Ramadan: Break Free from Our Digital Addictions

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My awaited generous friend is here once again. An opportunity of a lifetime.

Gates of Heaven open, gates of Hell closed. The devils debilitated.

All to give me a chance to change.

To change my habits from base to noble.

To change my thoughts from petty to grand.

To change my heart from heedless to aware.

Allah swt says in what means:

“O believers! Fasting is prescribed for you—as it was for those before you—so perhaps you may attain taqwa" (Allah-awareness) (Surat Al-Baqarah:183).

Allah obligates us in this blessed month of Ramadan to fast, not only to sympathize with the needy and appreciate the innumerable gifts we have, but to learn to say NO! No to my base self (nafs).

I will no longer obey you nor will I continue to serve as your pro bono lawyer - defending your most carnal drives.

I do not fast from food and drink only to be able to say no to food and drink. Rather, I fast primarily as a spiritual “exercise” aimed to develop the spiritual “muscle”. I aspire to strengthen it to say no to anything that is handicapping my relationship with Allah and His Noble Messenger ﷺ. If I can say no to basic food and drink, then can I not say no to backbiting, to sleeping through the obligatory salah times, or to being anything less than obedient and kind to my parents?

Ramadan is about breaking the shackles originating from my nafs that have enslaved and clouded my spiritual heart for too long. Only when this happens, may I begin to taste taqwa. I cannot be aware of the Divine in any real way while I am submerged in the attachments of my nafs. It is the overcoming of basal addictions and nafsi desires that inevitably leads me to becoming more aware of Allah. This is the quintessential lesson of Ramadan.

And so the modern age has introduced us to a new bevy of enslaving tools and digital addictions. Whether it is the smartphone, social media accounts, messaging platforms, online browsing or video games, these addictions have become so prevalent and confounding that they are now a recognized medical condition termed Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD). Physiologically, what essentially happens in the body of an addict of alcohol, drugs, or gambling also occurs to the one suffering from IAD. Take for example the clinical symptoms of an addict:

  • Compulsive use and dependence

  • Isolation and distancing from family and friends

  • Emotional instability and irritability

  • Anger or agitation when separated from the addiction

  • Losing track of time and falling behind on responsibilities

  • Physical withdrawal symptoms.

Any of these sound familiar? Many of us and our children are sadly addicted to our digital devices. While the above symptoms are disturbing enough, let us also contemplate what these addictions cost us: quality time with family, in contemplation, and in worship, to name a few.

It is time for us to use the truly necessary and needed aspects of these devices and stop being used by them. The painful reality however, is that these devices and platforms are built to be addictive, and thus using them in a balanced way is no easy task.

Ramadan is our chance, by the grace of Allah, to re-balance our relationship with our digital world and to break the negative addictions. Below are some humble suggestions to begin with:

  1. Make the intention to free ourselves from any addictions to our phone and other devices and use them for only what Allah loves.

  2. Be in muraqaba — say “Allah is watching me” when we use our devices.

  3. Delete applications that have led us to committing haram (impermissible).

  4. Disable all non-essential notifications — instant messaging, email or social media — on our devices.

  5. Batch check our phone and computer — whether instant messaging, email or social media — at specific intervals and not with every beep or ding.

  6. Set daily and weekly screen-fast periods from our phone and computer, especially when we are with family.

  7. Model a healthier relationship with our devices for our children and provide healthy, purposeful, screen-free alternatives.

  8. Ask Allah in du’a to end any addiction or misuse of digital devices.

The digital wormhole is only getting deeper and deeper. Soon many will likely not only carry the internet in our pockets, we will wear it on our faces and essentially live inside a virtual world. Unless some of us take a step back and make some serious decisions- we may end up in a place we really never wanted to be.

May Allah give us the strength and resolve needed to break all our addictions and may this be a Ramadan of true and noble liberation.