Ramadan 2023 is here. The month of fasting from sunrise until sunset – a time of togetherness, self-reflection and faith that many Muslims cherish above all others. It can be challenging even for the most prepared, but for those of us living with mental health difficulties, which are still highly stigmatised and frowned upon within ethnic minority communities, this blessed month can bring increased anxiety, guilt and feelings of isolation as well as exacerbate ill mental health in some people.
Here are some things to consider and think about as we approach this important time in the Islamic calendar while also caring for your mental health:
There is still just over a month until Ramadan begins and I would encourage everyone to look at your life and important events just before and during Ramadan. Whether this is school, university or work, knowing when and where you will be during a day of fasting can really help us to feel in more at easy during a time where we feel more tired or snappy without food or sleep!
It might also help to consider important and time sensitive matters during Ramadan such as university assignments and work projects in order to set aside time for these too, as well as any appointments. Know what is needed of you and when. A calendar, either physical or digital may help in planning – As I work different shifts each week sometimes, I would be absolutely lost without my diary!
Letting important people know it’s Ramadan can also help, for example at work. Letting your team know you might have a bit of a slow start can help take some pressure off of us to be at our best 100% of the time. Teachers and lecturers may find it helpful to know also as the energy slump and tiredness we feel can sometimes look out of place.
Also consider any practical changes you may need to make, for example with medication. If you are used to taking your medication first thing in the morning, or take several throughout the day, speak to your doctor to see if you could start altering the time you take them. I personally take anti-depressants, and around this time start to delay taking them by about 30 minutes each day so that during Ramadan I am taking them with my Iftar meal instead of in the morning!
Goals and Goal Setting:
In planning and looking at your priorities and time, you can hopefully start to think about your Ramadan 2023 goals. What would you like to achieve this year? Many people will aim to finish a recitation of the Quran in this month. Personally, I have always wanted to keep on top of my Salah as well as learn the 99 Names of Allah (swt). For some it might be learning more Islamic history, learning and memorising new passages of the Quran, perfecting their Salah (prayer), being more active at their local mosque – the possibilities are endless!
Knowing what you want to do during this time can reduce feelings of overwhelm and to further this, break down your goals into manageable steps. Most of us will not have the time (or energy!) to read the full Quran in one sitting, in one night, so changing this expectation to something manageable, such as reading one Juz per day, will not only help you on your journey but also make your goals more achievable.
For example, in my goal of learning the 99 Names, I intend to break this up over the month, and insha’Allah will be able to explore and learn about 3 or 4 names per day.
Different Kinds of Worship:
It is important to remember there are different kinds of worship during Ramadan. Some people will find difficult in concentrating on the Quran for an hour for example. Some people may find it hard to bring themselves in front of a prayer mat consistently. While it is important to do our very best during Ramadan, it is also important to remember that we are all human…our best will look different, sometimes different each day, sometimes different month to month or year to year. While this can be hard for us to accept, especially in the rush of energy and enthusiasm that Ramadan brings, we can all still be close and find closeness to our Creator in different ways. Dikr, Salah, Quran recitation, listening to Islamic lectures or talks, giving to charity, doing kind acts for our family, friends or community, making dua, volunteering or charity work…when done with the right intention these are also ways to worship Allah (swt).
This point is beautifully put in one of the Hadith Qudsi: “Allah (swt) says: “Take one step towards me, I will take ten steps towards you. Walk towards me, I will run towards you.”
Running a marathon everyday is impossible for the majority of us and there can be a lot of pressure for us to do so in Ramadan, either internal or external. Regardless, everyday we can each take a step closer to our Lord, no matter how small it may seem.
The Month of Mercy:
Ramadan is the month of mercy. It is a time for us to get closer to our faith, cast of bad habits and try to better ourselves as both Muslims and people. As is human nature, we fail. You may feel discouraged if after a few days of planning and goal setting you find yourself slipping. This can lead us to feel so guilty and wonder why we ever tried in the first place.
I would take this opportunity to remind all of us, myself included, that we make mistakes. We mess up, we lose focus, and this can feel so disheartening, especially when we see others achieve their goals so easily. Please don’t give up – know that every failure is also a chance to try again. Something I think about a lot is that is it not better to be the person who fails a hundred times but gets stronger and better each time until he finally achieves his goal…or would we rather be the person who fails once or twice and gets so discouraged he stops trying all together. Know that Allah (swt)’s mercy is endless and always near and that faith is not just for the perfect.
May we all have a truly wonderful and peaceful Ramadan!