How Ramadan Can Empower You to Change Bad Habits

Updated on May 11, 2018
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Linda Sarhan has taken several college level courses in Islamic studies and is an experienced Islamic studies writer.

Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim

(In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful)

“Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” (Surah Ar-Ra’d 13:11, Sahih translation)

Ramadan is commonly defined as the ninth month on the Islamic Hijri calendar as a holy month for fasting. However, Ramadan is more than just the act of fasting. It is a spiritual experience that can enlighten and inspire many Muslims around the globe to increase their taqwa (oneness with Allah) and iman (faith) by engaging in various acts of obligatory and voluntary ibadah (worship). Ramadan can invoke a desire to make changes in one’s life, such as removing bad habits and potentially replacing them with good habits.

Revive Your Iman

Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah's Messenger, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said, "Whoever observes fasts during the month of Ramadan out of sincere faith, and hoping to attain Allah's rewards, then all his past sins will be forgiven." (Sahih al-Bukhari 38)

Let’s face it, no one is perfect. At some point throughout the year you, like so many others, have committed sinful acts, whether intentionally or not. Sin can crack open the door inviting shaitan (the devil or evil influences) to use their power of persuasion to lead you astray from Allah. Often times we allow this unconsciously. In Ramadan, it is said that shaitan is in shackles and is unable to have even the slightest power over you.

It was narrated Az-Zuhri, from Abu Hurairah that the Prophet said: "When Ramadan begins, the gates of mercy are opened and the gates of Hall are closed, and the devils are chained up." (Sahih Sunan an-Nasa'i 2105)

It is worth noting that, if you sin in Ramadan, it is without the influence of shaitan. Thus, your sin comes directly from your own influence and cannot be blamed on shaitan.

Ramadan was sent down as another mercy from Allah. Muslims have a chance to strengthen their iman through tawbah (sincere repentance) and ibadah. Take the 30 days of Ramadan to reflect on the area which you can improve on in your submission to Allah and turn to Allah in repentance so that you may start with a clean slate throughout the rest of the year; learning from your past mistakes.

Many local and online communities offer Islamic lectures, khutbah (Friday sermons), classes, and workshops. Consider attending these to help you gain more knowledge about Islam and how to work toward behaviors that increase your taqwa and iman.

Also, consider creating an ibadah daily schedule. When Sh. Omar Sulieman came to Lexington, Kentucky, USA to speak to the ummah in attendance, he spoke about how establishing a personalized daily schedule specifically for the worship of Allah helps keeps Muslims on track and deters them from straying from the total submission to Allah. This could include not only the obligatory acts of ablution and salah (prayer), but setting aside time for reading the Qur’an, reciting dua’a (invocation prayer) and tasbeeḥ (a form of dhikr that involves the repetitive utterances of short sentences in the praise and glorification of Allah).

Prayer (Salah)

“Recite, [Oh, Muhammad], what has been revealed to you of the Book and establish prayer. Indeed, prayer prohibits immorality and wrongdoing, and the remembrance of Allah is greater. And Allah knows that which you do.” (Surah Al-‘Ankabut 29:45)

Muslims are required to recite five daily prayers. Throughout the year, some Muslims get caught up in their daily life of the dunya (world or worldly things) and become more lackadaisical with their prayers. First, it may start with delaying the prayers or not praying on time to having to make up prayers. This gradually gives way to excuses for missing prayer altogether. This can create a wedge between your closeness with Allah, allowing shaitan to influence you not only in your level of iman and taqwa but in everything you do. Keep in mind that the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said, “The first thing for which a person will be brought to account will be his Salah.” (Sahih Sunan an-Nasa'i 465)

Ramadan is a great time to get back on track with your obligatory salah. Try to establish a habit of praying on time or close to the time of prayer as you can. Also, consider including the nafl (optional voluntary prayers) sunnah prayers that are performed in addition with obligatory prayers.

“O you who have believed, when [the adhan] is called for the prayer on the day of Jumu'ah [Friday], then proceed to the remembrance of Allah and leave trade. That is better for you, if you only knew.” (Sunah Al-Jummu’ah 62:9, Sahih translation)

Although this ayah (verse) is a reminder to attend Friday salah at the mosque, it is a good reminder that prayer is always better for you, as it shows your devotion and submission to Allah over temporary worldly things. After all, being Muslim is being in submission to the will of Allah. What better way to connect with Allah than through salah? Again, salah is better for you, if you only knew.

Become More Involved in the Community

Hudhaifah said, “Your prophet (May peace be upon him) said, ‘Every good act is a sadaqah (charity).’” (Sahih Sunan Abi Dawud 4947)

Sometimes people become more wrapped up in what is going on with themselves than what is going around them. Narcissism has quickly become a rotting disease in societies, blinding people to the needs of others. This is partly to fault the fast-paced lifestyle of the 21st century, especially in Western countries. Consider becoming more consciously involved in your local community whether through volunteer work or donations.

If you are fortunate to live in a community that offers classes, workshops, and other Islamic programs and services, consider attending them. Also, volunteer your time by offering to help where needed at your local mosque or Islamic event. You don’t have to wait for someone else to organize an event, consider taking the initiative to plan your own Islamic events as you educate and inspire other Muslims to strengthen and maintain a high level of iman.

Dressing Modestly

“O children of Adam, We have bestowed upon you clothing to conceal your private parts and as adornment. But the clothing of righteousness - that is best. That is from the signs of Allah that perhaps they will remember.” (Surah Al-A’raf 7:26, Sahih translation)

Muslims, especially in Western countries, are exposed to a variety of fashion trends exposing part of the body that Allah has instructed us to cover. Granted, there are many scholarly interpretations and opinions on the matter, depending on who you listen to. However, it is clear that Muslims should cover their private areas. What is often debated is what exactly is considered “private parts” of the body?

Dress Code for Men

Tell the believing men to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what they do.” (Surah An-Nur 24:30, Sahih translation)

According to Bilal Philips and other scholars, it is required for men to cover themselves from the belly button to the knees. However, this does not mean tight clothing. Although cloth may be covering your skin, it is required to hide your private areas thus, a Muslim man should still wear loose fitting clothing. Can a man wear short sleeve shirts and long shorts that cover the knees? Most scholars say yes, as long as it is loose-fitting. Other scholars and individuals extend this daily modest dress code to cover the length of the arms, legs, and torso, but this is of a personal choice.

Dress Code for Women

“Likewise enjoin the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their modesty; not to display their beauty and ornaments except what normally appears thereof; let them draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their charms… And O believers! Turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, about your past mistakes, so that you may attain salvation.” (Surah An-Nur 24:31, Malik translation)

There has been much debate over head coverings for Muslim women. This is a topic that can be further researched but Sh. Nouman Ali Khan explains a key detail to the commonly misinterpreted verse in the Qur’an, Surah An-Nur 24:31. First, since there is no compulsion in religion (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:256), no one should force a woman to wear a headscarf. Some women choose to wear one, others choose not to. However, modesty is a part of Islamic belief. Again, what constitutes modesty is often a heated debate depending on which school of thought, scholar you listen to, and personal opinion. Just like men, women are supposed to cover their private areas. The Qur’an does not mention the word hijab as many people have coined a head covering. In fact, Sh. Nouman Ali Khan explains that the word hijab means merely a veil to cover something and wasn’t even used at the time of the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. He also points out that there are nine different words for covering the head depending on what all it covers. In Surah An-Nur 24:31, it actually uses the word khimar, which not only mentions covering the head but other parts of the body. In this case, the Qur’an instructs women to cover their bosoms. As Sh. Nouman Ali Khan further explains the history, women used to trail their head scarfs down the length of their back. Allah mentions it would be better for them to guard their private areas to include covering their chests.

Muslims in Western countries are exposed to suggestive ads and fashion. Allah warns that women, in addition to men, should dress in a way that is not revealing. This is off popular Islamic belief to mean covering not just the breasts and genitals but also potentially cover their arms, buttocks, and legs. Again, the belief and interpretation depends on which scholar and school of thought you are influenced by. Sh. Bilal Philips points out that clothing in the 21st century seem as though they are spray painted on. He points out that a part of dressing modestly includes wearing loose-fitting clothes because tight clothing does not actually hide the parts that should be hidden if people can still “see every curve, nook, and cranny.”

If you don’t already dress modestly, doing so more through Ramadan may allow you to see the benefits of dressing modestly according to Islamic teachings. Do not worry about the hypocrites who judge by being critical of your desire to make changes in your life, such as those who coin the term Ramadan hijabi. No one should judge anyone as each person is on a different level as they strive in steps to perfect their ibadah and iman. After all, do you want to dress more modestly to please Allah or humans, much less hypocrites, and the haram police type?

Social Media

In the 21st century, most people rely on social media platforms to stay connected or promote business. Some Muslims do not participate in social media platforms during Ramadan. However, you should ask yourself: would Allah be pleased with your overall presence on social media sites? If you feel the need to back away from social media during the month of Ramadan, chances are there are things you are either exposed to or post that you know won’t be pleasing to Allah. Even still, perhaps your social media experience is not exposing you to things contrary to your faith but you still need to ask yourself how much time do you spend on social media in comparison to how much time it takes you away from ibadah?

Whether you choose to eliminate social media during Ramadan or not, Ramadan is a good time to evaluate how you use social media and its effect on your time with Allah. After all, there is nothing wrong with watching an Islamic lecture or listening to the Qur’an through social media. But, ask yourself how much time are you wasting posting memes or playing online games when you could be utilizing the time to read about the tafsir (interpretation) of the Qur’an or hadiths? Or, perhaps volunteering with those in need? How often do you make dua’a or recite dhikr (supplication to Allah) or tasbeeḥ?

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Backbiting and Gossip (Gheebah and Namimah)

“Oh, you who have believed, avoid much [negative] assumption. Indeed, some assumption is sin. And do not spy or backbite each other. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his brother when dead? You would detest it. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is Accepting of repentance and Merciful.” (Surah Al-Hujurat 49:12)

In today’s global ummah (Muslim community), many misguided Muslims seem to take it upon themselves to be in everyone’s business, especially what they perceive to be wrong or incorrect behavior. These people are often known as haram police or even just simple busy-bodies. There is a saying that says, “When you point one finger at someone, remember that there are three more fingers pointing back at you.” According to Psychology Today, gossiping and backbiting have an underlying psychoanalytical meaning behind it, which is the unconscious process of projective identification. People would rather focus the attention away from their own sins, including masking their own guilt about their own sins. Jennifer Kunst Ph.D. calls it the shame relocation plan.

Anas narrated that the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said: "None of you believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself." (Sahih Jami` at-Tirmidhi Vol. 4, Book 11, Hadith 2515)

Would you like it if someone gossips or backbites about you? Of course, not. Then why would you do that to someone else? But, what constitutes backbiting or gossip? First, ask yourself three questions. Would that person be happy with what you are saying? Better yet, how would you feel if the roles were reversed? Is what you are saying or hearing someone else say negative against someone else? Keep in mind that the person who is listening to backbiting and gossip is equally guilty when it comes to Judgment Day.

Backbiting and gossip are considered a major sin in Islam. There is a hadith that states: “Whoever conceals the faults of his Muslim brother, Allah will conceal his faults on the Day of Resurrection. And whoever exposes the faults of his Muslim brother, Allah will expose his faults even by revealing those he committed in (the privacy of) his home.” (Sunan Ibn Majah Vol. 3, Book 20, Hadith 2546)

Whether you commit backbiting and gossip on a regular basis or on occasion, consider using Ramadan to change this behavior permanently. Backbiting and gossip can eat away at your iman, ibadah, and taqwa. In Ramadan, many people refrain from this bad habit but it isn’t long before they go back to old behaviors. Let Ramadan inspire you not only to be a better Muslim but a better person altogether and watch what you say, especially about other people.

Smoking

While fasting, Muslims are not allowed to take anything into their bodies as it will invalidate their fast. This includes smoking in all forms from cigarettes to hookahs. Ramadan is a good opportunity to either reduce or eliminate this habit. Some scholars debate whether smoking is haram (forbidden or sinful act) or simply makrooh (disliked or offensive act). While there is no verse or hadith that addresses this specifically, which is why some scholars deem is simply as makrooh, scholars that consider it to be haram give the example of:

"...And do not throw yourselves into destruction..." (Surah al-Baqarah 2:195, Sahih translation)

"...And do not kill yourselves. Surely, Allah is Most Merciful to you. And whoever commits that through aggression and injustice, we shall cast him into the Fire and that is easy for Allah" (Surah an-Nisaa 4:29-30, Sahih translation)

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Drinking Alcohol

They ask you about drinking and gambling. Tell them: "There is great sin in both, although they may have some benefit for men; but the sin is greater than the benefit." (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:219, Malik translation)

In Islam, drinking alcohol is considered a sin and strictly prohibited. Some Muslims fall prey to the temptations of alcohol and other intoxicants and should use Ramadan as a catalyst to abandon this bad habit. During Ramadan, it is obligatory for all Muslims to fast from sun up to sun down, thus it should inspire those who drink to quit altogether even beyond Ramadan. There is some misconception about one’s ibadah not being accepted for 40 days after drinking alcohol but this does not refer to fasting.

It was narrated from ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr that the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said:

Whoever drinks wine and gets drunk, his prayer will not be accepted for forty days, and if he dies he will enter Hell, but if he repents, Allah will accept his repentance. If he drinks wine again and gets drunk, his prayer will not be accepted for forty days, and if he dies he will enter Hell, but if he repents, Allah will accept his repentance. If he drinks wine again and gets drunk, his prayer will not be accepted for forty days, and if he dies he will enter Hell, but if he repents Allah will accept his repentance. But if he does it again, then Allah will most certainly make him drink of the mire of the puss or sweat on the Day of Resurrection.” They said: “O Messenger of Allah, what is the mire of the pus or sweat? He said: “The drippings of the people of Hell.” (Sahih Sunan Ibn Majah Vol. 4, Book 30, Hadith 3377)

This hadith clearly outlines that Allah is a merciful and forgiven to those who repent in sincerity, even if he or she continues to struggle with the disease of alcoholism. However, this hadith is referring to the acceptance of prayer, not fasting. Also, it is worth noting that just because your prayer may or may not be accepted for 40 days due to the consumption of alcohol, that doesn’t mean you don’t pray. You should still pray. Although the punishment for drinking is not accepting prayers for 40 days, it is far better than the punishments of the hellfire. Another thing worth noting is that the hadith outlines three chances for repentance and after that, the punishment goes far beyond simply not accepting prayer for a certain amount of days. This may be the general ruling from Allah through the Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, keep in mind that it is at the sole discretion of Allah whom he continues to forgive through repentance and whom he does not. That is another beauty to the month of Ramadan in that Allah gives Muslim many chances to have their sins forgiven.

Gambling

“Oh, you who have believed, indeed, intoxicants, gambling, [sacrificing on] stone alters [to other than Allah], and divining arrows are but defilement from the work of Satan, so avoid it that you may be successful. Satan only wants to cause between you animosity and hatred through intoxicants and gambling and to avert you from the remembrance of Allah and from prayer. So, will you not desist?” (Surah Al-Ma’idah 5:90-91, Sahih translation)

For centuries, societies and cultures around the world have had their own games of chance. Now, in the 21st Century, we have lotteries and casinos. According to The Oaks at La Paloma, at least 2.9 percent of the American adult population falls under either problem gamblers or pathological gamblers category. That is approximately 2.5 million adults who suffer from compulsive gambling, an estimated 3 million are considered problem gamblers, and around 15 million adults are under the risk of becoming problem gamblers.

Gambling comes in many forms. It can not only affect your family and livelihood, but it can distract you away from ibadah, weakening your iman and taqwa. In fact, gambling can be considered a form of shirk (associating partners with Allah) as you rely on games of chance to provide instead of Allah. Ramadan is a good time to walk away from such destructive and devastating habits by turning back to the submission of Allah.

Dating and Premarital Relations

“And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect” (Surah Ar-Rum 30:21, Sahih translation)

The Messenger of Allah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said,

“Marriage is part of my sunnah, and whoever does not follow my sunnah has nothing to do with me. Get married, for I will boast of your great numbers before the nations. Whoever has the means, let him get married, and whoever does not, then he should fast for it will diminish his desire.” (Hasan Sunan Ibn Majah Vol. 3, Book 9, Hadith 1846)

Islam is a moral religion that values family and compassion toward others. The concept of dating is thought to open the doorways to immoral behaviors between the opposite genders, such as, but not limited to, lustful thoughts and premarital relations. But, if Muslims should not date, how do they get to know each other before they decided to marry? In Islam, meetings with the opposite gender must be supervised by the woman’s wali (guardian or protector), such as her father, an imam, or someone otherwise appointed. This is to protect the woman from men who may not have her best interests at heart.

With the booming business of online dating, many Muslim men and women fall into the enticing concept of dating. There are even Muslim online dating sites. Now, this isn’t to say that it is all bad, but one must check their intentions and still approach a meeting as prescribe in Islam so that it protects both the man and the woman from the deceptive influences of shaitan.

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Consider re-evaluating the way you approach trying to find a spouse in the modern era. And, if you have no intentions for marriage, consider giving up the notion of dating altogether until you are serious about marriage. Yasmin Mogahed gave good advice about the modern concept of dating in Islam. She said, “If a man is serious about wanting to get married, he will approach your wali, your father…” Also, if you, whether you are a man or a woman, should consider listening to lectures on marriage from Islamic scholar if you are serious about finding a spouse, even check with your local Islamic community to see if they may offer marriage workshops.

If you find hardship in not “dating” while trying to find a spouse, the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said “O young men, whoever among you can afford it, let him get married, for it is more effective in lowering the gaze and guarding one's chastity. Whoever cannot afford it, let him fast, for it will diminish his desire.” (Sahih Sunan Ibn Majah Vol. 3, Book 9, Hadith 1845)

These are just a few bad habits that can be changed and replaced by good habits that are more pleasing to Allah. Ramadan is an excellent time to be inspired to implement changes that not only please Allah but will increase your iman and taqwa. Aside from these suggestions, can you think of any other habits that you may be doing that has allowed shaitain to diminish your connection to Allah? Once you recognize these bad habits and have a sincere desire to repent and change these behaviors, you can research and listen to the wisdom many scholars have on the matter, then give up those bad habits for good while reconnecting and strengthening your relationship with Allah.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 L Sarhan

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      • kahlouche profile image

        Freedom of the sea 

        6 weeks ago from Algiers

        thanks, Gods protect you

      • Coffeequeeen profile image

        Louise Powles 

        2 months ago from Norfolk, England

        This was really interesting to read, and thankyou for sharing such an informative article.

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