“Ramadan is not about being productive. We should focus on worship instead.”
“For 11 months, I’ve been productive at work. Can’t I slow down just for one month to focus on myself and my relationship with God?”
“Nothing gets done during Ramadan. You might as well take the month off.”
Over the years, I’ve heard statements like these from Muslim professionals trying to balance the spiritual demands of Ramadan (fasting, extra night prayers, recitation of the Quran) and the physical ones (lack of sleep, lack of food, and no caffeine for 12+ hours!).
In fact, in a paper titled “Does Religion Affect Economic Growth and Happiness? Evidence from Ramadan”, two researchers from John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University reported finding that it’s not necessarily the physical aspect of fasting that makes it harder for Muslims to be productive at work but the changes in their attitudes and beliefs towards work that lead to a drop in economic productivity during the month.
Before you dismiss me as a soulless capitalist who wants to squeeze every drop of blood out of you for economic gain, I want you to reflect on the purpose of Ramadan as mentioned in the Quran. Allah (SWT) says:
“O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may attain righteousness.” [Qur’an: Chapter 2, Verse 183].
The Arabic word for righteousness in the last verse is taqwa, which comes from the root Arabic word meaning “to protect” or “be protected.” The idea is for one to be protected from the hellfire and to make life choices that lead to Paradise.
If we think about it, taqwa is essentially about being disciplined. Being disciplined with not only our spirituality (by doing acts of worship and avoiding sin) but also with our soul, body and mind. In other words, having taqwa is about being conscious of making ‘righteous’ choices in the full meaning of the word, not just for our spirituality but for everything that makes us human.
In this article, I contend that we, as Muslim professionals, have narrowed down the purpose of Ramadan to performing acts of worship and nothing more, and we think that being productive in our workplaces is not part of taqwa.
What if we expanded the meaning of taqwa and made it about making those disciplined choices, not only for our spiritual well-being but also our physical and social well-being? What if taqwa is not only about avoiding sin or performing acts of worship but also applying the same consciousness to what we eat, how we sleep, how we work, what we focus on, and how to manage our time optimally, with the intention of achieving success in this life and the next?
What if God-consciousness (taqwa) becomes a driver for your productivity and not a deterrent to being productive? What if the purpose of Ramadan is to explore your full human capacity and not just your spiritual capacity?
Throughout my years of productivity training, working with thousands of Muslim professionals on Ramadan productivity, I have found that Ramadan is the best time to test our real capacity as productive human beings. Here’s an example: outside Ramadan, if you have a bad night’s sleep, it is easy for you to get a quick coffee fix in the morning to become relatively functional throughout the day. But during Ramadan, if you do not sleep properly and you do not wake up to have your predawn breakfast, it is going to be tough, and you will struggle to stay productive during the day (or be spiritual at night). So these smart choices do not become optional during Ramadan; instead, they become essential! And not just essential to performing well as an employee or family member, but essential for your spirituality.
If we start seeing Ramadan as a worthy challenge, a challenge to be productive and serve others to the best of our ability, then we will understand that Ramadan is truly about boosting our human capacity, spiritually, physically and socially.
Mohammed Faris is an international coach, author, and speaker who helps executives, professionals, and entrepreneurs rebalance their lives spiritually, physically and socially to achieve peak performance and live meaningful lives. He’s the founder of ProductiveMuslim.com and author of The Productive Muslim: Where Faith Meets Productivity.
(Writing by Mohammed Faris; Editing by Seban Scaria)
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