Change and hope were the buzzwords of the 2008 U.S. Presidential election. Let's let the coming year be the time to put them into action. Normally, we begin a new year with hope for change, but then we change and lose hope that we can ever accomplish our goals. One way to to reverse this cycle is to start small to build big. Here are six easy things you can do in the coming year:
1. Read the Quran 5 for 5
Just five days a week, read the Quran for not more than five minutes, but here's the catch: you must shut yourself off from everyone and everything and give Allah's Word absolute attention. This small step will give you with a deeper appreciation for life's meaning, ultimately leading to change in surprising ways. Some ways to do this: in the morning before everyone wakes up; in the evening after everyone has gone to bed; during lunch hour in the car; on the bus/train on the way to school/work; on breaks between classes; when the baby's napping; at the laundromat doing your weekly laundry. Just remember to watch the time and set an alarm if needed so you read for only five minutes.
2. Call or sincerely pray for your parents no less than once a week
In the Quran, Allah orders us not to say even "Uff" to our parents (17:23). Today, many of us may not utter this demeaning word to mom and dad. However, we express our disrespect by not keeping in touch. Yes, life is busier than ever and time is stretched to the max. But these are not valid excuses for ignoring those who nurtured us when we could do nothing on our own. While visiting is also very important, this may not always be possible on such a regular basis if you live in another state or country. Calls are the first step in reestablishing greater connection.
In the upcoming year, set a time in your appointment book to call your parents at least once a week. And call, don't email, Facebook or anything else. While these technological tools are great to send and show pictures of yourself or grandchildren, most older folks would rather hear your voice than read witty status updates or forwarded jokes.
If your parents have passed away, spend five minutes weekly to make a sincere, deep Dua for their forgiveness and for Allah to grant them the best in the Hereafter for all they did for you.
3. Read to a child for just 10 minutes
Young children whose parents read aloud to them have better language and literacy skills when they go to school, according to a number of studies. This in itself is an incentive to take just a few minutes during the week to do so. But reading to kids, whether that is your own children, a younger sibling or a nephew/niece is also a wonderful way to offer some short but long-lasting Islamic lessons. Today, the range and quality of Islamic books for kids is better than ever. Start off with a couple of simple ones from the Quran, the life of the Prophet and some timely theme and then continue this great habit as the year continues. On the days you can't read in person, do it over the phone or by webcamera.
4. Transfer the money saved from 1 cost-cutting habit for a continuous good cause
About 80 percent of Americans are stressed because of the economy, according to a recent survey (http://www.cnn.com/2008/HEALTH/conditions/10/07/economic.stress/). This has led many to cut back on all kinds of spending, from holiday gift giving to the ritual morning latte. While we tighten our belts though, let's use at least some of the money saved for a good cause. Consider this: the International Labor Organization estimates the number of workers living on $2 a day or less will surge by 100 million (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-global-food_goeringnov14,0,1773395.story). Use some of your saved cash to support a family, the education of one child or one orphan for a year in a developing country.
5. Attend one regional or national Islamic conference
A strong community is built by great individuals, but great individuals are products of their communities. That's why it's so important to connect and network with other Muslims not just in our own neighborhoods and cities, but on a state-, country- and worldwide basis as well. Doing so allows us to not only hang out socially, but to discuss some of the common problems we face and come up with viable solutions for them. Aim to attend at least one Muslim conference in 2009 so you can reap the blessings of community and strengthen your own faith on a personal level.
6. Adopt and share one habit to save the planet
Thanks to the environmental movement, we are now more aware of how our daily habits are leading to our planet's destruction. In the coming year, pick just one habit that can help you become a better steward of the earth. Some simple ideas: turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth; recycle your newspapers and magazines; turn off the shower when soaping up; bring your own canvas bags to the grocery store instead of using plastic ones. Then, get your youth group, Halaqa group and mosque/Islamic center to adopt the same.