In the Name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate
Alas, the month of Ramdan is over. Eid Mubarak to you all, and may the Precious Beloved accept all of our fasting, prayers, and devotion done throughout the month of Ramadan. Below is a piece I wrote for Beliefnet outlining five tips to avoid the letdown after the month of Ramadan is over. Let's keep up the faith, people, and let us not go back to business as usual.
Avoiding Post-Ramadan Letdown
How to keep the blessings and benefits alive for the rest of the year.
Almost invariably, it happens a few days after Ramadan is over. The letdown. Fasting is finished; the nightly prayers are over; the almost daily gatherings to break the fast as a group have vanished. We can eat, drink, and be merry again when the sun is out and shining. And that special feeling you have in your heart – the one that keeps you going despite the hunger and thirst you feel – gradually fades away. The spiritual high goes away, and all that you are left with are the bad habits you tried to shed during Ramadan, but mysteriously rear their ugly heads once Ramdan is over.
Yet, that is not supposed to happen. Ramadan is supposed to increase your faith and God consciousness: Believers! Fasting has been prescribed for you – as it was prescribed for those before you – so that you may be conscious of God. (2:183). We are not supposed to be angels in Ramadan and demons at all other times. The lessons learned and spiritual benefits gained during the month of Ramadan are supposed to carry through for the rest of the year until next Ramadan.
Yet, they frequently do not. Is there anything we can do about it? Absolutely, and here are five tips we can follow to try to keep the spirit of Ramadan alive and well throughout the rest of the year.
Keep up the good habits learned during Ramadan.
More than just denying oneself food and drink, the fast of Ramadan is a complete body and soul fast. Although this should be the behavior of the believer at all times, when one is fasting, he or she should take special care not to harm anyone, curse anyone, or do anything wrong. In fact, the Prophet (pbuh) said: "Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions [while fasting], God is not in need of his leaving his food and drink." Well, once Ramadan is over, these good behaviors should continue.
For instance, if one took the opportunity of the month of Ramadan to try to curb talking about other people, then he or she should continue to refrain from doing so after Ramadan is over. We should continue to go to the mosque for congregational prayers. It is so amazing to see the mosque – which was packed a few days earlier in Ramadan – be almost completely empty during Isha, or night, prayers when it is not Ramadan. If we can go to the mosque every day during Ramadan, we can go to the mosque every day throughout the rest of the year.
In fact, Ramadan is the perfect opportunity to quit smoking, which is prohibited during daylight hours during Ramadan. The nicotine found in tobacco smoke is more addicting than heroin, and it is one of the most difficult addictions to beat. I had a patient tell me once that it was easier to quit crack cocaine than cigarette smoking. If you can go without smoking for 14-17 hours per day during Ramadan, you can go without it for the remaining 7-10 hours. Ideally, there should be no Muslims who smoke, given the fact that they have to stop doing so for 30 days every single year. Sadly, however, the reality is quite different. Many, many Muslims smoke, and it saddens me – especially since I am a lung specialist who sees first hand the devastation wrought by cigarette smoking – to see groups of men outside the mosque immediately light up the moment sunset arrives.
Continue to fast throughout the year.
I must admit, this is the most difficult one for me to follow, but I must mention it anyway. The fast of Ramdan is obligatory for every adult Muslim, but there are numerous other fasts that Muslims are encouraged to undertake throughout the year, and we should try to participate. For instance, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) encouraged Muslims to fast six days of the month after Ramadan, Shawwal. The reward is equivalent to fasting the entire year. In a few months, the season of Hajj will begin, and those Muslims who do not perform the Hajj are encouraged to fast the day of Arafat, when all the pilgrims will be standing on that plain and begging God for forgiveness. We should fast that day. Then there is the day of Ashura, the day which commemorates the exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt (and, for Shia, the murder of Imam Hussein, the Prophet's grandson), and Muslims are also encouraged to fast that day as well as the day before. (Ideally, Muslims should fast the first ten days of the month of Dhul Hijjah, when the Hajj occurs.)
For the very ambitious, the Prophet (pbuh) used to fast every Monday and Thursday, and if one is able, he or she could follow this sunnah, or tradition of the Prophet (pbuh). For the very, very ambitious, he or she could even fast in the tradition of the Prophet David (pbuh): fasting every other day. If this is too much, perhaps we can fast one, two, or three days each month. Whatever the number, we should try to fast outside of Ramadan to help keep the spirit of the month alive in our daily lives. (Like I said, this is perhaps the most difficult suggestion for me to follow. It is particularly hard for me to fast outside of Ramadan.)
Continue the nightly qiyam prayers after Ramadan is over.
During the month of Ramadan, Muslims gather together and perform the Isha, or night prayer, and then special devotional prayers, called Taraweeh, in congregation. It is such a wonderful time, and it is perhaps – after actually getting to eat and drink – the best part of Ramadan. We are all together in the mosque, and we get to hear the entire Qur'an recited if we go every night of Ramadan. Why not continue this practice after Ramadan is over? Why not, at home, have your own "mini- Taraweeh"? You can either read what you have already memorized, or, you can read from the Qur'an itself. If you continue to do this throughout the year, it is quite possible to finish reading the entire Qur'an many times over. This is an excellent way to keep the feeling and spirit of Ramadan alive, even though Ramadan has long passed into fond memory.
Don't forget about charity.
Ramadan is also the month of charity. It was said that the Prophet (pbuh), already the most generous of all, was even more generous during the month of Ramadan. Along with teaching the believer discipline and spiritual focus, the fast of Ramadan is a potent reminder that there are millions of people around the world who must forgo food and drink involuntarily, out of sheer poverty. As a result, Muslims are frequently motivated to give to the poor during Ramadan, and the reward for an act of charity – already substantial – is multiplied many times over in the month of Ramdan. Frequently, Muslims discharge their obligatory annual alms tax, the Zakah, during the month of Ramadan.
Yet, that does not mean we should be stingy misers throughout the rest of the year. We should continue to be generous even when it is not Ramadan, perhaps devoting a little bit of what we earn to help the poor. You could even open a donor-directed fund or a charitable gift fund at a brokerage firm and invest your donations so you could give more. If you want to be even more ambitious, you can start your own charitable endowment, which was an essential aspect of the classical Islamic tradition, which has, unfortunately, gone by the wayside in modern times.
"I haven't seen you since last Ramadan…"
Another one of the beautiful aspects of Ramadan (especially since it occurs after sunset) is the frequent invitations to people's homes for iftar meals. Here, Muslims gather and break their fast together. Not only do they frequently get to eat specially-prepared meals, but it is a great opportunity to spend time with family and friends. Many times, it is an opportunity to see friends (and maybe even family) they do not normally get a chance to see during the rest of the year. Well, the same theme applies: if you can do it during Ramadan, you can do it any time other than Ramadan. Why not keep up the contacts made during Ramadan throughout the rest of the year? Have monthly gatherings at each other's homes or at a favorite restaurant. Whatever the case may be, let it not be another year when you say to a friend, "Wow! I haven't seen you since last Ramadan!"
For Muslims, the month of Ramadan – as the popular Christmas song goes – is the "most wonderful time of the year." The benefits and beauties of this month are boundless, and – even though I can drink my 24 oz French-Irish-Vanilla-Choco-Creme Coffeechino in the morning again – I am always feel a tinge of sadness that Ramadan is over. Yet, we can keep the spirit of the month alive and well if we try to continue what we learned and did during the month of Ramadan throughout the rest of the year. For, that is the whole purpose of the fast, isn't it? So that you may be conscious of God, as the Good Book says.