Can a Muslim make New Year’s resolutions?
With 2019 here, it is a common practice to reflect on the past year and how one can improve on their life in the current year.
People may come up with specific “resolutions” to change their behaviour or to accomplish a certain goal. Common resolutions are to eat healthier, quit smoking and to spend more time with loved ones.
The start of a new year (including the Islamic New Year, which begins with the month of Muharram) does not have any specific celebrations or acts of worship attached to it.
However, it is a praiseworthy act any time of the year to engage in self-reflection, to feel proud and grateful for our good deeds and acknowledge where we may be falling short and in need of improvement.
Making resolutions can help pinpoint exactly what we want to achieve, thus making it easier to come up with plans to reach these goals.
There are some things to keep in mind when making resolutions, regardless of the time of year.
There are two important parts that make up human behaviour: intentions and actions. Intentions are the thought processes that people have, and actions are what people physically do/are manifestations of these thoughts.
Allah judges both our intentions and actions. A famous hadith qudsi says: “Verily, Allah has recorded good and bad deeds and Allah made them clear. Whoever intends to perform a good deed but does not do it, then Allah will record it as a complete good deed. If they intend to do it and do so, then Allah the Exalted will record it as ten good deeds up to seven hundred times as much or even more. If they intend to do a bad deed and does not do it, then Allah will record for them one complete good deed. If they do it, then Allah will record for them a single bad deed.” (Recorded by Bukhari and Muslim)
If a person makes a resolution to do a good deed, such as giving charity, and they don’t end up doing it, they will still receive a reward for it because they had a good intention.
Take care with how you word your resolution
In Islamic law, there are different degrees of making intentions to do things. Oaths, for example, involve a person saying out loud that they swear by Allah to do or not do a certain thing. Vows involve a person saying out loud that they swear that if a desired event happens, they will perform an act of worship. Vows and oaths, since they are said out loud and involve swearing to Allah to do something, are considered legally binding and entering into a kind of contract with Allah.
If a person breaks their vow or oath, they are required to pay an expiation for it, which varies case by case.
When making a resolution, especially something casual like a new year resolution that one may not follow through with, it is important to make sure that one is not entering themselves into a vow or oath, unless they are sure that they can keep their resolution and are prepared to offer expiation if they can’t keep it.
Quality over quantity
While feeling excited and motivated about self-improvement plans are admirable, sometimes people get overly enthusiastic and set goals for themselves that are unrealistic. When people try to take on too much too quickly, or without a strategy in place, they may get discouraged and give up on their goals altogether. This can be avoided by following the advice of the Prophet, peace be upon him, as mentioned in this hadith: “The most beloved of deeds to Allah are those that are most consistent, even if it is small.” (Narrated by Bukhari and Muslim)
Choose goals that are not too difficult and can be done on a regular basis, and stick to them as best you can.
For example, instead of resolving to pray tahajjud (the optional night prayer) every day, start off with just doing it once a week, or even once every two weeks. Once you get that down, then you can increase the number of days you do it and the amount of time spent during each prayer session.
This way, it becomes established as a sustainable habit, instead of trying to do it all at once and then quickly losing steam.
Slow and steady wins the race
Keep in mind that the Qur’an was revealed over a period of 23 years. If Allah had revealed it all at once, it would have been overwhelming to the believers. Alcohol was not forbidden immediately, but rather gradually, so as to make it easier for those who drank to wean themselves off it.
May Allah grant us all a wonderful, happy, blessed new year, and may Allah help us fulfil all our goals so that we may become the best we can be. Ameen!
Allah knows best.