On April 24, eight-year-old Ariana Hannecke woke to the first sunrise of Ramadan with a mission: to observe her first fast.
Despite her age, she was determined to take on the challenge after spending years watching in adoration as her older brother abstained from food and drink for the holy month.
While the odd hunger pain crept in over the past few weeks, Ariana said she felt like a "grown-up" and was proud to have gained a new experience.
"I have actually been enjoying it because my friends are doing it too," she told The National.
“I do get hungry but I drink some water in the day and I do lots of painting and crafts to keep me busy.
“My fast makes me feel like a grown-up and I always look forward to iftar with my family. We eat dates and water to start.”
This weekend, as many Muslims worldwide ready themselves for the start of Eid, Ariana, a pupil at Taaleem’s American Academy in Dubai, is one of many children in the UAE celebrating the end of their first Ramadan fast.
The religious observance by Muslims is the most sacred time in the Islamic calendar. In most households it is spent by renewing spirituality in the form of prayers, fasting, good deeds, reflection, charity and community service.
Although Muslim children do not have to fast until they reach puberty, many try to practise it earlier, often encouraged by older siblings or relatives.
Over the years, Ariana, originally from Germany, said watching her family fast always made her “curious”.
As an “art lover”, she was also fascinated by her mother’s colourful prayer mat and now has her own.
“I ask my brother many questions about his fast, he's 22 now,” she said.
“I don’t know the full reason behind it yet but I am learning from him.
“I do know it is very important for me as a Muslim to fast and it is a good way for me to control myself and challenge myself.
“My brother has been telling me that I can do it and has helped me a lot over these days, especially when I get hungry.”
Despite being in the middle of a health pandemic, the Dubai school pupil said the "social distancing" measures helped her to observe a “near full fast” throughout the month.
Being away from her classmates and not having the temptation of friends eating in front of her was a good way to ease in.
For many young pupils in the UAE, technology has played a huge part in their learning experience since school campuses closed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
And for those fasting for the first time, like Amna Almarzooqi, it has been a blessing as she has been able to share her experience with other fasting friends through video calls.
“I ask my classmates a lot of questions about how they are feeling during their fast on video chat,” the eight-year-old Emirati said.
“Like me, they find it difficult when they get hungry but, actually, it makes me feel like a big girl.
“I don’t mind that it is hard, that teaches me a good lesson.
“I have a baby sister so I am excited to help her fast when she is older.”
Amna said she is learning to recite her prayers with her mum and teacher, too.
“I do like to learn it but with so many words I do sometimes forget what to say,” she said.
“Another thing my family has taught me during Ramadan is the importance of charity and how many people in the world don’t have food, like hot dogs and burgers and things.”
As a big sister to a three-year-old sibling, Maryam Al Sharhan Al Nuaimi said she cannot wait to help her younger sister observe her first fast.
“I told my mama this year that I wanted to practise my fast because many of my friends are doing it,” the eight-year-old Emirati said.
“We have been talking about it a lot with our Arabic teacher during our computer lessons.
“I ask my friends how they are feeling and they sometimes say they are thirsty but that is a good challenge for us.
“When my sister is older, I will let her choose when she starts to fast, it may even be just a half day fast, but it is up to her.
“She can ask me all the questions she wants because I have done it now and I am proud.”
Maryam, a Grade 3 pupil at American Academy in Dubai, said she has a schedule at home that she fills in daily.
“Each day I mark if I completed a full or half fast, and my parents give me a reward,” she said.
“At one time I did complete a full fast for 19 days in a row.
“Fasting is important for all Muslims and god will reward us if we do it so when you’re big enough to try it, you should.”