My First Ramadan: Ajman pupil, 8, observes first fast during pandemic

Feryal Elbanna said the hunger pains were tough but home-schooling had helped her journey

Feryal Elbanna, 8, is fasting for the first time this Ramadan. Antonie Robertson / The National 
Feryal Elbanna, 8, is fasting for the first time this Ramadan. Antonie Robertson / The National 

As Muslims worldwide readied themselves for the start of Ramadan last month, Feryal Elbanna told her parents she was eager to observe her first fast.

The eight-year-old said listening to her older cousins’ share stories of abstaining from food and drink during previous holy months had piqued her interest.

Despite being in the middle of a health pandemic, she said the new home-learning norm created less distraction than the normal school day, which in turn offered a good opportunity to “challenge” herself.

One week into her first fasting experience, Ms Elbanna, who lives in Ajman, said the “hunger pains” had been tough, but she’ was “old enough” to push through it.

“I think if I was at school I would find it more difficult as I would be distracted by friends and playtime, but right now, it’s fine,” she told The National.

My cousins are doing it too, so I like that I am joining them in the journey. I feel more responsible

Feryal Elbanna, 8

“I did a half fast for the first two days but now I want to keep going with the full fast.

“I do school work and help my parents set the table for Iftar to keep my mind off the feeling of starvation.

“I do check the time on the clock a lot though, the day seems longer.”

Fasting through their first full Ramadan is a significant milestone in a Muslim child’s life.

For those who choose to abstain from food and drink for the entire 29 or 30 days, the month ahead can be daunting.

This year, the fasting hours in the UAE amount to about 14 hours between each dawn and dusk.

And as an early riser, Ms Elbanna said she was "awake for most of that", meaning a full day’s fast can last up to 12 hours.

Feryal Elbanna, 8, says she was inspired by her cousins to observe her first fast this Ramadan. Antonie Robertson / The National 
Feryal Elbanna, 8, says she was inspired by her cousins to observe her first fast this Ramadan. Antonie Robertson / The National 

Islam specifies that when a child reaches puberty, things like praying five times a day and fasting during Ramadan become obligatory, to the best of each child’s ability.

Yet many children choose to observe their full or half fast earlier than this.

“I feel proud that I am doing it, like I am achieving something,” said the 3rd grade pupil.

"My cousins are doing it too, so I like that I am joining them in the journey. I feel more responsible.

“My sister, who is five, often asks my mum why I am not eating and she tells her that I am challenging myself.

“I still don’t know the full reason why we have to fast, but I know it is something we do as Muslims because I see my mother doing it each year.

“As I get older I will understand it more.”

Ms Elbanna said she sometimes wakes up for suhoor, but most mornings she does not.

Each evening begins with breaking her fast with some fresh juice. After setting the table for Iftar, she usually tucks into some of her favourite foods, including sambosa, a fried pastry with spiced vegetables and meat, as well as chicken and “lots of rice”.

Her mother, Salam, who is Palestinian-Jordanian, said she did not want to force the meaning of fasting or the importance of prayer on her daughter.

“Right now, she is just eight, so I want her to be curious about it in her own way,” she said.

"When I was younger we were made to understand the injunctions of Islam, but I think if she asks her own questions, she will absorb the meaning in a better way.

“I do not want to force anything on her, it all has to be of her own choosing.”

Published: May 7, 2020 02:12 PM

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