Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, is the time for healthy adult Muslims’ to spend the day abstaining from food and water and the nights in hours of worship and contemplation. Although Muslim children do not usually fast, this does not mean that Ramadan, the holiest of months in the Islamic calendar, is not important for them.
In Ramadan, a family and community’s routines are completely changed. Breakfast in the dawn hours becomes a source of mystery to children who wake up to fasting parents. Lunch becomes a children only affair, and the breaking of the fast in the evening is looked forward to with great anticipation by the whole family–whether fasting or not.
Because children are present at the breaking of the fast, often children associate fasting with food and not hunger. When told we were fasting, my youngest exclaimed, “But where’s all of the nice food?”
Every culture has its special Ramadan foods–savoury pakoras and samosas in South Asia, harira soup in Morocco, ful medames in Egypt or ketupat rice cakes from Indonesia. These foods take on a special significance for children as they grow up, marking the holy month and serving as reminders at other times of the year.
The idea of fasting is also something that isn’t always grasped straight away. I have often noticed small children treating “the fast” as a physical object, perhaps because of the way we speak about it as a special responsibility. My younger sister, once asked whether she was keeping the fast, replied, “Yes, under my bed.”
Aside from the good food, the sense of occasion and the change in routine, Ramadan is also a marker in young people’s lives. Once a young person reaches puberty, the fast becomes obligatory for him or her. Your first full Ramadan is part of your introduction to adulthood.
Often children will want to imitate adults and fast even though it’s not an obligation and despite parents’ discouragement. My daughter is now eight and has asked me if she can fast. Due to the fast being in August this year, which is late summer in England when the days are very long, I was not keen. Instead, I suggested that perhaps she fast an hour or two before the evening meal. This way she would feel as if she participated with the grownups and achieved a goal she had set for herself.
For adults, this can be a physically demanding time of the year, but perhaps even more so for parents. The long awaited-evening meal is greeted with excitement by the children, when all you really want to do is sit very quietly for a little while. The night prayer is long and requires concentration, but the children often treat this as the best opportunity to try and get mum or dad’s attention. These things mean that it is very important to create your own Ramadan routine. I make sure that the children are fed before the evening meal, although they are allowed to sit with us during it. I am stricter than usual about children’s bedtimes, so that they understand that they need to give mum some time to herself.
Ramadan also means the countdown to Eid, a day of celebration to mark the completion of Ramadan. So the last few days of Ramadan are a mixture of excitement and exhaustion as the days of fasting and lack of sleep catch up with you.