Ramadan: A time for mental and spiritual growth

Khalid Al-Ameri

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With the holy month of Ramadan upon us, we are once again blessed with the opportunity to foster a sense of self-awareness and reflect on our lives. Ramadan offers time to grow for the better and focus on the spiritual aspects of our day-to-day lives.

As the saying goes, a healthy body makes a healthy mind. And in order to focus on the mental and spiritual development that is associated with Ramadan, it is important to avoid the physical pitfalls that are all too common, the pale faces, bloodshot eyes and bloated stomachs.

There are several habits that people do not actually need to change during Ramadan. These habits involve the way we eat, the way we manage our budgets and the way we spend our time.

A few habits

A few habits helped me in the past to make the holy month a more meaningful experience. The first one is related to how we eat. Eating habits change dramatically during Ramadan, not just in that we eat only from sunset to sunrise but also in how we eat. Portions seem to get bigger as our ability to take in larger doses of food gets smaller. Our appetite is driven by our imagination of a feast at the height of hunger, rather than the reality of what will satisfy that appetite after the sunset call to prayers.

Ramadan is an extremely powerful month for us all. It is a time when we can work to better ourselves and grow both mentally and spiritually.

Khalid Al-Ameri

The way my family and I approach our meals during Ramadan is to have a minimal change to our regular diets, by reducing the portions by about half the size. Apart from a few dates to break our fast, and a sneaky glass of Vimto (yes I said it), everything else is pretty much the same.

Although we break our fast at sunset, the values and enrichment that come with fasting carry on well beyond that. And how we eat is just as important as why we don’t eat – to develop a sense of patience, sacrifice and humility.

The second habit is related to food shopping in Ramadan which entails an urgency to go out and buy anything and everything. When shopping for food and delicacies in this month, most people can safely cut their budget by about a quarter.

I will never forget shopping with my father as a child and forcing him to buy me a whole plate of basboosa rather than a few pieces, promising that I would finish it all. Come iftar, I could barely finish a piece, of which I paid the price by sitting there and staring at it until I learnt my lesson. To this day, I have never looked at a basboosa in the same way.

I have found that during Ramadan, it is better to focus on the food you need, rather than the food you want. Try to shop with the family after you have broken your fast, which helps to avoid any overindulgence in food purchases that will probably be on your shelf way after Ramadan.

The third habit involves how we socialize during the month. Late nights and beautiful tents are two classic themes that come to mind whenever I think of the UAE’s social sphere during Ramadan. The thing about late nights is that they have such an impact on how we feel throughout the day. Sleeping late leaves one feeling drained and exhausted throughout the day and unable to reflect the sense of energy and productivity that should come with Ramadan.

Most of the people I know who get the greatest benefits out of Ramadan are the ones who hardly change their sleeping habits. They stay physically present and spiritually aware throughout their fast.

Whenever I visited tents around the UAE – you know, with their minimum charge of Dh100 or more, mandatory peanuts and olives, beverages not included – I always felt like I got the bad part of the deal. I spent almost five times more than I consumed and experienced the good part of three hours in near freezing temperatures, with shisha smoke tearing up my eyes and being barely able to hear the person next to me with the speakers blasting sounds of the oud rhythm and tabla drum.

A significant part of Ramadan is the attainment of internal happiness through the development of one’s relationships with family and friends. The most meaningful experiences during Ramadan will perhaps be an intimate dinner with your family, gatherings at an open majlis of a friend or just a regular day in or out with the people that matter most to you. We do not need to be awake until 3 a.m. or be charged a minimum rate to make that happen.

Ramadan is an extremely powerful month for us all. It is a time when we can work to better ourselves and grow both mentally and spiritually. The most effective way to do that is to create fewer physical and materialistic changes so that you can focus on the things that matter most, the people you love and ultimately yourself.

In the end, all these lessons are about living a better life. This Ramadan can be your platform and your beginning. Make it count.

This article was first published in The Saudi Gazette on July 14, 2013.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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