The manager of Productive Muslim – who also happens to be in my Habits for Allah GoogleGroup – asked me recently to write an article regarding changing habits in Ramadan. Since Ramadan is an excellent time to form habits, I agreed to share some key principles.I shall discuss the key ahadith about habit forming, the method I adopt in my GoogleGroup and then look at how we can apply all this to Ramadan.
The Key Sunnah in Habit Forming
The Prophet said:
These ahadith are a strong proof of the importance of doing good deeds via daily habits as something done daily is done continuously. If you think about it, Allah has taught us this through much of our Deen. We must pray five times a day, at set times, every single day; we have recommended du’as to make at set times (for example before eating or sleeping) every day.
In Arabic, a daily spiritual work or dhikr is termed a wird (pl. awrad); and the Sahaba made it a point to make wirds of Qur’an recitation and other forms of dhikr. Scholars continued this practise and we have inherited this great tradition of breathing life into our day through regular daily awrad. For instance, a great Sunnah wird is to recite up to a juzz (one thirtieth) of the Qur’an daily. Many pious parents or imams urge those in their care to do wirds of Tahlil (La ilaha illaLlah) hundred times. Scholars instruct their students to make a daily habit of memorising hadith. The potential ‘habits for Allah’ are endless and can include even ‘worldly’ habits which help one’s work or health, such as exercise and sleeping early.
A second salient point from the hadith is that little and regular is preferable to large and erratic. It is Sunnah to create a routine of good deeds which, even if small, we keep up for the rest of our life. It’s better to read half a juz of Qur’an a day, than to leave the week bereft of Qur’an and then read chapters and chapters on one day.
In terms of time management and effectiveness there is no doubt that successful people manage to discipline themselves to maintain life-changing habits – for life.
A Method for Maintaining Habits
The most effective book I have read in advising how to maintain habit-forming is Leo Babauta’s ‘The Power of Less’ – my inspiration for starting the Habits for Allah GoogleGroup (which is currently available for students of my time management courses). Leo was a highly-stressed, overworked, overweight, mediocre smoker who changed his life around mainly through the power of implementing small habits, one at a time. His blog, Zen Habits, is one of the top ten in the world.
Time and again we’ve tried to implement habits – be it adhkar or an exercise routine – to find that after a few months they disappear. Guided by Islamic wisdom, I’ve summarised the main principles of our habit forming group to five:
Step 1 – Select a habit that is truly important for your life mission.
There’s no point in picking a habit of reading Shakespeare every day unless it has some relevance to your career. The habit should be something that excites you as you know it will make such a massive difference in your life. I’ll give some suggestions later.
Step 2 – Make your habit easy.
This is important. For example, if you think you could manage 10 words a day of Arabic vocabulary memorisation, cut down to 5 or whatever you’d consider super easy. You can always increase the habit for the next 30 days.
Step 3 – Only one habit per month.
This is a key principle which Leo calls ‘the thirty-day challenge’. Any more than this and the chances of failure multiply considerably. But by putting all your focus on one habit for the month – inshaaAllah – this is a sure means to make it stick.
Step 4 – Post your goal publicly.
This is where an e-group is handy. The idea is to inform as many family/friends/colleagues as possible that you are trying to form your new habit. You could have a habit buddy who you text daily. The point here is accountability.
Step 5 – Report on your progress daily.
Each day you must report to the same group of people whether you succeeded in implementing the habit that day.
Some, if not all of these principles may be quite novel to you but the purpose is long term. We don’t want to start a habit today which we give up in a month’s or even year’s time. We want habits for life. One of Shaytan’s favourite tricks is to tempt us to pile up our award so that we get fed up with all our failures and give up. Remember the opening hadith? So the five principles above aim to safeguard the chance of tiring or giving up on habits. Form your own groups with friends and family, or you are welcome to visit and apply to join the Habits for Allah Group.
Habits in Ramadan
This leads us nicely to our final discussion. What about habits in Ramdan? This month already has several habits built into it: fasting, praying for long rakahs and listening to the Qur’an (Tarawih); encouragement to make specific dhikrs. What’s more though, it is the perfect time – more than even the beginning of the year – to initiate a new habit as psychologically it’s a lot easier. This is the month when the Shayateen are chained, barakah descends and you actually have a lot more time to do good (the hours saved by not eating or preparing for meals!). Every Muslim is more inspired this month to avoid bad and do more good. So the ground is set to start a habit.
What habits to form for Ramadan?
I feel an obvious choice would be a habit related to the Qur’an – as it is the Month of the Qur’an. However, I’ve heard scholars recommend working on getting rid of haram inward traits such as riya (showing off in good works) as these are actually the highest priority in Shariah. So the foregoing list of recommended habits will include habits of the heart which are often ignored. They’re not in any particular order, but hopefully will help you think about the right Ramadan Habit for you. Remember these are suggested daily
- Reciting a portion of Qur’an a day
- Reading a portion of translation a day
- Reading a portion of Tafsir a day
- Reading a hadith a day
- Revising any memorised surahs
- Memorising a short hadith
- Memorising some Qur’an
- Perform a particular dhikr, e.g. Darood Sharif
- Pray a particular nafl salah, such as Tahajjud
- Avoid a haram action/trait (e.g. backbiting)
- Give sadaqah
- Focus on acquiring a Sunnah trait (e.g. generosity)
- Learn Arabic vocabulary
- Review notes on Islamic sciences
- Read Islamic literature, especially Seerah
- Study an Islamic science (e.g. Fiqh/Tajweed)
- Listen to a favourite scholar
An important point is that during Ramadan, and the last 10 days in particular, you may well need to have himmah (resolve/ambition) to do more than one habit. Just for this month, I think this is fine – take advantage of the barakah!
Anyone who has tried knows that habit forming is really, really hard. But, as Aristotle is reported to have said: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” So the effort is worth it as forming habits for Allah is in reality a means of changing yourself, working on transforming our ways to be in conformity to the Sunnah and in loving obedience to our Creator. So get ready and prepare! Make this Ramadan the month when you establish habits for Allah.
If you can think of any other habit I’ve missed, please post in the comments below.