About the Episode

Ramadan, patience, self control, compassion – how are these words related to one another? While we wrestle with caffeine headaches and less sleep or food than usual, Ramadan is a testing ground for our ability to prioritize spirituality and to practice skills like self-control and patience. But by the end of the month, are we better at these skills than when we started?

Our conversation today is about a research study – conducted through a series of text messages – that looks at virtue development in Muslim American youth before, during, and after Ramadan.

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. This episode focuses on patience, defined as the ability to stay calm in the face of frustration, adversity, or suffering.

Findings Explored in This Episode

  • Adolescents had the lowest level of patience before Ramadan and experienced the highest level of patience during Ramadan.
  • After Ramadan, their level of patience decreased but it didn’t go as low as their pre-Ramadan levels. In other words, they sustained some of the patience building they did during Ramadan but to a lesser degree.
  • Youth who began Ramadan with higher levels of patience had a greater increase in patience in each wave of the study as compared to youth who started Ramadan with lower levels of patience. In other words, when adolescents come into Ramadan with their patience activated, they experience greater growth in their patience. An individual can gain the most benefit out of the month of Ramadan if they have already begun to work on their habits.

Method & 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 patience.
  • 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.

Adolescents were prompted to rate from 1 (“Strongly disagree”) to 5 (“Strongly agree”) on the first following questions:

Interpersonal Situational Patience  —>  “I was patient with other people.”

Life Hardships Patience   —> (“I was patient with an ongoing struggle in life (e.g., racism, social injustice, school issues, chronic illness.”

Daily Hassles Patience —> “I was patient with things that are annoying in everyday life (e.g., feeling hungry/tired, technology difficulties, etc.”

Connectedness —> “On a scale of  1 (Not at all) to 5 (Extremely), how connected do you feel to Allah in this moment?”

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

  • The increased reminders of Allah in various contexts during Ramadan coupled with greater engagement in community worship may make youth feel more connected to Allah in their daily lives. Once these reminders and the “feel” of Ramadan dies down, adolescents feel less connected to Allah which can be seen in how their levels decreased after Ramadan.
  • Regarding patience: As adolescents controlled their desires (i.e., hunger, thirst, bad habits they were trying to let go of), they practiced being patient–staying calm in the face of frustration and deprivation. Engaging in more intense acts of worship during Ramadan also helped them to practice patience. Doing so increased their patience levels during Ramadan strengthening their patience muscle. Interestingly, even though there was a slight drop-off in patience after Ramadan, youth maintained this muscle after Ramadan suggesting that they can maintain the positive effects of Ramadan for the virtue of patience, even if there aren’t heightened levels of reminders or the “vibe” of Ramadan.
  • Another interesting conclusion is related to how youth enter this month. Adolescents who had a seed of patience planted before Ramadan, saw it bloom in Ramadan, and some were able to continue to reap what they sowed after Ramadan. Ramadan serves the greatest benefit when you enter the month with activated virtues, rather than approaching it with a mindset of drastic change that should be sustainable. The findings show that it is more beneficial to start working on our virtues of patience before the month begins than to have unrealistic expectations of ourselves during the month and onwards.

What can we do with these findings?

  • Start thinking about Ramadan – before Ramadan. Think about one thing you are already doing; how can you continue to practice it or build on it in Ramadan? Think of a seed you’ve already planted, and use Ramadan to water that seed and watch it grow.
  • Among your family and friends, prime yourselves for Ramadan. Listen to more Quran and have it playing in the car and in your home. Think about what habits you want to develop and lay the foundation to work on them before Ramadan. Get in the habit of doing more good deeds now, don’t wait until Ramadan to do that.
  • Remember these words by Abu Bakr al-Warraq al-Balkhi, a righteous sage of our tradition. He said: “Rajab is the month to sow the seeds; Sha‘ban is the month to irrigate the crop; and Ramadan is the month to reap the harvest.”

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

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Episode 1: Growing Patient in Ramadan