Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar, also known as the month of fasting, is expected to start around June 28 this year, which means that it is fast-approaching — no pun intended. Once it begins, Muslims all over the world will abstain from food, drink, and marital relations from dawn to dusk, as we are instructed to do so in the Quran: “O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous –” (2:183).

Here in North America, Ramadan will take place this year during the peak of high temperatures. In addition to summer heat, the fast will be lengthy as daylight during this season spans over sixteen hours. With this in mind, fasting will undoubtedly be a challenge this year, but the benefits that accompany long days of fasting are plentiful.

If you view the fast each day simply as deprivation, it may seem torturous. This should not be the focus during this month. Instead, the practice of self-restraint should be a focus, as God tells us that is the purpose of fasting. When practicing self-restraint from food, drink, and other acts that are permissible throughout other times of the year, not only do we gain a better appreciation of the sustenance that God provides for us, we also are able to humble ourselves with the feeling of real hunger, particularly during these long days.

Recent Rutgers University graduate Neelum Quraishi believes one of the blessings of fasting these longer days lies in allowing her to empathize with those who live in less developed parts of the world who have limited access to food and clean water. Additionally, if one can abstain from that which is permissible and essential to survival, abstaining from what is not permissible will not seem as difficult.

Still, the fast will not be an easy feat, especially the first few days. As Fonda Muhammad, a national educational consultant, admits, “As beautiful as fasting is, the first three days always remain a struggle for me.” She adds that keeping patient, especially with her children when they were younger, can be difficult. “Despite the struggles,” Muhammad continues, “in my 30 years of fasting, I have never had a year where I haven’t felt personal and developmental growth.” As God promised us, “For indeed, with hardship [will be] ease.” (94:5). Moreover, we learn from Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him [PBUH]) that, “If God wants to do good to somebody, He afflicts him with trials” (Sahih Bukhari). With these reminders, Ramadan should be viewed as a hardship that not only betters us, but also better prepares us for conquering the other trials that we will face throughout our lives.

Aside from learning self-restraint and resilience, Ramadan is also a time for self-reflection. How often do we reflect on our God-consciousness and the strength of our faith? For those who work, attend school, and/or have families, finding the time to worship outside of what is obligatory can be difficult. And let’s face it, with all of the worldly influences and the negativities we face surrounding our faith, even the obligatory can be hard. Eliminating the time and energy that is typically spent eating, drinking, and preparing meals affords us the chance to focus on our faith. The longer we fast each day, the more time we can spend on increasing our iman (faith).

An essential part of this Holy Month is reciting the Quran. As we are to read some Quran each day with the goal of completing it at least once by Ramadan’s end, these lengthy summer days present us with an abundance of time to reach that goal. Aisha Khan, a single mother of three, works as a babysitter and says, “When the kids take naps, I try to read Quran, as my plan is to complete the whole Quran in the month of Ramadan for thawab [reward].” What better way is there to commemorate the month the Book of Guidance was revealed than to spend it worshiping, praying, and showing appreciation to the Creator who gave it to us?

Additionally, lunch breaks can be spent reading and studying the Quran, helping others at work, or running household errands that are normally done in the evenings or on the weekends. Weekends offer opportunities to volunteer for a worthy cause, read more Quran, or partake in other positive activities to occupy whatever free time we have. Middle school teacher Sarah Said spends her off time gardening, working on art projects with her three children, and reading Quran.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is known for saying, “Every act of goodness is sadaqa (charity)” (Sahih Muslim) and that by giving even half of a date in charity you can save yourself from Hellfire (Sahih Bukhari). This means that even the smallest good deed or charity can save oneself from the punishment in the hereafter, especially during this glorious month where good deeds are given more rewards than any other month of the year: “Whoever draws near to God during it (Ramadan) with a single characteristic from the characteristics of (voluntary) goodness, he is like whoever performs an obligatory act in other times. And whoever performs an obligatory act during it, he is like whoever performed seventy obligatory acts in other times” (Ibn Khuzaymah).

The Prophet (PBUH) stated, “When the month of Ramadan comes, the gates of Paradise are opened and the gates of the (Hell) Fire are closed, and the devils are chained” (Sahih Bukhari). Because of this, it is very difficult to be misled by Shaytan (Satan), and performing good deeds not only becomes easier, you are rewarded much more for them. We can also take this to mean that dua (prayers of supplication) during Ramadan has a greater chance of being accepted. Longer days mean more free time to spend on making dua; therefore, greater likelihood for additional dua acceptance.

We often do not realize how much of our days are spent on food, whether eating it, preparing it, or both, until Ramadan rolls around and we suddenly find ourselves with this profusion of spare time. Longer days of fasting are like gifts in disguise, blessing us with increased opportunities to strengthen our iman and earn good deeds. May you and yours have a successful and blessed Holy Month. Ramadan Mubarak!

Nadirah D. Muhammad holds a BA in journalism. She was recently accepted into Teach For America, a national organization whose mission is to eliminate educational inequity throughout low-income communities, and is excited about teaching middle school English in the fall.