By Nebal Snan

KUWAIT: Preparing for the last ten days of Ramadan begins at the start of the month for Noor Al-Huda Al-Hudaib, a mother and teacher from Kuwait. The final stretch of the holy month is known to be the most blessed, with Muslims increasing their good deeds to seek Allah’s mercy. Although many people around her make elaborate schedules, with plans to fill their day to the brim with worship, Hudaib builds her stamina little by little.

Being a working mom, the first third of Ramadan can be a handful, as she juggles maximizing her worship and adapting to drastic changes in her family’s routine. Keeping up with social obligations, exchanging greetings and gifts with loved ones and caring for her family can take a toll. “There’s so much joy and happiness during the first third. There’s also exhaustion as our bodies adjust to the Ramadan diet and the long fasting hours. So I find that the quality of my worship rituals improves gradually as we inch closer to the second third of Ramadan,” she says.

As she gets used to Ramadan’s rhythm, the last ten days are when Hudaib says she begins to “taste the sweetness” of worship. Hudaib’s strategy for the last ten days is simple: Focus your efforts and don’t stretch yourself too thin. “I don’t like setting unrealistic expectations. So, I make sure to increase my worship only slightly more than the rest of Ramadan. In my supplications, I like to repeat ‘Oh Allah, you are forgiving and love forgiveness, so forgive me,’” she says.

Ramadan vibes

Yara Eyad, a teacher who’s lived most her life in Kuwait, says finding balance between work, worship and social responsibilities is all about time management.  “When I have free time at school, I get all the work done, like grading papers, doing the assessment with students … so that when I come home I can focus on reading the Quran or visiting my relatives … (or) going to the masjid.”

After living in North America for the past few years, Eyad is cherishing the sense of community and festive atmosphere in Kuwait this year more than ever. The beautiful decorations and the hustle and bustle of Ramadan nights make the month all the more special, she says. “It’s so nice how people here in Ramadan are always positive,” says Eyad. “I don’t usually like crowded places, but during Ramadan, it’s different. The vibes are different here in Kuwait.”

The spirit of togetherness that envelopes Ramadan is Abdurahiim Roberts’s favorite thing about the month. “You're getting up with your family early in the morning for suhoor. You’re breaking your fast together as a family. You go together to taraweeh. … The family worship is stronger in Ramadan,” says Roberts, who has lived in Kuwait since 2006.

Going the extra mile

Like many Muslims, Roberts seeks Laylatul Qadr, one of the most sacred nights in the Islamic calendar. Although the exact date of Laylatul Qadr is unknown, it’s thought to occur on an odd night in the last ten days of Ramadan. It’s believed to be the night in which Allah shows great mercy to all creatures, so Muslims spend it praising Allah, thanking him for his blessings and asking for forgiveness. Offering prayers and remembrance (thikr) and reading the Quran are examples of acts of worship Muslims do during the night. “I love to do more (worship), especially in the last ten days. When you reach that time, when your body’s starting to get a bit tired, that's when you have to make the most effort,” says Roberts.

In her quest to amplify her worship, Hudaib goes as far as deleting social media applications that take up too much of her time. “Social media apps could have a negative effect on our spirituality if they take us away from being conscious of Allah’s presence, which is the basis of our worship during Ramadan,” says Hudaib. “Taqwa demands our concentration, so we need to eliminate potential sources of distraction, such as spending too much time shopping online or looking up recipes on Instagram.”

At the same time, some apps have the potential to help Muslims grow their relationship with Allah, if used correctly, says Hudaib. Some people benefit from WhatsApp groups, where participants encourage each other to do more acts of worship. Others use YouTube, for example, as a resource for learning about the teachings of Islam or listening to tafseer, the detailed explanation of the Quran.  “These resources were not readily available to people, especially women, who would be too busy taking care of their family to go to the mosque and attend a lecture,” she says.

Don’t be afraid to ask

Ramadan can also be an opportunity for sharing the teachings of Islam with non-Muslims, who might have misconceptions about Ramadan or Islam in general. When Eyad observed Ramadan abroad, her colleagues would ask her about fasting. “They were surprised about how patient I was and how energetic I was. They were like, how could you manage?” she says. “We had a conversation about it and they understood that it’s about learning how to be patient and healthy and balancing between our desires and duties. Two of them were curious to try (fasting) and were happy they did.”

Roberts urged non-Muslims to seek answers to the questions they might have about Islam from Muslims around them. He advised Muslims to always be approachable and kind. “You can't understand that something's a misconception unless you speak to the people who are practicing their religion,” he says. “Sometimes Arabic can sound a little harsh to a non-Arab speaker. And you’ll think: ‘Oh, is he angry with me?’ But no, that’s just how some people speak. ... I think people in Kuwait are very open and polite.”