The month of Ramadhan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey – then an equal number of other days. Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful.
[Surah Al-Baqarah: 185]

Alhamdulillah I feel pretty good overall about this Ramadan. Of course, it could always have gone better (I could have prayed more, read more, revised more, etc) but as they say, the perfect is the enemy of the good. And it was a good Ramadan.

This Ramadan I divided my goals into what I intended to accomplish, what I’d like to accomplish, if possible, and what I wouldn’t do. This took the pressure off me and made it easy to see my priorities. Also, it should be known, I chose things that wouldn’t be too taxing for my main goals, and used them to build some momentum. So here’s how it all went:

Things I was determined to do:

1)  Read the Qur’an.

Alhamdulillah I finished this on 5th of August – which was the 17th day of Ramadan. I don’t think I’ve ever finished the Qur’an that quick, Subhanallah, but as it was my main goal that I could work on during the day, I gave it more effort, especially at the beginning.

2)   Pray Tarawih.

Alhamdulillah I prayed Tarawih 15 or 16 times. At face value, it’s a little demoralising to think that all that effort and I only prayed half the month, but in reality it is pretty good considering I obviously wasn’t praying the entire month AND we had more guests than we’ve had before during Ramadan. (And therefore WAAAAYYY more washing up.)

3)   Pray a minimum of 2 rakahs of Qiyam ul-layl, two or three times a week.

I knocked this one out of the park, mashallah. I deliberately chose something super easy – 2 rakahs in which I could recite any surah, however short or long, and only a couple of times a week. I don’t think I ever prayed only 2 rakat, and I frequently prayed more than two or three times a week – in the last ten days I prayed Qiyam every night.

4)   Make my dua in the morning and evening.

Alhamdulillah, I did good on this one, too. It helps that I stuck to a VERY short list of dua/adhkar that took me less than five minutes to get through, and they were basically the same every morning and night.

Things I wanted to do, but wasn’t focused on:

1)   Finish memorising Surah Yunus.

Alhamdulillah I finished this the day before Eid. Honestly, I feel like this is my biggest accomplishment this Ramadan, as I didn’t really think I’d do it, especially given that I’ve been meaning to finish it for a couple of years now, Subhanallah. I think it helped that I was in the habit of reading Qur’an at this stage, and spending half an hour on it, so it wasn’t a truly new behaviour. Plus, I started this just before the last ten days, when I was motivated to make the most of what was left.

2)   Publish one post every day on this blog.

This one only really lasted while I wasn’t praying and therefore wasn’t fasting. I think it’s the combination of the change in routine (no meals to prepare/serve in the middle of the day, and no snacks to bake – and snacks are my job), and the fact that my focus was more Islamic than it is at other times. Outside of Ramadan I definitely think that posting every day is far too ambitious for me. However, I think I can manage to blog more than once a week (which I did during Ramadan).

3)   Revise some Qur’an. Maybe the last 4 hizbs.

I actually thought I’d choose this one over finishing Surah Yunus, because I knew it’d be quite easy and fun. I memorised most of these Surahs as a kid, and I didn’t always understand what I was saying, so going back over the verses I once struggled with and realising how easy they actually are in terms of meaning does give me a chuckle at my little girl self. Also, it’s sooooooo much easier to revise surahs I learnt when I was little than the ones I’ve learnt as an adult. Anyways, I only revised one hizb (the last and easiest one), and I’ve started to incorporate the surahs I have a kiddie hang-up on in my prayers, so that they’ll become like Al-Fatiha Inshallah.

4)   Exercise 4 times a week Inshallah.

Yeah, ok this sooo didn’t happen. I knew it was going to be tough in Ramadan because I could only do it at night, when I could guzzle water throughout and afterwards, but I really didn’t want to lose my fitness. Hah! Lose it I did. I think I should have aimed for three times a week – it would have felt more manageable. Four was just too hard. Also, I tried doing cardio the first week: bad idea. Strength was definitely the way to go, but I needed more rest in between workouts.

Things I was determined NOT to do:

1)   Watch any of my usual TV programmes / films.

Totally nailed this one. There were a few times when I was tempted to watch an episode of something, but it wasn’t all that strong, and by the end of the month, I’d gotten in the habit of not watching stuff. So now, when I’ve got the time and there’s a lull in my energy levels, I forget that there’s always TV. 🙂 I guess this is a good thing though.

2)   Overeat.

Alhamdulillah, I think I managed this one. I ate when I was hungry and stopped when I was full, so it went well. The only thing is the quality of food I ate. Normally I track my food (to ensure a 40% carb, 40% fat, 20% protein ratio – or to keep me mindful of it at any rate) using an app on my iphone, but not having normal mealtimes made it kinda hard.

In addition to this I also listened to 2 audio books:

–      The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life & Business – Charles Duhigg

–      Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength – Roy F. Baumeister & John Tierney

I picked these two books because I really wanted to have a chance at both completing my Ramadan habits and continuing them outside of Ramadan. They were fabulously motivational, insightful and informative and I learned A LOT about habits, habit formation and self-control from these two books. Some of the habits, I’ve applied, others have changed my approach to trying to do things.

I also read a book called ‘Watching the English’ by Kate Fox, an anthropologist who decided to study English culture. It’s very interesting, and actually helped me to understand why I find some things in Algerian culture a bit OTT, such as the obsession with cooking and the amazing dramatics people come out with at certain times. I know it’s not just Algerians that do these things, but realising that I’m uncomfortable, not because it necessarily is over the top, but because I come from a culture where gushing earnestness (food) is frowned upon and restraint is demanded. As interesting as the book was, the fact that it wasn’t a great gripping novel gave it the added advantage of being perfect to send me to sleep on those occasions after Fajr when I couldn’t doze off. A half hour of this book and it was definitely lights out!

Some overall observations:

–   Every Ramadan I rediscover something about myself that I always forget afterwards: my biggest incentive for getting out of bed in the morning – the thing I always look forward to – is a cup of tea (more even than the rest of my breakfast). I have a terrible time getting up in Ramadan because I know I can’t have my tea. It’s a really big problem, subhanallah. And it’s not the addiction to caffeine – during the day, when I have to do something I don’t like, I can usually motivate myself by telling myself I’ll have a cuppa afterwards.

–   I have grossly underestimated the number of Islamic blogs there are floating around. It’s nice to have a little reminder pop up in my reader, as well as a good laugh at some of the Islamic humour stuff. Of course, I wasted hours online going from one good blog to the next, but at least it was Islamic.

–   Now this might just be me, but I’ve noticed that praying at night with hijab in the middle of a North African summer with an incandescent lightbulb makes the room way hotter. Fluorescent bulbs just don’t seem to radiate the same heat. And this is with a fan pointed straight at me. Anyone else agree that incandescent are HOT?

–   The more I pray at night, the easier it is to concentrate in my prayers during the day. Not total concentration, mind you, but a definite improvement on the norm. I think it’s one of those cases of practice makes perfect. Hmmm. Of course, it helped that I was doing a lot of Ibadah anyway and avoiding sins, so my heart (and head) weren’t exposed to so much crap, which probably strengthened my heart a bit.

All in all, I’m declaring Ramadan 1433 a success. My priority was Ibadah, and I did good. My only concern now is how to incorporate these new habits after Ramadan. There’s no point in just saying I hope to continue with them – I have to figure out how I’m going to do that, as well as what exactly I intend to accomplish.

What can you take from Ramadan this year to help you improve yourself in your deen?