25th April 2022
Qasim Choudhary, USA
Suppose your teacher assigns you three essays that are due by the end of the semester. But there’s a twist. You can submit all three of them on the last day of school, or you can choose earlier deadlines for yourself. Which option would you prefer?
The obvious choice would be to submit the essays on the last day to afford you more flexibility and freedom. For most, intentionally handcuffing oneself to earlier deadlines would seem nonsensical and restrictive.
Given this obvious predilection towards freedom and flexibility, it may seem odd at first to self-impose constraints. Self-constraints, however, can be effective tools in curbing temptation and delaying instant gratification, as such gratification and temptations, when acted upon, often undermine our goals.
As Katy Milkman explains in her book, How to Change, history is littered with stories of people who have adopted restrictive measures to resist temptation. Take, for instance, the French writer Victor Hugo, who procrastinated on completing the first draft of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He procrastinated so long that he created a small crisis for himself. Desperate to meet the strict deadline from his publisher, he locked up all his clothes, except a single shawl to cover himself. In doing so, he removed the temptation of going out and forced himself to stay home and actually write his novel. Consequently, he successfully met his deadline, and many throughout history have enjoyed Hugo’s classic novel. 
Throughout our own lives, we take certain actions to reduce our freedom in the service of greater goals. Economists call these trade-offs ‘commitment devices.’  Take, for example, a traditional piggy bank — the ceramic kind that you have to break open if you want to access the money inside. One could easily opt for a piggy bank that grants easier access to the funds inside, but the temptation to take a dollar out increases drastically. In this scenario, the ceramic piggy banks act as a commitment device to help save money. Similarly, people who are looking to lose weight or eat healthier often opt for smaller dishes in order to reduce portion sizes and thus calories. In this way, reduced portion size acts as a commitment device which aids one in achieving healthier eating habits.
In the realm of faith, the holy month of Ramadan is a prime example of a sort of religious commitment device. During this month, Muslims impose certain restrictions upon themselves in pursuit of a higher purpose. We deliberately abstain from food and drink from dawn until dusk, and we likewise avoid unbecoming speech and actions. Both restrictions are so that we can focus more on our spiritual aspirations. By spending less time at the dinner table and less time snuggled before our T.V screens, we spend more time occupying the mosque engaged in deep prayers, reflection, and recitation of the Holy Qur’an. A Society, however, that is accustomed to watching an average of five hours of T.V per day  and collectively spends nearly 200 billion dollars on fast food in a year may view this as an obstruction of freedom or an unnecessary burden. For a Muslim, however, it is an opportunity to learn restraint and develop a meaningful relationship with God Almighty.
Fulfilling any goal or aspiration, from shedding a few pounds to securing a dream job requires consistent sacrifices along the way. Though it is difficult not to give in to temptation, we force ourselves to delay gratification because we know that we will ultimately be rewarded. What sets fasting in Ramadan apart from all other endeavours in life is its unmatched reward, that is, God Almighty. As God Almighty declares, the reward of fasting is Himself, meaning God Almighty grants the one who is fasting a special nearness to Him. 
Is it not, then, a great bargain for us to deny our instant gratification this month and in turn get the chance to grow closer to our Creator? Wouldn’t a living bond with our Creator liberate us from the shackles of the world and thus be the pinnacle of freedom?
About the Author: Qasim Choudhary is a graduate of the Ahmadiyya Institute of Languages and Theology in Canada, and serves as an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the United States of America.
 Milkman, Katherine L., How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, [New York], Penguin Random House, , pg. 53
 Milkman, Katherine L., How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, [New York], Penguin Random House, , pg. 54
 Sahih Al-Bukhari, Kitab Al-Saum, Bab: Hal yaqulu innee saa’imun izaa shutima.
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