One of the easiest ways to ruin a great Ramadan is to log onto social media and feel like everyone else is having a better month than you. Ramadan in the summertime is rough, with fasting for many people coming in roughly around 15-18 hours. This means personal worship is going to be difficult. Praying Isha and waking up on time to eat before fajr while balancing work is going to be challenging - especially if you mix in trying to pray tarawīh, and catching a short lecture at the masjid.
In addition to this, it seems almost everyone is planning some type of "30 day" program for the month. A tafseer series, a YouTube series, and so on. My personal favorite is to try and follow Mufti Menk's podcast during Ramadan.
Everyone is also making plans for the month. Where they're going to pray, which reciter they're going to pray behind, what their meal plan is, what the fitness plan is, how many times they're going to read the Quran, and so on. These are all great, and we should be setting ambitious goals.
By about the middle of the month though, we sometimes hit a plateau. The adrenaline wears off, and the routine becomes difficult to maintain. We start sleeping through suhur (pre-dawn meal). We start missing Isha at the masjid and try to just catch tarawīh. We're a solid 8 days behind on whatever our 30 day plan was. Meal plans have been violated with donuts and samosas, and gym time starts competing with masjid time to the point that we miss both.
Everyone else is having an AMAZING Ramadan with their #squad.
We've discussed general feelings of social media envy before, but Ramadan brings an added twist. It's a concentrated amount of time where everyone is focused on the same thing, so it is hard not to feel like you're in competition.
Someone might say that's a good thing. We should compete over good deeds. In fact, envy in this regard is even praised -
The Prophet (s) said, "Envy is permitted only in two cases: A man whom Allah gives wealth, and he disposes of it rightfully, and a man to whom Allah gives knowledge which he applies and teaches it" (Bukhari and Muslim).
The problem is that social media is a magnifying lens, and in this case it doesn't magnify actions, it magnifies experience. And in seeing the experiences others are having, you start to feel like you're missing out.
You're at a masjid where the person leading prayers is barely old enough to grow facial hair and recites at a low monotone voice at 90mph. You peace out after a couple of rakat of tarawīh, open up Snapchat, and see a friend with a geotag in some exotic place like Hawaii posting a 10 second clip of some super baller Qari from Egypt. Why is my Ramadan so terrible?
You open up Instagram and see a friend post a photo of some famous scholar visiting their masjid to give a talk. Meanwhile, at your masjid the nightly halaqah takes place at 12:30am, has no coherent point, and is delivered in broken English. Why is everyone else having such an amazing Ramadan?
Then there's the huge layout of food on Instagram for iftar. All kinds of foods - lamb, beef, goat, chicken. Fruits cut into exotic little shapes so intricate you feel guilty for eating them. Desserts on desserts on desserts. Meanwhile at home, both you and your spouse were so caught up with work and the kids that no one had time to prepare dinner, so you're microwaving up leftover pizza from 2 days ago feeling simultaneously guilty for not using the halal meat you just stocked up on before the month, and also killing your Ramadan weight loss program with a high-carb dinner.
Then there's that night where you've been grinding it out all week, and it's finally Friday night. Except, strangely, there's no iftar party going on. No worries, you make yourself a meal, pray Maghrib at home, and start getting ready to head out for Isha. You still have a few minutes so you mindlessly open up Snapchat. Then you start seeing snaps one by one from various people in your #squad and extended #squad. Seems everyone is over at your friend's house. Snaps of the food. Not just snaps of the food, but a short 5 second clip showing the table set up and those artsty-craftsy Pinterest inspired labels telling you the name of each dish. Then there's some selfies. They're all posing with each other. People are laughing at their little inside jokes. Everyone is having a good time, but somehow they forgot to invite you. Was it on accident? Was it on purpose? Surely it wasn't on accident, you guys are too close to get overlooked. So it has to be on purpose, but why? What did you do to not get invited? Maybe they don't like hanging out with you? The weekend is soured, seems everyone else has a social life while you quietly retreat into sadness.
Then there's super-Pinterest-Mom. There are 30 day charts made out of construction paper, squares cut professionally with a paper cutter, and all kinds of enriching activities for the kids to do. Decorations are up on every wall, and there's smiling photos and snaps of the kids talking about how excited they are for Ramadan. You thought you were doing great when you ordered a book for your kids, but now you look over at the copy of It's Ramadan, Curious George that arrived in the mail earlier today and start to wonder, am I a horrible parent?
Then there's the #familytime posts. Enjoying iftar every day with the fam! Love going to the masjid together as a fam! Every single night. Meanwhile, you don't actually have any family nearby, or your family isn't Muslim. Social media is a magnifying lens - and the feelings of loneliness just got exponentially worse.
So What Are We Supposed to Do? 5 Step Action Plan
Step 1: Unplug [see also: Ramadan Guide to Social Media Fasting – How to Practically Do it, and What You Can Gain From It]
The level of unplugging will vary person to person. I usually progress up to unplugging in this way:
- Turn off notifications. No more buzzing/beeping. I turn off notifications on everything except text messages and phone calls. Yes, that means WhatsApp groups are muted.
- Delete the highest offending apps from your phone. Delete Facebook, Twitter, Instagram - wherever you feel like there is a huge time suck.
- Deactivate accounts for the month of Ramadan.
- Deactivate or delete completely (e.g. delete Snapchat from your phone).
Step 2: Unfollow
Unfollow anyone who is a negative influence. If seeing a particular person or organization's updates regularly makes you unhappy in any way, unfollow them immediately.
If you notice someone's updates, even if it is a friend, are constantly making you feel envious or inadequate - then mute them.
Step 3: Intention & Reminder
Check your intention before posting something. It's okay to celebrate the blessings of Allah (swt), it's okay to share good times, it's okay to post things as encouragement to others. It's not okay to be passive aggressive, one-up people, or show off. There's a fine line between these that only you personally can clarify between yourself and Allah (swt).
Also remind yourself when you are posting that even the good times are a highlight reel. You don't have to post your struggles and down moments online, but use your struggles as a reminder. When you see other people post nice things, remember that they have struggles just like you. No one has a perfect life (no matter how well curated their social media presence is). Be careful of posting things that may incite envy in others.
In fact, many times, people go overboard to hide their own inadequacies. It's like the fake entrepreneur culture where people suddenly start posting photos of themselves driving Lamborghinis and promise to help you make millions in passive income. The reality is they probably went into credit card debt to rent a Lamborghini for a day just to get that Instagram photo.
Step 4: Spend Time With the People Around You
The more you increase your time interacting with family, friends, and community members, the more you get in touch with the humanity of people as opposed to carefully crafted online versions of people.
Part of unplugging should be taking time to meet and talk to people - even if it's for a few brief moments - instead of grabbing your phone every free second you have at the masjid.
Step 5: Be Inclusive
The most painful part of Ramadan, a time of community building, can be feeling left out. The feeling of a lack of friendship or even family can take a serious toll on someone's psyche. Make an extra effort to include people in your Ramadan plans. Even if you think you have a good relationship with someone and they wouldn't care about not being invited because "y'all are cool like that" - don't do it. Be as inclusive as possible and help make people feel a part of whatever is going on.
This is doubly true for people who are in places where they have no family nearby, or their family is not Muslim. No one should have to feel that lonely in Ramadan, it's as simple as just making a little extra food and sending someone a text message to come over.
These are a few ways to help with cutting down on having envy and creating envy during this month. What tips can you add?