As the holy month approaches, Muslims across the world prepare to observe the ninth month in the Islamic calendar with about 30 days of fasting, prayer, reflection and increased involvement in the community and charitable acts.
For younger Muslims, Ramadan is a chance to learn more about their faith, carry out good deeds, enjoy a period of reflection and start fasting either for the first time, or take smaller steps in their abstinence as their age dictates.
“So far, our kids have been too young to fast, but they've always felt very eager to take part,” says mother-of-three Shampa Bhuiya, who lives in Dubai. “We start them off slow by doing a few hours in the day without food and water or whatever they are comfortable with. Kids are not expected to fast, but if they show enthusiasm, as parents we praise any effort they make.
“It’s important to remember that fasting is not just about trying to understand how poor people feel when they are hungry, but carries many lessons with it like self-discipline, controlling our desires and emotions, keeping the heart clean and being grateful for everything we have.”
Making the holy month a joyous and educational time for children is at the forefront of many parents’ minds.
Here, five parents share how they talk to their children about Ramadan, the traditions they share and create, and how they introduce fasting and charity into their children’s lives.
‘We teach them to participate, such as trying to fast for two or three hours’
For mother-of-four Maysaa Marwan Khalil, the focus is on introducing different aspects of the holy month into her children's lives. “We talk about the things we need to do to gain more hasanat, such as reading the Quran more, praying more, feeding poor people and giving money to those in need,” she says.
“We focus on not missing prayer and to read the Quran as much as we can, and avoid all bad things because all the deeds are double in this holy month.”
With three sons, Hamad, 12, Khalid, 6, and Mohammad, 1, and a daughter Mera, 9, Khalil is keen to instil in her children a sense of participation, no matter their age.
“The older children fast and pray, but not the younger ones. But we teach them and try to participate, such as trying to fast for maybe two or three hours, as well as standing to pray with us," she says. "They also help with putting up the decorations, and we enjoy eating samosas, getting ready to buy new clothes, and waiting for the money gifts at Eid.”
‘Our children split their day into three to achieve balance and harmony’
“From a young age, our kids have seen Ramadan through the examples set by family, friends and the community around them,” says Bhuiya. “When your child sees you spending more time reflecting and taking time out to consider worldly matters, they can see the benefits for themselves and act upon reflecting on their own free will, in their own way.”
The mother to three children, Inayah, 10, Mikhail, 6, and Elysiah, 4, takes into consideration her family members' ages, when developing Ramadan routines. “We taught our kids to split their day into three to achieve balance and harmony,” she says. “One third is given over to their responsibilities, such as school; one third to their family and friends; and the final third to themselves for reflection and prayer.
“To make things more child-friendly, we normally build a 'mini mosque' from cardboard for the kids to chill out in and have alone time. In it we keep pillows, blankets, fairy lights, a prayer mat and books they are able to read and understand about their faith.”
When it comes to charitable acts during the holy month, Bhuiya quotes the Quran 34:39: “And whatever you spend in charity, He will compensate ‘you’ for it.”
In applying this to her children’s own understanding, she says: “We teach them that they are not in loss if they have given something they love to somebody else who probably needs it more than them.”
‘My daughter asked me about Ramadan when she was 6’
Introducing children to fasting is a special and important way for them to become more involved in Ramadan, says mother-of-two Mai Esmail Mohamed, who is keen to teach her children — daughter Layan, 7, and son Younis, 4 — that fasting has implications that go far beyond restricting food.
“Fasting is not just about fasting for drinking and eating, it is also fasting from things like lying, gossiping or treating others badly, because fasting includes moral goals,” she says. “I tell my kids they need to practice fasting. So, Layan fasts for five hours a day or sometimes two days per week.
“When they asked me when they will start fully, I told them that beginning from 10 years old it will be good for them, but before that they need to practise from 7 years old.”
As for when her children started to become aware of the holy month and how it is different from other months of the year, Mohamed says: “Layan asked me about it when she was 6 years old. And Younis is now asking more about it because he is following her lead.”
‘We get the family involved in putting decorations up, and Ramadan calendars for the children’
“An activity we do the night before Ramadan while we’re waiting for it to be announced is making binoculars out of cardboard tubes. Then we go to the window or balcony and try to do the moon sighting,” says Aziza Ali, a mother-of-three in Dubai. “This is so the children understand we can only start when the moon has been seen.”
Full family involvement, whether by making cardboard binoculars, keeping Ramadan journals and enjoying an array of activities are intrinsic to Ali’s approach to ensuring her three children are immersed.
“In their Ramadan calendar, the kids prepare what they want to do, and we also give them charts to mark off,” she says of her children, Ayah, 9, Yusuf, 8, and Sarah, 7. “They get a point for reading the Quran that day, a point if they shared their food with the needy, and they calculate at the end of the day how they did. I usually keep the calendars for the following Ramadan so they can compare their actions and try to do better.”
While Ramadan rituals are enjoyed daily, as with many families, Ali and her husband have also developed their own traditions.
“We hold a family meeting before Ramadan and we get the kids to set a budget for the money they have saved,” she says. “To give some to charity and also to buy gifts for each other on Eid. This is so they don’t always expect that we will buy gifts for them, that they should be buying gifts for each other too.”
‘We created the Ramadan Box to make the month special’
“When my sons were 5 and 2, I created a mailbox out of cardboard and called it the ‘Ramadan box’. Each day in Ramadan, I would put something in it for them to discover, and they would wake up in the morning and know this was a time like no other,” says Agnese Umm Yusef, a mother to two boys aged 14 and 11, and a daughter aged 6, who live in the UK. “I always included reminders on why Ramadan is such a special time for our family. The box succeeded in setting that month apart and we still use it.”
Yusef, who homeschools her children, created the online blog Salamhomeschooling.com, to offer downloadable resources for Muslim parents, including Ramadan journals and calendars for children, as well as workbooks.
“I always benefited from journaling, so I tried to create journaling prompts and templates that might help children create a better connection with Ramadan or, at least, have some meaningful downtime.”
As far as encouraging her children’s participation in the holy month, she says that in her experience, it is better to keep expectations “simple”.
“The priority is for my children to be encouraged to take part in the Ramadan worship at whatever level is appropriate for their age and ability,” she says. “As for journals, workbooks and other activities related to their Islamic education, I keep my expectations low and we try to fit it in as it best suits our family during this special time.”