fasting in Ramadan during summer months is more challenging than when it falls during the winter.
The days are long, the nights are too short to catch up on adequate sleep, and the temperatures during the day soar to extra fatigue-causing, perspiration-inducing, body-dehydrating heights!
Furthermore, those Muslims who dwell in non-Muslim majority areas do not enjoy any extra, special leeways or concessions in the timings or workloads of their jobs or studies.
This is unlike Muslim-majority areas, where governments shorten school, office and business timings to suit the Ramadan fasting and worship schedule of Muslim locals, in addition to tapering off all work and study related burdens in the last week of Ramadan, by granting special days off as holidays for the three-day long Eid festival.
Nevertheless, the comparatively shorter summer fasts in Muslim countries are offset by higher temperatures that Muslims have to endure, compared to the milder summer climates of the West.
Whatever the case, many Muslims feel challenged by fasting Ramadan in the summer months, which will be the case for the ummah for the next ten years or so, in which Ramadan will be in the months of May-June.
In order to challenge ourselves to spend and benefit from the oncoming Ramadan summer fasting with patience, resilience, productivity, and positivity, let us look at a few ways by which we can make summer Ramadan fasting easier upon ourselves and our families.
Don’t “Sweat” the Small Stuff!
I have observed a tendency of some people to get stuck in self-imposed, unnecessary ruts regarding their personal routines and habits in Ramadan.
For example, in my local culture, Ramadan has become associated, for most, with the consumption of certain obligatory fried foods and artificially-flavored drinks, as well as over-indulgent, night-long eating and festive socializing, geared at compensating for a largely self-imagined loss of nutrition, dietary intake, and party-style food consumption during the daylight hours.
Muslims can make things so much easier for themselves by seeking alternatives that do not just make fasting in Ramadan easier, but also provide extra time for worship that connects them closely to Allah.
For example, breaking the fast with just dates and water before praying maghrib prayer in its earliest time is very easy to do, as it provides extra time for every family member (including the women) to make earnest du’a before the sun sets, instead of rushing to and from the kitchen to get the table ready in time.
Yet, this practice is unheard of in most Muslim households, even though it is the sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Most Muslims have, instead, obligated upon themselves to prepare a lavish table spread laden with multiple dishes before sunset, including at least 5 types of different foods, plus dessert. They then proceed to eat almost half a full meal before getting up 15 to 20 minutes after the sun has set, on a rather full stomach, to go and pray maghrib.
Here, I would also like to mention how minor children who have not even begun fasting yet, are often given the best seats at the table, and are encouraged to eat heartily from the iftar meal even before those adults who are fasting, especially the ladies of the family, who keep running to and from the kitchen to fetch last minute items and plates.
If the entire Muslim ummah stuck to the sunnah of Prophet Muhammad, and broke their fasts with just (odd-numbered) dates and water, then hastened to pray maghrib in its earliest time on a light stomach, then proceeded afterwards to lay the table for a simple baked or simmered one-pot dinner meal that had been prepared during the day, in advance – together, as a team, – it would make preparing and eating iftar so much easier and healthier, without compromising on quality of worship.
And as for dessert: it can almost always be replaced with chopped fresh fruit as a healthier alternative, especially when summers bring us the best succulent mangoes, here in Pakistan!
Balance between Lethargic Laxity and Inflexible Self-Discipline
Another trend related to Ramadan found among Muslims involves their going to either of two extremes.
The first is not challenging themselves enough, because of the high summer temperatures, to strive hard in worship, giving up without trying, and finding excuses to avoid doing any productive work during the long, hot summer days, because they dread feeling tired and fatigued due to the heat and length of the fast.
This can be witnessed especially more among older children, now that Ramadan falls during school summer vacations, so that they are at home all day, trying to “sleep off” most of the fast.
With such a lax attitude, chores and errands will remain undone, and could lead to utter chaos as the month of Ramadan progresses, leaving no time left to avail for worship such as Quran recitation and going to the masjid for night prayers.
Instead, Muslims should mentally brace themselves for remaining moderately productive during the day, tackling all the chores such as grocery shopping, laundry, ironing, cleaning, and cooking, within moderation, so that their nights remain free for worship.
The other extreme behavior becomes apparent when fasting Muslims do not allow themselves to make any concessions at all in lieu of the extra daylight hours and higher temperatures of summer Ramadan fasts.
Such Muslims tend to equate taking things easier upon themselves during summer Ramadans, as being spiritually weak-willed and not wanting to strive hard enough in the way of Allah. So they continue their job/school workload, physical fitness regimens, and worldly tasks related to household management, in the same way as they did during Ramadans that fell during winters, without making any concessions.
This, combined with their rushing to get done and over with Ramadan worship as soon as possible, leads to their early burnout during the month.
Such an attitude of overzealousness is never more apparent than at the start of Ramadan, when masjids are full to overflowing at night, zakah and supererogatory charity is being given in abundance, and most Muslims are ardently rushing through the Quran in order to “finish” it off as soon as possible.
Understandably, since this tendency is in stark contrast to the sunnah of Prophet Muhammad, who gradually built up his spiritual fervor as Ramadan progressed, most such spiritually overactive Muslims get burnt out by the middle of Ramadan, and their night worship fizzles out as soon as they “finish” the Quran.
They subsequently spend the last week of Ramadan shopping and preparing for Eid (even though it is the most important week to spend in worship, according to the sunnah), mistakenly thinking that they have given Ramadan worship its due by getting done with all of it in the first 2-3 weeks.
Conclusion: Become a Winner this Ramadan
The key to Ramadan success and the optimum scenario lies in maintaining a delicate balance between the two extremes.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
“Make things easy for the people, and do not make it difficult, and make them calm (with glad tidings) and do not repulse (them).” (Al-Bukhari)
Muslims should strive to remain productive by continuing to do normal work whilst fasting during the long, hot days of Ramadan, but they should also make small concessions in all their worldly matters and tasks, in order to get enough rest, and to conserve energy for ensuring that their night worship remains enjoyable and doesn’t tire them out as the month progresses.
Lastly, Muslims should always use wisdom to “start slow” at the beginning of Ramadan, letting their bodies adjust, gradually, to the changed eating and sleeping patterns, thus inching up their momentum and gearing themselves up for increased worship towards the end of the month.
As they say, “slow and steady wins the race”.
The Muslim who starts off slow and lets his body and spirit adjust gradually to Ramadan, ends up winning, i.e. reaping to the full, the special rewards and benefits of the last ten days of the month, which are the ‘crème de la crème’ of the whole journey, before it culminates with his “win” on Eid!