Making the most of Ramadan

You may be surprised to find out that Ramadan is a lot more than just fasting. In this article, we highlight a few important lessons from the holy month, which can be beneficial to just about anyone.

It’s that time of the year when Muslims around the world immerse themselves in prayer, self-reflection, charity and self-discipline as they refrain from everyday pleasures such as eating and drinking.

Ramadan, the holiest month on the Islamic lunar calendar, is special for many reasons. The month is considered to be the best time of the year to ask God or Allah in Arabic, for forgiveness and to really get the most out of the spiritual experience. As someone who has observed Ramadan for most of my life, I can tell you that fasting can be truly rewarding.

I recall the challenges of fasting in a non-Muslim country – where business goes on as usual and working hours are long. However, since moving to the UAE over eight years ago, I consider myself to be fortunate and I make it a point to take full advantage of the benefits of observing Ramadan here - a country where the true spirit of the holy month can be felt everywhere. From the shorter working hours to the slightly relaxed business environment, I have certainly found the balance I need to focus on prayer and self-reflection that have in turn helped me learn some valuable lessons, some of which I share here.

Self-reflection and discipline

On any ordinary day, I would be concerned about not missing my morning coffee, meeting a tight work deadline or making plans for the weekend. Ramadan is a time for me to break my usual routine and reset my priorities by focusing more on self-improvement and the spiritual instead of material things.

The beginning of the month is usually the most challenging as both your mind and body undergo a big adjustment. At this time, it is difficult to concentrate and you generally feel weak. Thankfully, as the days go by, it gets better. Your mind and body begin to succumb to the discipline of the fast and you can gradually turn your focus inward, reflecting on habits that don’t serve you and taking steps you need to imbibe worthy traits.

Takeaway tips: Rid your mind of negative thoughts and instead try to stay positive as this will help you reflect on what really matters. The less you give into your emotions and desires, the more inner-strength you will build over time. Now that you are more aware about how your words and actions can impact others you will probably think twice before you speak (or Tweet).

Patience and compassion

Ramadan is known by Muslims as the month of patience for many reasons. Fasting, as difficult as it may be, is one of the best ways to build patience as one exercises self-control and restraint from every day temptations.

Kindness is another important virtue that everyone should practice in their lives, but in Ramadan, people are encouraged to maximize their good deeds, and show kindness and forgiveness towards others. As we become more aware of our internal struggles and emotions, it is easier to become more compassionate in the way we treat the people around us.

Takeaway tips: Think of Ramadan as a patience training program. The first few days or week will likely be challenging, so try to identify when you are tempted to lose your patience and adjust accordingly. Start out with a simple “Ramadan Kareem” or an offer to help someone in need. Small acts of kindness go a long way and chances are, you will feel better with yourself afterwards.

Charity and giving

Unlike setting a New Year’s Resolution, which is very often self-centered and temporary in nature, the teachings of Ramadan encourage altruism; selflessness and giving to the less fortunate. During this time, an uptick in donations is usually observed possibly because charitable contribution, or zakat, one of the five pillars of Islam, is mandatory for every Muslim at the end of the month. Zakat typically accounts for 2.5 percent of a person’s total savings from the past year.

A recent survey revealed that 66 percent of residents in the UAE and Saudi Arabia say they expect to donate more to charity this year compared to previous years, as they spend more time social distancing indoors. The survey found that non-Muslim expats living in the above-mentioned countries say they feel inspired by the values of giving and charity, with many actually participating in charitable events or donations.

There are plenty of charitable organizations in the UAE where you can donate or lend your time to. At the same time, businesses can use this opportunity to scale up CSR efforts and help people in need.

Takeaway tips: Think of simple ways you can give back to your community. It may not necessarily be with money or food. Perhaps you can volunteer your time towards a good cause.

Finally, be intentional and make a list of specific steps that you can take to become more discipline, compassionate and generous. The objective is to not only become better over the next 30 days, but to also continue on your journey of self-improvement long after the holy month is over. Ramadan Kareem.

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Joumana Saad is an American freelance journalist and media personality based in Dubai. She writes about financial, media and technology news and topics.

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