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Episode 2: To Stop or to Keep Going? Self Control After Ramadan

About the Episode

Did you know that there are different types of self control? In this episode, we discuss two types of self-control, and how one of them stuck around after Ramadan while the other dipped. We bring you not one but two guests on this episode, and we leave you with some advice for your post-Ramadan journey, inshAllah.

This episode is part two of our conversation on a research study – conducted through a series of text messages – that looks at virtue development in Muslim American youth before, during, and after Ramadan. Click here for part one. 

More About the Research

Does Ramadan Serve as a Naturalistic Intervention to Promote Muslim American Adolescents’ Daily Virtues? Evidence from a Three Wave Experience Sampling Study – The goal of this study was to examine whether Ramadan heightens Muslim American adolescents’ connectedness to Allah, self-control, patience, and compassion.  Using the experience sampling method, adolescents were prompted to complete three daily surveys for a week before, during, and after Ramadan.

Methods & Measures

Experience sampling surveys (ESM) utilize repeated real-time assessments over an intensive time, thus providing the opportunity to capture situational assessments of virtues in naturalistic settings. Rather than capturing behavior or feelings retroactively over a vast period of time (e.g., “Think about how you have felt over the past year”), ESM methods allow us to capture behaviors and feelings during normal daily life, as they are happening in real time–what’s called “situational.” This method also allows us to understand how people change compared to themselves, rather than to the rest of the study sample. This study is the first to provide systematic quantitative investigation regarding the effects of Ramadan on the within-person changes in daily virtues of Muslim American adolescents before, during, and after Ramadan.

We focused on the following situational constructs measured through ESM: connectedness to Allah, prayer, patience, inhibitory and initiatory self-control, compassion, and shame/guilt. In this podcast episode, we focus on self control.

  • Inhibitory Control —->  “It is easy for me right now to stay away from things I shouldn’t do” Answer options from 1 (“Extremely untrue”) to 7 (“Extremely true”).
  • Initiatory Control —–>  “Right now, I can keep doing something even when I don’t feel like doing it”). Answer options from 1 (“Extremely untrue”) to 7 (“Extremely true”).

There were three waves of experience sampling surveys prior to, during, and after Ramadan. During each sampling wave, adolescents received three short surveys on their phones (~2-3 minutes) per day for 7 days.

202 Muslim American adolescents, more than half of the participants were female. More than 90% of the participants were Sunni Muslim, born in the United States. The majority of adolescents identified themselves as South Asian,or AMENA (Arab, Middle Eastern, or North African), and came from 2 parent households. Please refer to the full article for much more information on the demographic makeup of the sample.

Findings Explored in This Episode

Overall, adolescents demonstrated the most self control during Ramadan, more than they did before or after Ramadan. However, these findings look a bit different when you compare the two unique forms of self-control that were studied: inhibitory and initiatory self control.

  • Inhibitory self control deals with the ability to resist temptation.
  • Initiatory self control deals with the ability to do something even when we don’t want to.

Adolescents were more drawn to do good deeds during Ramadan than they were before Ramadan – and the effects were sustained after Ramadan.  So, even though their self-control decreased after Ramadan, it was still at a higher level than before Ramadan. Their ability to keep doing good continued after Ramadan.

Episode 2: To Stop or to Keep Going? Self Control After Ramadan
Episode 2: To Stop or to Keep Going? Self Control After Ramadan

What do these findings mean? What do they tell us?

Our results suggest that Ramadan operates as a naturalistic intervention for virtue development, especially for self-control. The blessed month has a temptation-shielding effect. The intense priming (reminders) of Allah during Ramadan help youth to remain steadfast in staying away from temptations and doing good deeds. However, we also found that Ramadan activates self control in complicated ways. Inhibitory self control, or youth’s ability to stay away from things they should, was highest in Ramadan but decreased afterwards to pre-Ramadan levels. However, increases in initiatory self control were sustained; youth’s ability to push themselves to do good things decreased after Ramadan but it was still higher than their levels pre-Ramadan.

What can we do with these findings?

  • Staying consistent with the goals we’ve set after Ramadan is a challenge for most of us. Harness the power of the morning and evening dhikr (remembrance). Listen and recite them to get a daily dose of fuel, support, and inspiration from Allah SWT. Also, ask Allah to grant you steadfastness through this Duaa, and this one too.
  • For those of us who have young people in our lives, like parents, aunts and uncles, mentors, youth directors, etc: When talking to young people about Ramadan, make sure to discuss how Ramadan is not just about abstaining from food and water – but also about building virtuous character traits. Share these findings with young people in your life and help them recognize these processes within their own behavior. This gives them the language to understand their own development, introspect, and hold themselves accountable.
  • If you’re struggling with a bad habit, don’t underestimate the power of small but consistent taqwa-building experiences like spending time with good friends, listening to spiritual reminders on the way to school or work, making Thikr, etcThese experiences can bulk up your self-control muscles and, like we see in Ramadan, help you stay away from the behaviors you want to leave behind.

Read More About the Research

Does Ramadan serve as a naturalistic intervention to promote Muslim American adolescents’ daily virtues?

Evidence from a three wave experience sampling study


Madiha Tahseen

Dr. Madiha Tahseen is the Research Director and a Community Educator at The Family and Youth Institute. She holds a Ph.D. in Applied Developmental Psychology from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Her research expertise is in positive youth development amongst Muslim-American youth, particularly focusing on the role of cultural and religious contexts in character development among minority populations.

Issra Killawi

Issra Killawi is a Resource Development Manager with The Family and Youth Institute. She graduated from Wayne State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Apparel Design and a minor in Art. She has interned with The FYI previously and co-authored The FYI’s Marriage Prep Toolkit.

Guest Speaker:

- Shaykh Yasir Fahmy

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Zakat eligibility of The FYI

The Family & Youth Institute, or The FYI, is a well-known Muslim organization in the United States. It works to promote mental health and wellness by strengthening and empowering individuals, families, and communities through research and education. It has been working for many years to bring Islamic perspectives to understanding and promoting mental health in our communities.

It is dedicated to serving and supporting Muslims – safeguarding our deen, our families, and our future generations. Therefore, the work of The FYI comes in the category of ‘fi sabeelillah’ or the Path of Allah, within the eight categories where Zakat money can be used.

Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed for it and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah, and for the [stranded] traveler – an obligation [imposed] by Allah, And Allah, is Knowing and Wise.”
(Al-Tawbah 9:60)

According to scholars who widen the meaning of fee sabeelillah to include any activities that promote Islamic growth, The FYI is indeed eligible to receive part of the Zakat funds for its programs and services. I urge Muslims in America to support this organization through their donations, general charity, and through their Zakat. I ask Allah swt to strengthen and guide The FYI to continue its good work in supporting Muslims.

Shaikh Ali Suleiman Ali, PhD

About Shaikh Ali

Sh. Ali Suleiman Ali was born in Ghana where he spent his childhood studying with various Muslim scholars. He then moved to Saudi Arabia and enrolled in the Islamic University of Madina.  He graduated with a degree in both Arabic and Islamic Studies. Dr. Ali went on to complete his Ph.D. in Islamic Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Sh. Ali serves on the Advisory Council of The Family & Youth Institute. He is the Senior Imam and Director of the Muslim Community of Western Suburbs in Canton, Michigan. Additionally, he serves as the Director of Muslim Family Services in Detroit and is a council member of the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA). He is also a member of the North American Imams Federation (NAIF) and the Association of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA).