The Surprisingly Simple Way You Can Make All Year Ramadan
How to continue Hifdh al-Qur’an and more beyond Ramadan
No, the answer is not the six fasts of Shawwal.
It’s surprisingly simple but getting to the answer will take a lot longer.
Alhamdu’lillāh, I hope the month of Ramadān and ‘Eid-ul-Fitr went well for you all. I for one had an incredibly busy but positive month and hope you did too. I pray that all the good we did is Divinely accepted and that the light of that good remains with us for days to come.
Throughout the month of Ramadān, I was asked questions on how to deal with life after Ramadān.
“How do we continue the good work we’ve done in Ramadān after ‘Eid?”
“How do we avoid the post-Ramadān dip?”
“What is the secret to maintaining the habits we had in Ramadān?”
My answer surprised them and I’m going to share it with you. In Shā’ Allāh, with the memorisation of the Qur’ān in mind.
It all starts with Ramadan itself: You get what you give
Well that’s true but there is a twist. You get what you give when it is realistic.
In Ramadān, we always ask ourselves two important questions:
- What is the purpose of Ramadān? — The Qur’ān, our relationship with Allāh etc
- What is the purpose of fasting (Siyām)? — Striving to be chosen for attainment of Taqwa, and to begin mending ourselves physically and spiritually etc
These are the usual questions but we don’t tend to ask, what is our purpose after Ramadān. This is where we lose track instead asking ‘what am I going to do for ‘Eid on day one, day two, day three…’
We ignore all the other important questions.
What do you want to achieve after Ramadān? Where do you want to go in life? And how are you going to get that? All of us have talents, and all of us have a type of genius, how are you going to use that and impact your world?
Imagine you’re in a months long internship with myself. I give you a manual to follow from day one with all the answers in it. I also tell you what you’re supposed to achieve by the end of it. When that happens, you’re going to have a party. When the party is over, I say you did well and I provide my feedback. After all of that, it is still down to you to use the training and experience you got. You can either continue down that path or take another path.
^ That is the month of Ramadān. Before we can answer this question, our Ramadān should have been geared towards an easy transition outside of the month. Let me put this into perspective.
When compared to our experience, the month of Ramadān for our beloved Prophet (ﷺ) did not involve such significant changes in quantity and quality. Especially when it comes to prayer. Yes, there were elements in the Sunnah that were increased in the blessed month but in our context, we tend to increase everything. We increase food intake as well as food waste. We increase ritual, spiritual and physical worship. This included reciting, listening and memorising Qur’ān. This included praying all obligatory (Fara’id), Sunan and supererogatory (Nawafil) prayers. This included abstaining from sin and increasing in goodwill and charity. All of which we would never do in ordinary day to day life.
Imagine if I told you to do all of these things daily, for most people sadly the response would like, “come one, get real”. It is always the case that when someone takes on too much, they tend to drop it all at some point.
The point of Ramadān isn’t the action, it is was exists within and around the action.
This is why I had an unusual month of Ramadān (2016). I will tell you what I never did that shocked everyone I gave an answer to. I didn’t recite the whole Qur’ān, neither whilst leading the Tarawih or outside the Tarawih. Instead I recited and studied selected verses and chapters intensively and taught those throughout the month.
Yes, I know. We should be doing a Khatm, we should be doing it more if we have memorised. I’m not going to shy away from the fact that I didn’t. There were reasons behind it.
My entire Ramadān was geared towards an easy transition outside of the month. So my whole experience was about quality of action. I was doing roughly a page, day and night instead of a Juz night and day.
If I can’t continue a page a day after Ramadān I’m trouble! :/
So when Ramadān comes along next year, (May Allāh allow us to reach it once again) prepare ahead with the rest of the year in mind.
The next part of my answer was an explanation (Tafsir) of Surah al-Fātihah in the context of our world today. I will skip this part and go to the final part about practicality.
Doing small things every day over a long period
That’s it. That’s the answer.
It’s not doing big things every day over a short or long period.
The story I’m about to share is not mine. There was a story that I put out as an experiement early this year, Feb 2016. I first shared it via email only. After that via this site onto social media. There was a catch. The thing about it was that it was all an experiment. An experiment on all things internet, numbers and much more. Shockingly, it was all based off another article published early Jan 2016. A few people got back to me pointing out that they had seen something almost identical. Whilst others I think figured out something was up. I congratulated them for paying attention.
My intention was not plagirism, telling lies or to create content for the sake of content. That article was one that I had resonated with and saw potential for somebody to replicate from the core principles it laid out. Applying it to the memorisation of the Qur’ān would have made for a great test.
My hope was that someone could be inspired to implement it. That from within the thousands of people in our community, one would reach out to me and say this is what I did. I didn’t get the latter but I did the former. if any of you read that article and applied it, get back to me with the results.
The practical advice that I gave to those people about taking Ramadān outside Ramadān was based off this. It turned out that both a brother and a sister did exactly this and it worked for them. Alhamdu’lillāh.
How to build life changing ‘habits’ through tiny changes
Abu Hurayrah (May Allāh be pleased him) reported: The Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) said, “Take up good deeds only as much as you are able, for the best deeds are those done regularly even if they are few.” [Sahih, Ibn Majah]
Our beloeved, Lady ‘A’ishah narrated, The Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) said, “…the most beloved action to Allah is the most regular and constant even though it were little.” [Sahih al-Bukhari]
These narrations begin to make more and more sense. Is it now making more sense to you also?
We’ve heard people recall stories about having memorised in 20 days, 50 days, 2 and a half months, and 6 months. These timeframes are not important, what is important are the lessons derived from them. A key trend in them is efficiency, smart use of time, determination and consistency. But we don’t often hear the stories of those who spent longer accomplishing the goal. They did it by doing less, consistently.
Last year I was introduced to a concept called, Tiny Habits. I had also been encouraged to become certified in it by our community members. Tiny habits is about establishing (not just creating) new behaviours into your life.
Rule #1: A tiny habit, according to Fogg, is a behaviour:
- You do at least once a day
- Takes you less than 30 seconds
- Requires little effort
Tiny habits must match the criteria above because the easier the behaviour, the less it depends on motivation.
Rule #2: Tiny habits are designed to come immediately after an existing habit. You use the existing habit to trigger the new tiny behavior you want.
This can be built upon and applied to many things.
Let’s take the four principles that help build habits. These principles have worked for two individuals I know. I will share them once again using the same source.
#PrincipleONE — Start small: Repeat a tiny habit daily
Do you think there’s a difference between a routine and a schedule?
I think so. A routine is habitual and flexible whilst a schedule is rigid with little room for manoeuvre. What we’ll learn here is about routine. When starting to focuse on building good habits we always ask too much of ourselves.
You make plans to read and complete a certain amount but end up hardly ever reading. This drags on up till you find a situation where you have too much to catch up on.
This I can relate to.
Let’s say you want to memorise the Qur’ān in a year!
So you make a plan for a suitable routine and you get started. You’re likely doing two pages a day at least but what about the days you get real busy? What about the days you fall ill? What about the days you can’t memorise at all? You begin to fall behind on the master plan. You now change the plan again and again. This continues up till a point where you are no longer interested.
This is a problem. It can take many people up to a decade going through this with no progress whatsoever. You end up failing a lot, and each failure makes it harder to succeed the next day. There is a way out.
At their heart, as James Clear explains, habits are about routines.
You need small wins and visible progress to help create new routines that can keep you at it every day.
The idea of starting small. Focus on repeating the habit every day, but do not worry about how effective the habit is.
You want to memorise two pages of the Qur’ān every night, but you’ve never done any memorisation for years. If you take up memorising large chunks out of the blue and expect to do so every night, you might not last too long. It’s a big ask for most.
When I was memorising, I went through three phases. In the first two phases, I gradually built on the amount I memorised and only reached three pages or more in the final phase.
Starting small is so effective. Take the tiniest part of the habit you can work with — in this case, it would be to memorise just one verse. It’s still considered memorisation, but yes you won’t make huge leaps. Far too often people complain to me that they wish to memorise fast with large chunks. They dismiss the idea of starting small. Sometimes people learn the hard way but I recommend everyone begins with a litmus test.
Here’s where it gets powerful: at first, you focus on just memorising one verse every night. And you stick with it for more than a week. Then, more than two. Then three, four weeks. You can stick with this habit because it’s so easy. There’s barely any effort involved with memorising one verse. Unless it’s one of the large verses which you’re unlikely to be starting out with. So it’s hard to make an excuse not to do it. And once it’s become easy and automatic to memorise one verse, you start memorising two.
For a while, you memorise two verses every night. Then, you increase to three. And slowly you work your way up, never taking such a big leap that it becomes a chore.
By starting small, you focus on making the behaviour automatic, before you worry about making the behaviour big enough that it produces a useful outcome.
As Scott H. Young says, we tend to overestimate how much we can get done — especially when we’re stepping into the unknown. Scott suggests planning as if you can only commit 20% of the time and energy you’d like to, to be more realistic.
Example: One page a night
Starting by reading just one page of the Qur’ān every night before bed. If all you can manage was one page, you would count that as a win.
Start off with just recitation and translation. No memorisation.
Later, when the habit is strong, put on a timer and begin to memorise for 15 minutes. Eventually, begin memorising for 30 minutes before bed and another 30 minutes most mornings.
Note, she you are not memorising a set amount here. You memorise what you can within the time frame. This way you are not trying to cram things in. Focus on a page at a time but memorise a verse or two. Just starting with a couple of verses or one page began to build up. Year one you could be memorising between 1–3 verses. Year two, a page. Year three, two pages.
The idea is that you work on the habit, thinking about how much you ned to do to count a small win. The focus is small, and daily efforts.
Do you remember the scenario above? The individual that set him or herself an ambitious daily target and kept failing. Daily habits can develop into big wins. During the same time that an individual struggles with no progress, you can make small steps towards the goal and end up doing more.
There are others who stick to small amounts and remain there without incremental increases. Memorising three verses a day every day without fail, with no concern of when they’ll finish. But they still end up achieving the target before those trying to do it in chunks.
Example: One lesson every morning
Many people begin studying Arabic, but aren’t good at sticking with it. It happens with memorising the Qur’ān too. Often people get overwhelmed by the Arabic grammar. Others get scared of the amount to process and memorise with all the different forms and tables.
One lesson can take around five minutes, so it’s a tiny commitment, and quite easy to do when sitting, lying down or drinking. Eventually you’ll start doing more than one lesson — two, three, sometimes even four or five, if you are enjoying it. Never because you want to rush through it though (you need to keep things natural).
You can do as many as you like, but always do at least one to check off that habit for the day.
This makes it easy to stick to, even when you don’t feel like doing any more than that. Then you can take on a course to brush up on grammatical rules and structures, and finish several books on Memrise.
#PrincipleTWO — Focus on one habit at a time
One of the hardest things when it comes to building new habits is to not take on too many at once. We always have grand plans for the things we want to get better at, and so much enthusiasm when first starting out, that you want to build several habits at once.
Every time you try this approach, you end up failing. Sometimes few of the habits stick, but sometimes none of them do. It’s just too much to focus on at once — a bit like multitasking, where your brain has to switch contexts, because you can’t focus on many things at once.
So a rule is to work on just one habit at a time. Only when that habit is so automatic that one can do it every day easily. It’s then and only then, do you start on a new habit.
With the examples above, reading every night before she starting to focus on a new language. Beginning to do one lesson easily every day before started focusing on getting up early etc.
Sometimes building a habit can take a long time. Getting up early can be a struggle to do consistently. You can spend months focused on the same habit: trying different approaches, tracking progress, and reporting to friends/mentors/teachers who help keep you accountable. When you want to make it a consistent habit, that means not building any other habits for months.
How long it takes you to build a habit will vary. We often hear the idea that it takes 21 or 40 days to build a habit, but studies have shown we all take different lengths of time to build new habits. In one study, the average time it took to build a new habit was 66 days — about two months.
This said, others may differ. You may want to work on two habits at the same time (but at different times during the day) which may also work.
Treat each habit differently, depending on how hard you find it to stick to consistently. Focus on just one habit at a time so it gets your full attention and energy.
#PrincipleTHREE — Remove barriers: Have everything you need at hand
People find it much easier to complete these habits when the equipment needed was at hand. For instance, having your phone in hand already while drinking makes it easier to build a habit of doing a quick Arabic lesson at that time. Reading a page of the Qur’ān every night became a lot easier when keeping a copy by your bed.
Malcolm Gladwell calls this the tipping point. It’s that small change that tips you over from making excuses to taking action. The tipping point is that tiny change that makes it easy enough to take action that you’ll actually follow through. It’s removing any barriers that make it easy to not follow through on any habits.
This always happens. We get lazy, if the Mus’haf is on a high shelf away from you, you’d likely not touch it often. If it were next to you, in your face — you’d be likely to follow through to reading.
I’ve been trying to build a habit of writing more often. I wrote, “The Promise of Ten: How an ordinary person can memorise the Qur’an in 6 months” recently. But this was never in the plan, amidst running various organisations I’ve tried to make time for writing “How We Memorised” and “25 Methods”. Right now I write whenever the mood strikes me, or when I get time, which isn’t enough. I notice that I tend to write more often when there are less distractions and clear accessibility. Right now I’m mostly on my laptop, but I’ll always end up multi-tasking. The main desktop is often always occupied by my brother where I could easily sit down and write a little without the distractions of my laptop.
Another habit I want to focus on this year is exercising more. This has always been a challenge for me. There’s always a excuse but if I put on my sports/exercise gear, it’s pretty much certain that I’ll go outside for badminton. If not for other activity but until those clothes are on it’s a lot easier to think of excuses for not going out.
#PrincipleFOUR — Stack habits: Build new routines onto existing ones
Stacking onto existing habits builds up several habits into a routine. Each habit acts as a trigger for the next one.
The cool part about this is you already have lots of habits you probably don’t realise. Brushing your teeth before bed, checking your phone before getting out of bed, getting out of bed in the morning at the same time every day — these are all existing habits. So long as you do something at the same time every day without thinking about it, it’s a habit you can stack others onto.
If you do your new habit after completing an existing one, you can rely on the strength of your existing habit to help keep your new habit on track. For example, when you get out of bed, the first thing you might do is go to the toilet and brush your teeth. When you do that, you can start building a habit of making wudu’. The existing habit of brushing the teech acts as a trigger to completing wudu’.
When you go to bed at night, open the Qur’ān sitting by your bed. Interestingly, I had the same set-up whilst I was in Cairo. Getting into bed and seeing the book acts as a trigger to do your nightly reading.
Research has shown a cue to work on your new habit may be the most effective way to ensure you stick to the habit long-term. When you stack habits, you use the existing ones as cues for each new habit you want to build.
Over time you can keep stacking new habits onto your existing ones to take advantage of automatic behaviours you’re already doing.
Hifz/Hifdh of the Qur’ān is not a now task, but it’s a gradual task. Allah loves the small and consistent, perhaps that’s why there are blessings.
Takeaway: How does this apply to Ramadān?
The question earlier was how can we maintain things out of Ramadān. The takeaway is that it was not designed to make you perfect but to give you a path. Take one or two things out of the month and develop them as a tiny habit up till next Ramadān.
May Allāh grant us such ability.
Remember me in your prayers.