Ramadan 2021 is just around the corner, and there is this beautiful festivity and excitement in the air as we all wait anxiously for the month to arrive.
Around this time of the year, I am usually opening up my journals to plan out how I want this Ramadan to go. When we want to achieve the best in something, we always tend to have a plan. As the quote goes, 'If you fail to plan, plan to fail.' But sometimes we forget to apply the same system to our Hereafter too.
My first time I tried actively planning for Ramadan was around 3 years ago, when I first started bullet journaling. Its been an ongoing experiment these past 3 years, but there’s so much I’ve gained by taking this up and so I wanted to share a few tips to help anyone begin their Ramadan plan.
So, here’s 6 steps to plan for your Ramadan.
Before you begin to plan for this Ramadan, sit down with yourself and reflect on how your previous year since last Ramadan went. We want to make sure every Ramadan was better than the previous and to do that we need to first identify how the previous one went. Journaling comes in handy as it gives you access to exactly how your days played out. However, if you are not a journal-er, fret not. Simply think back to last Ramadan and jot down:
Here is an example -
What went well: I prayed taraweeh every night
What habit was I able to sustain throughout the year: The 12 Sunnah salaahs
What didn’t go so well: I didn’t have as much khushoo in my prayers as I would have liked.
Why: I didn’t cut down on my social media use and so had the same level of khushoo outside Ramadan
Jot as many as you can think of, as all these reflections will help to shape a better Ramadan for this year.
2. Dunya Schedule
Identify what type of worldly obligations and responsibilities you have. As much as we would all like to dedicate our full days to just ibadah (worship), work and study is inevitable. By not taking into account these variables, we end up setting unrealistic goals for ourselves which inevitably leads to disappointment.
So, do you have classes, meetings, deadlines, exams? Set out a calendar for the month of Ramadan and mark down all these events. By doing this, you are now able to create goals that are realistic to your situation.
3. Things to cut down on
Ramadan is a month of doing as much good as possible. However, before we consider what extra deeds we want to do in the month, we first have to decide what we want to cut out. This is a step that is often overlooked, but one that is extremely crucial if we want to truly benefit spiritually.
Reflect on this Hadith:
“Verily, when the servant commits a sin, a black mark appears upon his heart. If he abandons the sin, seeks forgiveness, and repents, then his heart will be polished. If he returns to the sin, the blackness will be increased until it overcomes his heart.”
Think back to last Ramadan. Look at your step 1, to the points about what did not go so well for you. Were you spending your mornings with the Quran, standing the nights in prayer, listening to reminder after reminder, but found yourself unable to truly feel connected in prayer, unable to cry during your dua? If this is you, this could simply mean there was some other deed that was stopping you from really reaching that connection. If there was a sin you were indulging during the month, there may have a been a few extra black spots on your heart for it to truly take in the blessings of all the good acts you were performing.
Keep in mind that a lot of the time, the deeds that stop this are not exactly sins in themselves. They are in between and so we tend to guiltlessly indulge in them without realizing that this leads to a lot of ghaflah (heedlessness) and waste of time. Both these effects seep into our good deeds without us realizing, preventing us from truly gaining spiritually.
There are many different acts that can cause this; excessive socialising, entertainment, etc. And a big one — social media. While a lot of good can be found, we all know what happens when you start scrolling through meme pages. The best course of action is to limit your use, whether it be placing time limit apps or installing them only for a particular time in the day.
4. Things to add on
Since we have considered what we are going to cut down on, we can now move onto what we want to add.
I like to break this down into:
Habits I want to build
These are acts that you want to continue for the rest of the year. Ramadan is the perfect time to build new habits. It’s the New Year’s resolution time for the Muslim, and Allah gives us a month where the Shaytan are locked up to make it easier for us to set it in stone.
These habits can range from wanting to pray all 5 Salaah to more Dhikr or Sadaqah. But keep in mind 2 points when deciding what habits you want to build. Firstly, consider your why. Why do you want to build this habit, what is your intention? This helps you stay motivated to stick with the habit. After that, we need a course of action for how you are going to achieve it. This means giving it a time in your day to implement it. Without assigning a time, it becomes very easy to overlook it. My favourite way of doing this is attaching it to an action that I’m already consistent with. This makes it a lot easier to build the habit.
Habit I want to build: Reciting 100 istighfar a day.
Why: Because the one who is constant in seeking forgiveness, Allah makes for him "a way out of every distress and a relief from every anxiety, and will provide sustenance for him from where he expects not." (Riyad as-Salihin 1873)
Course of action: Recite 20 after every prayer.
A reminder to not try to become too ambitious with the number of habits you want to add. These are habits you want to keep past Ramadan, for life. Try to limit yourself to 2–3 and keep in mind the Hadith;
“the most beloved deed to Allah is the most regular and constant even if it were little."
Extra acts of worship
We know every good deed in Ramadan is multiplied immensely in reward, so we want to make sure we exert ourselves in good deeds. These are the main areas to consider when deciding on what extra acts you want to do.
These are all just examples. Think back to your reflections from step 1 and decide which good deeds went well for you last Ramadan and which new ones you would like to add to this year.
Steps 1 to 4 gave us all the jigsaw pieces to achieve the best Ramadan. Now, it is about putting the jigsaw pieces together. I do not recommend having an hour-by-hour timetable as that can feel too constraining and harder to stick to. Instead, I usually take this in 2 steps.
Firstly, planning the day in slots, revolving around Salaah. Decide what you want to slot in from one salaah to the next. Your Dunya Schedule from step 2 can help identify which slots you need to dedicate to your worldly obligations, and which slots you can use for your ibadah (worship).
Secondly, extending your Salaah breaks to stay on your prayer mat for a few more minutes than usual to incorporate some good deeds from step 4. For example, reciting x amount of Quran and y amount of Dhikr after each prayer. This is a beautiful yet simpler way of incorporating those habits you want to build. It also adds this amazing barakah to your day since everything is revolving around acts of worship and it also means you do not have to dedicate chunks of your day to solely one action as that can feel difficult to maintain long term.
6. Dua list
Although this isn’t a point explicitly connected with planning, making a Dua list is something I highly recommend. This is where you note down, in a list, all the Duas you want to ask Allah. Apart from the list helping you to not leave out anything, the most beautiful part is when you look back on this list, days or months later, and realise how many of your Duas Allah has been answering. There is no moment of greater gratitude.
If you are struggling where to start, below are a few categories. Remember to make this Dua list personal to you. Feel free to add Duas from the Quran and Hadith but also keep in mind that Dua is your personal conversation with your Lord.
اَللّهُمَّ بَلِّغْنَا رَمَضَان
I pray that Allah allows us all to reach this Ramadan and fully reap all the benefits from it. Ameen.