Are you ready for Ramadan?
The question is often asked in hushed tones among friends a couple of months before the start of the holy month, and by now — mere weeks before it begins — it's being voiced with a mixture of excitement and anxiety.
Ramadan is expected to begin on April 2, but the exact date will be confirmed by the UAE's Moon-sighting committee.
Scroll through the gallery above to see photos of Ramadan 2021.
To be honest, time will tell if we'll be ready to withstand the challenges and reap the full benefits of Ramadan.
That said, it doesn’t mean we should not enter the month without a certain degree of preparation.
If approached with planning and perseverance, Ramadan can be the spiritual respite we all need in what has been a tumultuous time.
Here are seven ways to prepare.
1. Consult a doctor
It is important to note that while fasting is compulsory for most adult Muslims, it applies only to those healthy enough to undertake the task.
That means not only the ability to endure a lack of water and food from dawn to dusk, it is also about knowing that fasting is not detrimental to your health in general.
Fasting in Ramadan could pose genuine health risks for those with chronic diabetes, for instance, so it’s best to consult a doctor first to get the all-clear.
2. Prepare your meals
Ramadan should not be the dietary equivalent of shock and awe.
While the lavish communal meals are enjoyable in moderation, it is useful to begin thinking about the kind of food to sustain yourself throughout the day and to break your fast in a healthy manner.
For those with or susceptible to diabetes and high blood pressure, it is imperative to plan a diet conducive to your needs.
Once again, a discussion with a doctor or nutritionist will guide you to the right side of the menu and shopping aisle.
3. Cut the caffeine
Plan now or pay for it with headaches in the first few days and weeks of Ramadan.
Coffee lovers like myself know that skipping that blissful morning dose of caffeine is an irritant on any day, and as the clock ticks closer to Ramadan the concern grows about how we will cope during the opening days.
The best way to overcome the jitters is to scale down your caffeine intake by either gradually delaying that cup of coffee during the day, or begin replacing the full brew with the decaffeinated variety.
Done over the course of two weeks, this should ensure you're ready when Ramadan begins.
4. Don’t skip exercise
An interesting feature of pre-Ramadan planning is you have certainty on what times you will break the fast and go to the mosque for the recommended communal prayers throughout the month.
While it’s advised to have no scheduling clashes during those times, it's also important to designate an hour of exercise per day.
Begin now by re-affirming your commitment to that daily gym routine or evening stroll, because acquiring the spiritual benefits of Ramadan also requires a reasonably healthy lifestyle.
5. Plan your calendar accordingly
Now is time to make, or request, certain changes to your work routine, if you have the ability to do so.
If your profession is flexible enough to tweak your working hours, ask yourself what period are you normally the most productive during the fasting day and arrange meetings and tasks accordingly.
It is also best to clear the calendar, as much as you can, throughout the last 10 days of Ramadan, which is expected to begin from April 27.
This is not only the most spiritual period of the holy month, but also a time when many Muslims become night owls as they partake in extra prayers held in the early hours.
Therefore, it is recommended not to schedule unnecessary work meetings in the early morning.
The same goes for planning any work events in the late afternoon, to allow yourself ample time to go home and prepare for iftar.
6. Approach it with a sense of joy
You can celebrate the onset of Ramadan as well as Eid.
To get yourself in the spirit, add some of that Ramadan razzle dazzle to the home. This could mean lighting the house up with lanterns or getting new table or kitchen sets.
While Ramadan is not about material things, it should still be approached with a sense of occasion.
I saw the effects when visiting a relative’s home last week. They had a Ramadan calendar hanging on the wall and it imbued the home with a wonderful sense of anticipation.
That enthusiasm also rubbed off on their two small children who now can’t wait until the holy month begins.
7. Finally ... get real with yourself
“So why are you doing this? If you don’t want to improve yourself then all you will leave with after Ramadan is a sense of being hungry and thirsty for a month.”
This is the advice my mother would give me, without fail, in the days leading to Ramadan.
She is right, of course: the holy month is not so much a spiritual detox from the daily grind, but an opportunity to dig deep and examine ways to improve your character.
Ramadan helps because the spiritual acts of fasting and the sense of fellowship help to subdue the ego.
So sit down, think, take that notepad and ask yourself the hard questions on ways you can develop. Does it mean letting certain habits go? Does it mean to forgive or ask forgiveness for certain behaviours?
At its most powerful, Ramadan is an X-ray into the state of our own internal well-being.
Plan accordingly and we have a good shot of reaching the end of the month in a better state than when we entered it.