By Najwa Awad, LCSW-C, PMH-C
Ramadan is an exceptional time for Muslims seeking Allah’s mercy, hope, and healing from all kinds of spiritual, physical, and psychological ailments- including addiction. Addiction is traditionally thought of as dependence on alcohol or drugs, but present-day individuals are struggling to extricate themselves from softer addictions more than ever before. In fact, if you ask most people they will tell you that they have an unhealthy reliance on something whether it be food, tv, social media, or even the approval of others. Regardless of the type of addiction, dependence on anything other than Allah (God) usually has spiritual ramifications. If addiction and spirituality can be interconnected what is the interplay between addiction and Ramadan? What are the benefits of Ramadan, and how can it help those who want to break out of the cycle of addiction?
What is addiction?
Not everyone’s addiction story is the same, but in simplistic terms addiction is defined as a compulsive engagement in an activity despite it having detrimental effects. It’s a chronic problem in which a person develops a psychological and/or physiological dependence on something that gives them temporary enjoyment. Although addiction can vary in intensity and struggle (one can not compare a heroin addiction to a social media addiction) all stories include a level of shame, depression and dejection.
The purpose of Ramadan
“O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous” (Quran, 2:183)
The purpose of Ramadan is to fulfill one of the pillars of Islam: fasting, working towards righteousness and striving for forgiveness. In fasting Muslims give up some everyday permissible pleasures, such as food and drink, but also impermissible deeds that hurt themselves or others, like addiction. Muslims sacrifice what they love for the sake of Allah in order to seek His Pleasure and obtain nearness to Him. By putting Allah before their own desires Muslims reaffirm the purpose of human creation, which is to worship God.
As complex as dependence on substances or unhealthy things can be, abandoning one’s addiction for the sake of Allah can be one of the most powerful testaments of faith. During a month of communal sacrifice it can feel empowering for someone struggling with addiction to embark on that journey with millions of other Muslims around the world.
Using science to motivate you in Breaking your addiction
There are varying opinions on how long it takes to break a bad habit or addiction. Some experts say it can be as short as 3 weeks and some say 3 months. The person who starts working on their addiction during Ramadan and sustains recovery throughout the whole month can very much be on their way to long-term healing according to experts. Each day and week that passes in which a person is not engaging in addiction is a day or week that they are closer to successfully overcoming their habit.
Making the most out of the last 10 nights
“The night of Al-Qadr (Decree) is better than a thousand months.” (Quran, 97:3)
Laylatul Qadr (Night of Power) happens in the last 10 nights of Ramadan and can be incredibly powerful in having prayers answered and changing the trajectory of one’s life. During this night angels descend from the Heavens and the reward of good deeds is multiplied greatly. Some scholars also say that it’s during this night that the fate of the coming year would be decided. Muslims look forward to the last 10 nights of Ramadan all year in order to ask Allah for help with their struggles and to correct their affairs. It is through Allah’s Will that anyone heals from ailments so beseeching Him to strengthen resolve and to facilitate the way for healing during this time is very beneficial.
An opportunity to keep busy with good deeds
For some people struggling with addiction, boredom is a very powerful trigger. Ramadan is an excellent time to keep busy with good deeds in hopes of accumulating the most possible reward and blessings. Muslims use this time to read the Quran, visit the sick, help their family, do dhikr (remembrance of Allah), make food for others, etc. Some Muslims also take advantage of all the volunteering opportunities at their mosque like getting the place ready for iftar (breaking fast), cleaning up, or directing traffic in the parking lot (for night prayer).
Hope in the vast mercy of Allah
It was narrated that the Prophet Muhammad said: ‘Whoever fasts Ramadan out of faith and in the hope of reward, he will be forgiven his previous sins.” ‘(Sunan an-Nasa’i)
During Ramadan Allah gives Muslims an amazing chance to have their sins forgiven. There is so much shame that comes with addiction- shame that something can have so much power over us, shame about what others might think, shame over sins, shame over relapsing; however, Allah is the Most Merciful. While fasting Ramadan erases minor sins, Muslims use this time to ask for forgiveness for major sins as well. The opportunity to have all one’s sins forgiven is a beautiful way to heal that shame and add momentum to sustaining recovery after Ramadan ends.
Ramadan is a blessed month and a great time for Muslims to reestablish their connection with Allah (God). Overcoming addiction can be incredibly difficult but through the help of Allah, especially during a month of sacrifice, Ramadan can be a powerful motivator to work towards long-term change. Seeking Allah’s pleasure, through fasting, praying and striving for good can be that extra push towards finally breaking free from the chains of addiction.
Note: If you have a drug or alcohol addiction, suddenly stopping on your own can be very dangerous and sometimes lead to death. To ensure your safety, pursue professional help to assist you with your recovery journey during Ramadan (or any time of year).
Najwa Awad is a psychotherapist who is passionate about helping Muslims heal, grow, and thrive after adversity. She has over a decade and a half of experience providing online and in-person counseling to children, adults, and families at her practice Amanah Family Counseling. Najwa also enjoys giving workshops to destigmatize mental illness, address current mental health issues within the community, and promote psychological health from an Islamic perspective.