Your Family and Friends
For those of you who have told your family, friends, and co-workers about your conversion, explain to them what you will be doing during Ramadan and help them to understand it as well as you can. They may find the whole idea of Ramadan difficult to accept.
As food and drink is such an essential part of most people’s daily life, they may find it hard to accept you not eating and drinking for such a long period of time.
- Be patient with them: Try to remember back to a time when you may also have thought like they do. You may need to reassure them that you won’t come to any harm if you fast and that it is safe, and that you’ll still be spending time with them.
- Plan how you can best fit your fasting in with their usual routine: If you usually eat with them, try to work out ways to make it as least disruptive to them as you can. If possible try to work out how you can involve them in what you’ll be doing.
For those of you who haven’t yet told your family, friends, and co-workers, it will be more complicated, as people are likely to notice if you aren’t eating and drinking at the usual times. There are a number of ways that you could handle things under those circumstances, and these are a few:
- Consider whether this might be the right time to start to tell them of your conversion: If you do feel you can tell them now, it will make it much easier for you to celebrate Ramadan in the way God wants you to.
- If you really feel that it is not the right time yet: It may be an idea to see if you can stay with Muslim or sympathetic friends as much as possible during the month or just spend as much time as possible away from friends and family, especially around their mealtimes.
- Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
“There is no obedience to any human being if it involves disobedience of Allah.” (Ahmad)
However, if you feel that you would actually put yourself in danger if you told those close to you about your conversion, and you really can’t work out a way to spend time away from them or avoid eating with them, all you can do is to do your best to obey God as much as you can.
I pray that He will help you to find a way out of your situation as soon as possible!
So what steps will you be taking to prepare yourself for Ramadan?
Taken with slight editorial modifications from onislam.net.
Amal Stapley, a Life Coach for Muslim women, founded the SuperMuslimah Project at www.coachamal.com to support, motivate and encourage Muslim women to step forward in their lives with confidence. After accepting Islam in 1992, she graduated from the International Islamic University of Malaysia with a degree in Psychology and Islamic studies, and then went on to work with Islamic organizations in the USA, Egypt and now in her home country, the UK. She’s now the Chair of the Sheffield New Muslim Project.