Twelve-year-old Husna from the United Kingdom makes care packages with her friends to distribute to the needy during Ramadan. Adam, from the United States, who is 11, recycles to save the environment during this time, and 10-year-old Hamdan, from the UAE, gets into the Ramadan spirit by avoiding wastefulness and breaks his fast with family and friends.
They are just a few of the 10 Muslim characters in a new illustrated children’s activity book, created by three Dubai mums, to show non-Muslims how Ramadan is observed in different cultures around the world.
What is Ramadan?: An Activity Book has been created by Bismillah Babies, a Dubai group that works to make Islamic education relevant to young children and teach them its core values through interactive play dates and arts and craft activities.
Sadia Anwar teamed up with her sister Tayyaba and friend Mehnaz Ilyas to design the book, which sets out to present inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogue in a simple and engaging way to children between the ages of 6 and 12. It is their latest project, after a playbook and Ramadan journal they designed for Muslim children last year.
“When we came out with our first activity book, for young Muslim children, last year it was very well received,” says Anwar, who has a 5-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter.
“The mums at my son’s school said that we should look into creating something similar for non-Muslim kids because their children were always asking them about Ramadan.”
This year they designed My Ramadan Journal – Around the World, a hardcover book in which young Muslims can jot down their milestones and pictures from the holy month, along with Quranic verses and Hadiths to educate them about Islam.
What is Ramadan, meanwhile, is a paperback playbook that discusses and explores Ramadan through activities, crafts and recipes. Both books have been illustrated by Dubai-based British designer Leilani Coughlan.
“The concept of the book is simple,” says 39-year-old Anwar.
“Children notice a lot of changes around them during Ramadan. Their routine changes and they are told they need to be careful about eating and drinking in public. They may get confused about what is going on. The book explains Ramadan to them and explains that children around the world are doing this, not just in the UAE.”
Anwar says they also want to widen the emphasis from abstaining from food and drink to introduce other values that are equally important.
“There are other aspects that are equally important. So each of the characters in the book talks about charity, helping their parents at home and looking after the environment.”
Each page has a lively illustration of a child from a different country, with fun facts about where they live and what they do during the holy month. An accompanying page features easy do-it-yourself projects, puzzles and crosswords to keep the youngsters occupied.
“The most important thing the book tries to teach is unity,” says Anwar. “For the one designed for Muslim kids, we wanted to present unity within the Muslim umma [community]. That you don’t have to look or dress a certain way to be a Muslim and it isn’t defined by country or culture.
“In the one for non-Muslim children, we have tried to focus on unity across religions. We want to convey to children that charity, love, generosity and kindness transcend differences of faith.”
Stephanie Sutherland, who is from the US, has bought the book for her two daughters, who are 5 and 3.
She says it has helped their family conversations on accepting different cultures and equality.
“It is a very thoughtful, well worded and creatively illustrated book that talks about the important aspects of Islam to children who aren’t exposed to it,” she says.
“We bring it out during reading time and it has sparked several questions, allowing us to emphasise that all people are the same, regardless of their race, culture, colour or faith.”
Bismillah Babies has received orders for the book from the UK and US as well. In the UAE, it has attracted a lot of attention in schools and at community fairs.
Sutherland says she would recommend the book to parents who want to have a lighthearted but valuable discussion with their young children about tolerance.
“The book explains that you don’t have to be a Muslim to understand that the principles of generosity and unity that Islam promotes are great for everyone,” she says.
• What is Ramadan? costs Dh40 and My Ramadan Journal is Dh70 from www.bismillahbabies.com. Also available at Jashnmal Bookstores in Dubai and Abu Dhabi