Ramadan – Better Than Before


Qasim Choudhary, USA

‘The greatest of empires is the empire over one’s self’ – Publilius Syrus

I fondly recall the excitement I had attending a soccer (football) camp during my adolescent years. The camp provided an opportunity to hone and refine my skills (or lack thereof) and a chance to be coached by some of the most brilliant tacticians. The most thrilling prospect, however, was knowing I had a chance to come out of the camp as a stronger, improved player.

In many ways, the holy month of Ramadan can be viewed as a camp that affords us the opportunity to build and train our physical and spiritual faculties. In fact, His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba), whilst commenting on the significance of Ramadan, once stated the following: ‘This spiritual camp lasts one month and should be fully availed of.’ [1]

This got me thinking: how can I make the most of this year’s Ramadan? I wanted to take a deeper dive and learn about and experience the inner workings of this spiritual camp. But, more importantly, I desired that by the end of this spiritual camp, I would be a better version of myself. And how would this come to be?

Fortunately for me, I stumbled upon a fascinating book, Better Than Before, by Gretchen Rubin. In the book, Rubin explores the subject of mastering habits. Concerning the importance of habits, she profoundly states, ‘If we change our habits, we change our lives.’ [2] This made me wonder: how can changing my habits help me become spiritually rejuvenated this Ramadan?


Often times when we think of Ramadan, words like ‘self-denial’ or ‘self-control’ come to mind. We would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t desire more self-control. Research shows us that people with better self-control have stronger relationships, greater career success, better stress management, and far fewer bad habits. [3] Yet another study reveals that when we employ sheer willpower to resist temptation, we succeed only about half the time. [4] There are conflicting opinions about the nature of self-control. Some argue that we only have a limited reservoir of self-control, and we should therefore dip into it moderately. For example, we may be able to resist the free cookies at a work meeting for an hour, only to break and grab two cookies on the way out.

Whether the theory presented above is factual or not, what makes Ramadan unique is that it cultivates both self-control and habit formation. This is vital because, with good habits, we conserve our self-control. Similarly, it takes self-control to establish good habits. But once these good habits are in place, we can more effortlessly accomplish what we feel is best for us. For instance, it may take someone more self-control to wake up for tahajjud [voluntary night prayer] in the beginning stages of Ramadan. After several days, however, this person may notice that waking up for tahajjud prayer is slowly becoming a habit for him or her, and less self-control is required.

More on Habits

Do you ever wish waking up for fajr [prayer offered right before dawn] was as easy as brushing your teeth in the morning? What’s the difference, and why is one easier than the other? Of course, the latter is a mindless action, but it is ingrained in our routine and doesn’t require any decision-making. In other words, it has become habitual. Rubin believes that the real key to habit formation is a lack of decision-making. Furthermore, she adds, ‘Habits make change possible by freeing us from decision making and from using self-control.’ [5].

What is special about Ramadan is that it provides us with an opportunity for mindful habit formation and an environment where positive habit formation can thrive, and thus, less decision-making is needed. Take the example of the fajr prayer. During Ramadan, one ensures they are awake well before the fajr time for the suhoor [meal eaten before dawn and fasting until sunset]. In this way, not only is less decision-making required to wake up early for the fajr prayer, but early rising for prayer is also slowly becoming a habit. Similarly, during Ramadan, we try to offer more nawafil [voluntary prayers] as they are a means of becoming nearer to God Almighty. For this purpose, we have the option of congregational tarawih [voluntary prayers offered after the Isha or late evening prayer]. Since we are already obligated to offer isha , the tarawih can be utilised as an easier means of offering voluntary prayers while striving to become regular in offering voluntary prayers.

It is amazing to see how Ramadan provides spiritual training wheels and support to those observing this blessed month. Not only does it cater for those who are looking to make bigger steps in their spiritual development, but it also doesn’t disregard those who are simply beginning their spiritual journey.

A lot has been said about habit formation and how changed habits can lead to greater self-control. There is no denying that our habits shape our present and our future. According to experts, we repeat about 40 per cent of our behaviour almost daily. [6] Just as in our regular routine, habits will also act as an invisible architect during Ramadan and sculpt our day-to-day lives. For instance, during the first few days of Ramadan, it is normal to feel the pangs of hunger and thirst. Initially, we may struggle with the increased spiritual activities and/or with avoiding those things which were deemed permissible prior to Ramadan. If we persevere, however, gradually we will become accustomed to the lifestyle of Ramadan, and the good habits we form in the beginning will carry over to and blossom during the subsequent days. This could undoubtedly lead to a life-changing transformation.

Ramadan is a special time of the year for Muslims all around the world. If we enter this 30-day spiritual camp with true sincerity and vigour, we can garner limitless blessings during the month. In addition, it is important to remember that, during Ramadan, acts of virtue for the sake of God reap manifold rewards as compared to those done during ordinary days. This is why God Almighty declares that he will multiply the good deeds of a fasting person ten times over. [7]

So why wait? With only a few days left, let’s strive harder than ever before and become better than before.

About the Author: Qasim Choudhary is a graduate of the Ahmadiyya Institute of Languages and Theology in Canada, and serves as an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the United States of America.


[1] Friday Sermon, July 4, 2014

[2] Rubin, G. (2015). Better Than Before: Mastering the habits of our everyday lives. Crown Publishers. Pg.xi

[3] Rubin, G. (2015). Better Than Before: Mastering the habits of our everyday lives. Crown Publishers. Pg.4

[4] Ibid

[5] Rubin, G. (2015). Better Than Before: Mastering the habits of our everyday lives. Crown Publishers. Pg.5

[6] Rubin, G. (2015). Better Than Before: Mastering the habits of our everyday lives. Crown Publishers. Pg.xi

[7] Bukhari, Kitab-As-Saum Bab Fazli As-Saum